| Hanging in the Balance: Rosh Hashanah Theme 5784 |

Hanging in the Balance

Sometimes it feels as though your entire future hinges on an upcoming verdict that will change everything. 4 stories of women left hanging in the balance

The Longest Night

Everything about this trip seemed like the wrong thing.

But my son Hershy was 26 years old, putting him around seven years behind his peers who had all left yeshivah, gotten married, and established families with four or five kids. His friends had celebrated births and upsherins, first days at cheder and school. And still Hershy waited. The suggestions weren’t even a trickle, the beshows so rare he was even scared to tell his siblings about them.

And then this suggestion from… Belgium. Antwerp? I couldn’t even place it on a map, let alone name anyone there

I said no.

My husband checked with someone who knew someone who knew the girl’s side. It sounded great. The shadchan was insistent. And still I said no.

Fly to the other end of the world where we knew nothing and no one and especially not the language? We’re Israeli — generations and generations pure Israeli.


A month later, and we were on a Tuesday flight to Nowheresville. My husband and I, a nervous Hershy, and a nephew who knew Yiddish and English. A shadchan’s promise that the other side was very serious, or they wouldn’t force us across the ocean. Some watches and a necklace because a mother can only hope, and how was I going to trust a jeweler so far away from home? That was assuming I could even find a jeweler. (And for those cynical people who laugh about me bringing coals to Newcastle — I really didn’t know anything about Antwerp.)

We arrived in the dead of winter to the most miserable place I’d ever seen. It rained; it was freezing. The house we stayed in was heated like a greenhouse, giving me raging headaches.

But then Wednesday dawned and the girl was adorable.

As is the custom in chassidish circles, her parents met Hershy first, and then we met the girl. She was pretty and personable and clearly very intelligent. Not too shy, even with her stilted Hebrew. For the first time I let myself smile.

“She’s something special,” I murmured to Hershy before he went in for their beshow.

They spoke and spoke, and my spirits rose. I let myself imagine calling all those waiting breathlessly at home. Let myself sound the words out in my mind: Hershy’s getting engaged.

Hershy came out glowing. My heart soared. The beshow was a success! Hershy’s getting engaged! I opened the suitcase and took out the jewelry. Mizmor lesodah….

In our chassidus, one successful meeting was all that we needed. As we had for my other children, we waited for the shadchan’s call with the time and location of the l’chayim.

“The girl asked for another meeting.”

I looked at my husband, at Hershy. WHAT?? Another meeting? What had gone wrong? Was the girl not as happy as Hershy? Did she want to say no?

Absolutely not, the shadchan reassured us. She just needs a little more clarity.

I sat down and took a deep breath.

Well, what could we say? Hershy was okay with it, my husband sighed and said he didn’t see why not — what were the options? We agreed upon a Wednesday night beshow.

I started pacing. “I have a bad feeling about this. I want to go home.”

My husband told me to be patient, see what the next meeting would bring. We sat up in our guest room, embarrassed to go downstairs and make small talk with our hosts who were doing their best to make us feel comfortable. I drank cold water, splashed my face, opened the window to let out the heat, but recoiled at the blast of frost that blew in. Paced some more.

Hershy came home, shrugging to our “nu”s. As far as he was concerned, he’d been ready to say yes after the first meeting earlier that day. A l’chayim still tonight? It was late, but why push it off?

“The meeting was very positive,” said the shadchan.

“But?” said my husband, and I lost my breath for a second.

“The girl is exhausted from speaking a second language for so long and feels like she needs time to sleep on it before making a final decision. She’s leaning to a yes, but we won’t know for sure till tomorrow.”

I lost my equilibrium then, told everyone in no uncertain terms that we were flying back to Israel the next day. We’d been reasonable. Patient. We’d agreed to a second meeting, as outlandish as their request was. And still no answer after all that? There was no way, no way, I was staying over Shabbos in this little community where people were going to see us and start talking. Where we had thought a Thursday l’chayim and Sunday engagement would be perfect before we flew back on Monday.

“The shadchan is playing games with us!” I cried. “The girl didn’t want to say yes from the first meeting, I’m telling you. Someone forced her into a second meeting and now she’s embarrassed to say no!”

Nothing and no one could calm me down.

It was too late, though. This was before the age of internet, and there were no travel agents to be found.

