Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 44 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.
“Are you going home, Ima?”
Bassi raised her eyes from her pocketbook to her sleepy son. “Yes, Yisrael Meir. Aunt Sarah should be here any minute, and she’ll spend the night with you.”
“How will you and Abba get home?” He seemed to be struggling to formulate coherent thoughts despite his veil of grogginess. “There’s no bus…” He sighed. “From Haifa to there.”
“We’re staying in Haifa, sweetie—it’s fine. We are staying in this cute little apartment, and Abba is learning in a kollel here in the city, for now.” She put the pocketbook down and leaned toward him.
“But I heard you saying on the phone that you don’t really like the apartment they gave you here.”
“Well, I prefer to spend most of the time here with you anyway.” Bassi bent even closer to him. “So really, it doesn’t make a difference.”
“And at home? How are they doing?” He was murmuring with his eyes closed.
“The other kids? They’re doing fine, and having quite a grand time, I must say. They miss you very much, of course. But I have a very nice lady who is with them all the time and takes very good care of them.” She looked at him lovingly. “I see you’re getting back to yourself, Yisrael Meir. Because the ‘yourself’ that I know is always thinking about others, right?”
He didn’t respond; he just smiled slightly at the compliment and closed his eyes again.
“Bassi!” she heard a whisper from the door, and Sarah walked in with her big pocketbook. “Bassi, run! Fast! You don’t want to miss the bus!”
“It’s alright, let me see you for a little bit.” Bassi smiled and patted the plastic chair next to her. “We hardly get to see each other, Sarah, and believe me, I see plenty of the bus. I’ll take the next one, in half an hour.”
“And Yisrael Meir can sleep while we’re chatting,” Sarah said gaily. “You look tired, my boy. I’ll show you in the morning what Shlomo and Osher sent you. Do you remember them? They came with us to your house for Shabbos, and Gadi’s fox bit them?”
“Yeah, sure,” he answered compliantly. “Good night, Ima. Have a safe trip.”
Sarah put her bag down on the floor, to her right. “I just heard you telling him about Ariella, Bassi. You’re happy with her, aren’t you?”
“I sure am.” Bassi opened the drawer of the night table and pushed aside a box of pills. “Do you want a cookie, Sarah?”
“Sorry, but yes.”
“Sorry, then no.”
They both burst into whispered giggles.
“When did you bake?” Sarah asked.
“When I was home last Thursday. Ariella helped me. Believe me when I tell you that there’s no one like her. She actually reminds me so much of myself…”
“She reminds you of yourself?” Sarah looked at her sister. “And not of me?”
“No, her creativity is more like mine.”
“Hey, one minute, you just said there’s no one like her, didn’t you?” They both laughed again.
“You know very well what I’m talking about when I say she is like me. In other things, I’m not like her at all. The house, for example, is much neater and more mesudar than usual; that part does remind me of you and your house.”
“And I hope that you don’t feel guilty about it.”
“I hope so, too,” Bassi countered lightly. “Because I already know that when I’m not home, the house looks much better. Each time I had a baby, and Aryeh stayed with the kids for a few days, I always came home to a neat and clean house.”
“Reasonably neat and clean, you mean.”
“But you know what happens when fathers are home.”
“No. What happens?”
“They take care of things in their way to make sure that dishes don’t pile up in the sink and laundry doesn’t overflow out of the hamper.”
Bassi laughed. “It’s fine, Sarah. Ariella doesn’t make me feel guilty. She just grew up in a home where they were stricter about cleanliness and order than the home we grew up in. One minute, she’s calling in now.”
Ariella wanted to know what to do if the baby was running a low fever; should she give her infant Tylenol? As the conversation came to a close, when Ariella was rummaging for the small orange syringe in the bathroom drawer, she said politely, “I hope I didn’t disturb you, Bassi.”
“And if you did?” Bassi asked back. She wanted to add, “It’s my baby; of course, I’m the one who has to—” But then she got a hold of herself. She could not answer Ariella that way. “You didn’t disturb me at all,” she replied cheerfully. “Sarah and I are just in the middle of arguing over which of us you are more similar to, and we’re discussing what kind of house you grew up in that made you into such an organized balabusta.”
