Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 30 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 phone rang in Rabbi Weinstock’s office.
“Oh, hello, Reb Aryeh,” Reb Yeshayahu said, recognizing the caller’s voice. “How are you?”
“Baruch Hashem, we’re thankful for every day. How are things at the yeshivah?”
“Baruch Hashem, the boys are learning very well. If you happen to be in the area, and you’d like to drop in to see the new air conditioners in the dining room, I would be very pleased.”
“Well, until then, I’ll suffice with regards from afar,” the philanthropist from Haifa said with a chuckle. “And I don’t have to mention the Yizkor board, right?”
“It’s already hanging up since the beginning of the Elul zman,” Reb Yeshayahu replied. “So, Reb Aryeh, how are you feeling? How’s the diabetes?”
“Up and down,” the caller replied. “Actually, I’m calling now about my sister’s granddaughter, from Yerushalayim. You have connections with Shaarei…um, Shaarei something High School—what’s the name again?”
“Yes, that’s it. How could I have forgotten it? You have connections there, right? Through the board or something?”
“Good. So it’s like this. My sister’s granddaughter’s name is Tzipora Biderman, and she’s a good girl. She’s not so strong scholastically, but aside from that, she’s a top girl, yes?”
“I understand,” the rosh yeshivah of Shaarei Aharon said cautiously.
“Right, so you’ll have her accepted there?”
“Perhaps,” Reb Yeshayahu replied. “It really has very little to do with me. The school’s administration checks into each and every applicant. But I can give a recommendation.”
“Oh, a recommendation.” Reb Aryeh mulled this over for a moment. “And when you recommend someone, does it help?”
“If there are no special problems with the girl, then usually, yes.”
“Good, so there are no special problems here. Will you recommend her?”
“B’ezras Hashem, certainly.”
“And tell them she’s an excellent girl. My sister says she’s really something. So you recommend that they accept her, okay, Rabbi Weinstock?”
“B’ezras Hashem. Bli neder.”
“Excellent. So I’ll call you back in two weeks to see what’s doing about this.”
“The whole thing will soon settle and be forgotten,” Yael said, taking a sip of her steaming coffee.
“There’ll be a day or two of tension, at most, and then it will be over,” Malka said in agreement.
“My class gets along so well, that I don’t think this incident is going to break them up,” one of the tenth-grade teachers said with cautious optimism.
“And by me, they’re so splintered anyway, that I doubt this issue is going to drive them any further apart, because that’s almost impossible as it is,” a ninth grade teacher chimed in, and then went to photocopy her Yahadus handout.
The rest of the teachers were a bit more pessimistic that morning recess on the first day back in school after Chanukah vacation. Was it any wonder? They’d entered their classrooms that morning and discovered that out of forty girls, at least ten weren’t talking to ten others, and the other girls were not exactly in cheerful moods either. The fire was stoking the ruach and the afar, and the water was being spilled over everything. The result? A really muddy mess. This scene repeated itself in some form or another in all of the classes that were involved in the chagigah program.
“And you had originally wanted to do something on a grander scale, together with the eleventh and twelfth grades, too,” Malka said with a triumphant smile to Yael. “That’s all we would have needed, a whole school at war with each other. It’s enough that the younger two grades are up in arms over this.”
“If the two older grades had been involved, this whole thing would never have happened. The chagigah would have had a much less petty atmosphere, and things would have never deteriorated to this point,” Yael replied calmly. “What we need to do now is to figure out which girls are continuing to rile up their classmates, and deal with them on an individual basis.”
The teachers worked hard, each one in her classroom, to sift out the girls who were not just insulted, but who were fanning the flames of discord by keeping the issue on the front burner. They tried to speak to these girls, to arbitrate and make peace. But the result in each class was the same: failure. One ninth-grade class saw some minor progress in the form of a temporary truce, because of that class’s very strict mechaneches, who forbade the girls to speak about the chagigah at all. “We’ll revisit the subject in another month,” she promised. “Now—nothing!” But in the rest of the classes, the situation was grim.
“This can’t go on,” Yaffa whispered during one of the recesses on the fourth day back from vacation, as she heard the unfamiliar theme song of Team Ruach echoing through the hall. She peeked out to see what was happening and discovered that about fifty girls, from a mix of classes, were sitting on the floor and singing. They pointedly ignored anyone else who passed by. “Maybe we should go out to them now and tell them that this isn’t good.”
“That won’t be good either,” said Yael, who was sitting at Yaffa’s desk. “Don’t worry. Their teachers will get them under control eventually. Do you want to go over those papers from the Education Ministry now? I’ll explain what they’re talking about.”
“Yes,” Yaffa said as she returned to the desk and sat down with a sigh. “But I wish there wouldn’t be so much fighting here.”
