| Light Years Away |

Light Years Away: Chapter 50

She really doesn’t know who in this house would have such particles of science, such bits of biology, in their possession


“Did you know that Dudi raised almost the whole amount Gedalya needs for Tovi’s surgery?” Nechami asks Ima. She picks up the receipt lying on the table — it’s from the sheitelmacher, for Chaya’s sheitel —turns it over, and writes “NIS 185,000” on the back, underlining it with a flourish. “The family fundraising drive was his idea. He coordinated everything, and he raised so much money.”

Nechami piles it on. She has to get Ima to see that Dudi is a good person, that he cares, that he does mitzvos.

“In my Torah, the one I learned when I stood at Har Sinai, it doesn’t say you have to wear baggy black pants and a white shirt,” he’d said to her yesterday. “It does say a lot about chesed and tzedakah, though.”

Nechami hadn’t let that go by without reminding him of what he already knew: all about communal codes of dress and conduct and how they keep a person anchored, and what a zechus it is to live by defined standards…. But now, when she’s in Ima’s house, she focuses on all the good Dudi has done for Gedalya.

“I need that receipt,” Ima says, taking the slip of paper, turning it over again, and putting it back in the folder that Chaya has decorated with delicate swirls of 3D glitter paint. It’s where she’s keeping all the lists, bills, and receipts for the wedding.

“A week from now, right after the wedding, we’ll transfer the whole amount to the medical center,” Dudi had told Nechami yesterday. “Don’t you think that’s a very big mitzvah? Is it a smaller mitzvah than wearing a long black coat, or censoring ads in the Mehadhed?”

“Would you please stop advocating for Dudi?” Ima says now. “It’s very nice he’s helping Gedalya. But that doesn’t make him…”

Doesn’t make him what?

A strange, coiled object is sitting on the kitchen shelf. Nechami knows what it is. She runs a hand over it.

“Maybe you know where that came from?” says Ima. “Angela found it behind the radiator when she was cleaning there.”

“I dunno,” Nechami murmurs, playing dumb as she stares at the little plastic model of a DNA molecule, its two strands entwined in a double helix. She made a simulation like this herself in 3ds Max.

But she really doesn’t know who in this house would have such particles of science, such bits of biology, in their possession.

“It doesn’t look to you like DNA?” Her mother isn’t stupid.

“Well… yes,” Nechami admits. She just isn’t ready for another round of acrimony about Dudi.

“So why do you act like you don’t know?”

When DNA replicates, it starts by separating into two strands. The double helix unwinds from beginning to end, and the two strands go their separate ways. Single-strand proteins come along and attach themselves to each of those original strands, preventing them from joining back together. They are meant to separate, to be divided and to regrow.

“Ruchama’s son was accepted into Rav Baruch’s kollel,” Ima says. “Chaim’ke, the one who was with Dudi in yeshivah ketanah.”

Off topic, but not really off topic. Nechami knows this is really part of the Dudi conversation. “How nice,” she says to Ima, keeping the emotion out of her voice. “Who told you?”

“Ruchama told me herself.”

Some of Ima’s friends don’t have much tact. In fact, they have almost none.

“She doesn’t even have the basic wiring for a functioning mind,” Dudi had once grumbled about one of them. “If she went out and bought a package of common sense, she’d have nowhere to install it.”

Oy, that had made Ima so mad. And Nechami and Chaya had pressed their lips together to keep from giggling.

But it wasn’t funny. Because those dear friends were always bringing Ima back to the same point, back to the same weary, frustrating dance with Dudi that ultimately landed them both in muddy whirlpool.

“Why does she have to tell you about her son?” Nechami asks, upset.

“Shh. Don’t let Chaya hear any raised voices,” Ima warns her. “And what do you mean? Who wouldn’t share good news like that with their friends?”

“Ruchama knows you have a son the same age, who… who hasn’t fulfilled your hopes for him.” Nechami phrases it carefully. She’s still infuriated. “She knows what a sensitive subject it is for you. Why does she have to brag about her son to you? What’s she trying to accomplish?”

“She didn’t have me or Dudi in mind at all when she told me about her Chaim’ke.”

That’s exactly the problem, Nechami thinks. Why didn’t she think? Why can’t Ruchama be just a bit more careful what she says, when she knows how much your heart aches for Dudi? Couldn’t she stop for a moment to consider how you’re going to feel when you hear about her Chaim’ke being accepted at one of the most prestigious kollelim in Yerushalayim?

“By the way, I’ve made up my mind that this time, I won’t let Dudi and Yaffa’le ruin the wedding,” Ima tells her now. “I talked it over with Yocheved, and I decided that no matter how they show up, looking like who knows what, I won’t say a word. I’ll just smile. While we’re on the subject, do you happen to know what Yaffa’le’s planning to wear?”

