Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 23 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.
Quietly and nonchalantly, Elchanan circled the ad in the paper. Before leaving for work, he decided to call.
“Good morning,” he said politely. “You put in a help wanted ad that you’re looking for a sales manager?”
“Yes, indeed,” the voice replied. “Are you interested in the position?”
“I’m interested in hearing more details,” Elchanan clarified.
“It’s a position managing furniture sales, at Brunner Furniture, if you’ve heard of us. If you decide you are interested, we can set up an interview, where you can hear the rest.”
“I am interested,” Elchanan said hurriedly.
The interview was set for that evening. Elchanan told Yaffa he’d be home a bit late, without specifying why. He didn’t know exactly why, but he had no patience to tell her he was sick of working at Dvir’s.
The furniture factory was large and impressive, albeit rather quiet at this hour of the evening. The two Brunners, father and son, sat in the office. They asked the questions as though they had divided them up ahead of time. Elchanan wondered if there had been so many candidates interviewed already that they had the routine down pat. After the older man said, “Alright, we will decide if this is suitable for us and let you know,” Elchanan asked about the terms. He received half answers, as though they had decided that every minute spent with him was a waste of time. He was not wrong.
“You didn’t like him, Dad,” the younger Brunner said a moment after Elchanan left.
“Why? I thought he looked fine.”
“Forget it. He’s not serious.”
The son tilted his head questioningly. His father understood he would need to explain his opinion. “Explain to me why he wants to leave his current job? His conditions there are good and he’s paid nicely.”
“Okay, so why?”
“There are a few possibilities: either he wants to have the option of being promoted, which is indeed more possible here than in a bookstore, or he got into a fight with his employer, which is something that I don’t like.” He tapped his cigarette lightly. “A third possibility is that he’s not a stable guy and he’s always on the lookout for greener pastures.”
“Okay, so let’s think about the first option,” his son said, smiling. “He looks like he has lots of energy and a promotion would probably do him good.”
“Until we promote him, he’ll have to work very hard here, and I think all that pent-up energy will be detrimental to him and to us. No thanks, I don’t want him.”
“Alright. It’s your business, Dad,” the younger Brunner said agreeably, and then looked at the list of applicants. Dad was very choosy about his employees, but ultimately, he would find the best man for the managerial position.
Rabbi Yeshayahu Weinstock shook the hand of…what was his name? It was embarrassing, but he didn’t always remember the names of his alumni.
“Elyakim Klein, from the first year,” the young man introduced himself, leaning his hand on the tree trunk that stood at the beginning of the path leading to the neighborhood shul.
“Klein!” the rosh yeshivah exclaimed in surprise. “How are you? You look good, baruch Hashem. Where do you live?”
“Me? I live in Yerushalayim.”
“Learning and teaching, baruch Hashem. The years pass by so quickly,” he chuckled. “Does the rosh yeshivah know that I have a daughter who’s almost going into high school?”
Bells began ringing in Rabbi Weinstock’s mind. It happened every year. It was foolish to think that Elyakim Klein had come to his shul this evening by pure coincidence, especially being that he lived in Yerushalayim, and was probably not just sauntering by the shul at exactly this appointed hour. Wait, perhaps he had a wedding in the city?
As though he had asked the question aloud, Elyakim remarked, “We had sheva brachos here this evening and I figured if I was in the area, I could speak to the rav. We heard that the rav has connections with the Sha’arei Binah High School,” he forged on, skipping over lengthy introductions. “We thought the rav could speak to the administration there. The situation in Yerushalayim is not simple. Every school wants to open as few classes as possible, or so it seems.”
“The situation isn’t better in Bnei Brak,” Rabbi Weinstock replied, although it had nothing to do with the subject at hand. The bells were ringing louder in his mind now.
“In Bnei Brak, yes.” Klein did not understand the rosh yeshivah’s reply. “But we live in Yerushalayim. My daughter is a top girl, in all areas. You can check her out.”
“It’s a bit early to think about this right now,” said Rabbi Weinstock, smiling thinly. Elyakim did not hear the bells clanging loudly. Early? It wasn’t early at all! He had a lot—an awful lot—to think about.
