| Family First Serial |

For Granted: Chapter 40

Bracha?!  The woman joined the organization a month ago, and suddenly she’s qualified to lead it?


Ayala rubbed her eyes as she wheeled her suitcase through the JFK terminal. Since making aliyah, she’d flown back about once a year to visit her parents, but her frequent trips notwithstanding, she inevitably had to stop herself from speaking Hebrew to the airport personnel, and felt unsettlingly out of her element as she took in the people, the advertisements on the walls, the atmosphere — a culture shock that only got stronger as the years went by.

“Welcome home,” the passport control official said with a smile as he stamped her American passport. She smiled back, but inside she felt the awe and gratitude that was still there, after 13 years, that she had the zechus to live in Eretz Yisrael.

And then she took back her passport, headed toward the luggage carousel, and the anxiety of the present smacked her in the face once more.


What had happened during Ayala’s 12-hour plane ride? Was her mother still in the hospital?  Was she still in danger or had her condition stabilized?

Her shoulders tightened as she stepped outside into the crisp, early morning air, and it wasn’t just from the bite of  a New York winter. Ayala checked the time yet again.  Six fifteen.  Still too early to call Zev.


“Where to?” the Uber driver asked. Ayala hesitated for just a moment. She wanted to go straight to the hospital, but her rational side told her not to be ridiculous. What was she going to do, drag her suitcase, carry-on, and sheitel box all around the cardiac unit?  She gave him her parents’ address.

Then she leaned her head back, closed her eyes, and tried not to think about what might be waiting for her when she arrived.


There was something inside Dini that screamed “petty” about her insistence that the meeting with Bracha be at her house, but Dini ignored the voice. All these years, Dini had schlepped in to RBS for Chesed Tzirel meetings and had done so willingly, because Ayala, after all, was the head and founder.

But she felt perfectly justified pulling rank on Bracha and asking her to drive to Maalot Dafna. It wasn’t just about convenience; it was about establishing the fact that in the Chesed Tzirel hierarchy, Dini had seniority.

Despite the fact that Ayala had chosen to put them both in charge.

Dini frowned as she straightened a couch pillow. Talk about petty… Yet Ayala’s words still rankled. I’m going to need you and Bracha to take over Chesed Tzirel while I’m gone. Bracha?!  The woman joined the organization a month ago, and suddenly she’s qualified to lead it?

Of course, as Shuki had pointed out in an infuriatingly reasonable voice while she’d fumed, it made perfect sense from Ayala’s perspective. Bracha had been trained to deal with the medical assistance; all Ayala had meant was that Bracha would take over that branch while Ayala was away, while Dini held down the rest of the organizational fort.

“So say it that way!” Dini had screamed back. “Why couldn’t she say that she’s putting me in charge, and Bracha will help me out by running the medical assistance cases?”

And then she’d stopped and muttered, “Never mind.” Because it wasn’t fair to yell at Shuki just because she couldn’t express her hurt to Ayala. And also, because she sounded like a baby even to her own ears, with her desperate approval-seeking need to hear Ayala finally say, “Dini, I have full confidence that you can take over the reins.”

But just because Ayala seemed to think that Dini couldn’t handle running the show without Bracha didn’t mean that Dini had to pretend their positions were equal.

She glanced at herself in the breakfront mirror and brushed a sheitel strand back in place. Then (glancing behind her to be absolutely sure no one was home) she stuck her tongue out at herself.

Petty, petty, petty.


“Mmm, these rugelach are delish!” Bracha smacked her lips. “Tell me you didn’t make them yourself.”

Dini’s lips curled. No need to tell Bracha that this was her first and probably last time making homemade anything that involved more than a 15-minute pour-stir-bake.

“Eh, it’s really not such a big deal,” she said with a modest wave of the hand. And then, because she couldn’t resist, she added, “One of my CT volunteers asked to come over the other day to talk, and we made these rugelach while we schmoozed.”

“I see.” Bracha shot her a curious look as she chewed, and Dini had a funny sensation that Bracha was trying to figure her out. She shifted her legs and rested her elbow on the couch armrest.

“So what’s the deal with this volunteer group?” Bracha asked casually.  “Like, how does it work, exactly?”

Dini raised an eyebrow. “There’s nothing complicated here. We have a group of young marrieds who’ve committed to volunteering for Chesed Tzirel. Like I told you the other day, they become sort of like the case managers for our support services branch. Each family has its own contact person if they need something like meals or babysitting or some other type of help. And if she can’t do it herself, she gets in touch with me, and I arrange it.”

“Nice. How many volunteers do you have?”

Dini straightened her head. “Twenty-four.”

Bracha’s eyes widened. “So many? I didn’t realize we were such a big organization.”

“Well, it’s true, we don’t really need that many, but a lot of women wanted to join, so I figured, why not? The more volunteers, the better.” Dini smiled, hoping Bracha would realize what an accomplishment it was to have recruited so many women so quickly.

Bracha frowned. Leaning forward, she asked, “I don’t get it. Most organizations are begging for volunteers. What makes this so popular?”