Plus, my husband, the voice of practicality, thought it would be crazy to cancel it all when we hadn’t received a definitive no. Hershy, my tzaddik of a son, tried to reassure me. “No matter what happens, Ima, hakol l’tovah.” He retreated to a Gemara, then, the events of the day such a strain that he preferred questions in learning to the yes-no-yes-no going-around-in-circles doubt.

In my mind, the no was coming as sure as day would break some hours later, none of us having slept a wink.

I went up and down the stairs as quietly as I could when I got dizzy from pacing. Spoke to my married daughters in Israel — no. No news. Probably a no. I cried, they cried.

I couldn’t help but conjure up the shame of arriving home with all our suitcases, packed with unworn fancy clothes and unused gifts. Taking the jewelry back to the kindhearted friend who had allowed me to take a choice in watches. Looking at Hershy, sitting in the corner, trying to concentrate on the daf.

Why had we come? Why had we allowed ourselves to be convinced?

The minutes inched along while I worked out how soon we could arrange tickets. The monetary loss was dwarfed by the torture of every second passed in the torment of uncertainty — my husband somehow convinced we could still be surprised by a yes.

I thought he was in denial; he thought I was too hasty. We both sat and drank coffee.

Another cup, four a.m., another and another, six a.m., yet another, and the men went to daven Shacharis. All I could do was wear a hole in the carpet. And a trail down to the kitchen to prepare yet another cup of coffee. I unscrewed the lid for the umpteenth time that night and dug the spoon in… only to hit rock bottom. I peered inside, bleary-eyed, staring at the few granules rattling on the bottom of the jar. We had opened that brand-new jar 24 hours earlier.

This was crazy. I needed to go home.

Nine thirty a.m. The phone rang.

“They want to make the l’chayim at one p.m. Does that work for you?”

I didn’t believe it till I was there, l’chayim in hand. Didn’t tell anyone until Hershy waved his glass at me and asked when I was going to start the phone calls.

I was shaky. Post-birth shaky. I sat down.

Hershy’s engaged!

My fingers could barely dial. I punched the numbers twice, three times, until the call went through.


Kein, it’s Ima. Hershy…” I looked across at my son, just at his smile slicing right through the noise and the people and phones ringing and all that unfamiliar language. Just his smile.

“…Hershy is engaged,” I said, tears filling my eyes.

I closed them for a second and let that smile go through me until my heart believed it, too.

Packing Punches


almost laughed when the moving guy struggled through our front door with all those folded carboard boxes.

“Brought you a few extra,” he panted. “People always need more than they think.”

Eh. We needed a miracle. Not more boxes.

When our landlord decided to sell the apartment we were renting, he promised we’d be fine. He’d make sure the new owner gave us a contract that protected us. When the new landlord refused to sign a contract, we had no choice but to believe he was serious about letting us rent long-term, that he would give us plenty of notice if he wanted us to move out.

Turns out that by “plenty of notice,” he meant he’d tell us the week before Pesach that we have to be out the week after Shavuos.

Sounds reasonable, no? Two months’ notice!


No one moves during Sefirah. No one . They wait till summer vacation.

We looked. We placed ads. Rosh Chodesh Iyar came and went.

The landlord nudged, and I started packing. After six years and four kids, there was a lot to pack.

You should have seen me with that tape gun.

Screeeeech, snap. Screeeech, snap.

A pro.

What were we going to do? Every evening we put the kids to bed and went out to look at apartments. Near, far, tiny, moldy, anything.

Every morning I packed.

Screeeech, snap. Box 12, yellow sticker.

Pesach games

Pesach books


Lag B’Omer. Please, Hashem, where are we going to go? In the zechus of Rabi Shimon, we need a rental. Now!

The older kids scoured local papers. My husband spent all his spare time making calls to real estate agents. We discussed location, location, location, when I was already in the location I wanted to be.

Screech, snap. Box 31, green sticker.

Baby clothes 0-2 summer

Baby clothes 0-2 winter

Coats and jackets not in use

* * *

The landlord was breathing down my husband’s neck.

“Nu? Any news? We’re packing up our place too!”

And dialing up the pressure, he started sending people to give him estimates for the renovations he was planning as soon as we were out. I had an interior decorator march around with her tape measure, asking me innocent questions like where I was going and when I was moving out. A painter came with his sidekick, wandering around the piles of boxes that had become our home décor.