“When can I contact the rosh yeshivah again?” Klein backed down only the slightest bit.
“I would say not before Kislev.”
“Is it enough to call, or should I come back?”
Rabbi Weinstock sighed. “Call in order to give me your daughter’s details and I’ll see what can be done.”
Elyakim Klein thanked the rosh yeshivah warmly and went on his way, rather pleased. He’d taken the first step in his hishtadlus effort.
And Rabbi Weinstock remained standing near the tree, nodding distractedly to everyone who walked past him. In another month the annual commotion would begin, and wouldn’t finish until…it was over, if it ever was over. Elyakim was just the first of what was sure to be a steady stream of people asking him to exercise his contacts with Sha’arei Binah and Mrs. Kotzker.
But that was just it. It wasn’t her now.
Who was the one to talk to?
Mrs. Levinsky was the one who actually sat in her place. Would she be involved in enrollment and acceptance? Even if yes, it would certainly just be a rubber-stamp role, and the ones to decide who would be accepted and who would be rejected would be Mrs. Mann, Mrs. Braun and the school’s vetting committee. But the bottom line would rest with her, apparently, and she would be the one he would have to speak to, just like she had spoken to him about Dov Brim. The memory of the pale young man sitting beside him, his face pinched with tension, made him cringe.
Rabbi Weinstock heavily lifted his feet off the sidewalk and began trudging home. Just this morning, Reb Asher, the mashgiach, asked him if there was any news on the Brim front, and he’d replied that he had no idea. Reb Asher liked Dovi Brim. Who on the staff didn’t? The ra”m had also inquired a week ago if anything had moved there. The shiur gimmel ra”m wasn’t so satisfied with the class. He claimed he’d heard such great things about it from Reb Chaim Noy, the ra”m from the previous year—but the boys didn’t make a particularly good impression like he’d expected they would.
Reb Chaim Noy claimed that in his opinion, the fact that Dovi was no longer among them was a major factor in this, but he didn’t want to talk about the subject because he knew about the rosh yeshivah’s firm decision.
Would it perhaps be in place to push that firm decision aside a bit?
The damage caused to the yeshivah by young Brim’s actions was done, and perhaps even over.
Gentle pressure and attempts by the yeshivah’s staff to feel him out were also doing their bit.
And above all, how would he have access to Mrs. Levinsky, if indeed he would need to, to intercede on behalf of the list of girls seeking to get accepted to the high school that inevitably formed each year if he refused to fulfill the one and only request she had made of him?
After the initiation at the simchas beis hasho’evah, Yaffa felt that nothing could ever be worse. It seemed to her like tens of thousands of girls passed before with a polite “Gut Moed, Mrs. Levinsky.” She had smiled at them all, trying not to miss a single one. She got to know a few teachers that she hadn’t met until then, shaken dozens of pairs of hands, and hardly even seen Yael.
Yael danced energetically with the girls, as did Malka, when she arrived; she was swept up into the dancing despite her ominous predictions that there wouldn’t even be room to stand.
Yaffa didn’t dance. There was a limit to how much could be expected of one small person, wasn’t there?
At the end of the long evening, she’d taken the bus home, feeling drained. She sat with two other teachers who asked her sincere questions and took a genuine interest in her. They really were very pleasant. She didn’t have an ounce of energy left, but she tried not to show it. To their credit, neither of them asked, “how old are you,” and “when did you finish high school,” so some of the loaded questions she’d feared were never mentioned.
But if she’d thought that the night’s events were the biggest obstacle she would face in this position, she was highly mistaken. Yael had other plans in mind. The world didn’t begin and end with the simchas beis hasho’evah.
“Every year, the principal speaks on the PA after Sukkos about returning to routine and fresh starts. If she doesn’t do it the first day we come back, then it’s on the second or third,” Yael said, glancing at her watch, as they sat in Yaffa’s office that first week back in school. “But it’s always during the first week back at school. It would be very much in place for you to do it also. It will contribute a lot to all of us.”
“On the PA,” Yaffa echoed, glancing at the panel with the multitudes of switches sitting on the corner of her desk. She’d never touched it.
“On the PA,” Yael confirmed enthusiastically. “Will you do it today?”
