Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 45 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.
“This Dr. Kreisman is an interesting guy,” Osher remarked as he clicked the seatbelt closed.
“Is he?” Rabbi Reiness smiled broadly. “What did you see that makes you say that?”
“First he looked like a really simple type, you know…” He searched for an example. “I don’t know, like someone who works at a different kind of job. But then, the minute he started with his questions and papers, he became so professional. Like, all the way.”
“He is a very unique person.”
“He’s a childhood friend of yours?”
“Oh, right, I forgot that he told me that you know each other through his son. I thought for a minute that he was in the same class as you, like Yosef.”
“Yosef? Which Yosef?”
“Some Yosef, from Acco. I forgot to tell you that he sends regards.”
“Yosef.” The light turned green, and the car merged into the traffic. “Wait, the gabbai from the Ramchal shul?”
“Don’t know. Maybe.” Osher looked at the cars that passed them. “But he doesn’t look like a gabbai. He’s not even frum. I met him on the street next to your house. He told me he was your classmate—I think he said it was till age ten or something.”
“Until age ten? Interesting.”
“I don’t know where he was until age ten or afterward.” Osher was getting caught up in knots. “I don’t remember what exactly he said, but I think that today he lives in Acco.”
“Because we left Acco when I was six. That’s when we moved to Yerushalayim.”
“Did you live in an area with lots of Jews?”
“Not a lot, but definitely the Jewish community in Acco began to grow then. Or rather, started growing again.”
“What do you mean again?”
“Well, until the riots of 1929—you’ve heard about those, right?—there were Jews in Acco. When the Arabs went wild in 1929, it was impossible to stay and live alongside them. Jews left places like Chevron, Acco, and Yaffo and only returned years later.”
“But you’re not from 1929,” Osher whispered. He rubbed his palms together, suddenly feeling cold. “Or from 1927.”
Rabbi Reiness glanced at him for a second and then focused on the road again. “Of course not. Do I look to you like I’m ninety years old?”
“No. Not you.” Osher smiled. But there was a picture, from 1927, in Acco. And one of the people in the picture closely resembled Reb Elazar. “So you’re saying that there were Jews in Acco back in the 1920s?”
“Sure. My father’s family, for example.”
Osher gasped excitedly. “Oh, and they are the ones who lived in the house you live in now!” he cried triumphantly.
“Sorry to disappoint you, Osher, but no.”
“Shucks. And here I thought I solved the mystery!”
The Rav smiled at him and again fixed his eyes on the taillights of the car in front of him.
“And your father and his family left Acco after the riots of 1929?”
“Yes. They moved to Tel Aviv.”
Osher was quiet for a few very long moments. Finally, he asked, “How old was your father when they ran away from Acco?”
“About nineteen or so.”
“And he came back only after you were born.”
“He came back even before that.” Rabbi Reiness bit his bottom lip. “But not to live. He came for a very short time, less than a day.”
“Binyamin?!” The man put down his cup and raised his eyes. Two large smile creases joined the many other wrinkles on his face. “Binyamin, it’s you! I don’t believe it. We haven’t met in so long!”
“It is me, yes. Is this seat empty?”
“Yes, for you there’s always room next to me.” Shikovitzer smiled. “I had no idea you were coming! Do you still keep up with Gamliel, the chassan?”
“You know, when I left Acco, my ties to almost all my childhood friends were cut off…but there are some old relationships that you just don’t forget.”
“Are you two the same age?”
“He is about five years younger than me, but we learned together some of the time. You know, there weren’t enough children in Acco during those years to always have a separate class for each age.”
“Yes, I remember. My Zelig also sometimes learned in the same class as you, even though he was older than you.” Shikovitzer bit his lower lip for a long moment, and his eyes became dull, the spark in them extinguished. “I met your father earlier, Binyamin. He told me that you got back from London a month ago.”
“Yes. How long could I stay there already…”
“It really was time to come home, if you ask me.”
Binyamin’s face twisted into a smile for a second. “If you ask me, too.”
“The fact is, we’re back, baruch Hashem.”
“And how was it in the kingdom of His Royal Highness?” He looked into his young friend’s eyes.
“Her family is there. It was hard for them to come to terms with the idea that their little granddaughter and I would leave,” Binyamin said tersely.
“Sure, sure. How old is the girl?”
“Hashem should help… How old are you, Binyamin, remind me?” In a sense, he always felt toward this young man the same fatherly feeling he had toward his son, the one who had abandoned him.
“Thirty-six.” Binyamin fingered the embroidery on the tablecloth.
“And they couldn’t find you a shidduch in all of London?” Shikovitzer looked at Binyamin and then picked up his cup again and stared inside it. “How many years has it been since your wife passed away?”
“Five,” Binyamin said, his gaze focused on the glass pitcher filled with a pale orange drink. There was no clean cup on the table.
They both fell silent. “And what now?” Shikovitzer asked finally, directly.
“Hashem will help,” the younger man replied. “Do I know what will be? Right now, nothing is going on.”