I kept telling the kids that we had tons of options. And that we were looking for something so amazing, we just wouldn’t compromise.

Another apartment. Sixth floor, no elevator. I looked at my husband in despair, but we went to see it anyway. Three weeks to go, three weeks.

Seeing that apartment and confirming that it just wouldn’t work for us was a relief — until we got home.

Boxes, boxes, everywhere, and not a place to go.

* * *

Screeeeeech, snap. Box 57, white sticker.

Baking trays

Silicone molds

Piping nozzles

Recipe books

I was trying to rest one morning, exhausted from the packing and the uncertainty, when my cell rang.

“Yes, this is Greenstein, your landlord. I want to know what’s doing with your apartment hunting.”

What could I tell him? “We’re looking, we really are! But there are no options available. The market is dead. I’m really sorry, but we don’t have an answer yet.”

“Well, I just wanted to tell you that I don’t care if you have nowhere to go. You have two weeks to get out, and I don’t care if you’re still there, I’ll have workers pull up the flooring with all of you inside.”

Thud, thud, thud. My heart slammed, it really did, as I held that phone out in disbelief and just looked at it. He had actually threatened me, me, a mother of kids, a family, with literal eviction. Threatened.

Two weeks.

Two weeks. We turned the world upside-down looking for somewhere to go. My packing was laced with tears and desperation.

* * *

Screeeech, snap. Box 74, brown sticker.



Glass trays

Crystal dessert cups

Neighbors, friends, cousins. People stopping me in the street asking if we’d found a place….

I told everyone we were moving to a park bench. Smile, smile, pretend it’s funny.

I couldn’t afford to break down.

Screeeech, snap into the night. Box 78, 79, 80. White stickers.

Milchigs — plates, cups, etc.

Fleishigs — weekday plates, cups, etc.

Shabbos, etc.

* * *

I couldn’t sleep, could barely eat. Ten days.

Ten. Days.

I was a wreck. We gave tzedakah and performed segulos. We ran around. Nothing.

My husband met a neighbor who had a crazy idea. His brother-in-law had an apartment that would be available next week. It had only one bedroom, but a big living room where the kids could sleep. It would be only temporary; we could put most of our stuff in storage.

“Don’t answer me on this now,” Husband said, rubbing his eyes. “We need sleep. But what do you think…?”

I walked around with color-coded lists and in the dark of night cried my eyes out.

Screeeeech, snap. Box 88. Pink sticker.


I put them all in the box and sealed it shut. Screeeech, snap.

That night stretched and stretched. I thought I would lose my mind, envied my family for sleeping while all I could see was homelessness. For the first time, images of the ugliness that could happen filled my mind as a very real possibility. I started planning a strategy for protecting my kids. I finally broke down when I realized that I couldn’t.

The next day brought the realization that there was no way all of us were squashing into a one-bedroom apartment. That wasn’t even a temporary solution. In desperation, I went to see an apartment that we’d said no to earlier.

Nothing had changed; it was barely inhabitable. It was large, but there was a window missing; the ceiling in the bathroom was coming down. There were bugs, and twigs from birds trying to nest.

But that had been a month ago. Now there was so much more at stake. I looked at it with a mix of hopelessness and determination. I would make it more inhabitable than a park bench….

We signed on a Thursday, amid promises that the apartment would be vacated by the following week.

The next Thursday we got the keys.

I cleaned the empty apartment that entire Friday, bugs and all.

Sunday — moving day.

* * *

Screeeeech, snap. Packed the last box.

Bath towels



Shower puffs



* * *

“See?” said the guy from the moving company. “You needed more. I said you would.”

That’s the way it is, I wanted to tell him. Only Hashem knows exactly what we need.

I looked around.

The living room was big enough for our furniture and bright enough to look welcoming. We weren’t in someone’s tiny basement, and all of us had beds to sleep in. There was room for toys and books and hopefully happiness, if I reminded myself where to look.

Only Hashem knows exactly what we need.

Down to the last box.

Class Act


was the beginning of summer vacation when my five-year-old son’s school informed us they wouldn’t be opening again next year.

That meant we had three weeks to find my son a new school, in a fast-developing city where there were more children than schools. Getting into schools in the first place hadn’t been easy; being accepted into any serious school when you’re a chutznik and your husband doesn’t learn in kollel is a challenge — at least that’s how it was close to a decade ago — and we’d ended up having to send our two sons to two different schools, neither of which was close to our home.

