Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 43 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.
The lavender scent suddenly weakened, and Rabbi Reiness took a deep breath. “You are one hundred percent right, Reb Yigal,” he said. “It really doesn’t make sense, in a way, and it is exclusively my fault. Throughout the beginning of this process, I thought that Osher was in touch with you. Our approach is to rely on the boys’ responsibility and maturity, because after all, they are not twelve-year-olds.”
“In a certain sense, Osher is still a lot like a twelve-year-old,” Mr. Erenbaum snapped as he slid his pen holder from side to side on his desk.
“And I was wrong,” Rabbi Reiness continued, ignoring the comment. “I should have made sure that he was coming to us with your support and approval. When I saw Osher the first time, I got the impression that he had one foot in the street already, so pulling him out of there and bringing him to Acco seemed of vital importance to me. The question of whether he had told his parents or not was secondary.” He leaned back in the chair. “Don’t get me wrong. That same evening that I took him to Acco, while he was in my car, I asked him what his parents had to say about it.”
“And what did he say?”
“That it’s fine and they don’t mind.”
“And you sufficed with that answer.”
“I plead guilty, a second time,” Rabbi Reiness said. “In my work with youths whose inner world is so complex and confusing, I’ve learned that pressure and interrogations on my part just make things worse. Especially when it comes to a delicate subject like their connection with home.”
“So Osher glossed over the facts,” Yigal grumbled. “And you, the responsible adult, did not make the effort to contact us yourself.”
“I did,” Reb Elazar said. “But it’s true that it was insufficient. And I’m sorry.”
Mr. Erenbaum was quiet. He didn’t accept the apology, nor did he reject it. “So what is the objective of this meeting?” he asked finally.
“I want to help Osher.”
“So do I.”
“That’s self-understood. That is why I want to hear a bit from you about his interpersonal relationships. As a father, how did you see him over the years? As far as his communication with people, and his basic understanding of social codes.”
“Listen, Rabbi Reiness. Osher has always been a sweet boy, but he never managed to integrate into the mainstream.” Yigal was still toying with his pen holder. The stiff curtain behind him swayed slightly from the powerful air conditioning. “Not at home and not in school.”
“He’s not a bad boy,” Reb Elazar said quietly. “But for some reason, he seems to mess up all the time.”
“It happens with you as well?”
“With regard to the rules of the place that I direct—no. Our approach is pretty loose, and it’s easy to comply with the rules. But socially, he hasn’t yet found his place. And I’m wondering if it’s because of the incompatibility of the ages—most of the boys are at least two years older than him—or if there’s another reason.”
“It’s probably another reason,” Yigal Erenbaum said. “Because he never really succeeded among peers his age either.”
“So does he have a diagnosis for something in this area?”
“I don’t know. I have to ask my wife the exact details of what he’s been diagnosed with.” He suddenly seemed to open up a bit more. “Look, in actuality, he’s not our first child who we took to neurologists and to evaluations and all these things. My oldest daughter also has ADHD—and her difficulties are not less severe than his are. But what can I tell you? She’s always managed better in life than him.”
“My wife told me something to that effect. They had a long conversation, after your daughter decided …” He smiled. “To reveal to us that she’s Osher’s devoted older sister.”
“She really does better than him—there’s no comparing.” Mr. Erenbaum stood up. “We have no idea why it is that way. Maybe she has more abilities and skills, or perhaps she was able to stick to a medicine regimen over the years, which he was unable to do, because of endless side effects.”
“It’s certainly due to the latter reason,” Rabbi Reiness said. “Not only maybe.” He also rose. Osher’s father’s workday had apparently ended some time before. “I’ll be in touch in a few days, b’ezras Hashem. Could you check with your wife if you ever did a communications evaluation, and what the conclusions were?”
Erenbaum nodded slowly, and suddenly he looked very, very, weary. The cloying lavender smell also became much more intense again, and Rabbi Reiness was happy that the conversation was over and he could escape from the office. It was strange that specifically toward the end, when it seemed that Osher’s father’s armor had become more penetrable, he suddenly felt uncomfortable. He donned his hat and warmly proffered a hand. A moment of frozen silence ensued, and then Yigal accepted the handshake.
