Outside the Bubble – Chapter 53


Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 53 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. 

Zevi was almost at the shul, on his way to Ma’ariv, when a car screeched to a halt right next to him. Someone emerged from the front passenger seat. “Hey!” he called. “Can I ask you something?”

Zevi usually liked to be helpful, but the minyan was starting in three minutes, and the last thing he wanted to do was wait for the next minyan when Penina was home alone with a kvetchy Batsheva. His wife could fool her sisters into thinking that she was glowing and thriving and cheerful, but he knew the truth.

“If it’s short,” he said uneasily.

“I hope it will be short,” the man said, coming so close to him that barely a footstep separated them. “Your number was detected by us about an hour and a quarter ago.”

“Excuse me?” Zevi really did not know what this was about. He’d totally forgotten about the call that Martin had made from his phone. But suddenly, it came back to his mind. “My number?” he asked. “What do you mean? My ID number?”

“Your phone number.”

Zevi pulled out his phone from his jacket pocket and looked at it in feigned confusion. The phone was off; he’d turned it off two minutes before, when he’d left the house. “I don’t understand,” he said. “Where did you identify the number?”

“It was detected by us.” The man was terse. “You weren’t the one who spoke to Rudy; it was someone else, someone whose voice is familiar to us. Who used your phone?”

“Oh.” Zevi put the phone back in his pocket. “A boy asked me if he could use my phone.”

“Who and where?”

“I’m sorry, but I have to go in to Ma’ariv now. I’m in a hurry.”

“I’d appreciate if you could answer me anyway. It’s important.” The other man was courteous. “Do you want to let someone know you will be delayed?”

The sentence didn’t sound good, and Zevi smiled wryly. “Who are you?” he asked, instead of answering the question. “You’re talking kind of like the way they describe arrests. All that’s missing is you telling me to go talk to my lawyer, and warning me that every word I say can be used against me.”

“I do have an ID card, but I didn’t think it would interest you much.” The man took a small laminated card out of his shirt pocket. Zevi didn’t even take the time to study the rank of Elchanan Amar, whose name and photo appeared under the Israel Police symbol. He just wanted to finish this conversation, fast.

“Why? Was the boy doing something criminal?” He really had no idea about Martin’s secret dealings. He just imagined that if his father-in-law was backing the boy, it was alright. So what was the story with these guys?

The driver at the wheel gazed at them both through the open window, apparently trying not to miss a single word. From the shul, Zevi could hear the voices of people davening, and he realized that in another couple minutes he’d really have to take the man’s advice, and call Penina to tell her he’d be late. The question was only if he would merely be a little bit late, or if these people had some plans in mind that would take even longer than that…

“Let’s not get into things that have nothing to do with you. Can you just answer a few questions for me?”

“Sure.” To the few passersby, he probably appeared to be a local resident trying to help someone who clearly wasn’t from Bnei Brak.

“Where did the call take place?”

“In the new park near the Ponevezh cemetery.”

“That’s where he came over to you?”

“Not there. We met near the gate of the cemetery. He wanted a quiet place to talk, so he went into the park.”

“A quiet place? The conversation had background noise of children. A park is not a quiet place.”

“Maybe he wanted to just blend in with them.”

“Did he tell you anything about the conversation? Who he called, or why?”

“Not a word.”

“You just happened to be passing by?”

“Well, I had just left the cemetery after we visited the gravesite of my mother-in-law. It was the anniversary of her passing.”

“And you know this boy?”


“You never saw him before?”

“I saw him today for the first time. I have no idea who he is and what he was looking for around here.”

“Did you hear from someone about him? Did someone send him to you or try to introduce you?”

Zevi thought for a moment. “I actually went over to him.”


“He looked so alone and desperate. As if he needed help urgently, but didn’t know who to ask it from or how.”

“You weren’t so nice to me,” the policeman needled.

“Well, at the time that I went over to him, my wife was surrounded by her sisters, and I wasn’t hurrying to minyan. Now she’s home alone, and I’d love to get back there as fast as I can.”

“I hope we can finish this quickly. You went over to him, you say. Did you introduce yourself?”


“And he?”

Zevi nodded. “Yes, he introduced himself to me.”

“What did he say his name was?”


“He didn’t even try to hide his identity! You offered him help?”


“And what did he answer?”

“I don’t remember the exact words but something like, he just needed to make a call.”