Now we had to go through it all over again.

Did I mention I was in my eighth month of a high-risk pregnancy with identical twins, on bed rest because of early contractions?

Doctors don’t allow identical twins to go past 36 weeks’ gestation, so I knew I’d be delivering preemies. It was just a question of how early they’d be born: at 28 weeks? At 32? Or would we make it to 36 weeks?

I called school after school. Most didn’t answer — it was during vacation and the secretaries weren’t there. They began answering the phone toward the end of vacation, and they all responded with the same terse, “Sorry, we’re full.” I could hear the incredulity in their voice, as if they were thinking, Lady, school’s starting in a few days. Where were you during the application process half a year ago?

There were some principals who played passive-aggressive, asking me to fill out an application form, and telling me it was a very busy time, and it would take a while for them to get back to me. When I’d try calling to see where things were holding, they wouldn’t answer the phone. It would ring and ring and ring, my heart pounding with the stress of hoping they’d pick up. When I called from a neighbor’s cell phone I got through; clearly my phone number was being deliberately ignored.

“You’re just a random, desperate woman on the phone,” a neighbor said. “You need to actually go down to all the schools with your son. When they’re face to face with you, they won’t be able to give you the pat answer that they’re full.”

But I was on bed rest, and my husband was working full time. How could we just go from school to school, turn up and try to procure a meeting with the principal?

What we really wanted was for my son to be accepted into the school his older brother was in. But the administration had been adamant last year, when we’d moved to the city, that they were committed to their policy of 26 children per teacher, no exceptions. We tried again, and they wouldn’t budge.

We tried using protekziya. My husband had been in yeshivah with the fifth-grade rebbi. Someone whose shidduch my parents had made had a chavrusa with the school president. My in-laws were friends with the menahel’s in-laws. Everyone promised to try.

Every time the phone rang, I jumped in case someone was calling with an update or with good news.

The school year started. My son was still home, bored senseless without his brother and sister at home to play with him, while I worked from my semi-prone position on the couch.

Every morning he’d wake up and ask, “Mommy, did you find a school for me yet?”

Twice a week I went for fetal monitoring, while my son sat next to the bed and played. Sometimes I dropped him off at my husband’s workplace and he’d color in worksheets on the floor next to my husband’s desk.

Each time, the doctor would frown at the monitor printout and say to me, “The heartbeats aren’t great. I need to send you to the ER.” And I’d frantically try to find someone to look after my son, then rush off to the ER, where they’d usually monitor me again, say everything was fine, and send me home. The one time they made me stay in the hospital was over Friday and Shabbos, so at least I didn’t have to find anyone to look after my son.

Lying on the narrow bed in the hospital ward, I wondered what would be. I had a C-section scheduled in two weeks’ time. I’d be in the hospital for at least five days. What would we do with my son all day?

I got home from the hospital and tried to call the school principal again, to beg him to at least give my son a try until Chanukah, and if they felt it was too difficult to have 27 kids in the class, then we’d pull him out. To my surprise, the principal answered the phone on one of the first rings.

I surprised him — and myself — by breaking down crying. I was weeping, yes, weeping, so hard my words were slurred. The stress of all these unknowns — would we find a gan, would I have a safe delivery, how early would the twins be born, and what would be the repercussions of their premature birth — got to me.

The principal couldn’t stand firm in face of my sobs. He agreed to conditionally accept my son and review the decision Chanukah-time.

Baruch Hashem, the twins were born at 36 weeks, healthy, at an excellent weight relative to their gestational age, and we were so blessedly busy, the deadline of Chanukah receded to the background.

And Chanukah came and went without anyone mentioning anything about reassessing whether my son could stay in the school.

And he’s still there today, in his last year before graduation.

Eye of the Storm


was another hot, sticky day in a long line of hot, sticky days. She got off the bus after her long ride home and started crossing the street.

Screeching brakes.

A scream from across the street.

She looked up, and another bus, coming from the opposite direction, was inches away from her. The enraged driver rotated his finger next to his head. Are you crazy, lady?

She tried to apologize as she scrambled back onto the curb, tried to pretend she didn’t see the stares. And she wondered. How on earth had she not seen the bus?

