The Cuckoo Clock – Chapter 17

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 17 of a new online serial novel, The Cuckoo Clock, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week.  Click here for previous chapters.

Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications. 

“In the gym of Bais Yaakov Zichron Elchanan…?” Avigail Auerbach raised her eyes from the invitation she was holding. “What’s the story with Tzippy?”

She went back to reading, and then: “What?!

Her little shriek did the trick, and her mother came rushing into the room. “What happened?” she asked her daughter, who was also a kallah, in alarm.

“Look!” Avigail said. “It’s Tzippy’s chasunah invitation… She’s getting married next week!”

“So, what are you so shocked about?”

“She told me that the wedding is in the middle of Shevat! Why did they suddenly make it six weeks earlier?”

“Oh, you’re talking about Tzippy Potolsky?”

“Yes. And not only that. Look where the wedding will be held!” Avigail handed her mother the cream-colored invitation.

“Strange…” Mrs. Auerbach murmured. “I hope everyone’s okay there. What was so urgent all of a sudden? And to make a wedding in such a place? What is going on?” She and her daughter exchanged anxious glances.

“She was supposed to get married six weeks after that. You remember we met her doing errands?”

“Yes, sure.”

Avigail sat down near her desk, playing with the cap-less pen that she found there. “But they both looked perfectly fine. What was strange was the standard of things they were buying, remember?”

“Yes, but I think this conversation is getting a bit gossipy.” Her mother handed her back the invitation. “I will tell this to Abba, though. He needs to know any unusual information regarding people who take loans from the gemach. It’s other people’s money, you know.”

“I would call her.”

“Who, Tzippy?”

“Yes.” Without noticing, she circled the words “Bais Yaakov” with a thick red line.

“That’s probably not such a good idea.” Her mother smiled thinly. “I imagine that the Potolsky family knows that their invitation is making waves…I don’t think it’s so nice to run and call her.”

“I think I would have called in any case, even if there wouldn’t be anything strange about the invitation. You know, just to compliment her on how pretty it came out and all that.”

“Is it especially pretty?” Her mother examined the invitation. “Looks quite standard to me. It’s got this fresh, clean look, but it’s not something I would run to call and compliment her about.”

“But that’s what’s usually done. Why not give a kallah a good feeling?”

“That’s true, and it’s normally a nice gesture,” her mother agreed. “But here I’m afraid that no one will view your phone call as an effort to make the kallah feel good, but rather as a way to satiate your curiosity, don’t you think?”

Avigail chuckled, and didn’t answer.

“Let’s wait for Abba to finish his meetings for today, and I’ll show him the invitation,” Mrs. Auerbach decided. “You know, Avigail, very soon you’re going to make so many circles around those words that we won’t be able to see them, and we’ll both think it was just our imagination that that is what it said!”

“When does Abba finish meeting with people?”

“Officially at ten thirty. But practically speaking, the meetings can stretch till after twelve. I hope he doesn’t have a very long line tonight; he was exhausted yesterday.”

Thankfully, the line wasn’t especially long that night, and by ten fifteen Reb Menachem Auerbach was just about ready to close up shop. But then there was a knock at the door, and the screen mounted on the wall indicated that it was Eliyahu Potolsky.

“Hello, Rabbi Potolsky.” The gemach director bid farewell to the borrower he was finishing up with, and raised his eyes to the new arrival.

Years of being involved in this field had sharpened his sensitivities, and he could sniff out—usually with ninety percent accuracy—how much money the visitor would be asking for, and how urgent the loan was. Even more valuable—he could sense whether the loan was a safe one or not. Not that he relied on his intuition completely; many good, experienced people had fallen victim to defaults on loans, and to this day he was dealing with unpaid loans. Still, he had developed a pretty sharp, gut feeling. And it was almost always right.

But now he didn’t feel anything. It was as though he was meeting Reb Eliyahu at Shacharis in shul. No, that wasn’t a good analogy, because when someone owed money and he was hard pressed to pay, it was evident not only within the walls of this room. So it was as if,,,as if Eliyahu was a resident of the neighborhood who had never borrowed a thing from him. That was his feeling now when looking at Potolsky.

