The Black Sheep – Chapter 28

May 3, 2021

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 28 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. 

The shul for Ashkenazi immigrants from Russia was located in a simple, two-story structure, on the ground floor. Minchah was coming to a close, and Mr. Shikovitzer, the dedicated gabbai, distributed volumes of Mishnayos ahead of the rav’s shiur. Rabbi Betzalel Miller, who had accepted the position of rabbi reluctantly and temporarily, glanced at Binyamin, the only yeshivah bachur in the community, who sat down next to his father and opened his sefer.

“Perhaps we can give Mr. Reiness’s son the honor of giving the shiur today,” he said. “Binyamin, will you give the shiur today instead of me? A bachur who’s already learning Nashim and Nezikin…”

Binyamin raised his head from the volume of Mishnayos that he had opened, and a small, bashful smile crossed his lips as he shook his head from side to side. His father looked at him with a nachas-filled smile, and Binyamin, feeling the heat rise in his cheeks, hurried to bury his eyes in the small sefer.

Nu, nu,” the gabbai said, “our Binyamin is bashful, Rabbi Miller. We’ll be happy to have the Rav give the shiur, as usual.”

Binyamin tried to listen, but something gave him no peace. Whenever he raised his eyes, he encountered Zelig’s father’s gaze. They hadn’t exchanged a word with one another since the moment he’d come to shul for Minchah. Not only because they were careful not to speak about mundane matters in the shul, but because even if it would have been just a random place, they hadn’t had a quiet moment of privacy.

Zelig’s father looked…nervous? Yes. Worried, too. Yet, remarkably enough, more than anything, he appeared angry.

Had he already found out that Binyamin had failed to carry out his errand? Had the British caught Zelig?

Binyamin bit his lips and rubbed the wooden table with his finger. He had gone to the market before coming here, but Zelig wasn’t at Wanunu’s fish stand, where he worked. The place had been teeming with soldiers, and two of them followed him the whole time. He deliberated whether to write a note and somehow stick it between the convulsing fish laid out on the wooden board, but he didn’t have a writing implement, and anyway, a note would immediately incriminate both him and Zelig. Because if everything was fine, and all was smooth and straight, then why did Zelig have to run away and only return home in the morning?

And what about him? If the British would catch him sending messages to Zelig, they would immediately associate him with “Protectors of Acco,” a group of young Jewish men who had decided to take the law into their hands and arm themselves with weapons of self-defense against the Arabs who wanted to harm them.

The Arab population lived alongside the Jews of Acco in relative tranquility, for the most part. An example was Mahmoud, Mr. Shikovitzer’s longtime partner. But it was impossible to ignore the negative sentiments in the eyes of many Arabs, and between the lines when they spoke.

Zelig and his friends were not the first of their kind. Already during the riots of 5680, a group called “Defenders of Yerushalayim” had been formed, and twenty of its members had been imprisoned together with their leader, Zev Jabotinsky, here, in the nearby Acco prison. The British did not like it when the Jews organized like that, sure as they were that these groups were the groundwork for an uprising against the Mandate.

***

Nu?” Binyamin heard Mr. Shikovitzer address him. Binyamin had lingered after Maariv, letting all the mispallelim pass by him and leave. His father and brother had also left, and besides for Shikovitzer, only he was left in the room. He began to return the siddurim and other sefarim to their places.

Nu?” Yitzchak Shikovitzer said again. “Did you meet Wanunu?”

“No,” Binyamin said quietly. “I was being trailed, and I didn’t want them to know that Zelig works for Wanunu. If they don’t already know that.”

“If they don’t already know that…” Shikovitzer repeated bitterly. “They know everything, these people. Why did my Zelig join Jabotinsky’s wild boys? What was he lacking?”

Binyamin was quiet.

“I’m going home now.” Zelig’s father looked awful, his face a dreadful combination of a worried pallor and a flush of anger. “And if Zelig comes, I’ll make it clear to him that he has to stop these dangerous games immediately. What does he think, that only son of mine?” He sighed. “You should go home, too, Binyamin. Are you coming to Shacharis tomorrow, or are you going to the Ramchal shul again?”

