Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 22 of a new online serial novel, Outside the Bubble, by Esther Rapaport. Check back for a new chapter every week. Click here for previous chapters.
Copyright © Israel Bookshop Publications.
Martin placed the frozen pizza he had just removed from the freezer onto the counter and studied the two ovens. He was fortunate that Perl was a religious Jew who observed kashrus, because that was the only thing that he still retained from living with Grandma. So, it was safe to assume that the oven near the stovetop was for meat, and if so, the one to his right was dairy. Martin switched the oven on, placed the pizza on the tray that was inside, and closed the door. Ten minutes on the bake setting should be enough.
His senses were not as heightened, but he wasn’t lulled into complete complacency. Even if Perl had been absent from home in recent days, there was more than a reasonable chance that he would decide to come home for Shabbos. He had discovered the timer that randomly switched the lights and air conditioners on and off, in the electric box. Obviously, if a person planned his absence so carefully, it was meant to be a prolonged one. But Perl could have left a long time ago, and that long absence would soon end—perhaps even tomorrow, or the next day.
Martin sat in front of the laptop and chewed his pizza, bored, as he thought about a few things that just didn’t add up. The electricity jn the house worked on a timer, including the lights and the curtain on the porch, the air conditioner, and the huge stereo system, which an hour ago had burst into song. It sounded something to the effect of “Shabbos Kodesh, Shabbos Kodesh, Yidden are preparing for Shabbos Kodesh,” and had woken him up from a pleasant morning nap.
He finished his pizza and continuing sitting, staring at the screen. There were no more messages from Dan. Well, of course. They couldn’t correspond endlessly, because if the GSS (General Security Service) was tracking Dan’s email correspondence, and it was likely they were doing just that, they would pick up on this one as well. Even if he’d try to alter details and settings, they could certainly figure out the location of the sender’s computer. And they would come here.
Martin got up from the chair and took a sheet of paper that was lying on the printer. The list already included a bottle of Coca Cola, a bottle of orangeade, two bars of chocolate, and now he added a pie of frozen pizza. If today was Friday, he should look for candles soon. He could light Shabbos candles instead of Grandma, who wouldn’t be lighting candles anymore.
He vaguely remembered the first Shabbos he had spent with her. He had been just about four years old and barely knew her. His earlier years had been mostly spent at neighbors, particularly his green-eyed Irish neighbors, whose name he did not remember anymore. They had a child his age, and to this day, he remembered how he and the other boy had been coloring together when the neighbor’s father came to tell him that Dad had died.
“After so many years of illness, your dad has now been taken by G-d, to be with Him,” the man had said, somewhat ceremoniously. “Today you are going to live with your grandma, because your dad won’t be coming home anymore.”
“But I don’t know her!” four-year-old Martin had protested. “Also, she’s really old.”
“I also have a really old grandma,” the other young boy had said. “But she always has chocolate around. So it’s worth it to go to her.”
“I think I should just stay here,” Martin had said, continuing to color the blue hand of the robot in his coloring book. “We already know each other.”
“No,” the neighbor declared. “You have to go to your grandma. We’ll just go to your house for a few minutes to get your pajamas and stuff…oh, actually, they’ve been here for nearly a month already! So I guess there’s no reason to go there at all. Come, let’s eat some dinner, and then we’ll go to your grandma’s.”
They went, traveling three hours, and arrived at Grandma’s in the middle of the night. He had already been sleeping and had no idea what happened when he arrived. His first memory was waking up in the morning to find Grandma hovering over him and smiling sadly.
Then, too, it had been Friday, and he must have gotten up late. Very soon after, he saw Grandma placing two silver candlesticks on the table. Then she stuck a pair of candles in and lit them. He didn’t think she said a blessing or anything, because she wasn’t really religious. Only a little bit. But since then, the pair of candlesticks accompanied him each Shabbos he spent with her.
When he was not with Grandma, he never lit candles. Not with his gang in Sudbury, and certainly not in prison. Not even here, in the dorm in Israel, where there were always two lit candles in the dining room on Friday night. He had no idea who kindled those candles, but it certainly wasn’t him.
But maybe this evening, the first Friday evening that Grandma was not in This World anymore, he would light candles in her memory.
Martin went back downstairs to the kitchen and started opening one cabinet after another. There had to be candles somewhere here; the man was too organized for there not to be. Perhaps, if he was not married, he did not light candles? Come to think of it, who was supposed to be lighting the Shabbos candles each week, anyway?
Hinda removed her hands from her face and glanced one more time at the candelabra. Beside her, Penina continued to sway in front of her pair of silver candlesticks and her single little tea light.
Hinda had also received a pair of candlesticks when she’d gotten married. Not from her husband, actually. Her mother had given them to her after her own mother, Bubby Leah Perel, had passed away. It was a month before Hinda’s wedding when they’d found out that the chassan had been planning to give her a very small pair of candlesticks.
