Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 68 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.
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“How is the Rav recovering?” Yigal Erenbaum asked politely. “I understand this was quite a harrowing experience…”
“The Rav? I don’t know; you need to ask him…” The lot stretched out before him, bathed in sunlight, and full of trash, just like he remembered it. Elazar Reiness walked along the edge, no longer afraid to be seen, or to be identified. His battle had come to an end, in failure, but he was biting his lips and moving onward. There would be a hearing in court, but he wasn’t pinning much hope on it.
Still, every so often, his legs carried him here.
“So…how do you feel?” Mr. Erenbaum reworded his question.
“Baruch Hashem. The first few days were rough, but as time goes on, I’m recovering.”
“We enjoyed Osher very much over Shabbos,” the boy’s father said suddenly. “You’ve made a new person out of him.”
“He’s a wonderful boy,” Rabbi Reiness complimented Yigal sincerely. “You should have lots of nachas from him. Life here, the atmosphere, the calm, what he went through…it all helped him progress, baruch Hashem. He’s really working on himself, and it shows. He has a new chavrusa now, and they get along very well.”
“He also showed us a mezuzah he is in the middle of writing. I’m not a big maven, but it looks pretty nice, doesn’t it?”
“It’s really exceptional.” Rabbi Reiness turned his back on Shikovitzer’s lot and continued walking. “The sofer who is teaching him claims he has unusual talent; that Osher is gifted in this particular fine motor skill.”
“I’m glad to hear. And it’s also interesting,” Mr. Erenbaum said, “because over the years we never noticed him being drawn to this kind of thing. Art, and all the precision needed for this particular kind of work… I also don’t think that his handwriting is particularly nice.”
“Safrus is a separate art, in a class of its own. It’s not writing in the simple sense of the word. I think it’s better to describe it as drawing the letters.”
“Well, I certainly don’t understand these things; I’m more of a dry numbers person. But what difference does it make? The main thing is, he should be successful at whatever he does.”
“Amen v’amen,” Rabbi Reiness answered warmly. Then he lowered his voice. “On another subject, I have a shidduch suggestion for your oldest daughter. My wife spoke to her already, and she’s ready to listen, in theory, but she asked us to give you the details so you can make some inquiries for her.”
“She wants us to look into it for her? Are you sure?”
“Yes. Maybe it’s just as a way of getting my wife’s pressure off her…but the main thing is that she agreed.”
“Did you suggest it to the other side already?”
“I thought of doing it at the same time. I have the details about the boy and his family, and I’d be happy to get your information. If the suggestion sounds interesting to you, in general terms, I’ll reach out to them. Every day that passes is a shame.”
“It’s true. As it is, too many days have passed already.”
“So, it’s a bachur from a non-Chareidi religious family, but over the past few years, the boy became much more frum. He is now learning in the Mir, in Yerushalayim. His family also became more religious as a result of where he was going, though not quite as yeshivish as him. Does the background sound alright?”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
“I’m talking about the son of Dr. Kreisman, from Zichron Yaakov. He’s the one who evaluated Osher.”
Rabbi Reiness paused for a moment, and when nothing more was forthcoming, he asked, “So what do you say? This bachur, by the way, is one of the most special talmidim I have ever had.”
“What do I say? Only that, after such an accusatory evaluation, I would be surprised if the honorable Dr. Kreisman would want us as mechutanim.” Yigal did not even seem to be making an effort to couch the bitterness.
“Well, I think they would want it,” Rabbi Reiness said calmly. “I read the evaluation, and there is no accusation there. It’s simply the picture of a situation. And as a professional who is involved with boys who have strayed from the path, I am telling you that in every case, every child has his own free will. Parents are not immune from making mistakes, but if those mistakes do not involve critical issues, the child should be able to cope, and can cope.”
Zelig Shikovitzer rose in his mind. He had never met the boy, the one who had left his father alone to leave This World, yearning, longing, and with a void that had never been filled. Those had been difficult years, replete with so much ideological falsehood. Maybe this could be a way to favorably judge those who fell by the wayside, but that did not absolve them from responsibility, even for one minute. “And Osher is coping beautifully,” he continued. “We just spoke about it, right?”
“Nu-nu.” Erenbaum seemed to regret his momentary candidness. “So, do you want to hear about our family?”
“I’d be happy to.”
“I’m from Tel Aviv, and I have two brothers there. My father is from a longtime Berlin family; no one in the family is frum, though. My father made aliyah but knew nothing about Yiddishkeit. My mother’s side did know a bit about tradition: Shabbos candles, Yom Kippur… Their name was Blum.”
“And your wife?”
“Her maiden name is Schick, from Kibbutz Yodfat.”
“Does she have siblings?”
“No, she’s an only child.”
“And what was her family like?”
Osher’s father smiled wryly. “A typical kibbutznik family. Her mother came from Hungary after the war, and settled there. I think her name was Sternberg; I’ll find out. But my father-in-law, of blessed memory, was what they call ‘the salt of the earth.’ His parents were from the founders of the kibbutz. Not that that means anything to anyone today.”
“They were Hungarian?”