Binyamin watched his neighbor lock the big door, and as he turned to the stairs leading to his apartment on the second floor, he looked out to the placid sea in the dark expanse, his expression inscrutable. In the last half a year, had Zelig risen early with his father to prepare the shul for davening, or had he already been busy in other places? How little Binyamin knew about his friend.

“I’ll come here, b’ezras Hashem,” he said, with his broad, pleasant smile.

The walk from the Shikovitzer home to his own normally took about a minute and a half, but this time it took longer, because without knowing exactly why, Binyamin decided to take the long way around, past the horse and buggy workshop. Mahmoud was standing in the large lot, which was illuminated by an oil lantern that hung down from the pole Zelig had installed last summer. Mahmoud was brushing down a good-looking brown horse. The Arab owner, sporting a curled mustache, was standing nearby, tapping his foot impatiently.

“Hey, Binyamin!” Mahmoud called. “How are you? Why did you come back?”

“I might have left something here,” Binyamin said, his eyes darting in every direction. He had left lots of things here today: his innocence, the calm with which he had come home from yeshivah, the trust he’d had in Zelig, and perhaps even Zelig himself.

“But it’s locked there already,” Mahmoud said. “You know that only Yitzchak has the keys. I’m the lesser partner, and I am also going home soon, but this guy just came with something urgent. He couldn’t come in the morning, or what?” He chuckled as he stuck his hand out to get his payment from the Arab.

The Arab scolded him in Arabic, perhaps about the quality of his work or about the length of time it had taken, and Mahmoud screamed right back at him. Binyamin turned away from them and headed toward the workshop hut. As Mahmoud had said, the door was locked.

Binyamin went around to the back of the hut. The old, partially broken-down paddock was still standing there. About six years ago, when Mr. Shikovitzer had bought the lot, he had built a new, better paddock that hid the old one which remained behind it.

Binyamin walked slowly, looking at the crumbling railings that hadn’t been painted or tended to in years. Rusty wheels and rotting harnesses were tossed about, and thorns and brambles grew wild.

The darkness grew thicker as Binyamin reached the corner of the paddock. He stood there, motionless, straining only his eyes. He’d spent many vacation days here as a child, between the gates of the paddock. There wasn’t a better hiding place around.

And Zelig certainly hadn’t forgotten about it.

He advanced carefully, one step and then another. “Zelig?” he whispered, in the lowest tone he could manage. “Zelig, if you’re there—your father asked that you don’t come home tonight.”

“Okay. But did you bring me something to eat?”

The answer came so swiftly that Binyamin was startled. He could hardly see a thing, but he noticed a thorny, tangled bush moving slightly right next to him on the other side of the gate.

“No,” he said ruefully. “I’m sorry.”

“What did you think? That the soup from lunch would be enough for me?”

“You know, I went to look for you at Wanunu, in the market,” Binyamin whispered. “And the British came there also; they followed me.”

“Followed!” Zelig’s voice was sharp. “And…?”

“I think they realized they have nothing to look for with me.”

“Good, I’m glad. But then don’t go to my father now to bring me something to eat, because if they see you spending too much time with him, they’ll realize that you probably have information that they want, and they’ll hunt you down. It’s alright—I’ll starve a little longer. Don’t feel bad.”

***

“Binyamin?” His mother looked at him worriedly as he ate. He was very distracted, and didn’t even seem to notice what he was putting in his mouth.

“What?” He continued staring at the tablecloth even as he stuck the last piece of bread into his mouth.

“Binyamin, how are you?” She sat down across from him, forcing him to raise his gaze and look into her eyes. “Is everything okay?”

He tried to smile. “Baruch Hashem, yes.”

“So, what isn’t okay?” She smiled at him, but her eyes were worried. “I don’t know if it’s connected to yeshivah or not, but something is not okay, Binyamin. I can tell. What is it?”

“Everything is fine with me, baruch Hashem,” he repeated.

“And with whom are things not okay?”

Binyamin was quiet. He glanced at his twelve-year-old brother, who was sleeping in the main room.

“How is yeshivah?”