But there was a hungry baby to feed and supper to make. She rushed on.

And tripped on the stairs.

Two days and four bruises later, she couldn’t ignore the obvious. Something was wrong with her vision.

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had it checked. A friend recommended an ophthalmologist, and she made an emergency appointment. The only time available was the morning of Erev Tishah B’Av. She took it.

There in the dim room, squinting at E, R, and V, she made a terrifying discovery. She could barely see out of her left eye. The doctor waved a hand to the side of her face. She saw nothing at all.

“Has your left eye always been so weak?” asked the doctor.

“No, no. That’s my good eye.”

“Your good eye….” The doctor said doubtfully.

“Yes, it’s my other one that’s weak; my prescription for the left eye is almost zero.”

“And the periphery vision? When did you lose it?”

Panic was rising in her chest.

“Uh, I guess last week. I mean, maybe then? At least that’s when I first noticed it.”

The doctor didn’t say anything for a long minute.

When she spoke again, her voice was gentle. “I’m a little concerned. Sudden vision loss can point to all sorts of issues. I suggest you go to the emergency room.”

“The emergency room? Now?”

“Yes.” The doctor was adamant. “Now.”

She sighed. At least she’d brought the baby along; he wouldn’t miss a feeding.

The ophthalmology department in the ER was packed. She was the youngest there by 30 years. She took a number and waited. And waited.

She fed the baby. She read an ancient magazine. She tried to quell the panic sloshing in her gut.

It was getting later and later. Seudah Hamafsekes was inching ever closer.

Finally, her turn.

The frazzled doctor had little patience for her story. He did a perfunctory vision test and asked a few questions.

“Do you have headaches? Any strange pains?”

“No, everything feels fine.”

“Any other strange symptoms?”


“Follow up with an ophthalmologist.”

“I just went to one this morning! She sent me here!”

“Next,” he said looking past her towards the still-crowded waiting room.

She hurried home and ate a hard-boiled egg and bread. It all tasted like ash.

* * *

Right after Tishah B’Av, she called a medical askan.

“He’ll probably say it’s nothing. I just want to double check,” she told her husband and herself as she dialed.

That’s not what he said.

“When the vision loss is so sudden and dramatic, it’s rarely a problem with the eyes,” he said softly. “It sounds like you probably have a brain tumor that’s pressing down on the optic nerve. You need an MRI right now. If it’s a brain tumor and it’s growing this quickly, it could kill you in six months. You need to act immediately.

“Go to Dr. Markson* in Rechavia. He’s an eye specialist. Tell him I sent you. He’ll write you a referral. Then go to the ER in Tel Hashomer. Maybe they’ll get you in for an MRI right away.”

For a small fortune, Dr. Markson was willing to see her right away.

He was taciturn and crusty.

Another eye exam, more dread as she saw again how little she could see from her good eye.

He wrote her a referral. “You better hope it’s a brain tumor,” he said grimly. “If it’s your vision, you’re probably going blind.”

The terror spilled out of her gut, filled her world.

The next day, she took yet another day off from the job she’d started just five weeks earlier and headed to Tel Hashomer. The baby came along.

Another endless wait. This time, the voices she kept trying to chase away refused to leave.

Possible brain tumor.

It must be fast-growing.

Could kill you in six months.

Was this how it would end?

She cuddled her little boy, stroked the blond fuzz, squeezed the pudgy legs. Would she watch this baby grow up?

Forget watching him grow up — would she see him go to school? Learn to walk and talk?

What was six months? A flash of time.

The wait for the doctor was interminable.

She fed the baby. Nibbled at the breakfast she’d brought for herself. Rocked the baby to sleep. Tried to read. Paced the long, narrow room.

She could write a letter to each child. Maybe more than one.

 She’d write one for every milestone she’d miss. Bar mitzvahs, weddings, the births of their own children. She’d tell them all the things she would have told them had she been there.

But how? How?

You can’t possibly capture a lifetime of love on a page. Or even many pages.

She was crying. She rummaged through the diaper bag for crumpled tissues. The baby slumbered on.

Hours later, it was finally her turn.

Another harried ophthalmologist, but this one was kind.

Again, she struggled through the little black letters, again he shone a light in her eyes, measured the eye pressure, and asked her the same questions she’d been asked before.

“No headaches.”

“Yes, suddenly. Over the course of a week, maybe two.”

