| Serial |

Growth Curve: Chapter 23

Benny took the crisply folded linen she’d indicated and found a spot for it inside the suitcase. Then he took a deep breath. “So we’re doing this, huh?”


Benny returned home from night seder that Thursday night to find a suitcase open on the dining room table.

“Need help packing?” he asked Tziporah.

“Thanks,” she said. “The kids’ Shabbos clothing is on the couch — can you put it here, then their pajamas on top, and we also need some diapers.”

Benny followed her instructions and stowed the clothing neatly inside the suitcase. “What time does the bus leave?”

“There are buses the whole day,” Tziporah said. “Malky Baum — you know, Rochel Leah Stern’s sister — said the apartment should be ready for us around three, and that we should bring along our own linen. So we have to pack that too.”

Benny took the crisply folded linen she’d indicated and found a spot for it inside the suitcase. Then he took a deep breath. “So we’re doing this, huh?”

Tziporah smiled wanly. “Look, we have to try. We’ll spend a Shabbos there — we’ll see if we can get a feel for the place. If we don’t like Givat Ze’ev Hachadashah, if it doesn’t feel like a good fit, we can try RBS next week. I’m sure Chani Mendlowitz can help us find a place to sleep, and she’d be happy to host us for the meals.”

Benny nodded. They had each other, they had the kids, they had a clear direction of what they wanted to be and how to get there. Somewhere there was an apartment waiting for them, a place where they could it make it all happen.

“Tziporah,” he said suddenly, “if we’re done here, how about we get a babysitter and take the train to the Kosel?”

She looked surprised.

“I mean, this is something we won’t be able to do if we leave Yerushalayim,” he said. “And I want to daven — for clarity, that the whole process should go smoothly.”

“For sure,” she said. “Let me call Miri Rosen. If she’s available, we can leave in five minutes.”

The night air was cooler than Tziporah had expected. She felt a ripple of apprehension as she envisioned Shabbos in an unfamiliar place — new neighborhood, new faces, new street names to learn.

“Maybe,” Benny said, as they approached the train station, “if the job with Dave Rothman works out long-term, we can put away real money. We can live in Givat Ze’ev while we save up. And then eventually we can sell the rental in Houston and come up with enough for a down payment on an apartment in Yerushalayim. That would be my dream.”

“Me too,” Tziporah said. “There’s nothing like Yerushalayim.”

But now we have to live in reality, she thought. Now we have to figure out the real reason we’ve been here all these years. Is it the neighbors, the Rechov Paran vibe, the pull of Ner Olam? Is it the knowledge that our apartment is the happening place? Or maybe it’s something more enduring, something stronger than an address or location, something we can take with us.

The train pulled into the Ammunition Hill station and jangled tunefully as the doors opened. Tziporah followed Benny inside.

She sat next to him just as his phone started ringing.

“Sorry, it’s Akiva, I’d better take it,” he said.

Tziporah nodded. Akiva was fragile right now.

“Hey Akiva, how are things?” Benny asked with just a tad too much bravado. “I hear. I know. I miss you guys too.”

He listened for a moment, then sighed. “For sure we still want you for Shabbos meals, you’re always welcome. Even if I’m not your shoel u’meishiv anymore, I’m still your friend.”

Silence again.

“Right, so the thing is, this Shabbos we’re not home.”

Benny creased his forehead in concern as he listened to Akiva.

“Your dad is mad again? And your sister, right, the one in Efrat, what did she say? I hear you. Sounds tough, man. I’d love to talk it out with you,” he said, “but this Shabbos I’m actually not going to be in Yerushalayim. Ner Olam is a good place, you’ll be okay over Shabbos.”

Akiva was talking again. Benny was still calm, but Tziporah could tell his patience was thinning.

“Listen, man, I have faith in you. You’re gonna get through this and come out stronger. Let’s do falafel for lunch on Sunday, okay? Remember, I’m not disappearing, your dad issue isn’t going away, we’ll get back on it very soon.”

