Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
Getting Dovi Brim into yeshivah again.
Working out the problem with the state tests.
Reconciling between the teams from the Chanukah chagigah.
Making sure the teachers were happy with their schedules.
Elchanan, on the small sofa, raised his head from the paper he was reading. “It’s impressive,” he said. “But this list is too short. I’m sure that if you think a bit more, there will be lots to add to this list, much more than the four lines you have here. What about teaching a few girls some valuable lessons? And some adults, too?”
“If I did that, it was really incidental,” Yaffa said with a smile as she took back her paper. “But it really makes no difference. I just wanted to write a few things down to convince myself that I did do something during this time; that I wasn’t just a puppet these past few months, like I was at the beginning.”
“If someone was a puppet here, it was me,” Elchanan returned, his tone indiscernible. “A straw-man, like Moishe Berman put it. And don’t ask me what else he said, because I’m too tired to talk about it right now.”
“Fine,” Yaffa said and got up to boil some eggs. The stovetop gleamed like it hadn’t gleamed in along time.
“So, you’re going to work for another month now?”
“Something like that.” She smiled, and although no one had intended to offend her, her smile was definitely tinged with some hurt. “With a day off each week, Weissman said.”
“You know,” Elchanan said slowly, “I’m thinking, maybe you should take off the day after tomorrow.”
“The day after tomorrow?”
“Yes. Keeping the car is a bit too expensive right now, and I’m thinking of selling it. So maybe we should go on a little trip, you know, to say goodbye to the car.”
The water in the small pot began to bubble. “A trip. Nice. Where to?”
“There are all sorts of trails that we can try; they aren’t too far or too hard. There’s a nice one near the Yam Hamelach called Einot Tzukim.”
“You decide, Elchanan.” Yaffa checked the freezer to see if there was any bread. “I don’t know anything about these things; I trust you.” A trip could be very welcome right now, after they had both been working nonstop these past few months. Einot Tzukim? She’d never heard of it, but Elchanan was much more familiar with these kinds of places than she was. It was good to admit sometimes that you don’t know about certain things, and that it wasn’t your job to make decisions about those things. She had to work to discover her own flaws, not her husband’s. With regard to him, it was up to her to look away from the things that didn’t find so much favor in her eyes, and focus on the aspects of him that did.
Maybe that’s what was called coming to terms with things.
“Mimi! What are you doing here?”
“Same thing as you. I came for an interview.”
“Ha, ha. Funny joke,” Shuli said impatiently. “I’m supposed to meet you tomorrow at Shaarei Binah, not today at Spiegel’s school.”
“So I’m telling you now that you’re meeting me here and now, and you won’t be seeing me at Shaarei Binah tomorrow.”
“Did you forget that you were the one who actually mentioned to me the idea of going to a different school? Why are you so surprised?”
Shuli laughed. “And you almost wanted to bite me then.”
“Well, not anymore,” Mimi said.
“So nice of you!”
They were standing at the end of a corridor full of milling girls all talking to each other in low, nervous tones. The walls were brightly decorated, and most of the eighth graders were duly impressed by them. But neither Mimi nor Shuli were paying any attention to the walls right now.
“I want to see you do it,” Shuli said finally, flipping her bangs to the side.
“Going to a different school, not your grandmother’s.”
“It’s not my grandmother’s school,” Mimi said. “And you see that I am doing it. I came here, and this is where I plan to go. If they accept me, of course.”
Shuli opened her mouth to say something, and then snapped it closed. And being that that was a rare thing for Shuli Emmanuel to do, Mimi knew that her friend finally believed her.
“Actually,” Shuli said finally, “I…I really want to go to Shaarei Binah. I mean, I’m applying to this school, too—that’s why I’m here for an interview now—but my first choice is your grandmother’s school.”
“So go there.” Mimi smiled, and only her pride prevented her from crying. “I know you made a good impression on my grandmother.”
“You said she’s not the one deciding this year.”
