| Light Years Away |

Light Years Away: Chapter 38 

Batya is at her most annoying when she’s right. My parents had paid 30,000 shekels — about half a year’s worth of Abba’s salary



They sent you a teddy bear?” As usual, Batya was all enthusiasm.

“I have to come see it! You know, they sent me a toy monkey with implants before I had my surgery. I was a baby then, I don’t really remember it, but I still have the monkey.”

She talked so much and so fast, I couldn’t get a word in. Then she said she was coming over and bringing the monkey. She wasn’t sure where she’d put it, but she’d pop over as soon as she found it.

I had to smile when I saw it. It was wearing a blue sweater-vest with the logo of the company that supplied the implants, and it had two processors made of felt, stuck behind the ears with Velcro, attached with wires to two round magnets on top of its head.

“I was only a year old, and I didn’t know what was happening,” Batya said, putting the monkey down in a sitting position between us on my bed. “Now let’s see your teddy bear.”

The bear was lying face down and neglected on the top shelf over my desk, and I pulled it down carefully.

Batya thought it was sooo cute. She quickly found the detachable ear, pulled it off, and attached it again. She stretched the hairband around its head. “Wait — actually you won’t need the hairband and the hearing device anymore, after your operation,” she said. “You’ll be able to hear with your new ear, right?”

“I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not having any operation,” I said. She already knew that. I’d told her about the fund, and that I refused to be a charity case.

“Why would you pass up a trip to America?” Batya bounced on my bed. “Go! You’ll get to fly in a real airplane, see the sights…. Once you’re there, you can start your whole act about not wanting the operation and all that.”

I picked up her monkey and pulled the implants off. Let him be deaf, who cared?

“I couldn’t do that to my parents,” I said. “What, I should make them pay for a flight and have them miss weeks of work, and then tell them it was all for nothing?”

“But you’re already doing that to them,” Batya said. “They already paid a deposit for the surgery.”

Batya is at her most annoying when she’s right. My parents had paid 30,000 shekels — about half a year’s worth of Abba’s salary.

“And aside from the money,” she went on, “you have no right to do that to your parents. They’re doing all this because they want a healthy, normal daughter.”

“Yes, I do have a right,” I said. “I don’t want to take tzedakah, ever. And for sure not for… not for….”

I felt tears pricking my eyes. One time Yaffa’le was telling us about a trip she took before she married Dudi. She was in some faraway city, passing through a very poor neighborhood, and all sorts of crippled people were sitting on the pavement, sticking out their arms or their legs to show the tourists whatever they were suffering from, so they would feel sorry for them and give them money. I still remember how Chaya was gesturing to her frantically to change the subject. I was so stupid then, I didn’t even understand why Chaya wanted her to stop. I didn’t see what it had to do with me. Now I understand.

Batya detached the magnets that held the cables to her head. First the left one, then the right. She couldn’t hear me now. She couldn’t hear anything. At the other end of the cables, she removed her hearing aids and dangled them in front of me.

“You see this?” she said in a very low voice. She sounded almost listless. “This processor costs $800. For one side. The other one costs the same. Each of these cables costs $200. That’s not counting the cost of the surgery, and the implants themselves. And the batteries — I must have used about a million of them so far….”

“What does that have to do with my—” I started to say. But Batya was ignoring me.

“Don’t talk now, because I can’t hear you,” she said.

“You’re being horrible!” I said, mouthing the words very distinctly. I knew she could read my lips. “Nobody gave donations for your surgery! You got it all for free from Bituach Leumi!”

“And where does the Bituach Leumi money come from?” she countered.

“From the state!” I grabbed one of her magnets and clapped it onto her head, somewhere near the top of her blonde braid. I felt around until it clicked into place. A red light lit up.

“Haha — you put it on the wrong side,” she said. “That one goes on the right.” By now she’d figured out how to adjust her voice to a normal volume. “And I still can’t hear you, so don’t bother saying anything. I’ll tell you who paid for my surgery — all the people who have Bituach Leumi payments deducted from their salaries or their bank accounts. Maybe they didn’t want to give that money. Maybe they weren’t interested in paying for some little deaf girl’s cochlear implants.

“But nobody asked them if they wanted to give. The government realizes that the average family can’t afford to pay for something like that, so everybody in the country has to chip in every month, and then there’ll be money for little girls who can’t hear, so they can grow up normally. So they’ll be able to hear and to speak normally. That comes in handy when they need to talk some sense into their friends.”

I didn’t answer her. Not because she couldn’t hear me. Because I had no answer.

Batya removed the magnet from where I’d attached it. The red light went out. She moved it to the other side of her head, attached it there, and carefully positioned the silvery-pink processor behind her right ear.