“I admit, this is a bigger fight than is normal, and I’m a bit surprised because of their ages, but it can happen,” Yael commented. “I remember a few years ago, one class didn’t speak to the parallel class of its grade for more than a month—and at the time, there were only two parallel classes to begin with.”
“So what did they do?”
“The principal found out which girls were spearheading the fight, and called them in for a private meeting. I think that’s what finally resolved it. But it took a lot of conversations with their teachers to soften them up, and then we had to organize bein adam l’chaveiro speeches and programs and things like that.”
“Maybe we should hold some sort of bein adam l’chaveiro initiative, too,” Yaffa said, lowering her eyes to the boring papers on the desk.
“Now? We just finished the Chanukah chagigah program, which was an abject failure. I’m not starting anything new now.” Yael was so decisive that Yaffa, like a disciplined student, swallowed her response with a grimace and obediently perused the Education Ministry booklet.
The sixty-year-old man was talking about his father so brokenheartedly that Elchanan couldn’t help but feel guilty for coming now with a business proposal. True, he’d spoken about it clearly on the phone, and the man, who had just gotten up from shivah, hadn’t hung up on him when he’d launched his pitch. But now, it looked like the potential client had forgotten the objective of the visit. Mr. Channan Weiner described his father’s life as the patriarch of his family before the War, and how he’d rehabilitated himself afterward, when he’d emerged a shattered shell of his former self, a lone survivor.
“And now…he’s gone. Do you understand what this is like for me? Now I’m nobody’s child. It’s a strange feeling, at my age, but still, it is constantly on my mind,” Mr. Weiner said, and wiped his cheeks with a tissue. “Oy, it’s such a terribly hard feeling.”
Elchanan nodded in agreement. “It’s painful at any age,” he sympathized. What else was there to say? The role he’d unwittingly been thrust into struck him as almost funny. In the past few weeks, he’d become a nearly professional psychologist!
“Have you lost a parent? You’re so young!”
“Chalilah!” Elchanan hurried to clarify. “I just remember how hard it was for my father when his parents passed away just one month apart from each other.”
“That’s really hard,” Mr. Weiner agreed. “I hardly remember my mother, and my father was a father even at age ninety-three; do you understand?” He sighed, and his eyes roamed off into the distance, perhaps to the pictures that were still covered with sheets. “Well,” he shook himself, “baruch Hashem, he lived a long life and saw his children and grandchildren following in the Torah’s way. He should just be a meilitz yosher for us. Now, what is it you want from me?”
“I’m an agent for Moreshet,” Elchanan patiently re-introduced himself. “And sometimes, people who have passed away own valuable items, and their families are unaware of how much they are worth. I wanted to offer our services.”
“Your company gives estimates?”
“We also buy, if you’d decide to sell, of course.”
“My father, may he live and be—er, I mean, zichrono livrachah, had an old menorah from his parents. I really don’t know if it’s worth much. He also had a few old sefarim. I need to go through them and see what I want and what I don’t,” Mr. Weiner said after a moment’s thought. “And there are also his coin and stamp collections. Wait here a minute, please.”
He disappeared into another room and returned with the menorah and a few boxes. Elchanan opened one of them and looked at the coins set against a background of blue velvet. A second box also contained a lot of coins, most of them foreign; Elchanan couldn’t identify where they were from. The other boxes were full of stamps, some from Israel and others from abroad. There was also one letter, though the writing was hard to decipher, and the signature was a scribble.
“This looks impressive,” Elchanan said, and then dialed the office.
“Give him a price that will tempt him,” Menashe said. “Twenty-thousand shekel for the whole lot, or something like that.”
“Just like that, without seeing the items? I have no idea if these stamps are even worth anything,” Elchanan whispered doubtfully. Mr. Weiner had disappeared into the other room again. “And the coins? They just look like old coins from Hungary, Germany, Poland, and who-knows-where-else.”
“And the menorah? You said it’s nice.”
“Right, but it’s not made of silver or anything like that.”
Menashe mulled this over. It sounded like he was whispering something to someone. “Still,” he said after a moment, “offer him twenty-thousand shekel, Ehud, alright?”
“Okay,” Elchanan replied. Although it seemed foolish to him to invest so much money in these old items, he wasn’t the boss. Also, his familiarity with antiques was still minimal at this point. Maybe the coins were really worth a lot of money.
Mr. Weiner was a bit taken aback to hear the amount. “Are you serious?” he asked. “I don’t really understand these things, but I think my father considered selling the coins a few times, and no one ever made that kind of offer.”
“First of all, the sum I offered includes the stamps and the menorah as well,” Elchanan replied pleasantly. “Secondly, the prices of antiquities have risen drastically all over the world recently.” And thirdly, I really don’t understand Menashe, but that’s something that I don’t have to share with you.