Baruch Hashem, wonderful.”

“How are the Arabs there? Do you feel hatred from them?”

“Not especially. Mr. Slonim, the director of the local bank, is a very good friend of theirs, and their relations with the community and the yeshivah seem to be fine. I mean, an Arab might say something silly to me in the street, but nothing more than that.”

“That’s good. Here in Acco they are a bit more edgy, even if it’s not that serious.” Then she added quietly, “For now.”

“Yes, I met Mahmoud, Zelig’s father’s partner. He acted and sounded total normal.”

“Oh, right, you went to Zelig. How is he doing?”

Binyamin looked at his empty plate, and didn’t respond.

“I haven’t seen him around here for a long time,” Mamme said, and something in her tone was different. “I thought he wasn’t in town anymore, but it seemed strange to me that he would leave his father alone. It isn’t like him.”

“Not at all,” Binyamin answered, with the heaviness of an eighty-year-old.

Mamme fixed him with a look. “He left Acco?”

“No.”

“So what is not like him?”

Binyamin sighed. “He’s changed,” he said after a moment, selecting his words carefully. “And I feel bad about our friendship. He still sees me as his friend, though, and he is expecting my help…”

“Your help?”

Binyamin sighed again. “Things aren’t the same between us anymore. Very much not. Each of us has gone to such a different place… But I do owe him hakaras hatov. Do you remember what a shy, anxious boy I was when we came here, and how he really helped me find my footing?”

“You gave him no less than he gave you,” his mother declared warmly. “But I agree that hakaras hatov is a very important middah, and that Zelig indeed helped you a lot. So what are you deliberating about?”

“I don’t know if I can help him now. If I’m even allowed to help him now.”

His mother was quiet. “Look, based on the bit that I saw a few months ago…” she said hesitantly, toying with the aluminum fork that had come with them from Russia, “you don’t really look like any of his new friends. I thought it was just a one-off thing, but if you’ve also noticed it after just one encounter, then maybe it is a real change, unfortunately. And it’s better for you to keep your distance from him. As for hakaras hatov? Ask Tatte tomorrow.” She rose. “Go to sleep, Binyamin. It’s late. You’ve had a long, tiring day.”

She didn’t even know the half of it.

Binyamin didn’t ask which new friends she was referring to, and when and how she’d seen them. Was she concerned about their religious levels, and feared that they would be a bad influence on him? Or did she realize that it was an illegal organization that they belonged to?

Either way, it was becoming all too clear to Binyamin that Zelig was no longer good friend material for him.

The question was what he had to do now.

“I’m going to sleep,” he said when he stood up after bentching. “I promised Zelig’s father that I’d come to shul early tomorrow, to help him.”

Because Zelig, apparently, had no intention of showing up.


The Black Sheep – Chapter 27

April 26, 2021

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 27 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. 

“Welcome!” Mr. Shikovitzer said warmly. “Binyamin, it’s so good to see you! We haven’t had a visit from you since Pesach. I’m sure the whole family was happy that you’ve come, huh? When did you get back from yeshivah?”

“Last night.”

“At night? You weren’t afraid?”

“We left in the morning, and the automobile was escorted by a British policeman.”

“The fellahin are cowards, Abba,” Zelig added scornfully.

“That’s not exactly true,” his father said, glancing outside. “In any case, you should speak a little quieter. Nu? Did you bump into Mahmoud?”

“He bumped into us.” Zelig chuckled, and took his regular seat on the right side of the table. “He already told us there’s a delicious Polish soup for lunch. When will he remember once and for all that it’s a Russian soup?”

“Good question…” Mr. Shakovitzer rubbed his blackened hands on the large, blue apron that he wore, and pointed to the big metal oven in the corner. “It stayed hot especially for you.”

“You look worried today, yeshivah bucher’l.” Zelig’s father patted his son’s friend on the shoulder. Binyamin’s normally cheerful expression was more thoughtful than usual, and he was staring blankly in the direction of the large oven.

“Binyamin?” Zelig asked. “Is everything okay?”

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The Black Sheep – Chapter 26

April 19, 2021

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 26 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. 

