Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
By four thirty, Malka had managed to completely forget about the disturbing phone conversation. At two o’clock, after lunch, the girls were supposed to board buses for one of the nearby mountains, where a scavenger-hunt-style maze activity was planned for them. But then Yael’s phone rang, and all the plans went haywire.
“A child from a local moshav stepped on an old mine on the mountain we’re supposed to be going to,” Yael said with a somber expression. “He was seriously wounded, and the whole area’s been closed to hikers.”
“Hashem yishmor! I hope he has a refuah sheleimah!” exclaimed Ruti, one of the tenth grade madrichos, but in the same breath she added, “But when we went there the day before yesterday to put down the hints and the markers, there were no old mines!”
“Tell that to the police,” Yael replied dourly. “In any case, it’s closed, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
One of the contingency plans for just such an emergency was a game in the field near the campus. The counselors hastened to organize the game, but the girls, who had been preparing for a trip, were disappointed.
The game passed more or less okay, and Yael and Malka graded it as an eighty plus, which was perhaps the first thing in the last two days that the two had agreed upon.
“It finished too quickly,” Malka said as soon as the halls were filled with girls again, albeit less exuberant than usual. “We planned to get back from the original trip in another hour and a half. What are we going to do with the girls in the meantime?”
“And your mother is supposed to come. I had planned for her to arrive just as the band was playing, after the girls have a rest hour and freshen up with showers, so they’re ready to begin the long afternoon program.” Yael bit her lips anxiously.
Malka was tempted to ask her in surprise, “You’re worried because of my mother?” But Yael’s phone rang, and when that happened, nothing else mattered.
“Oy.” Yael looked at the caller ID. “It’s Baila, from the band. Do me a favor, Malky, and answer it for me.”
“Because with Baila, everything works like clockwork. If she’s calling, it’s a sign that something’s wrong.”
But just then, a madrichah came to call Malka urgently, exempting her from having to answer the ominous phone call. She hurried after the madrichah to the girl who was sure a wasp had stung her, and only after she soothed the girl and persuaded her that the madrichah was right, and it was only a mosquito bite, did she go back to Yael.
Yael was standing on the edge of the empty lawn, surrounded by a group of animated madrichos. Based on the commotion, it looked like something had just happened.
“What’s going on?” Malka asked as she approached.
“The van carrying Baila’s equipment was in a small accident. No one was hurt, baruch Hashem, but the van is stuck and it’s going to be at least three hours until they can get here.” Yael sighed. “What’s happening to us, Malka?”
“We’ll manage, b’ezras Hashem,” Malka said, looking around her at the madrichos and at Yael—primarily the latter. “Look, all the energy and the best planning don’t help when Hashem has other things in store for us, but He can change the picture in a minute also, and make this day the most smashing of all.” She smiled. “What else was prepared for today?”
“Dancing,” Ruti whispered. “I thought that the dancing would be perfect at the end of a busy day for about half an hour, when the girls are tired and ready to do whatever we tell them.”
“Well, it won’t fill a three-hour hole for us. What can?” Yael sighed again, and suddenly looked very small and droopy.
“Don’t fall apart now, Yael,” Malka said. “You’ve been able to deal with every situation until now, and this is not such a terrible crisis. The girls just got back from a good game, and it looks like all they want to do now is take showers and relax, even though it wasn’t like they had a long or exhausting trip or anything. That works out well for us. Soon we can give them cake and drinks in the dining room, and they’ll sit down here on the lawn, and…and…we can tell them a riveting story.”
“And who’s going to tell it?”
“You,” Malka said. “Meanwhile, I’ll think of something else to do to fill the hole.”
Yael leaned on the fence that was behind her. “The truth is, the madrichos always tell me that they’ve prepared individual activities for their groups,” she said thoughtfully. “They always complain that they don’t have enough time for these activities, because we have such a packed program. And we can move up the breakout for tomorrow’s program to today, because as it is, tomorrow’s schedule is very tight. But that’s too short, and also…”
“Also?” Malka encouraged her.
“I wanted Baila’s band, for your mother; it’s an amazing troupe, and the girls really enjoy it. If I would find something else amazing…”
“Morah Braun,” Dini, one of the madrichos, interrupted. “Sorry for interfering, but I know of a really special speaker, and she’s not even far from here. She’s a baalas teshuvah who lives in Tzefas. Her name is Ophira Matzberg.”
