Holiday in Gibraltar: Part 1| January 24, 2023
“Go on, go up to the stage,” whispered his friend Yanky, sitting beside him. “Get your prize, you deserve it”
nd the winner of this year’s Chiddushei Torah competition is….”
Three hundred boys turned to stare at 15 ½ year old Yitz Green who had won this competition, and every other contest, for the past two years. Rabbi Shulman, menahel of Yeshivas Ohavei Torah in London, paused.
“This year we have a tie. Two winners, boys who have worked hard and proven themselves. We are very proud to announce…” Rabbi Shulman paused again. “The winners are… Yitz Green and Danny Halpern!”
There was a stunned silence. That anybody could possibly tie with Yitz Green seemed not just impossible but almost sacrilegious. Heads turned toward Danny, who sat quietly with his small group of friends, a slow purple blush rising from his neck to his ears. Not all the faces were friendly: The position of winner belonged to Yitz Green and no one else.
“Go on, go up to the stage,” whispered his friend Yanky, sitting beside him. “Get your prize, you deserve it.”
Danny stood up and walked toward the front, shaking with nerves. Everyone could see that he was overwhelmed. He wasn’t special, not like Yitz who was tall and impressive with the kind of face that made you imagine him as a future rosh yeshivah.
Danny Halpern was short and stocky. His face was red and he had pimples. He was an unlikely hero and the applause he received as he climbed the steps to shake hands with Rabbi Shulman was distinctly muted.
He went back to his seat quietly and gazed at the sefer he’d been awarded as if he couldn’t quite believe it. When Yitz Green went up to the podium and everyone stood up and clapped and clapped, Danny stood up, too, and clapped with them because he felt quite honestly that Yitz Green deserved that adulation far more than he did. Yitz had such a wide knowledge and instinctive grasp of all aspects of learning. His father was a rav and his brothers were all metzuyanim. Compared to him, Danny didn’t feel he deserved any kind of praise at all. All he had done was learn. He learned and learned, then came up with an idea, wrote it up and submitted it for the chiddushei Torah contest. That was all. It was nothing special.
There was the usual pushing and jostling after school as boys surged out of the school’s main gate for the beginning of their summer vacation — five and a half weeks of freedom.
Danny emerged from the building weighed down by a knapsack on his back and two heavy plastic bags. One was full of the seforim he’d be taking with him to mesivta next year; the other held the limudei chol books he wouldn’t need anymore.
“See you in camp,” said Yanky. “Have you started packing?”
“Not yet. It’s so busy at home. My grandmother’s moving in with us.”
Yanky nodded in understanding. “Your father will be really impressed with your win.”
“My mother too,” said Danny. “She won’t believe it. And my grandma will say I could be a rabbi already!”
“You know, I kind of think you did better than Yitz Green.”
“Not true. There were loads of flaws in my argument.”
“There weren’t. You should have won outright. Only your name’s not Yitz Green. Remember that next time it happens.”
“There won’t be a next time,” said Danny, his ears going purple again. “It was a onetime thing, I don’t usually learn as well.”
“Look,” said Yanky. “I’m your best friend. I can’t learn however hard I try but I’m not a fool and I can recognize a talmid chacham because everyone else in my family is one, except me. But you have something unique. You have a gift. Recognize it. One day you’ll be bigger than Yitz Green, for all his yichus.”
There was a shout behind them. Both boys turned together. Yitz Green was coming up behind them. A crowd of younger boys trailed after him, carrying his bags, his jacket, even his hat.
Yanky stuck out his hand to Yitz. “Mazel tov,” he said. “Another win for the illui.”
Yitz’s face registered irritation. This Yanky Ansbach thought he knew stuff about learning just because his brothers were big in Eretz Yisrael, but he couldn’t learn a word himself. He ought to have a little more respect. There was always something sarcastic in Yanky’s manner, as if he found Yitz Green a bit of a joke.
“Well, if you won’t shake with me, you should at least shake with your cowinner. He’s today’s big surprise, isn’t he?” said Yanky.
Yitz turned to Danny. You could see straight away what he thought of him. What sort of family did he come from? It was utterly presumptuous of Yanky to imply that they might be equals.
Danny had offered his hand, but seeing the look on Yitz’s face, he allowed it to drop quietly. It wasn’t a pleasant moment, but he could cope. Sometimes he walked home with Yitz, as they lived round the corner from one another. The conversation was usually dominated by Yitz being condescending toward him. Still, he thought, imagine what it must be like to be the leader, and then suddenly discover you have a competitor.
He watched Yitz stride toward the school gates, followed by his crowd of admirers. Yitz might look down on him because he came from an ordinary family, but he wasn’t going to let that get him down. In yeshivah he’d keep out of his way.
“Let’s go,” said Yanky.
“No, wait,” said Danny. A small boy had emerged alone from the school building, shoelaces trailing, his school sweater halfway off his shoulders, pulled down by the weight of an enormous schoolbag. He was small, skinny, and with the whitest face.
“Who’s that?” said Danny.
“Not sure. I think he’s new, moved here from Manchester, don’t know why.”
“He looks as if he’s carrying all the world’s problems in that huge bag,” said Danny. “What’s in it?”
Yanky and Danny watched as the boy tripped on his shoelaces, stumbled into a pothole and went flying, his schoolbag landing with a thump on top of him. They both ran to help him. He’d torn his trousers at the knee, and you could see a trickle of blood coming down each leg. He looked as if he was trying very hard not to cry, his face pinched and angry.
“Get off me,” he said when Danny attempted to help him repack his bag. “Leave my stuff alone.”
Danny put down the bag. “Okay, okay,” he said quietly.
The little incident had not gone unnoticed by Yitz Green. With a majestic wave of his arm, he dismissed his fans and came over to the small boy with the white face.
“Let me help you.”
The boy looked up at Yitz Green. You could see instantly he was awed by this tall boy, in his perfectly clean and pressed white shirt, with the face of a Rosh Yeshivah. He allowed Yitz to repack his bag.
“Thank you,” he mumbled.
“It’s a pleasure. You must be the new boy from Manchester. Zvi Leader?”
The small boy nodded.
“Made any friends yet?”
Zvi shook his head.
“Well, you can count me as your friend. I’ll carry your stuff for you.”
Yanky and Danny glanced at one another.
“That’s what yichus does,” said Yanky.
“No, he was just being nice. He knows how to talk to him, to make him comfortable,” said Danny.
Yanky laughed. “You are just too good. The way you are dan l’chaf zechus is magnificent.”
“But the kid doesn’t know who Yitz is.”
“Everyone knows,” said Yanky. “Anyway, time to part company here. I’ll see you here next week.”
“What time does the bus leave?”
“Seven am. You ever been to Gibraltar before?”
“No,” said Danny. “To tell you the truth I’ve never even been on a plane, or even abroad.”
Yanky stared at his friend, then burst out laughing. “You are the most unspoiled person I’ve ever met.”
They watched as Yitz Green walked off down the road with Zvi Leader.
Pity he has to come, thought Yanky. He rather ruins things.
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 946)
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