| Light Years Away |

Light Years Away: Chapter 25

“You can’t give up on the best option for your daughter because of money. We have to figure this out, and find a solution”


"I'm not sure we’ll be flying to America at all. We may just have the procedure done here.”

Chaya’s engagement party is proceeding apace, and Gedalya has found a table along with his brothers and brother-in-law. They’re all curious to hear about his upcoming trip. This piece of news — delivered with offhand confidence — strikes them as strange.

“You said the best procedure for her can only be done in America, no?” Yoeli asks cautiously. “Did something change?”

“No.” Gedalya’s playing it tough. “Nothing’s changed.”

In Israel, he doesn’t tell them, they still only restore the outer ear. And they have much less experience. They don’t open the auditory canal — certainly not during the same procedure.

“So then… you’re reconsidering?” Yoeli is being so sensitive, so delicate. The others just listen, letting him do the talking.

“Do you really want to hear?” Gedalya asks.

His face shows quiet despair. It’s startling to see. Gedalya never gives up, even when he has to explain to an advertiser for the umpteenth time why their ad can’t appear in the paper in its present form.

“Gedalya, is everything all right?” Now it’s Shua speaking. “Because we’re happy to help if you need anything.”

They’ve already offered to take the kids for Shabbos while Gedalya and Shifra are away with Tovi, and to pitch in for whatever help is required before and after.

“I need two hundred-fifty.”

“Two hundred fifty what?” Now it’s Dudi asking.

“Thousand shekels.”

“Two hundred fifty thousand shekels. A quarter million.”

“That’s right.”

“And I’ve already looked into gemachim, medical aid funds… whatever you want,” Gedalya adds after a moment’s pause, warding off any annoying suggestions. Especially not you, Tzvi, with your rich shver. “Not to mention that even if I find a gvir who’ll lend me that much, I won’t have any way to pay it back.”

After a moment, they all start talking at once.

They all stop talking, laugh, and apologize.

“I’ll say what everybody here is thinking,” Dudi volunteers. “You can’t give up on the best option for your daughter because of money. We have to figure this out, and find a solution.”

Gedalya swallows, takes a breath, says nothing.

“How much do you need, exactly?” says Tzvi with a businesslike air.

He’s picturing a parlor meeting at his father-n-law’s house in Antwerp. There are a few people there who would lay out nice sums. Especially if you show them a picture of a poor little girl with microtia. They don’t need to know how well Tovi is doing despite her condition, he thinks, already starting to write the pitch in his head. But on the other hand, maybe it’s better to be truthful… sometimes people would rather help successful people, who thrive despite the odds, than nebach cases.

“I paid an advance of 30,000,” Gedalya says. “I have to pay another two hundred and ten, for the surgery itself. Plus about 10,000 more for the travel expenses. But forget it, I’ve made my peace with the situation already, and the advance I paid? Let it be a kaparah.” And the months I’ll have to work to pay off that loan will be another kaparah.

They all start talking at once again, but then they’re interrupted. Uncle Nosson comes over to their table, radiating joy.

“A gitten Chanukah!” he greets his nephews. “Mazel tov on the new brother-in-law! Your abba found a chassan after his own heart for his mezhinka, eh?”

They smile, nod, mutter appropriate replies, wait for him to move on.

“Dudi, I think your wife wants to speak with you,” says Uncle Nosson with a grin, inclining his head toward the entrance, and then he moves on.

Oh, baruch Hashem. Dudi sighs. So Ima said something to Yaffa’le, or didn’t say something. Or she gave her a dirty look. He gets up slowly. Is this how it’s going to be forever? At every simchah, every family event? When they marry off Avital, will Yaffa’le still be asking him to step outside to hear her complaints?

He makes his way out between the tables, nodding absently at friends and family. There’s Yaffa’le, waiting just outside the door.

“Maybe we should just stop coming to your family’s simchahs,” she hisses. Her fury shoots out in a pungent cloud, enveloping them both.

Maybe when in Rome, we should do as the Romans do, he refrains from saying. I showed up at my sister’s eirusin in all the shemonah begadim, like my family’s minhag, including a long coat and black hat I took out of hibernation. Maybe you, too, could have found something more suitable to wear? You didn’t really think my mother would be glad to see you in that fringed orange dress, did you?

His mother’s friend Yocheved approaches. She greets Yaffa’le with a friendly mazel tov. Dudi takes a few steps back. Yocheved Beigel — just what he needs now, the icing on the cake. But Yocheved surprises him.

“Come, Yaffa’le, let’s go in together,” she says. Not because she doesn’t understand the situation, but because she does.

“I’m not going back in there,” Yaffa’le sniffs, wounded to the core.

But why, Dudi wonders, why did you expect my mother to dance for joy when you walked in looking like that? But to be fair, it’s not just Yaffa’le who angers him. And what do you want, Ima? You want me to leave this wife you disapprove of, and come back home to you? Then you’ll be happy?

“I go out of my way to show them respect,” Yaffa’le says bitterly. “I come to their simchahs, even though I don’t have much to say to my sisters-in-law. I bring Avital in the dress my shvigger bought, even though it’s totally not my style…” Ahem. Dudi refrains from clearing his throat. “And they can’t even do the minimum and accept me for who I am.”

“They find it hard to accept you,” Yocheved echoes.

“Yes,” Yaffa’le says, her voice strangled. “When my shvigger came for the kiddush we made for Avital, did I tell her what to wear?! No! She came to our simchah in her old black dress, and her clunky ‘bubby shoes.’ ”

Yocheved bites her lips. Her glance shifts involuntarily to her own black outfit and equally clunky shoes.

