Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 10 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.
“Ariella! So good to see you! You haven’t been here for two days already!”
“That’s right,” Ariella said tonelessly. “It’s fine—you seem to have managed without me.”
“Should I make you a tea? You’re very hoarse again.”
Her sister looked at her gratefully. “Yes, thanks,” she said quietly, and sank into a chair in the kitchen, exhausted. “I’m thinking about going away.”
“Going away? Where to?” Lakey hung the milchig dishtowel on the hook.
“I don’t know.”
“Will you take me with you?” Lakey asked mischievously. “Sounds like a magical place, this ‘I don’t know.’”
“You have school.”
“And you have work.”
“My students can wait a bit,” Ariella said dismissively.
“That’s not exactly true,” Lakey said. “You teach about six girls a day, five days a week. So out of all of those, there aren’t some who have tests coming up? Accordion is one thing; you can always leave them some instructions about what to practice when you’re not here. But math?”
“Well, they managed when I was in Belgium. They’ll find substitutes or whatever.”
“That was only for ten days, and as it was, it was hard for them. I know for a fact that Shulamis Kovner, who’s in my class, really struggled without you.”
“And who told you that it will be for longer than ten days this time?” Ariella chuckled, then coughed. “Maybe I’m planning to go away for just a day and a half?”
Lakey was a bit confounded. “True,” she conceded with a smile, after a moment. “But I don’t know why…your tone just tells me that you want to go away for at least three months.”
“One, zero, Lakey,” Ariella said. “I really do want to go away for three months.”
“So then I won’t be able to come with you.” Lakey stuck out her lower lip in feigned disappointment.
The door to the laundry room opened. “Ariella, welcome!” their mother greeted her oldest. “How are you doing? I see Lakey made you some tea.”
“Yes, and it’s hot and delicious.”
“With half a teaspoon of vanilla extract,” her sister added, revealing the secret ingredient. “Ariella, can you explain something in math to me?”
“Sure, bring me the book.”
Mrs. Ehrenbaum waited until her younger daughter had disappeared into the other room, and then asked in a low tone. “Tell me, Ariella, have you ever heard of Reiness, from Acco?”
Ariella looked into her teacup. “Ima, I really have no energy for this now,” she said quietly.
“Oy, sorry, it’s not a shidduch. It’s about Osher.”
Ariella raised her eyes. “Oh, I was so preoccupied with my own life that I forgot that Acco is about Osher right now. Reiness from Acco? Hmm…I don’t think I’ve ever heard of him. I don’t think I know of anyone who lives in Acco.”
“There’s a small frum community in Acco, but we don’t really know anyone there, so we can’t even found out much about this Reiness person.”
“Osher gave you the name?”
“No, Abba received a phone call from someone who introduced himself as Elazar Reiness. He said he has a small yeshivah for a group of boys, and Osher has joined them. He sounded like a serious person, a shomer Torah u’mitzvos, but he didn’t speak for long, so Abba wasn’t able to figure out too much more. He must be someone who deals with struggling kids; the question is…” She fell silent.
Ariella’s forehead creased. “Did he say anything else?”
“That when we speak to Osher, we should not tell him, or even hint to him, that he spoke to us. He apologized for the aggravation caused to us by our not knowing where Osher was all this time, but said that perhaps it would be better if we didn’t call there if it wasn’t urgent, as long as Osher doesn’t contact us and give us all the details.”
“In the north…” Ariella whispered.
“I called directory assistance. There’s one Reiness in Acco. Elazar and Sarah. I decided that the fact that I don’t know enough details about my son right now is urgent, so I called them myself.”
“There was no answer. What’s interesting is that the same name also appears in Haifa, under the same number.”
“What does Abba say?” Ariella asked, after processing for a minute.
“That we should try to find out what kind of place Osher is in now.”
“Did he leave Abba a cell number?”
“No, the whole call was so quick that Abba didn’t even think of asking him for his number.”
“And the number didn’t come up on Caller ID?”
“It came up as an ‘Out of Area’ call.”
“Hmm. Do you think they blocked the number on purpose?”
