| Family First Serial |

For Granted: Chapter 48

But Ayala wasn’t good at flattery. She never had been. Still, here went her best shot


Ayala wiped her hands on her skirt as she walked into the upscale Lakewood office building, then quickly glanced at her reflection in the glass panels to make sure she hadn’t left sweat stains on the silk.

She scowled at herself. She didn’t get anxious meeting with the top oncologists in Israel. So why did the thought of speaking with some guy who’d had a lucky break selling houses make her stomach so queasy that if she opened her mouth, she was sure her breakfast would jump out?

The receptionist gave her a questioning look and Ayala forced herself to speak.

“I’m, uh, here to meet with Mr. Schiller? Ayala Wexler?”

No, Ayala, it’s not a question, it’s a statement. She took a breath and straightened her shoulders, hearing Temima’s voice in her head. “You want to project self-assurance. Your body language should be screaming absolute confidence in your product.”

Dini had insisted on the Zoom coaching session with the NPO consultant to prep Ayala for the big meeting. And though Ayala had scoffed at the idea at first, she had to admit that it had been helpful. Extremely. Temima had dropped maxims with the weight of gold, and Ayala had scribbled anxiously away in her notebook throughout the entire meeting; the more she’d heard, the more she’d understood how severely out of her league she was.

“Always keep in mind the three Ps: Personable, Professional, Passionate.”

“Make him feel that he’s the hero the entire Jewish world has been waiting for.”

“When it comes to donor relations, the personal connection is everything.”

Ayala closed her eyes briefly before being ushered into the inner sanctum. She could do this.

“Hello, Mrs. Wexler, thank you for coming.”

Ayala’s first thought was surprise at how young he looked. He couldn’t be older than Zev. This guy was a multimillionaire?

Her second thought was, wait a second, I’m supposed to create a personal connection with him? Isn’t that, um, inappropriate?

She sat down. “I really appreciate your making the time to meet with us.”

Yesterday, she and Dini had role-played this meeting for two hours straight. Dini’s anxiety had been obvious. At one point, she’d even murmured something about flying her husband in instead. “Shuki’s really good at talking to people.”

Ayala had bristled at that. “I also know how to talk to people.” But now, she fiercely regretted not taking Dini up on the offer.

Schiller leaned back in his plush leather executive chair. “Of course. How could I not make the time for Shimon Reiner? Your father is one of my role models, Mrs. Wexler.”

Ayala cringed. Ouch, awkward mistake. Would he be offended that he wasn’t meeting with a Reiner? “Um, he’s not my father. That’s my partner, Dini Blumenfeld. But she’s in Israel and I happened to be here anyway, helping my sick mother, so….” Oh my gosh, stop babbling, NOW.

She squirmed, tried to ignore Schiller’s slightly raised eyebrow and took a breath to regain her footing. “Anyway, like I said, I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about our organization. Chesed Tzirel is really close to my heart. It’s named for my grandmother, whom I was really close to.” She paused again. Was that being personable? Or was he wondering why he should care?

He nodded politely, but his smile looked stiff. Ayala clenched her hand in her lap.

“Let me tell you how I started the organization. Twelve years ago, I gave birth to twins, and….” She plunged into the story of Tziri’s heart condition, all the while uneasily wondering whether this was too personal to share with a man. Warm and personal, Temima had said, but to her ears, this warm, personal story sounded as exciting as a calculus lecture.

“So I saw the tremendous need for an organization that would help Anglo families, so they wouldn’t have to feel as helpless and alone as we had.” It was a line Ayala had used hundreds of times — so why did she feel it was falling flat now?

From there, she launched into her spiel about the different services Chesed Tzirel offers, handing him the brochure that Dini had insisted was absolutely essential she get printed. (“No,” she’d rolled her eyes. “You cannot just open your laptop and show him the pdf.”) Was Schiller impressed with the glossy pamphlet? He didn’t seem very impressed. In fact, he wasn’t reacting much at all.

Ayala shifted in her chair as she wound down. Time to make him the hero. Dini had modeled it for her last night. She’d even brought her husband onto the Zoom call, to model it better.

But Ayala wasn’t good at flattery. She never had been. Still, here went her best shot.

“Mr. Schiller, there are thousands of Anglo olim living in the Yerushalayim and Beit Shemesh areas. While we daven that we and our children should be healthy, the unfortunate reality is that many of those families will encounter a medical crisis at some point or another.”

Schiller lifted his head; for the first time, she saw a flicker of interest. Encouraged, she pressed on. “It’s frightening to deal with a medical crisis. It’s even more frightening when you’re dealing with it in a foreign language, in a healthcare system that you’re not familiar with. For these families, it makes all the difference to have us by their side.” She leaned forward. “You can make that difference for them.” Yuck. Did that sound fake?

She swallowed. Here came the cringey part. “We’re about to run our first major fundraising campaign, and we’re looking for some donors to anchor the campaign by serving as matching donors. Would you, uh, be willing?”

Schiller was silent for a moment. “I’ll have to think about it,” he said finally, and Ayala’s heart sank. That sounded like a polite no. But then again, she wasn’t used to interacting with multimillionaires.

