Just don’t let anyone come in don’t let anyone come in don’t let anyone come in, Gedalya silently prays
Like Yaakov Avinu, all Gedalya Silver wants is to sit in peace.
He has to review Hed Kevudah, the women’s supplement, before the afternoon deadline. But the elderly, virtually retired CEO pounces on him. Gedalya suppresses a sigh. He could only wish Bubbe Silver would still be as sprightly as the Big Boss, who at age 83 still doggedly goes to work every day and hounds his employees.
“Reb Gedalya, you can’t give up on the surgery,” the Boss says. “We’ll also help you, of course. But first of all, talk to the experts, the people who really know how to raise money.”
“It’s not really so relevant right now,” Gedalya says politely, wondering how to extract himself from this situation. It had started as a simple, “How is your daughter?” and moved quickly to the unsolicited advice stage.
“Why would it not be relevant?” the Boss pushes on. “There’s this organization that works with us sometimes, they’re called… what’s their name again? Just a second, I’ll ask my Chananya.” His voice rises to an earsplitting croak. “Cha-NAN…”
“No, no,” Gedalya hushes him desperately. And now the Boss settles himself in the chair across from him. He won’t be going anywhere very soon. Gedalya makes a mental note to get rid of that chair. Or at least to pile it up with heavy ring binders.
“Listen to me, Gedalya. You’re young, you’re brash, you haven’t married off children yet. I’m an old man — old enough to be your grandfather, right? So listen to me. When it comes to your family’s health, you don’t compromise. You go for the best. Here, let me find it for you, the phone number of this expert — she’s young, but she’s already run some very successful campaigns… they fly children to Belgium, to America, wherever they need to.”
The old CEO starts rummaging in his pants pockets, pulling out creased memos in pastel hues. Next, he tries his shirt pockets, producing a pen, a tissue, a safety pin, and another wrinkled memo slip. “I got it! Here is it. Her name is Yaffit. I don’t remember what the firm is called, you can ask our marketing staff. Tell her I sent you. They send children for procedures abroad, very big procedures. What’s one little ear to them?”
Just don’t let anyone come in don’t let anyone come in don’t let anyone come in, Gedalya silently prays. To have the whole office gossiping about Tovi, about her condition, her surgery, is more than he could bear. And if the CEO didn’t spend his abundant leisure time interrogating his employees about every detail of their lives, this conversation wouldn’t be taking place at all.
But a few minutes later, as Gedalya hurries down Rechov Minchas Yitzchak to daven Minchah in a nearby shul, the folded yellow memo slip still burns in his pocket. He takes it out, looks at the number, puts it back in his pocket. At the entrance to Beis Yehoshua is a stack of luridly colored leaflets. “Two Disabled Children,” the headline screams. “Itche and Elchanan desperately need your help!”
The blood drains from his face.
He thinks of Itche and Elchanan’s father. Their mother. The picture on the tzedakah leaflet shows two boys in wheelchairs, their features blurred. I won’t have Tovi, blurred or not, splashed all over some leaflet for the whole world to gape at. Not an option.
He looks at his watch. He still has ten minutes before davening starts. After that he’ll go home, light the menorah, sing Maoz Tzur with the children and dance. He has no right to leave Tovi in the condition she’s in, missing one of the 248 parts every human being was given…. He has no right to put her through a series of complicated surgeries, when a doctor in American can correct the situation in a single procedure. And he has no right in the world to leave her with a permanent hearing deficiency, when the solution is waiting for her in California.
Outside, a frigid fog hovers in the air. The luxury apartment buildings of Rechov Minchas Yitzchak, tall and white, tower over him, full of families in their comfortable quarters. He’s not jealous, not at all. He just needs 250,000 shekels.
And that’s when Gedalya Silver takes his little kosher flip phone out of his pocket and carefully taps in ten digits. He’ll just inquire. Maybe there are other ways to raise money, without that garish publicity. He understands those parents, Itche and Elchanan’s father and mother. But he just can’t go that route.
He’ll speak to this Yaffit, ask her if there’s an option to raise funds discreetly. Maybe in another country, or something.
He presses send. The device performs its magic, forms the invisible connection. Just before a cheerful voice answers his summons, Gedalya’s glance takes in the name on the screen. “Dudi — Rayaso.”
Dudi’s wife! What’s she doing on the screen? He’s about to hang up. Too late.
“Hello,” says Yaffa’le. There’s caution in her voice. She’s surely expecting some sort of reprimand from him.
Gedalya’s quick thinking serves him well. He stammers for half a second and then recovers his poise. “A freilechen Chanukah, this is Gedalya. The boss at my office referred me to you about raising funds for a medical purpose.”
“Oh!” She sounds surprised.
“Yes. I… I’d like to hear something about how it works.”
