Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 37 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.
“Did you see the ad, Menuchi? It’s great, isn’t it?” Adina’s voice came through the receiver energetic and enthusiastic as always. It sounded like she had been up for at least two hours, Menuchi mused, yawning quietly to herself.
“I didn’t see it. I don’t have a newspaper,” she replied and stuffed her Tehillim into her bag. Quick! Where was the key to the clinic? Why was she always rushing to leave at the last second possible? And why did the phone almost always ring just as she had one foot out the door? She scurried around the apartment with the cordless phone pressed to her ear.
“Ditza did a fantastic job. The graphics are gorgeous. Ask your mother-in-law to bring the paper to work for you!” Menuchi was tempted to ask how Adina was so sure that her mother-in-law even subscribed to the daily paper, but decided she didn’t have enough seconds to spare for such a question.
“A neighbor here in the building brought the ad up to us,” Adina continued.
“Read it to me, please,” Menuchi asked as she slipped her feet into her shoes.
“One side of it is Hebrew and the other side is English, and it says: For English speakers, and even those who aren’t: The Light of the Night—A Riveting Performance Based on a True Story. Full Hebrew translation on screen!”
“I can’t believe we’re up to this already,” Menuchi said dreamily, forgetting the ticking second hand on the clock.
“Yeah. Two months of unbelievable pressure are finally coming to an end. It’s a miracle there are two Adars this year; otherwise, we would have had to cram it all into one month. I can’t believe we’re finished with practice already!”
“I can’t believe it either!” Menuchi exclaimed, her eyes pasted to the window. “He just pulled away! The bus pulled away! Adina, I have to leave this second if I don’t want a line of ten angry people waiting for me when I get to the clinic! They won’t understand why my mother-in-law chose such a clumsy receptionist, and they’ll be right. I’m running, Adina!”
“Make sure you don’t fall!” Adina answered back, but by then she was talking to the dial tone.
“You’re leaving! Is it final?” Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t the first time in the past two months that Diana had been asked the question. She was busy stuffing her belongings into a large knapsack, while Limor observed her from her perch on a nearby chair.
“Yes, Limor,” she replied with a smile, straightening up and stretching her back, stiff from being bent over for so long. “I have no words to thank you for your hospitality. It was wonderful to discover someone friendly, who speaks English, and who was nice enough to host me in her home for two months. Thanks ever so much. I’ll also tell your mother as much before I leave.”
“You should know that I feel like I have to thank you. It was wonderful being in your company these past two months. At least my mother saw that taking an interest in Judaism isn’t a crazy notion that only her daughter has; you share it. Would you like some more books?”
“What do you have to offer?”
“The Book of Our Heritage. It’s in English and is based on the Jewish calendar.”
“I read almost the whole thing already, remember?”
“And you don’t want to finish it?”
“Even if I do, I prefer not to take books from you right now. How will I return them? I’m sure that I can get a hold of a lot of material on topics that interest me inAmerica.”
“Where will you live?”
“I don’t know yet, but I’m not worried. I’m the type that manages, that deals with the situation as it comes.”
“Right, so that’s exactly why I’m wondering, why are you leaving? What don’t you like here?”
“First of all, even if it’s good for me here, that doesn’t mean that the situation is ideal. I’m sure that my presence is a burden on your mother.”
Limor’s attempts to persuade her otherwise did not change Diana’s opinion.
“And in general, I don’t think I have anything more to learn from Rabbi Biderman, and he hinted as much during the last lesson. He’s speaking to you, Jewish girls, who are obligated in all the mitzvos. He’s not speaking to me. He told me that I’d have more opportunities inAmerica.”
“Opportunities for what?”
Diana didn’t answer. She smiled placidly, swung her knapsack onto her back, and picked up her tote-bag with her free hand.
“But why are you leaving now already? Your flight only leaves at five in the afternoon!”
