| Light Years Away |

Light Years Away: Chapter 49

Raphael remains behind, pensive. He hopes his revelation hasn’t messed things up too much for Gedalya


In an apartment building in Dresden’s Old Town, a man sits scratching his forehead.

“What is it?” Inge asks, about to leave for the Postplatz station.

“I made a mistake,” he says.

“Only one?” she asks. Nur einer?

Raphael closes his laptop. “Well, today’s mistake was telling Dudi Silver that I’d been learning with his brother Gedalya. And that I still learn with him once a week on the phone.”

“Ah, the Talmud?” That big, cumbersome, dark red book that sits in their bookcase, spoiling its neatness with its shabby binding and all the text going backward.

“Ja. Dudi had wanted to study with me, but his family was against it,” he explains. “They were afraid I’d expose him to my way of life. They’re ultra-Orthodox Jews.”

She looks confused.

“And this brother, Gedali-ja, he is not ultra-Orthodox? His family is not afraid?”

Raphael stifles a smirk at her pronunciation. “He’s more Orthodox than Dudi, actually.”

Inge tries to fit the data into rows and columns. “His brother is more Orthodox, and he studies with you. Dudi is less Orthodox, and he cannot study with you?”

She despairs of ever understanding the social rules of his people. Why is his mother willing to eat with them at a restaurant, but not to invite them to her home? Why do his siblings meet with him separately, but not together?

“That’s right.”

“It makes no sense to me at all.” And with a “Guten tag,” she’s out the door.

Raphael remains behind, pensive. He hopes his revelation hasn’t messed things up too much for Gedalya.


“So it’s okay for Gedalya to learn with your friend’s son?” Dudi feels a tall wave of anger rising within him, about to crash.

“Good morning, my dear Ima,” Leah corrects him. “That’s how to start a conversation with your mother. With a little derech eretz.”

“Good morning, my dear Ima.” Dudi’s hands clench the steering wheel as he drives the car up Highway 1. “Did you know that your dear son Gedalya — the tzaddik who reviews our reading material and saves our souls — has been learning with Raphael Beigel?”

“Yes,” she replies. She doesn’t even try to feign surprise. “Who told you?”

“Raphael told me himself. I called him to see if I could get him to contribute to Tovi’s fund. The company he works for has these ‘charity days,’ and I was thinking he might be able to send a few hundred, maybe a few thousand euros our way. And what does he say to me? That he’s already doing it, Gedalya already told him that his daughter needs an expensive procedure abroad. When did he tell him? On Motzaei Shabbos, when they were learning together on the phone, as usual.”

“Yes,” his mother says again. “I know they learn together.”

“But you wouldn’t let me learn with Raphael!”

“As if you ask my permission for anything.” From choosing a kallah to doing a questionable photo shoot, you’ve never wanted my approval.

“Okay,” Dudi concedes. “But you didn’t want me to learn with him. You were afraid he’d be a bad influence on me.”

“That’s right.” His mother doesn’t even think of denying it.

“But it’s fine for Gedalya to learn with him!”

“That’s right.”

“Aren’t you afraid the intermarried Jew from Dresden will damage Gedalya’s pure soul?” Dudi asks. “Don’t you care about Gedalya?”

“First of all, Gedalya doesn’t ask for my permission, either. He’s a grown man.”

“And I’m not a grown man? What am I, a baby?”

Leah checks to make sure that Chaya, the kallah, isn’t within earshot, and only then does she raise her guns. “Do you want to hear the truth? I’ll tell you — yes, you’re a baby. You hear? Gedalya has a strong foundation in ruchniyus. He’s anchored, he has clear boundaries. If I had to choose which one of you would learn with Yocheved’s wayward son, I’d choose him.”

Please, Ima, love me too, Dudi screams silently. I’m not such a bad son. My wife and I are bringing in 185,000 shekels for your granddaughter’s surgery — did you know that?

She changes the subject. “Will you be in Yerushalayim today?”

“Yes. I have a test.” Ask me, Ima. A test in what subject?

She doesn’t ask.

“On fiber optic communication,” he answers. Ask me if that’s a hard subject. Ask me if I like it.

She doesn’t ask.

“I really enjoy learning about it,” he says, “but it’s hard. Very hard.” Especially because I only started learning math and English as an adult, thanks to the education you gave me. He doesn’t say that. He’s trying not to offend her. He knows the map well, knows where each path leads to. Thin raindrops begin to fall on his windshield.

“If you’re anyway studying something difficult, you could at least learn Yevumes,” she says and sighs, pronouncing the masechta’s name in a chassidishe accent.

“I wanted to learn Gemara with Raphael Beigel,” he reminds her, “but you were against it.”

“You mean you wanted a chance to rub shoulders with a fellow who’s abandoned Torah and mitzvos for a life of depravity,” she says. “Everyone close to you understood very well what you were after, so of course they were against it. You know what Chazal say, the Torah isn’t a spade to dig with. Certainly not for that kind of digging.”

“Oh, I see. And Gedalya?”

