Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 5 of a new online serial novel, The Black Sheep, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
“Sarah, mazel tov!” The kallah’s mother shook her hand warmly. “It’s so lovely to see you. Come, sit down; it’s fine that you didn’t get here for the chuppah. Look, my sister-in-law Zahava saved you a place.”
Sarah smiled and nodded and walked over to the corner table.
“Hello,” she said to the women seated there, some of whom she recognized and some whom she did not. “Mazel tov.”
“Sarah, mazel tov; how are you?” Elazar’s cousin began passing her bowls of dips one after the other. “You look tired. What time did you work until today?”
“Until six. Thanks.” Sarah took a bit of coleslaw but ignored the other dips.
“It’s no wonder you look like this, with those black circles under your eyes. With children or adults?”
“Did my neighbor’s daughter start coming to you? You know, she’s hard of hearing. I highly recommended you to her, and told them it’s worth it to travel once a week from Kiryat Ata to Acco, or Haifa. You go to Haifa sometimes, don’t you?”
Sarah slowly swallowed. “Yes, once a week. And I don’t like to give out information about people.” She smiled, and her American accent sounded even stronger, as it always did when she was abashed or uncomfortabke. “Could you please pass me the Coke?”
“But I gave her the recommendation!”
“No, my neighbor!” Zahava almost threw the soda bottle across the table. “I told her you are the best speech therapist in the north of the country, if not the entire country. I told her that every meter she has to travel to you is worth it for her daughter. I told her that—”
“Thanks so much for the recommendation, Zahava. I really appreciate it.” Sarah leaned back. “But if your daughter was my client, you wouldn’t want me to give information about her freely, would you?”
Zahava didn’t like the comparison, or so it seemed. “Look, Sarah, it’s so nice that you’re sensitive about this,” she said. “But you’re overdoing it a bit. If I don’t hear about it from you, I’ll hear about it from her. Alright, whatever. How is it to live in that far-out little hole?”
“Oh, Acco is no far-out hole. Elazar lived there as a child, remember? It’s a city with lots of charm.”
“Nu, nu,” Zahava said; for a moment she seemed to have forgotten her neighbor’s hard-of-hearing daughter. “I remember that place. We used to spend vacations there when we were kids. So much time has passed since then… But I don’t understand. Why was Elazar so driven to move back there?”
Sarah was very skilled at ignoring questions she had no intention of answering. There were people like Zahava with whom it was hard to apply this technique, but Sarah had never backed down in the face of difficulty.
“Sarah?” Zahava asked, after a few moments of impatient waiting.
“What?” Sarah smiled, shaking off some mysterious deep thoughts.
“I asked why Elazar was so driven to go back to Acco. What does he have there now?”
“Oh, lots. Come over for a visit when you have a chance. I’m sure you’ll enjoy reminiscing about your childhood experiences.”
“You’re not trying to tell me that he moved back there only for the nostalgia, are you?!”
“Nostalgia is a wonderful thing.” Sarah studied the flower she had formed from her gold-hued cloth napkin. “So why not?”
“Because normal people don’t live their lives based on their nostalgia.” Zahava sensed she was losing what remained of her patience. What was it about Elazar’s wife? She was a pleasant, successful, usually very friendly woman, but sometimes she seemed to disconnect in the middle of a conversation, offering only vague or fuzzy answers to the questions that were directed to her. Maybe that was her Americanism coming through.
“Normal is a subjective concept, you know.” Sarah put the flower down on her big plate. The waitress standing behind her looked admiringly at it, and immediately began to ask her how she’d made it. Sarah slowly demonstrated the different folding techniques, with extensive explanations, effectively putting an end to her conversation with Zahava.
“People just don’t leave us alone,” she said to her husband late that night, as she fluffed up her pillow. “How was the wedding for you, and meeting everyone?”
“They really didn’t leave me alone much either,” he replied. “But it was fine. It doesn’t bother me.”
“They’ve spent two years trying to figure out why we moved, and why here, and why we left Haifa, and what we are looking for here, and don’t we miss our children?”
“Oh, that? Actually, no one badgered me about that. Or maybe they tried and I didn’t notice.”
“So what didn’t they leave you alone about?”
“About this house.”
“This house?” She looked around at the walls.
“Yes. Remember Marcus’s son? He started dabbling in real estate. He wants to buy it.”
“Really! Him, too?”
“Him, too.” He smiled. “Another one in line… For almost the entire wedding, he told me about the plans for this area and the developing tourism here. Apparently, the Acco Municipality wants to start encouraging tourism in the city.”
“Encouraging it? As it is, there are too many Christian tourists and all kinds of others here.”
“During the day. But they don’t stay overnight in the city, usually. There aren’t really any nice hotels here.”
“So that’s what Marcus’s son wants to build? Hotels? For Christian tourists?”
“That’s what I asked him, too. But he said on the contrary, he wants to build a frum hotel, which will be a big asset for the religious and Chareidi communities here. You know, people will come vacation here, and they’ll fill the shuls…”
She pondered this, running her finger along the lace trim of her pillow. “That sounds a little better.”
“Yes, I also thought so, until I realized that he wants to build that hotel right here.”
He chuckled as he tapped the rug near his bed with his feet. “Right here. Instead of having this floor, these walls, and this ceiling. And of course instead of some other walls and houses on this street.”
“Well, then, it’s a waste to do all that talking.”
“You understand that. But he did not.”
“So let him not understand. Just like a different woman at the wedding just could not understand why we left Haifa for Acco; it looked to me like she was taking it personally, or something… By the way, tell me, did Osher say anything to you about the lemonade?”
“To me, no. Maybe he said something to someone else, though.”
“What do you think he thinks?”
