Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 12 of a new online serial novel, Dance of the Puppet, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
The next morning, Adina Kotzker’s head was aching badly. The trip back and forth up north the day before hadn’t done her any good, and although everything had turned out for the best, it was hard for her to muster a smile. Of course, she had smiled in spite of everything, because the coordinators and the madrichos and the students were not to blame that she was drained, but she’d hardly been able to sleep all night.
Her husband suggested that she postpone the board meeting, but she refused. These quiet days were the ideal time for such meetings. She liked the total quiet, without students or teachers in the background. True, she hadn’t planned that even Chana, her veteran secretary, wouldn’t be there, but Chana didn’t have all that much to do at the meeting anyway. Her job was basically to serve the refreshments and answer the phones in the office, which the young Mrs. Levinsky could do just as well.
By 8:50, Mrs. Kotzker was unlocking the door to the office. She nodded hello to the custodian who passed on his way to his little room at the end of the corridor. The members of the board were scheduled to arrive at 9:30, and she wanted to make sure that everything was in order before they came. Malka had prepared the reports before leaving for the Overnight, and all she had to do was pull out the two relevant binders and straighten the tablecloth.
She sat down at her desk, massaging her right temple, and wondered what that noise was on the second floor. She didn’t have too long to wonder, because two seminary girls burst into the empty office at that moment. Seeing that there was no one there, they hurried to the door of the principal’s office, which was open.
“Mrs. Kotzker!” one of them gasped. “The whole upstairs is flooded, and the water’s starting to run down the stairs!”
Adina stood up. “Water?” she echoed. “From the faucets?”
“The custodian says it looks like the pipes. The faucets are closed.”
Adina sank back down into her chair. She’d pushed off repairing the pipes over and over again, even though she knew how old and rusty they were, and Gadiel the plumber had warned her that they were about to give. She’d hoped they’d hold out until after the Overnight, when she’d be able to give the issue the full attention it needed. But the pipes had to collapse today, of all days!
“And what are you doing here today?” she asked the girls weakly. “Didn’t you have your assembly yesterday?” advice
“Yes, but they asked us to organize the classrooms, and we didn’t finish yesterday,” one of them replied.
“I see. Well, you’re not going back up there now in any case. I’d say you can go home and maybe come back next week.” Adina nodded toward them and then stared at her desk. Perhaps she should move the board meeting elsewhere? A quick glance at her watch showed her that that was impractical, with just twenty minutes remaining until the start of the meeting. Well, at least they would know that the problem was being dealt with. She picked up the phone while flipping through her large brown telephone book, nodding at Mr. Nissim, the custodian, who’d also come to apprise her of the situation.
“Available? Yes, I’m available,” Gadiel the plumber replied dryly. “But I’m coming on one condition only.”
“And that is?”
“That I get two thousand shekel in cash when I start the job, today,” he replied. “I know how you schools drag things out, and there are places that haven’t paid me for two months because they keep sending me from one board member to another. Without a two-thousand shekel deposit—cash, no check—I’m not starting to work.”
“Have you ever had a problem with us before?” The principal passed a tired hand over her eyes. Where was she supposed to get that kind of cash now? The board members would be here in fifteen minutes, but she doubted any of them would have that sum in cash in their pockets.
“That’s how I work today,” the plumber replied firmly.
At that moment, a familiar figure appeared in the secretary’s office. She hesitantly put down a big bag with two warm plastic boxes in it on the desk and smiled at the principal.
“Okay, fine,” Adina said into the receiver, feeling the pressure of the moment. “I’m sending someone to arrange the money right now. You’ll have it, Mr. Gadiel, I promise. Just come and do something here quickly, please!”
Yaffa paused. Who was Mrs. Kotzker pleading with like that? Who was Mr.Gadiel? One of the board members? She peeked shyly into the small office. “Good morning,” she said. “Should I arrange the bour—?”