“You were next to him?”

“I escorted him to the park. I didn’t hear what he said. I kept a distance.”

“So as not to get into trouble?”

“Trouble? When an innocent boy asks me to use my phone, I don’t usually think about getting into trouble. It’s very normal in Bnei Brak for kids to ask you to use your phone.”

“Yeah, but that’s kids.

“It can be adults, too, if their battery dies or whatever.”

“And after the conversation?”

“He gave me back my phone, said thank you, and left.”

“In which direction?”

“He walked out to Ezra Street; I didn’t see him after that.”

Amar rubbed his forehead. “I see,” he said in a clipped tone. “Thank you for the information. Do you have anything to add, or is that all?”

“That’s all, I think.” Zevi wrinkled his forehead. “If I remember something that I think is relevant, whom should I call?”

The man hesitated for a moment, and in the end he gave him a number that Zevi wanted to save in his phone. “No, no,” Amar said quickly, and put out his hand. “I need your phone, if you don’t mind. I believe that you’ll get it back within forty-eight hours.”

“Taken apart, in pieces?”

“I don’t think so. They’ll probably scan your call history, and will want to see if Martin will try to call you. Either him or the guy he called.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. I have no problem with anyone reviewing my call history.” Zevi, who was tossing the switched-off phone from one hand to the other, found it hard to believe they could just demand this of him and that he had to agree. “But not having my phone will cause me quite an inconvenience, I must say. Can’t you manage without it?”

“I’m sorry.” The man’s smile was cold. “There are other ways to do it, but those ways will just cause you unnecessary hassle.”

“Then I guess I’ll give it to you. And I guess you’ll tell anyone who calls me—including my friends and brothers-in-law and rosh kollel—that you’ve taken away my phone?”

“We don’t exactly provide details about ourselves.”

Zevi sighed, but he handed over the phone. “A waste of your time, all this work, but here you go. I just ask you, please, not to tell me that it’s waiting for me in some hole in Be’er Sheva or Tel Aviv, because I don’t have a car. Bring it back to Bnei Brak, okay?”

“We’ll try our best.” The man took the phone. “And next time, don’t run so fast to offer a stranger help. We all know that the chareidim are used to helping others, but naiveté is never a good thing.”

“Why, he’s a thief, or an Arab disguised?”

“No. But he can definitely cause us serious problems with them.”

Zevi frowned. If he had managed to make an innocent impression on the policeman, then everything was fine. “Hey, you didn’t give me your phone number!”

The policeman bent down for a moment to the window of the car. The driver took out a business card, scribbled up the printed part, flipped it over, and then wrote down a phone number. Amar came back to Zevi. “It’s possible that I, or others, will contact you for more questions, okay?”

“If everyone will be as courteous as you, then no problem,” Zevi said, trying to offer a compliment. “But remember what I asked: don’t destroy my phone, because, contrary to what Lapid or anyone else tries to sell you, we kollel avreichim don’t receive seven thousand shekel a month. And please, send it back to me. I’m sure you have my address, right?”


And just before he entered the next minyan, Zevi asked a passing stranger for a phone, so he could call Penina and tell her that he’d be late and she shouldn’t worry, and that she shouldn’t call his phone because there was a problem with it. The passerby agreed gladly. It was a good thing chareidim were used to helping other people.


Hinda didn’t nudge Dov on the phone; she preferred that he call first to say he was on the way home. But he wasn’t calling. Maybe he was busy with Martin, or maybe he’d popped in to one of the girls for a visit. They might be standing right now and discussing sensitive subjects, and maybe…and maybe…and maybe…

She would give him his space; she was actually very good at that.

“Ima…” Yosef’s sleepy voice almost scared her.

“Yosef! How are you?” she asked. She noticed that he was holding the sandwich she had prepared for him; it was untouched.

“Thank you for the sandwich,” he said. “But I have no appetite.” He put it down on the windowsill. “Maybe the birds should eat it.” He gazed out at the port, visible from their window. “How I would love to fly with those birds, far away… Oy, I can’t go on like this! I can’t!”

She took a deep breath, wishing that Dov would call right now. The thought popped into her mind that the way she was feeling was more in line with a twenty-two-year-old newlywed than a middle-aged mother and grandmother. But the one who called was actually Michoel, from wherever he was in the world. And for some reason, he became very excited when she told him about Yosef’s frustrated and painfilled remark.

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