He took out a checkbook, scribbled something, and handed her the check. “But here’s something toward your campaign. I wish you a lot of hatzlachah.”

She waited until she was out of the building to open the check. Ten thousand dollars.

She closed her eyes. Yup, this was his polite no.

“Welcome to my humble abode.” Bracha swept Dini inside her apartment. “I’m not gonna apologize for the mess because I actually cleaned up for you.”

Dini pretended to look offended. Okay, maybe she was. “I thought we were friends now.”

“Yeah, but when your friend’s house always looks spotless, it can make you self-conscious, y’know?”

Dini raised her eyebrow. “I didn’t think anything made you self-conscious.”

Bracha laughed as she led Dini to the couch — and unblushingly plucked a half-eaten cookie from the cushion. “Oops, missed a spot,” she said airily. “Hey, maybe you’re right.”

Dini grinned. “You are so cool.” She made sure to sit on the other cushion.

“Says the Queen of Cool.” Bracha gestured to the bottle of peach-flavored water on the coffee table. “Drink?”

“No, thanks, I’m good. Let’s get started.” Dini pulled her laptop out of her bag and flipped it open. “So…the fundraiser. Exciting, huh? I want to show you some of the logo ideas we came up with.”

“Have I mentioned that fundraising is really not my superpower?” Bracha muttered, as she leaned forward on her couch and peered half-heartedly at the images on Dini’s screen. “A campaign logo — is that a thing?”

“Of course. And we need a name, too.

“We can’t just do ‘The Chesed Tzirel Fundraising Campaign’?”

“Very funny.” But Dini caught Bracha’s look of surprise and suspected that she hadn’t actually been joking. Time for some Marketing 101. “By giving the campaign its own branding, we’re able to carefully focus potential donors on exactly what the cause is that they’re donating to, and why they should,” she explained. Her eyes twinkled. “And as a bonus, it gives us an excuse to get away from the name Chesed Tzirel.” She flashed Bracha a smirk.

Bracha didn’t smile back. “What’s wrong with Chesed Tzirel?”

Dini pursed her lips. “Yeah, I know, it’s a very special name, and means a lot to Ayala, and changing it is not an option. But, between you and me, the name is old and stuffy and sounds like it’s run by a bunch of women in their eighties. And you’re allowed to agree with me even though you’re Ayala’s friend.”

Bracha stared at her for a moment and then her lips twitched. “I told you, I’m no marketer, so I refuse to express an opinion,” she said.

Dini laughed. “Got it. Well, I hope you’ll express an opinion about these names and logos. My husband and I came up with a bunch, and after running it by Temima, our fundraising consultant, we narrowed it down to these three. Tell me what you think.”

Bracha squinted at the screen and sighed. “They all look nice to me,” she said. She shrugged. “I told you, I’m no good at this. I get that you need someone to collaborate with and Ayala’s not here, but really, I’m useless. I don’t know anything about catchy slogans or pictures or what those magic words are that will get people to part with their money.”

Dini lifted her head. Was she for real? Eyes flashing intently, Dini said, “You’re wrong. You do know the magic words.” She pointed at Bracha. “You had the girls in tears the other day.”

Bracha looked away. “That was… different. I work with these people every day.”

“So do I, but I couldn’t describe their experience the way you did — as if you felt it in your bones. As if you lived it along with them.” Dini kept her eyes trained on Bracha, who was twisting her fingers in her lap.

“Funny way to put it,” she murmured. There was an odd expression in her eyes.

Dini stayed silent. If Bracha wanted to divulge anything, now would be a perfect time. Did Bracha realize that as well?

Dini leaned forward. “Have you ever experienced a medical crisis yourself?” she asked softly.

She immediately regretted the question; Bracha’s face hardened as she said stiffly, “Rather personal, no?”

Dini winced. “Yes, that was. I’m sorry. I wondered because of the way you described it so vividly. But pretend I didn’t ask.”

Bracha continued twisting her fingers, as the silence stretched between them.

They both turned at the sound of shuffling coming down the hall. Bracha half-rose at the sight of her husband, who yawned as he walked into the living room. He was wearing tallis and tefillin, and he gave a start when he saw Dini.

“I didn’t realize you had company. I’ll daven in a different room,” he mumbled and shuffled back out.

Dini kept her gaze discreetly on her laptop screen, but out of the corner of her eye, she saw Bracha’s burning face.

She cleared her throat. “My husband hasn’t been feeling well lately.”

Dini nodded. “Husbands are allowed to be sick every now and then,” she said lightly. It was on the tip of her tongue to make a joke about Shuki’s colds, but she caught herself in time. Something in Bracha’s embarrassment made her sense that a joke would be misplaced.

“Yeah,” Bracha said absently. She was staring at the spot where her husband had just been standing, blinking rapidly.

Dini turned sharply as she saw tears leak from Bracha’s eyes. She made a hesitant move forward, then shifted back, unsure.

And then, suddenly, Bracha’s face was buried in her hands, her shoulders shaking. Without a thought, Dini stood up, crouched next to her, and wrapped her in a hug.


To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 900)

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