Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 19 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.
Dovi Brim looked around the small room. The principal pulled back the curtain that shaded the window and pointed to a chair facing the desk.
“Please, have a seat,” she said quietly. “One moment; there’s only one chair here.” She began walking towards the door, but Mr. Brim turned to his son before she got there.
“Dovi, go bring yourself a chair.”
A mournful silence rang in Dovi’s ears as he walked out to the secretary’s office. He walked over to a chair standing near the wall and picked it up. “There’s only one inside,” he said by way of explanation, tilting his head towards the inner office. “May I take it?”
“Sure,” Chana replied, and went back to what she was doing.
“Good morning,” Mr. Brim began. “Or rather, it’s just about good afternoon. Pleased to meet you. We are the Brims, from Manhattan. We came here because we are aware of the strong connections Rabbi Weinstock has with your school.”
The principal nodded silently, her face somber. She seemed to be apprised of the situation, Dovi mused to himself, and from her expression, he came to the conclusion that the subject was closed as far as she was concerned.
But his father had no intentions of giving in so quickly. “I don’t know if the principal is aware of things as they were until now,” he continued, “but Dovi is an excellent talmid. Last year, in shiur beis, they were very pleased with him in the yeshivah. He learns well, is very respectful, and is well liked by his friends. True, he also knows how to play the flute beautifully, and he even played for the yeshivah on Purim night. What happened over summer vacation was really a very big mistake on our part that simply…got out of hand at one point. Dovi, perhaps you should describe how Mr. Aberfort called you and how it all began.”
Dovi complied, and the principal listened attentively as he spoke, her eyes fixed on the pen in her hand. Dovi stopped short at describing the concert itself. He wanted to add something, but at the last minute decided not to.
“It was my mistake that I didn’t find out in advance exactly how he was going to appear there,” the father took up the story, glancing quickly at his son. “I didn’t think they would spotlight him so much. Had I known, I would never have let it happen. The hat and suit were his idea, and I strongly supported him, because I thought that this way he would remember his status as a yeshivah bachur.”
The principal nodded again.
“And now, Rabbi Weinstock is very angry and doesn’t want Dovi to come back to his yeshivah. I spoke to him, and to the mashgiach as well. Dovi went to speak to Rabbi Noy, the maggid shiur who liked him very much, but that didn’t help, either. Then, while we were still in America, we remembered the connection that this school and the principal have to Rabbi Weinstock, and we are asking if it’s possible to speak to him.”
“It’s possible, yes,” the principal said. No one else knew that beneath the big desk, she was scraping her right shoe over her left one. “He’s actually here now. Would you like to approach him in the auditorium? The secretary can direct you and tell you how to get there.”
“No, no,” Dovi’s father hurriedly clarified. “We want the principal to speak to him on our behalf, please.”
“Me? Uhhhmm…” the principal replied, and fell into deep thought.
Mimi Mann closed Shuey’s open button, prepared a bottle for Ricky, who was screeching, gave Shuey a drink of water and applied a band-aid for Moishy, picked up a few toy cars and some broken crayons, tied up the garbage bag and lined the can with a new one, stroked Moishy’s cheek in comfort, rinsed out Ricky’s bottle, brushed Shuey’s hair and went to open the door.
“Shuli!” she exclaimed in surprise, casting a fleeting glance over her shoulder. “You came?”
“Sure did,” her grademate chuckled. “Can I come in?”
“Yes,” Mimi sighed. “I told you this morning that everything’s on my shoulders, so I’m not embarrassed for you to see how it really looks.”
“It’s fine,” Shuli said easily. She pinched Shuey’s cheek. “How old are you?”
“Eight,” the boy said, clearly wishing he could flee the kitchen.
“Eight? Wow, you’re big! Take this garbage bag downstairs, okay? Mimi, where do you keep the broom and things like that?”
“Come on, you’re not serious.”
“I sure am, and how! I’m not going to come very day from Maaleh Adumim, you know, so you may as well make use of the time that I’m here. Is there someone else coming home later who needs lunch? No? Then I’m wiping down this tablecloth and folding it.”
“Ima,” Shuey whispered, as he heaved the huge garbage bag with his skinny arms.
“Ima will only be back in the evening,” Mimi said, giving in. Something about this Shuli made her feel comfortable dispelling with social niceties. She would never allow any of her other friends to come into their bathroom and see what a disaster area it was, but for some reason, it was okay for Shuli to do so.