“Gedalya needed the money,” Leah responds swiftly. “You know what his financial picture looks like right now. And as I said, Gedalya is stable in his ruchniyus. He has real yiras Shamayim. Raphael won’t have a bad influence on him. Hopefully, it’ll be just the opposite. Gedalya is on a higher level, what can I tell you?”

“Why don’t you just come out and say it, Ima — you hate me.”

There’s a long silence.

Jerusalem appears on the horizon, beautiful as ever, drinking up every drop of the late-winter rain. The road bends to the right. To the left. Then it’s straight again. A traffic light. Dudi is shocked at his own words. He pales. “I’m sorry, Ima. I didn’t mean that.”

But she’s already hung up.


“What’s up?” Yaffa’le sounds cheerful. “I’m just on my way to Shilat, to get my old wig shortened for Chaya’s wedding, like we discussed. Tzippy’s going to be a little upset that I’m late for work, but I’ll make it up to her. How’re you doing? What time is your test?”

“At ten,” Dudi says. “But you can skip going to Shilat.”

“Why?” She looks at the wig case in her hand. “She said she’d do the cut for the price of a regular wash-and-set.”

“I want you to come to my sister’s wedding the way you want. And looking the way you choose to look. There’s no reason to pretend.”

“Aha, you were just talking with your mother, weren’t you?” Yaffa’le is right on target. “And she got you mad.” Bull’s-eye.

“It’s not a matter of getting mad,” says Dudi, escaping into the dry definitions of his physicist mode. “It’s just that I realize now that we’re never going to be good enough for her. It’s no use trying. Gedalya will always be the tzaddik, even if he does whatever he feels like, and I’ll always be the…” The bad one. The disappointment. The one who broke her heart. “Even if I bend over backward trying to please them.”

“What happened with your mother?” Yaffa’le asks, wrinkling her forehead. She continues walking toward Shilat, her trusted wig stylist.

“You remember when Gedalya got a driver’s license?” Dudi says. “That was fine with everybody — of course he needed it. He works in Yerushalayim, he has a family, he doesn’t have time for buses. He couldn’t afford to keep a car, of course, and he sold it pretty soon after and went back to taking buses. But that didn’t matter. It was Gedalya, so it was fine. But when I got a license? Oy oy oy, Dudi, what do you need a license for? Where do you want to drive to? Why can’t you just toe the line like the rest of us?”

“What happened this morning?” she repeats, as she walks up the steps to the wig salon. She knocks on the door.

“Nothing new. Nobody believes in me, that’s all. Don’t bother cutting the wig.”

“Hi, Shilat,” he hears her saying. And then the sound of a zipper opening, and a light rustling. “How much do you think we should cut off? Five centimeters? Seven?”


“Have a good day, Dudi. Hatzlachah on your test. We’ll talk later.” And she hangs up.

There are 20 kilometers between Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, and her winning smile reaches him in a fraction of a second.


“He said that I hate him.”

“Oh, Ima,” Nechami sighs.

She’s only dropped in for a few minutes, to bring the clothes she picked up from the seamstress for her mother, and Chaya’s kallah bracelet that was sent to the jeweler to remove a link. And the over-the-door hooks that she bought for the young couple’s apartment.

She’d gone out to the porch, stumbling straight into the thicket. She’d found her mother looking pale and shocked, her eyes moist, her expression baffled.

Suddenly, Nechami remembers how it was when Chaya was born. Dudi was a cute little four-year-old, and she’d made a project of pampering him while Ima tended to the new baby. She would bathe and dress him, comb his thin peyos, and tap his cute little nose with her finger. On Shabbos nights she would take him along on walks with her friends, and in the afternoon she would play thinking and guessing games with him. She was so proud of him, her little brother who could solve even the hardest challenges when they played Rush Hour. With her own money, she’d bought him an expansion pack of additional challenge cards.

Now it’s the present, though, and her mother no longer sees the bright little boy who had once charmed her so. “Maybe you and Dudi should take a break from arguing?” Nechami suggests. “For a couple of weeks, like until after the wedding?”

“I need to take a break from arguing?” Her mother is almost insulted. “What did I do? He calls me up and starts throwing accusations at me without even saying good morning.”

Have you ever thought of asking him about his courses, Ima? About his work? Maybe you could show a little interest in the booklets he puts out, the ones I do the simulations for? Would it cost you anything to congratulate him on the grant he received for the project?

Nechami says none of this, because it isn’t her place to give parental guidance to her mother.

“And then he said I hate him.” They step inside. Nechami shows her the things she’s brought. The bracelet, the clothes, the hooks.

“I love him.” Her mother’s voice sounds tight, choked. “I wouldn’t talk to him if I didn’t. If I didn’t love him, I wouldn’t care what he does with his life. It wouldn’t bother me how he looks, what sort of friends he has.”

The way his wife dresses. The boundaries they both dropped a long time ago. The things they read and watch. The way they raise Avital, like two big babies themselves. The way they speak. The whole downhill path they’ve taken. Only a mother who loves her child would feel the pain she’s feeling right now.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 893)

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