“No one in my family is blind.”

The doctor sat down, gestured to a chair. She sat.

“This doesn’t seem to be a vision issue. It does seem likely that it’s a brain tumor.”

He glanced at the slumbering baby beside her, swallowed hard. “You need an MRI. But unfortunately, this isn’t classified as an emergency.”

“A potentially fast-growing brain tumor in a 34-year-old isn’t considered an emergency?” she said. She meant to sound no-nonsense, but her voice cracked on the word “tumor.”

“Theoretically it is, but since this is just exploratory, and we don’t have a diagnosis, then no, I can’t push you to the head of the line. The next appointment is in January.”

“January? It’s July! I can’t live like this for six months!”

“I’m sorry, I wish I could help. There’s an extreme dearth of MRI machines in Israel. Try another hospital. Maybe they can give you an appointment sooner.”

She stumbled out of the emergency room, blinking in the bright sunlight. Was she the only one living in darkness?

She wanted her husband. She wanted her mother. She wanted to rewind her life to an hour ago.

She reached for her cell and called her husband.

“I finally got out of the ER,” she said.

“Oh gosh, long wait.”


“What did the doctor say?”

“He said… he said…” she could do this. She could be strong. “He said it doesn’t seem to be vision-related. And a brain tumor is the most likely possibility. But only an MRI will rule that out. And…” She couldn’t do this.

“And? Were you able to do the MRI?”

“The next appointment is in January. But he said other hospitals may be able to give me something earlier.”

“Oh. Oh.

In the background, she heard her toddler in the throes of a tantrum. There were more voices; two of the boys were fighting. They all seemed very far away.

“The kids are killing each other,” her husband finally said. “I better go. But let’s call back the askan. Maybe he can get you in sooner.”

She sat through three endless bus rides clinging to her hot, sticky baby.

The moment she walked through her front door, the children surrounded her with their cries.

“I want pancakes for lunch; you promised yesterday that you’d make pancakes.”

“Can Dina sleep over tonight? I’m sooooo bored, and we didn’t have even one sleepover this summer.”

“He broke my tower! The one I worked on all morning. Tell him, Mommy, tell him!”

First came the instantaneous feeling of being overwhelmed by the wave of demands.  Then she thought about the doctor’s words and took another look at her brood.

In the past, when their needs felt crushing and the bickering was endless, she’d remind herself that this was temporary, just a slice of time. They’d grow up and outgrow this, and she’d reap the nachas of watching them enjoy each other as adults.

Now she listened to the bickering and wondered about those faraway days she’d always taken for granted.

Her husband appeared in the hallway, holding the toddler. Their eyes locked for a minute. He opened his mouth. Closed it. What was there to say?

She went to the kitchen and started making pancakes. Her fingers deftly measured flour and cracked eggs as she made the familiar recipe she’d prepared dozens of times.

Suddenly, she felt absurd. She could be dead in a few months. Why was she spending her time frying pancakes?

She watched the circles of batter bubble, then solidify. She flipped them, waited some more, transferred them to a dish. She deposited the plate of pancakes on the table, put out plates and forks and cups.

Why, why, why?

The kids were hungry, that was the first reason.

She might not be sick, she’d hopefully have many more years to live, that was the second reason.

But there was more, wasn’t there?

She couldn’t untangle the mass of emotions clogging her mind.

Once the kids were fed and settled, her husband called their favorite tzedakah organization and gave a generous donation. It seemed incredibly odd that it was her name he was giving them for tefillos.

She started making calls, going down the list of hospitals.

“I’m really sorry, but one of our MRI machines is broken and we’re only using the other one for emergencies.”

She tried the next number.

“Sure, I can give you an appointment. Let’s see. Our next opening is November 29. Is that good?” No, that wouldn’t be good, not at all.

She called the medical askan back. Couldn’t get through.

Finally, at the fifth hospital, the secretary softened at the sound of her panic.

“There are so few machines, we have them in use 24 hours a day. If you’re willing to take a four a.m. appointment, I can give you an appointment in three weeks.”

She grabbed it.

Then she looked around the house and tried to figure out what to do next. There was a mountain of laundry in the hamper. There were 25 work emails she needed to deal with. There was grocery shopping that needed to be done. But did any of it matter?

She pulled out her Tehillim and said a few kapitlach.

