| Family First Serial |

Half Note: Episode 11 

The past few weeks of loneliness melted from Shira’s mind. She and Ephraim, working together. He was going to get an A

“Rejection. It leaves us feeling incompetent and worthless.”

Adam Grant, Taken for Granted, Season 2: Episode 7


“Hey, can you help me?”

Ephraim’s voice was soft, which got Shira nervous for a second. Something was wrong.

“Sure.” She took her air pods out and sat up straight on the couch.

“Great, so listen.” Ephraim gestured to the coffee table, where he’d placed a book. “I have my first paper that I’m writing. It’s due in two days, and it’s killing me.” He took a deep breath. “It’s for a class where they’re teaching us how to write law papers, it needs to have a certain structure. Anyway, I was never good at writing; I went to high school in New York, where English barely exists. Can you help?”

“Of course.” Shira said immediately.

Ephraim was home; he wasn’t holed up in a room studying. He was talking to her; he was asking for help. Did she know how to write? Not really. Was she better at it than he was? Probably.

“Okay, so we have to draft a memo. Which means basically we have to present both sides of an argument and then write which one we think will come out on top and why.”

Shira nodded. This didn’t sound so bad, an advanced pro-con list or something like that?

“Our professor gives us a few options of cases he built, and we take the case and apply the law, or as much as we know of it, to the case.”

“But I don’t know any law,” Shira said.

“Right, so, I can give you material to read — it’s not much — and then tell you what to write, and you’ll make it sound better than I could.”

“Yes…” Shira started, and the “but” died on her lips. She could do this for Ephraim, she would help him, this is why they were here, right? Ephraim was looking at her, waiting for her to finish her thought.

“I’m good. Tell me what to read so I can get started.”

“You’re the best,” Ephraim said. Shira flushed.

The past few weeks of loneliness melted from Shira’s mind. She and Ephraim, working together. He was going to get an A.

He patted the stack of books. “I put bookmarks on the pages you should read, it’s not much, just enough to give you background, and then afterward I can tell you what I’m thinking. I already wrote some stuff down and took notes, but can you help me organize it, and then clean up the writing?”

“For sure,” Shira reassured him and herself. Those books were big, and looked boring. The biggest word she knew these days was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. But she suspected that he didn’t really need her help; he was just insecure in his ability and this was his way of saying, “I’m scared.” She just had to reassure him.

“I’m gonna study a bit, while you start reading, and then we’ll figure it out from there.”

“Right.” Shira said slowly, she tapped her phone to see the time, 9:00. It wasn’t late, it wasn’t that crazy, but, but…, she let the thought drift as she pulled the first book toward her and tugged at the first bookmark to open it.

“Tort law blah blah blah firecrackers blah blah blah Helen Palsgraf blah blah blah railroad employees.”

Shira felt her eyes glazing over. She tried to resist.

“Mrs. Palsgraf injured… employee responsible…liable… proximate cause…”

It had been a long day. She blinked her eyes rapidly to wake herself up.

“Fair hand of law… unforeseeable damages… Justice Cardozo.”

“Shira?” Ephraim’s voice sounded urgent.

“What? What?” Shira shifted and the tome fell off her lap.

“You fell asleep.”

“What?” Her brain was fuzzy.

“You fell asleep while reading.” His tone sounded a little accusatory. “And I got in the study zone.” His tone softened.

Shira smiled sheepishly.

“I’m expecting, and this is boring. If I complain of insomnia later in the pregnancy, we know what’ll knock me out.”

Ephraim didn’t laugh. “If you were too tired to help, then just say so. I kinda lost the night now.”

“What time is it?”

“Twelve thirty.”


Shira frowned and didn’t know how she felt. Ephraim was frustrated with her for not saying she couldn’t do it, but how could she do it? She may have fallen asleep, but seriously that stuff was better than melatonin.

Her throat started closing on her. Ephraim needed her, and she’d failed him. She could see his panic in the way he rubbed his hands together.

“Sorry, ’Fraim,” Shira whispered.

Ephraim rubbed his face in his hands; his eyes were bloodshot. How did he stay awake?

“Whatever. It’s fine. I’ll figure it out. It’s pass-fail anyway. I’m going to crash. How about you?”

Shira looked around the den: a cup of water, an empty mug of tea, some candied pecans, her phone and air pods littered the coffee table.

“Give me a minute, I gotta clean up.”

Ephraim gave a tired nod and left. Shira just wanted a minute to herself. Pass-fail? All this emotion for pass-fail? She felt the sting of tears forming. It’s just hormones, she told herself. Just hormones.



t’s always a pleasure to meet with you,” Rabbi Greissberg said, as soon as Eva was seated and he was behind his desk. “What can I do for you today?”

Eva thought the last line was funny, because he knew it was about what she could do for the school, but she could play these games if he wanted to. She’d been practicing her pitch with Binyomin — if you could call it practicing — he always fell asleep mid-way. But Eva forgave him; he was keeping his comments to himself, which for him was the height of support. Practically cheerleading.

“Imagine for a moment what the school and community would look like if kids had more focus and grit. If they were able to accomplish more with fewer behavioral issues, and all without a crazy revamp of curriculum, pedagogy, or significant investment on the school’s part.”

Rabbi Greissberg chuckled; he wasn’t buying it. Eva shifted.

“You don’t know me that well, Rabbi Greissberg, but as a child I played the cello. I was very good, had real promise. And aside from promise, the lessons themselves were incredible. They helped instill grit, consistency, persistence, and discipline in me.

Eva tried reading Rabbi Greissberg’s face. He looked like he was trying to focus on her but had something else he really wanted to discuss.

“Anyway, my lessons were cut short due to both lack of funds and lack of frum teachers of that caliber. I still mourn that loss.”

Rabbi Greissberg looked apologetic for a moment. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Music lessons open so many doors for children. It helps them develop creativity and express themselves; it helps them develop neurologically and fosters so many of the important skills we want to see in our kids.”

“Yes, yes,” Rabb Greissberg said. He was trying to sound encouraging, Eva knew, but it sounded more like he wanted her to get a move on it.

“I want the children of Chicago to have this opportunity, and I’ve realized a way to make this happen.” Eva went through her spiel… “and I thought having lessons in school after classes was a brilliant way to make it happen, and I was hoping to sign you on board.”

Rabbi Greissberg blinked. He rocked in his chair and stroked his beard. He’s going to say no, Eva thought, but why? She wasn’t asking for much, and she was giving a lot.

“It’s a really beautiful idea, Mrs. Weissbrodt. Very chashuv of you to think of it and speaking to people and start putting it together. I don’t think it’ll work for the school, though.”

Eva tilted her head and jutted her chin.

“There’s the extra electricity bills, maintenance will have to stay later, and the security guards,” he elaborated.

Garbage. His reason was garbage. There were other, smaller extracurricular programs in the school. The lights never went off before six on a regular basis. What was his real reason?

“But I see you really care about the community’s children, it’s a beautiful thing. Children are our future, we all know that, but few people take the time to really reflect on and invest in that. The school is looking for a sponsor for our new science lab. Is that something we can count on you to support?”

Eva’s eyes narrowed.

“Is there a chemical formula that’ll teach them social skills?”

Oh, gosh, she did not just say that.

But Rabbi Greissberg just laughed.

“I guess my timing is off. We can talk about it another time.”

Eva rolled her eyes internally. Why didn’t people get it? In the long view of life, music lessons were as vital as a science lab. She prayed she wouldn’t have to pay for both for the opportunity to prove her point.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 807)

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