Artwork by Daniel Kabakoff
Sol Levy (“Sol is my name; songs are my game!”) woke up in a sweat. It was five in the morning. He hurried to the backyard to practice Perek Shira, The Universe Song, with the rooster and the goose.
This wasn’t a game, though. The ninth of Av, the saddest day of the year, when everyone felt so shabby that they didn’t even eat, drink or play music, would be here in two days. Dad was away with his research team until next Shabbat, and Mom was hard at work at a secret location. Seriously, Sol did not see one person crack a smile since the Three Miserable Weeks Without any Music.
Sol and his brother Max were descendants of Levis, who had sung tons of happy songs in the Temple—when it was still there. Inside the Temple had been lots of animals, but only certain kinds, like bulls, goats, lambs and rams. They had special equipment and Kohens, special people who knew how to use it because they studied a million laws every day.
Sol’s problem was this: everything in the Temple that had once been fantastic was broken now, so nobody felt like singing anymore. The whole world, especially his brother Max, didn’t want to get out of bed. Sol decided to do something about it. But he had no clue how to get bulls and rams, Kohens and all that equipment.
He did have something. He raised chickens and ducks in the backyard, and a frog, some fish, and a guinea pig, and none of them seemed mopey, even now. And then the Universe Band idea zapped like a flash into Sol’s head, and he suddenly knew what to do.
Sol herded the animals inside to cheer Max up. The rooster climbed on his bed and made its usual noises. The frog croaked, the cat meowed, and the goose honked. Max cracked a smile. Sol thought hey, it was working.
But it wasn’t enough. Max was still ruining the atmosphere. He wouldn’t laugh and wouldn’t sing.
Sol collected some ants and fish for the Band, though he couldn’t hear them.
Then he found some snails, butterflies and songbirds, and they wouldn’t listen to instructions.
Sol started to panic; he still couldn’t make the animals stand in line and sing together and couldn’t make Max smile; he saw no joy in him at all.
Sol took Max aside and explained the plan: they would stay up the entire last night before Tisha b’Av, just for rehearsals, to make sure each animal sang on cue. He had worked out the harmony in his head, but the animals still didn’t get it.
Sol was worn out from the day-long practice, and needed the whole night to clean up, wash and cut vegetables, and boil the soup so the widow and orphan next door could eat with them before the fast.
Two hours before The Ninth of Av, Sol set the table with rolls and cucumbers. He sat down, bleary-eyed, at the head of the table, and ladled soup, one bowl at a time. Max dutifully set the guinea pig on the floor, since it was the closest thing to a mouse he could find. He ran outside again and brought Catso; the snails and ducks arrived next in a box. Catso prowled the kitchen. The animals wandered off in different directions.
Max set down a bowl of soup for Nat, the orphan.
Sol crouched on the floor, next to the cat.
“Meow!” Catso recited on cue.
“The mouse’s part comes next,” said Sol. “Where’s the mouse?”
Max stopped slurping his soup in mid-spoon and spotted Shorty, their closest thing to a mouse, on Mom’s white tablecloth, eating the cucumber salad. Kookoo jumped up and pecked at Sol’s roll.
Sol’s soup spilled. A second later, the bowl crashed on the floor. Catso licked it up. Sol felt he was cracking up and shooed the cat away; he had nothing to eat and soon the fast would start; now he felt miserable.
“Sol!” cried Max, who must have felt the angry vibrations, “I’m sorry, okay?”
Nat and his mother quit eating. Nat’s eyes teared up. Another second and it seemed they would break into tears.
Max made his face one big smile. Yes, right before the saddest day of the year. Then he jumped onto the table and did a little song and dance with Kookoo, Shorty, and Catso, breaking more dishes. The guests tried to stop laughing, but it was no use.
Sol had almost ruined their project to make them smile, and Max and the funny animals didn’t let him. So there! It was as good as a giant Universe Band stomping and singing with every wild animal in the world.