| Light Years Away |

Light Years Away: Chapter 47

She can’t believe her ears. “No way. We’ve never taken a bank loan. We’ve never even gone into overdraft or bought on credit with interest. You always said it’s halachically problematic”


Two for the maggidei shiurim. One for the rebbi. One for the morah. One for the ganenet.

And one for the babysitter who takes care of the cutest toddler in the world.

Nechami curls the ribbons quickly. She adds two more cellophane bags, in case Chanochi and Bentzi also want to give mishloach manos to their afternoon maggidei shiur. Then she makes one extra-nice package for Odelia Gunter.

“We have a ton of people to give to,” five-year-old Yehudit observes, rubbing her eyes instead of going to bed.

“Baruch Hashem,” Nechami answers. And this isn’t even counting the ones she’ll send to the neighbors on Purim itself.

“Imas work really hard before Purim,” Yehudit continues to observe.

Imas work really hard all the time, Nechami refrains from saying.

“You work hard all the time,” says Yehudit, with a child’s uncanny intuition. “What are we bringing to Savta Bernfeld?”

“I made her some very yummy meat for the Purim seudah,” Nechami reassures her. “And Abba’s bringing Saba Bernfeld a bottle of whisky.”

The little munchkin is satisfied, apparently, because she puts her thumb back in her mouth and looks with interest at the dining room table that’s turned into a mishloach manos display.

The door opens, and Shua walks in. “Abba!” Yehudit abandons the table and runs to him in her pajamas. “Why are you home so early?” she asks reprovingly. “It’s not twelve o’clock yet! I know, because we learned how to tell time in gan.”

“I didn’t go to night seder today,” he says, swinging her up toward the ceiling. She shrieks. “I wasn’t feeling so well, and I also had to go to a friend’s chasunah. An old friend from yeshivah.”

“Was your friend the father of the kallah or of the chassan?”

“My friend was the chassan himself.”

Yehudit laughs out loud. “How could your friend be a chassan? All your friends are grown-up Abbas already.”

“My friend is a grown-up, too,” says Shua. “But it took him a long time to find his kallah. It was a very happy wedding. Everybody came, even though the date wasn’t convenient,” he goes on, addressing Nechami. “Of course the people from Yerushalayim came, but from outside the city they also came. Nobody wanted to miss the last wedding from our shiur.”

And Shua was alone.

Sirkis and Munitz are in real estate. Traub works with them as an agent. Azriel and Katz are in computers. A few others are salesmen in stores or work in marketing. After a while, Shua became almost obsessive. He was buttonholing every man from his former shiur and asking them, “So what are you doing these days, Reb Chaim Duvid? What about you, Reb Shloime — where are you holding in life?”

He was the only one!

Many of them had become klei kodesh. Maggidei shiur, sho’elim u’meishivim, mashgiach in a yeshivah gedolah or rebbi in a cheder.

Three were editors of sifrei kodesh. “Baruch Hashem, I’ve been zocheh to have a Torahdig occupation,” as Friedkowitz put it.

And there were some who learned half a day.

“Forget it, Bernfeld,” Traub called after him when he realized what Shua was after. “You won’t find anyone else who learns three full sedorim a day. But look, baruch Hashem, you can still be proud of us. We’re all in our shemonah begadim, and we’ve all built beautiful Yiddishe homes.”

The shock is still hitting him when he comes home, when he chats with his five-year-old daughter, though he doesn’t know why she’s up at this late hour.

“Life isn’t a rose garden,” Traub and Munitz had lectured him affectionately. “Parnassah isn’t easy. Not everybody got the kind of help you got with an apartment to start out with, and not always does the wife manage to bring in enough to support the family.”

“And not everybody can sit and learn, let’s face it,” Azriel had chimed in.

“I’m the only one,” he says now to Nechami. “The only one out of my entire shiur who’s still learning full-time. I can’t understand it.” They had various reasons, good reasons, for going to work. But… didn’t they even wish they were learning full-time? He knows that at least ten of the men from his shiur have the talent to sit and learn all day. Where was that burning fire that at least half of them once had?

“I’m not surprised,” she says. “I’ve known for a long time that out of my whole class, there are maybe three girls whose husbands are still learning full-time.”

Shua looks pale. Maybe he drank too much during the dancing. Maybe it was the heavy meal right after a fast. He needs to get some sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a pressured Friday; they have to catch the bus to his parents, and he’s still planning to go to Rav Baruch’s shiur in the morning before they leave.

“Just a minute,” says Nechami, hurrying after him. He finds their room in disarray. The beds have been dragged out of place. The dresser is out in the hall, and a sheet of paper with sketches and arrows is taped to the window.

“What’s going on here?” he asks.

“I was figuring out ways of fitting a workstation for me in here.”

“What’s wrong with your office downstairs?” he asks, starting to drag his bed back to its place.