Then her daughter sidled up to her and asked if she’d play Candyland. She sat at the table and moved a red plastic man across the squares of color, trying to respond appropriately to her daughter’s stream of chatter.

She did the laundry. Cooked a simple supper. Responded to the emails, wondering if she’d be able to attend any of the meetings she was setting up.

It took a long time to fall asleep.

At three in the morning, the baby woke up. She groggily reached for him. As she fed her hungry son, she finally grasped the thought that had been eluding her all day.

It was not ridiculous to make pancakes, even if she would no longer be alive in a year.

Because really, was there any better way to spend her time? Did she not believe her every action could be sacred?

The baby closed his eyes, contented. And she finally fell into a deep sleep.

Three weeks later, she stumbled out of bed at two thirty a.m., eyes gritty from far too little sleep.

The babysitter was in the guest room. She and her husband let themselves out into the inky night. He carried the stroller as she clutched her baby.

They said little on the long ride to Tel Aviv. The hospital was gleaming and cold. They made their way through silent hallways, past endless locked doors. Finally, they reached the MRI department.

A young man in green scrubs greeted them.

Soon she was lying inside the metal orb, trying to remain motionless. The machine buzzed to life with a whirring noise that crescendoed in a loud clanking. There was rhythmic chaos — high-pitched beeps followed by thuds, and then sequences of rapid tapping, like a telegraph transmitting urgent messages.

She imagined the invisible waves around her, capturing images, slice by slice, of the inner cosmos of her brain.

Finally, it was over.

“We’ll be in touch with the results in a month,” said the young doctor, exhaustion dripping from his eyes.

“A month?” she squeaked. “I can’t… I need to know.”

He shrugged. “I’ll make you a copy. See if you can find someone to read the results.”

She was weary, so weary.

The dread that slithered alongside her every moment of the day was weighing her down, pulling her into bleakness.

Back in the cab, she called her siblings in the States. Maybe they knew someone who could read an MRI?

“Yes!” said the second brother she called. “There’s a fellow who davens in my shul who’s a radiologist. I’m sure he’ll be willing to read it. Send the images over.”

She got home, took a brief nap, then tried to send the images.

The files were heavy. It took two hours, five attempts, and many tears before she managed to transmit them all.

She called her brother to ensure they came through.

“Got them. But it turns out the radiologist is on vacation. He’ll be back on Thursday. It’s just four more days.”

How long was one supposed to watch death capering in the shadows of her home? How long could she live with fear bigger than anything she could contain?

It was just four days.

Four eternities.

On Thursday, they took the kids to the science museum. It would be good to get them out of the house. It would be good to get her out of the house.

They explored the exhibit on gravity, marveled at the optical illusions, read about renewable energy.

It was late morning in Israel. The radiologist was probably fast asleep.

Every minute contained a lifetime. Every hour brimmed with thoughts of all the things she may never do.

They sat outside on picnic tables and ate tuna sandwiches and pickles and potato chips. Her son cried because his potato chips fell on the ground. Her daughter sulked because no one ever remembered that she hated tuna.

Another hour. And another.

They reached the top floor — an exhibit of bioluminescent fish. The room was dark so the natural colors of the fish could be seen in their full splendor.

She was grateful for the darkness; her tears could fall unnoticed.

It must be a tumor.

It had to be a tumor.

Why else would her brother not have called? Was he agonizing over how to share the news? Did he not realize that knowing anything was better than being suspended in this land of doubt and terror?

Finally, she searched for his number, her hand shaking, and called him.

“He hasn’t responded yet. Probably didn’t have a chance to look at it.  Let me nudge him now.”

She paced the floor, back and forth, back and forth, the fish glowing eerie shades of blue and green, her stomach churning.

Please, let me live, she offered up a wordless prayer.

The phone rang.

“All clear,” her brother said, his voice lilting with joy. “He said there’s no trace of a tumor.”

She wanted to respond, but she couldn’t speak.

She looked at her children, her husband, her baby. The intense relief blossomed through her body, leaving her limbs slack.

The journey wasn’t over, she knew that. The sudden loss of vision had a cause, and that cause might impact her life in many ways.

But it wasn’t a tumor!

Thank You, she whispered. Thank You, thank You, thank You.

There were so many more pancakes to make. And she’d be here to fry them, to feed her children, to nurture and love and laugh and live.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 860)

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