"No — no thank-you?” she spluttered. “No ‘great job, ZeeZee’? You just come and give us mussar, as if we’re naughty little children?”
“Call it off.”
ZeeZee blinked as she lifted her head from Shani’s bed and stared at Mrs. Hurwitz, who had just appeared in their doorway.
“Huh?” She exchanged a glance with Rusi. “Call what off?”
The eim bayit stepped into their room and closed the door behind her. “The campaign for Mrs. Edelman’s daughter. You need to shut it down right now.”
ZeeZee’s eyes widened. “Are you nuts?” Catching Rusi’s aghast expression, she quickly amended, “Sorry, Mrs. H. But why in the world would we shut down a campaign that’s so successful?” She sat up and leaned over to pick up a notebook from her desk. “Look at these numbers! We’re almost up to $100,000!”
Mrs. Hurwitz’s eyes gleamed for a second, but then she sighed. “That’s amazing. But you need to send out a message to everyone involved that this campaign is closed, effective immediately.” She hesitated. “And add an apology as well.”
ZeeZee’s mouth dropped open. “Apologize?”
Rusi was looking at Mrs. Hurwitz anxiously. “Did we do something wrong?”
The eim bayit sat down on the chair next to Rusi’s desk and rubbed her forehead. “Yes, we did.” She looked at each of them and said slowly, “We were supposed to keep this campaign private. Instead, it spread to every single Shvilei alumna.”
ZeeZee lifted her chin. “So what? We did keep it private. We could’ve done one of those huge things that go all over social media — ‘She has no money to feed her kids, blah blah, click here to donate.’ But we didn’t! We only reached out to people who actually know who she is and really want to help.”
Mrs. Hurwitz raised an eyebrow at her. “Aren’t we more embarrassed in front of people we know than complete strangers?” she asked softly. “Imagine how Mrs. Edelman feels right now.”
ZeeZee’s anger rose. How dare Mrs. Hurwitz make her feel like an idiot, when she’d just invested tens of hours into raising money for Mrs. Hurwitz’s friend! She stood up. “You can’t do this! After we put in all this hard work, you tell us to shut it down, just like that? No — no thank-you?” she spluttered. “No ‘great job, ZeeZee’? You just come and give us mussar, as if we’re naughty little children?”
Rusi was shaking her head at her urgently, but ZeeZee ignored it. She clenched her fists and paced the room.
“You’re right, that came out badly,” Mrs. Hurwitz murmured. Her shoulders were slumped, her eyes downcast. “I’m sorry. I guess I was just so uncomfortable myself about having to say this to you.”
ZeeZee’s eyes widened as something clicked.
“Wait a sec, Mrs. H.,” she said. “This isn’t coming from you, is it? Rabbi Freund sent you!”
Mrs. Hurwitz didn’t answer.
ZeeZee seethed, “Of course it was Rabbi Freund! He’s the one who’s ruined every single thing I’ve tried to do this year! Why can’t he leave me alone?”
The eim bayit swallowed. “It’s not just him. I… I agree that this needs to stop.”
ZeeZee snorted. “Did he, like, threaten to fire you if you don’t say that?”
Rusi gasped and Mrs. Hurwitz’s face turned white, but ZeeZee was too livid to notice. “I get it. Your job is more important than saving your friend’s life!”
Mrs. Hurwitz flinched, but her voice was quiet as she answered, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m being selfish. But I’m thinking about someone else as well — Mrs. Edelman. Rabbi Freund said she was mortified when she found out about this.”
ZeeZee paused. Mortified? The thought of Mrs. Edelman feeling humiliated made her squirm.
But then she shook her head. “Oh, sure, Rabbi Freund says.” She narrowed her eyes. “Maybe he’s just saying that to make us do what he wants.” She tore out the page in her notebook with Gitty’s latest figures, crumpled it, and slammed it into the wastepaper basket. “Let him raise the 500,000 shekels for Mrs. E’s daughter. I’m done!”