“Truthfully, I don’t know. He’s quite an enigma to me, that boy.” He tried to smile, but it wasn’t his normal, easy grin. “I usually get to know my boys pretty fast. But there’s something about him that is so closed, so mysterious.” He was quiet for a long moment. “Hashem will help,” he said finally, with a sigh.
The wedding was nice, and I really enjoyed the ride there and back. Reb Elazar has a very big family, and he said that what we saw was only part of it. He is an only son, and he has only one sister, who’s a lot older than him. But his sister has many children and grandchildren, and Reb Elazar himself has about eight children, and all of them, except for the youngest, who is learning in yeshivah in Yerushalayim, are married. He’s got lots of grandchildren already, too. I didn’t see any of his kids, because they didn’t come to the wedding. None of them live up north like he does. But a few of his nephews came, and many of his cousins, and together they all have more than fifty kids bli ayin hara!
So many people came over to him at the wedding, and he introduced almost all of them to me: this one was a nephew, or a cousin, or the son of a cousin, or he was married to the daughter of a cousin, and things like that. He made sure to introduce me to everyone he spoke to, so I should feel comfortable. Eventually I told him that I won’t remember who is who anyway, and he smiled and stopped explaining to me the whole mishpachology. But he did keep on offering me cake or bourekas or other things to eat from the hot buffet.
I sat there eating and drinking, while thinking about how different it is from our family. I never went to a cousin’s wedding when I was a kid. I don’t have even a single frum cousin, so whenever there was a wedding in the extended family, Abba and Ima went to say mazel tov, but they didn’t take any of us along. We never went to our grandparents for Shabbos either. Here and there, Abba’s parents came to visit us, but Ima’s parents never did. Sometimes I thought that they didn’t like to come to us because I was very wild and didn’t behave nicely or politely. Today I realize that I had nothing to do with it. Still, I’m sure it was always a relief to Ima to know that at least she has Ariella, who always knows what to say—so if an irreligious relative would decide to visit, she could count on her to help set a positive tone. Of course that’s besides the fact that Ariella also always had the greatest test marks, and she knows how to make everyone laugh, and she never causes Ima or Abba any embarrassment.
When there was a quiet minute at the wedding, I told Reb Elazar that he should appreciate his big family. He told me that it’s true, and that he really does, but it was good that I was reminding him, because we don’t always remember these things.
Dovid wasn’t sitting next to us. Practically from the minute we arrived, he got himself a good spot across from the band, and he didn’t move from there until we left. On the way home, he explained to the Rav that he loves music, and that he plays some guitar and keyboard. The Rav smiled and said that he also plays, on the accordion. At first, that made me laugh, but then I decided that it really fits. Reb Elazar is not your average person. Which makes us a good match, because I’m not your average person either, and I know it.
People don’t always understand me. Like Dovid, for example, earlier on. Why was he even offended? What did I tell him? That I was bored? So what? What’s to be offended about that?
The only one who totally gets me is Ariella… Sometimes she gets me too well. Maybe it’s because she also has ADHD, but she manages with it really well. Ima says that she “took it to a good place.”
Ima never says such things about me.
That reminds me that I have to call Ariella, because of the lemonade. I must know if Reb Elazar told my family that I’m here. If he did, I’m out of here. I came because I wanted to run away, without my family coming after me.
I like to run away a lot.
I hope he didn’t tell them. I really, really hope so. Because I told him that I had spoken to them myself, but he didn’t understand that I didn’t tell them exactly where I am. It’s not called lying, I think. I mean, I hope.
I called Ariella when Shloimy and Yeruchem went down to prepare supper. I stayed upstairs in the apartment, without even checking if it was my turn to do anything. I actually remembered that it might be, but as a new guy, I’m allowed to forget. I locked the door of the room and called. I think Ariella was very surprised to hear from me.
“Osher!” she said. “One minute.” Then I heard some muted sounds, like she was covering the mouthpiece. After a minute, she was back on the phone. “Sorry, I was in the middle of a lesson with a student, but we’re done now.”
“An accordion lesson?” I asked. When the Rav told me about his accordion, I totally forgot that I know that instrument very well because of Ariella.
“My Rav also plays the accordion,” I told her.
Oops. She didn’t like that tidbit at all. “Your Rav? An accordion?” I could literally see her eyebrows drawing close to one another. “Which Rav?”
“Reb Elazar,” I said calmly. “But he never took official lessons, he told me. He just has inborn musical talent.”
“Reb Elazar,” she echoed slowly. “Yes, Dassy, goodbye. Next Monday, b’ezras Hashem!”
I waited patiently for Ariella to pick up the conversation with me.
“Who is Reb Elazar?” She had finished bidding her music student goodbye and turned her attention back to our conversation.
“Where is here?”
“Ariella, enough already! And thanks for the lemonade that you sent, but I really don’t want you to come yourself.” I couldn’t let her win this. She’d won me too many times in life. “Do you understand? I don’t want to see anyone from Bnei Brak. Let me have some time to figure out if this place is good for me. If not, I’m coming home next week.”
“Come ON, Ariella!” Now I was annoyed. “First you send me stuff, and then you’ll send me yourself. I know it!”
“But maybe I’ll come to the area, nothing to do with you,” she said. “If, let’s say, there’s an accordion store there with a half-price sale.”
“That’s a ridiculous excuse,” I said irately. I forgot that it’s not good to get angry. It always gets you into trouble. “Very ridiculous. I don’t think you need to come from Bnei Brak to Acco to buy an accordion.”
“You’re right,” she said warmly, but her tone didn’t convince me, because just like she knows how to read me, I also can read her a bit. And somehow, under all that sugary sweetness, I realized I’d made a mistake. Until now she’d had no idea that I was in Acco. And I—no one else—had gone and revealed it to her.