“I think that the Schick grandmother was from Hungary, and he was from Russia, or Ukraine. He came to Eretz Yisrael as a young boy. I heard lots of his stories from his Palmach days… He belonged to one of the underground movements; I don’t remember which one.”
“So your wife is a fourth generation here, on this side.”
“Yes. Actually, her grandfather’s family was really Chareidi. I don’t know if he had siblings, or if he just didn’t keep up with them when he went off. In any case, neither my wife nor I had any Torah-observant relatives from either side.”
“And yet, you became frum, and built a beautiful frum family, all on your own,” Rabbi Reiness noted quietly. He looked at the few lines he had written down, and distractedly poked holes with his pen in the cover of his notebook. “That’s remarkable.”
Mr. Erenbaum didn’t reply.
“Remind me, what was your wife’s grandfather’s name, the one from the Palmach?”
“Schick. Zelig Schick.” He laughed. “My father-in-law’s father. He changed his family name when he went off the derech, but he kept his first name for some reason. My wife told me how strange it was for her, as a child, to have a grandfather with an archaic name like Zelig, and yet, he was a proud kibbutznik.”
Sarah always said he had a sixth sense that helped him zero in and find the most miserable boys on the street. Elazar never knew if indeed there was such a thing, and if there was, if he had it. But the minute he heard the grandfather’s name, he felt with every fiber of his being that he knew exactly who this Zelig was. It was the Zelig he had just thought about five minutes earlier.
Was this what Sarah called a “sixth sense”?
“Schick,” he said, and turned around to glance back at the lost lot behind him, located on the seam-line between old Acco and the new part of the city. “Shick is Shikovitzer, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. But you know what? Now that you mention it, I do remember that my wife once told me something like that. You seem to have done some homework even before calling me.” Did Mr. Erenbaum sound offended?
“Not at all. I just remembered a Zelig that I knew. I mean,” he smiled and clarified, “that I heard about. He was a friend of my father’s, zichrono l’vrachah, before he left religion. Wow. I am totally amazed.” He fell silent, thinking about Zelig, about Yitzchak, about his own father, and about the will. The will that he was unable to carry out.
Mr. Erenbaum said something about how small the world was, and wasn’t that interesting, and that they would find out more details and get back to him. But Elazar hardly heard him. He said a few polite words and hung up, while remaining standing in the middle of the block. A kaleidoscope of thoughts and memories whirled through his mind, and he inhaled deeply.
Shikovitzer’s lot was no longer. It was standing abandoned and neglected; the foxes were celebrating their victory. But his great-great-grandson was alive and well, and a ben Torah; he was overcoming his challenges and making progress. And if he, Elazar, could believe his sixth sense, he was now beginning a new path, a lighter one, a better one than any other he had tried so far.
You tried to get the land, and you didn’t succeed, but you helped Osher build the person inside him. You tried to illuminate one forgotten place, but the fire took hold of a different branch, and it is glowing in its own way.
True, a mikdash me’at, a shul, was supposed to be built here. And it was ironic to think that Osher himself was somewhat responsible for the failure. But maybe it also was a comfort of sorts. Elazar Reiness gazed at the lot on the corner of the street, as if to say goodbye, and turned around again. He could go back to the carpentry shop, to the dozens of boys waiting for him there, and to Osher, who was learning with his chavrusa now. Perhaps he should tell the lawyer to just withdraw the appeal, and forget about the whole thing.
There did not seem to be anything more for him to find in Acco. The game was over. But aside for the lot, there was a carpentry shop, terrific air, the open sea, and a head clear of pressure—and that was all so good for his bachurim. So perhaps he would stay here. Or perhaps he’d move. In any case, he would continue to give his boys his heart and soul, and to daven for success to the Master of all efforts and results, in Whose Hands it all rested.
One needed to grow up to understand this kind of thing, but among his students, there were lots who were matured by life, which gave them the ability to absorb significant understandings like this. Osher, for example.
When all was said and done, Yitzchak Shikovitzer could definitely be pleased.
He’s nice, this Avner, the new guy. I like him and Doron Nachman. Aside for those two, though, the other boys look at me with this annoying expression—the same one they’d always looked at me with. You know, the kind of expression that says, “Who are you anyway, little kid? You don’t understand anything.” But now at least I’m trying not to give them reasons to look at me like that.
These days I hardly work on anything in the carpentry shop. Reb Elazar set up a small table for me on the side, and when the boys work, I sit and write. Sometimes, though, when I need a bit of a break, I’ll take the torch and a piece of wood, and make whatever shapes I want. I prepared a sign like that for Doron Nachman, as a goodbye present. He’s probably leaving next week. He really liked the gift. I’d sketched the lighthouse, similar to what I’d done on the broom I’d made for Ariella, and he seemed very appreciative.
Shlomo has been working for two days on something that looks like a chair with a special place for legs, similar to the chair Yechezkel Rosenberg has in Kiryat Chaim. I think he’s building it for me. He spends too much time hovering around me, as if he’s trying to evaluate my height and the length of my legs with his eyes. I’m not saying anything to him, so as not to ruin the surprise. It’s really nice of him; there were times when we didn’t get along, and I think he wants to forget about those things. Maybe I’ll also make him a wooden plaque, and I’ll sketch a fox on it.
