Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 58 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.
“Bassi, what’s doing? How is Yisrael Meir?”
Her younger sister sighed. “His fever is up again,” she said, and suddenly burst into tears. “This recovery process is so complicated! All he did was fall from a tree and break a leg in a few places… There are kids who came to the hospital after him, with worse injuries, and they’re progressing much faster than he is. It’s always another complication: pneumonia, his breathing difficulties…I feel like I’m going out of my mind, Sarah! If we would have known what was in store for us, we would have just rented a big apartment here in Haifa, like we did for Pesach, and switched the kids to schools here in the city.”
“You can still do it.” Sarah finished the last dish in the sink and untied her apron.
“Now?” Bassi shuddered at the thought. “Move them all now? Wouldn’t that be like a self-fulfilling prophecy that Yisrael Meir will still need months of rehabilitation and convalescence?”
“I didn’t mean it that way; I just meant that you should take stock of what works for you at this moment.”
“I have no idea what works for me at this moment. I barely remember my own name,” Bassi muttered, the regular vitality in her voice notably absent.
“What do the doctors say?”
“They took blood tests, and transferred us to ‘increased care.’” She passed a hand over her forehead as she paced up and down in the corridor outside the isolation room.
“What does Yisrael Meir himself say? Is he frustrated?”
“He’s so weak he barely has strength to talk. He sleeps most of the time. They also often send us out of the room when they are treating the other children in the room, or him, so for a lot of the time I’m not even at his side.” Her voice shook.
“Alright, I’m coming over this evening. What can I bring you?”
“No, don’t come. Yesterday was your day in the Bnei Brak clinic, and I know how exhausted you are after that. Aryeh will come in the evening to take me over, and I’ll try to sleep a little.” She studied the gleaming floor tiles of the corridor, which continued so far down they seemed to just disappear into an endless oblivion.
“We’ll see,” Sarah said.
“Anyway,” Bassi said, “I called because I wanted to talk to you about Ariella.”
“What about her?”
“I’m afraid she’s gotten a bit sick of the whole thing.”
“Why do you think so?” Sarah took a seat at her kitchen table.
“At first, she spent a few weeks straight in our house, as if she didn’t have any other family in the country. I don’t have to tell you…she was totally involved in the children and our house . But since she went home for Pesach, she’s been making sure to go back every Shabbos, even if it’s very complicated… You know how hard it is to find a way to get from our yishuv to the nearest bus, but she does it every week.” Bassi paused. “I’m not talking about the technical difficulty it creates for us; we’re happy that the children come to Haifa, even if this apartment is really small and we have to squish. For the kids it’s fun. The problem is that I’m afraid she’s not so interested in being with us anymore, but it’s hard for her to leave me up the creek with the situation like this.”
“Why shouldn’t she be interested in being with your family anymore?”
“Do I know? She has her own life; she’s not five years old! Maybe she’s busy with a shidduch, and she’s stuck because of us? Or maybe she’s just plain fed up!”
“I don’t think so,” Sarah said slowly, considering her sister’s words. “But I can ask her.”
“Only about a shidduch. Because I know for sure that your fears that she’s fed up are unfounded.”
“How do you know?” The glass doors finally opened, and Bassi hurried back to her son’s bedside, lowering her voice as she did.
“I spoke to her about it. Since she went back to Bnei Brak the first time, and saw how happy her parents were to see her, she decided to go back once a week. It has a lot to do with the fact that her brother did not step foot at home even once since he came here, not even on Pesach.”
“Did he enjoy himself by you? Even with Nechemia home from yeshivah, and your Ruti there with her three kids? He didn’t feel out of place?”
“It was fine—he wasn’t there himself. Two other boys who couldn’t go home for various reasons were also there with us. And Nechemia gets along just fine with them.”
“That’s good…” Bassi was distracted again, because Yisrael Meir moaned in his sleep as he tried to turn over. She quickly bent over him, but he fell back asleep right away.
“So, let’s go back to what we were talking about: Ariella is not fed up about anything. She loves your children very much, and everything is fine. If she’s in middle of a shidduch and she needs to get to Bnei Brak for it, and doesn’t know how to tell you about it, I’ll take care of that.”
“Thanks. Do you think she’d agree to stay just this Shabbos with the kids? Because if Yisrael Meir is still not feeling well by tomorrow, the kids won’t be able to come, because Aryeh and I will both want to stay here in the hospital with him. Do you think she could stay with them?”
“I think it’s better not to ask her,” Sarah said gently. “I’m the one who told you with confidence that she’s not sick of this yet, and I’m also the one who’s telling you with confidence that it’s good to send her to her parents for Shabbos. But, madam, did you forget that you have a sister nearby? Why only Ariella? Why can’t they come to me?”
“You forget which kids we are talking about, Sarah.”
“I did not forget. I was with them at the beginning, right after Yisrael Meir got hurt, if you recall.”
“That was a long time ago…” Bassi smiled. “But your house is way smaller than mine. It won’t be easy for you to keep them inside for so many hours.”
“We won’t keep them inside, don’t worry. We’ll take them out as much as we can.”
“Really? Are you sure you can do this?”
“Positive, b’ezras Hashem. We’ll have a wonderful time, I’m sure. And it will be nice for them to join our big seudos with Elazar’s talmidim.”
I didn’t know Doron had a car, but when he volunteered to take me to Kiryat Chaim on Friday morning, for a lesson with a sofer that Rabbi Reiness recommended, I saw his little Fiat from the inside for the first time.
