Light Years Away: Chapter 28| August 3, 2021
“There’s no problem, Dudi.” Gedalya claps him on the shoulder in the most brotherly way he can muster.
I was at the little shop that sells hosiery and accessories, waiting in line at the checkout counter with a basket full of tights and socks. Near the exit, two girls were arguing in loud whispers.
“We can’t. It’s so rude!”
“No, it’s not!”
I turned my head toward them and suddenly they were quiet, pretending to browse the headband rack.
My turn came. I paid. I could almost feel the burn as I handed over the cash. Tights are expensive, but we can’t go barefoot. I didn’t buy any extras. And how were Abba and Ima supposed to pay for my operation, if we could barely afford the everyday things?
“Would you like this all in one bag, or in two smaller bags?” the cashier asked me.
“Don’t you dare,” said the shorter girl to the other.
“Umm… what?” I said to the cashier distractedly. I’d been trying to listen to all of them at once. She put all my stuff in one big bag. The two girls disappeared as I headed out. But I could feel them walking behind me.
“Was there something you wanted to ask me?” I said, turning to face them. I tried to keep a smile on my face, as if I had tons of confidence. They answered me in unison:
“Okay,” I said. “So how about if the one who wants to ask me something, asks, and the one who doesn’t want, doesn’t?”
The sun peeked out between the gray clouds. I was afraid it would start raining, and I wanted to get this over with already.
“So… hi,” said the taller girl. “I’m in eighth grade, I go to Ramat HaLev, and this is my sister — she’s in high school.”
“Your name is Tovi Silver, right?”
“That’s right.” They were going to ask me something about my ear, I knew it. But I didn’t mind. I just pretended I was Batya. She has no problem when people ask her questions.
“So excuse us for asking,” said the eighth grader. “Maybe it’ll seem like a nosy question, or tactless…” Her voice faded, and for a moment it looked like she was chickening out. “But we do have a real reason for asking. It’s not just because we’re curious.”
“It’s fine,” I said, in my best Batya-voice.
“And if you don’t want to answer, that’s okay.”
“All right,” I said. My smile was getting a bit tired. They wanted to know how many ears I have. Was not answering really an option?
“So, is it true… that you were… born with one ear?”
She was stammering so badly, I felt sorry for her, and I started laughing.
“Not only was I born that way, that’s the way I still am,” I said.
They were staring at me. I commanded my hand to stay away from my hairband.
“And you…?” They trailed off. They couldn’t get up the nerve to finish their question.
“I live a completely normal life, if that’s what you want to know. I have friends and everything. There’s one thing about me that bothers them,” I added, “and that’s the way I am about studying for tests. When I study with friends, I won’t let them stop and talk about other stuff until we’ve gone through all the material.”
“So you mean… you’re in a regular class, and you take the tests and everything?”
“Totally,” I said. I probably could have gotten an exemption, and according to Batya, that might be a good idea. “I have a friend who has a cochlear implant,” I went on. “She says that the Ministry of Education is supposed to give us an exemption, and then we could go swimming instead of coming in for exams.”
“Why would you need an exemption?”
“We don’t. But my friend thinks that as long as we’re eligible, it’s dumb of us not to take it. It would be more fun to go to the pool than take a test, don’t you think?”
She thought so, and she even smiled.
The older sister spoke up. Cautiously. “The thing is… our married sister just had a baby. And he was born… like you. Our sister is staying at our house to recover. She just got out of the hospital today. And she won’t let us see the baby.”
“That really scared us,” the younger one said. I saw tears in her eyes.
“Somebody told my parents,” the older one continued, “that there’s a girl here in Beit Shemesh with the same… thing. So we went looking for you. We were hoping you wouldn’t mind talking to us. Or to our sister.”
I wanted to pick up that baby and hug him. Every baby deserves to have someone who’s delighted with him, delighted to have him in the world.
“I don’t know what to tell your sister,” I said. “I never had a baby like me. Maybe she should talk to my mother.”
“She’s not talking to anyone,” they said, shrugging. “She shut herself up in her room.”
“So all you can do is just… just be there. Don’t try to talk to her, just wait. Give her time, give her space.” That was something I read in a book. I couldn’t have thought it up by myself. They were looking at me with something like admiration, which was a little embarrassing.
“Stop looking at me like that!” I said. “If you’d read the book Sha’ah b’Mashbeir, you could repeat all the same smart advice.”
“Are there any options like… surgery? Like, to fix it?” the younger one asked.
“Esti, stop it!” her sister scolded her.
“There are,” I said.
I wasn’t going to start explaining the difference between a cartilage implant and Medpor, or Su-por. And what they do in Israel, and what you can only get in America. When their sister is ready to deal with it, she can call my parents, and they’ll explain it all to her. And I certainly didn’t want to talk about the costs. I didn’t want to tell them about kids whose parents can’t afford to take them for private surgery in California.
I told them I had to be going now and said I hoped everything would turn out fine.
When I got home, I found Ima arranging some mini-pies on a tray. I could tell she’d taken them out of the left-hand fridge — they were squooshies, a little bit broken around the edges, a little bit crooked. I put down the bag of socks and stretched my hand out to grab one before Ima could say no.
