Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 4 of a new online serial novel, Beneath the Surface, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every Thursday or Friday. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © 2011 by Israel Bookshop Publication
“They simply couldn’t stop praising her, you hear? It sounds good from all aspects: a great girl, smart, with excellent middos and a golden heart. There’s only one thing that bothers me and that is that she is very quiet. Perhaps it’s not so suitable.”
Shragi smiled. “What does quiet mean?” he asked, setting his empty dessert plate down on the table. “Is it something extreme?”
The conversation was taking place on Friday night, after the seudah. Abba had gone to bed, exhausted from the long week. Simi was putting Yitzy and Yehudis to sleep and her voice could be heard in the background as mother and son conversed.
“It doesn’t seem to be,” Chani replied. “Look, I spoke to a few of her friends and the picture that I get is this: she almost never speaks up in class, but before tests she can lecture about the material in front of a whole group. I told you that they said she’s very capable. From one good friend—someone Gross—I heard that in small groups of two or three girls, she is very open and friendly.”
Shragi nodded, suppressing a yawn. “I know such boys from yeshivah; they prefer to open up socially only in small groups of people, but they get lost in large groups.”
“The question is if that is suitable for you.”
Shragi stood up and took a bentcher from the cupboard. “I want to make one more inquiry about the father. I have a few friends in Kesser Shmuel. You said he has some type of shteller there?”
Chani nodded. “On Motza’ei Shabbos I’ll look for the note with the details. Rabbi Kilman mentioned exactly where and what, but don’t expect me to remember the specifics. It was something with two words.”
“A maggid shiur?”
“I don’t think so.”
Shragi squinted in concentration. “What else could it be … a sho’el u’meishiv?”
Chani’s face puckered for a moment, but then a wide smile replaced the puzzlement. “Yes, that’s it; now I remember.”
“Good, then I’ll speak to a friend or two from that yeshivah and hear who he is. If everything seems good, maybe we can continue. By the way, where are they standing in all this?”
Chani sighed. “Rabbi Kilman said it was suggested to them and they are making inquiries, and that they asked that we be asked to look into it as well. They told him that things look to be going in ‘a positive direction,’ but they emphasized that that does not mean a yes.”
“Did they ask something about Yehudis and … the little one? Do they want to see documents proving that it’s not genetic?”
The little one. That was the painful name the Ostfeld family had chosen to use when referring to the baby born two years ago, long before his body was ready to enter the world. Just like Yehudis. His lungs barely functioned, and the lack of oxygen caused many other problems. For seven months, the doctors in the hospital had battled to save his life, but eventually, he had succumbed.
A painful shadow crossed Chani’s face. She turned her back to her son and began to collect the plates, struggling to suppress the stray tear that rolled down her cheek and splattered onto the top plate in the pile. “No. They didn’t ask anything; Rabbi Kilman didn’t even mention it.”
Shragi traced the gold embossed letters on the bentcher cover. “Doesn’t that seem strange to you? Is it possible that they don’t know anything?”
“I find that hard to believe; it’s not a secret. What is more likely is that they already heard from other people, who have heard from me in the past that it was not a genetic issue, and that was enough for them. I imagine that at a later stage, they will ask to see the written affidavits. After all, if they made inquiries about you, I’m sure they’ve come to the conclusion that this ‘background’ issue doesn’t make or break anything.”
“And you are absolutely the most objective mother.” Shragi’s smile was swallowed by a broad yawn as he rose to take his jacket and hat.
Chani gazed at him thoughtfully. “I’m also going to ask Simi to find something out at school. Although this Feder girl is two grades older than her, and it’s not such a small school, maybe she knows her or knows someone who does.”
Simi, having entered the dining room at that moment, heard the last sentence. “Feder? Another Feder?” She wrinkled her nose. “Leah’s cousin? Wait a minute; she doesn’t even go to our school. I don’t know her.”
Chani was confused for a moment. “I was told she is in your school. She’s finishing the second year of seminary there.” Something suddenly became clear to her. “Oh, you mean that suggestion from last week?”