Five days had passed since her arrival in Acco, and she still hadn’t learned much about Osher’s place. There really was no good reason for her to go back to Bnei Brak just yet. Especially since she was actually enjoying it here.

But where could she stay?

The wind picked up, and Ariella tightened her scarf around her. She leaned on the low wall, not right across from the Reiness home, but a few dozen yards down the block, and let herself revel in the feeling of the wind pressing at her back.

“You again?” a voice asked from the side. Ariella turned around, slightly shaken, and saw the same woman she’d met up with the day before, staring at her curiously. This was their third encounter.

Ariella stared back steadily, and they locked gazes for a few long seconds. “Yes, it’s me,” Ariella said finally. “This is no one’s private property, right?”

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The Black Sheep – Chapter 25

April 12, 2021

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 25 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. 

The next afternoon, Ariella needed to get out again: she felt the walls of the small room closing in on her. She wondered if she should approach the Reiness home again, or if she should suffice for now with the next appointment she’d made with the therapist. The woman had made an excellent impression on her. But what kind of chinuch was Osher getting in her home? What was the learning level of her husband’s yeshivah? Ariella needed to observe the place from a closer vantage point and to figure out who the other students were. But how could she do that without Osher spotting her? How many hours could she spend wandering around the area to glean information about the place?

She walked out of her room and locked the door, not yet sure where she was headed.

“Are you going out now?” Miriam opened the door of her house, holding a large garbage bag.

“Yes, I decided to go out for a bit.”

“Where to?”

“Not sure yet.” Ariella smiled.

“Do you want to come with me to the shuk?”

“The Arab market? In the Old City?”

“Yes.” Miriam smiled back. “I buy my vegetables there, and we ma’aser them at home. There’s no problem this year, you know, since it’s not shemittah.”

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The Black Sheep – Chapter 24

April 5, 2021

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 24 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. 

“Welcome, come on in. So you are Ella Rothman?” Sarah Reiness smiled at the young woman who walked into her office.

Ariella coughed. “Y…yes,” she said, at the same time. It was highly unlikely that Osher had somehow shared his late brother-in-law’s name with the Reinesses. She was also certain that Sarah maintained professional confidentiality and did not share the names of her patients with her husband or his students.

“Nice to meet you. Are you from around here?”

“For now,” the younger woman whispered. “I’m from Bnei Brak, but…I’ve taken some time off for myself and came here for a little while.” She coughed on the last few words. It wasn’t a show. Her throat had decided to sync itself beautifully with her emotions right now.

“And you came to me because of the reason that I see and hear?”

Ariella smiled. “What you hear, I understand. But what do you mean by a reason that you see?”

Sarah smiled back and opened a drawer. “Here you go,” she said, and placed a small mirror in front of Ariella. It had a green striped frame. “Is there something you want to say?”

Ariella gazed at her reflection. What did she want to say? Nothing. She hadn’t come to speak. She’d come to find out more about this woman in order to figure out what kind of place Osher had found for himself.

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The Black Sheep – Chapter 23

March 22, 2021

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 23 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. 

Mission number one had been crowned with success.

Ariella watched as the taxi carrying Sarah Reiness drove off into the distance. An older man, wearing a small yarmulke, approached briskly from the other side of the sidewalk, and pushed open the gate. He was holding a faded tallis and tefillin bag, and he pulled a key ring out of his pocket, as he called over his shoulder, “The carpentry shop is closed now. It will open later this morning.”

Carpentry shop?

Interesting rabbi Osher had found himself—a carpenter-rabbi!

Ariella observed from afar as the man opened the iron door on the ground floor and switched on the light. A bitter taste filled her mouth. If this was Osher’s rabbi, she would need to think hard about what to do and how. It was a bit strange, because the speech therapist, who had just left the house a few minutes before her husband came back from davening, had given a totally different impression.

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The Black Sheep – Chapter 22

March 15, 2021

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 22 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. 

“They caught the fox.” Reb Elazar shared the news with his two students when he arrived to arrange their discharge from the hospital.

“Nice,” Shlomo said, as he sighed and touched his swollen cheek.