Ima smiled, with a trace of guilt. “That’s exactly what I did when I tried to call the number I got from directory assistance; I called from a friend’s cell phone, so that they—or Osher—should not realize that I called. There’s something a bit nerve-wracking about this whole story, don’t you think?”
Ariella put her empty cup in the milchig sink and turned on the water. The steady stream of water was soothing on her fingers. “Do you remember my friend Shifra? She lives in Haifa today. I’ll try to pick her brain a little.”
“Sarah Reiness?” Shifra, her friend from the past, was as to-the-point as ever. “You mean the speech therapist? Speaking of which, I didn’t even recognize your voice until you introduced yourself.”
“What? Oh, it’s because I’m hoarse… It gets worse when I’m stressed.” Ariella did not know why she was sharing this information. Perhaps because of Shifra’s apparent indifference. “I’m asking about her in general, her family, her husband.”
“Oh, I don’t know them.” Shifra had never been nosy. More than that, she wasn’t the type to be curious about anything that did not directly relate to her. If she was asked about something—curiosity-provoking as the question might be—she generally answered and then moved on, without delving too much into why the person might be asking the question. Ariella was supremely grateful for this; she did not feel up to being cross-examined right now.
“And her? You know her?”
“I’ve just heard about her. She’s supposed to be a very successful speech therapist.”
“Speech therapist,” Ariella echoed. “Can you check something out for me?”
“If it’s true that the Reinesses moved to Acco.”
“Sure, I’ll check.”
Shifra may have been the indifferent type, but she was also very efficient. A few hours later, she called Ariella, who had just bid goodbye to one of her accordion students.
“Shifra, how are you?”
“Baruch Hashem, good. So, I found out about Sarah Reiness for you.”
“Oh, you did? Thank you so much.” Ariella walked into the kitchen to peel an apple for herself.
“It seems they did move to Acco. It’s not clear why. But she continues to come to her clinic in Haifa twice a week.”
“What type of person is she? This is all l’toeles, by the way.” Where was the peeler?
“Well, she’s Chareidi. And American.”
“Her husband is also American?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t find that out.”
“Did you find out anything about her husband?”
“Nothing special. The person I asked said that her husband knows Sarah Reiness’s husband only by face. He’s on the quiet side, it seems.”
“Quiet…” Ariella knitted her eyebrows.
“Yes. This person didn’t live near the Reinesses, and they didn’t daven in the same place, either. So she doesn’t really know.”
“Does she know if the Reinesses are Litvish? Chassidish?”
“So I see they do know some details about them. And they still can’t tell you anything about the guy’s personality, other than that he is quiet?”
“No, her husband doesn’t know him.”
“And why did they move to Acco?”
“She doesn’t know.”
Ariella thanked her friend again and hung up. “Doesn’t sound like much,” she said to her apple, then made a brachah and took a bite. She couldn’t find the peeler, so she ate the apple with its peel.
Her mother, who went walking with her late that evening, looked and sounded much more concerned. “Did you find out anything about this Reiness, Ariella?”
“A drop,” her daughter replied.
“Me, too. From all the phone calls I made, I got to someone who knows of them a little. She’s from Yerushalayim and doesn’t know them personally at all, but there’s a boy from her block who went to learn at this Reiness’s yeshivah.” She sighed. “The welfare services just took him away from there, and it wasn’t so simple.”
Yeruchem left today.
He didn’t want to go, but he didn’t have a choice. His family didn’t want him to stay here, and Reb Elazar told him that he had to obey them. I’m not sure who “they” are, because Yeruchem doesn’t have parents. He grew up in a foster family. It’s a sad story, and I don’t really know too many details, but the bottom line is, they didn’t give him the right to decide about this. He’s only thirteen and a half.
I think he cried a lot before he left. I didn’t ask him anything, or even offer him a tissue, because I know that people don’t like it when others show that they know that they were crying. So I stayed quiet. The guy who came for him, Gad Shimoni, or something like that, spoke to Yeruchem for a little while. Then he spoke again to Reb Elazar, and then he went back to his car and waited there until Yeruchem came downstairs with his little suitcase. Yeruchem spoke to Reb Elazar for a few minutes, and then he went into Shimoni’s car and they drove off. And that was it.