After they separate, each single strand of DNA rebuilds itself into a double helix, forming a new, matching strand. Guanine attaches to cytosine. Adenine attaches to thymine. And so a new molecule is created upon the template of the original. Those coils are replicated, perfect matches to their predecessors.

But people are not DNA, Nechami knows, as she runs her fingers over the little model. People don’t form exact replicas. They are individuals, with their own quirks and characters that don’t quite match where they came from.

She puts the DNA model in her coat pocket. She’ll give it to Dudi next time she sees him.

“Why talk about ‘ruining’?” she pleads. Ima has walked her out to the top of the staircase. “Dudi and Yaffa’le don’t ‘ruin’ weddings, Ima. They simply come to join in our simchahs, in their own way. The wedding is going to be beautiful, joyful, uplifting…. Everything’s going to be fine.”

“You don’t understand, Nechami.” Ima sighs. “And my brachah to you is that you should never understand. All your children should turn out to be just as you want them to be.”


  • ••



I don’t understand all this business about heredity at all. Abba says we don’t have to understand everything. We don’t have to understand anything, in fact — we just have to do the right thing, that’s all.

And it makes me wonder. How can two parents like mine, who just do the right thing, that’s all, have a kid like me who wants to understand, wants to know, and sometimes even to do things she’s not supposed to? Like getting her ear(s) pierced, for example.

“Tovi,” Ima said to me tonight. She was sitting at the table, looking at me with big, astonished eyes. “You can’t wear earrings, because….”

“An earring,” I said. “I’ll tell you how. I’ll let a bit of my right ear show from under my hairband, like this. I want an earring. They have some stunning ones at Shai-li.”

The lady there said she couldn’t sell me just one at a discount, because they only come in pairs. But they’re not expensive even at full price. I could pay with my own money.

“Who wears just one earring?” Ima wanted to know.

“Girls who have one ear,” I told her.

“Tovi!” was all she could say. But she said it in that voice that means, “Where on earth do you get these ideas from?”

“Ima!” I answered, in a voice that meant “Why not?”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing in my life,” Ima said.

“I’ll keep the other earring for after the surgery, and then we can go back to the store and get my new ear pierced. Pleeeease! I want to wear earrings for Chaya’s wedding! Or at least one….”

None of my sisters have earrings. But they’re all still little. Maybe Ima didn’t get them earrings so I wouldn’t be jealous. But I don’t just have sisters, I have friends, too. And today Chaya Lea came to school with such a stunning pair of earrings. They had a little blue teardrop, and wrapped around it was a coil with sparkly little stones, all inside a little hoop. All the girls were asking her where she bought them and how much they cost, and I started feeling like I needed earrings, too.

On the way home, when a group of girls went into Shai-li, I went in with them. While they were all busy looking at the hoop earrings, I slipped away and asked the saleslady about ear-piercing, and which styles she had for starter earrings.

“We’ll ask Abba,” Ima said, in the voice she uses when she wants to end a discussion.

“Abba doesn’t know about jewelry,” I said, instead of taking the hint.

“He knows about chinuch.” And she gave me a look that meant, “I’m tired, Tovi, so don’t give me any trouble.”

I don’t make trouble at all! I made supper tonight for all the younger kids, and I even gave each one a choice: omelets or sunny-side up. I put Chumi and Suri to bed and sang to them for half an hour, until I was hoarse. I wouldn’t call that “making trouble.” I’d call it helping a whole lot, in my humble opinion.

Abba came home tired from work, to find the kitchen a mess and the living room a zoo. (People say a messy room is like a zoo, but I don’t know why. We were at the zoo once, and it was clean, orderly, and spacious. But anyway, the house was a mess.)

“Tovi wants earrings for the wedding,” Ima informed him.

I wanted to tell him that I also helped out with the shopping for the wedding. I bought tights for us all, and I chose hair accessories, and I even took Chumi to buy shoes. I helped a ton! Didn’t I deserve one little thing for myself?

“Maybe we could get you a nice bracelet,” Abba suggested. “Savta Bloch always gives a bracelet for a bas mitzvah. We could ask her if she’d mind giving you yours a little early, so you’ll have it for the wedding.”

“But I want earrings!”

Abba looked half worried, half amused. “But how… where would you… I mean, do you realize what you’re asking for?”

“One would go right here.” I pointed to my right ear.

“Yes… and the other one?”

“In my drawer. Until the summer.”

“I don’t know if you’re  allowed to do a piercing in a biological implant,” Abba said. “We’ll have to clear that with Dr. Barclay.” He took out the little notepad he keeps in his pocket and wrote in his small, close handwriting: “Earrings — check with doctor.”

“If not, then I’ll just wear one.”

“Mah pitom? Our girls don’t go around with one earring. Why would you want that?”

And that’s how the evening ended — with two parents who do only what they’re supposed to do, and a daughter who wants one earring… and not one person in this house who understands me.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 894)

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