“I saw this car parked sometimes out there,” I told him as I climbed in. “I didn’t know it was yours. I thought you have a motorbike.”
“I have both,” he said, sounding amused. “But I can’t take you on the motorbike.”
“How can you take me in the first place?” I was puzzled. “You need to watch over the carpentry shop and the house, don’t you?”
“When everyone is there, it’s not as urgent. Just like when I’m sleeping.” He laughed. “Are you belted, Osher?”
He didn’t talk too much, which was good; I also preferred not to schmooze. My mood was not great; I’d had a little fight with Dovid—I didn’t remember over what. I’d also gotten in trouble with Matari because of something silly, and I didn’t feel like taking responsibility for anything, certainly not for my life, like Dr. Kreisman was constantly trying to convince me to do. I’d already told him at our last session that I was exhausted just from the effort of “how to talk” and “who to talk to.” Ariella, my sister, is the exact opposite of me in that way. My mother always says that she just knows how to say the right thing at the right time. Me? I’m not like that at all.
Of course Ima doesn’t say that last part, but she sure thinks it.
“So you had lots of outings this week.” Doron smiled at me when we drove past the Kiryat Chaim sign. “Zichron Yaakov, Haifa, Kiryat Chaim…I give Rabbi Reiness credit for putting so much effort into you.”
“I really don’t know why he does it,” I said. “Did he tell you why?”
“I think he just likes you, remarkably enough.”
“Remarkably enough?” I didn’t like the sound of that. “Is it strange that he likes me? Am I not the type of person that people like?”
“I was kidding.” If his hands hadn’t been on the steering wheel, he would have given me a serious slap on the back. I could hear it in his voice. “You’re a sweet boy, Osher. And if he decides to do a full tune-up on you—y’know, like for cars—then I’m sure you’ll come out perfect.”
Seeing my blank look, he explained, “That’s the way I feel sometimes about Reb Elazar.” He wasn’t laughing anymore. “Like he has a garage, and we’re all cars that came for a service. In the end, we’ll come out gleaming and shipshape, speeding on strong tires, with the motor humming beautifully.”
I mulled this over. “Interesting comparison.”
“Yeah. Especially since I really feel like a jalopy deluxe sometimes.”
“You’re actually a very nice boy,” Doron said firmly. “Why do you feel like a jalopy?”
“The truth is, I feel a little less that way lately,” I said, surprising even myself. “Maybe the service at Rabbi Reiness’s garage is starting to have an effect on me.”
The sofer’s name was Yechezkel Rosenberg, and he was a very nice guy. I just couldn’t figure out if he was seriously impressed by how I was writing “without ever learning anything! Are you sure?!” or if he was just being nice.
He showed me a few techniques, like how to hold the quill and where to start certain letters from. After I’d caught on (“You have rare talent, Osher! I wish all my students could be like you!”), we began to learn a few halachos.
At the end of the lesson I came out with a booklet that he had published on the halachos of sta”m, along with a big piece of parchment and some ink. I promised to practice and to come back in a month and a half for the next lesson.
I saw that Doron Nachman—who had spent the whole time learning from a sefer near us— gave him two bills, each one of NIS 200. Until that moment, the whole issue of payments hadn’t even entered my mind, not for Yechezkel and not for Dr. Kreisman. Who was paying for all this? My parents? Rabbi Reiness?
Four hundred shekels for a sta”m lesson! Or did that include future lessons as well?
I couldn’t contain my curiosity, and when Doron and I were back in the car, I asked him, “Was all that money just for one lesson?”
“Honestly, Osher? I have no idea. Reb Elazar asked me to take you and to give him that money. I don’t know more than that.”
“Why didn’t he take me himself? Not that I don’t enjoy your company…” I said hurriedly, before he could get offended.
“I think he needs to go pick up some guests today.”
“I don’t know about that either,” Doron said. “And if you don’t mind, Osher, I’d like to listen to my Gemara shiur now. Do you know anything in Maseches Bava Kama?”
“A little bit,” I said.
“So listen along with me.” He switched on the CD in the car. “And if I don’t understand something, I’m sure you’ll be happy to explain it to me.”
“Oh, I don’t really know that much.”
“What are you so afraid of?” He laughed. “Rabbi Shapiro, who gives this shiur, is great at explaining.”
“So you’ll understand it by yourself. You won’t need me to explain anything to you.”
“You ‘have it’ from a young age, and I don’t.” He didn’t explain. “Shhh….” he said, as Rabbi Shapiro’s voice filled the car.
But he didn’t seem to need my help at all, because he didn’t ask me a single question. That was a good thing, because at a certain point, I couldn’t follow Rabbi Shapiro anymore.
“There’s something else I have from a young age, that you don’t,” I said, once we’d gotten to Acco. “And it also makes a difference.”
“Oh? What is that?”
“ADHD. But it’s okay,” I said quickly, before he could reply. “I believe I’ll be able to deal with it. I’ve been learning lately how to do that.”
“At Rabbi Reiness’s garage, huh?” He laughed.
Just then we got to our street, and all the questions about why Reb Elazar hadn’t taken me himself melted away. Because at that moment, I saw him emerging from his own car, with a bunch of kids spilling out of the backseat and running after him. One of them had a very familiar face, and he was calling out, “It’s so hot here, Uncle Elazar!”
I grinned at him, and I saw Shlomo smiling as well as he waved from afar. He carefully touched his cheek, where there were two faint scars. He apparently hadn’t forgotten either.