.Newsflash, guys, ZeeZee felt like screaming. I am worth something, even if I don’t get straight A’s or act like a little goodie-two-shoes
ZeeZee glared at the floor as she shuffled into Rodriguez behind her mother and sister. She still couldn’t believe she was being forced to endure an evening out with not just Gitty and Chana Malka, but with five of Chana Malka’s friends.
She’d tried begging out of it, but her mother had acted mortally offended.
“We only have ten days together and you want to miss one of them?”
ZeeZee had muttered something about not knowing Chana Malka’s friends, but of course that had been a stupid mistake.
“Well, you could have invited your own friends, too,” her mother had bristled. “I still don’t understand why you didn’t want to, but that was your choice.”
ZeeZee had simply rolled her eyes. There was no point trying to explain that inviting her Shvilei friends to eat out with a bunch of nerdy Bnos Hinde girls was totally weird. And then there was the other reason she’d decided not to. Rusi’s mother had also come to visit this week; she was staying at some cousin in Kiryat Sefer — not in the David Citadel like her mother and Gitty — and traveling in by bus every day. ZeeZee was pretty confident that Rusi’s mother wasn’t planning on treating Rusi’s friends to a restaurant meal.
ZeeZee ended up sitting between her mother and one of Chana Malka’s friends — a girl whose shirt was buttoned up to her neck and who quizzed the waiter about the ingredients in every food to determine the correct brachah.
On the other side of her mother, Gitty was gushing about her visit to Bnos Hinde this morning. “Ma, you should’ve heard what Chana Malka’s teachers said about her. They just went on and on! It’s too bad you didn’t come yourself, you would’ve shepped such nachas!”
“I wish I could have,” ZeeZee’s mother said apologetically.
Gitty was still going full steam; she now had her arm around Chana Malka. “I sat in some classes and, I’m telling you, Ma, she was the star! She was the one answering all the questions.”
“I’m not surprised,” Mrs. Keller murmured, smiling fondly at her granddaughter. ZeeZee nearly gagged; Gitty must’ve caught the gesture because she suddenly turned to ZeeZee.
“Your big day’s tomorrow, huh?” she said brightly. “We’re all looking forward to hearing what your teachers have to say about you!”
“I’m sure you are,” ZeeZee muttered. Matching her tone to equal her sister’s fake saccharinity, she added, “But there’s no way I can measure up to Chana Malka. Honestly, I don’t know if anyone can. You must be sooooo proud.”
Gitty threw her a suspicious look, while their mother quickly said, “ZeeZee has so many of her own talents. There’s no need to compare ourselves to others.”
ZeeZee clenched her teeth. This exact conversation had been repeated only 20 million times over the course of her childhood. Gitty was now smirking, while Chana Malka was eyeing her speculatively, as if trying to uncover those hidden talents.
Newsflash, guys, ZeeZee felt like screaming. I am worth something, even if I don’t get straight A’s or act like a little goodie-two-shoes. When would the people in her life finally get that?
Suddenly, her conversation with Mrs. Edelman flashed in her mind. The more I’ve gotten to know you, the more I’ve realized you’re one of the deepest, most honest people I know. Mrs. Edelman understood her! Why couldn’t her own mother and sister?
She took a breath. “Oh, I totally agree. We shouldn’t be looking at what other people do. Everyone’s unique, right?” She turned to Chana Malka’s friends. “Don’t they teach you that in Bnos Hinde, that everyone has their own tafkid? And if, like, my tafkid involves going to hafganot in Chevron—”
“Oh, don’t start this again,” her mother muttered.
“—or dressing up as a clown in a hospital, or making shidduchim for random people I meet on the bus—”
Maybe it was the reference to the still-rankling shidduch incident that caused Chana Malka to suddenly pipe up. “Or hanging out with off-the-derech girls?”
ZeeZee glared at her niece, who, at least, had the grace to blush as she slapped a guilty hand over her mouth. But the damage was done.
“What’s this?” her mother asked.