“Leave them for now,” Adina instructed briskly. “Here’s one hundred shekel, Yaffa. I’m ordering a taxi for you, and I need you to run to the bank and take out two thousand shekel, okay? Here, I’m writing you an approval, and do me a favor: please go quickly. It’s urgent, because I’m afraid the plumber won’t lift a finger before he gets the money.”
Yes, it was clear what Mrs. Kotzker wanted, and everything was so urgent that Yaffa didn’t have a second to mull over the fact that she absolutely despised banks! She couldn’t canvass Elchanan again, because he hadn’t come to Geulah yet; Dvir’s bookstore was still locked.
At least this time, there were hardly any people at the bank, because of the hour, and the line was short. Just three minutes after entering, Yaffa was standing in front of a teller.
“Two thousand shekel?” The teller wrinkled her forehead. “Authorization letter, please.”
“H-here you go,” Yaffa stammered and handed over the creased piece of stationery.
“No, I need two signatures,” the teller said patiently. Upon seeing Yaffa’s blank stare of confusion, she added, “It’s a non-profit, right?”
“My principal didn’t tell me…” Yaffa tried to control the tremor in her voice. The problems were starting. “Can I call her to ask?”
“Ask what?” the teller echoed.
“What to do.”
“It won’t help even if she tells you it’s okay. I still won’t be able to give you anything. I need an original document signed by two board members. You don’t have one?”
“No,” Yaffa whispered, knowing that she had no other choice but to return to the school to get the necessary document.
The principal might have been waiting for two thousand shekel, but when Yaffa burst into the office, she was clutching a mere twenty-one, the change from the two taxis. She stopped in front of the partially open principal’s door. Hesitantly, she turned her head. The bag with the boxes of bourekas were standing exactly where she’d left it, emanating the aroma of baked dough and potatoes. But the odor coming from the corridor overpowered the aroma of the bourekas. Her mission was urgent, Yaffa knew, and that was why she went closer to the door and knocked lightly.
At first she recoiled at the unfamiliar faces that filled the small room. She scanned the room until her eyes fell upon Mrs. Kotzker’s face, behind her desk, beside another woman.
“This is our new secretary, Yaffa Levinsky.” Mrs. Kotzker smiled at her. “Did you bring the money?”
The “new secretary” swallowed. “No…” she said. “Without an authorization with two signatures, they wouldn’t give it to me.”
“Two signatures…” Adina Kotzker pushed her chair back and rose, making her way through the crowded room to the doorway where Yaffa was standing. “I’ll write one for you, and two of these gentlemen will sign it. Excuse me,” she said, turning to the assembled. “I have to arrange the money for the plumber.”
She went out to the secretary’s office and sat down at Chana’s empty desk. Yaffa watched her type up a letter, marveling at how proficient Mrs. Kotzker was at the keyboard. But when Yaffa’s eyes fell on her boxes yet again, she knew that there was something else she could do aside from observing the principal’s typing skills. She hurried to the teachers’ room, took two plastic plates out of the cabinet, and hurriedly arranged the bourekas, which were hardly even warm anymore, on the plates.
The principal had already removed the paper from the printer, and had signed it. As she went back into her office, Yaffa hurriedly followed her and shyly placed the plates on the desk in the middle of the room.
“Rabbi Sindler?” the principal asked. “Would you be able to sign this, please? And perhaps you, too, Rabbi Weissman. I’m sorry; we’ll be able to continue the meeting in a moment.”
Someone in the corner of the room raised his head out of a thick file of papers. He drew the paper to him and pulled out a gold pen from his pocket. After affixing his signature, he passed the pen and paper to the bearded man sitting next to the bookcase, who added his signature and then raised his eyes and caught sight of the bourekas. He turned to the doorway and to the young secretary standing there.
“Thank you very much,” the bearded man said solemnly “but you weren’t here before, so you didn’t hear that we decided that with the odor here, it is impossible to make a brachah.”
“Oh…” Yaffa said awkwardly, biting her lip. She didn’t know if she should collect the plates she’d just set down.