Thirty-five minutes later, the kitchen was swept, the cabinets were gleaming, the lunch dishes were washed and the chairs were piled on the table. While Shuli was busy with that, Mimi put Ricky in for a nap and sat the other children down to play with Lego. The Lego that Savta had bought them for Pesach.
“Hel-lo every—!” Tzippy’s exuberant greeting froze on her lips as she entered the kitchen. The girl standing near the refrigerator scrubbing at the handle that hadn’t been touched in a month—was vaguely familiar to her from school. “Um?” she wondered aloud.
Shuli smiled at her. “Great; did you come to help? Mimi needs another pair of hands here, because I, with all my good intentions, can’t do everything. Ask her if she wants you to fold the mountain of laundry on the couch.”
“And if she does?” Tzippy murmured.
“Then do it. Because I’m busy here in the kitchen. Besides, I hate laundry. What’s your name?”
“Sixth. I mean seventh.”
“Yeah, I recognize you from school. So do me a favor, Tzippy, and go give Mimi a hand.”
“Who will give me a hand?” Mimi asked as she entered the kitchen. “Oh, hi, Tzippy. Welcome home. Did you have a drink?”
“How did it go by Zahava? You’re back so quickly!”
“It was nice. Truth is, we didn’t finish. I came to take my markers because I forgot them.”
“You have homework on the first day of school?” demanded Shuli..
“No,” Mimi replied in place of Tzippy. “But their schedule says they have their first English period with Mrs. Bruck tomorrow, and I told Tzippy that she likes name cards on the desks. In English, of course. So she and her friend are making cards for the whole class. But do me a favor, Tzippy. On your way back down, please make sure that Shuey didn’t tear the garbage bag on his way down.”
Shuli followed the sisters with her eyes for a few seconds, and then shrugged and turned back to the refrigerator. A few minutes later she began tackling the floor, and Mimi, who wanted to go in to the kitchen, stopped at the last second.
“Wow, I feel so uncomfortable,” she murmured. “Please, Shuli, this is too much, really.”
“Not at all. Tell me, is it always like this in your house?”
“Always like what?”
“That she goes and you work?”
Mimi smiled. “I’m the oldest, and she’s not. It’s self understood.”
“And it doesn’t bother you?”
“No. I’m happy she can use other things as an outlet. She’s so sensitive and she took my grandmother’s stroke really hard. I enjoy the fact that she can be busy with cards and that kind of stuff.”
“Good for you,” Shuli said, squeezing the rag out tightly.
“And me, what?”
“What are you; oldest, middle, youngest?”
“So, how is it by you?”
“I have only brothers, so in any case most of the load in this kind of thing falls on me. Still, I’m not half as nice to them as you are to your sister.” Somehow the girls found themselves chatting, as Mimi stood leaning on the kitchen door jamb, while Shuli was busy with the floor, scrubbing and squeezing, and not keeping still for one second.
Hundreds of chairs scraped the floor loudly as Rabbi Weinstock finished speaking and descended from the small stage. Yael Braun followed him.
“Thank you very much,” she said. “That was very inspiring.”
“I didn’t see Mrs. Kotzker’s substitute here,” was his response.
“Yes, she didn’t think it would be appropriate for her to appear at the opening assembly.”
“Not appropriate? It would have been most appropriate!” he replied firmly. “I think the girls have to realize as soon as possible that she is the new authority here. It will be most beneficial to the school. Because it’s temporary, we cannot allow cracks to appear in the image that they are supposed to see. Is she in the office now?”
“She was this morning. I don’t know if she’s still there.”
“I’ll go in to wish her hatzlachah,” Rabbi Weinstock said decisively. “Yes. And what’s doing with the secretaries? How are they taking to her?”
“Fine,” Yael said hesitantly, trying to keep up with his pace. “Perhaps they’re a bit puzzled by the whole thing, as are a few other people. But they haven’t said a word.”
“This whole thing was initiated by Weissman, and any complaints or questions are not going to move that rock from his place. It’s clear to everyone that this is purely temporary, and it’s definitely not usual, but we have to radiate as much stability as possible. So I’m heading to the office now.” He continued down the hall while Yael backtracked to the auditorium to close the assembly and release the girls with instructions for the next day, when school would officially start.