“I came for two things,” Potolsky said as he sat down. “Actually, three.”

And before Reb Menachem could leaf through his blue notebook, Potolsky pulled out a bundle of bills in a rubber band from his suit pocket.

“Here is forty thousand shekel. That’s the loan I took a month and a half ago,” he said.

Reb Menachem stared at him. “Wow,” he noted quietly. “The loan is for ten months, and you’re returning it in less than two…” He took the wad of bills and began counting under his breath, fingering the notes one after the other. “It’s all here,” he said as he opened the notebook and crossed the loan details out.

He hadn’t yet had a chance to find the actual promissory note in the binder when Potolsky said, “Now I want to ask for a loan of twenty thousand shekels.”

“You’re a very organized person, Reb Eliyahu,” Rabbi Auerbach said, “but you could have returned just half of the forty. We spoke about repayment in installments in any case.”

“I prefer not to mix up the different accounts. The twenty is for the mortgage of my older daughter. We haven’t finished paying for her apartment yet.”

“And the forty?”

“That was for the second daughter.”

The gemach director was quiet as he turned the plastic sheet protectors in his binder. The descriptions his wife and daughter had shared about their recent encounter with Potolsky’s daughter rose in his mind, and warning bells went off. What was going on there with the second daughter?

“Besides that, I wanted to consult with you about who in the neighborhood could be a recipient of ma’aser money.”

“How much?”

“About eighteen thousand shekels.”

Reb Menachem’s fingers were finally holding the right promissory note, but now, he was at a loss for words. “Rabbi Potolsky, could you please explain to me what exactly is going on?”

“We got a special grant,” Eliyahu chose his words carefully, “to marry off this daughter. Therefore, I can return everything that I borrowed for her wedding, because I am managing baruch Hashem without loans. For the older one, though, I have to continue paying the mortgage as usual…”

“And what about the eighteen thousand that you want to give?”

“So I’m not sure it’s eighteen; it depends how much of the total we end up using. For now I brought ten. I asked a rav, and he said I don’t have to give ma’aser on the money that we were given specifically for the apartment, but that it is the right thing to give ma’aser from the grant for all the other expenses. And I had to ask permission from those giving us the money.”

Nu, so take the ma’aser and use it for your older daughter’s mortgage.” The gemach director smiled. “What could be simpler than that?”

“I should give ma’aser to myself?”

“Oh, this mortgage is what you committed to pay?”

“Part of it.”

“Well, then, I guess in that case, it really isn’t right.” He stroked his beard. “What is this grant, may I ask? Do you think we can speak to this donor who gives apartments and money to the needy like that, and try to get him to help out some other young couples?”

“Well, it’s not exactly like that.” Eliyahu was a bit uneasy. “It’s something very specific…  There’s someone who wants to donate money in memory of his parents, whose names are the same as the names of our couple…rather unusual names.”

“What are they?” Reb Menachem was very curious.

“Peretz and Tziporah Genendel.”

“What siyata d’Shmaya! And those are the names he was looking for? How did he find you?”

“Today the whole world is a global village, they say, right? And it did take him time. From what I understand, he’s been working on finding a couple with these names for a few years already.”

“Very nice, very nice. It’s always heartwarming to hear such stories of hashgachah pratis. Anyway, if you’re looking for someone to give the ma’aser money to, I think that Ganz could really use it. I don’t want to go into details, but I’m sure you’ve heard what they’re going through…”

“Yes, yes.”

“And I have two other names, some other people in the neighborhood,” Auerbach said tentatively.

“You know what, don’t even tell me who they are. I’ll leave the ten thousand here, and you distribute it, okay? And, please, don’t mention where the money came from…”

“Oh, sure, no problem at all. Thank you very, very much. And I’m transferring the guarantors from the forty that you gave me, back to the twenty that you’re taking now, right?”

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