“Yes, and Leah told me they weren’t interested in us anyway.”
“No, it’s not the same girl. Maybe they’re related, but that girl finished school last year, and besides, she didn’t even go to school in Bnei Brak.”
Simi picked up the pile of plates from the table. “So which Feder is this? What’s her first name?”
“Menuchah, Menuchi. She lives in Kerem Moshe, about half an hour away. Her father is the rav of the moshav.”
“I’ll check, but I think it might be a problem to actually see her because that grade hardly comes to school anymore. They’ve finished learning and basically come only for tests. Do you want me to ask if there’s a wedding of a girl in that class scheduled any time soon so you can come there and see her?”
Chani hesitated. “You can ask if you want; it won’t hurt me to know in the event that the other side does come back with a positive answer. But until that happens, I doubt I’ll go see who she is.”
Shragi rose and took a Chumash Bamidbar from the shelf; seconds later, his singsong voice filled the room as he reviewed the parshah. Simi quietly finished clearing the table.
“I’m going to find out everything I can about her. We have to make sure they’re not suggesting just another girl for Shragi,” she said to her mother when they were both in the kitchen.
Chani was silent for a moment, but when she spoke up, her voice was strong. “If these Feders are smart people, I believe they will see and appreciate what is important—Shragi himself—and that they won’t look for the nonexistent halo on our family’s externals. What’s important is the vessel himself. Not the packaging.”
“You would think that the packaging is so bad and that the only good thing here is Shragi himself!” Simi said, and her injured tone was only partially in jest.
“Right,” Chani agreed. “But we know that Hashem has granted us other wonderful children, as well. Shragi is not the only one.”
“I meant the parents,” the eighteen-year-old replied, and gave her mother a spontaneous hug. “I’m already davening that my mother-in-law should be like you. Your daughters-in-law are going to have it so good with you for a shvigger!”
“Wait, I don’t have any experience yet,” Chani said, chuckling. “Keep your compliments for when they can be proven.”
“I’m already sure of it now,” Simi declared loyally. “Positive!”
“A whole day phone calls!” young Ari complained to his mother the minute she put the phone down. She smiled and pinched his cheeks. Menuchi, though, looked at her attentively.
“Yes, her children are patients of Dr. Ostfeld. She says she’s a wonderful woman, very frum, and very good to the children. They really like her.”
“…As much as you can like the dentist, I guess.”
“True, but she claims that she’s had experience with several dentists in the past and her children are only agreeable to go to Dr. Chani Ostfeld. But she knows almost nothing about the family—except that they haven’t married off any children yet.”
“So what do we know about them? Nothing, really.”
“Rabbi Minzer said that they don’t have any other sons in yeshivah right now and that this boy is the oldest. It’s not a large family.”
“And he has a sister in my school.”
“Right. Do you know her personally?”
“Not at all, but two days ago, when we came for the first-aid test, one of my friends, Miriam Kahan, told me that a girl named Ostfeld, from twelfth grade, had asked her about me.”
“Where does she know her from? Maybe we can ask your friend about them.”
Menuchi grinned. “I asked Miriam already. She doesn’t know the family, but she knows Simi very well from school. They’re both Bnos leaders, and Miriam Kahan is the coordinator of the summer program in school. This Simi is very involved in it. She will probably be a Bnos leader for a high school class next year. This year, she had seventh grade.” An indecipherable expression clouded Menuchi’s eyes. “So at least we know one thing about this boy. He’s got a very popular, talented sister. A Bnos leader for an elementary class this year and next year for high school girls, a girl who organizes programs for the summer—great. Just the opposite of me.” The tense tone that tied her words together was impossible to ignore.
“You know that, baruch Hashem, your talents don’t fall short by any standard, even if you don’t like the spotlight. This sister does not have to make you feel pressured,” Mrs. Feder said with gentle firmness.
Menuchi shrugged. “It doesn’t pressure me, but if his family is used to those types of standards, then I’m not the girl they are looking for.”