Rabbi Weinstock strode into the office and nodded at the secretaries. “Is Mrs. Levinsky still here?” he asked authoritatively.
“Yes, Rabbi Weinstock,” Chana replied, pointing to the partially open door.
“I see she’s in a meeting. That’s okay; I’m going to disturb for just one minute.” He pushed the door open.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Levinsky,” he said as he stepped inside. He didn’t look at the visitors. But even without looking, he realized right away who they were.
“Good afternoon.” Yaffa stood up, hoping she recognized the person correctly. The face was very familiar to her from the board meetings, and she knew that Rabbi Weinstock had been invited to speak at the opening assembly. If he was here today, it was safe to assume it was him. Dovi also rose right away, and after a moment’s delay, his father followed suit.
“Shalom aleichem, Mr. Brim.” Rabbi Weinstock smiled slightly as he shook their hands, trying to understand what they wanted from Mrs. Levinsky. Did this have something to do with Dovi’s being expelled? Mrs. Kotzker had recommended at the time that he accept Dovi, but what did Mrs. Levinsky have to do with this whole business?
“Rabbi Weinstock,” Yaffa said quietly, happy to discover that she’d correctly identified him. “Can I…speak to you for a few minutes?”
“Hmmm,” the rosh yeshivah replied with a sigh. “I’m in a bit of a hurry… Well, okay.”
As soon as Yaffa came around the desk and walked toward the door, he realized what she wanted. He stopped her with a wave of his hand and turned to his former student. “Can you bring a chair for me as well, Dov?”
The boy fled into the outer office and an awkward silence hung in the room. Mr. Brim broke it first. “Truth to be told, we came to Mrs. Kotzker to speak to her about what happened to Dovi,” he said.
“You came to Mrs. Kotzker?”
“Yes. We were told that if she’d agree to pledge in our name that such things would never happen again, then…” He groped for the most delicate way to word what he wanted to say. “Then perhaps, this could be worked out.”
“And when you came to her at home they told you that she’s been hospitalized. I see. Thank you, Dov.” Rabbi Weinstock sat down on the chair and the rest of them took their seats again after him.
“Hospitalized?” Dovi’s father looked questioningly at all the others in the room. “I’m sorry, something’s not clear here. We were just talking to her.” He pointed with his chin to the other side of the desk, where the thin, pale woman sat, finally realizing the mistake. Rabbi Weinstock smiled forgivingly.
“This is Mrs. Levinsky, Mr. Brim. She is substituting for Mrs. Kotzker, may Hashem send her a refuah sheleimah.” He drummed his finger on the desk. “In any case, Mrs. Kotzker would not have taken responsibility for Dovi because he has to take responsibility for himself—somewhere else. I am convinced, Dov, that you will prove your many wonderful abilities and succeed in any yeshivah you will apply to.”
“Rabbi Weinstock,” Yaffa piped up gently. “I…may I say something?”
“This boy told me a bit about what happened. I…I think that he really didn’t mean to do something wrong and he really regrets what happened. He wants to come back and learn in the yeshivah.” Yaffa paused for a breath, completely flushed, and forged on. “Perhaps the rav can give him another chance. I’m sure he will be good. That means, better than he was.” She didn’t look at anyone else’s face. How did she dare talk to the rosh yeshivah like that? Who did she think she was, Mrs. Kotzker?
But the father and son both made such a sincere, contrite impression. It was clear that Dovi wanted to go back to learning the way he had been before. Why, if she had the opportunity, shouldn’t she put a good word in for him with Rabbi Weinstock?
The rosh yeshivah shifted uneasily in his seat. He’d gotten used to Mrs. Kotzker’s tendency to try and intervene in his decisions regarding the yeshivah. After a few times when he saw she’d been spot on, he’d learned to trust her opinion. But even when she did get involved, it was never in the presence of the people under discussion. Besides, she always knew how to hone in on the nuances that sent the message that she should stop pressuring, and she would respect his wishes. The same way that he, when he recommended certain girls be accepted to the school, knew how to desist when necessary. The unwritten agreement between them included this as well.
But the young, naïve Mrs. Levinsky had virtually no idea how these sensitive things worked. Where should she know from? He raised his eyes. “It’s not so simple, Mrs. Levinsky,” he said carefully, weighing his every word and fully aware that the eyes of both the father and son were fixed hopefully on him. “Dov violated things that are very serious in our yeshivah, and it does not seem to appear that he can continue learning there. I will be happy to write a letter of recommendation to any other yeshivah.”
