| Light Years Away |

Light Years Away: Chapter 31   

“This isn’t about what I do or don’t like,” Gedalya went on. “I have a job here, and I take my responsibility seriously"




That expression was too slangy.

Gedalya brought his red pen to the printed paper and crossed out the words. Then he sighed and turned to the screen. Typing with one finger, he entered his comment: “Inappropriate expression. Remove.”

“You’re remembering to keep ‘Track Changes’ turned on, yes?” said Chilik the production manager, stopping for a moment in Gedalya’s doorway. Chilik had been appointed Gedalya’s mentor in matters of digital word processing. “And by the way, did you know that because of you, we’re missing an article that’s supposed to go to print tonight?”

“Because of me?” Gedalya looked up at him. If that was a joke, he didn’t get it.

It wasn’t a joke.

“You deleted a whole scene from Carniol’s serial. She’s sitting at home crying now, claiming we’re ruining her story. And of course she’s not sending in the feature story she promised to finish today.”

This kind of emotional blackmail disgusted him. First of all, that article should have been sent in last week. How many times had they asked the writers to keep their deadlines? And secondly, what did the serial have to do with the feature story?

“Our writers are always talking about how morale affects their creative abilities,” Chilik pushed on. “Whether or not that’s true, I know I need that article about the postpartum care centers, and I need it now. The graphic artists aren’t going to be willing to stay late again, like they did last week.”

“Can you explain what all this has to do with me?” With his red pen, Gedalya marked the next correction, then laboriously typed it in. Pen, type. Pen, type.

Chilik ran a thumb uncomfortably across his clean-shaven chin. “I don’t know. What do I know from editing? I barely even read the paper myself, and I never look at the women’s supplement. But isn’t there any way of saving that chapter of Carniol’s? Couldn’t you just delete the sentences you don’t like and let the rest through?”

“That’s exactly what I tried to do!” A note of exasperation jumped into Gedalya’s voice. “And then they say the chapter is ruined, the story is ruined, the whole point is lost. All I did was explain that we can’t publish a scene that paints a school faculty in such a bad light.”

Chilik listened. He had no answer.

“This isn’t about what I do or don’t like,” Gedalya went on. “I have a job here, and I take my responsibility seriously. The rabbinical board relies on me, and we have clear policies.”

“Hed Kevudah’s editors say they submitted the synopsis of the story to you in advance, and you approved it.”

“Even so. Let’s say, hypothetically, I made a mistake, I overlooked something. But now we have this chapter, and in its present form we can’t print it, even if it’s the climax of the story. It has to be changed, no two ways about it. But I can confidently tell you…” Gedalya paused and took a breath, feeling indignation shooting sparks into his limbs. “I can confidently tell you that the synopsis didn’t mention a word about parents rising up against the school administration. It said something about a big show that was canceled — nothing more.”

Two phones on Chilik’s belt started ringing at once. He ignored both. “Silver, I know nothing about the story. They can put on the big show, for all I care, or they can cancel it because of snow, or whatever. Just try to find some compromise, all right?”

A compromise.

This wasn’t just about a scene in a serial, he knew. Mrs. Fisher, the editor of Hed Kevudah, was getting resentful of his entire approach. She’d gotten feedback from readers that the competitor, HaShofar, published much deeper stories. Why was HaShofar okay with scenes that would get censored by Gedalya? They’re a chareidi publication, too, she complained, so why do we have to be so strict?

“We’re proud of our standards,” was Gedalya’s constant answer. And if some readers wanted to read HaShofar instead of Hamehadhed, so be it. He repeated it to himself, now, as he looked back down at his paper.

Where was that strange melody coming from? It took him a few seconds to realize his phone was ringing. Tovi, she should only be well, kept changing his ringtone, and every tune she picked was stranger than the one before.

“How’s everything, Gedalya?” It was Tzvi, his brother in Antwerp, speaking hurriedly. “Listen, I’ve got a few thousand to transfer to you. I just need receipts. Did you set up that fund yet with Shemesh Tzedakah, like we talked about?”

I don’t want to set up a fund.

“Um… not yet.” Gedalya gulped, swallowing injured pride. “It’ll happen soon. I’ll speak with the gabbai.”

It’s just a technical matter, he told himself once more. Just a bit of red tape, so they’d be able to give receipts. It wasn’t really tzedakah. It was just people who wanted to share the cost of an expensive procedure, and they needed receipts.

“Okay. Keep me posted. We need to move quickly, while people want to help. My shver seems really into it. I showed him pictures of Tovi as a baby — remember those cute pictures from Gilo Park? And I gave him some stuff to read about microtia. He promised a thousand euros, and his partner is ready to give, too. They just need a tax-deductible receipt for their Israeli tax filing. It’s called code 46, or something. The tzedakah people will know.”