“I don’t think so.” Yaffa, even without it being obvious to anyone watching her, cringed in her chair.
“Tomorrow? We’re already on the third day of school.”
“It’s very important, Mrs. Levinsky. It’s part of the routine here. Don’t you think that…?”
“You know, Yael,” Yaffa said as she slid her calendar from one side of the desk to another, “the bell rang three minutes ago.”
Yael gazed at her for a long moment and a broad smile broke across her face. “One-zero for you, Mrs. Levinsky,” she said as she leaped out of her chair. “It’s a good thing you reminded me. I’m not pressuring you anymore. But you should just know that I want very, very much for you to do it.”
“I know.” Yaffa could hardly utter the words and did not know if she was opening or closing the drawer right now. Was this her? Had she just spoken with such chutzpah to the high school’s extracurricular coordinator? What was happening to her? “I’ll try to think about it.”
A minute after Yael dashed out of the office towards her class, the phone rang in the outer office. Faigy, the secretary, called in to her: “I’m transferring a call. Rabbi Weinstock is on the line.”
“Sure,” Yaffa said, shifting nervously. Had he already heard from Yael about her flat joke? No, can’t be, right? Yael had enjoyed it, and she’s not the type to be able to hide it if she would not have.
“Good morning, Mrs. Levinsky,” the rosh yeshivah said into the phone. “How is everything doing?”
“Getting back to routine?”
“Are the girls learning? Is everything going smoothly?”
“Yes, baruch Hashem.”
“I wanted to clarify something with you. Do you still have contact with Dov Brim, my student?”
Yaffa raised her eyes from the desk to the door, sadly remembering the boy who had dragged a chair in from the outer office. “No,” she said, puzzled. “Why?”
“Because on second thought,” the rosh yeshivah said heavily, “perhaps it won’t be a good idea not to readmit him. If it would be possible to speak to the Brims again and find out if Dov truly intends to be a student like all the others, it will be possible for us to accept him back.”
Yaffa straightened in her chair. “That would be wonderful!” she exclaimed in surprise.
“Yes, but I will ask, and this was my arrangement with Rebbetzin Kotzker in such cases, that you make him sign a document of commitment, and that you will be responsible, to a certain extent, for his behavior in the near future.”
Mimi got off the bus, looking for the right building. Shuli was really amazing if she’d managed to convince Tzippy for a second time to take care of the kids alone. An old-looking building with a narrow, low-ceilinged stairwell bore the number Shuli had given her. She went up to the top floor, as Shuli had instructed. “What do you see in her?” Ahuva had griped that morning during recess.
“Nothing special. We’re friends,” she’d replied, not feeling the least bit guilty. True, Ahuva was considered a good friend, but for some reason, Mimi felt that none of the girls in her class—not even her oldest friends—were able to empathize with her right now. Shuli had something easy and stable about her that attracted Mimi to her.
“Ma’aleh Adumim is not as complicated as I’d imagined,” she told Shuli when she opened the door.
“It’s not complicated at all. Come in.”
Mimi followed her new friend, looking around with interest at the elegant apartment that looked very out of place set in this old building, like a pristine white lily growing on a dry, hollow stalk.
“Here’s the kitchen, and there’s my room. We’ll go in soon. And here’s the dining room.”
“Wow!” was all Mimi could say. Shuli laughed with pleasure. “How did you know that it was my birthday?” Mimi looked around, impressed with the ribbons and balloons that had been pasted on the window.
“When I came into the English class, I looked at your class list and saw that it’s almost here,” Shuli said, as she lifted the cover of a beautifully decorated cake that sat on the low coffee table. Mimi felt uncomfortable.
“You’ve really overdone it, Shuli,” she said, but deep down she thought that this was exactly what she needed right now. She had experienced surprise birthday parties, but now, none of Mimi’s friends thought that she had time for parties. They were right, but Shuli had forced her to make time and come—and she was more right than they were.
“What a fancy cake,” she said, examining the curved, artistic letters. “Did you bake it?”
“Yes. It was nothing. It’s a good chocolate cake with a really easy cream. Believe me, it wasn’t an effort at all.”
Mimi was beginning to believe that for Shuli, nothing was much of an effort.