Obviously, it would have been better if Yeruchem would have stayed with us. This Shimoni is secular, and while it’s true that he was just the official proxy charged with bringing Yeruchem back to his foster family, who are fine people, the fact that he got involved in taking Yeruchem out of our yeshivah doesn’t say good things.
Because I think Yeruchem was happy here.
I am not yet sure if I’m happy here. Whenever I come to a new place, it takes me a long time to decide if it is good for me or not. (Besides the yeshivah I went to after eighth grade; after five weeks there, before I could even decide anything, they already decided that I was not for them. But I’m not angry at them, because I think they were right.)
So here it will also take me time to decide. But Yeruchem did like it here very much. You could see that.
After he left, we went to eat supper. Reb Elazar didn’t eat with us. He just kept walking up and down the front yard, gazing at the sea. He looked very sad and disappointed. I finished eating and went out to him. I tried to find the right words. I wanted to tell him that there were lots of other boys who still needed him. But I couldn’t figure out if it was the right thing to say or not…
“Why did they take Yeruchem away?” I finally asked.
“Because it’s not a place for him here,” he said quietly. “And they are right about that. He is too young, and we don’t have a real dormitory here, and it’s also not an official educational institution.”
“It’s not an educational institution at all,” I said.
“Is that what you think?”
“It’s not an ‘educational institution’,” I explained. “It’s not a yeshivah where people learn all the time, or even a cheder that has lessons. We have a Mishnayos shiur after davening in the morning. And after lunch and carpentry, we have a Gemara shiur, and then in the late afternoon, you teach us Mesilas Yesharim, and a little bit of parshah in the evening. Wow, Rebbi, you actually teach us a ton, but it’s just a very short amount each time!”
Reb Elazar smiled. “I try,” he said.
“What, to teach us a lot? Or that it should be in short amounts each time?”
He chuckled but didn’t answer. I joined in his laughter. He has this warm, contagious type of laugh.
Then I went back to the topic of Yeruchem. “So if they are right about this not being the best kind of ‘yeshivah’ for Yeruchem, then why did you let him come here in the first place? When those official people began coming and saying it wasn’t the right place for him, why didn’t you just tell them they were right, and send him back to Yerushalayim?”
“Because as much as it wasn’t the best idea for him to be here, they haven’t yet found a another, better place for him.”
“So where will he go now?” I suddenly felt very sad. For Yeruchem. For myself. For the world trying to put us into boxes, even if we needed to be cut into several pieces in order to fit inside.
“I don’t know, exactly. I spoke to a friend of mine who has a yeshivah ketanah in Yerushalayim. Maybe there, with special supervision, it will work out for Yeruchem. His family said they will look into it.”
Some of the other boys joined us, and we all went down to the water. We sat on the sand and sang a bit with the accordion. I spent some of the time walking around the others, and studying the tracks my feet made in the sand. I draw a whole circle of holes in the sand, and every so often, I joined the singing.
Suddenly, someone arrived, dragging his feet.
“Nechemiah!” Reb Elazar rose to greet his son. “How are you? Is everything okay, if you’re here?”
“Baruch Hashem. I just have a very, very, very bad cold.” He sneezed three times. “And I have a little fever.”
“I believe you!” His father laughed. “But you need to be in bed now, son, not on the beach.”
“Yes, but Ima is not home,” Nechemiah said, sounding like a little boy. “And there are lots of her things on my bed, and a new painting that’s still wet. So I came to see if she’s here, because I don’t know where to put everything.”
“Ima is working in Haifa today,” Reb Elazar reminded him. He shook his head. “But you belong in a warm bed now, with a hot drink.”
Even before the Rav finished brushing the sand off his pants, I spoke up. “Rebbi, I’ll go with Nechemiah. He can sleep in Yeruchem’s bed; I have clean linen for him. And I know how to make a very good tea.”
I saw the Rav deliberating. He wanted to be a good father to his son, but he also didn’t want to leave all of us alone on the beach. “Thank you very much, Osher,” he said finally, as he sat back down. “We’ll be back soon, okay? Don’t worry, Nechemiah—I’m leaving you in very good hands!”
“I’m not worried at all,” Nechemiah said, and flashed me a watery smile.