“Just Chana Malka being silly,” ZeeZee said. But Gitty was glancing back and forth between the two, and ZeeZee had no doubt in her mind that perfect little Chana Malka was about to spill the beans to her mother tonight.
“I’m never talking to her again,” ZeeZee fumed to her mother the next morning, as they walked together into the Shvilei building. “That little snitch! What gives her the right to go blabbing things people tell her in confidence? And you wonder why I don’t like hanging out with her!”
“She was right to tell us,” her mother said mildly. “I needed to know.”
“No, you don’t! Because now you’re all worried that I’m going OTD myself or something, when really I’ve been helping these girls. I’ve been, like, a madrichah for them. It’s totally not what Chana Malka made it seem.” Her face darkened. “But, of course, why should anyone believe me against the word of Little Miss Perfect?”
“Do your teachers know about this?”
ZeeZee bit her lip. Then she remembered. “Yes! Mrs. Hurwitz, my eim bayit. She even went to visit the center herself.”
Mrs. Keller’s face cleared. “Did she? Well, that sounds okay, then.”
ZeeZee felt a rush of relief. Baruch Hashem for Mrs. Hurwitz!
Her mother paused to speak to some of the teachers; ZeeZee laughed to herself as she heard her teachers pull out words like “spirit” and “full of life” and “cheerful” to get around the fact that she was failing their classes.
Bringing her mother to Shvilei was going better than expected, until later that morning, when Gitty decided to show up as well.
“Am I in time?” she asked breathlessly as she strode through the hall with the familiarity of someone who belonged there. “You said Mrs. Edelman’s class is at 11, right? Oh, look, there’s Mrs. Brander! The secretary, Ma. I can’t believe she’s still around. She always liked me — Mrs. Brander!” Gitty called out as she crossed the crowded hall. “Hi! Do you remember me? Gitty Keller.”
ZeeZee smirked as the secretary pretended to recognize her. Gitty was clearly pleased. “It was a really long time ago, yes. Now my own daughter is in seminary. Not in Shvilei, though I would’ve loved to send her, of course. But she had her heart set on Bnos Hinde.”
Gitty shrugged modestly, and ZeeZee rolled her eyes. She had a feeling Gitty would be using this same line on every teacher she met today, to let them know that her daughter had made it to the top of the seminary pyramid.
“Um, Navi class is about to start,” ZeeZee said. Gitty jumped. “Oh, let’s go, then. I can’t wait to speak to Mrs. Edelman! I was so close to her in seminary.”
“When’s the last time you were in touch?” ZeeZee asked innocently, wondering if Gitty would admit to calling her this year to check up on ZeeZee.
“Oh, I don’t remember… Look, Ma, there’s Rabbi Freund. He’s coming over.”
ZeeZee swiveled around. Sure enough, the menahel had spotted them and had a wide smile on his face.
“Mrs. Keller! What a pleasure! Such a zechus to have ZeeZee with us this year.”
Her mother beamed. “I’m hearing wonderful things from ZeeZee. She’s really enjoying her year.”
“And all of us are enjoying her. She adds so much life to the seminary!”
As ZeeZee squirmed, Gitty spoke up. “Rabbi Freund, I don’t know if you remember me. I was here in ’99. You taught a weekly halachah class back then.”
Rabbi Freund smiled pleasantly. “That was a long time ago,” he said, and ZeeZee nodded approvingly. At least he didn’t pretend to recognize her.
After a few more rounds of small talk, Rabbi Freund seemed on the verge of going. Gitty glanced at her mother. “Ma, didn’t you want to arrange a meeting to talk to Rabbi Freund about something?”
ZeeZee’s eyes narrowed.
“What?” Her mother appeared flustered, as she looked back and forth between her oldest and youngest daughter.
“Remember?” Gitty asked pointedly.
“Oh. Um, yes.” Mrs. Keller looked at the menahel. “Would you have time?”
ZeeZee felt like slapping that smug expression off her sister’s face. Instead, she muttered, “I need to get to class,” and stalked off. Let that traitor Gitty find her own way to Mrs. Edelman’s classroom. Or not.
ZeeZee was sick and tired of her sister interfering with her life.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 760)
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