“No one knows exactly what he’s looking for until he finds it,” her mother said calmly. “The Ostfelds are making their inquiries, and they will hear that you are extremely refined and sensitive, and yes, a bit quiet, and they will decide. If they know how to appreciate quality and not only image, then I’m sure they will realize just how much quality you possess.” She smiled warmly at her daughter. “And if they are looking for something else, then this is not the shidduch for you. Besides, we haven’t finished doing our own homework.”
Two things happened the minute Menuchi’s mother finished speaking: Her husband entered the house and the hallway phone shrilled loudly. Rabbi Feder was the closest to the phone and so he picked it up.
Minzer’s cheerful voice came through the line. “Rabbi Feder? Gavriel Minzer speaking.”
“Oh!” Rabbi Feder said in surprise. “Yes? What’s doing?”
“Ostfeld’s ready to go forward,” Gavriel informed him. “Nu, what are you up to?”
Reb Shimon turned his gaze to his wife and daughter, standing near him and waiting with bated breath. “Listen, Reb Gavriel, I just walked in the door, so I haven’t yet heard where we’re up to. Until now, we’ve heard some very positive things, but we haven’t finished checking everything. I’ll try to give you an answer by tomorrow night.”
He hung up and glanced at Menuchi.
“Nu?” Her single syllable was laden with tension.
“The Ostfelds gave the go-ahead,” Rabbi Feder said with a smile. “What’s with us? Their son sounds like a wonderful boy, at least according to everyone I ask.”
“But it’s a rather anonymous family,” his wife spoke up. “I haven’t found anyone who lives in their area, or something like that. I don’t have any way of making proper inquiries about them.”
“So what do we do?” Rabbi Feder asked, practical as always.
“Let me try a few more leads until tomorrow night, and then you’ll give Minzer an answer.”
“$326.60, please,” the checkout clerk said, and Minna Feder took her wallet out.
“Minna? Is that you? So good to see you!” It was a childhood friend who greeted Minna excitedly.
“Chaya! How are you? I haven’t seen you in years!”
Chaya, who was behind Minna in line, began placing her groceries on the counter. “What are you doing here?”
“Just some shopping in Bnei Brak. My girls do most of it, but sometimes I like to come and do my own shopping.”
“Well, I’m so thrilled we met. Excuse me, these cookies aren’t mine; don’t charge me for them, please. So what do you say, Minna; how’s the moshav?”
“Wonderful. There’s nothing like that peace and quiet. The distance makes things a bit difficult, but overall, we’re very happy, baruch Hashem.”
“Isn’t it hard for the children to travel all the time? And not to have friends there?”
“They’ve gotten used to it,” Minna said, pulling another bag off the cluster and putting some groceries in it.
“Excuse me, could you stop talking? It’s mixing me up,” the irate cashier griped as she scanned three more cans of tomato sauce in addition to the five Chaya had shown her earlier.
“You’re right; I took eight of those,” Chaya told the cashier.
“It’s fine, Chaya,” Minna said hastily. “Meet me outside. My husband will only be picking me up in half an hour.”
A few minutes later, Chaya walked out empty-handed. “It’s all in the delivery!” she exclaimed as she joined Minna on one of the nearby benches. “So what did you say? You’ve gotten used to the moshav, huh? And how’s your Menuchi? A big girl by now, I’m sure. Are you listening yet?”
“Of course,” Minna said, smiling, and suddenly decided to ask her friend, who lived in Bnei Brak for more than fifty years, to help her out. “And if we’re on the topic, perhaps you can help me. Do you know the Ostfelds?”
Chaya wrinkled her forehead in thought. “Let me think a minute. Which Ostfeld? My daughter in seventh grade has a friend Ostfeld, but they’re a very young family; this girl’s the oldest. You don’t mean them, I’m sure.”
“No, I don’t,” Minna agreed. “They should have a boy in shidduchim, remember?”
“Wait a minute! You mean the ones from Yerushalayim Street—at the top of the hill?” She suddenly sat up straight.
“Yes, yes!” Minna was getting excited. If Chaya knew them, then in a few minutes she—Minna—would know everything about the Ostfelds.