Watching ZeeZee’s face crumple, Chava’s anger melted. ZeeZee had meant well. She’d just made her decisions from the perspective of an 18-year-old
The doorbell rang. Chava straightened her skirt before going to answer it. She’d made an excuse when ZeeZee had asked to come by, but ZeeZee had begged, and she’d relented.
“Hi, Mrs. Edelman.”
ZeeZee looked just as uneasy as Chava felt. After taking the drink that Chava offered her, she took a breath and blurted, “I came here to say two things: I’m sorry. And… I miss you.”
Chava felt her face grow warm. “I’m touched, ZeeZee. I miss you, too.”
ZeeZee was watching her anxiously. “Then, why’d you leave? Was it— She cleared her throat. “Was it because of… you know? The campaign for your daughter?” She leaned forward. “Please tell me. Was it my fault?”
Watching ZeeZee’s face crumple, Chava’s anger melted. ZeeZee had meant well. She’d just made her decisions from the perspective of an 18-year-old.
“Don’t blame yourself,” Chava said. “I’ll admit, the campaign was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but this decision was a long time in coming.”
ZeeZee stared “But, why? You’re the best teacher we have!”
Something inside Chava twisted. “That’s nice of you to say, but you have a lot of wonderful teachers. Teachers who—” She looked down at her lap “—have an easier time understanding your generation.”
ZeeZee jumped up. “How can you say that? That’s so not true!” She took an agitated step toward Chava. “You’re the only one in the entire school who understands me! Maybe in the entire world!”
If she weren’t so overcome with emotion, Chava might have laughed at the teenage hyperbole. She waited to get her voice under control before saying, “I’m so glad you feel that way. That means… a lot to me.”
ZeeZee smiled awkwardly, and Chava’s thoughts raced. Who would’ve imagined ZeeZee Keller, of all her students, would say this? Could it be she’d read them wrong? But, no. She really had been out of touch this year. Look at what had happened with Shani. With Devoiry!
Chava looked at ZeeZee, who was twisting her purse clasp. You’re the only one in the entire school who understands me! She realized ZeeZee’s words hadn’t been a compliment — they were a cry for help.
Straightening her shoulders, she gathered up her pain about Devoiry, her shame about the campaign, her insecurities about her job and herself — and locked them firmly in a box somewhere deep inside.
She could sort them out later.
Right now, her student needed her.
“ZeeZee, you must have gone through a rough time these past few days.”
The look on ZeeZee’s face expressed gratitude. “Yeah, I have. I mean,” she added, her face turning red, “nothing like what you’ve gone through. But…”
“But here you thought you were doing something big and selfless, and then it blew up in your face.”
ZeeZee’s face broke out into a grin. “Exactly!” Her smile faded. “I just feel like… all year, every time I tried to do something good, I somehow made it worse.”
Chava nodded. Oh, how she understood. “ZeeZee, let me ask you something. Why did you come to seminary?”
ZeeZee blinked. “Um, y’know, to grow. To learn Torah.”
Chava raised an eyebrow, and ZeeZee laughed. “To get a good shidduch?”
Now Chava smiled. “Why don’t you tell me the real reason?”
ZeeZee stared into space for a moment. Finally, she said, “I think… to prove myself. To let everyone see what I can accomplish when I finally have the freedom to stretch my wings and do things my way.” Her face darkened. “But I failed big time.”
“Can I tell you what I see? I see a girl who came into this year intent on collecting as many chavayot as possible — just to show she could.”
ZeeZee was gazing intently at Chava. She continued, “And then, somewhere along the way, your perspective shifted. Instead of looking at a situation to see what you could get out of it — you began to look at how you can give. You saw Shani going through a rough time and wondered how you could help her. You saw the Yad b’Yad girls.
“Maybe at first you were attracted because they were so different, but then you genuinely befriended them. You managed to look past their piercings and hair dyes and see who they were inside. Not too many Bais Yaakov girls could’ve done that. And—” Chava swallowed. “You saw my daughter was in trouble and immediately set out to help.”
There was a tear leaking out of ZeeZee’s eye, but Chava ignored it. “That’s what I call an incredibly successful year,” she said.
ZeeZee sat there for a while, letting the tears fall. Finally, she opened her purse to fish out a tissue. “Oh!” she cried, pulling out an envelope as well. “I almost forgot; this is for your daughter.” Her hand shook a bit as she held it in the air, and she spoke rapidly. “It’s what we collected before we closed down the campaign. Please take it, we really want you to.” ZeeZee wiped her eyes and leaned forward earnestly. “It’s — we’re giving Devoiry a loan. For her to pay back one day, when she has the money. Not to us, but to some other person who needs it.” She met Chava’s eyes anxiously. “Okay?”
Chava didn’t even have time to refuse. ZeeZee thrust it in her hands and then immediately threw her arms around her.
“Mrs. Edelman,” she choked out, “pleeease can you come back?”
Chava decided to let Devoiry open the envelope. She’d managed to squeak out a gracious “thank you” to ZeeZee, but the thought of handling the check was just too much for her.
It was burning a hole in her pocket, so later that afternoon, after she’d picked up Sari and Yitzi from gan and left them in Elisheva’s care, she took a bus over to Devoiry’s apartment.
The blinds were still drawn, but Devoiry looked more put-together than the last time Chava had seen her. She was wearing one of her sequined scarfs and a touch of makeup, and her laptop was open on the dining room table.
She still had that hunted look in her eyes as she quickly ushered her mother inside and locked the door behind her.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
Chava was determined to stay cheerful. “I come bearing gifts.” She pulled the envelope out of her purse.
Just take it, Chava thought. Open it, use it, and let’s get this entire episode over with.
Devoiry’s hand was hovering in the air and she had a funny expression on her face. “Is this — from Tammy’s fundraising?”
Chava winced. Tammy’s fundraising. Sure, Tammy Hurwitz gets all the credit in Devoiry’s mind, while Chava was the one who’d suffered from the fallout. But, of course, Devoiry had no idea about that.
“Yes,” she said. “My student, ZeeZee Keller, came by today to drop it off.”
Devoiry took the envelope eagerly and started to open it, but then stopped. She looked up at Chava. “It feels…” She sat silently for a moment, then said abruptly, “I’m giving up my store on Shamgar. I’ve already found someone to take over the lease.”
“Good for you,” Chava said quietly. “I’m sure that was a hard decision, but I think it was the right one.”
“Yeah…” Devoiry looked down at the envelope in her hands. “The hardest part was that having that store made me feel like I was on top of the world. Y’know, look how quickly I’d made it. Look what a brilliant businesswoman I am.”
“I guess Hashem really taught me a lesson about having too much gaavah, huh?” She waved the envelope in the air, then ripped it open and pulled out the check. Her eyes widened.
“Mommy!” she gasped. “This is for a hundred thousand dollars!”
Chava sucked in her breath. She’d never expected such an amount. With wonder, she looked at the check, as Devoiry exclaimed, “This means I can pay back most of my debt! That’ll buy me the time I need to make enough money to cover the rest!”
She laughed aloud and pumped her arms in the air. Chava couldn’t help but smile. She took the check from Devoiry’s hand and stared at it — $100,000. Raised by hundreds of her students.
Yes, there was shame in it, burning shame. But there was something else, too. To raise such an amount took more than a sense of charity.
This check represented her students’ love for her.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 777)
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