Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 54 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.
Elazar Reiness walked on the side of the road. When he reached the edge of the sandy lot, he raised his eyes. In his mind’s eye, he saw the stables on the verge of collapsing, the neglect that was evident on the fences, and the work hut that his father had described. There was nothing left of it all; only a small structure stood in the middle of the lot, from more recent years, and it gave the impression of being abandoned. There were also a few rotting remnants of the wooden fence at the far end. And that was it.
At the time, his father had wanted to help, but the seventy-year barrier had prevented him from realizing that dream. Elazar, his only son, born after many long years, had been the only one he had told about the lot and what was behind it. Little Elazar grew up with the stories of the stable that, in time, would be cleared for a shul that would be filled with tefillos.
When he was an adult, his father had asked him, with tears in his eyes, that when the seventy years were up, and he would no longer be in This World, like Mr. Shikovitzer, who had parted from This World with his dreams unfulfilled, Elazar should please take the job upon himself.
The dream was now nearly at hand; in two and a half months, seventy years would be up. “It’s a fifty–fifty chance,” the lawyer had concluded. “If it was dependent only on your efforts,” he added with a smile, “I would guarantee you two hundred percent that it would succeed, not only a hundred. I’ve never seen a person expend so much effort for something. But you know, things don’t only go according to our efforts…”
“Of course,” Elazar had replied. He was doing what he could. Sarah had easily agreed, at this point in their lives, to make the unusual move to Acco for a limited amount of time. For his boys, it had certainly been a good thing. Sometimes, he mused that he needed to thank those Arabs who had insisted on the seventy years, because if not for them, he would not have established his yeshivah here, and what would have been with his boys?
Elazar walked back to the carpentry shop, his thoughts buoyant. Then he remembered Osher. It was strange that his parents had not made any contact with him, despite the evaluation results they’d received by fax four days ago already. They hadn’t said anything to him at all. Without calling him or asking any questions, they had simply deposited money into Mattisyahu Kreisman’s account—5000 shekel—and written in the memo space “for Osher’s treatment.”
“It’s just a simple beehive cubby, Osher. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to build it.” Matari pointed to the cutting table. “Everything is ready, with the right measurements. Here’s the design printout, including the colors and everything. It’s not complicated. If you finish this in the next hour, before I go, I’ll show you how we put the back plank on, too.”
Osher glared at the precisely cut shelves that were waiting for him. Why him? Why had Matari picked on him this morning?
“I’ll be happy to etch designs into the wood,” he said with a shrug. “But someone else should do the building.”
“Which designs? This is not a retro style cabinet; it’s a classic cubbyhole, with clean lines. No designs and no etching.”
“What can I do if that’s what I’m good at?”
“So the time has come for you to be good at other things, too. C’mon, let’s go.”
Osher scowled at the screwdriver and sighed. “Fine,” he muttered. “But if it flops, it’s not my fault.”
“It will absolutely be your fault,” Matari retorted coldly. “So please be careful.”
“I’m being careful. But what if it doesn’t work and the boards get ruined?”
“First mistake is on the house. The second mistake you’ll need to pay for.”
Matari looked at him. “I’ll tell Rabbi Reiness to deduct two slices of bread from supper, okay? Now get started already!”
Osher seethed as he picked up the box of screws and chose a screw from inside. He placed one shelf against a support plank and took the screwdriver.
“Wait, before you start,” said Matari, who was standing behind him with his arms folded, “if you attach that shelf to that board, which is the roof of the cubbies as you see in the sketch, the shelves will be standing. Upward. Get what I mean?”
“No,” Osher grumbled.
“Here, look, it’s very clear. It stands like this, and this is attached to it. And the shelf will stand! So how will you put books, toys, and other stuff on it?”
“I’m not putting books and toys and other stuff on it,” he muttered. “So where should I connect it?”
“To the side board. You connect the long shelves—there are three of them—and then, like you see in the printout—”
“I don’t see anything in the printout!” Osher slammed down the screwdriver, and the little screw that had been attached to it flew onto the floor that was covered in sawdust, and disappeared. “This sketch is Japanese for me, alright? I don’t see anything, and I don’t understand anything. So just leave me alone!” And he dashed out of the carpentry shop.
The others raised their eyes from what they were doing, just now realizing that there was a little drama going on around them. Rabbi Reiness, who stood at the entrance of the shiur room talking on the phone, managed to catch of glimpse of Osher’s disappearing back as he exited into the front yard.
“One minute,” he said in alarm to the lawyer who was on the phone. “I have to hang up. So you’ll call me the minute you know that they got the message about the meeting, right? Okay, great, thanks.” And he stuck his phone into his pocket and strode into the carpentry shop. “What’s doing?” he asked Matari quietly.
“I tried to force him, like you asked,” the carpenter said in an equally low tone. “It’s really a very simple job, which could generate a lot of satisfaction. It’s the type of thing where you see the results very quickly.”
“But it wasn’t working with him.”
“I see,” the Rav murmured. He wondered if he should follow Osher out. He looked at the door again, and his eyes met the gaze of Doron Nachman.
“Should I go out to him, Rabbi?” the student-security guard mouthed.
