Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 67 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.
Deep pain, with a sour taste. Plain joy. Intense fury.
Was it possible to be feeling all three of these emotions together, rising like a trio of grapes on one vine?
“Rebbi, let us drink l’chaim that you were saved.”
A very late Maariv had just ended. A few bachurim brought out a bottle of liquor, opened a table, and ordered pizza. Rabbi Reiness smiled, wondering if it reached his eyes. “Sure,” he said, “but I only drink grape juice.”
Borei pri hagafen. L’chaim. How sweet and juicy is the grape as its flavor spills out, much like the gratitude he felt spilling out in his heart for being home safely. There were a few moments during the past day when he hadn’t been sure that the story would end quite like this…
And with it was that deep, tart pain, and the tremendous void that the abandoned lot had left in Yitzchak Shikovitzer z”l, a loss that had been transferred to his own father, who did not merit to do anything about it. And he, Elazar, was continuing on the path of both of these men. He had not merited to get the land back. He had dedicated nearly three years of his life to this effort, and it had all been for nothing.
Reb Elazar studied the thin plastic cup, half-filled with the dark liquid. He didn’t regret his years here; his carpentry shop was alive and well, and the bachurim were thriving.
Alongside that sour, unripe grape, another one rose, without permission, a rotten, fermented one, trembling with fury. There did not seem to be a chance, the lawyer had said—perhaps one and a half percent, and even that was optimistic. Reiness hadn’t been there at the time of the meeting, and the Arabs had been. And it was all over, or nearly all over. According to the lawyer, this “nearly” would not have any practical significance. The lot would stay with the Al-Alamis, and Shikovitzer’s dreams of a shul would be buried forever. Seventy years of anticipation had gone down the drain because of one boy.
He’d liked Osher. He still did. This young, impulsive student had come here with despair-filled eyes, and those eyes were now filled with different things, far better things. But why had he done it? Why?
Rabbi Reiness’s lips nearly curled into a slight, cynical smile, but he quickly suppressed it, and reverted back to the friendly, tired expression that he’d he chosen to wear since returning home. He was angry at Osher, so very angry. Alright, he could get confused. This Yussuf had light gray eyes, and he certainly didn’t appear Arabic. But why did Osher have to run to tell him that he was leaving Acco and that he was unhappy here? Even before all the complications that this had caused, what about the blatant ungratefulness that he had displayed? When would the kid learn some basic behavioral norms?!
“Rebbi, you’re not drinking!”
“Thanks, boys.” Reb Elazar pushed away the full cup. “It’s too sour for me.”
“So then wine, Rebbi!” Shlomo approached with a bottle. “Moriah is really light, Rebbi; it’s nothing!”
“No, thanks.” He smiled and rose. “There’s nothing like you, boys. Hashem will help, right?”
A babble of voices answered, “Sure!” and, “What’s the question!” but he was listening out for Osher’s voice. And suddenly, he realized that he hadn’t seen him, besides at that first moment when he’d arrived. He closed his eyes for a moment. There was no reason to be angry at Osher; he was just the stick. There are children who struggle to learn all kinds of things, and it takes them a very long time to learn them. They need to be taught and taught and taught again, until the happy ending.
And there still could be a happy ending; he certainly believed that, even if the story with the lot had ended so dismally.
He took a deep breath. “Where is Osher?” he asked quietly. “I hardly saw him.”
“I don’t know,” someone said. “Maybe he went up to his room.”
“He didn’t go up,” Dovid said. “I think I saw him leaving the yard a few minutes after you came in, Rebbi. Can I offer the Rav some pizza? There’s plenty!”
“No, thanks.” Rabbi Reiness smiled at his student. “I’m going up to sleep. I’ve had an exhausting day.”
Sarah and Nechemia, his younger son, were waiting upstairs. A thick soup bubbled on the stovetop, and a plate of fresh bread sat on the table, along with a serving dish of hot eggplant salad. Elazar suddenly felt a twinge of nausea.
“You’re pale!” Sarah said. “I think before anything, I’m making you a cup of tea.”
“I prefer cold water,” Elazar said, sinking into the nearest chair. He closed his eyes.
“Maybe we should go to the hospital for some tests? You had a pretty dreadful hike today.”
“You really don’t look good, Abba,” Nechemia said worriedly.
“No need,” he said, with closed eyes. “Lying in the emergency room for three hours, just to hear that I probably got a bit dehydrated and need some IV fluids, and after that I’ll be able to go home to sleep? So I am better off drinking some water now, through my mouth, and going to sleep without the whole ruckus.”
Sarah laughed, but then grew serious right away. “And what about eating?”
“Maybe afterward.” He opened his eyes and made a brachah on the water. He sipped it slowly, and began to feel better. “What’s with Osher?”
Nechemia turned his head to the window, looking out at the black sea. His mother replied, “His sister came today.”
“Before I came back?”
“A few minutes afterward.”