Chava’s phone rang, and her hand reached automatically to answer it. Spotting the overseas number, she abruptly pulled back. Elisheva, doing homework at the dining room table, hadn’t noticed the gesture, and picked up the phone herself.
“Hello? You want my mother?” Elisheva held out the phone to Chava, then faltered when she saw Chava shaking her head.
“Um, I’m sorry, she’s not available. Who’s calling?”
Chava left the room before she could hear the name. Did she really want to know which of her old students was calling to express her sympathy?
It had been like this all afternoon and evening. Chava escaped to her bedroom and closed the door. What would happen if she just buried herself under her blanket and didn’t emerge until this entire episode had blown over?
As she sank her head into her pillow, she wondered if this was what Devoiry felt like. As she saw the image of her daughter a prisoner in her apartment, the terror and anger and helplessness surged once more.
For the past 24 hours, Chava had vacillated between fear for her daughter and shame for herself. Either one was potent enough to knock her off her feet. The worst of it was that both situations were so hopelessly out of her control. Helping Devoiry required 500,000 shekels; Shloimy had already had meetings with their financial advisor and with two different askanim, but at the end of the day, the sum was just astronomical.
Unless Tammy Hurwitz’s campaign is successful, said a snide voice inside, and as the shame flooded her once more, she wondered how she’d ever be able to show her face in the school again. This morning was excruciating enough, and that was before she’d discovered that the entire Shvilei student body plus alumni had been asked to donate to this campaign.
There was a soft knock on her door.
“Ma?” Elisheva stuck her head in. “You have another phone call. What should I say?”
“That I’m not available.”
Elisheva spoke into the phone. “Selichah, ima sheli lo yecholah karega.”
Chava lifted her head. “Wait, Elisheva, who is that?” It clearly wasn’t one of her American students.
“Mi zeh?” Elisheva mouthed, “Tirtza Strauss.”
“Wow, that lady is persistent,” Chava murmured. And then her eyes widened. This job! Should she? Should she? Her heart began to hammer wildly. Was this the refuah before the makkah Hashem had prepared for her?
Her mind raced. She’d been excited about the opportunity from the beginning. And now, with everything else in her life having fallen apart overnight… was this the answer? She no longer had the reputation she needed to be an effective teacher at Shvilei. So why not start fresh? And Tirtza was offering her more than her Shvilei salary; she could give that extra money to Devoiry!
For the first time in days, she felt her spirits lift. Holding out her hand, she said, “I’ll take the call.”
ZeeZee doodled listlessly in her notebook, as everyone else chattered around her. Last night, she’d dutifully called Shani Mandel and told her to send out emails and WhatsApps to everyone thanking them for their help and announcing that the campaign was over. Then she’d called Gitty and told her to take down the campaign page. That had been a fun phone call. (“What?? You got in trouble again? And here I’d thought you were finally maturing!”)
She’d drawn the line at apologizing, though. Let Mrs. Hurwitz apologize. Let Rabbi Freund apologize. It was enough that she was forced to follow their stupid rules.
Now, sitting in class waiting for Mrs. Edelman to come in, she was feeling an inexplicable dread. Mrs. Edelman had never been late to class before.
Suddenly, the door slammed open. Tehilla ran in, panting and wild eyed. “Guys!” she shrieked. “You’ll never believe what I just heard!”
ZeeZee rolled her eyes. “That your baby nephew just grew a tooth?” she muttered. A few girls nearby snickered.
Tehilla came into the middle of the room, waving her arms as she spoke. “I was in the office just now. All of a sudden, we hear Rabbi Freund’s voice coming from inside his office. And he’s shouting stuff like, ‘What are you talking about, Mrs. Edelman?’ and ‘No way, you can’t.’ ”
Around her, girls were leaning forward. ZeeZee realized she was holding her breath.
“Nu?” she asked. “Did you find out what it was about?”
Tehilla looked directly at her as she whispered, “Mrs. Edelman just quit.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 774)
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