The principal turned to her and handed her the paper with some more money. “Well, I’m not so used to writing out such forms, but this should be fine. Order another taxi, and ask the driver to wait for you,” she said tersely. She must have seen Yaffa’s eyes resting on the two plates that suddenly looked very forlorn on the large desk. “I’m sorry about the effort you put in, Yaffa,” she sad quietly. “We’ll keep them for another time. Now, try to hurry, okay?”
Yaffa hastened toward the phone in the secretary’s office. For some reason, her mind drew a blank, and she could only remember the phone numbers for taxi stands in Petach Tivka; it took her time to conjure up the number of a local taxi company. Throughout those seconds, she felt the principal’s eyes boring into her back. It made no difference that Mrs. Kotzker was long back in her office already, dealing with the urgent matters that needed to be addressed, ignoring the two platters of bourekas that were now soggy and cold.
“Uch, uch, triple uch,” Yaffa huffed to Bentzy and his father, who both listened quietly. “And if you think I have any interest in going to Maaleh Adumim in another hour and a half to be nice to Shuli Emmanuel, you are highly mistaken.”
“Sounds very annoying,” Elchanan agreed as he briskly stirred the stew on the stove. “Why, did someone complain about my wife’s bourekas?”
“No one complained about them, because no one ate them in the first place.” Yaffa spread a tablecloth onto the table as she spoke. “When I got back with the money, the plumber decided to start working. The board meeting lasted at least another two hours after that, but the smell was there the whole time, so they couldn’t make brachos and eat. What do they talk about for so long, anyway?”
“Oh, organizations of this type have lots of issues, and sometimes problems, too.” Elchanan switched off the flame. “And you told me that Mrs. Kotzker said it’s an annual meeting, right? So they have to talk about a whole year’s worth of stuff.”
“Well, next year they’re not getting even half a boureka from me,” Yaffa said. “Let’s eat.” But she found that she had little appetite and ate almost nothing.
“You’ve got no patience for a long bus trip now, do you?” Elchanan rose to clear his empty plate. “If you want, we can leave earlier, and I’ll take you there.”
She looked at him. “How?”
“Dvir gave me his car, because I took care of something for him.”
“I don’t think you’re allowed to take me in his car.”
“You don’t think I planned to take you without asking him for permission first, do you?” He leaned against the doorpost. “Actually, I’ve been thinking about getting a car for a while already. Maybe the time really has come.”
“It’s a lot of money.”
“Well, if I take a small loan from a friend who offered, and we put aside some money from my salary each month, it won’t take us long to be able to pay for it.”
“Oh,” Yaffa said.
He turned to look at her. “You don’t sound very excited.”
“A car would be nice,” his wife said, scrubbing the already clean countertop. “But I thought those extra work hours in the morning were only short-term. I didn’t know you were up to taking loans against that salary.”
“I’m not taking anything yet. I’m just planning it. Why, are you afraid we’ll go into debt?” He wrinkled his forehead, trying to interpret his wife’s thought process. Women liked long, wordy explanations, he knew, and they often assumed that you understood what was behind their every word.
Yaffa shook her head. “No,” she said, after a pause. The problem wasn’t the debt, even though she was worried about that, too. Elchanan was a bit of a spendthrift, she’d noticed already. But this was something different, and she couldn’t tell him about it. She wondered if the flock of birds passing by the window had made inquiries if they suited one another before they joined up as one group. Or perhaps it made no difference to them. When it came to knowing whether or not she was suited to her spouse, she found that it did make a difference. A big one.
Did the teachers know how to appreciate every single day of their summer vacation? Chaya Shuck couldn’t stand it when teachers grumbled that their vacation was too short. Short? She wanted to see them function with only four days off, which was all the vacation she had! The rest of the summer she had to leave her home for work each day, without knowing if the house would still be standing by the time she returned. Today, as she climbed the stairs to her floor, she heard her children’s loud voices—and regretted, for the umpteenth time, having selected accounting as her profession. Most of the time, she had no regrets about it, but during the summer, she pondered at least three times a day if it had been the right choice.
