illustration of main character Hannah opening a door which leads to a barbed wire fence

The Devil's Arithmetic

by Jane Yolen

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Chapter 6 Summary

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After they clean the kitchen, Gitl tells Hannah it is time to get dressed for the wedding. She proudly brings out a blue sailor-suit outfit with white piping and a blue sash that she had worn to Shmuel’s bar mitzvah and which Hannah thinks is hideous. Gitl reminds Hannah that her own clothes, along with her bedding, have been burned in Lublin because the doctors said they carried disease. She promises to make Hannah some new clothes before winter comes. Gitl tells Hannah that the sailor dress is “nicer than anything any of the girls in our shtetl or Fayge’s have,” but Hannah, who thinks it is the ugliest thing she has ever seen, petulantly calls it a shmatte, or rag. Gitl scolds her but immediately apologizes for her harshness when she sees the hurt look on Hannah’s face.

Hannah puts on the dress, a pair of heavy cotton stockings, and shiny black shoes. Gitl then braids her hair into two tight plaits, fastening the ends at the top of her head like a crown with a pair of blue velvet ribbons she has been saving for her own wedding day. Hannah looks in the mirror and notes that though her braces are gone, the girl who stares back at her has “the same slightly crooked smile, the same brown hair, the same gray eyes as Hannah Stern of New Rochelle, New York, in America.” Hannah is now Chaya Abramowicz, in another time and place, and there is “something haunting” about her image in the mirror.

By noon, a lively crowd has gathered to accompany the groom to the wedding site. Gitl scurries around busily while Hannah shyly goes to where the men are smoking and laughing to stand by Shmuel, who is the only other person she knows. To her embarrassment, Yitzchak shoos her away from the group, and when she turns around, she finds herself face to face with a young girl with distinctive green eyes. The girl introduces herself as Rachel and says, “So—you are Lublin Chaya” and calls over to a group of others their age. Three of these girls come running; they have all heard about Chaya and have been looking for her because Gitl promised that they would meet her at the wedding. Rachel introduces the others as Shifre, Esther, and Yente and declares that she is going to be Chaya’s best friend.

Hannah tells Rachel that she already has a best friend, Rosemary, and the girls, recognizing that Rosemary is “a goyish name,” are scandalized that Hannah has a friend who is not a Jew. Hannah, who senses that it might somehow be important to keep her two worlds separate, tells Rachel that she can be her best friend in this place. She then tries to memorize the names and faces of her new acquaintances using a method of visual and auditory association she learned from Aunt Eva.

As the group sets out for Viosk, the girls ask Hannah to tell them about Lublin, and Hannah, beginning to wonder which is the dream and which is the reality, shares with them memories about her life in New Rochelle. When she tells them that her house had eight rooms and an indoor toilet, the girls conclude that her parents must have been “fabulously wealthy,” and when she reveals that she went to school during the week and to the mall on weekends, they are astonished because in their village only boys go to school and no one is allowed to go shopping on the Sabbath.

Esther remembers a story she once heard about a girl who disguised herself as a boy and went to the yeshiva to study. Hannah excitedly affirms that she knows that story and that it has been made into a movie called Yentl, starring Barbara Streisand. The girls have never seen a movie, and Rachel impatiently urges Chaya to tell them the story of Yentl from the very beginning.

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