“Nu nu.” Even Sarah could hear Ariella’s dry chuckle. “If all the balabustas out there were like me, the world would be just perfectly spic and span, wouldn’t it?”
“Come on, Ariella, you’re certainly a better balabusta than I am,” Bassi said. “What, Sarah? Oh, right, right. Ariella, Sarah is sitting next to me here and reminding me that we’re not supposed to be making greater-than or less-than comparisons.”
“Why? I like greater-than and less-than comparisons; I’m a math tutor.”
“So maybe I’ll avail myself of your services. I never got higher than a 60% in math. There were way too many symbols and numbers for me to remember them all and remember what each one was supposed to do!” Bassi laughed. “Wait a second, I’m just saying goodbye to Sarah so I can run to catch the bus…”
She waved goodbye to her sister, kissed her sleeping son, and left the room with her large tote bag.
“So what were we saying?” She lowered her voice as she rushed down the darkened corridor of the pediatric ward. “Oh, why we don’t make comparisons… So, it’s simple, because when you make comparisons, we both come out in the negative.”
“I see that you do remember some mathematics skills and terms.”
“The simplest ones. Anyway, the problem with equations of this kind is that you never finish with them, and you never get a clear answer about what x is worth.”
“Another math term. Great!”
Bassi smiled and continued. “One person is more organized, but the other person is warmer and more flexible; one is stricter about healthy food, and the other is strict about something else… In comparisons, one person will always be inferior in at least one way. So, why do it? I told you that Sarah and I were busy arguing about which of the two of us you are more similar to. And I think you’re like me.”
“No, no,” Ariella whispered as she closed the drawer.
“Wow, you’re insulting me! Why not?”
“I would never be able to manage a home like yours,” she said quietly.
There were smooth, round brown stones on the path, and the door was made of antique iron in an uneven bluish hue. Then again, it was possible that it was a regular door which had been designed and painted to look old. I wasn’t sure. The whole street here in Zichron Yaakov had a very antique kind of atmosphere.
“What a street!” I think my eyes were wide with wonder. “Look at this wall…it’s really ancient!”
“Do you like old houses?” The Rav asked as he pressed the doorbell. “My house is also quite old.”
“But here it’s preserved better, and more beautiful.” I couldn’t find a way to say that nicely so it wouldn’t offend him. But he’d asked, right? I walked back a bit to see if the large well in the yard was a real antique or if it was an imitation. I don’t like being deceived like that.
Honestly, at that moment, it didn’t really make a difference to me. But I preferred to fix my eyes on the well instead of on the door that would be opening any minute. I was nervous about this meeting; the fact that this person was supposed to be Rabbi Reiness’s friend didn’t exactly make me feel more at ease.
“It really is a very antique-style street here,” Reb Elazar said. Then he paused, perhaps to listen if someone was approaching the door. He knocked again, and then lowered his hand and turned around to explain. “The Zichron Yaakov municipality preserves the ancient look for tourism purposes. I have no idea how much of it is for show, and how much really is part of the town’s history, and is being very well preserved.”
“That’s why it’s not as nice at your place,” I joked. “You don’t have the budget that the Zichron Yaakov municipality has, and you’re not preserving the old house because of tourists, but because of another reason, right?”
“Today, old assets are actually a pretty good investment,” said the man who opened the door. “Hello, Reb Elazar!” he boomed jovially, and pumped the Rav’s hand with an excitement that made me laugh. He was shorter than the Rav and had a small gray mustache, a large black knitted yarmulke, and dark eyes. “And you are Osher, yes? I’m Mattisyahu Kreisman. Nice to meet you!”
“Hi,” I said quietly. Just because the other guy sounded so overly jolly did not mean that I had to sound the same way.
“Come inside. Ah, it’s so good to see you, Reb Elazar! Osher, you have a real zechus to be learning with a man like this, do you know that? This man saved my son.” Dr. Kreisman suddenly looked very somber.