Malka’s hand, which was already in mid-air to wave away the idea, stopped in its tracks. “Ophira? I think I heard her speak a few years ago,” she said excitedly. “She’s an excellent speaker.” She glanced at Yael. “She’s fascinating. I was at a women’s getaway, and they brought her there.”
“And is she suitable for girls also?” Yael asked, her eyes finally regaining their spark.
“Sure. Maybe try to call her, and let’s see if she can come on a moment’s notice.” Malka left it to Yael to get the phone number, and was happy to hear a short while later that Ophira had acquiesced; Yael was not the type of person you could say no to when she applied pressure.
An hour and a quarter later, Ophira Matzberg was pulling up to the campus.
The breakout for the next day’s program was just about finishing, and the girls were wandering around the campus in good spirits, when the announcement was made that everyone was to gather in the main auditorium in ten minutes.
“Baruch Hashem, what siyata d’Shmaya! From an empty day that was going all wrong, we managed to really pack it in,” Yael said with a sigh of relief to Malka. They were walking toward the gate to welcome the guest speaker.
Ophira Matzberg was waiting for them already, smiling pleasantly. She was dressed in the same refined, understated way that Malka vaguely remembered from when she’d seen her before, and she wore a short brown wig.
They shook hands, and Ophira apologized for the slight delay. “I’m always late. I haven’t managed to do complete teshuvah in this area yet.” She laughed.
“That’s fine; the girls are just getting settled in the main auditorium now,” Malka assured her. “And the fact that you came on such short notice is just so remarkable; there’s no way this can be counted as being late.”
Ophira smiled. “Oh, the projector!” she remembered. “I forgot to mention that I need a projector in the hall.”
“A projector,” Malka said, and turned to one of the madrichos, who, as usual, seemed to pop up from nowhere behind Yael, ready to fulfill her every directive. “Devoiry, please ask Mrs. Perlowitz to set up the projector and the laptop, okay?”
She turned back to Ophira. “Faigy Perlowitz is one of our secretaries. She is very efficient. By the time we get to the auditorium, the projector should be there, ready to go.”
Ophira laughed heartily, but Yael was suddenly not part of the merry trio anymore. Projector? Malka hadn’t said a word about this before. She’d mentioned the speech, but what else was there?
“You show something?” Yael said, never removing the smile from her face. “I didn’t understand that from you”
“Oh, yes.” Ophira turned to her. “It’s actually quite new. Someone suggested that I add these interesting pieces to my speeches, and I listened to her. It’s very successful, baruch Hashem.”
“Baruch Hashem,” Malka echoed, nodding her head.
But Yael didn’t nod. “What is it?” she asked.
“In the past, I was a film director,” Ophira replied. “And I wrote some of the scripts myself. Someone suggested that I show parts of the last film that I directed, where my searching and yearning are very apparent throughout.” She looked at the two women, but her eyes were focused almost exclusively on Yael. “Of course, the selections are totally clean. They’re very beautiful, and women who saw them were very moved.”
“Are they appropriate for girls?” Malka asked politely.
“Of course,” Ophira replied and continued walking. But Yael stopped.
“Yael?” Malka looked back at her. “The girls are waiting.”
“Wait a minute.” Yael looked at the path and then raised her eyes to Ophira. “I’m sorry,” she said with her friendly smile. “We have a problem. We can’t show the girls those clips; I really don’t think it sounds right for us.”
Ophira opened her eyes wide. “Why not?” she asked. “I can tell you that they were filmed in the winter, so the actresses are all dressed modestly. There’s no problem at all with them; they’re really fine.”
Yael continued to smile while shaking her head from side to side. “I’m really sorry,” she said, her tone friendly, but candid. “But it’s really not—”
Malka felt like pinching her colleague’s elbow hard. “Yael,” she said, and then turned to the guest speaker. “Excuse us for a moment, alright?”
“Sure, no problem.” The speaker stopped, maintaining her pleasant expression as Malka went over to the side of the path, followed by Yael. Only a few girls were around; everyone was already in the auditorium, and a steady hum of chatter could be heard even above the whirring air conditioners.
Malka stopped and looked directly at Yael. “Maybe we wouldn’t have ordered such a thing ahead of time,” she began, “but now that she’s here, and was so accommodating with the timing, we’re not going to send her away, are we?”
“Of course not,” Yael said with a tired smile. “But we’ll ask her to do what she can without the film clips. You know very well, Malka, that we can’t show such a thing to the girls.”