“We’re going to rent it out for a year,” she informs him. “Na’aman is willing to give me the whole sum up front. She came around this morning, asking to see what we did with our storeroom, because her husband’s looking for a place just like that for his office — he’s a marriage counselor or something. They were thinking they might fix up their storeroom, but they have no plumbing or electricity installed, and it’ll take time.”

Alcohol vapors swirl faintly in Shua’s brain. He doesn’t understand.

“Then she asked me if I know anyone who’s renting out a private workspace just like mine, because that’s what they need for the next year or so. And I realized in a flash that this could be the windfall we’ve been waiting for, so I told her if they could give me 25,200 shekels up front, they could use my workspace for a year.”

“No,” he says.

“Yes,” she answers. “I already figured out how I can work at home. We’ll put a small computer desk here instead of the dresser, and I can use the living room to meet with clients.”

“You can’t be serious,” he says. “After all the effort you put in, fixing up the storeroom exactly the way you wanted it? And the whole point of doing it was because working at home was so hard for you.”

He doesn’t add, and how am I supposed to sleep here, with you working into the small hours of the night?

“I’ll manage,” she says. “I’ll have to. Gedalya has to pay for the surgery by Rosh Chodesh Nissan. This week is Purim, and after that there’s Chaya’s wedding, and we’ll be too busy and tired to raise any money the week of Sheva Brachos. So this is our one chance.”


  • ••


Bentzi is in charge of the suitcases, the stroller, and everything that goes into the bus’s luggage compartment. Beri holds Yehudit’s and Yossi’s hands and tells them a story as they wait at the stop on Rechov Bar Ilan. Chanochi is only expected to get himself onto the bus — anything more is a bonus. Still, Nechami entrusts him with two light packages. She herself makes sure she has bags ready for Sari, who gets carsick “from smelling the black smoke that buses make.” She takes out tissues and a bottle of water, and looks at her watch. Shua is supposed to come straight here from Rav Baruch’s shiur.

The bus will be here in two minutes. She dials Shua.

“I’m here on Bar Ilan,” says the only kollel yungerman from his yeshivah class, breathing heavily. “You have my shtreimel there, right? And my kapoteh?”

One minute to go.

“I’m at Ohalei Yosef,” he says now. “Oh, no, the light just turned red!”

“Don’t jaywalk,” she cautions him while tucking the carsickness emergency kit into her tote bag. “I’d rather have you alive and late than the other way around.”

She sees bus number 430 rounding the corner of Golda Meir and heading toward them.

“Start loading our things,” she tells the boys. “Abba will be here any second.”

Bentzi piles up the suitcases in the luggage compartment. He folds up the stroller and pushes it in alongside. She makes sure Beri hasn’t forgotten the little ones and Chanochi hasn’t forgotten himself, hoists a sobbing Sari onto the bus steps, and uses six separate bus cards to pay the fare. Shua arrives and steps aboard, calm and collected.

“You see? It all worked out,” he informs her. He sits down with Yehudit and Yossi in the row in front of her. She coaxes Sari into the seat beside her. The boys are all settled, too.

At last, she can breathe.

“Did you tell Na’aman we’re not renting out the office?” He’s peering through the space between his seat and the window and speaking in a low whisper.

“No,” she says, stiffening. “Do you know of a better way to get the money?”

“A bank loan,” he says.

She can’t believe her ears. “No way. We’ve never taken a bank loan. We’ve never even gone into overdraft or bought on credit with interest. You always said it’s halachically problematic.”

“True,” he sighs. The window fogs up. He takes out a tissue and wipes it. “There’s always a first time. I looked into it and found out we don’t even need hataras nedarim.”

“You never wanted to rely on a heter iska,” she reminds him. “That’s why we put off renovating the storeroom.”

“There’s always a first time. And at least we get to be mehader in the mitzvah of tzedakah, giving to family,” he whispers over his shoulder.

“I won’t let you go against your principles,” she insists. “I can’t do that.”

The bus exits the city, rumbling down the winding road. “I won’t let you rent out your office,” he says quietly to the window, “and then find out ten years from now how traumatized you were from working at home in a cramped corner, and so on and so forth.” His tone is sarcastic, and she’s wounded to the core. To make matters worse, she knows deep in that same core that he’s right.

You’re such a martyr, she accuses herself. You give and give, and then you whine about it. You sacrifice yourself, and then you cry that you can’t handle it.

Ten years from now? She’s crying already now. She gazes at the cemetery spread out over on the left, imagines the thousands of people resting peacefully under their cool gravestones, and she’s hurt to the point of tears.

“You’re not being fair,” she whispers through the crack between the seats, first making sure Sari is asleep and her head is tilted away from them.

“Well maybe you’re not being fair, spending years giving me the feeling I can go and learn, that everything’s under control, and then all of sudden accusing me of being this oblivious dimwit who never noticed that his wife was falling apart all those years.”

A little too late, Nechami realizes she’s not the only one with feelings.

Shua’s shoulders are stiff, and his resolve is stiffer. “So as long as I have anything to say about it,” he says, “we’re not renting your office out to anyone. And I’ll take a loan from the bank with a heter iska.”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 891)

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