“That’s what he’s trying to do to me also,” I said.
“Ah, you need to be rescued?”
I wasn’t yet sure if I liked this guy, who peppered his sentences with “ah” a bit too much, and I opted to remain silent and to look around.
The house inside didn’t look ancient at all. It actually looked pretty new and modern. Dr. Kreisman immediately led us to a flight of marble stairs that were definitely not dated to the time when the town was established.
Upstairs, he ushered us into his office. If until now he looked like a sincere, simple guy, or like my mother says, “folksy,” once in the room, his demeanor changed completely. Maybe it was because of the décor in the room, with all the framed diplomas and certificates on the wall, and the office desk and chair. Perhaps it was just because it was the first time I was sitting across from him, and noticing more about him than just how short and enthusiastic he was, and how much he liked the word “ah.”
And maybe now, he had stopped being Kreisman, Reb Elazar’s friend, and he became Dr. Kreisman, the successful and talented diagnostician who was able to help people in remarkable ways. That’s what Reb Elazar had explained when he’d told me about this appointment.
At first, the Rav sat with us, and at one point—I didn’t notice exactly when—he left the room.
The assessment began like this:
“I would like you to tell me a bit about yourself, Osher.” Dr. Kreisman folded his arms. Typical pose for people like him.
“My name is Osher,” I said. I wasn’t sure what exactly he wanted me to tell him about myself. “I’m sixteen. I have ADHD, and it’s hard for me to pay attention in class and to follow instructions. I’ve been in a few schools, and even almost landed up on the street a couple of times, but somehow, we always managed to find me a new place.”
“Baruch Hashem,” he said.
“Baruch Hashem. And that’s it. Just when I was feeling that I couldn’t continue where I was anymore, I met Rabbi Reiness, and now I learn at his yeshivah.”
“How is it?”
“Good. At first I thought it would be a trial, but I didn’t decide until when the trial would run. So for now, that means I’m staying.”
“Or it means that the trial was successful.”
I laughed and looked at Rabbi Reiness. He also smiled.
“Here’s my question: what isn’t good for you today?” Dr. Kreisman asked.
“Who said something isn’t good?” I asked.
“Are things good?” he responded with another question.
“Well…things are never one hundred percent good for me.”
“How good do you feel now, percentage-wise?”
“I don’t know. Maybe seventy percent. About. But I can’t stand percentages.”
“Me neither, so let’s finish that part really fast. You say that things are about seventy percent good for you at Rabbi Reiness’s yeshivah, right? Now, what grade would you give your feeling in the last place you were in, before Acco?”
“The last one? Thirty percent, maybe. Or twenty. Maybe even fifteen.”
“And in the place before that?”
“So why did you leave a place of fifty for a twenty or fifteen?”
“Because at first I thought that in Daas Torah—the place I was in right before Acco—it would be one hundred percent, so it was worth it for me to go there. But right from the start, I saw that I was only about sixty percent happy there, and after that it only got worse.”
“Let’s not talk now about what caused things to get worse. Let’s go back to talking about Reb Elazar’s yeshivah and carpentry shop. You say that you are seventy percent happy there, right? That means thirty percent is missing.”
“Can you tell me what’s not good? Where that thirty percent is?”
“It’s the fact that I don’t get along so well with the other boys,” I said without thinking. “And that I’m not learning the way I want to. And certainly not the way my father wants me to be learning. And I’m not good at carpentry either. So there’s nothing I’m good at or that I’m being successful at.”
“Really? Reb Elazar actually told me that you are a very charming young man.”
I must have grimaced very obviously, because he chuckled.
After we finished this introduction, Dr. Kreisman had me fill out all kinds of papers, with questions about shapes and that kind of thing. I asked him if he was evaluating my intelligence, so he laughed and said that he was evaluating my emotional intelligence, and he would tell me more about it later on. But that “later on” went on and on, and I think I got impatient at one point.
Eventually, the session was over.