Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 32 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.
“Osher, haven’t you been taught that even when you are upset, you never run away from home?” Reb Elazar asked as he opened his huge black umbrella. “Were you never taught that?”
“I’m learning disabled, Rebbi,” Osher said, gazing at the rain that fell steadily beyond the protective boundaries of the umbrella. “I don’t grasp things easily. And even if I do get it—I forget quickly. Where are you taking me?”
“Nowhere special. I just came here.”
“The old part of Acco. I’m a little familiar with this area.”
They stood across from a sandy lot. In the middle of it stood a brick structure that was neither new or old; it looked desolate and ramshackle. Behind it were a few slats of wood, remnants of a gate of some sort, or a pen.
“What is that?” Osher squinted. “Was it once a cowshed?”
“I think it was actually a stable,” Rabbi Reiness said in a dull tone.
“And you’re taking me here on purpose? Because there’s some type of story connected to here, with horses or something, but it’s a story with a lesson for me?”
The Rav chuckled. “I see you have experience with stories with lessons that are meant for you, Osher. But the answer is no. I just wanted to walk and talk to you; I didn’t take you here for any specific reason.” He glanced around and smiled. “It’s just an area that I like very much.”
“Why? Did you grow up here?”
“No. I lived in Acco till I was six, but not here. We lived in the newer part of the city.”
“My father also grew up in Acco,” Rabbi Reiness added. “He was born in Russia, but his family came to Eretz Yisrael when he was a little boy.”
“So you have very deep roots in Acco. Is that why you like it so much?”
“That’s part of the reason.” Reb Elazar smiled.
“What are the other reasons?”
“There are a number of other reasons. Maybe you’ll find out one day, maybe not. There are lots of things in life that we can’t always know about, and nothing will happen if we remain a little bit curious.”
Osher digested the Rav’s words for a moment. “Okay,” he said finally, “but is there some part that I can know about now?”
Rav Elazar smiled faintly. “Well, my father grew up here, and after the riots of 1929—did you hear about those?—his family moved to Tel Aviv. He learned in Yerushalayim, and after he got married, years later, he came back here for a few years, and then left.”
“So, years after you got married, you also came back here for a few years, and then you’ll also leave,” Osher filled in. “Is it like a tradition in your family? Like, everyone has to come and live in Acco for a few years?”
The Rav’s smile grew wider. “You’re getting warmer, but still pretty cold.”
“Well, will you let me get to the right answer, in the end? If not, I’m not playing.”
They continued walking, and the Rav put a hand on Osher’s shoulder. “So don’t play, Osher; you’re not threatening me. You asked, and I answered. But there are some things I’m not going to answer you about, and you may as well know that ahead of time.”
“Can I ask something else?”
“You can always ask, but I’m not promising to answer.”
“The house we live in now is really old, right?”
“That’s right. It’s almost one hundred years old. The second floor is newer, because it was rebuilt in recent renovations.”
“A hundred years old! Wow! So, is that where your father lived when he was a kid?”
“And you? Wait, no. You said you lived in the newer part of the city.”
“That’s right. This was not our house when we were children.”
“So what was this house that you are so insistent about living in? Whom did it belong to?” Osher asked, sounding nearly desperate.
The Rav smiled again. “It belonged to an Arab—I don’t remember his name. He rented it out to a Jewish family, and they made a shul on the first floor.”
“On the first floor? In our carpentry shop?”
“In the shiur room, mostly. And part of the workshop. It’s been renovated and changed a bit over the years.”
“And this was all before the riots you mentioned?”
“Yes. After that, the house was deserted, I think. Then there was a fish restaurant there.”
“A fish restaurant?!”
Osher was quiet for a long moment. “And then?” he asked, scratching his neck.
“After that I don’t really know. It was lived in, on and off, and it changed ownership a few times. In recent years, it was empty, until I bought it.”
“And from the minute you bought it, all of a sudden everyone is interested in it.”
“It’s strange, isn’t it?”
“Yes. And now I think it’s time to head back.”
“Fine, but just tell me if this is connected to the will and testament that your father or grandfather left for you.”
“You could call it an oral will, if you want.”
The rain intensified, and it appeared that besides for the two of them, everyone else in the street had scurried for cover. Osher’s shoes got wet when he accidently stepped into a puddle, but they had already been wet beforehand, from when he’d been sitting on the beach.
“Your father? Or grandfather?”
“My father. Now, let’s head back, Osher. I don’t want you to get pneumonia. You’re all wet.”
Osher took a deep breath and then asked in a low voice, “Is all of this somehow connected to a treasure? Something hidden in our old shiur room? In the front wall with the crack?”
“No and no.” The Rav chuckled. “But I should note that you’re really good at the game of Hot and Cold, Osher. Because your guess isn’t too bad.”
“So tell me, Rebbi.”
“Not at this point,” Rabbi Reiness said decisively. “But perhaps the day will come. You never know…”
They walked toward the house. The rain was pouring down, and there wasn’t another soul on the streets. Still, Elazar Reiness sensed that there was at least one pair of eyes fixed on them. He didn’t know if his gut feeling was right or not, and he didn’t want to turn around to find out. It was all so complicated, and the chances of success were so small, that he had to be very careful.
