| Building Dreams |

Building Dreams: Chapter 25  

“Okay.” Miriam shrugged. But I could tell that she disagreed. Did she really think it was totally fine to depend on them so much?




here was a note on the table again today. Miriam read it this time.

“Mama’s going to visit Yisroel again today,” she announced. “She says we should go to Faiga’s house for supper, because she’s going to be back late.”

“Go to Faiga?” I walked toward the kitchen, hoping Miriam had made a mistake. Maybe Mama had left supper waiting for us in the kitchen, and we could stay home. But all I found was a small amount of rice and beans leftover from last night’s supper. Just enough for lunch for the three of us, but definitely not enough for supper. And if we didn’t go over to Faiga’s house to eat, Mama would be upset when she came home.

“Fine,” I said, herding Leiba into the kitchen to wash her hands and eat lunch, “we’ll go to Faiga later. Right before supper, we’ll go. And don’t look at me like that!” I snapped at Miriam, who had a confused look on her face. “Who knows how long Yisroel will be in the hospital? We can’t just move in with Yocheved and Baruch for weeks! They’re already way too involved in our lives.”

“Okay.” Miriam shrugged. But I could tell that she disagreed. Did she really think it was totally fine to depend on them so much?

We ate quietly, the sound of metal spoons clinking against our plates amplified by the silence.

It was only after we had finished eating and I sat down at the table to do my homework that the whining began.

“Elkaaaa,” Leiba complained, “I want to go to Bracha’s house.”

“Not now,” I brushed her off, going right back to the math equation I was supposed to be completing. Division was too hard to figure out with a pesky little sister kvetching at my elbow.

“Elkaaaa,” she carried on, “why can’t we go?”

“Shh!” I pushed her away. It was supposed to be a gentle push, but somehow, Leiba went flying backwards and hit her head on the wall. She burst into tears, and I stood up to comfort her.

But of course, her incessant wailing caused Miriam to look up from the book she was reading on the couch. “What happened?” she asked.

“Elka pushed me,” Leiba gulped out between sobs, “and I just wanted to go to Bracha.” Her wailing picked up again and she clutched her head where she had banged it. Theatrics, all of it.

“Why can’t we go?” Miriam asked. “We always go.”

“I told you! We’re already going to them for supper, we can’t ask them to do anything else.”

“They’re not going to care,” Miriam pointed out, “and look how much Leiba wants to go.”

“Fine,” I shouted. I wished I had somewhere else to go. Another room so I could get away from my annoying siblings. “Go! I’m not coming. I’ll see you at supper time.”

Miriam looked up mildly, and put her book down. “Come Leiba,” she said soothingly. “I’ll take you to Bracha’s house.” Standing up gently, she took a whimpering Leiba from my lap and guided her to the door where her coat was hanging. “Bye, Elka,” she said softly, her hand on the doorknob. “Are you sure you don’t want to come?”

I looked at her. Of course I was sure. I was completely, absolutely, positively sure that I didn’t want to come.

And when I showed up at Faiga’s house a few hours later, I knew that I had been right.

“Leiba,” Yocheved was saying, “you need to finish your tomatoes before you can go play.”

Leiba hates tomatoes. Yocheved probably didn’t even know how much Leiba hates tomatoes, and she didn’t care. Because she forced Leiba to sit at the table while Bracha went to play, and insisted that she eat her tomatoes.

“Come, Leiba,” I said, as soon as I saw what was happening. Miriam, of course, hadn’t said a word about what was going on. She’d comfort Leiba afterwards, but she would never interfere. “I’ll eat your tomatoes. You can go play.”

Yocheved stared at me, but didn’t say anything.

Despite Leiba’s particularity, the tomatoes were actually good, and I finished her whole plate of them pretty quickly. I was starving. By the time I got over to Faiga’s house it was well past the time I usually ate supper — which was partially my fault. I had waited in the hope that Mama would come home and I wouldn’t have to go to Faiga’s altogether.

“Here, Elka,” Yocheved said, noticing that I was sitting at the table awkwardly, “take something to eat.” She held out a plate in my direction and motioned toward the pot on the stove.

I nodded, silently took the plate from her, and spooned some scrambled eggs onto my plate. Salad and a piece of bread rounded out the meal, and after setting it down on the table, I headed to the sink to wash.

Faiga tried to come over to talk to me while I was eating, and I answered politely. But she must have been able to tell that I didn’t want company because she left rather quickly, mumbling some excuse about needing to finish her homework. I would eat here because I had to. Because Mama would be upset otherwise. But I wouldn’t do anything else here. I didn’t need their favors!

“Hello, Rivka,” Yocheved greeted Mama, opening the door wide to let her in. I hadn’t even heard the knocking.

“Mama!” I jumped up from my chair and ran to the door. “How’s Yisroel?”

“Good, Baruch Hashem. The doctor says it should be only a few more days, and then he’ll let Yisroel go.”

I grinned widely. A few more days. Only a few more days and I’d have my yummy Yisroel back home with me. Only a few more days, and I could stop coming over to Faiga’s house. Stop depending on my cousins for favors, and even more, stop watching them think it was their job to discipline us.

Only a few more days.

I couldn’t wait.



Yitzchok says there’s no reason for me to feel guilty, but I know that if Mama were around, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. But Mama’s not around. No, she’s always in the hospital with Yisroel, and I don’t think Yocheved even realized that I was also supposed to be coming to them for supper. I can survive on bread for supper. There are much more important things going on, and supper is the last thing on my mind.

One day, Yitzchok brought two boys to our meeting spot. Big boys, much bigger than the two of us. They looked like they were about 16 or 17 and their wild hair and uncovered heads said more about them than I cared to know.

I looked at Yitzchok quizzically.

“Zev and Avi,” Yitzchok explained, pointing at each in turn.

“We met him in the park one night,” the boy identified as Zev explained, leaning against a pole. “Smart kid. He told us some of his ideas. Your ideas. We could use two kids like you. Young, innocent kids no one will suspect of being up to something. What do you think, kid?” He held out his hand for me to shake it.

I shook it. What else could I have done? The stakes in this game just got much higher, and I was ready for it. I think. But as I walked home, I wished there was someone I could talk to. Because what if this was a really bad idea? Once I got in, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find my way out.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 923)

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