By Esther Rapaport
Antonovich cleared his throat. “First of all, I’m happy that I have the opportunity to personally apologize to you, sir,” he began, trying not to look behind the back of the older man. The two burly men standing there were staring at him with fury in their eyes.
“But I’m afraid that the mistake was not my fault. When I conducted the investigation about you, I learned that your only daughter lives in Israel. She registered in the offices of the Jewish Agency as a Jewess, and her husband and their children are registered as Jews, as well.” He opened his plain cardboard file full of papers. Very early on in the process they’d been told they would not be allowed to bring any computers or telephones into the complex.
“Go on,” Rosenberg said impatiently, not even glancing at the copy placed in front of him.
“Later we learned that this was a forgery, but …” He returned the paper to his folder and spread out his hands. “But what are good Russians doing in the land of the Jews? Especially as…” He looked around.
“Especially as it looks to you that the woman didn’t lack anything while living here,” Rosenberg finished the sentence for him.
The man laughed. “I’ll answer you briefly: My family affairs are not your business.”
The writer swallowed. “I see,” he said. “Can we move on to the next point? I have two more.”
The editor of Segodniya sat with his hands folded.
“If you’ll allow me to bring my iPod in here, I’d like to play something for you.”
The billionaire hesitated for a moment, and then turned to someone standing near the door. “Bring it,” he said tersely.
Three minutes of heavy silence ensued. The only sound was the ticking of the collection of clocks that were displayed on the eastern wall of the hall. Vasiliy Antonovich chose to focus on the eight massive chandeliers that hung in a perfect circle over their heads, and wondered if the branches were made of pure gold or if they were merely gold-plated. The editor chose not to look around at all, and instead, pulled his employee’s file in front of him and leafed through it, passing his hand over his forehead. Rosenberg looked calm, too calm, even though he clearly saw that they had come well equipped.
The device was brought in.
“May I?” Vasiliy asked, and took it carefully.
A small, nearly imperceptible nod.
The device was laid on the table again, and a small blinking red light showed that it was on. The file began to play: it started with the noise of what sounded like a busy street, followed by a motor starting up. At that point, the conversation began, in a mix of English and strange German. A Russian translation appeared on the screen:
“Good evening, who is this, please?”
“Am I speaking with Shlomo Struk?”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Rosenberg, and I got your name from friends. I understand that you are coming to Russia to collect money for your institution in Israel, correct?”
No one in the room had to wonder who the voice belonged to. The man sitting in his tall chair, his fingers raking his white hair, listened with an inscrutable expression.
“Good, I’m happy to hear it. I live here in Russia. I am also a Jew, and my heart likes to donate to Jewish institutions. I imagine that you won’t object, right?”
“Object?” (Uneasy chuckle)
“Right, so I knew you wouldn’t. So when can we meet, Rabbi?”
“Whenever you’d like, Rabbi Rosenberg …”
“Oh, I’m not a rabbi at all. Abraham Rosenberg, to you.”
“Thank you, Reb Abraham. The truth is that I am very surprised by your call. I’ve hardly managed to contact anyone in Russia yet …”
“Oh, my Jewish heart is always looking to make contacts. So when should we meet, Reb Shlomo?”
Here, the device went silent.
“The Jewish heart …” the editor said slowly. “Abraham Rosenberg … You’ll admit it’s interesting, Mr. Rosenberg.”
On Shabbos morning as well, the volunteers from Refuah Sheleimah came around and distributed packages with everything one could need for a seudah. Chaiky took portions for herself and for Dovi, who was especially excited by the big bag of nosh that was at the bottom of the package.
“But first we eat food, not nosh,” Chaiky said. She spread the large white napkin that was included onto the night table.
The curtain opened. Not a trace of the nighttime tears remained on Rachel’s face, but her smile was crooked and a bit wobbly. “Uh … good morning,” she said. “How’s Dovi?”
“Baruch Hashem, really good.”
“Uh … great. I’m happy to hear.” She remained at the opening for a bit longer, and Chaiky, not knowing what she was expected to say just then, began to make Kiddush. Then she washed Dovi’s hands and her own.
“Will you join us, Rachel?” she offered in a friendly tone, struggling to open the container of fish.
“No, no, I ate the seudah already,” the girl said. “I eat early in the morning with Elsie. Especially today, as I didn’t sleep at all last night.”
Chaiky wanted to ask something about the mysterious Elsie, but just then the stern-faced nurse who had been on shift the night before as well pulled the curtain back sharply. “Rachel, are you here again?”
The girl looked at her with an expression in her eyes that Chaiky could not interpret.
“Nonsense, it’s all nonsense,” the nurse said firmly. The tag on her pocket read “Elsa Krautholder.” She looked again at Rachel and then at Chaiky. “How is Dov?” she inquired.
“Baruch Hashem, he’s fine.”
“Good.” She looked again at the girl. “I’m sorry that I’m asking you this, Mrs. Struk, but about how old are you?”
Chaiky put her fork down near her plate. “29,” she replied after a momentary pause.
“You see?” Elsie turned to Rachel. “I told you you’re imagining things! She’s too young!” She smiled apologetically at Chaiky. “This is the first time Rachel has met anyone else named Struk — that’s her last name, too, you know. It’s no wonder she was overcome with hope …
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 or visit 5tjt.com for more.