Menashe Karni, the mediator who had come so highly recommended, was actually quite pleased right now. He was also being very cautious about their chances of succeeding, but he had noted to Elazar that they were off to a good start.
True, until now, it had all been rather easy. The house facing the beach had been standing empty and partially demolished, but the entire back half was intact. Through a real estate agency, Elazar had bought it from the owner, an elderly Arab woman, and had renovated it. The room on the ground floor that had served as a shul ninety years ago had become the shiur room for the special yeshivah he had opened. In the front part, he opened the carpentry shop. He’d made the upper floor into a residential apartment, and that brought Stage One of his plan to completion.
The sea was roiling behind them, and a huge wave crashed ashore with a roar. Osher, who had already put his hand on the gate, turned around to look at it. “Hey!” he exclaimed.
“What happened? Is everything okay?” Reb Elazar asked.
“Um…yes. I thought for a second that I saw someone looking at us, but I must have made a mistake.”
“You saw someone? Where?” So his gut feeling had not been off the mark, after all!
“There, behind that corner. There was someone with an umbrella, and I think she was looking over here at us. I thought maybe it was…” He put his hand on the gate again.
“Someone you know?”
“No, no… it was probably just my imagination.”
Reb Elazar deliberated whether to tell Osher that he’d had the feeling that someone was watching them, not only right now, but for most of their walk. But he decided to stay quiet. What would he gain? Osher would probably start setting up lookouts to figure out who the imaginary follower was.
“Osher, I’m so happy to see you!” Shlomo greeted them at the door to the carpentry shop. The other boys were inside, preparing supper. “And I’m sorry about before. I didn’t mean for you to get offended…I wasn’t expecting you to take my words so seriously…”
Osher fixed him with a long stare, nodded slightly, and walked inside. The carpentry shop was warm, and he took off his coat, eased out of his wet shoes, and sat down in front of the radiator, sticking his feet out in front of him, toward the heat.
“Did anyone come looking for me when I was out?” Reb Elazar asked Shlomo casually. “An order or anything?”
“The carpentry shop is closed at these hours, Rebbi,” Shlomo pointed out as he brushed off the paprika and cumin that had stuck to his hands. The tantalizing aroma of well-spiced potatoes emerged from the kitchen. “It says so clearly outside. Anyway, no one came by, as far as I know.”
“She wouldn’t have come from Bnei Brak on such a stormy day,” Osher whispered to himself, although no one heard. “It’s just not possible.”
Ariella closed her umbrella and put it on the railing near the stairs. She knocked gently at the wooden door with the carvings, just to be polite, and then stuck her key into the lock. The door opened, but she stood outside for another moment, shaking the rain off her coat. She hung it on one of the hooks in the front hallway and then walked inside, to the spacious living room.
Her hostess raised her eyes from the beading she was doing and smiled. “How are you?” she said. “Come in! I haven’t seen you all day. You’re very busy, aren’t you?”
“A bit.” Ariella approached the small table, again just to be polite. She’d finally seen Rabbi Reiness today actually speaking to Osher, and she was pleased. There was a moment when Osher had turned around, just before they walked into their courtyard, and she’d been afraid that he’d spotted her. She’d hurried over to the next street, but two minutes later, when she emerged again on Haganah Street, he wasn’t there anymore. He must have not seen her, and if he had, he didn’t realize it was her.
She could say that her mission had been crowned with success.
Only Hashem can see the thoughts of a person’s heart, and man’s understanding is limited to what he sees with his eyes. But this Rav made an excellent impression, from what she could see. His wife certainly did, too. And if Ariella didn’t want Osher to know that she’d come— she couldn’t dig any deeper. Perhaps, with time, he’d calm down, and would concede that keeping this whole thing a secret was rather foolish.
But in the meantime? She could go back to Bnei Brak. She could cancel her upcoming appointments with Sarah Reiness. Because even if she hadn’t been able to understand why the Reinesses had chosen to live here, she could assume that they had a good reason. Perhaps they had wanted to open their school specifically here, far from the hustle and bustle of the regular cities. Or maybe they’d been drawn by nostalgia… She couldn’t know, but it didn’t seem particularly worrying anymore, now that she knew that they were good people.
“Do you see what I’m doing?” Aliza asked, as she took five large blue stones out of a clear plastic box. “Because it looks like your eyes are here but your mind is not.”
Ariella smiled. This woman sounded like her erstwhile teachers.
“Does my work seem interesting to you? I have lots of clients, and I sometimes also teach people how to do this.”
“It really does look interesting,” Ariella said, a bit heavily. She felt weighed down.
“So you can watch me, if you’d like.”
Ariella pulled over another wooden chair and sat down. She watched how Aliza deftly strung an alternating sequence of big blue stones and small green ones. Her lips were constantly moving; was she saying Tehillim? Murmuring brachos for the anonymous woman who would wear this piece of jewelry?