“You should be happy,” she said, after she had the other device also in place. “You should be happy you’re having your surgery funded by people who want to give. People who care about you.”

I was quiet for a moment, and then I mumbled, “Okay, I’ll think about it.”


  • ••

Some things come automatically, like Nechami’s response whenever anyone suggests plans for a Thursday night.

“Avreichim learn Thursday nights,” she says, almost combatively.

Yoeli listens. Not to the words so much as the warlike melody of her speech. He tries to identify the composer, but fails.

“Thursday night isn’t good for you?” he asks. “Shua learns then?” And what about all the other nights —he doesn’t learn?

“Shua learns all the time,” she says. “Baruch Hashem.”

“So do you want to meet without him?” Yoeli is so sweet and sensitive, it gets on her nerves, because she can’t get annoyed with him.

“No. If this meeting is so crucial, like you say it is, he’ll come.”

“Even on Thursday?” Yoeli presses.

“Even on Thursday.”

Her brother keeps quiet. He doesn’t comment on the incongruity of her words.

“He’ll postpone the learning for an hour or so,” Nechami explains.

“At least you’ll be able to take a nap in the morning,” he says, trying to lighten the atmosphere. “You don’t work on Fridays, right? And he doesn’t have regular sedorim.”

“I’m always working. And he’s always learning.” Her laid-back brother from Tzfas hears the war drums beating. He retreats. He has no idea what’s with her, but master of tact that he is, he retreats.

There’s a moment of silence. Nechami is remembering a thousand occasions when relatives or friends said to her, “What’s so hard about coming to a wedding on a Thursday? Anyway you don’t have work or kollel on Friday.” They didn’t realize Friday was sacrosanct for her. It was the day when she had three and a half precious hours to herself, three and a half hours to fill her lungs with quiet and privacy — provided that all the children woke up feeling well.

Three and a half hours in which she didn’t know what to do first, and how to use that time most efficiently before the clock ticked its final countdown. Sometimes she’d sketch out a mental plan to go to the seashore on Friday. She’d find an empty beach that people didn’t know about. She’d lie back in a beach chair for two hours. And after that? The imaginary driver who’d brought her there would bring her back to Jerusalem, and she’d go straight to pick the kids up from their various schools.

She’d never been to the seashore on a Friday.

She saw the children off to school. She came running home and unpacked the vegetable delivery. Working quickly, she put up a soup, started the chicken, the fish, the kugel, the compote. She was out of breath by the time she peeled the last apple. She had to run. It was time to pick up this child from here, that child from there, and the little one from the babysitter. At the cheder and the gan, amid the rustle of Shabbos treats and weekly newsletters, she was almost a lone mother among the fathers who came to pick up their little ones on Fridays. With the sticky film of pale-green zucchini still on her hands, and a faint odor of garlic still wafting from her fingertips, she waited patiently on the side, and then rushed off to be on time at the babysitter. Even when they were going away for Shabbos, there was always work to do. Laundry. Ironing. Cleaning and organizing.

You’re crazy, she compliments herself now. At this rate you’ll be an old lady living in a retirement home, and you’ll still be telling everybody how hard it was on Fridays when the children were little, and how no one understood how much pressure you were under — after all, Friday is your day off, and there’s no kollel, so what’s the problem?

Ten years after those early days, when you hardly have to do a thing on Fridays because Sari brings Yossi home, and Yehudit comes home with Naaman, the neighbors, and the boys put up a fantastic cholent, and Beri peels all the vegetables, you still get all huffy when someone tries to make Thursday night plans with you.

“It’s fine, no problem,” she tells her brother. “We’ll work around it. Thursday at ten?”


“Are Gedalya and Shifra coming, too?”

“No. Just me, you, Dudi, and our spouses. And Tzvi and his wife will join us by phone. And Shifra’s two brothers.”

“Where will we meet?”

“That’s what I was going to ask you. It’s better if we don’t meet at Abba and Ima’s house. They’re already in over their heads with expenses and preparing for the wedding. It’s best if we leave them and Chaya out of the picture.”

“You’re all welcome to come here,” Nechami says. “I’ll lock all the curious eavesdroppers in their rooms.”

“What? You wouldn’t really…?” For once, her brother sounds startled.

“Just a manner of speaking. Of course I won’t really lock them in, don’t worry.”

He doesn’t worry.

She ends the call. She goes to check bus schedules. Or she could take the train. Where to? Bat Yam? Rishon L’Tzion? Herzliya? She doesn’t really care where — there are 300 kilometers of beach in this little country. This Friday, she’ll be on one of them. It will be gray and stormy like the sea in winter. Maybe that will relax her. She hopes so.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 882)

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