Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 23 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.
Mission number one had been crowned with success.
Ariella watched as the taxi carrying Sarah Reiness drove off into the distance. An older man, wearing a small yarmulke, approached briskly from the other side of the sidewalk, and pushed open the gate. He was holding a faded tallis and tefillin bag, and he pulled a key ring out of his pocket, as he called over his shoulder, “The carpentry shop is closed now. It will open later this morning.”
Interesting rabbi Osher had found himself—a carpenter-rabbi!
Ariella observed from afar as the man opened the iron door on the ground floor and switched on the light. A bitter taste filled her mouth. If this was Osher’s rabbi, she would need to think hard about what to do and how. It was a bit strange, because the speech therapist, who had just left the house a few minutes before her husband came back from davening, had given a totally different impression.
She looked from side to side. Osher sure had gorgeous views here. The question was what else he had. A carpentry shop? Since when did Osher like to use his hands? She had always been favored by the craft teachers, even if she hadn’t been able to follow their instructions to the letter. But Osher?
Abba and Ima were hoping that the boys learned something here, that it was a “chizuk yeshivah” of some type. But if this man who she saw was the “rosh yeshivah,” then she didn’t know what kind of levels of chizuk or kiruv she could possibly expect.
Ariella turned around and walked into a narrow alley that abutted the house. Here were old Arab houses, and there was a hodgepodge of shapeless, unconnected additions attached to them. There was also a strong odor of fish all around. She walked slowly along the sidewalk as the wind blew on her face, growing colder with each passing minute. After a few minutes, she returned to the street that ran along the waterline, and chose the next street to turn down. Remarkably, it seemed to be a regular street, neither very wide nor narrow, and it was lined with much newer homes, some of which appeared to be rather upscale. She wasn’t sure about the quality of the construction, but it was clear that the street had been built in a more contemporary, Western style. Was this where the Jews lived in the area? Why had the Reinesses decided to settle in this location specifically?
“Hey!” A smiling woman of indeterminate age came out from one of the houses and stopped in front of her. “You’ve been wandering around here quite a lot, young lady, looking at the houses.”
Ariella smiled thinly, remaining silent. She had no intentions of denying it, but she was also not going to concede her guilt. What had she done wrong? Nothing. She hadn’t broken in anywhere, nor had she committed any other crime.
“Are you looking for someone?”
Ariella looked at her. The woman was wearing a coat and a wide scarf, and Ariella regretted not having taken something a little warmer for herself. “Yes,” she said tersely, but the roar of the waves swallowed up her word.
“Can I help you?” The woman spoke a fluent Hebrew, without any accent.
“I found what I’m looking for,” Ariella said crisply, not bothering to elaborate. “Now I’m just walking around a bit.”
The woman put her hands into her pockets. “You look a little lost to me,” she said. Ariella felt those familiar prickles in her limbs. She took a step back; something about the woman triggered a fear that she would pat Ariella on the shoulder or something.
“Okay,” the woman said at last, still smiling. “If you want something, I live here.” And without saying another word, she strode down the street.
Ariella watched her walk off and then turned in the other direction, walking back to the main road by the sea. Rain began to fall, and she crossed the street to see the drops hit the water, on the other side of the wall. The wind had weakened a bit, and the umbrella that she snapped open protected her well.
Which was perfect, because as she stood with her face to the sea, she suddenly heard the sound of a car pulling up just behind her, near the Reinesses’ home. She looked out of the corner of her eye and saw a bearded man, wearing a hat and suit, emerging from the car. He was followed by a tall youth with a bandaged cheek and another teen, who was shorter and dragging his leg.
She could hear the second boy’s voice, which he raised to be heard over the wind. “Ugh, we don’t have umbrellas, Rebbi.”
The taller boy said something that Ariella could not hear.
“Come under my umbrella, Osher; let me just get it open for you,” the bearded man said.
Ariella quickly turned back to the sea, but just before she did, she was able to catch a glimpse of the threesome disappearing behind the gate.
So this was Rabbi Reiness.
And it’s so nice to see you, too, Osher!
Sarah Reiness studied the appointment sheet affixed to her door and nodded politely at the secretary who walked in just then, through another door.
