Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 66 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!” A pale-faced Ariella opened her eyes wide when she saw who was at the door. “Kids, come see who’s here!”
“It’s Ima,” Gadi said quietly, as he came to the door to confirm it. “Ima, did you come to say Tehillim with us?”
“Yes.” Bassi smiled at her children and then turned to Ariella. “Go to Acco, Ariella. I think your brother needs you there.”
“What will be with Yisrael Meir?”
“My husband is there now. And he’ll go to Acco soon as well, if he’s needed there for anything. Yisrael Meir is feeling good today, baruch Hashem.”
“And you think Osher needs me.” The front door remained open behind Bassi’s back.
“Yes, I do,” she replied. “And hurry, because a lovely volunteer took me from Haifa to here when I told her what was going on, and she’s waiting outside to take you to Acco.”
“Why? Osher ran away again?”
“No. But from what Sarah was telling me, things are very complicated over there.”
“Complicated is right.” Ariella hurried into the other room, looking for her pocketbook. “Did she tell you about the guy who came for the meeting?”
“She mentioned something like that.”
“And about the Arab?”
“Which Arab?” Bassi followed her further into the house.
“About half an hour ago, I called there, and Osher answered the phone. He is very, very nervous, and feels guilty…” She sighed. “And rightfully so, it seems. Suddenly we got into this long conversation, as if we’ve been in touch on a regular basis all these weeks.”
“That’s good. How’s he doing?”
“Well, not so good, and it’s no wonder…with everything going on there. He told me that there was a guy hanging around a lot on their street, and he often met Osher and tried to get him into conversation. He introduced himself as your brother-in-law’s childhood friend, and grilled Osher about the house and the schedule and who is there and when, all very casually.” She found her purse and made sure she had some money in it.
“Anyway, it turns out that Osher met him when he was running away on Motza’ei Shabbos, and he told him that he was leaving. The man—who, all of them realize clearly now, is an Arab—used that information to pressure Rabbi Reiness.” Ariella took a deep breath, and her lips trembled. “Osher feels terrible about it. He said someone asked him which Arab was able to trick him into thinking he is Jewish.”
“I hope they are speaking to him gently and kindly.” Bassi bit her lip. “He seems very sensitive, your brother.”
“He is.” Ariella’s eyes darkened. “And, you know, someone who didn’t grow up in a mixed area could easily get mixed up! Like, I’ll never forget the trauma of Aziza, for example…”
“Go to him,” Bassi urged. “Go and tell him that.”
“Yes, I wanted to tell him about it, but he didn’t want to stay on the phone too long. After schmoozing with me for a while, he suddenly seemed in a hurry to hang up. I guess his sudden candidness with me threw him off a little.”
She hurried to the door, and Bassi pressed a bag with a few cookies into her hand. “So you’ll tell him now.”
“Yeah,” Ariella agreed. “It will do him good to hear that I’ve also made mistakes. And thanks for thinking about us, Bassi, in this whole mess…” Again, her lips trembled. “In this mess that he himself created. I hope everything is going to work out for the best.”
“B’ezras Hashem, amen v’amen. From what I understood, the police finally realize that the Arab clan, from the lot my brother-in-law is trying to reclaim, is connected to the story.” Bassi escorted her out to the path, motioning for the children to wait in the house. “Now they are sending police cars to a few key homes in Acco. Maybe that will help solve this…”
“Mmmm?” An elderly Arab woman opened the door to the police officers.
“Is this the Al-Alami family? We want to speak to Mr. Wasim.”
She went inside without saying a word, leaving the door open. The three policemen stepped into a large, dim room. On a blue leather chair sat a wrinkled, toothless Arab. He looked at them.
“Are you Wasim?”
“Yes.” His voice was croaky. “What do you want?” he asked.
“Do you know a Mr. Elazer Reiness?”
“Reinez?” He blinked. “Don’t know him.”
“He has a carpentry shop, near the sea.”
“Don’t know carpentry.”
“How old are you, sir?”
“One hundred and five,” a young voice with a perfect Israeli accent said from the corner of the room. An Arab youth, apparently a grandson, grinned at the policemen. “My grandfather is really, really old,” he said, “but he remembers everything like a young man.”