“But they might bring her tomorrow, I mean, she might come tomorrow for some of the interviews.”
“Well, I guess we’ll see,” Shuli said, and looked around. Although she had come here as a second choice, she found herself saying, “But if you register here, maybe I’ll decide that I want to come with you.”
“Thanks,” Mimi said stiffly. “But it’s okay. Go wherever you want.”
“Of course I’ll go wherever I want,” Shuli said frostily. “The question is why you are not going where you want.”
“Because I don’t want to.”
“Really.” Mimi grasped Shul’s wrist in an uncharacteristic motion. Maybe she had learned it from Shuli herself. “I don’t want to go to Shaarei Binah. I really don’t want to. To tell you it’s not hard for me? I’m not saying that. But my parents think that I’ll do much better somewhere else.” She took a deep breath. “And so do I.”
Her friend looked at her doubtfully, but didn’t say a word. Now Shuli had to decide whether to come here with Mimi or to go to Shaarei Binah and risk losing the good friend she’d worked so hard to acquire.
Well, Shuli thought, let’s first see where I get accepted. Then I can decide.
Sitting in a wheelchair, after a long drive that gave her a headache, Adina Kotzker rolled through the gates of the school. They weren’t surprised to see her, perhaps because they were only gates; but the girls who passed her nodded awkwardly. The more confident, easygoing girls actually surrounded the wheelchair and warmly welcomed Mrs. Kotzker, and slowly, the others followed suit. Adina had a hard time turning her head to everyone, but she heard their voices welcoming her—and felt like she was taking a step in the right direction. Nachum was right. Her recovery was here, in this building, b’ezras Hashem.
Muriel, the Filipino aide who was assisting Adina, waited patiently, her hands on the wheelchair. Finally, they heard the bell heralding the end of the recess, and only then did the circle of girls thin out and disperse. Once again, the wheelchair could continue making its way inside.
With brief instructions, Mrs. Kotzker guided Muriel to the doorway of the office.
“Ima, you’re early!” Malka cried as she pressed her mother’s hand warmly. “Welcome back!” For a fraction of a second, the thought crossed her mind that Mimi wouldn’t like the ruckus around her grandmother, but then she banished the thought as nonsense; by the beginning of the new school year, her mother would surely be completely recovered. Then, on the third thought, she reflected on the words of Rabbi Spiegel’s assistant, whom she’d met yesterday, and who’d told Malka warmly that they had heard wonderful things about Mimi and were eagerly waiting to welcome her to their school next year.
So even if part of what the woman said was only enthusiastic because of the official friendship between her and Malka—still, wouldn’t it be much better for Mimi to go someplace that wanted her and where she wanted to go?
The secretaries came over to her mother and greeted her. Teachers also entered, truly happy to see Mrs. Kotzker. The hubbub grew around her mother, but Malka noticed that two people were missing. Where were Yael Braun and Yaffa Levinsky?
Well, there were no questions about Yaffa Levinsky. She probably preferred to wait in her office quietly, even though it would have been appropriate for her to come out and greet the real principal. But Yael? Where was she?
“It’s her day off,” Chana said, when Malka asked the question aloud. She looked at Malka in surprise, and Malka nodded. In all the excitement of her mother’s arrival, could she be blamed for forgetting this vital tidbit of information?
Still, though, wouldn’t it have made sense for Yael to make the effort, even on her day off, to come in for this occasion? Hadn’t she thought of it herself?
Malka resolved not to let the issue mar her happiness at her mother’s return. Enough was enough. “Ladies,” she announced after another minute of watching the happy clamor around her mother. “The girls are in class; have you noticed?”
Yes, the teachers had noticed. A few more warm words and welcoming hugs, and the office emptied out. The diminutive Filipino, who had been leaning against the wall, took up her position behind the chair again and pushed it toward the door of the inner office.
“Mrs. Kotzker…” Yaffa, who had been waiting beside the desk, having risen when she’d heard the noise outside, approached the door. “Baruch Rofeh cholim.”