“It started as such a nice day,” Toha, the Arab secretary of the health clinic, said with a sigh as she pulled her umbrella closed. “And then I got caught in this downpour, just before I got here! Do you think everyone will still come, even in such weather?”
“Good question,” Sarah said. “You called everyone to remind them yesterday?”
“Yes, but I didn’t get through to them all,” the secretary replied. She turned to the electric kettle. “And the mother of the first girl who is supposed to come now was one of those who didn’t answer. I hope she remembers anyway.”
I don’t mind if she doesn’t. Sarah’s lips mouthed the words, but the secretary was too busy with her tea to notice.
“Should I make you a tea, too?”
“No thank you.”
“Oh, right, you don’t use this kettle, do you?” Toha remembered. “Did you bring something hot to drink from home? In this weather…”
“It’s fine. I had a coffee just before I left, and this room is heated well.” Sarah smiled as she closed the door, blocking out the voices and the noise of the clinic.
A bit of quiet, please.
And no, she didn’t mind at all if eight-year-old Orna did not come for her weekly session. She’d slept so little last night, that forty-five minutes of silence, and time to reorganize her thoughts, would do her a world of good.
Elazar was trying to emanate calm, but he wasn’t calm. He had been tense before Shabbos, and he was no less tense after Shabbos, when he’d discovered that there had been a visitor in the yard. She was not sure that he knew ahead of time what he was getting into by moving out to Acco…
She assumed he hadn’t thought everything would flow smoothly like water, but the massive pressure, which he hadn’t expected, was really unnerving him.
And when he was unnerved, so was she.
Did they have something to be afraid of?
She needed to speak to him, to find out what he was planning to do if he felt threatened. They needed to decide up to what point they would fight at all costs, and at what point they would agree to retreat, recognizing—painful as it would be to do so—that they had failed.
She smiled bitterly to herself. If Elazar would be here now, and would hear her thoughts, he would claim that from the start she’d thought they had no chance, while he always believed they did.
And honestly? He would be right, in the case of this claim. She really wasn’t sure that there was much of a chance that this could work. Did anyone think that they could make serious deals with Arabs? And after such a long period of time?
“No,” she said aloud, and then started when the door opened. Toha stuck her head in.
“Orna’s here, Sarah,” she said. “So I’ll let her in, yes? Even though she’s late? And I have someone on the phone who can hardly speak, but she says she only wants you. I told her that you’re very busy, and she’s arguing with me. What should I tell her?”
Sarah passed a hand across her forehead. “First of all, Toha, don’t ever say that people can barely speak when they are in earshot. About this caller, can you ask her if she met me just this morning near my house?”
Toha asked. “She says yes,” she replied a moment later, not acknowledging Sarah’s previous comment at all.
“Okay, so let her come today at five, when I finish.”
After lunch, my leg was hurting, so I didn’t go down to the shop. No one was upstairs with me, and I sat on my bed and daydreamed.
I don’t know what was so bad about saying that Reb Elazar was acting like a spy. There’s clearly something strange going on here. He knows nothing about carpentry. It’s true that he understands people (I don’t remember who told me that about him), and that’s for sure why he was able to get me to come here. But why does he need to schlep everyone over to Acco, especially to this old place, when there are hardly any Jews in the area? If he wants to make a yeshivah for boys like me, couldn’t he do it in the middle of Bnei Brak? What does he see in this particular house?
I mean, sure, it’s very nice here; there’s the sea, which is beautiful and calming. And being so far from the center of the country is also very calming. But it’s still strange. Reb Elazar himself laughed when I asked him this; he didn’t say that I was wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t ask such questions. Instead, I should try to check for myself what is so special about this house that drew him here.
I stood up. The door to the house was locked. I had locked it earlier; I didn’t want some Abu I-Don’t-Know-What to show up again and start asking me questions about “our school.”
I went out of my room to the small hallway in front of the Rav’s private quarters. There was a cabinet there that I’d never touched. I saw that its right-side door was a bit open, and something almost fell out of it. I drew closer and saw that it was a tall, thin book that looked like an old-fashioned photo album. I pushed it back into place.
That’s when I noticed that one picture had remained on the floor.