Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 69 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.
“Are you going to Bnei Brak today?” Shulamis asked, staring piercingly at Ariella.
“Yes.” Ariella smiled at her as she stuck a bottle of water into her tote bag that had accompanied her on so many trips these past few months.
“Are you also taking your suitcase?” four-year-old Daniel demanded to know.
“Oh, no. It’s staying here.”
“For now,” Shulamis said in a significant tone. Ariella looked at her questioningly. “I heard Ima talking on the phone on Motza’ei Shabbos with Aunt Sarah about a shidduch for you that doesn’t seem to be working out, and she said you’re not so disappointed.”
“You have the ears of a fox!” Gadi berated his sister.
“You be quiet with your foxes!” his older sister Bracha berated him in return.
“Your foxes?” Ariella looked at him.
“Oh, nothing.” The boy blushed. “I don’t have any foxes now, Ariella—honest! Besides, that one didn’t even have rabies in the end, remember?”
“But foxes are still dangerous,” she said to him. “What’s going on? You’re raising them?”
“No, he’s not raising any foxes,” Bracha interjected. “He just talks about them a lot.”
“He wants to make their tails into a shtreimel for his rebbi,” Shulamis said with a laugh. “That’s why he wants to raise them till they get old and die, but by then, he’ll probably also be old.”
“You really do have ears like a fox!” Gadi looked at his sister with flashing eyes. “But don’t worry, Ariella, it’s only in my dreams,” he said. Then he added in a whisper, “For now.”
Ariella was still laughing when she left the house, leaving the children under the care of the two older girls. Their father would be home in an hour and a half, and they could manage alone until then. She also laughed when she answered the phone to Zahava, while waiting at the end of the path for Miriam, the neighbor who was going to Tzefas and would take her along.
“Ariella, you’re coming in today, right?”
“Why do you think that I’m not?”
“I don’t know. What’s with that other shidduch, you know, the one your brother’s rebbi suggested for you? I hope they didn’t wake up about it now.”
“I still didn’t hear anything definite from the other side,” Ariella said lightly. “But I know they’re hesitant about the idea, and honestly, I won’t be surprised if they turn it down. Who wants a kesubah that’s half the regular value?”
“Financially it’s actually worthwhile for him!” Zahava laughed. “To get half price for someone who is worth double the standard? But I don’t know…a shidduch between a bachur and a widow? Sounds funny to me.”
“If Rabbi Reiness suggested it, then I’m sure the idea could theoretically work,” Ariella said, a bit defensively. “Rabbi Reiness is a very smart person.”
“I’m sure he is, but so am I, and with all due respect to this rav, what I’m suggesting for you now makes much more sense, doesn’t it?”
“Okay, okay!” Ariella laughed as she waved to Miriam, who had just pulled up. “That’s why I made up with the Reinesses that I wouldn’t wait to hear back from the Kreismans, and I would let myself look into other things. And that’s exactly why I’m going to Bnei Brak now.”
“You’ll make sure to be here by eight-thirty, right? Don’t be late.”
Ariella got into the car. She didn’t want to continue this conversation in the presence of the Bergs’ neighbor, but she couldn’t hold herself back from saying, “And even if I am a few minutes late, it’s no big deal. Let him have an idea of what he’s getting into.”
“He knows,” Zahava said. “Believe me, he knows. And it’s all fine. More than fine.”
“Well, it was foolish on my part to think that I’d suddenly become a successful shadchan, huh?” Rabbi Reiness tried to sound jovial. “But I guess I can hear if Ephraim is uncomfortable with the idea. I mean, there’s no way to get around the fact that he’s never been married before, and she has been… Did you speak to her parents? They must be disappointed.”
Sarah stuck her calendar into the drawer and put on her shoes. “I’m not sure. I think they are realistic enough to realize that the fact that their daughter finally decided to start shidduchim again doesn’t mean that the first suggestion that comes their way will be the right one for her. But in any case, we had already made up with her that she wouldn’t be sitting and waiting for him.”
“So she told me four days ago that she’s looking into something else, something a good friend of hers has been nudging her about for half a year.” She held herself back from telling him about Ariella’s trip to Bnei Brak on Sunday, and then again last night.