“Was it Gadi who caught him?” Osher asked, and then whispered to himself, “Shlomo.”

“No, he saw the fox early this morning and told my brother-in-law, who right away called the Health Ministry office in their district. It took them two hours to come, but the fox was feeling very at home and didn’t seem inclined to run away.”

“So what now?”

“They will put the fox in quarantine and take tests. If, in a few days—I’m not sure how long it takes—they find out that the fox is healthy, then you won’t need to continue treatment.”

“Thrilling,” Shlomo muttered.

“He wanted to catch it, you know,” Osher said, as he handed Reb Elazar his phone. “But I told him not to do it himself. Ooohh, I’m so dizzy.” He quickly sat down on the bed again, and the Rav watched in alarm as Osher’s face drained of its natural color.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

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The Black Sheep – Chapter 21

March 8, 2021

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 21 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. 

“What do you mean, someone was here?” Sarah stopped and looked back. “You think it was one of the boys?”

“No, it wasn’t one of the boys.” He stood in the same place, his gaze narrowing as he looked up the stairs. “Wait a minute.”

“You think someone broke into the house? Then I won’t let you go up yourself!”

“It’s fine. We can assume that the intruder—if he broke in—did not sit and wait for us to come back.” He walked past his wife and went up the stairs. For a long moment, he studied the door from top to bottom, and then pulled his key out of his pocket. “Everything is fine,” he called down to Sarah. “You can come up now. No one was in the house.”

“So where were they?” she asked as she looked around. “In the yard? Do you think someone wanted something from the carpentry shop?” She ascended the stairs as he went down to get the suitcase he’d left in the middle of the yard.

“That’s what I want to check,” he said ambiguously.

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The Black Sheep – Chapter 20

March 1, 2021

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 20 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. 

“Foxes?” Instinctively, Ariella glanced out the window she was standing near.

“Osher called us.” Before Ariella could exult at the news, her mother continued, “And so did Reiness, this rabbi of his. He spoke to Abba from the hospital. Apparently Osher was bitten by a fox.”

“Bitten by a fox? In Acco? But this is a built-up city. Where exactly is he wandering that he met foxes?”

“I don’t know.” Her mother sounded very distraught. “Osher didn’t say much. Reiness let Abba speak to one of the doctors in the emergency room there; they went to the hospital to get treatment for rabies…”

“To get what?” Ariella’s voice rose.

“Treatment for rabies.”

“It was…” She closed her eyes for a minute. “The fox had rabies?”

“It’s not clear, so in such a case, to be on the safe side, they treat the person as if the animal was infected.”

“What’s the treatment?”

“Local treatment of the bite wound, but most importantly, a vaccine against rabies. If indeed, the fox was infected, the shots neutralize the virus before it can erupt in the body, because if it does erupt, chas v’shalom, there’s nothing to do anymore.”

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The Black Sheep – Chapter 19

February 22, 2021

Israel Book Shop presents Chapter 19 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. 

Ariella spent the rest of Friday exploring the streets near her small apartment. It was refreshing to see children wearing velvet yarmulkes, and young men in suits and hats, walking briskly with a typical Erev Shabbos purposefulness. Not that she could ignore the rolling Arabic that she heard as well, as Arab women in their distinct garb, pushing strollers and surrounded by children, passed her by.

Her Shabbos was ready, and there was nowhere for her to hurry. She studied the buildings; some were very well kept, while others were just the opposite. She noticed the clean sidewalks and streets and wondered about the lack of traffic lights both for vehicles and for pedestrians. She did not see Osher, or any other youths that could have been his friends in whatever learning framework he was in. Just at the end of her walking tour, she found an Arab woman sitting under a massive umbrella with a few buckets of flowers. Ariella selected two modest bunches, paid for them, and then, in the rain that had begun to fall, walked back to her temporary home.

When she entered the building, she hesitated, not sure whether or not to knock on Miriam’s door. There was a little mat near it, and she decided to leave one of the bouquets there, where her hostess was sure to find it. She placed the other bouquet in a plastic cup on the small table in her room, and leaned it against the wall.

Shabbos was about to descend on the world.

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