Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 28 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.
“Enough, Penina, stop it.” Simi sounded irritated, and it took an effort on Penina’s part not to be insulted. She reminded herself that Simi was also after birth right now, and there was no reason to take her words too much to heart.
“Fine,” Penina said quietly. “When you get released from the hospital, go to the Eim V’Yeled. The loss is yours.”
Simi sighed. “Let’s talk about something else now, okay? How does your baby sleep at night?”
“Every night is different. Last night she cried a lot, and Hinda came and took her for a while.”
“Oh,” Simi said. “And other times?”
“She helps me when she can, and when she can’t, I try to manage on my own.”
“Oh,” Simi said again. She sounded tired. “When you come back, Penina, I’ll try to help you as much as I can…”
“Which won’t be too much,” Penina muttered darkly. “Simi, when you had Yehudis, what did you do?”
“I came to Abba and Ima’s house, of course.”
“I remember; it was a day before my fifth-grade class trip. You were with us for a month, right?”
“A month and four days.”
“And when Miriam was born, you came for a month, too, right? You came after all of their births, even after you had Batsheva.”
They were both quiet, thinking about the first Batsheva, who had been born half a year after their mother had passed away. “Abba wanted you to come,” Penina said finally.
“I remember.” Simi was sitting in the empty lounge, her hand on the plastic bassinet. “But Penina, it’s different today. You can’t expect me to go all the way to Haifa.”
“Me? I don’t expect anything,” Penina said. “But maybe Abba does.”
“He doesn’t. If your mother-in-law would not have had that slipped disc, you wouldn’t have gone either.”
“Because I didn’t think it was an option.”
“I don’t think it’s an option either.”
“But it is!”
“For you, Penina, for you! Don’t you get it? It might be an option for you, but not for me!” Simi Rosenstark found herself shouting in the empty room, and hoping that none of the other new mothers would suddenly decide to show up there. “For me it’s not an option, okay?! It doesn’t work for me, and enough, enough, ENOUGH! And please don’t start crying on me now, because I don’t have the strength to calm you down. It’s true that you’re the youngest, and you’re the sensitive orphan who always needed to be coddled and protected, but I’m also weak, okay? I gave birth less than twenty-four hours ago, and nothing would happen if people thought about me, too, for a change.” She was silent for a long moment. “Okay, bye, we’ll talk later,” she whispered, and set the phone down, exhausted.
She looked at her fingers and saw they were trembling. They had trembled exactly the same way when she’d come to Abba’s house with two-day-old Batsheva, and all her bags from the hospital, and had sat down to eat the supper that her father had prepared for her the night before.
He was a great cook. Did he help out Hinda in the kitchen? Ima had never particularly liked it, and honestly, she didn’t need his help, because she was also a fantastic cook.
She remembered to this day the menu of that festive yet sad welcome supper: vegetable soup, chicken, roast potatoes, and a bar of dark chocolate with nougat filling for dessert.
Her father had placed a similar bar of chocolate in front of her a year and a half later, when she’d come to talk to him one evening. Since Penina had gotten married, she’d tried to come visit him more often.
For Simi, it had been a routine visit, but for him it had been anything but. This was his opportunity to have a serious conversation with her, a fact she’d discovered only after he’d started talking. “I’m speaking to you about this first,” he’d said, his smile a bit wan. Then, too, her fingers had begun to shake. “You deserve that, Simi. As the oldest, the most mature, and the one who feels responsibility for the family. We’ve spoken about this once or twice, but then it was all theoretical. Now, something has come up, and it’s serious, and I want you to know about it.”
“A…a shidduch for you?” she’d said quietly.
He had nodded.
“What’s her name?”
Then, she hadn’t known that Hinda, her father’s new wife, was a tzedakah collector by profession. It wasn’t nice to put it that way, but that’s what it was, when you didn’t use fancy words. She went from door to door and collected money for a small, unknown organization.
“Yes, a gabba’is tzedakah,” her father had told her when she’d dared to ask him about it, after a conversation with a classmate who’d called to wish her mazel tov on her father’s engagement. That was the official reason for the phone call. But actually, it had been the most gossip-filled call she’d ever gotten.
“Sure,” her friend, who happened to live in Haifa, had said. “Hinda Schorr. Of course I know her. She’s been a widow for many years, right?”
“My mother-in-law was so happy for her, especially when I told her what a good person your father is. She said it was high time that someone should put this Hinda on her feet. Poor woman, what a life…”
Maybe she should have thanked her then and hung up the phone, but she couldn’t. “Of course, being a widow is not easy,” Simi had said cautiously.