The items changed hands; Mr. Weiner didn’t even ask to sleep on it, like the agent had generously offered. He was probably afraid that if the antiques dealer would sleep on it, he would change his mind and he, Weiner, would lose out on a great deal. Elchanan went down to his new Fiat and drove quickly to the office. Compared to the rented Mazda he’d driven all of last week, the Fiat was a rather stripped-down car, but it was his own, which made all the difference in the world.
Mati and Menashe welcomed him with a warm smile. Mati scrupulously entered the details of the transaction into his computer. “Excellent,” he said when he was finished. “We’re very pleased, Ehud.”
“Maybe it would be a good idea for me to take a course in antiques and collectors’ items,” Elchanan suggested. “I think I’m lacking some basic understanding in the field.”
“You are, that’s true,” Menashe said. He exchanged a quick glance with Mati. “Why does that bother you so much? Did you think that I thought that these were Jewish coins from the Roman era?”
“Something like that.”
“So these, in case you want to know, are today called genuine antiques, like all things over three hundred years old. They cost a bit more than what we offered. We hardly deal with such things. First of all, they cost astronomical sums, if you noticed with Korman, and besides, dealing with these things means being compliant with the Antiquities Authority regulations, which is a big headache.” He paused for a moment. “We’ve already sold that pitcher that you bought from Korman. We made some nice money on it, but we didn’t want to hang on to it for too long.”
“Why? It’s against the law or something?”
“No. Someone is allowed to hold onto fifteen such items without registering as an official collector. But our objective is to sell and make money, not to collect.”
“Aha,” Elchanan said, even though he didn’t really understand. And truth to be told, maybe his encounters with collectors were making him interested in the field, which was why he was having such a hard time understanding those whose objective was to sell-buy-sell-buy-sell…
“In any case, I think taking a professional course is unnecessary. It’s a waste of your time and money.”
“I read a bit about the subject; there are places that teach you in just a few sessions,” Elchanan offered.
Mati and Menashe exchanged glances again. “If you want—go,” Mati said noncommittally. “But you’d have to take care of it on your own. As far as we’re concerned, it’s not necessary.”
“You look finished.”
“I don’t only look it. I am finished.”
“Why?” Shuli asked sympathetically.
“The day before yesterday, my grandmother was moved to The Stern Rehabilitation Center in Petach Tikva. My mother is there all the time, for the third day already, and gets back after twelve o’clock at night, that’s all.”
“That sounds like it must be really hard for you,” Shuli said as she sat across her friend at the kitchen table. “It’s a good thing I called and heard how you sound.” She placed a small, wrapped package from a well-known bakery on the table. “Here, try one of these croissants. My mother always says that sometimes, something sweet gives you energy.”
“Wow, thanks, Shuli!” Mimi said as she opened the pretty carton. “But what about you?”
“I’m on a diet.”
Mimi laughed, made a brachah, and began to eat. As usual, the telephone didn’t let her eat more than two bites in peace. It was Mrs. Levinsky, her grandmother’s substitute, on the line.
“My mother’s not home yet,” Mimi informed her.
“Oh. She’s not answering the cell phone either.”
“Right. She turns it off when she’s with my grandmother.”
“Okay.” Actually, it wasn’t all that okay. Malka had said she had some CDs with lectures on shalom and achdus and had promised to send them to her, and Yaffa really wanted to listen to them already. Not that she was sure that it would succeed where all others had failed, but perhaps she would try with one or two girls. She sighed. “Your mother said she would send me a certain bag yesterday, but I guess she forgot with all the pressure she’s under…”
“Oh, you mean a brown bag with two CDs and a sheet of paper in it?” Mimi asked with alacrity. Her mother had mentioned a bag sitting on the counter a minute before she’d run out that morning. “Yes, I see something like that here. Should I send it to school tomorrow with a neighbor?”
“No, no,” Yaffa said hastily. She wanted to hear at least one of the speeches that evening. “Maybe I’ll come over later to pick them up.”
She heard Elchanan come in. The two of them were so busy lately that there were days on which their conversations amounted to just a few isolated words. It looked like today would be joining the list of busy days.
Forty minutes later, Yaffa was knocking at the Manns’ door. “Hi,” she said to the girl who opened up for her. She noticed that it was the same girl who had come to the school office to bring her grandmother something during the Overnight days.
“Here you go,” Mimi said with a polite smile as she handed over the bag. “And I apologize for my mother that she forgot about it.”
“No harm done,” Yaffa said amiably, and left. Shuli, busy in the kitchen washing the dishes in the milchig sink, could not hear the voice at the door over the running water.
“Stop, Shuli, really,” Mimi said as she re-entered the kitchen. “It’s too much. I just went to the door for a second, and already you—”
“If I would think for a second that you really want me to stop, I would,” her friend replied, scrubbing all the while. “But I know that you’ll be much happier if the sink is clean.”