“Is that so? So he remembers Shikovitzer, too?” The policeman glanced at the paper in his hand. “He was your father’s partner, Mr. Wasim. Right? And you remember the deal you made with Shikovitzer about his lot?”
“Not his!” The old man bristled. “All land is ours! But Shikovitzer went, and chalas, finished. Manuel Bitton also went. What you want?”
“There was someone else connected to this land. Someone by the name of Reiness,” the policeman said. “What about him?”
“Dunno.” The old man banged his fist on the arm of the chair. “Now, go, go!”
“Because Elazar Reiness, who was connected to this, has disappeared,” the policeman explained. “We believe your clan might be connected to this, Mr. Wasim.”
“Not everything that happens needs to be blamed on the Arabs,” the grandson said snidely, from his corner. “We’re a respectable family. We don’t make trouble. We respect everyone and get along with everyone. What do you want from my grandfather?”
“Perhaps one of your younger family members, then.” The policeman smiled at him pleasantly. “You know, young people sometimes do foolish things.”
“Not among us,” the boy declared. “You can ask all my uncles—we’re all good. No police records; everything is one hundred percent clean.”
He did not know that his uncles and cousins all over Acco were being asked similar questions, but they all responded with surprised eye-rolls. Only in the home of the most well-known figure—Hussein Abu Abed Al-Alami—was the answer a bit different.
“Reiness? Sure, sure!” Hussein said, as he stroked his beard. “I know who that is. I was there today. I went for a meeting that we set up. He wasn’t home, and neither were his sons. Not very serious people, I guess.” But when the police mentioned an abduction, he reacted with the same eye-roll, seemingly offended. What? They were not connected to any abduction; they were dignified, honest, respectable people!
They had tried to present themselves as dignified, honest, and respectable, and they’d spoken to him very politely, and were very careful not to threaten him openly. But it didn’t help him now as he trudged alone, without any way to contact anyone. Without any food, and just a bit of mineral water. He had no idea where the road was. He was guessing, really, and hoped he was heading in the right direction.
Suddenly, amidst all the walking and wondering, he thought about Mattisyahu Kreisman’s son. A good boy, really a good boy. He hadn’t grown up in a Chareidi home, but the Kreismans were still good, frum people, and when their Effy began to slide, they’d panicked.
Then, for some reason, Effy had come to him, to his yeshivah, Why him? There are no questions when it comes to the ways of Hashem. Effy had simply come one evening, confused and lost, and he’d discovered Reb Elazar’s small group of students. That was back when the Reinesses had lived in Haifa. The talmidim had been sitting on the beach, singing and talking. And Effy Kreisman, standing at the side and listening, had chosen to join them.
He had become an ardent talmid of Rabbi Reiness’s, and remained faithfully with him for seven years. During that time, he went from being a confused and frustrated teen to a serious and stable bachur, who knew his place and his virtues. When Rabbi Reiness and his yeshivah had moved to Acco, he’d come with them, and he was involved in the carpentry shop. But a few months after that, he’d received an offer to switch to an excellent yeshivah in Yerushalayim, and, with Reb Elazar’s greatest blessings, he’d abandoned the screwdrivers and planks of wood to pursue that option.
The yeshivah had welcomed the high-quality bachur, dressed like a true ben Torah, and his non-Chareidi father in Zichron Yaakov had accepted him that way as well. “It’s a thousand times better this way! There’s just no way to compare the person he is now to what could have happened to him,” Dr. Kreisman once remarked gratefully to the Chareidi rav who had turned his son into a full-fledged yeshivah bachur. “All I can do is thank you. There’s nothing else to say. You succeeded with him where I failed.”
“There’s no ‘I failed’ when it comes to parenting,” Rabbi Reiness had replied. “And there shouldn’t be. Every child receives exactly the parents he needs, and the path that he must traverse in This World—and the right to choose, too, of course.”