“I see,” the principal said in acceptance. But something about Dovi’s fallen face urged her to continue. “And if he doesn’t repeat what he did?”
The simplistic wording of the question amused Rabbi Weinstock, but he didn’t smile. Attorney Weissman had installed Mrs. Levinsky as the principal here because of her technical status, and demanded that the job be given to her in the full sense of the word. Technically, she was fine; she filled out forms, signed where necessary and reports were sent in her name to wherever they needed to go. Educationally, he was afraid that she was very young, too young despite the fact that the chinuch approach of “having faith in the child” was very common today among young educators. And even if it was an approach that was successful, and it was possible that the school would benefit from it during the months that young Mrs. Levinsky would be at the helm, the chinuch dilemma here had nothing to do with the school. It was purely a private matter between him and the Brims.
“We can speak about this later, Mrs. Levinsky.” He rose from his chair, shaking his head. “The way I see it now, the answer is still negative.”
“Uh huh.” Mrs. Levinsky was clearly saddened by his decision. “Thank you for sitting and listening. I understand that this is final.”
“Indeed, Mrs. Levinsky. It is just not possible.”
“Listen, Tzippy.” The twelve o’clock recess had just begun, and after two hours of English, the seventh graders were antsy to go outside for a good game. Who remembered that summer vacation had been a mere two days ago?
Tzippy raised her eyes from her English textbook, which, if Mimi wouldn’t have covered for her, would have been bare. “What?” she asked Shuli, who had appeared behind her. “Oh, it’s you?”
“Yep, it’s me.”
“How did you find my classroom?”
“I put detectives on the case. Really, how hard do you think it is to find out which seventh-grade class Tzippy Mann is in? Listen, Tzippy, I want to talk to you.”
“I realize that.” Tzippy bent down to look for an apple in her briefcase.
“First of all, how were the name cards that you made with Zahava?”
Tzippy raised an eyebrow. “Uh, they were nice,” she said finally.
“But while you were making them, Mimi and I worked really hard. Mimi scrubbed the house, prepared food for the younger ones, fed them—and then you came home to a finished job.”
Tzippy had no intention of wasting her recess getting a dressing down.
“Did Mimi send you?” she snapped.
“Mimi? Of course not!” Shuli laughed. “Mimi’s so happy that you’re going out and enjoying. She’s a strange sister, isn’t she?”
“That’s what oldest sisters are like.” Tzippy shrugged.
“You think so? Ask my brothers. No, actually, don’t ask them.”
“So, what do you want from me?”
“That one day, we should make Mimi a surprise. Give her a bit of freedom. She’s working very hard these days, and I’m sure you don’t want her to collapse. Would you mind to take over at home for one day?”
“I’m not excited about it,” Tzippy said indifferently as she chomped on the apple Mimi had stuck in her bag this morning, a second before she’d run out the door. Mimi must have come late, with a note from Abba or not. They hadn’t seen their mother in days.
“Too bad,” Shuli said, “that a girl in seventh grade can’t let her sister off the hook for one day and give her younger siblings supper.”
“For how many hours?” Tzippy tried to get practical.
“About three. In the afternoon.”
“And what will you be doing in the meantime?”
“We’ll see. Maybe I’ll invite Mimi to my house for supper, or we’ll go out somewhere.” She looked at Tzippy. “So what do you say?”
“You’re not even in her class.”
“What do you care?”
“Everyone laughs at girls who look for friends in other classes. I don’t want anyone laughing at my sister.”
“No one will laugh at her. We’re not such good friends.”
“Maybe. Which day?”
Tzippy sighed. “Come to me tomorrow and I’ll tell you.”
Shuli got back to her own classroom just as the bell rang. Her mother was pleased that she’d gone twice to help a friend whose mother wasn’t home because her grandmother was sick. Her mother had no clue that the girl wasn’t even in her class, which was good. She wouldn’t be happy. She didn’t like Shuli’s unconventional, often strange, friendships. Either it was an older neighbor—older by twenty years—or a neighbor’s daughter across the street who was almost a decade younger than her, or a young married woman who really came to help Shuli with the housework but became a friend until they’d cut off ties, or a girl from the parallel class. “Why can’t you find normal girls from your class?” her mother always asked.
“Because I don’t have any friends,” Shuli would answer simply. And that was that.