Talia bangs her shoulder gently into mine. “You know you’re getting the main part. You always do”
They’re doing the Purim story this year. I can’t believe it. Play is gonna be a deep dive into the Megillah and I’m really excited. Like really, really, excited.
“I’m excited,” I tell Shani at lunch.
She rolls her eyes. “Of course you are, Ms. I-Get-the-Main-Part-in-Every-Play. I, on the other hand, don’t really care what play it is, because scenery and props is scenery and props, no matter what the story is.”
I poke her really hard with my fork. “Persian skylines are much prettier than the New York pushcarts from When Zaidy Was Young.”
She pokes me back. “That is true, CB. That is true.”
We eat our pizza and fries in companionable silence. Camp lunches are supposed to be super gross, but Camp Gila actually has the best food.
I go back for seconds, promising to bring back a potato knish for Shani.
What do you know; Talia Lewin is on line in front of me.
“Oh, heeeey, Queen Esther,” she says, spinning around with a grin.
I wave a hand modestly. “Oh, sto-o-o-op.”
She takes her tray from Mrs. Fried, the lunch lady, I hold out mine.
“Ess gezunterheit,” Mrs. Fried says, like she does every day.
“Thank you, Mrs. Fried,” we chorus.
Talia bangs her shoulder gently into mine. “You know you’re getting the main part. You always do.”
I shrug. “Well, I’m super excited, honestly. Esther Hamalkah! I mean, that’s been the dream since we were four, right?”
Talia laughs and waves, as I head back to Shani.
“Your potato knish, madam.”
Shani smiles. “Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Lowly servant bringing the queen a snack?”
I laugh. “You can bring me a snack if you want to — no one’s stopping you.”
And we finish lunch, laughing and eating, content in our own little world, absolutely unaware that in just two hours, everything is going to change.
The thing about being the new kid at a camp where everyone has been together since Tiny Tots is that it’s the worst. I can’t think of any better way to say it.
The girls are nice enough. So are the counselors. But nobody knows me.
Talia Lewin waves at me as she walks past, clutching a lunch tray.
I haven’t gotten used to the food being good; I used to go to Camp Machanayim, where everything tasted like rubber.
Today, it’s pizza, fries, potato knishes, broccoli, and jello cups.
I take two jello cups and settle myself at a table with Leora Sharf and Henny Tauber.
“…mandatory and that’s so annoying,” Leora is saying.
I take a deep breath and join the conversation. “Hey! What’s mandatory and what’s annoying?”
Leora looks startled but she smiles at me.
“Hey! I was just saying that I hate that play tryouts are practically mandatory. I’m like the worst actress in the world, you know?”
I practically choke on my jello, sputtering tiny bits of orange all over the place. My tablemates look on in horror.
“Need a slap on the back?” Leora asks.
I shake my head no, and finally, swallow. “Sorry!” I wheeze. “Wrong pipe, heh heh.”
The girls look at me like I’m nuts. I don’t blame them. Waving goodbye, they head back to the bunkroom.
I sit, frozen.
Mandatory? Oh, no.
You see, the thing is, I’m not a good actress.
I’m amazing. It’s not arrogance, it’s just the truth. As soon as I step into character, I become more confident than I’ve ever been as Fraidy Greenstein. And I’ve managed to keep my talent a secret, because honestly, nobody wants the new girl walking in and taking over. But it looks like my cover is about to be blown….
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Blumie, the head counselor, heading across the baseball field, holding that bright-yellow paper.
I’ve been in Camp Gila long enough to know that bright-yellow paper always equals cast list. My heart does a little dance as I give a mental Esther Hamalkah curtsy. Time for a little restroom break, of course. I turn to my counselor.
“Batya, can I….”
Batya gives me a thumbs-up and replaces her catcher’s visor; I head out, purposefully, winking at Shani on the way.
The grounds are pretty quiet. I take a drink from the water fountain, stroll across the grass, and then nonchalantly head over to that beautiful yellow sheet.
Esther: Fraidy Greenstein
Haman: Chana Baila Landau
I can’t breathe.
Haman? Haman! Is this a joke? Haman?!
I was born to play Esther. Everyone is already calling me “Your Majesty.”
And Fraidy Greenstein out of all people… Fraidy Greenstein who doesn’t speak or laugh or joke or sing?
They’re seriously turning the play into a chesed.
Just. Can’t. Do. This.
I got the main part.
Of course I did. I’m not surprised. I look at the sheet glumly. Esther. I’m Esther.
Oh, don’t get me wrong; it’s a dream part. But why’d I have to take it away from Chana Baila of all people?
She’s super popular, loud, fun… and obsessed with play.