Rabbi Reiness went down in the elevator. If the conversation would have flowed a bit better, and would have concluded with a more promising level of cooperation, perhaps he would have waited until Yigal had shut the lights and locked the door, and they could have gone downstairs together. But they did not seem to have forged such a friendly bond that Mr. Erenbaum would be pleased with the companionship.
How many years had it been since he’d told bedtime stories to little kids? Elazar smiled to himself and concluded the final sentence: “And the Sheikh lowered his eyes, and everyone saw how, with siyata d’Shmaya, the Rav’s wisdom had saved the Jews!”
“Wow, that’s such a great story…” Gadi murmured from his bed. “Uncle Elazar, did you tell your children these kinds of stories when they were little?”
“Only if they behaved nicely,” his uncle responded, wagging his finger. “And now, to sleep. I’m going to be leaving soon with Aunt Sarah, and you’re going to stay here with Ariella, who’s going to take care of you, alright? Be good, and don’t get up from bed, because if I hear that you got out of bed—there won’t be a bedtime story next time!”
His words were met with grins, and he stood up and left the room, pausing at the door to wish them all a good night.
“Elazar?” Sarah called from the kitchen. “Your phone is ringing!” She came out to him, holding the phone in her apron so that it should not get dirty from her floury hands, and then returned to the kitchen. “My sister says you’re a real savior for her,” she murmured to Ariella, who was with her in the room, as she kneaded the mound of dough. “Not that you’ve met all that often, but from her two quick trips home, she was so impressed by you. The children are calm, the house is functioning…”
“But it’s really not me,” Ariella argued. “The girls help out so much, it’s amazing. I don’t think I helped this way when I was their age.”
“I think you came from a house that wasn’t as busy as this,” Sarah replied with a smile. “Each one with their circumstances.”
“Yes, but what I meant to say is that when all is said and done, I don’t do much here.”
“You don’t do much?!” Sarah burst out laughing. “During the three visits I’ve made here, it looks like you’re doing a whole lot. I told Bassi that she has to remember that I get all the credit.”
“Nu-nu.” Ariella smiled as she mixed carob powder with brown sugar for the yeast dough filling mixture. Made with whole wheat flour, of course. “Osher’s first evaluation is the day after tomorrow,” she said. Sarah wasn’t sure if it was a statement or a question.
“Yes, b’ezras Hashem. My husband will take him to Zichron Yaakov.”
“Wow, that’s a long drive.”
“My husband wants to do it for Osher.”
“I think he has a special place in his heart for him.”
“Is that it?”
“Why, it’s not enough for you?”
Ariella was quiet for a long moment. “I’m not used to people helping Osher because they like him.”
“So get used to the idea.” Sarah chuckled. “My husband loves his students, all of them, and I can tell you that he’s encountered all types of boys as students. Plenty of them are not very easy. But he happens to like Osher especially; there’s something about him that apparently touched his heart.”
Ariella was quiet, and Sarah chuckled again. “What do you want me to tell you? That my husband is doing this as a token of appreciation for your help here? That’s not true.”
“Fine, then thank you.” Ariella allowed herself a smile. “Honestly, I’m not sure that his issue is related to his communications skills, I really don’t know…”
“Your parents were also not sure.” Sarah opened and closed six drawers until she found the rolling pin. “In the end, your father called yesterday and said that he was giving my husband permission to take action in any way he saw fit. Including all these evaluations.”
Outside the house, Elazar Reiness walked with his scarf wrapped around his neck, and covering his face past his chin as he spoke into the phone. It was freezing cold, but he did not like speaking with his lawyer when others were around—he just could not concentrate like that—so this was the only way to have the conversation.
“So we’ll send it in one month from today, in registered mail,” he repeated thoughtfully.
“Yes,” the lawyer replied. “With both our signatures.”
“And they will have to sign that they received it.”
“That’s the advantage of registered mail.”
