| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 34

I feel the moment weigh down on me. I need to say something good, and fast



uzzers, laughter, the occasional piercing shriek of a mike handled wrong.

I’m standing at one side of the stage, next to Tammy, watching the fourth round of the game pick up speed. PBY’s buzzer gave a yes to one question, and several girls plop down in their seats, leaving just three standing. Opposite them, seven girls from Bathsheba High School stand with hands folded. One of them, I know, is hiding a small buzzer in her palm, ready to signal yes or no to the next question.

I’m just so relieved everything worked out. And it’s a great game; looks like both schools are enjoying it.

Mrs. Gerber steps over. “I think it’s time to wind down the game and move on to the next part of the event,” she says. “We’ve had a few rounds and I’d like to stop before anyone gets restless. What do you think?”

It’s nice that she’s making it all about us, like it’s our event for real, and not just in name.

“Yeah, for sure,” Tammy says quickly.

I tilt my head to one side, surveying the crowd. The game’s going well, the Guessers firing questions, a couple of teachers from each school helping to man the mikes and remind people what to do.

But too much of a good thing is no good, either.

“Okay, sure, let’s stop after this round,” I say.

Mrs. Gerber nods. “Excellent. So one of you can take the mike and announce what’s happening next.”

One of us?

I look at Tammy. We hadn’t planned on this.

“If you’re not comfortable, one of the teachers will. I just think it’ll be more powerful if the event is very student-led,” Mrs. Gerber says, correctly interpreting our expressions.

I look at Tammy and shrug. Public speaking doesn’t really faze me, not with my experiences growing up in an open kiruv home. “I can take the mike, I guess. Unless you want to?”

Tammy gives a tiny shudder. “Nooo, I have nothing to say.”

I offer a small smile. I’m still confused about where I stand with Tammy. We’ve worked together on this program and it’s been great, she seems to have thawed a little, but she still hasn’t said a word about anything aside from what we’ve been working on together. Does this mean that from this afternoon we go back to having nothing to say to each other?

Do I care?

A boisterous round of applause erupts from the Bathsheba High School seats. Oh, the game’s finished already? Yikes, I need to think of something to say.

I mount the steps to the stage, take a mike, and look around. “Thank you all, for being such great sports!” I say. My voice is too loud, and echoing in waves around the room. I wince and move the mike away from myself, but no one else seems bothered, they’re cheering and whistling and all looking at me, wow.

I feel the moment weigh down on me. I need to say something good, and fast.

You can do this, you’ve done it before.

Not here, though.

I take a deep breath, smile at everyone. The chatter and cheering dies down. If I could just blank out the wood-look laminate flooring and cheerful noticeboards of our auditorium, I could almost imagine I’m talking to that group of Israeli girls who came to us last year.

I know this stuff.

I look down at the patchwork of faces below, focus on the girls, just the girls, nothing else. Then I whisper a quick tefillah and start to talk.

“We’ve just finished a few rounds of Guess Who Live. Have you ever thought about how amazing it is that although there are many people with black hair, or blue eyes, or who have an older brother or younger sister — at the end of the day no two people look the same, are the same, that you can always narrow it down and get just one person left in answer to a series of questions?

“Isn’t it mind-boggling that of the billions of people on this earth there is no one exactly like me?

“I like to look at this as a message for us. We have different faces, different fingerprints, different lives — because we each have a different part to play, a different task to fulfill on this earth.”

I smile down at my audience; they’re listening, open. I can push a little further.

“We each have a job in This World, something that wouldn’t be fixed or perfect without us. Our job is to do our best to complete our mission by doing the right thing, being the person that only we can be.” I let the words sink in, then change track. “Next on the agenda we’ll be having a light lunch together, and then we’ll be getting into small groups to learn something together. Torah is our blueprint. It directs us to help us define and find our mission, and teaches us how we can spread light in This World. Because each of us is unique and has something special to share — something no one but us can achieve.”

I replace the mike in its holder and step down.

There’s a second or two of silence, and then the auditorium rings out with thunderous applause.

“How did you do that?”

“How did you know what to say?”

“Your speech was amaaaazing!”

The girls of Bathsheba High School have gone home. The program’s over, game and lunch and learning and a short sum-up from one of the teachers from their school, thanking all of us for hosting.

Apparently, though, everyone’s still busy with my little two-minute talk before lunch.

I shrug. “I’ve done this before. I mean, with my parents, but it’s not like I’ve never spoken to a crowd of people who don’t know so much about Yiddishkeit… it wasn’t such a big deal.”

My classmates won’t let it go, though. “Hello, it is so a big deal. You were amazing. The girls were so into it, they kept asking questions about their task in the world and everything.”

“Tell us about India, what you did there. Did you really lead these major kiruv events? Like how many people?”

It’s not the first time my classmates have asked me questions, but somehow it feels different now.

Maybe because I actually want to share something with them.

“Girls, break time is over,” calls Mrs. Hirsch from the doorway. Oh, boy, who can focus on class now? Even Mrs. Hirsch, whose parshah classes are everyone’s favorite.

“Tell us later, Ashira,” Elky Reicher says, as she ambles to her seat.

I smile, it’s nice to be noticed, but I also feel a little… flat. Why?

After class, Elky and a few others walk me out of school, peppering me with questions and lapping up the most interesting-sounding kiruv stories I can dredge from my memory.

I’ll admit it feels good to be wanted, to be a part of things, but then we reach the gates and Elky goes in one direction with Gila and Mimi, and Leah and Shevi walk off in another direction, and I realize what’s been bothering me all along.

They’re not really my friends. They like my stories and marvel at how I spoke (seriously, that was really no big deal, but whatever). But at the end of the day, they all have someone to walk home with. I don’t.

Maybe I should get that mysterious Libby Shine to walk with me, ha.

I never thought I’d understand Raizy, how she attached herself to one friend like glue. But now I realize that if I had a Suri, or a Bella… I’d probably be doing the same thing Raizy does.

As I turn onto Bubby’s street, Tammy’s face floats in my mind.

Maybe that’s all she had ever wanted, back when she kept approaching me in those first few months of school.

Maybe she was trying to offer that to me, someone to come back to, share with, laugh with.

And maybe she just wanted a friend.

To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 977)

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