“You mean with a new shidduch?”
Binyamin nodded with a sigh. “Hashem creates and leads all creations, and He alone has done and will continue to do everything.”
“I will try to think of someone for you,” Zelig’s father promised. “Not that I’m a professional shadchan, but I’ve done a few things in my life.”
“You speak as if you are so old, Mr. Shikovitzer. “
“Old? Me? Look at how you look and sound, Binyamin. Next to you, I’m barely bar mitzvah! Hasn’t the time come for you to raise your head and continue living?”
“I’m very much alive, Reb Yitzchak,” Binyamin said. “Baruch Hashem, everything is fine. Don’t worry.”
“Worry? About you?” Shikovitzer replied. “The Ribbono Shel Olam already split the sea for you once. Do you think He has a problem with doing it again?”
“No,” Binyamin said with a small smile. “Chalilah.”
“Are you living with your child at your parents’ house now?”
“Very good. They also deserve some nachas from you. Parents always want to have their children near them, even if they…” He glanced at the younger man for a quick moment. Instead of finishing the sentence, he changed course: “Especially if they grew up as beautifully as you did.”
Binyamin raised his eyes. “Do you have any contact with Zelig?”
Shikovitzer shook his head.
Binyamin sighed. “I had hoped to hear that as the years passed, he came around somewhat.”
“It’s very sad for me to hear this…” Binyamin did not intend to pry, certainly not to cause pain. But if the man saw him in a sense as his son, then Zelig was like a brother to him. A brother who did not want to have anything to do with him anymore. Binyamin had heard at one point that Zelig had been sentenced to three years in prison. He was later released, and he continued fighting the British. Then he was arrested again, and eventually released due to lack of evidence. Then the British left the country.
In the initial years, father and son had had some contact. Mr. Shikovitzer still tried to influence Zelig, and he hoped for the best. But with the passage of the years, their encounters had dwindled.
“I hope that he will yet come around and return,” Binyamin whispered.
The chassan’s brother passed them, carrying a tray full of cups, and put one down next to him. “Binyamin, drink something!” he urged Binyamin, with a friendly pat on his shoulder. “You’ve come a long way to attend my brother’s wedding. Make a brachah!”
“I’m drinking, I’m drinking!” Binyamin smiled back. “Look, there’s a pitcher right here. Thank you.” He slowly filled the glass cup.
“He lives on some settlement or a kibbutz, and he doesn’t answer my letters,” Zelig’s father said quietly. He kept an eye on the young man who was making sure to give all the guests to drink, but it was obvious that the bachur was not the subject of Shikovitzer’s remark. “We haven’t seen each other in more than eleven years. I’ve only gotten regards from him in very roundabout ways.”
“Don’t…” Binyamin groped for the words. “Don’t give up on him.”
“I’m not giving up,” Shikovitzer said, in a tone that sounded completely despondent. “I’m just sad when I look at myself and my life, Binyamin. I had so many hopes… You surely remember, for example, how much I wanted to build a shul in Acco, in memory of my family members who were killed in the pogroms in Russia. But just like Russia threw me out, so did Acco.” He stood up.
“It may yet happen.” Binyamin said, rising to his feet as well. “Why not, Reb Yitzchak? You know that there are still a few Jews left in Acco.”
“Very few.” The elderly man sighed. “I don’t know why they didn’t leave when the British evacuated us all, but it’s really a tiny number. A handful of families. And I have no idea what their mitzvah observance is like anyway.”
“What nu? Don’t you understand? I have nothing to build a shul there for.”
“Well, what about building a shul in Yerushalayim?”
“How will I have money to buy another lot?”
“I hear…” Binyamin thought for a moment. “What is with that land today?”
“I’m sure the Arabs just took it over.” Shikovitzer walked toward the entrance of the hall, with Binyamin following behind him. “Although I have no idea what exactly is going on with it right now. From the day we left, I haven’t had any connection to Mahmoud, and it’s likely that without me, the workshop I built there just died out. My partner was never clever enough to manage it all himself.”
“Maybe we can find out about it?”
“What for? It’s not like I’ll be able to get the land back. It’s just a shame, because I used all my savings to buy it.” He stopped outside the hall, and his eyes looked past Binyamin’s shoulder. “It’s very sad, Binyamin. I’ll be living out my days here in Yerushalayim. And even if the day comes that Jews will be able to return to Acco, who will even remember that I dreamed of building a shul there? That the lot is hekdesh?”
“I will,” Binyamin whispered. “And perhaps Zelig.”
“Perhaps, perhaps.” Shikovitzer shook his head. “But in the meantime, thinking about all this just pains me. We’d be better off talking about a shidduch for you. Believe me that it will be better for me. I’ll ask around and check out who might have a good idea for you…”
“Thank you, Reb Yitzchak. And do you mind if, while you make inquiries for a shidduch for me, I make some inquiries about your lot in Acco?”
“It’s easier for people to be busy with other people’s problems, huh?” The older man smiled. “Do what you want, Binyamin, but just don’t talk to me about it. Please.”