Israel Book Shop presents the epilogue of a new online serial novel, Beneath the Surface, by Esther Rapaport. Click here for previous chapters.
The Egged Number 1 bus wound its way through the city on its way to the Kosel. Sitting on the bus, Dan Weingarten reached up to adjust the small yarmulke on his head, for the tenth time in the last half an hour. It wasn’t like he wasn’t used to wearing a yarmulke—he usually wore one whenever he was around his mother—but he had never felt comfortable with it on his head, and this time was no different.
It had been his decision to wear the yarmulke for this whole trip, just as it had been his decision to travel to Israel at this time.
His mother had recently returned from there, with a glowing report of how adorable Shragi and Menuchi’s baby girl—Lara’s first great-grandchild—was, and a stack of photos to prove it.
“She looks just like Shragi,” Lara had told him, her eyes misting over. “Oh, Dan, you’ve never seen such a proud father! And Menuchi looks so happy, too, so relaxed, so good… Such a wonderful simchah!”
Listening to his mother’s happy talk, Dan had suddenly, inexplicably, felt a desire to go to Israel himself and be a part of this happy occasion. Ever since he had read Shragi’s poignant letter, a good few months back, Dan had felt closer to his nephew than he had felt to anyone in a long time. The letter had awakened something within him, some long-dormant feelings for Judaism, and not long after reading it, he had found himself signing up for a weekly parshah class that was being offered by a rabbi in their community.
“This doesn’t mean a thing, Mother,” Dan had told Lara point-blank, after he’d nonchalantly informed her about the class. “It’s just…something I’m interested in right now. But it doesn’t mean that I’m committing to anything.”
“Okay, I hear you, Dan,” Lara had replied, hoping that the tentative joy springing up in her heart hadn’t become too apparent on her face.
And now, Dan had decided to travel to Israel and spend a few weeks with his family there. He was staying with his sister Betty; his relationship with Anne, although a lot better these days, still wasn’t what it used to be.
But he and Shragi had been seeing plenty of each other. Perhaps it was his warm feelings toward Shragi these days, or maybe it was little Chedva, who really was an adorable baby, or maybe it was simply the joy and serenity—which had been noticeably absent from Dan’s own life for a long time—that permeated the young Ostfeld family’s whole apartment; whatever the reason was, Dan immensely enjoyed the time spent at his nephew’s home.
It was Shragi who had suggested that he visit the Kosel.
“Who comes to Israel from so far away without going even once to the Kosel?” Shragi had said to Dan.
Dan, rocking Chedva (“My great-niece—and I myself am still not even married!”) to sleep in his arms, had given a non-committal shrug to the suggestion, and the subject had been closed.
But now it was the next day, and for some reason, here he was, butterflies in his stomach, on his way to the Kosel.
The Kosel loomed, towering and huge, before his eyes, but Dan held back. Turmoil raged within him. Should I approach? What for? It’s not like I ever pray or anything…
There was something so pulling, so magnetic about the holy site before him, but he just couldn’t bring himself to walk up to it, and so he stayed where he was, far back in the Kosel Plaza.
He let his eyes wander over the crowds of people milling around him. Two soldiers clad in army uniforms, their eyes focused seriously on the Wall before them. A young mother pushing a baby carriage, with a whining child holding on. A group of yeshivah boys, wearing white shirts, black pants, and black hats and reminding Dan of Shragi. An elderly woman with a colorful turban wound around her head, holding a clanking box in her hand and calling out, “Tzedakah! Tzedakah!”
A girl in a long, flowing skirt walked nearby, and the jostling crowds made her drop the piece of paper she held in her hand. Without thinking, Dan stooped to pick it up for her. He glanced at the paper for a moment, and his eyes widened.
Why would Shragi’s wife, Menuchi Ostfeld’s, name and address be on that paper?
The girl was already looking around for her missing paper, and Dan approached her with it.
“Here, this is what you—Oh!”
All other words became stuck in his throat as he stared in silence at the familiar face.
Diana was looking at him with the same mixture of shock and disbelief.
“Wow,” she finally managed to say. “I never thought I’d meet you here!”
“I could say the same thing about you,” Dan said, the expression on his face one big question mark.
For a long moment, neither one said anything. Then Diana spoke up.
“I may as well tell you. I…I’m planning to convert. To Judaism.”
If a purple giraffe had appeared just then, Dan couldn’t have been more shocked.
“What?! You?! But your parents…your family…”
Diana spread out her palms. “Sometimes,” she said, “you have to sacrifice certain things for the sake of truth…in order to get to where your heart is leading you. Believe me,” she added, “it wasn’t an easy decision. A lot of inner turmoil and many sleepless nights went into it…but I believe I’m doing the right thing. ”
Diana shrugged. “The way they choose to deal with my decision is up to them. And…deep down, I know they know—we all know—that my grandmother would have been proud…”
She turned questioning eyes on Dan. “And you?” she asked pointedly. “The yarmulke…?”
“It’s…it’s not real… I mean, I don’t really wear one. I only put it on while I’m here in Israel…” Dan found himself stumbling over his words. Finally, he decided to be honest with her. “I…I’m at…what you might call ‘a crossroads.’ I’m not sure where I want to be…who I want to be… Apparently, you’ve done a lot of thinking since…since knowing me, and…well, I guess you could say that I have, too. But unlike you, I haven’t yet made any conclusive decisions.”
Diana was quiet. When she finally spoke, her voice was trembling, but filled with conviction.
“Look,” she said. “I’m not here to lecture you or anything, and the truth is that I really need to get going, but…I can’t help but wonder to myself: You have the most beautiful, most truthful heritage just sitting on your doorstep. There are so many people, myself included, who wish they could have been born with what is your natural birthright…and you’re not sure if you even want it, if perhaps you should just throw the whole thing away?!”
By now, tears were in Diana’s eyes, and, embarrassed at her show of emotion, she mumbled a quick, “I have to go. Good luck to you, and all the best,” and turned to leave.
Dan watched her become swallowed up by the crowds, his gaze unfocused. It was a full half an hour before he himself turned to go.
Later that night, while preparing for bed, Dan suddenly realized something. Since his trip to the Kosel, he hadn’t once reached up to adjust his yarmulke. Somehow, it just seemed to rest comfortably on his head. As if it was natural for him to wear it.
As if it truly belonged there.
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