Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 64 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.
Walls of solid stone rising as high as the eye could see. Somewhere above them, the sky stretched in every direction. The ravine was completely dry; the remnants of spring were beginning to recede in the face of the warmer summer’s giant strides.
Reb Elazar sat on a large rock, bent over. There didn’t seem to be a living soul around besides him. His right hand supported his forehead, shading his eyes. Here, he was no one’s rav, no one’s father. He was not a son fulfilling a promise to anyone. He was alone, flesh, bones, and a soul, and only the third Partner Who had granted it all to him was here with him.
He had no idea where he was and in which direction he should proceed. So for the past few hours, he had simply walked along a narrow path that he had spotted, hoping it would lead him to some civilization, and that it wasn’t just a path that donkeys had created with their hoof-prints eighty years earlier, and which ended at some abandoned shack or ruin.
He did not know whether or not it was a good idea to take this path, but he also did not have any other option, so the decision was very clear. He walked and davened, and davened and walked, and at one point, he began to sing Adon Olam to himself, remembering those final moments near his father’s deathbed. Then, too, he had sung Adon Olam, together with his weak father. And then, at a certain point, he had promised himself that he would make every effort to fulfill his father’s wish… He continued walking, davening, and singing, and when the path suddenly ended at this massive stone wall, he stopped to rest.
He again opened the bottle of water they had so generously given him before leaving, made a brachah. and sipped. Shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro was also here, now.
But the stupidity he had displayed… How had he allowed himself to fall into this foolish trap? Why hadn’t he tried to stall for time, to wait a few more hours?
And yet, he had nothing to regret here as well. How did his own rebbi, Harav Koch zt”l, used to put it? A Jew never makes a mistake. Even if it looks like a mistake, the results are, in any case, determined from Above. Reb Elazar had no idea what was going on with Osher. Chances were he’d calmed down by now and was trying to plan the way forward. Had he returned to the carpentry shop? What had they told him? And what was Doron Nachman doing now?
Doron Nachman had also thought it was genuine. They were so persuasive; could he have been expected to think that they knew about Osher’s departure—without him actually being with them?
At first, he hadn’t wanted to believe them. He’d thought it was a bad joke, and didn’t even respond before hanging up the phone. He’d tried not to suspect any of his students of pulling the prank. But when they called back two minutes later, he didn’t hang up so fast. They sounded too serious.
And then he’d asked for a bit of time to think, and they’d given him half an hour. “And if you speak to anyone, police, family, army, anyone…there’s no more Osher,” the voice had said. “Don’t talk to anyone, you hear? We will know, do you understand?”
He had replied that yes, he understood. They even knew Osher’s name! And from then until the next conversation, twenty-eight minutes later, he had paced up and down the carpentry shop, worried sick. He had turned his phone off. He didn’t want to speak to Osher’s parents, because he did not know what to tell them. Maybe they would involve the police either way, just because Osher had run away. But from his experience, the police would not do anything when a sixteen-year-old boy ran away, especially as, in this case, he had informed Rabbi Reiness that he was doing so, and less than twenty-four hours had passed since he’d last made contact.
Less than half an hour later, two minutes after he’d turned his phone back on, the man called again. “Come at 8:45, on the dot,” the voice said, “to the entrance of Ma’alot Tarshicha. Do you know where that is? That’s where you’ll sign for us that you don’t want any land, and you’ll get the boy. If you bring police, there’s no more boy.”
The decision was searing, almost to the point of tears, but he had no time to feel the pain. It wasn’t hard. He knew very well what he had to do, and his only deliberation was if there really was no possibility of contacting the police. Maybe he should have asked a rav if he was allowed to endanger himself to save Osher. But he didn’t think it would be dangerous. It was clear to him that if he would give them what they wanted, there would be no reason for them to harm him. After all, the Al-Alami family was a “respected” family that would not get embroiled in crime if they could avoid it.
In the end, he chose to speak to Doron Nachman.
But they had detected him too. Less than a kilometer before they reached their destination, they called him again. “The motorcycle behind you is police!” the familiar voice had howled through the speakerphone. “No student, Reiness. You hear? Gone!”
“It’s not police!” he’d cried, alarmed. “Of course not! I didn’t call anyone; it’s just a friend of mine! You didn’t tell me not to take a friend!”
“We said ‘alone’! This is alone?!”
“He plans to stay far away,” Rabbi Reiness tried to appease the voice. “I didn’t know it would make you so angry; he’s just a good friend of mine.”
“Friend or no friend, this guy has been with you the whole time!” the voice screamed. “We told you not to talk to anyone! Listen: do you want the boy? Do you want him?”
“Yes, of course I do!”
The voice went down an octave. “So you get rid of your friend and follow us.”
“Get rid of him?! How do you want me to do that?”
“In another minute, a truck will come to the intersection. It will give you the right of way. You will pass, and he will wait behind like a good boy. When the truck moves on, he’ll be able to start moving again, and then you won’t be there anymore.”
“Where will I be?” Rabbi Reiness asked, trying to sound very calm.