She clearly remembered her mother standing next to the heavy dining room table and saying, “The truth is, Hinda’le, that I was thinking of giving you Bubby Leah’s candlesticks. You know, she brought them from Poland, when they fled before the war.”
“And if the Schorr family doesn’t have to give, why pressure them?” her father had added. Shmuel’s family had never “had.” And her mother-in-law had been so happy and relieved to hear that she was forgoing the candlesticks. She’d presented Hinda instead with a thin gold ring.
Hinda liked her grandmother’s candlesticks, and wanted to be a congenial daughter-in-law, not one who was focused on the gifts and the money—so why not? And that’s how things had turned out that way.
After Avigdor was born, and Michoel came for the shalom zachor, she had received a candelabra that replaced the candlesticks.
“The candlesticks are not enough for your family anymore,” Michoel had told Shmuel. “Give me the candlesticks; they belonged to my mother. I’ll pay you much more than they are worth.”
Shmuel had agreed easily. He had wanted to buy his wife a proper candelabra. He always wanted to buy and to give, but unfortunately, he seemed to have inherited the mazel of poverty from his parents’ home. And he had left it to them, as his inheritance.
Anyway, that’s how she had been surprised by the gift of a candelabra for Avigdor’s birth.
There were not too many days in her life for which she could say, “I’ll never forget that day.” When she was young, she’d loved that expression, and there were many days that she promised herself she would never forget. But those days passed, and new days came. She experienced difficult events, and then they also passed, and she forgot them as well. But the story with the candlesticks, and the deal between Michoel and Shmuel, was not something she could ever forget. Certainly not the Shabbos when she went to light candles, and was stunned to find a beautiful, new, five-armed candelabra there instead. Where were her beloved candlesticks and the small additional candle?
“Wow, it’s beautiful!” she’d exclaimed, and in the same breath asked, “But where are my old candlesticks?”
“Why do you need them?” Shmuel had asked, and looked at his watch. “You should light, Hinda. You’re really close to licht bentchen time.”
Avigdor whimpered in his cradle, and she knew that this was just the prelude. She’d hastily lit, and davened that he should grow up to be a tzaddik, and that he should be healthy, and that they should have a good life. Then she’d lowered her hands and asked again, “But Shmuel…where are my old candlesticks?”
“There are five branches here,” Shmuel had answered. “I asked a rav. You can light all of them now already, even though you only have to actually add one.”
She’d tried again. “It’s really a beautiful candelabra; you can see how expensive and high-quality it is. And I like the design very much. But…where are my candlesticks?”
Shmuel sighed. “You told me that they are a little old-fashioned, so I exchanged them.”
“You exchanged them?!” Her eyes opened wide. “My grandmother’s candlesticks?!”
“If you’re not happy about it, we can trade it back,” he had hurried to reassure her. “I arranged that with…with the person to whom I sold them. But we’ll talk about it after Shabbos, okay?”
“Okay,” she’d said quietly. And by Motza’ei Shabbos, she had decided that she liked the five-branched candelabra better than the two old candlesticks.
But when she’d discovered them on Chol Hamoed Pesach, almost a year later, in Uncle Michoel’s china closet, she remembered how much she liked them all over again. And after Michoel had told her the details of the story—how he’d persuaded Shmuel to do the trade-in, and how worthwhile it was for them, and how he was sure she was overjoyed about this, because “now you have something new, and anyway, you were never the very nostalgic type”—she had struggled to forgive him.
In the end, she had forgiven him, of course, because he was still her one and only uncle, and also because when all was said and done, he was right. She wasn’t the particularly nostalgic type.
“Your candelabra is really nice,” Penina said quietly, coming to sit down next to her on the couch. The baby was resting in the new carriage at their side. “My mother, aleha hashalom, had one just like it.”
“Really?” Dov hadn’t said a word. He had asked her if she wanted a new one when they’d gotten married, and she had declined, saying that it was a waste of money.
“Yes, and Simi bought it off the rest of us. We all agreed. She was the only one who had five children already, so it was right as far as the numbers.” She raised her left hand; on her wrist was a gorgeous, expensive-looking bracelet. “I bought this bracelet with my share of the money.”
“It’s beautiful,” Hinda said as she studied it. “You have great taste.”
“It’s only gold-plated, of course. You can’t buy a real gold bracelet like this with just a fraction of a candelabra.” She suddenly laughed. “Simi would faint if she would hear what I’m talking to you about.”
“Why?” Hinda laughed along. “Do I look like someone who is not a maven on bracelets, or something?” “No, I mean about the things behind the bracelet.” She fiddled with the clasp. “But you know, if she would come here herself, I think she would also see that…that you’re a good person to talk to about everything.”