“Ima’s coming!” The door opened with a deafening bang. “Someone called for you,” her oldest son reported. “She called just as Dini was frying an omelet, and it went flying when she tried to flip it like Abba does, and it fell on the floor. So I couldn’t really hear what the caller was saying. I had to scream, ‘What?’ four times just to get her name and number.”
“Delightful,” Chaya said tersely as she put her pocketbook down on the table, not noticing the lump of clay that was stuck there. “And?”
Her son handed her a greasy note. “I wrote the information down here,” he said, and disappeared through the kitchen door. A minute letter, he stuck his head out again. “It’s the fourth omelet that Dini’s trying to flip, Ima. I think you’d better come and save the rest of the tray of eggs.”
With a sigh, Chaya dropped the note and entered the messy kitchen. There were some days when things were smoother and more organized, but Malka Mann had chosen to call at one of the more chaotic times. She’d called Chaya’s house, not her office, which meant that it was about a personal matter. That meant Yaffa. What was going on with her at the school? Were they not pleased with her? Well, even if they had complaints, Chaya would tell them that a deal was a deal, and that the trial period they’d discussed was almost over anyway, and that it would be a big chessed if they would please employ Yaffa for at least that long.
But, Chaya soon discovered, that was not what Malka wanted to say at all.
“Your sister is very sweet,” Malka told Chaya when she returned the call (after the kitchen had been cleaned up and there wasn’t a trace of Dini’s omelet attempts anywhere). “My mother thinks we’re going to need a few weekly hours of secretarial work on a temporary basis, at the beginning of the new school year, because the other secretary is taking a few hours off of her regular schedule for a short time. Do you think Yaffa would be interested in the job?”
“Why are you asking me?”
“Because up until now, everything has gone through you,” Malka replied. “So, what do you say?”
“Is she doing okay? I mean, really fine? Are you happy with her?”
“Sure,” Malka replied. “If you ask me, my mother really likes her. Your sister has become a right hand around here for all the technical things, and the other secretaries are happy to have the extra help.”
“Did you have your Overnight yet?” Chaya was ashamed to admit that she hadn’t spoken to Yaffa for days. It really wasn’t right. Yaffa was probably having a hard time with the mountain of new, unfamiliar responsibilities. Baruch Hashem, she was still there and they were pleased with her.
“We did, and it was great, baruch Hashem. So, should I offer her the few hours, or do you think she’s looking for something else?”
“A few hours…” Chaya repeated the most significant detail. “Look, I’ll ask my aunt and we’ll see if she can add some money. If yes, she can work about half of a full-time position, right?”
“Come to us for Shabbos,” Rochelle Levinsky urged her son the next time they spoke. “You haven’t been here in a long time.”
“Maybe,” Elchanan replied. “We’ll see what Yaffa says. I thought we’d go up north for a few days.”
When his mother uttered that casual, “Oh,” he knew there was something more to it. “Why, is something wrong?”
“My brother Rafi called me this morning.”
Rafi Rimstein had always been Elchanan’s favorite uncle. But what did that have to do with Elchanan’s plans for a small vacation? “And?”
“He’s taking Grandma for a vacation in the CzechRepublic and wants to make a family event of it. Of course, not all my siblings are coming; they don’t plan to go along with every idiosyncrasy of his. But he spoke about you specifically.”
The feeling between Uncle Rafi and Elchanan was mutual. Elchanan was named for his grandfather, his mother and uncle’s father. Being that Rafi had only daughters, and his closest sibling was Rochelle and her family, Elchanan was the only one named for his father, as far as he was concerned.
“And?” Elchanan repeated.
“Grandma is giving you a hundred dollars, and Uncle Rafi wants to pay for the rest of a ticket for you.”
“One ticket…” Elchanan echoed, and then added, “Are you going?”
“Yes. So are Lizzie and Shlomo. But I told Rafi you probably won’t want to go.”
Ooohhh. So Lizzie would be going, of course. She had no problem paying for such a vacation, even without their uncle’s magnanimousness. His parents would go with his younger sisters, and only his small, poor branch of the Levinsky family would remain behind in Israel, in their hole-in-the-wall apartment.