They sat together, nibbling a bit and talking a lot; there were small patches of quiet and long stretches of laughter. They had a big English test scheduled for the next day, which was ostensibly the reason Mimi had been invited. But they didn’t actually open their notebooks to study. Mimi had reviewed the material once earlier in the afternoon, right after lunch, while Shuli had no intentions of studying. “Whatever I know, I know,” she said calmly. “And whatever I don’t know I have no patience to learn.”
Over the past few weeks, Elchanan had made a habit of calling Yaffa once during the morning hours. Today, his phone call came at the perfect moment.
“Elchanan,” she said, “do you think there’s a Bnei Brak telephone book somewhere in that bookstore?”
“You need me to look up a number?”
“Yes,” she said, glancing at the scrap of paper on which she’d written the details Rabbi Weinstock had given her. “I need the number of a Naama Engel. She’s Dovi Brim’s sister, the bachur who was here with his father. Rabbi Weinstock might agree to let him back into yeshivah.”
“Wow!” Elchanan exclaimed. “Because of you?”
“Maybe. And I need their number.”
“There’s no Bnei Brak phone book in school?”
“Maybe there is,” she said in a low voice. “But the secretary is very busy now and sounds tense and said she can’t find it.”
“Interesting, when I worked in the yeshivah office and the administrator asked for something—I almost jumped and saluted, and I don’t think I’m more obedient than your secretary. I guess the difference is in the boss.”
“Apparently,” his wife replied. “And I have another problem.”
“Yael is nudging me that I have to speak in honor of getting back to routine or something like that. On the loudspeaker system. I don’t know how to get out of it!”
“Don’t get out of it,” Elchanan said, leafing through a rather old telephone book that he’d found under the counter at Dvir’s. “It’s better to try and jump into the water and see how it is. Prepare something short at home; I can help you. Yael will be happy, and when all is said and done, I think you will be, too.”
“But I don’t know how to speak!” She glanced at the door to make sure it was closed tightly.
“You do,” Elchanan said, laying his finger on the sought after name. “Reb Yisrael Salanter says: ‘Not everyone who knows how to speak does so. And whoever does, knows how.’ Here, are you writing down Engel’s number?”
For now, Yaffa decided to put the speech problem out of her mind and to focus on the Brim issue. She dialed the Engel home. The phone had barely rung once when someone, a woman, picked up.
“Good morning,” Yaffa said, unsure of whom to ask for. The boy? Perhaps his father, if he was still in the country.
“May I speak to Mr. Brim?”
It all went so fast, before Yaffa could think about what she was going to say.
“Hello? Who’s calling?” The man sounded curious.
“This is Mrs. Levinsky, the principal of Sha’arei Binah High School.” It was amazing how easily the description rolled off her tongue.
“Oh, hello,” Mr. Brim said, straightening up in his chair.
“I spoke to Rabbi Weinstock today,” Yaffa continued. “He said that he might possibly readmit your son to the yeshivah.”
“Really?!” His eyes lit up and he frantically waved to Dovi, who was about to leave the house. Dovi stopped, staring at his father, puzzled.
“Yes, but I have to speak to you first.” She cleared her throat. “Rabbi Weinstock wants Dov to sign a commitment, which is the only way he’ll be allowed back.”
“I understand,” the father replied. “So when should we come to Yerushalayim?” He smiled at his son, who was looking at him anxiously. “Even if we leave very shortly, I’m afraid we won’t arrive in time before you go home.”
Yaffa considered this. “You can come to my house this evening,” she said quickly. “From nine and on should be fine.”
She hoped Elchanan wouldn’t be home late today. He’d been doing that sometimes lately.
Dovi’s father hung up the phone. “You won’t believe this, Dovi,” he said. “How do they say it? The stubborn man succeeds. We’ll go later to Yerushalayim, b’ezras Hashem, and I hope it will all work out. This principal is really something; I didn’t believe she’d be able to do it.”
Dovi smiled. “Three more days to Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan,” he noted, looking at the calendar on the wall. “Baruch Hashem, just in time!”
Half an hour before Shabbos, a huge flower arrangement arrived at the Levinsky home; it was larger than all of those that had arrived on Erev Sukkos.