“You’ll drive after us; we’re waiting for you in a blue Transit,” the man said. “And this is the last time I’m letting you test our patience, because one more game, and we’re finished doing business with you. If you want Osher…”
Reb Elazar wanted Osher back, very much. So he’d evaded Doron at the intersection. And he’d followed the blue Transit that turned onto a dirt road behind some wide olive trees. He’d thought of Doron Nachman left behind, not knowing what had happened to him.
He wanted Osher, and that’s why he’d also switched off his phone, as the Arabs had ordered him, parked the car in the Ein Ziv parking lot, and climbed into the Arabs’ Transit. They’d waited for him inside, three of them, looking relatively friendly. One of them introduced himself as Yussuf, and then he’d laughed. “Regards from Osher; we’re good friends.” They didn’t touch him; instead, they’d started to drive without another word, speeding rather wildly. So wildly that Elazar had gripped the seat in front of him with white knuckles. The careening was jarring, nearly unbearable. He hoped that the traffic police would pick up on the speeding vehicle, but that miracle did not happen.
They stopped at a remote spot, and transferred into a four-wheel-drive vehicle, before quickly getting off the paved roads. Throughout the ride, they didn’t say a word, but he was still expecting to see Osher at some point.
“Where is Osher?” he asked, after a few long moments. “I hope we’ll get to him soon.”
The man who called himself Yussuf snickered. “Osher? Wait, wait…you’ll meet him soon. I’m sure it will be very interesting to see the two of you reunited.” He laughed again, and didn’t answer any more of Elazar’s questions. The atmosphere in the vehicle was calm, and Elazar didn’t notice any weapons; he deliberated if he was considered a captive. He was riding with these people ostensibly of his own free will, no one was scaring him, and the choice to join them or not was his.
Still, it was surely a crime. Extortion, threats, and if they had abducted Osher, then they certainly weren’t afraid of anyone… What would prevent them from making him sign a document of some kind, and then getting rid of him and Osher together?
The car continued to dart forward, and it entered a thicket of trees. Branches scraped the sides of the vehicle and darkened the day. The driver switched on the light inside, and hummed an Arabic tune to himself. The one who called himself Yussuf made a comment, and the driver fell silent. Reb Elazar sat with his eyes closed, davening. He had no idea what was waiting for him at the end of this very unpleasant ride.
Suddenly they emerged from the trees. Another ten minutes of driving between rock walls in various shades of brown, and the vehicle stopped in the middle of a narrow ravine. On the left was an even deeper abyss. Yussuf said, “Get out quickly, so you don’t fall.” That same second, his switched-off phone flew out of Elazar’s hands and crashed forty meters down the side of the cliff.
“Oh, so sorry!” the young Arab exclaimed as he followed him out of the vehicle. There wasn’t a trace of a smile in his voice or his eyes. “Sorry I dropped your phone. Here, take a hundred shekel toward a replacement.”
“There’s no reception here anyway,” Yussuf added, his arms folded as he gazed at the steep cliff below. “So it’s useless here in any case.”
“Where is Osher?” Rabbi Reiness was hardly focused on his now-departed phone, or the bill that had been proffered to him. He looked left and right, and felt his lips trembling.
Yussuf curved his lips upward. “Honestly, Reiness, I don’t know. After he told me that he’s not coming back to you, and that he doesn’t want to stay in Acco and all that, he went to the train station. He probably wanted to go home, no?” He put a hand on Reb Elazar’s shoulder; the Rav stood motionlessly, staring at a long, jagged scratch on the stone wall he was facing. “But you know, he told me you were very good to him, and boy, do I agree with the kid. Look how we managed to get you all the way here, eh? We love such jokes!” And with those words, he turned back to the car, the other two Arabs behind him.
“I don’t understand.” Reb Elazar also turned around, stepping in front of the vehicle. “You don’t have Osher? You didn’t kidnap him?”
“No.” Yussuf opened the door and took out two bottles that were on the floor near the driver’s seat. “Do you mind? It’s alright, here’s a bit of water. By nightfall I hope you’ll make it to the main road up there. And if not, the police will surely find you with their helicopters.”
“By nightfall,” Rabbi Reiness repeated very slowly. “Mr. Yussuf, you don’t really mean to leave me here. I have to get home…” He looked into the man’s eyes. “You know that I have to get home,” he repeated.
“Sure.” Yussuf climbed in and slammed the door behind him. “Sure I know. That’s what we don’t want, Reiness.” He paused, and when he saw that Elazar did not plan to move, he whispered something to the young driver, who started the engine.
“You’d better move,” Yussuf called, sticking his head out the window, “because we are driving now.”
The sound of the engine grew louder, and Elazar stepped aside, pressing against the rock wall. That was enough. He didn’t need to be moser nefesh for this thing. If Hashem wanted, he would get home in time. If Hashem wanted, the meeting at the culmination of these seventy years would still take place today, somehow.
Or, if Hashem willed it, it would not happen. That was also a possibility that, as a believing Jew, he had to take into consideration.