If Grandma and Uncle Rafi would pay for one ticket, he’d only have to pay for the second one, but it wouldn’t be cheap. He had some savings, but the question was if it was wise to use them up for an impromptu vacation.
Maybe it would be good for Yaffa. She needed a change. She was so uptight lately, and a vacation to some far-off place would certainly do her good.
“Maybe we will come, Mommy,” he said resolutely. “I’ll check if we can do it. Not that I’m excited about accepting your brother’s gifts, but we’ll see, maybe—”
“This will probably be the best investment Rafi will make with his money this whole year,” Elchanan’s mother replied. “And we’d be thrilled if you came. You’re working so hard, Elchanan.”
Yaffa was sitting behind him on the threadbare sofa, and there were question marks in her eyes when her husband hung up the phone.
“I’m sorry, Yaffa,” he said, turning and seeing her. “I didn’t realize you were around. Otherwise, I would have spoken to my mother in Hebrew.”
“You’re finishing work at the school next week, right?” he asked with a broad smile. “Dvir will give me a few days of vacation if I ask. How about a trip to the CzechRepublic?”
“What?” Yaffa’s fingers stopped in mid-drum on the arm of the couch.
“You heard me. A trip to the CzechRepublic. My Uncle Rafi is organizing a family vacation with Grandma. My parents are going with the girls and Liz, and my grandmother would give us part of the money for tickets.” He hesitated for a minute. “Uncle Rafi also wants to pay for some of it.”
“Some of it,” Yaffa echoed.
“You know, he has no problem affording it.”
“I’ve put a bit aside the last few months, because I think a little vacation would be very good for us.”
The heavy, dusty drape didn’t move even a hairsbreadth, because there wasn’t the slightest breeze outside; nevertheless, Yaffa fixed her gaze on it as though something riveting was happening there.
“To the Czech Republic? Just like that, all of a sudden?” she asked, finally shifting her gaze away from the curtain.
“It won’t be so sudden,” her husband joked. “They’ll let us know ahead of time what time the flight is.”
“And for your uncle to pay for us…I don’t know. I’m not really in the mood to go.”
“Nonsense. He would only be paying some of the money. And Grandma will also give some. If your aunt wanted to give you such a present, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I don’t have any rich aunts that would pay I-don’t-know-how-much money for such things.” A spark of mirth brightened Yaffa’s eyes for a moment. “So the question isn’t really relevant.” And the spark died out. “But overall, this whole trip…”
Fly? To the Czech Republic? Just because? It’s not for me, she wanted to say. Instead, she just sighed again. Elchanan wouldn’t understand, she knew. She had never left the country in her life; he’d traveled abroad at least three times.
“You sound so miserable.” Elchanan was pacing around the table. “To me, you seem desperate for a vacation.”
“So maybe we should go to your mother,” Yaffa suggested hopefully. She didn’t usually like visiting the small town in the Jerusalem hills. Elchanan’s mother was a warm, motherly woman, and the house was quiet and pleasant, but something about the atmosphere put her under pressure. Perhaps it was the endless hovering of his parents and sisters around their only son and brother, or maybe it was their mother tongue of French that they all spoke, which left her out of matters completely. Elchanan knew this, but now Yaffa preferred he would forget all that.
“To my mother?” he asked in surprise. “Sure, she invited us for Shabbos. But now I’m talking about later in the summer, when they go abroad—and want us to come with them.”
“To the CzechRepublic,” Yaffa whispered.
“Are there kosher hotels there? Jewish ones?”
“Do you think we wouldn’t find out about all that?” Elchanan was an extremely patient person, but by now, even he was growing weary. “Really, Yaffa, are you looking for excuses? Everything will be kosher l’mehadrin. What are you afraid of, the airplane?”
“It’s not that I’m afraid,” she said. His mentality was so different. He didn’t understand her at all. “It’s just…leaving Eretz Yisrael…”
He stared at her without saying a word.