Hesitantly, haltingly, Gedalya tapped in the gabbai’s number. Dudi’s Yaffa’le had also recommended Shemesh Tzedakah. She said they were very trustworthy and well-organized, and their name would help with the fundraising.

Gedalya dialed. He stopped. He dialed. He hung up.

Maybe tomorrow.

The printout of Leah Carniol’s story lay on his desk, marked up with his cheap, angry red pen.

He looked at the text, trying to think of a new twist to the plot. How could they cancel the show without reflecting badly on the school itself? Maybe someone else could be responsible for the cancellation… maybe the parents themselves could demand it? Surely there had to be some way to save Carniol’s story.

Only after he’d sent three suggestions to the editor of Hed Kevodah did he call the gabbai and ask to open a fund, with the stipulations they’d decided on with Yaffa’le. They sent him the forms, he signed them, and he sent them back by fax.

“We’ll get back to you in the next few hours with the fund number and name,” the gabbai told him. “And don’t worry. It’s completely confidential. You’re responsible for raising the funds. We won’t be initiating any appeals to the public.”


  • ••


The plumber left, leaving trails of mud and dust behind him.

“Why is this house such a mess?” Yaffa’le sighed. All the plumber had done here was check the ceiling. The repairs were done upstairs, at the neighbors. So where did all these black streaks of dirt come from?

Dudi, leaning back on the sofa exhausted after a day of work and school, offered no response.

Later, he couldn’t quite reconstruct the scene. What started the thunder, what brought the lightning? Maybe it began with Yaffa’le kvetching into the phone. Who was it — her sister? Or maybe her friend Moriah, the PR person.

“Here I am, working like…” she hissed, and stepped out to the porch, but he could hear every word. “Here I am, working like a…” Her mother didn’t permit the expression “working like a dog.” But her mother wasn’t here. And anyway, it had been years since Yaffa’le limited herself to what her mother permitted.

“I get up at six in the morning to start the laundry, wash the dishes, and get Avital ready. I work a full-time job, come back wiped out to another job at home — drawing for Avital, telling her stories, and taking her grocery shopping with me. And after all that, I’m supposed to clean this place all by myself.”

Dudi kept quiet.

Not only because he also woke up at six for davening and then a full day of work and classes.

Not only because he’d been running up and down the stairs with the plumber for the last twenty minutes.

And not only because every book of marriage advice said, “Don’t eavesdrop on her conversations with her friends, and if you overhear them, don’t respond.”

He looked at this home he’d built, and suddenly he was baffled, and not for the first time. How had he gotten here? It felt so foreign. What had he been thinking three years ago, as a young bochur aflame with his own ideas, out to prove to his parents that he knew everything, he was a man of the world, and he could manage without their help?

Ima had cried, one of her typical crying sessions. She’d begged him to let them make inquiries, to speak with the shadchan. He wouldn’t let them. He knew better than anyone else how to conduct his life. It was so clear to him that he and Yaffa’le were compatible. And he went ahead and made his own decision, very proud of himself.

“Not one of my married friends has to work herself to the bone like I do,” Yaffa’le announced, coming back inside. Apparently that was an allusion to his poorly paid student job.

This wasn’t what he’d dreamed of.

Suddenly, life in this house looked too turbulent. Even the laughter was too loud. He just wanted quiet. And someone who’d appreciate him and his achievements, someone who’d look at the stars with him, point out the North Star and Venus and Jupiter. Someone who wouldn’t sneer when he told her about the laws of thermodynamics.

He thought of his sister Nechami. So dutiful. A woman who knew how to toe the line. She would never talk to her husband like that — never.

A sharp inner voice reprimanded him: You really should have stayed in learning a little longer. You could have gotten a good shidduch, like Nechami got Shua, instead of….

Instead of?

A girl who was thrown out of one high school and left the other one by her own choice, the voice answered, merciless but truthful.

Although Dudi had to admit, Shua did help Nechami a lot. But he helped Yaffa’le a lot, too! Was it his fault that keeping house was a never-ending task, even if shared by two people?

In the ten minutes that followed, there was no quiet. There was a blistering, winner-take-all battle as accusations, comparisons, recriminations and retorts flashed in the air. Some shells flew with loud explosions, others hit their mark silently. Avital sat by, fixing wide eyes first on one parent, then on the other. Back and forth. They knew she shouldn’t be witnessing this, that children aren’t supposed to be dragged in when a storm is raging in their parents’ heads and hearts.

“You could have spent all this time straightening up, instead of arguing with me,” Yaffa’le said, an attempt at the last word before taking Avital to her bath.

“So could you,” he answered. He got up and went to the kitchen to make something for supper.

While the shakshuka bubbled merrily on the fire, he went back to the open living room and began picking up piles of clothes, pajamas, and Duplo. Sorting, returning each item to its place. A plastic fork. An empty grocery bag. Yaffa’le’s brochures. His documents.

You don’t just get married once, he realized. You need a new miracle every day.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 875)

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