“Baruch Hu u’varuch Shemo,” Adina replied with a smile. She looked around. The desk was clean and empty. Yaffa hadn’t left a single thing there. Her papers, notebooks, and other paraphernalia were all in a pile in the corner of the room. Even her pocketbook, which Yaffa had always hung on the back of her chair, was relegated to there.
Muriel pushed the wheelchair over to the desk.
“No, not here. Here.” Yaffa moved the large leather chair back, clearing the space.
“Is there room for two there?” Adina asked. “It will be hard with my wheelchair, but I am sure we will manage.”
Yaffa glanced at the space. “No,” she replied. “There’s only room for the wheelchair. But I’ll bring a regular chair from the office, and maybe there will be room for two then.”
“No, Yaffa,” Mrs. Kotzker said wearily. “Don’t hurry to escape from this chair. You’ll have to be here for a long time yet before I will be here full-time. Put your chair here, on this side. It’s yours in the meantime.”
“Your chair” was the big leather chair, and Yaffa moved it awkwardly. The attendant pushed the wheelchair to the other side of the desk, where the principal’s seat had been before, and the principal placed her hands on the Formica desktop. For a moment, there was quiet. No one else was in the office. Malka had to hurry to class, and the secretaries were busy with their own work.
“There will be lots more to do here,” Adina said finally, raising her head, “until I really come back. And what about after that? You’ll take another job in the school, won’t you?”
Yaffa smiled. “I don’t know yet.”
“Well, with the contacts you’ve developed here, it shouldn’t be a problem at all. Maybe you’ll want to continue where you started?”
It was strange to sit here now and talk about next year, which seemed so far away. Yaffa shrugged. “I still haven’t thought through that properly,” she said quietly. There were lots of things she hadn’t thought through properly. Things like her life, which had suddenly taken a sharp, ninety-degree turn and begun flowing in a totally different direction from how it had flowed up until now; and like Elchanan, whose life had made several revolutions recently, and who, perhaps, would now finally allow his wild compass indicator to take a bit of a rest; and like Bentzy, who would grow up not knowing what a failure his mother had once been, until Hashem had helped her to visit deep inside herself and find things she never knew existed.
The interviews started an hour and a half later. Other teachers sat in adjacent classrooms interviewing eighth graders. So as not to overwhelm Mrs. Kotzker, only a handful of girls were directed toward her office. These were the girls who Baila was unsure about and who the other committee members also could not make a decision about. The committee members were all hoping that the principal’s expertise would be the deciding factor for these girls.
The first girl came in hesitantly, then another one, and another one. Yaffa was quiet throughout the interviews, speaking only when the principal spoke to her. At one point, Baila also came in, but Yaffa noticed that she, too, left the principal to play the leading role and focused on mere technicalities such as saying, “Close the door, please, “You can sit down,” “Did you fill out the application?” and, “Call the girl after you, please.”
And then came the next girl in line, a girl so familiar-looking that Yaffa couldn’t hold back her cry of surprise. It was as though the girl had dropped onto the stage in the middle of the wrong scene, wearing the wrong costume. “Shuli?!”
Yes, Yaffa had seen Shuli’s name on the list and had even advocated for her, but the way everyone had been talking, she didn’t seem to have any chances. So, she’d landed an interview after all that? Well, she was a good student, and a good girl. Perhaps the committee had made the effort to ask about her and had gotten good information.
The girl turned to Yaffa. “Hello,” she said, clearly surprised, and then she nodded at the others in the room, and smiled brightly at the principal.
“Shulamis Emmanuel,” Baila read off the application. “That’s your name, right? Nice to meet you. Take a seat.”
“Do you know each other?” Adina asked Yaffa. “I’ve gotten to know my granddaughter’s sweet friend, but I didn’t know that you knew her, too.”
“Yes,” Yaffa replied, blushing red. “We’ve met…a few times.”