“What?” I asked innocently, through a mouthful of lemon pie. “It’s a squooshie, Ima. You can’t sell it.”
“True, but you know I keep those, too, for other purposes.”
“But what about poor me?” I said, putting on a tragic face. I was about to say, “Remember I have this scary operation coming soon,” but then I saw Ima’s face. I thought of the young mother I’d just heard about. And the baby. So I kept quiet. I’ve never been there. I don’t know how it feels to have a perfect new baby — with a defect.
“Why do you call yourself ‘poor me?’ ” Ima asked, as if she suspected something.
“Because I have a horrible geometry test coming up, right after Chanukah. If you let me have just one nougat pie, I’d feel so supported. I promise.”
Ima chuckled. “What’s going to be with you, Tovi?” she said. She gave me the most squooshed one of the nougat pies and chased me out of the kitchen.
I went out to the cold porch to eat it. I decided I wouldn’t try to find out how they were planning to pay for my surgery. There are some things it’s better not to know.
The civilized world now knew about the dual nature of light, but its thirst for more knowledge was boundless. Scientists copied Young’s experiment, substituting quantal particles of matter for beams of light and shooting them through narrow slits in a screen. They expected these particle streams to travel in straight lines until they hit the opposite wall. But matter did not behave as expected. The tiny physical particles scattered, blended, and spread out on the opposite screen, just like Young’s beams of light had done. It seemed as if matter was out to confuse man, to let it be known that it was much more than just a physical entity.
Just like light, matter turned out to be dual in nature.
“Why out here?” Dudi fixes his eyes on his brother’s face. “You can’t come into my house? What do you think I have in there, dragons?”
Gedalya is taken aback. “Why are you getting annoyed? I just wanted to ask you something before we come in.”
“What do you want to ask? If our kitchen is kosher?”
“No. I just wanted to ask if this visit is really all right with you and your rebbetzin.”
The civilized world tried another experiment. They sent a single particle flying toward a double-slitted screen. They wanted to see which slit it would pass through. To their utter amazement and bewilderment, it passed through both slits simultaneously. Or, to put it differently, through neither of them. The interference pattern on the opposite screen told a baffling story of superposition.
“Of course it’s all right.” Dudi steps aside, clearing the way. “Come in and see. Kitchen — fleishig, milchig. Bottled drinks, Badatz Eidah Hachareidis hechsher. Menorah. It’s even kosher. And I knew how many candles to light tonight — imagine that!”
A thick, bitter fog hangs between them.
“There’s no problem, Dudi.” Gedalya claps him on the shoulder in the most brotherly way he can muster.
Yaffa’le sits on the side, next to a glass coffee table, ready with a stack of printouts. Where do they eat their Shabbos meals? Gedalya wonders but doesn’t ask. This isn’t a newspaper article; he doesn’t have to give it a once-over to make sure it meets his standards.
Shifra steps in, carrying a tray of dainty-looking baked goods. Yaffa’le and Dudi exchange glances. It’s not that they don’t rely on our kashrus, her eyes say. It’s just that she feels bad taking help from me without giving anything back, so she said she’d bring refreshments.
Fine, we’ll accept that version, Dudi’s eyes answer. He helps himself to a mini-pie, makes a brachah (yes, Gedalya, I do make brachos!), and eats. He comes to the wise conclusion that Shifra’s baked goods are a lot better than anything he could have bought, and he might as well enjoy them instead of being offended.
Soon enough the two women are chatting about Chaya’s wedding — the mechutanim are insisting on Adar Beis, they don’t want to wait until Sivan — and the men step out on the balcony for a breath of frigid air. And frigid conversation, too.
“You’re always watching to see what I’m doing wrong, as if I were a fresh baal teshuvah,” Dudi says.
Gedalya bristles. “You know something? You’re always imagining that I’m watching you. It’s like you have this sensor, constantly checking if I’m watching you. Calm down, Dudi. Relax a little. I only go into my critical mode when I’m getting paid for it.”
The civilized world was clever. They decided to place sensitive detectors on the slitted screen. The detectors would tell them where the particle was, which slit it was passing through.
But nature was cleverer. Every time they tried to chart the particle’s path, it would pass, like a good child, though slit A. Or through slit B. Not through both, like it did before. The interference pattern disappeared from the other screen. The paradox was maddening. At their wits’ end, the scientists tried again and again. As long as they weren’t using measuring tools, the particle spread out like a beam of light. It passed through both slits simultaneously, laughing at them all the way. But when they used their detectors to pinpoint just how it managed to pass through both slits, it would giggle and pass through just one.
Perhaps that particle was trying to tell humanity that not everything can be determined by critical examination. Perhaps there are things humanity isn’t supposed to know, no matter how closely they watch. Some things are too fine, too sensitive. If you try to determine what they are, where they are, what they’re doing, the wave function breaks down. The magic disappears.
“Let’s go back inside,” Dudi says, trying to smile.
“Yes, let’s,” Gedalya agrees. They leave the ice-cold balcony and step inside.
I won’t watch you, Gedalya’s silence says.
I won’t watch to see if you’re watching, Dudi affirms without a word.
For a moment, they blend into a single, streaming pattern. No one is measuring or detecting that moment. It’s just there, unquantifiable but undeniable.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 872)
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