He hung up and sighed.

“Some things never change,” he said to Tziporah. “But if we move out of Yerushalayim — whoa, everything’s gonna be so different. The shuls, the shopping, getting to the Mir every morning, night seder…. And my Wednesday chavrusa with Reb Motti, that will be interesting.”

“Really interesting,” Tziporah agreed, “how he made it part of the whole package. Like he wants you to move on, to invest all the hours and work in a proper degree program, but he wants to keep the connection. He’s not saying goodbye.”

“Yeah.” Benny nodded. “But leaving Ner Olam is definitely a huge change. And the big Shabbos meals won’t be happening either. I mean, we can invite guys every now and then, but they wouldn’t be able to just walk back to Geula.”

“Right, it will be a totally new setup for us,” Tziporah agreed. “But I still want to figure out a way to have people at our table. Even if will take years for you to get your degree, you already have the gift. I love watching the way you get these guys and get them to think about what’s important. We’d have to figure out a way to have them over. It just wouldn’t be every week.”

Benny nodded. “A balance,” he said.

Tziporah tried to imagine their life without the constant presence of the bochurim, without an audience for every Shabbos meal. Without the familiar sights and sounds of Ramat Eshkol, the tree-lined streets and rumbling buses. Without the security net of friends and neighbors she’d built over the last five years.

She tried to imagine a new chance, a clean slate, a fresh home without the insecurities and baggage that had diverted them both from being true to themselves and to one another.

Somewhere in Givat Ze’ev or RBS or some other unfamiliar neighborhood there was an apartment waiting to be filled with warmth and growth and honest communication. Were they ready to take the leap?

Tziporah wanted to find out. She wasn’t sure how things would play out in their next chapter, but from what she knew of Benny Muller, she was sure it would be authentic and inspiring.

Benny knocked on the familiar door  on Rechov Malachi.

“Shalom aleichem, Reb Binyumen,” Kroizer greeted him. “Come in, come in.”

Benny stepped inside. The floor tiles gleamed, the damask couch cover was still shielding the upholstery from unseen invaders, and the plastic-covered chairs were lined up stiffly at the table. A newish air-conditioner was pumping away; at least Modche Kroizer could concede that much to modernity.

“Sit, sit,” Kroizer said, pulling out a chair.

Benny sat down and handed over the envelope Tziporah had prepared.

Kroizer smiled as he began counting the bills inside. “See, I knew you would manage,” he said.

“Well, actually,” Benny said, “I wanted to let you know that we’re not going to be continuing. You said we had until Rosh Chodesh Elul before you raise the rent. We’re moving before Rosh Chodesh.”

Kroizer stopped counting. He set down the envelope and lowered his glasses.

“Not continuing?” he said, staring at Benny. “That’s it, you’re saying goodbye?”

Benny shrugged. “Ten thousand shekel a month?”

“I figured you would come up with the money,” Kroizer said. “Just like all the other rich Americans.”

Benny narrowed his eyes. “HaRav Kroizer, not all Americans are rich.”

“Bah,” Kroizer said, swatting at the air in annoyance. “You don’t know what it means to watch your pennies, you with your restaurants and shopping and trips back and forth to Amerike.” He returned to the envelope and resumed counting, then gathered the bills in a neat pile and slipped them back inside. “Very good, very good. So I’ll see you next month, and then we say goodbye, right?”

Benny nodded. He stood and turned toward the door.

Kroizer opened it. “Good night, Reb Binyumen. Can I just say… ach, how do I say this? I’m impressed. Even if you don’t know what it means to be poor, l’maiseh you’re not spoiled. It’s not easy for you Americans living so far away from family and making it work. Not easy at all.”

Benny nodded and took a step forward.

L’maiseh,” Kroizer said, “it’s really something.”



(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 946)

Oops! We could not locate your form.