I can’t believe, that out of all the girls in my bunk, she’s the one I went up against… and won.
Closing my eyes, I imagine myself as Esther, immersed in a world of flowing gowns and royalty. I imagine the feeling of power coursing through me as the fear and awkwardness that usually floods me melts away….
Someone bumps into me from behind, interrupting my thoughts.
I spin around in time to catch a fleeting glance of a gray-faced Chana Baila, flanked on all sides by other sixth graders.
Oh, this is just going to be wonderful.
It takes a few minutes for Shani to come over to me. I brace myself, not anticipating any warm words. “I think the camp really wants you to feel welcome,” she sweetly says. “Uh, can you tell them there are other ways? Because we really want the play to be, like, exceptional. I’m sure you’re great, but Chana Baila is like, wow, you know?”
Oh, Shani, I do know. I know “wow” because I am “wow.”
I just look at her coldly until she shrugs and walks away.
A chesed project… that’s a new low.
Haman is definitely the second biggest part in the play, but it’s not the biggest. I know, I sound silly and selfish. But why, why, and why did Fraidy Greenstein have to come and be a chesed case when the play is the Purim story? I want to be Esther so badly it hurts. The only good news about this, honestly, is that Esther and Haman have almost zero scenes together.
I step onstage at practice, clutching my script, and then with all eyes on me, I throw it away.
I know my lines by heart.
“Your Excellency…” I purr at Baila Cook.
She looks at me over her script, eyes cold and focused.
“Yes, Haman? Do you have an idea for what should be done to Queen Vashti?”
I look at her calmly. “Tickle her.”
We look at each other and burst out laughing.
“Cut, cut!” Mrs. Epstein, the play director, waves her hands exasperated, but she’s smiling.
“Chana Baila, the line is ‘kill her.’ Please, stick to script.”
“We’re sorry!” we chorus, and everyone cracks up.
I sink onto a chair after we have the scene down cold, and lazily watch the other girls practice.
And then Fraidy climbs onstage, no script in sight. Well, this should be interesting. I almost feel bad for the girl.
That is until my mouth drops open because Fraidy Greenstein is good. Like really good. Like… better than me.
“Mordechai,” Fraidy whispers urgently. “I’m afraid.”
And I could almost feel Esther’s fear and her panic and despair as Fraidy talks. I try to shake it off.
Fraidy’s beyond good. She’s amazing. And it’s too hard for me to watch.
Anger bubbling up inside me, I scrape my chair back. I need to get out of here fast.
I can’t help but feel Chana Baila’s eyes boring into me.
I resist the urge to flip my hair over one shoulder and finish the scene with one final tear.
The teachers and other students are silent for a moment and then burst into loud ringing applause.
Blushing, I look down at my shoes. The clapping doesn’t stop, so I do what needs to be done: I take a bow.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Chana Baila screech her chair back with disgust, turn on her heel, and march out of the auditorium. I watch her go. Sadly.
I want to tell her to grow up, to give credit where credit is due.
But I get it; she’s having trouble accepting the way things are.
I just wish it could all work out….
I love spending my summers in Camp Gila, and that’s not only because my girlies can attend Tiny Tots while I direct the extracurriculars. It also gives me a well-deserved break from my job as assistant principal in the local elementary school. But watching Chana Baila and Fraidy gaze at each other coldly, I realize I’m going to need to step in. It’s a sticky situation. Chana Baila has always gotten the main part in play. She’s a talented girl and she deserves the spotlight. But Fraidy, she’s next-level.
It must be really hard for Chana Baila to accept, just as it would’ve been hard for Fraidy to remain on the sidelines.
In my opinion, this calls for a good, old-fashioned conversation.
I invite the two girls to meet me in the gazebo. They arrive sullenly from opposite sides of camp.
Hiding a smile, I hand them each a scoop of chocolate ice cream and dig into my own.
We eat in silence, and then I encourage each one to talk.
“I’m… not used to not having the main role,” Chana Baila says.
I’m surprised at how honest Chana Baila is. Fraidy looks relieved.
“But that doesn’t make me less deserving.”
Chana Baila shakes her head. “No.”
They look at each other quietly.
“You’re so talented,” Chana Baila blurts out.
Fraidy smiles faintly. “So are you. Back in Camp Tehila, my best friend and I would always act in the plays together. We’d practice and run lines and speak out our stage fright…”
Chana Baila smiles slowly. “I’d like that.”
I didn’t have to say a word after that. The two girls laughed and talked until long after the ice cream had finished.
And if anyone thought it was odd that Esther and Haman kept smiling broadly at each other during the finale, no one mentioned it.
Not to be immodest, but the play was a smashing success… and in my opinion, in more ways than one.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 970)
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