Dini didn’t know Bracha well enough to know whether she was being critical or merely trying to understand. “We developed a specific strategy to recruit volunteers. Our volunteers are all young marrieds, and we’ve made it into a kind of social club. We run events, activities, shiurim.  Women want to be a part of it, see?”

Bracha’s eyes twinkled. “You’re saying ‘we’ but it definitely wasn’t Ayala who developed this idea.”

Dini grinned.  “No, it’s not Ayala’s style, is it?”

Bracha contemplated Dini for a few seconds, and then said with a little laugh, “So basically, it’s not Chesed Tzirel that’s popular. It’s you. This is a group built around you.”

Dini’s mouth dropped open. “I can assure you, this is not about me,” she said frostily. “Believe me, I have better things to do with my time than paint pottery with a group of twenty-year-olds, or — or — spend two hours helping a girl sort out her marriage issues.” Dini felt tears pricking her eyes and blinked rapidly. How dare Bracha imply that this whole thing was some kind of ego trip?

Bracha rubbed her forehead.  “Sorry, that came out wrong. I didn’t mean to say you were running a cult here.”

“What did you mean, then?” Dini asked, her voice still hard.

Bracha waved her hand toward Dini. “That you’re the type of person  people want to connect with. That you have a natural charisma, and you’ve figured out how to leverage it for the cause.”  She smiled.

Flattered despite herself, Dini cocked her head to the side. “How can you know that about me?”

“You mean because this is, like, the first real conversation we’ve ever had in our lives?” Bracha shrugged.  “Two reasons. First, because — sorry to be blunt but — you’re rich, and rich people always have a natural attraction to them.”

Dini’s eyes narrowed.  “That was blunt,” she agreed.

“And second, because you and Ayala are such good friends even though you’re so, so different.  I’ve tried to understand your friendship, and the only conclusion I’ve come to is that you must have something magnetic that draws people to you — even people as self-contained as Ayala.”

Dini frowned. Where did Bracha get off psychoanalyzing her and Ayala’s friendship without even knowing her?

Well, if Bracha could be blunt, then so could she. Swallowing her ingrained tact, she said, “Maybe you’re wrong. Maybe we’re friends because we’re more similar than you think.” She pointed her finger at Bracha. “Maybe your conclusion should be that you shouldn’t make assumptions about me based on your rich girl stereotype.”

Dini swung her sheitel over her shoulder, enjoying Bracha’s blink of surprise.

After a moment’s hesitation, Bracha broke out into a wide grin. “I concede,” she said. “You’re absolutely right. I was making assumptions.” She leaned forward. “So, how about we start over? No preconceptions, no stereotypes.” She held out a hand. “Dini Blumenfeld, nice to meet you. I’m looking forward to working together.”

Dini stared at Bracha’s outstretched hand for half a second, and then grasped it. “Same here,” she said with a smile.


Letting herself into her parents’ house with the spare key she always kept, Ayala had been momentarily surprised to find it empty, before recalling that her father was sleeping at Zev’s.  Well, as of tonight, that would no longer be necessary. Ta could sleep in his own bed again. She smiled to herself.

Ayala carried her suitcases up to her old bedroom, settled herself in, and then took a quick walk through the house.  She frowned as she entered the kitchen. It looked dirty. Not just the dishes in the sink, which might have been left there from dinner the night Ma was taken to the hospital.  No, the grime on the counters, the food stuck onto the table… her normally cleanliness-obsessed mother had clearly not been functioning for some time.

Ayala’s hands itched to pull out the Ajax and start scrubbing (even while knowing that her own kitchen counters back home didn’t look much different) but she stopped herself.  There’d be time for that later. Later, she’d scour the house from top to bottom, making sure it was in the pristine state her mother loved.

But now, she needed to get to the hospital.

Another Uber, a quick ride up the elevator to the fifth floor, cardiac unit, and she was walking rapidly down the hall, scanning the room numbers. 511, 512, 513….

There were wails coming from a room down the hall, and Ayala stopped in her tracks. Ma? Yes, it sounded like her mother’s voice.  Heart racing, she ran toward the room.

Ma was sitting up in her bed, shaking, while a nurse held a syringe in one hand and Ma’s arm in the other.

“Shhh, Esther. We did this yesterday, remember?  I just need a bit of blood, that’s all. It doesn’t hurt. Just stay still, it’ll be over in a minute.”

Ayala caught her breath sharply. Her mother was reacting this way to a simple blood drawing?  What had happened to her?

She walked over to the bed. “Ma,” she said softly.

Her mother’s eyes widened.  “Ayala! You’re here!” Tears streamed down her face as she reached out to grasp Ayala’s hand. “You came just in time. They keep sticking needles in me, just a bit more blood, just one more test, more, more, more! Soon there won’t be anything left of me!”

She was crying, but she no longer sounded hysterical. “But now that you’re here, sweetie, you’ll make sure they take care of me properly. Right?”

Ayala squeezed Ma’s hand, feeling a lump in her throat. “Yes, Ma. Don’t worry. I’ll make sure everything’s just fine.”

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 892)

Oops! We could not locate your form.