“I came here straight from Har Chotzvim,” she says. The relevance is lost on Yaffa’le, but nevertheless she pricks up her ears. “I was eating in a fleishig restaurant. I’ve never been in a restaurant before today.”

With an air of boredom, Dudi takes out his phone and checks for messages. Then he starts edging back toward the simchah hall. “I’m going inside, Yaffa’le, okay?”

“Go ahead,” Yocheved answers. “I’ll take care of Yaffa’le.”

“Can I ask what brought you there?” Yaffa’le asks curiously. She’s starting to like this friend of her shvigger’s. Too bad she’s not Dudi’s mother, instead of…. “I’ll tell you why I’m asking. You know I work in advertising, right? And those restaurants have the best hechsherim, the ones everyone eats. And we’ve tried time and again to reach your crowd — I mean the people who just don’t go out to eat — to try and get them to come and enjoy a nice dinner. So I’m really interested to hear, what brought you there in the end?” Did you even know which way to hold the menu?

“Raphael, my son,” Yocheved says. “He brought me there. He and Inge… his partner.” She can’t bring herself to call that woman his wife. Marriage is too sacred a thing to apply to that couple.

“You sat with them in a restaurant?” Yaffa’le tries to picture her mother-in-law sitting at a table in a restaurant with her and Dudi. It’s so absurd she has to restrain herself from smiling.

“Yes,” Yocheved says. She puts a hand on Yaffa’le’s shoulder. Yaffa’le feels a tremor, but she doesn’t shake off Yocheved’s touch. “It would be much easier to cut off all contact with him, to write him off. To be cold and apathetic, or not to answer his calls at all. I’d feel so self-righteous, too. Look at me — I’ll have nothing to do with the son of mine who turned his back on his people.” Her voice is deep, low, urgent.

“But we’re not supposed to do what makes us look or feel righteous, we’re supposed to do what Hashem wants,” she says. “And I knew if I didn’t go out to dinner with them, he’d probably take her to eat in Abu Ghosh. So I stopped and thought, what does Hashem want? I asked a rav. And I got my answer: I should go with my son to a place with mehadrin kashrus. Yes, even if Inge were also coming. At least I knew none of my friends would see us there. In our circles, they wouldn’t even know which way to hold the menu.”

“Maybe you could teach my shvigger a thing or two about the right attitude,” Yaffa’le says. “Do you think you could?”

“Actually, I’d like to teach you,” says Yocheved, tapping on her shoulder. “You know, Yaffa’le, we have to give respect to the people in our lives, even if they don’t meet our expectations. In every situation we have to stop and ask: What does Hashem want? And the answer to that question isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes into our heads.”

With every word of this speech, Yaffa’le’s face turns stonier. But she goes back inside with Yocheved anyway.


  • ••


After the party, the Bernfelds walk through the streets of Geula, uplifted and tired. At the corner of Malchei Yisrael, Shua goes his own way, wishing them good night.

“Where’s Abba going?” Yossi asks sleepily from his seat in the stroller.

“Abba went to learn Torah,” Nechami tells him.

Yossi’s little voice, hoarse and tired, begins to sing the song he learned in playgroup. “Abba sheli lomeid… Toto ha’olam omeid…” He’s slaughtering the lyrics of the childlike ode to limud Torah, and his sisters laugh.

As she sends them all off to their beds, Nechami softly continues the song: “Lachein chashuv meod, lo l’hafria lo lilmod…” They fall asleep in a moment, even the older kids, fatigued from the celebration, envisioning the upcoming wedding, the dancing and the new clothes.

She assesses her own fatigue and decides she can get in a couple of hours of work before retiring for the night. She goes to her stash for a caffeine fix. Or maybe some chocolate….

The pile of towels is bulging suspiciously. Somebody’s been here! She pulls them aside. There’s a white plastic bag there, full of goodies. There’s only one person in this house who puts purchases away in their bags, with the receipt still inside. She checks the contents. A few cans of her favorite cola. And some hard candies, too, with fruit filling, to help her through long nights in the office. And two bottles of mango drink. She studies the receipt, and a deep blush spreads over her face. Next to the date is the time of the transaction, 7:06 a.m. What day was that? She hasn’t touched her stash in a few days. Quickly, she checks the calendar.

It was the morning after that night when Gedalya had come over to talk, the calendar tells her. The night when Shua had raided her stash so he’d have something to offer her brother. First thing the next morning he’d gotten up, gone to the mikveh, made a quick grocery run, and come back to refill the stash. Before he’d even gone to daven Shacharis.

Seven o’clock. Two and a half hours after she’d found her drinks gone and sent arrows of silent fury flying in all directions. You were so wrapped up in yourself, in your petty need for a can of cola.

Back in her parents’ home when she was growing up, they’d had a neighbor, an irritable woman who had to have her coffee with milk. “Moshe, why didn’t you buy milk?!” she’d yell, and the whole building could hear her.

I didn’t yell, Nechami tells herself defensively, ashamed before the accusing gaze of the bag, the receipt, the fully stocked cupboard. I… I only got upset.

Of course you didn’t, her plentiful stash mocks her mercilessly. You just exploded quietly, as if your world had come to an end. Remember what you were thinking about your husband, about the universe, about life itself?

What’s happened to you, Nechami? It’s as if you’ve gone back in time, lost ten years of maturity, so childishly unbending about your needs.

Maybe you should talk with that younger version of yourself, see if you can work things out. Maybe both of you will find healing.

to be continued…

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 869)

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