“Too bad this amazing registered mail can’t record their response.” Rabbi Reiness’s sigh was partially genuine and partially in jest.
“The house is well protected, right?”
“And you haven’t seen suspicious people loitering in the area.”
“Not at all. Even the badgering about selling the house has gone down a lot. I don’t remember the last time someone approached me about it.”
“What does your consultant-arbitrator say about this—what’s his name again?”
“Menashe Karni. He claims that it could either be a bad sign or a good sign. The good sign is that if they were the ones behind the flood of offers, they decided that I’m not going to do any harm, and that I returned to Acco purely for nostalgic reasons.”
“And then the question is what they will do after they get the message about the meeting, a message that will make very clear what your intentions are.”
“Yes. There’s an even worse option: that they only quieted down temporarily, because they see I’m stubborn, and now they are looking for a different way to torpedo the whole thing, irrespective of the letter that they do not yet know they are going to get.”
The lawyer was quiet. After a long moment, he said, “Either way, we’re sending it and showing up at the meeting, with all the documents, right?”
“Right. I really hope they will come also.” Rabbi Reiness sounded tense.
“We’ll promise them some type of payment for the effort to come…I hope that will tempt them. Meanwhile, I would tell you, just as a good piece of advice, not to think about this historic meeting so much. Try to keep yourself busy with something else.” The lawyer laughed congenially. “It’s not like you’re unemployed, right?”
“No, not at all,” Reb Elazar said with a smile. “Baruch Hashem.”
“So go back to your boys and your carpentry shop, and that’s how these two months will pass quicker. Take it from me.”
“Two months and one week.”
“If you are making the effort to correct me like that, you’d be best off listening to my advice.”
“Of course, of course,” Rabbi Reiness agreed. Perhaps it was good that Osher’s first appointment for an evaluation was in just two days from now. He had to drive to Zichron Yaakov, talk to Osher on the way, come back, give the shiur…and fill the coming weeks with lots of other activity. Anything to keep his mind off the upcoming meeting.
He bent over the little glass and adjusted the wick. He heard the patter of bare feet behind him, and for a confused moment, he thought it was Gadi. But then he remembered that Gadi was a good few miles away from here.
“Osher?” He didn’t turn around.
“You’re not sleeping? You waited for me to come back?”
“No, I was sleeping, but then I woke up.”
“I hope we didn’t make noise when we came in.”
“No, not at all. I got up just because. What’s the candle for, Rebbi?”
“It’s my father’s yahrtzeit tonight.”
“That’s a yahrtzeit candle?” Osher came closer. “I’ve never seen anyone light a yahrtzeit candle in oil. I’ve only seen those ready candles, you know, the kind you buy in a store.”
“Yes, I know what you mean.” Rabbi Reiness straightened up. “But this is the kind of candle my father used to light for his parents, so I light this type as well.”
“Oh, is this also something he left in his will? Together with the treasure?”
Reb Elazar smiled. “It’s not a will—it’s something that I, as a son, want to do like my father.”
“Are you an only son?”
“Yes. I have one sister, and she’s quite a few years older than me.”
“So that’s called an only son… But I don’t want to do things like my father does, at all,” Osher said thoughtfully. “I don’t mean after…how do you say it? After he’s a hundred and twenty. I mean in general, like now. If he works in computers, does that mean I have to do that kind of thing, too? I hate math, and the computers field and math have a lot in common.”
“Of course you don’t have to do that kind of thing. And your father doesn’t want it either. He gave you a Torah chinuch, right? He has other expectations of you, very different ones.”
“And I’m not meeting those either.” Osher stared at the little flame. “I think I’m one big disappointment to all the adults I’ve ever met in my life.”
“Hey, you’re insulting me!”
“Insulting? You? Me?”
“Yes, what am I? A kid?”
“I don’t get it.” Osher blinked.
“You said that you are a disappointment to all the adults that you meet. But I’m an adult, and you don’t disappoint me at all.”
“Because you didn’t expect anything from me,” Osher replied, without even thinking.