Rabbi Reiness thought for a moment. “Not right now,” he mouthed back. “But thanks.”
Suddenly, I really wanted to call someone, to talk. To whom? It didn’t even matter to whom, as long as they were not connected to this place. Not to the carpentry shop, to Matari, to the other boys, or to Rabbi Reiness.
I would have called home. Spoken to Abba or Ima. Honestly, I sometimes missed home a bit. But I didn’t think that anyone there had the patience for me, their black sheep. At this point, even Rabb Reiness had probably lost patience with me. He was standing a little bit away when Matari was arguing with me about that ridiculous beehive cubby thing, and I saw anger in his eyes. Maybe not anger, exactly, but this strange expression, as if he didn’t know me or understand me.
What did I think—that he would understand me?
There probably wasn’t anyone in the world who could understand me.
Maybe, maybe, Ariella.
Maybe calling Ariella would be a good idea. I wondered how she was and what she was doing right then. Who knew? Maybe she was missing me a bit, too. But how could I talk if I didn’t want to ask the Rav for his phone, or to go upstairs right now? Doron Nachman was probably upstairs, and I had no interest in talking to him. In some ways, it was better when Shlomo roomed with me. We didn’t always get along, but at least he wasn’t trying to educate me. This student-security guard was always trying to, and it was beginning to get on my nerves. He was okay, overall, a nice guy, but sometimes he tried too hard, like he wanted to be my counselor or something like that.
“Hey, good morning!” someone suddenly exclaimed from behind me.
I looked around and saw that it was Rabbi Reiness’s childhood friend, Yosef. I sighed aloud; I didn’t have patience for him and his questions. “If you have questions, maybe go in and ask your friend yourself,” I said right away.
“Questions? What kind of questions?”
“Dunno. About him and what’s going on there today.”
“Why should I be interested in what’s going on there today?” Yosef chuckled. “I see he’s become a teacher, huh?”
“What do you learn there?”
“Torah,” I replied, and turned my back. There he went, with his questions. And soon he would also start to ask me what exactly we were learning, and maybe I could teach him a little bit, because he missed those days of being religious… I had no patience or interest.
“Torah? So what’s with the carpentry shop?”
“That’s besides for the Torah learning.” I walked away.
But he followed me!
“Why did he open a carpentry shop here? Is it worth having such a business in Acco?”
I was silent as I kept walking.
“This is what he came to Acco for? To open a school with a carpentry shop?”
“I guess he wanted to be here.” I stopped and turned my head. “It’s really a shame.”
“What’s a shame? You don’t like it here? You’re not happy?”
I glared at him. “No, I’m not always happy. But what can I do—I’m the type of person who is not always happy. At least he tries, very hard, because he is a good person. Okay, is that it? Can I go now?”
“Sure, sure. What, I tied you down? Anyway, I know that Elazar is a good person. I remember that he was always a good boy. I’m sure he does lots of great things for you, meals, trips…”
“Trips? Maybe some, but not much.”
“Where does he take you? Maybe you should come to me on a trip once.” He laughed at his very-not-funny joke.
“We don’t have so many trips.”
“I saw you going with him in the car once. I wanted to come and tell him something, to meet with him, but I was standing far away and you were already driving off.”
I turned around and kept walking. Why was he so nosy?
I’m not nice, I know, but what could I do? Ariella knew how to be nice even when she had no patience. So did Rabbi Reiness. I’m not like that at all.
“So where did he take you?”
He was still at it! What did he want from my trips to Zichron Yaakov? Why was it his business? I did not want it to get out, especially since I understood from Rabbi Reiness yesterday that although the evaluation was over, maybe I would keep going to Dr. Kreisman for sessions to help me discern my strong points. I didn’t understand if it would help me reveal them to him or the other way around, not that it seemed to make much of a difference.
“So where did you and Elazar go?”
Uch! “To Zichron Yaakov.”
“He takes you often, doesn’t he?”
I gritted my teeth and didn’t answer.
“Will he continue to take you there?”
I didn’t answer, just turned my head and continued walking on the boardwalk along the wall.
The boardwalk was a quiet place, paved with light-colored stones. Every few feet, the stones formed mosaic-style images of different kinds of fish, and I concentrated on skipping from one to the other. The sunshine on my back was pleasant, and I decided that this would be a little outing with just myself. I was sick of being with people who didn’t understand me and whom I didn’t understand. I was enjoying being with myself, finally!
You know, I realized, I like my own company better than other people’s.
I looked back. Thankfully, Yosef wasn’t there anymore. He must have finally decided to stop asking his endless, tactless questions.
Across the street was an Arab restaurant. I didn’t know how to read the Arabic letters, but the sign also stated in Hebrew that it was “The West-Coast Restaurant, Mubrasham.” Wait, was that Yosef over there? What was he doing in such a place? Actually, as sad as it was to think about it, the guy probably didn’t even keep kosher anymore. He certainly didn’t look at all religious.
Or maybe he’d just dropped in to the restaurant to ask what time it was or to buy cigarettes?
Whatever. I had no interest in this person. And I wasn’t going to nose around in his affairs like he was doing in mine.
I turned around and kept walking. Just for the sake of walking, to nowhere special.