Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 63 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.
I never realized how much noise my shoes made. But when I walked into the courtyard of the carpentry shop with Dr. Kreisman, and I saw everyone—except Reb Elazar—standing and looking at me, I felt like my footsteps were a thunderous racket. Dr. Kreisman put his hand on my shoulder, a little like Reb Elazar, but different.
In the carpentry shop, I found two policemen sitting with Doron Nachman and Yehuda Matari. Nechemia, Reb Elazar’s son, was also there, as was another one of the Rav’s sons who once came to visit on Chol Hamoed Pesach. There was another man there, too, whom I didn’t know; perhaps he was a plainclothes officer.
They began to ask me a ton of questions. At first I sealed my lips, but then I realized that this was what could help Reb Elazar right now, even if I felt under interrogation. With that in mind, I tried to answer them as best I could. But their questions had no connection to Reb Elazar. They only asked when I went, and how I went, and with whom I spoke, and if I had planned it ahead of time.
I had planned it, sure. The same way Gadi Berg had planned with Ariella to annoy me during shalosh seudos.
“I didn’t plan anything,” I told them. I could feel my face reddening. “I just decided to leave Acco. And I’m allowed to do that.”
“But something here was expected,” one officer, who didn’t have a friendly look to him, said. “Too expected. Because someone knew about it. Who did you tell that you were going?”
“The Rav himself.”
“So you didn’t plan it ahead of time? No Arab suggested to you to run away from the house without saying where you were going?”
“Of course not,” I said hotly.
“Did you meet an Arab somewhere on the train? At the train station? In Zichron Yaakov?”
“No. I didn’t meet any Arabs,” I said, and stood up. “I don’t know anyone else in Acco, get it?” I wanted to scream! They were accusing me. They were blaming me. They were blaming me for the Rav’s disappearance! I hoped they weren’t going to say that I abducted him. With their strange ideas, that’s really where this might have been headed.
“I’m going out a bit,” I said to Dr. Kreisman.
He met my gaze. “You can go,” he said. “But don’t leave the courtyard, Osher, alright? We’ll need you here.”
I stood up and looked at Nechemia, Reb Elazar’s single son. He didn’t look at me. “Nechemia?” I said quietly.
“What?” he muttered.
“Why do they think your father disappeared because of me?”
The one who answered was Doron Nachman. He looked at me, and there was something like pity in his eyes. “Because Reb Elazar went with me to search for you,” he said quietly. “Someone called and told him that if you are dear to him, then he should give up on his plans. They made up with him that he would come and sign a forfeiture document, without involving the police, and then they would give you back to him. He asked me to join him, as a security guard.”
“A forfeiture document about what?” I asked.
Nechemia turned to me. “About something that my father has dedicated himself to these past few years, these past few months. It was so important to him. You understand? He was ready to give it all up—for you!”
“And I thought he had dedicated these past few months to me,” I said to Nechemia. His jaw dropped, but he snapped it shut. Everyone around us was also quiet.
“Well, also to the other bachurim who learn by him,” I added. “But really, a lot was to me.” And then I got out of there. I didn’t want to be there with the policemen, with Nechemia, with all those people who didn’t understand how Reb Elazar had agreed to give up something that was apparently more important than me. I went out to the courtyard, hoping that I’d see him suddenly coming in.
And then I saw her. She had just come down the stairs from the second floor, and was walking toward the gate. I turned my head. The last thing I wanted right now was a flood of mussar from her. But deep down in my heart, I knew that it really was not like Ariella to scold me—not now, when I was so dejected. It didn’t matter what I’d done.
She approached me with a small smile. “Hi, Osher. Good to see you.”
I really didn’t want to answer her, but I had to. “Oh, very good. Sure.”
“Well, I’m happy to see you, even with all the tension and anxiety and everything.”
“Why did you come from the yishuv? You didn’t know I’d be coming back here.”
“I came to look for you in Acco,” Ariella said. “And now I’m leaving, and davening that everything will turn out okay, and that Rabbi Reiness will come back soon, safely and peacefully.”
“So where are you going now? Home, to Bnei Brak?”
Ariella shook her head. “I’m going back to the Berg children, the Reinesses’ nieces and nephews. I’ve been watching them ever since their brother got hurt.”
“Ah, Yisrael Meir.”
“Who is watching them now, while you are here?”
“They’re at neighbors until I get back.”
“And you had to come after me from Bnei Brak? To their yishuv, to Acco, to chase after me?” I gripped the handle of the gate and shook it. Tears filled my eyes and began to roll down my face. I felt like a four-year-old baby. Like a real black sheep. “You had to chase me? Really, you had to? Why don’t you, Ima, or Abba ever believe that I can manage on my own? You had to check up on me all this time, to see what I was up to?”