Since then, they had never again raised this slightly loaded subject. But a firm, warm bond was forged between the rav and the psychologist, and it developed further when they sent youths who needed therapy and extra care to one another, each one according to his field of expertise. The warm ties remained strong over the years, even when Effy Kreisman had long put his tough years behind him
Reb Elazar pushed away a thorny branch, gazing at the ground with narrowing eyes. Why was he thinking about Effy now?
Obviously, because of Osher.
Or rather, because of his sister.
How had he not thought about it until now?
Well, that wasn’t a question. As someone who had tried to make thirty-six shidduchim—and failed at them all, he hadn’t tried his hand much at it in recent years. If he didn’t have a knack for making shidduchim, then he just didn’t have it. But when this idea just popped into his mind, in such an unlikely setting of towering boulders and isolation, there was nothing to disturb him from mulling it over at length.
True, she was a widow. But Effy wasn’t young, and the background he came from was very different than that of his friends. It was likely that he was more willing to compromise…
Nothing, besides the sun advancing westward, could disturb Rabbi Reiness from thinking his idea over thoroughly. At the same time, he tried to make sure that the sun didn’t disturb him too much either. Maybe he needed to take upon himself that bli neder, the first thing he would do when he came back home, after dealing with Al-Alami’s contract, would be to redt this shidduch. What right did he have to urge his students to not look at past failures, if he was also dwelling on his failed career as a shadchan?
He ignored the sun as best he could, but at some point, he felt that the time had come to daven Minchah, and he stopped to do so. He could—no, he knew that he must—still hold out the hope that a miracle would happen and he would get back to Acco before shkiah, but waiting until then with Minchah was a risk.
Shkiah. The end of the day. Something else Islam had taken from Judaism. The Al-Alami family was also surely watching the sun now, and waiting anxiously for sunset to arrive.
Suddenly, there was a road.
There, in the middle of the thick brush and the rocks, he climbed and went out onto a wide, flat road with four lanes. An intercity highway.
Was his salvation at hand?!
Reb Elazar hurried forward. He had no phone or anything. He didn’t even know where he was; there were no signs in sight. He would need to hitchhike. Hoping he was not in the heart of a hostile Arab area, with only Arabs driving by, he stuck his hand out. His weariness had been mounting in recent hours, and now it suddenly hit his neck, and he felt dizzy.
“Hey, Rabbi!” A white taxi slowed down. “Where do you need to go? What are you doing here?”
Rabbi Reiness studied the driver—he was Jewish, no doubt about that. “Long story,” he said hoarsely. “I…” He shook his head. Don’t look at the clock. He would get to Acco at the destined moment and not one minute later. “I need to get to Acco. Is it nearby?”
“Nearby? Not exactly.” The driver chuckled. “Wait, I heard on the news that the Acco police were searching for someone; they described him like a rabbi. Is that you?”
“That’s the second thing I want to ask of you.” Elazar took a deep breath, trying to control the dizziness that was spinning a web around his brain. “Tell the police I’m fine. Do you have a phone? I’ll call my family myself.”
“What’s the question! But don’t you want to go to a hospital on the way? You look a bit dehydrated, Rabbi.”
“Not dehydrated,” Rabbi Reiness said quietly. “I had water the whole time. Thanks, it’s fine. I need to get to Acco as fast as possible. How far is it from here?”
“About ten, eleven kilometers,” the man replied.
“And where do you need to go?”
“What difference does it make? I find a missing person, and you want to take the honor away from me?” The driver laughed at his humor.
“No, of course not.” Elazar smiled. “I thank you very much. It’s just that…I need to get to Acco urgently.” An inner voice jeered at him, What for, if you don’t even see the sun on the horizon anymore?’ But he ignored the voice.
“Are you alright, Rabbi? You’re not going to faint on me here, are you?” The driver glanced worriedly in the rearview mirror, as Elazar called his home number.
“I’m fine, baruch Hashem.” He smiled with effort.
The car slowed, and then stopped. “We’re here, Rabbi. This is the address, right? Wow, wow, what a welcome!”
The familiar courtyard and sidewalk were filled with his family, his students, a few policemen, and some journalists. Elazar Reiness bit his lip and opened the car door wordlessly. The darkness was thick and harsh, and enveloped the house and the carpentry shop with gloves of steel.