“I want to pass through Bnei Brak on the way, to say goodbye to my friend,” Diana explained, not sharing some of her hesitations about this plan. Menuchi had told her that her grandmother, Mrs. Weingarten, had arrived fromBelgium. Diana didn’t really have any desire to see her, but on the other hand, she really didn’t want to forgo a final visit to the Ostfelds. She wanted to see Anne’s smile, to experience the warm atmosphere in their home, and to speak a bit to Menuchi. She owed her so many thanks. It was perhaps in her credit that she had embarked on this fascinating odyssey, whose end she was not at all sure of.
Where was the end? Diana didn’t know. But she was sure that the G-d of the Jews would guide her along the right path.
Menuchi closed her eyes and allowed herself to be smothered with kisses. Shragi’s grandmother was clearly very excited. Menuchi’s Yiddish wasn’t so terrific, and she wasn’t able to keep up with the stream of Lara Weingarten’s animated chatter. But she caught the general gist of what Shragi’s grandmother was saying, and that was enough for her.
“You’re wonderful!” the older woman concluded in Hebrew.
“So am I! So am I!” Yehhudis exclaimed, jumping up and down on the leather sofa.
“Of course you are!” her grandmother replied. “Are you happy that I came to visit you?” Yehudis burst out in rolling laughter and hugged Lara tightly around the neck.
Menuchi and Simi sat on the side, holding a whispered conversation. Ten-month-old Yehudah Kalman sat on Menuchi’s lap; she was jiggling her leg to rock him, wearing a dreamy expression on her face. “What’s going to be with Yehudis tomorrow?” she asked suddenly.
“Miriam is coming to watch her and Yehudah Kalman.”
“So when will you be at the hall? Are you planning to come before your mother?”
“Yes. She and my grandmother are planning to come at the time the play is called for, like the rest of the audience. I think I’ll come a bit earlier, even if I don’t have a specific job to do. I imagine you’re going very early, right?”
“Yes, I want them to explain to me again how to operate the screen. Adina explained and demonstrated it to me several times already, but I want her to show it to me on the laptop that will be there. I want to be one hundred percent confident that everything is clear.”
They fell silent.
Simi stroked Yehudah Kalman’s chubby cheek.
“He’s really grown so much!” Menuchi said hastily. “Baruch Hashem, it looks like he’s catching up to other kids his age, right?”
Simi tried to find an answer more exciting than, “Yes, Baruch Hashem,” but Shragi, who appeared at that moment, spared her the effort.
“Hello, everyone! Welcome, Savta!”
“Shragi! It’s you!” Menuchi gazed in amusement at how his grandmother fell onto her beloved grandson. The whole room was enveloped in a heady joy. It looked like Simi was thinking similar sentiments, because she leaned back in her chair and observed everyone with a smile on her face.
“How’s Dan?” Shragi asked a bit hesitantly.
“Well, he took me to the airport.”
“Did he say anything special?”
“No. We both keep more quiet than we speak around each other. I just pray for him all the time. Hey, how did I forget? He did say something special. He asked if the letter that you wrote to him before the wedding is still on the shelf in my living room.”
Chani entered the room with Yitzi as her mother finished the sentence. “Do you think he wanted to read it, Mother?” she asked, practical and to the point as ever.
“I wish, but how should I know?”
Shragi turned to Menuchi, who was trying to follow the conversation, without much success. “You see, Menuchi? You wrote to her, and I wrote to him. You would think we coordinated it!”
Chani decided that the time had come to send Yehudis off to bed. She had already brushed her teeth and washed up, and just had to put on pajamas. She motioned to Simi to take her sister.
“Come, Yehudis,” Simi said as she rose. “Let’s go to your room and put on pajamas so we can go to sleep.”
“I don’t want you! I want Menuchi! Menuchi should dress me!”
Menuchi stood up right away.
“No way!” Simi protested. “Let Menuchi sit and relax a bit, after the way she’s been running around the last few weeks.”
Menuchi offered her hand to Yehudis.
“So together! You and you! So it won’t be boring!” The little commander decided that this plan suited her fine.
So we won’t be bored? Our conversation already dwindled into silence two minutes ago, Simi mused.
Has Adina influenced Yehudis to try to bring us closer forcibly, if we can’t manage on our own? Menuchi reflected with a smile.
But they both turned toward the pink bedroom with obedience. Quiet soon reigned in the house.