“Yes. We had to, Osher,” she said. “We love you too much to let you just go and do your own thing…”
At this point, I began to really cry hard; I don’t even know why. Maybe it was because I was so angry at her. Maybe there was another reason. She stood there quietly for a few more seconds, waiting for me to calm down. But when I saw that my sobs were not subsiding, I turned into the courtyard. She called after me that I should take care, and that she was davening, for me, for Rabbi Reiness, for us all—and then she left.
Doron Nachman sat with his head in his hands. Menashe Karni, Rabbi Reiness’s advisor-mediator, looked at him for a moment, and then turned to the policemen and detective. “What is your assessment?”
“Well, we didn’t have any warning about there being some kind of terrorist attack,” one of the policemen said. “Of course some things happen even without warnings, but still…it’s more likely that whatever happened was of criminal nature. With those types of incidents, there’s usually even less information.”
“Do you think he’s in danger?”
“We haven’t yet found anything that indicates an injury or struggle in the area where he disappeared. Our experts are focusing their search there now.”
“I’m still shocked at how quickly this happened.” Doron bit his bottom lip. “I was riding behind him on my motorbike the whole time. The truck…ten seconds separated us, and then he disappeared at the intersection. I have no idea where he turned, but he didn’t continue straight on the road to Ma’alot Tarshicha. Something must have really confused him, because I can’t imagine he didn’t notice the signs.”
“Yes,” the detective agreed. “What we are trying to figure out is if it is possible that he knew the whole time that the destination was never Ma’alot Tarshicha.”
“What?! So why did he tell me that that is where he was supposed to meet Osher’s abductors? And he also told me that it makes a lot of sense that they wanted to meet him there, since it’s a mixed Jewish-Arab city… Why should he drag me over there, and then go somewhere else?!”
“Good question. Maybe they demanded that he mislead us, so that we can’t follow them.”
Doron was quiet, his eyes narrowed.
“It’s possible, of course, that he didn’t know about the change beforehand, but what I’m telling you is also an option that we have to take into account…”
Doron was quiet for a few more moments, his fingers toying with a piece of broken wood that he had found on the worktable. “But for him to do such a thing, to mislead me and all that, he would have had to feel very, very threatened,” he finally said. “And he didn’t look that way to me. At least not to such an extent.”
“He didn’t seem very frightened? Alarmed?” the detective questioned.
“No. He was worried, of course, but he was mainly concerned by the expected loss of the land. It didn’t seem to me like he was feeling that his life was at risk.” He thought for a moment. “He was very sure of what he was doing.”
“Sure of the decision to leave it all?” Karni raised an eyebrow.
“Yes. He claimed that he could not waste time when his talmid’s life was involved.”
“You just said that it didn’t seem he felt that his life was at risk!” the detective countered.
“Not his life,” Doron clarified. “But he was very worried about Osher. That’s also why he didn’t want to take the risk of involving the police, because they warned him not to bring anyone else into the picture.”
“And he spoke to you anyway.”
“Yes. He said he felt that someone had to do something, and to go there alone did not seem responsible to him.”
“So he got their phone call, spoke to you, and then the two of you left?”
“Almost like that.” A faint smile crossed Doron Nachman’s lips. “It took him about an hour to reach the decision.”
The detective’s phone rang.
“What? The car?” He quickly glanced at all the other men. “In Ein Ziv? Really…” He stood up, trying to walk away with the phone, but people were standing all around and he couldn’t forge a path outside. “Empty? I see. No bloodstains? No clothes, glasses, or yarmulke? Okay. Thanks for the info.” He ended the call. “They found his car,” he reported. “In the parking lot at Ein Ziv.”
“What is that?” Rabbi Reiness’s older son asked.
“It’s a water trail in Nachal Kaziv,” Nechemia, his younger brother, explained. “Where is Ima? We need to tell her; maybe it will help her calm down a little.”
“Who says this is reassuring news?” His brother looked at him piercingly.
Doron Nachman scratched his forehead. “It is close to Ma’alot,” he said. “So he did go there, maybe in a different way? Without me?”
“We’re checking all the possibilities right now,” the detective said, in what was intended to be a soothing tone. “I’ll go now.” He collected his papers from the table. “We’ll update you with anything new or with any change. It’s safe to assume that finding the car will help our men a lot.”
“Amen,” Doron Nachman murmured.
“And of course, you should update us if anything develops here.”