She fixed her gaze on the beads, and tried to just blank out her mind and not think about anything.
“I see you’re very curious about beading,” Aliza declared, after a few moments of silence.
“What? Oh, yes…”
“Or is it like I said before, that your head is not here, only your eyes are?”
Ariella smiled but did not respond.
“You brought your troubles over here with you, huh?”
Ariella wondered if this was an accusation. It didn’t sound like it. “I’m sorry if you feel them as well,” she said, after a moment, choosing her words carefully. “I guess my ‘troubles’ are just part of me. What can I do? Wherever I am, it all goes with me…”
“You can learn to compartmentalize, to detach from them, just like you can learn to string stones,” Aliza said. She held the necklace away from her face to examine it from further away. Or perhaps it was a bracelet? Whatever the case, Ariella couldn’t stand it; it was far too ugly for her taste.
“Right.” Ariella had no desire to expound.
“Would you want to learn?”
No, madame therapist, thank you very much. Mrs. Reiness, who is slightly overstepping the bounds of her profession, is more than enough for me. “To make this kind of jewelry? It could be very nice, but I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be here. I’m afraid I don’t have enough time to learn it all.”
“So you found what you were looking for?” Aliza looked at her with clear eyes. “There’s a brachah in my home, huh? You just came, and everything fell into place so fast! You see that?”
“Yes… Actually, it’s more like I arranged something for someone else. Me? I wish my problems could get sorted out so fast!”
“You mean, like getting married?”
Ariella suppressed a smile. “You could say that.”
“So why don’t you do it, really? Do you want to be attached to your parents forever?”
The question reminded Ariella of Osher. Osher, who chose to go so far away from home. True, many boys his age were in a dormitory anyway, but it pained her father and mother that not only did he want to be far from home, he also wanted to maintain a very distant relationship with his family.
And she? Women her age were also usually no longer dependent on their parents.
Not that she was so dependent on them, but she was a prominent presence in their home.
Would her parents get insulted if she told them that she wanted to live a little further away? Not from them, of course. But from the familiar streets, the too-familiar city, and all the people who knew her since she was little and remembered the rambunctious, lazy, scatterbrained Ariella…
“Now you’re not even looking at what I’m doing!” Aliza chided her. “What’s the matter, your troubles are so big?”
Ariella shook her head noncommittally. No, her troubles were not big. How did those bumper stickers put it? HaKadosh Baruch Hu is big. She had slowly recovered and built herself up again. Even people from her past knew that she had built upon the foundation of her childhood struggles to become a lovely, mature young woman. She’d overcome her problems, and had even found an excellent shidduch. And the fact that it had ended under such tragic circumstances did not erase the previous memories; it just added some more weight to the whole story.
How could she extricate herself from under all this weighty stuff if she didn’t go somewhere else, somewhere new and clean?
“Get married, get married,” Aliza said. “You need a husband. That’s what you need. It’s not good to be alone.”
“And you?” Ariella asked. She’d long learned to control her impulsivity, but she still kept it in her toolbox for emergencies.
“Me? My marriage wasn’t a good one, so it’s better like this.” Aliza chuckled, but it sounded hollow. Perhaps pain-filled. “How was yours?”
“I had a very good marriage, baruch Hashem.”
“I thought so. But if you are so dreamy all the time, how can you be a good wife?” her hostess asked, somewhat critically.
“That’s exactly what I don’t know,” Ariella said, smiling one of her sweetest grins. What was strange about this whole conversation was that even though Aliza was saying such annoying, true, piercing comments, it wasn’t irritating Ariella. She suddenly felt a certain peace and tranquility spreading all over her body. “That’s exactly why I haven’t remarried all this time.”
“Well, how did you manage last time?”
“I really don’t know.” Ariella took a deep breath. “I guess my husband was so good that he silently tolerated all my shortcomings.”
“That’s interesting.” Aliza laughed and then continued working. “So, you’re just not sure you’ll find someone exactly like him again?”
“Right. And back when I first got married, it wasn’t like I knew what a terrible housewife I’d be,” Ariella said candidly. She picked up a black stone.
“So, you’re not even willing to try again?”
“Actually, a shidduch was suggested some time ago, something really good. Not in Israel,” she added. Aliza listened attentively. “It looked like…everything was just right. I even checked to make sure he wasn’t obsessively clean or organized.” She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “And then, toward the end, when I thought I was on my way to getting engaged, he started talking about how important it is to be organized, and that he was not so good about keeping up with external organization…”
“You know, keeping seder with stuff. But he said that in his head, in his thinking, he was very organized, and he hoped that in an orderly house, it would be even easier for him…”
“So you decided to end things with him and remain a widow for now.”
Ariella sighed. “Exactly.”
“You need to learn to become organized.” For Aliza, it was all so plain and simple, apparently. “Come. We start with the small things. Come and help me with this necklace, and look how the orderly sequence of stones can make order in your mind as well.”
Ariella wasn’t so sure about it, but she felt uncomfortable refusing. Ten minutes she’d give it, and then she’d go to her room and her quiet. And to her own private mess.