I wanted to make a sign for Ariella’s front door, as a gift for her. Right now Yisrael Meir Berg is still in the hospital, and she’ll have to be on the yishuv for at least three more weeks. But eventually, b’ezras Hashem, he and his parents will come home, and she’ll leave. I thought of her, wandering around like that without a real home of her own… It must be so hard.
I chose a really nice piece of wood with a natural look for the sign; it looked a lot like the one I’d etched “black sheep” into that time. Ariella told me that she had found it on the beach when she came to Acco.
But I didn’t know which last name to write on it. In the end, I made a pretty border, with a delicate pattern, and put it away. It would wait patiently. First, I’d give her the broom, maybe when I went to visit her one day at the Bergs, on their yishuv. She invited me to come over, and said that Gadi is also waiting to see me.
Oh, and I’m busy writing another mezuzah. No one will buy a mezuzah from a sixteen-year-old boy, but Abba was happy to accept my first one; he even put it up on the front door at home. He called me the other day to let me know that he’d taken it to a rav who is an expert in this area, and the rav said it’s not only kosher, but mehudar!
Maybe I’ll also make them a sign for the door, and the mezuzah I’m working on now will be for Reb Elazar. I already made him a nameplate for the door, and right away he took off the old metal one that had been there so he could put mine up. I wanted to tell him that I was very flattered about that, but I didn’t find the right opportunity. I really need to learn to find opportunities to say things to people, because sometimes these things are pretty urgent. Like, I need to find the right time to apologize for the story with the lot. I still haven’t found that opportunity, and I feel terrible about it.
We actually spoke about the lot a few times, Reb Elazar and I. After he came back from the phone call with my father, and told me that our families go way back, and that the lot that he wanted to get was because of a promise that his father had made to my great-great-grandfather, that might have been a good time to apologize. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Abba and Ima were pleasantly surprised and happy when they heard that old story, but it was uncomfortable for me. I just feel, I don’t know, uneasy, whenever Reb Elazar mentions the lot, even if he talks about it neutrally.
I know I should apologize to him. It makes no difference that this lot really should be more my family’s than his. He is the one who worked so hard to get the land back, investing so much time, energy, and thought into it—and then I came along and ruined it all. I already apologized, very briefly, for the kidnapping that I caused; I think I stammered my whole way through. But I can’t speak about the lot. It’s just such a loaded topic, made even more loaded by the fact that it’s still before the court hearing, and everything is so tense, and looks so hopeless… I have to plan my words, especially since I’m the only one who knows that despite their hopes, they have almost no chance.
I didn’t tell anyone about the form I’d signed that day for the Arab who came; I’d basically made it official that there were no Reiness heirs around when the meeting should have occurred. I don’t know what will be when Reb Elazar sees that document in court.
I prefer not to think about it at all.
Chaim Braun put the last car into the box. “Abba!” he called, standing up. He went to look around the house. “Abba?”
In the small dining room, his father was seated on the couch, deeply asleep. “Abba,” Chaim said, tugging at his father’s sleeve. “Abba, wake up, wake up! You need to go to kollel, and bring me to Savta already!”
“Shhh…” his father said in his sleep.
“And your shirt is dirty,” Chaim said, shaking his head sadly so that his ponytail swung from side to side. “It’s because we don’t have a mommy to clean it, right?”
By now, his father was fully awake. “Where is it dirty?” he asked.
“Here,” Chaim said. “And here and here. This is ketchup from the mashed potatoes that you ate by Savta. It squirted on you.”
“So what should I do?” his father asked, with a spark of mirth in his eyes.
“You need to find a new mommy,” the boy declared. “A new mommy to clean our clothes. Savta knows a new mommy for us, you know? I heard her tell Aunt Rivka on the phone, and she also spoke to Morah Zahava about it lots of times. So ask Savta where she is.”
His father stood up and went to the kitchen, trying to contain his laughter. “You’re not even three, sweetheart, you know? And already you want to be a shadchan?”
“So when are you going to bring us a mommy that knows how to clean ketchup from shirts?”
“Is that what mommies do?” his father asked.
“Well, they do other stuff too,” the boy said.
“They tell stories at night, like Savta.”
“And what else?”
“They cook food.”
“And what else?”
“Take the yingele to the doctor if his tummy hurts. That’s what Dovid told me in playgroup, and the doctor gave him a sticker because he was so brave.”
“And what else?”
“They tell Abbas secrets in the kitchen.”
“Who told you this?” The ketchup stains were not coming off, so Mordechai Braun decided to change his shirt. He didn’t have an ironed one, but at least this new shirt was clean. It would have to do.
“Dovid told me. Abba, you need to go to kollel, and Savta is waiting for me! Do you want to go afterward to bring the new mommy here? Our house is a big mess, and we don’t know how to clean up!”
“Chaim’l, Savta’s cleaning lady will come this afternoon to take care of the mess.”
“Okay, so we’ll bring the mommy to talk to you in the kitchen. Okay? Do you want me to tell Savta about it? Because maybe you’ll forget to tell her that we want a new mommy already…”