By Esther Rapaport
“What’s doing, Menachem?”
“Baruch Hashem. Ima, have you been in touch with Abba?”
Dina Struk switched the phone to her other ear. “Not since yesterday afternoon. I think you were the last one to speak to him.”
“Yes, after his meeting with that Russian lawyer, nu, what’s his name . . . the one the Jewish community there recommended?”
“Right. Since then I don’t have any updates.”
“No, then I don’t either.” She looked behind her to make sure that her youngest children, the twins, were not standing in the kitchen doorway. “Menachem, have you been in touch with Chaiky over the past few days?”
“She keeps sending the kids to answer the phone when I call, or no one picks up. Goldie actually suggested again that we invite them for Shabbos, but there was no answer when she called. When I called and inquired gently about Shabbos, Dovi said that his mother didn’t know yet where they would be. Do you think we have to beg?”
“No, but I do think that you and Goldie need to continue to offer.”
“We’ve been offering and inviting for two months already.”
“And she agreed once.”
“Right, out of eight times, she said yes once. It frustrates Goldie; you have to understand her, Ima.”
“How much do we have to ask?”
His mother was silent. She herself could hardly speak with her daughter-in-law, so she really had no right to say anything on the subject.
“I wanted to do some shopping for them also, and Goldie even suggested that we send them some food for Shabbos if that’s what they’d prefer. But Chaiky sent a message through Dovi that they don’t need anything. So what more can I do, Ima?”
Yaakov and Yisrael, the ten-year-old twins, entered the kitchen at that moment. “Ima, Dovi didn’t come to cheder today,” they said in unison.
“One minute, Menachem,” she said into the phone. “What do you mean, Dovi didn’t come?” she asked the twins worriedly.
“We went to visit him during recess, and his friends said he didn’t come today at all,” Yisrael said.
“A week and a half ago, he was also absent once,” Yaakov pointed out.
She looked at the two devoted uncles. “Listen, boys,” she said with a sigh. “Dovi is allowed to be absent once in a while. You don’t have to keep such a close eye on him, alright?”
“Yes, but when he didn’t come a week and a half ago, he said the next day that it was because he was too tired. For no other reason–he was just too tired,” Yisrael murmured.
Dina Struk sighed again. “Did you hear, Menachem?” she spoke into the phone again to her oldest.
“Yes, I did.” His sigh was as deep as hers. “But there isn’t much we can do about this. We’re not going to send a social worker to the house to see if it’s functioning, or anything like that. Do you want to call and ask delicately how Dovi is doing?”
“That’s all I need, that she should think I’m sending the kids to keep tabs on them. As it is, we hardly speak. You know, she hasn’t told me this clearly, but she blames us for what happened, and I’m not so sure she’s not absolutely right.”
Yoel called on Sunday morning, half an hour after she’d sent the children off to school. They had been late, which was recently happening quite often, but it was still better than Friday, when she’d been unable to get up on time after her sleepless night, and both children had ended up staying home.
Something unpleasant rippled through her when she saw Yoel’s number, but she knew she’d pick up nonetheless. She only had one younger brother. She only had one brother at all.
“Chaiky, how are you? Everything OK?”
“Baruch Hashem, fine.”
“How was Shabbos?”
“Nice, thanks.” She couldn’t suppress the coolness in her words. The taste of their argument last Monday was still there–bitter, sour, and irritating.
“I thought of popping in to visit you today.”
“The question is if you want me to.”
“You know I’m always happy when you visit, but…” Again Chaiky found herself in the corner of the sofa, near the round cushion.
“Not like last time,” she whispered.
“Was it so embarrassing?”
She didn’t know if he was being cynical or not, so she answered simply, “Yes.”
“Well, if you prefer I don’t come, then I won’t,” he said. She didn’t know if she was imagining the trace of satisfaction in his voice, or if it was really there. It was likely that his visit to her last week had left him with some unpleasant feelings as well. It wasn’t only her. And it wasn’t because the trip from Haifa to Yokne’am took longer than five minutes.
But what could she do? She felt so frustrated. His lack of understanding was astounding. He was no fool, her younger brother, so what had been so hard for him to understand?
It was Monday, and she didn’t know he was planning to come. He’d driven up by surprise a short time after the cleaning lady had left. Even before seeing him, she heard the voices outside. She had been trying to take a nap, but Rabbi Pesserman’s children had been playing outside, and the noise had disturbed her rest–another one of the drawbacks of living on the ground floor. Suddenly she heard a car stop, and one of the little Pessermans asking, “Are you the mailman?”
“No,” a familiar voice replied with a laugh, and she had leaped out of bed. Yoel had come? Without telling her in advance?
“So who are you?”
“I’m the Struk kids’ uncle.”
“How can you be their uncle if you have that shirt and a knapsack like the mailman?” The Pesserman child suddenly fell silent. Apparently his older sister who had been watching him suddenly realized what was happening and pulled him over to her–and she was standing right underneath Chaiky’s window.
“Yoni! We don’t speak to strangers!” she’d chided her brother.
“He’s not a stranger! It’s Dovi’s uncle! Even though he looks like the mailman with that green shirt, and he almost doesn’t have a beard, he has a yarmulke! I saw it!”
“So what?” his sister cut him off. “We don’t talk to people we don’t know, and now, come play nicely in the backyard.”
Chaiky heaved a sigh. Too bad they hadn’t thought of the backyard an hour earlier. There would have been a double gain from that: She would have been able to rest a little, and they wouldn’t have met Yoel, her brother who looked so different from what was accepted in this community.
She had watched him cross the entrance path to the house, his large canvas satchel hanging over one shoulder, and just then Rabbi Pesserman himself, the rosh yeshivah who was also her neighbor, walked out of his home. He nodded slightly at Yoel and continued on his way to yeshiva. Chaiky knew she had to go over to the door now, and welcome her brother with a smile, and marvel at his surprise–but she didn’t feel able to do it. v
Esther Rapaport is a prolific author whose novels include Diamond in the Rough, Divided Attention, Behind the Scenes, Without a Trace, Dance of the Puppet, Blood Brothers, and The Kenya Conspiracy. She resides in Israel. Stay tuned for the next installment in next week’s Five Towns Jewish Times.