“Oh,” Shuli said, her eyes opened a bit wide. She wondered if she was allowed to speak to her former cleaning lady in the second person. She’d always sensed that there was something mysterious about Yaffa. Shuli’s teacher had said that when you get to high school, your personality begins to mature and you start looking at the world differently. Why had her interviewer needed to clean houses? Had she been working on her gaavah or something? She wondered if she’d ever be able to ask Yaffa that directly.
“How are you?” Yaffa asked with a small smile.
“Baruch Hashem.” And the personal exchange was over. From that moment on, the interview proceeded normally. At the end, Mrs. Kotzker thanked Shuli for accompanying Mimi to visit her, and the girl smiled again and nodded.
“Thank you for meeting with me,” she said and walked out.
“She makes a good impression,” Baila said as the door closed.
“Yes,” Mrs. Kotzker said thoughtfully. “What do you say, Yaffa?”
“I think the principal should say.”
“Nu, that’s what I said.” Mrs. Kotzker smiled, suddenly yearning for her bed at the rehab center. “That the principal should say, no?”
The drive down to the Yam Hamelach was breathtaking. The scenery varied from minute to minute, from groves of towering palm trees to desert expanses dotted with swathes of verdant greenery, to white, chalky mountains.
The Einot Tzukim reserve was a green oasis in the desert, with crisscrossing streams running through it. Elchanan and Yaffa strolled around a little, breathing the fresh air that was so different from that of the urbanism of Yerushalayim, marveling at the rainwater flowing from the dolomite rocks after having traveled hundreds of meters down the desert mountain to reach that point. The couple observed the interesting birds which also seemed curious about the lowest point on earth. Elchanan released Bentzy from the carrier he had been strapped into on his back, and Yaffa spread a large, thin blanket on the green-yellow grass. “It’s really, really pretty here,” she remarked as she sat down.
“It’s nice, this little break,” Elchanan said, rummaging around in the bag she’d brought. “If I start at the yeshivah next week, I won’t have much time for trips. Although from what I’ve seen of the rosh yeshivah, I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes the boys on trips like this from time to time.”
“So you can recommend this place.” Yaffa shooed away a big insect that had started crawling onto the blanket. Bentzy followed the bug with his eyes, fascinated.
“Maybe.” Elchanan lay down on his back and squinted. “I’m still wondering if it’s a good job for me.”
“You did very well with Dovi Brim.”
“As a friend, not as someone whose job it was to sit on his head.”
“You don’t have to sit on the boys’ heads,” Yaffa pointed out.
“Right…” Elchanan was thoughtful. He didn’t get the impression that it was possible to sit on the head of Elchanan Reichenberg, the boy sitting on the fence at the yeshivah. It was too small. Bentzy began to climb over his father, tugging at his chin.
“Yes, a respected mashgiach also needs an impressive beard—is that what you’re trying to say?” He chuckled and tickled his son. “I also thought about it. Nu, and what are you going to do, Yaffa?”
“Yes.” He prayed she wouldn’t suggest that she go back to clean at the family in Maaleh Adumim.
“I can be a secretary somewhere. I might have to take a computer course to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, but overall, I think such a job suits me.” She opened a water bottle and pulled the cups out of the bag.
“In your school?”
“No, that would be too hard. Yael said she’d try to help me find some good places to send resumes to. I don’t think it should be too hard to get hired.”
“I’m sure.” He laughed as he tugged at a small leaf and wrapped it around his finger. “I’m just imagining what your resume will say: ‘I went to high school in Petach Tikva, then I was a stay-at-home wife and mother, then I was a cleaning lady, then I was a substitute secretary, and then I became the principal. Now I want to be a secretary again. Do you have a job for me?’”
She laughed along with him. “They won’t believe me,” she said, sounding unusually carefree. “And the truth is—I don’t believe it either!”
A black bird with gold stripes on its back suddenly spread its wings and soared off, until it became a tiny speck in the clear blue sky.