“For sure, we should never know of such things…but with her, the kids are a real pekel too… One son is mentally ill, and his twin was super-wild when he was little. Now he’s learning in Bnei Brak, and my mother-in-law has no idea what he’s up to. He must be about twenty-four or so. The two married ones live really far and hardly come visit, and there’s a single daughter who lives in Yerushalayim… And there’s no money there, that’s for sure.”
“I think she works,” Simi had said, on the alert.
“Works?” the friend had repeated the word slowly. “Well, they say she gets a cut of this work. And if she’s successful, I suppose it should be a nice income.”
“I haven’t really looked into her bank account,” Simi had noted dryly. “But I do know that she works, part time at least. My father says she has some very enthusiastic clients.”
“What are you talking about, Simi?” her friend had asked, in a tone that bordered on sharpness. “What clients? Hinda Schorr collects tzedakah for some small organization. That, to the best of my knowledge, is what she does on a day-to-day basis. Maybe she has another profession that I don’t know about, but…”
“She does, I’m sure she has something,” Simi had said, as she cast about for a chair. Wait. One. Second. So her father’s bride worked as a telemarketer for a tzedakah organization. If she’d been a representative for one of the big organizations like Ezer Mi’Tzion, would her take be any different?
Bu there was a difference…
A tzedakah collector.
Receiving a percentage.
Simi remembered this conversation nearly word for word. How she had managed to end it remained more vague in her mind. She’d called her father immediately, in a panic, but he had refused to share her alarm. All he’d said was that he knew everything, and that he was inviting her—meaning, his kallah—on Motza’ei Shabbos to his house to meet everyone.
Hinda had come to meet them all. She had spoken softly, and had given each of the girls a warm hug, with a smile. But all Simi had been able to see were the simple clothes…and the outstretched hand.
When Eitan Braun, a talmid in the Kletzkin yeshivah in Netivot, entered the yeshivah office with some papers his rebbi had asked him to bring there, and saw Rabbi Goldberg sitting at his desk, poring over papers with lots of numbers on them, he thought it was only natural. Of course the yeshivah administrator would be working on payments or accounts of some type. But when he came in for the second time that day, with some more sheets, and saw Rabbi Goldberg in the exact same position, that was already strange.
“Is everything alright?” he dared to ask, as he put the extra mareh mekomos sheets from the shiur room into the sheimos box.
“B’ezras Hashem, it will be okay,” Rabbi Goldberg said with a sigh. “Something is bothering me a little, but…it’s alright. One minute, Eitan, remind me where you live?”
“In Yerushalayim. Why? Is there a problem with my parents’ tuition payments?”
“No, no, their payments are fine. Although a drop in the ocean, compared to what the yeshivah needs.” Rabbi Goldberg chuckled mirthlessly. “But tell me, where in Yerushalayim do you live?”
“Rechov Emek Refaim.”
“I remembered something like that.” The administrator’s voice suddenly took on an urgency. “Do you know a Yid named Michoel Perl?”
“Sure,” Eitan said. “I see him a lot. When he’s in Israel, I mean…”
“When he’s in Israel?”
“He’s American. He often travels for long periods of time. His whole family probably lives in America.”
“His family?” A crease appeared above Rabbi Goldberg’s right eye. “I don’t think he has any close family. To the best of my recollection, he has only one niece in Israel. Maybe distant relatives…? I don’t know. In any case, listen, Eitan.” He put a hand on the bachur’s shoulder. “Pick up a phone today and call home. Ask your father if he’s seen Michoel Perl around recently, okay? I need him urgently, and I can’t reach him.”
“Sure, no problem,” Eitan replied, rather puzzled.
The administrator remained at his desk, one hand on his forehead. The yeshuah would come, b’ezras Hashem. They’d gotten mired in huge debts before, more than once, and baruch Hashem, they’d always managed to get out. But how would it happen now? All the sources that he usually obtained money from were not noge’a right now; he’d maxed them all out. Perl was the only one he hadn’t spoken to for nearly half a year.
Rabbi Goldberg shuffled his papers. The most important one here was the yeshivah’s electric bill. They had to pay that one as soon as possible; they were nearing a cutoff. The mashgiach’s family was trying to arrange some loans, and in three days, some of the parents’ direct debit payments would be remitted, giving him a few more days of grace. But what would come after that?
Where are you, Michoel Perl? What we need now is something like one hundred thousand shekels, similar to the grant you gave me during the yeshivah’s early years. At the time, the donation was what put the yeshivah on its feet. Now I need much more, but even one hundred thousand shekels will give me some breathing space…
It wasn’t only metaphorical. If they’d cut off the electricity, and the air conditioning wouldn’t work, the yeshivah could quite possibly have to shut down.