“Very good. I hope it goes well. The main thing is that she should find the right one for her,” he said. But something about his mood was a little defeated, pessimistic. Maybe it was Ephraim’s negative answer, after nearly two and a half weeks of hesitations and deliberations. Perhaps it was the lawyer who had called to say that the Al-Alamis had responded to the court summons, and had asked for a fax number.
“It doesn’t sound very good,” the lawyer had said in an ominous tone. “But before I advise you to come for a final meeting to close the file, we’ll wait and see. You don’t withdraw a claim without knowing what they want to send us, right?”
“What’s decreed is decreed,” Reb Elazar had responded. Still, although he’d come to terms with the loss, the trouncing of this last-ditch hope was painful.
The minute Sarah left the house, the fax machine let out a long beep, and then two papers slid onto the tray with a whoosh. Elazar picked them up and took a deep breath. It was good that Sarah had left. He needed to digest this final disappointment himself, alone. And to remind himself about Osher, who was sitting downstairs and writing a new mezuzah for the shiur room, with unbelievable concentration. He had also promised to make a matching wooden mezuzah case, and his eyes had sparkled when he’d talked about it.
Elazar couldn’t hold back a deep sigh as he fingered the first page. The top featured the letterhead of the well-known lawyer’s office in Acco.
Maybe one day in the coming weeks he’d go to Mr. Shikovitzer’s kever on Har Hamenuchos, once this was all over. He would go over to the headstone and say, “I’m sorry, Reb Yitzchak. I failed to get back your lot for the purpose you’d planned it for, though I made every effort to do so. I did a lot for your great-great-grandson, and I tried to help his sister as well. I hope that things are good for you in the World of Truth, as you merit nachas from them, even if we—you, my father, and I—did not merit to build the shul, the mikdash me’at…”
His cell phone rang. It was the lawyer. “Reiness? Did you see it?”
“I just picked it up. Let me read what they sent, and I’ll call you back.”
The first page was a long letter in polished Hebrew. The writer was the Arab lawyer stating the position of the Al-Alami family. On the bottom of the page it said: Attached is Appendix 1, a confirmation that was signed that any possible offspring stipulated in the contract were not present at the site.
Any possible offspring? Appendix? Elazar picked up the second page. A photocopy, blurred a bit in the fax transmission, with an official form, with blank lines to be filled in. And there were words there. Words in a scribbly handwriting, conveying stormy emotions and a lack of self-confidence.
I hereby affirm that in the absence of Elazar Reiness or his descendants…it was not possible to meet with him.
And then came the date, time, ID number, and signature. Osher Erenbaum.
Osher had been here!
He himself and his sons had indeed been absent. But Osher—a direct descendant of Yitzchak Shikovitzer—the primary beneficiary in the old contract, was there! The meeting could have taken place, in the spot that had been arranged, between the sides that had been arranged, and this appendix proved that fact!
What would the Al-Alamis say if indeed it turned out that their document worked against them?
Reb Elazar passed a hand over his forehead and read the black lines again. He folded the paper twice and placed it carefully in the drawer. Then, with a soft but triumphant smile on his face, he picked up the phone to call back the lawyer.
A light summer breeze blew near the shore, raising the waves, which then crashed down in a hail of fizzy foam, exactly as they had done seventy years earlier, and as they had done for five thousand years before that.
Ariella folded laundry in Bassi’s children’s room, her thoughts wandering in all kinds of directions. Every garment, every item, was a reminder of the sea of chaos that she had navigated so ably over these past few months. External chaos, internal chaos…at the end of the day, it was all the same. She stopped every so often, gazing at the cute scribbles on the wall, with a dreamy, pre-farewell expression.
And Osher sat in the old carpentry shop, a serious expression on his face, as he dipped the quill into the ink and bent over the parchment in concentration. He carefully wrote out the word “b’she’arecha.” A black drop dripped onto the parchment in the middle of the ayin he had just written. He pressed his lips together for a long moment, and then, with a sigh, he took a new piece of parchment.
So what if it had gotten ruined? Maybe now, because of that, he would achieve something even better.
Thanks for the wonderful story!!! We’re hungry for more…. I know it’s really busy time of year, but please please… It literally makes my week!
So glad you enjoyed! Look out for a new serial starting in the next couple of weeks! :)