“So where is she now? Not at that Arab lady, I hope…”
Sarah chuckled. “She went back for one night to the room she’d rented in Acco right at the beginning. Tomorrow morning, she’ll go back to Bassi’s house.”
“Why did she come? To be with Osher?”
“He felt awful about this whole mess,” she said simply. “And I’m happy that he has some family who could be with him now, because you weren’t available, and I wasn’t able to be. And Nechemia is still angry at him.”
“Of course I’m angry at him!” their son exclaimed heatedly. “He—”
“Enough, Nechemia,” his father said. He sat silently for a few moments. First he bit his bottom lip, but as the moments passed, his pressure dissipated. He took a deep breath. “I want to speak to Yechezkel Rosenberg from Kiryat Chaim.”
“Rosenberg?” Nechemia asked.
“Yes. He is teaching Osher to write safrus. I want to book another lesson this week, and a regular schedule for the coming month. I want Osher to have a clear study track.”
“Really.” Sarah’s tone was somber, while Nechemia helped himself to a plate of eggplant salad straight from the pot. He sat down and began to eat.
“Yes, really.” Squeeze that fermenting, angry grape into a liquid that would ultimately become wine. Bend the stick back to the other direction. “I also want to call his parents in Bnei Brak.”
“The Erenbaums? Osher spoke to them this evening.”
“He did?” He glanced at his watch. It was twelve o’clock.
“Yes, and it was a good conversation. Ariella called to tell me about it. And he is also planning to apologize to you…”
“To apologize to me,” Elazar echoed. His eyes shifted to Nechemia’s face. The boy looked like he was going to choke on his food; then he stood up and left the kitchen. Rabbi Reiness drummed his fingers on the table for a moment. “I’m glad they had a good conversation,” he finally said. “In any case, I also want to speak to them. I have a shidduch for his sister.”
“She’s not listening to shidduchim, unfortunately.” Sarah ladled some soup into a bowl. “Haven’t we spoken about this already?”
“You may have mentioned something, I think. Why doesn’t she want to listen?”
“Go figure. I can’t judge her.”
He stood up and went to the sink to wash his hands. “I’m not judging anyone,” he said, “but I…” He paused and studied his nails. “Tell her that she has to at least listen and look into it. It’s my condition for forgiving Osher.”
I spoke to Abba today.
It was after the Rav came back, and Ariella showed up just a few minutes after him. It worked out perfectly for me, because I couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eye. I just shook his hand and then ran outside. With all the police and the excitement and the fuss, no one really needed me around, so it was good I had someone to talk to. We went out to the street, to the place where the wall is low, and looked out at the sea. Behind us, the yard was filled with bachurim, police, the media, and just curious onlookers. I stood with Ariella in silence, like we used to when we were little.
“I really understand you,” she suddenly began. Without a word of apology about her pursuit of me—but it didn’t really make such a difference to me anymore. It was strange how Motza’ei Shabbos had been just last night, when I had been so furious about the whole thing. Now, it simply didn’t matter. So she’d followed me. Big deal. So many significant things had happened since then, that I couldn’t even remember what had gotten me so angry about the idea to begin with.
“I really understand you, especially the whole part with Yussuf, the Arab, who lied to you when he said he was the Rav’s friend, and that he was Jewish. I had something similar happen to me recently…” And then she told me how, before she came to the Bergs, she’d rented a room in an Arab lady’s house, without knowing that she was an Arab. The story sounded really scary, but when she described the orange candles and the lady’s crazy talk, I just began to laugh.
So did she.
“Not only do I understand you,” she suddenly stopped laughing, “but so do Abba and Ima. I told them everything, and they said that they really hope that none of the boys here will insult you or blame you for something, because it was a mistake that anyone could make. If you want, they’ll tell this to you themselves.”
And then I called home.
Abba answered the phone.
I asked him how he was doing. We hardly spoke about the Rav’s abduction and my getaway the night before. He just said that they had been worried about me and were happy that baruch Hashem everything was alright now.
At the end of the conversation, I told him that I was learning to write safrus with the Rav’s friend, and he said, “I hope everything is alright with your Rav now, Osher. You owe him a lot of hakaras hatov.”
“He looks fine,” I said. ‘They didn’t hurt him or anything. But I really don’t know what is going to be now with his contract. There was this issue here…I didn’t get all the details, but I know that it got very messed up now. The contract is actually why the Arabs had kidnapped him.”
“Yes, we heard that a serious problem has come up with that. Let’s daven that everything works out for the best.” It sounded like he wanted to say something more—maybe he wanted to suggest that I apologize to the Rav—but he didn’t say it.
We were both quiet for a few seconds, and then he asked, “So, when are you going to come for Shabbos, Osher? We miss you. Especially now, we want to see that you’re all safe and sound, and in one piece.” I smiled, and I could hear him smile, too; it was an old joke at home after every trip or outing that one of us kids took.
“Maybe next week, or the week after. Would you want to see something I wrote at the sofer?” I asked.
“I’d love to,” Abba replied. “But first, I want to see you.”