“Uh, of course, I’m happy to help. That’s actually my main area of responsibility at the office.” Her voice grows more confident. “We’ve run some very big campaigns. Maybe you heard of ‘Give Adva a Hand’? That was a girl who was born missing a hand. We raised $200,000 to fly her to the US, to a medical center that does bionic implants. And we also did ‘A New Life for Miriam.’ Avital! Stay here! Sorry — just a moment….”
Gedalya hears the telltale sounds of a chase scene being enacted. “Maybe we could talk this evening, after I get this little one to bed,” Yaffa’le says apologetically.
Gedalya thanks her and ends the call. He bends down and picks up one of the leaflets. He calls the number emblazoned in the red bar across the bottom of the page, pulls out his credit card, and donates 20 shekels. Ten for Itche, and ten for Elchanan. And he goes in to daven Minchah.
Shua wakes up at five thirty and discovers, to his momentary alarm, that his wife isn’t home. He quickly washes negel vasser and looks through all the rooms. The children are sleeping. The menorah in the living-room window gleams at him. Nechami isn’t there. Not in the kitchen either. He calls her cell phone.
“Yes,” she says in a hushed tone.
“Where are you?”
“I got up at five and went down to the office to get some work done.”
What in the world?
He says birchos HaTorah, prepares two hot drinks, and exits the building with them. The street is damp, foggy, and cold. There’s nothing like Jerusalem at night, nothing like Jerusalem in the morning. He goes around to the door of Nechami’s office and knocks. She’s startled.
“Room service,” he says, laughing.
On the screen in front of her is a sketch of some institutional building, and a menu open in English. She yawns. And yawns again. Her head tilts toward the screen. She’s not a morning person, never has been. Why is she doing this?
“I got worried,” he says, putting a mug down on the desk in front of her. Taster’s Choice with a dash of cocoa. With the other mug in his hand, he sits down in one of the little armchairs. He takes a sip.
“I… I was just reading in last week’s Hed Kevudah,” she says, yawning again, “that one of the problems of our generation is that women stay up late working at night. They say it’s not healthy and not good for the family.”
“So you decided to stop working at night, and to get up before dawn instead.”
“Yes. But I don’t know, I haven’t made much progress here. You know me in the mornings, my head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton.”
Oy, Nechami. Memories assail him, one after the other. He puts his mug down on the desk. It quickly forms a light-brown circle on the glass surface.
“What?” she asks, opening another menu, selecting a tool he doesn’t recognize, starting to outline something.
“Nothing… you might not even remember it. When we were younger, the first few years we were married, I remember how every time you heard or read about some tip or technique, you had to act on it the next day.”
He’s putting it delicately. Very delicately. I had four children then, and a wife who was so inflexible, staunch as a fearless warrior. And sometimes I felt like I wasn’t married to one person, but to a whole battalion of teachers, lecturers, neighbors, and writers in the women’s supplement.
“But it was only good things!” she says defensively. Of course she remembers. It’s all seared on her brain cells.
“They were very good things, for sure,” he agrees. “But maybe… maybe before doing something good from a magazine, or a shiur, or a parenting class, it would make sense to discuss whether it’s the right thing for us, for our home. For the balance we want to achieve between all the things we value.”
He can’t believe they’re having this conversation again.
She looks up, stares at the lavender wall, at the birds in flight. It’s all her own handiwork. She turned a bare storage room into a warm, inviting workspace.
“We were told we have to be generals, that we hold ultimate responsibility for our homes,” she says. Her voice is strangled. “That’s how we were raised, that’s what we learned in school.”
For ten years she’s been going around in circles, but spiraling. No matter how high she rises, she keeps returning to the same spot.
“We’re supposed to strive to be generals, but it doesn’t just happen overnight,” he corrects her. “A soldier can’t jump to the top ranks.”
Carefully, he moves his mug half an inch inward. The mug forms another circle. “And a real general would study the battlefield and the strength of his fighting forces before jumping into anything new. His decisions are based on reality. He… he doesn’t try to fight on every front. He picks his battles.”
“What are you trying to say?” She yawns again. Nebach..
“I’m saying you should go back to bed. You can still get in an hour and a half of sleep before Yossi wakes up.”
“And when am I supposed to work?”
“At the hours that work for you and for our family.”
She’s too tired to argue, especially with her pillow and blanket waiting upstairs. She turns off the computer without even bothering to save the file; there’s nothing to save. She goes home, huddles under the comforter, and falls asleep.
Later, when she goes down to the office to complete the project for Gunter, two coffee-colored circles will be waiting for her on her glass desktop. Two circles, interlinked. She’ll gaze at them for a moment. She won’t wipe them away. She’ll just run her fingertips over their points of intersection.
And she’ll get briskly to work.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 870)
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