“Why?” Malka sighed. “What’s the problem?”
“The problem is that we have no idea what’s in there, and what we do know is that they come from a very bad place.”
“But there’s no problem with the selections!”
“She did,” Malka replied, furious at the smug smile that spread across Yael’s face again.
“Come on, Malky, really…” Yael said in a conciliatory tone. “You don’t really think we can let the girls watch the clips she wants to show.”
“Why not?” Malka demanded again.
“That’s the problem of this generation; they need an answer for everything,” Yael replied. “To me it’s clear that we just can’t do it. Isn’t it clear to you also?”
“I think that we have to check each thing out for itself,” Malka retorted; she knew she couldn’t go wrong with such a statement.
“Of course.” Yael laughed shortly. “But right now, we have no time to check her clips out. So what do we do?”
“I’m telling you, she’s wonderful, and we can rely on her.”
“Rely on her? With all due respect to this very admirable woman, she’s not a rav nor my chinuch authority, and I won’t decide whether the clips are appropriate or not based on her opinion.”
“But if you would know what she’s talking about?”
“That would be something else, even though showing such clips to the girls is problematic in and of itself, and…”
“So you rely only on yourself, huh?”
They stood about a foot apart from each other, facing off like two warring cats. Only the arched backs were missing from the scene. Out of the corner of their eyes, they both saw Ophira standing further down the path, trying not to overhear them.
And then, out of the other corner, they saw something else. A taxi driving up the path to the campus, slowly navigating the gravel surface. It stopped right near the gate, and the back door opened. Mrs. Kotzker, the principal, emerged from the car, her black pocketbook over her shoulder. She straightened up and smiled at them, waving in greeting. Then she walked down the path.
“Hello, you two! I see I’ve come just in time to partake in this obviously productive conversation. How are you doing, my dears?”
Once, when Yael was three or four years old, she had slept over at one of her many friends’ homes. The friend had promised that if she’d come, they’d play with her new doll from America. Yael had waited for the promise to be fulfilled, but then, when she’d arrived at her friend’s house and asked about the doll, the friend had begun to stammer and explain that it was a new doll and she didn’t let anyone play with it, and her mother also didn’t let, and neither did her older brother…
The shouts emerging from the children’s room had reached the kitchen, and the treasonous friend’s mother had appeared at the door, wanting to know what was going on. But Yael, sitting on the edge of the rug, had wrapped herself in silence. Should she tattle? That wouldn’t be nice. So she’d pressed her lips together, looking at the friend’s worried mother.
“She…she…” the friend had sobbed. “She wants to break my doll. She said she doesn’t care, and I…” The tears had poured down her face. Yael had observed the scene with dry eyes. She didn’t remember anymore what the mother had said, but that feeling she’d had—that she’d only learned to describe years later—remained firmly ingrained in her memory.
And now, all those years peeled away, much like she stripped the skin off her potatoes with a peeler, and that same feeling of self-respect rose inside her. Let Malka speak to her mother; she would give her the privilege.
“We have a problem,” Malka said. “Some issues cropped up, and we got stuck without a program for a few hours. Baruch Hashem, we were able to get Ophira Matzberg to come and speak to the girls now. The thing is that we didn’t know ahead of time that she has clips of a film—totally clean, of course—that she wants to show the girls, and we’re deliberating what to do now that she’s already here.”
Adina Kotzker rubbed her chin, nodding. She didn’t look toward Ophira, waiting on the edge of the path. “A problem,” she said. “So what kind of solutions did you come up with?”
Yael folded her hands, reinforcing her silence.
“She mentioned to me that her program is approved by educators,” Malka said. “So I imagine that the clips she wants to show are completely acceptable.”
The principal nodded attentively, and then raised her eyes and peeked at Yael. She didn’t ask her anything. “Still, I don’t think so,” she said, becoming thoughtful again. “Could she speak without the films?” she suggested after a few more seconds.
“We have to ask her.” Not a muscle moved in Malka’s face. “If it’s okay with her. I don’t know how much of her speech relies on the film and how much time she leaves just to speak.”
“I think you should ask,” the principal said. “Because the way she wants to present it really is impossible for us to go along with.”
“Yael should ask her,” Malka said, musing over the fact that she sounded just like one of her daughters trying to get out of going to the fish store. “She’s the one who contacted her first.” However you looked at it, she hadn’t cooked up this stew, and she had no plans of eating it. Let Yael deal with the awkward situation on her own.