| Light Years Away |

Light Years Away: Chapter 52

Abba is such a good man. He tried to tell me that even now, if I don’t want the surgery, we won’t do it



For the past half year, I’ve been standing at the top of a very steep, scary water slide, making up excuses, not knowing where I’ll find the courage to sit down and allow gravity to pull me downward.

But this week, when Abba went with Dudi to transfer the money to Dr. Barclay’s clinic, I felt like there were two strong hands on my back, pushing me. Or an unseen force that sent me flying straight down the water slide. Now there’s no turning back, and I can’t change my mind.

Abba is such a good man. He tried to tell me that even now, if I don’t want the surgery, we won’t do it. But I knew I wouldn’t back out. I saw what a burden this was for him, how worried he’d been for me. I saw Ima, who wanted so much to see me healthy and whole. I saw all my aunts and uncles, who’d collected a huge amount of money for me (that’s a big secret, though). There was no way I could change my mind now.

I saw myself. I really wanted to be fixed. My heart was fluttering with fear. Like when I was at the water park, about to get onto the slide that goes straight down. But that was over in half a minute (with me screaming “Shema Yisrael” all the way down), and this time I have 25 days until it’s done.

I’ve been using housework as a way to calm my fears. All week, Chaimke and I have been scrubbing the bedrooms for Pesach, with Ima giving us instructions the whole time. Then, on Friday night, we went to eat a catered meal at the Shaarei Chesed simchah hall. Lots of families from the neighborhood were there. Some people had just bought Shabbos food there on Friday and were eating at home, but others, like us, came to eat the seudah there and avoid having to deal with chometz in an almost-clean house.

We found a table and sat down. Then Abba and Chaimke took some mechitzahs and placed them all around our table. And all of a sudden, a little head poked through between two of the mechitzahs, laughing and calling to us, “Chumi and Suri! Chumi and Suri!”

“Avital!” My little sisters got up and ran to her, and they all spun in a circle together until they were dizzy. They had gotten to know her during the wedding and the sheva brachos, as if she were a new cousin they’d just discovered. As if she hadn’t been living within walking distance of our house for two and a half years.

“Abba, that’s Dudi’s daughter,” I told him.

“I know,” he said.

“Maybe… maybe if they’re here for the meal, too, we could invite them to join us at our table?”

Abba looked at Ima. Ima was tired. Chumi and Suri shouted “Yay!” and I went to find Dudi and Yaffa’le and invite them to our table.

“You’ve built yourselves a fortress here,” Dudi laughed as I led them into our screened-off little corner. “The waiters won’t be able to get in.”

“It’s really nice, actually,” Yaffa’le said. “So much more privacy.” I knew she was trying to make Ima feel good.

“Yaffa’le’s completely exhausted, don’t ask,” Dudi told Abba while they were bringing the fish. “It’s high season now for advertising — as you know. The censors are also working overtime, as you know. So now there’s a new trend: ‘Give me the ad from HaMehadhed.’ ”

“What do you mean?” Abba asked.

Dudi was right about him working overtime all last week. He even stayed overnight in Jerusalem a couple of times. That’s why we were having the Shabbos meal there in the hall, because with Ima so tired and Abba always at work, there was no way they could prepare everything at home.

“You’ve become an icon!” Dudi complained. “My dear brother, you’re now officially the top content reviewer in chareidi journalism. Your colleagues at the other papers don’t have the energy to fight with people like Yaffa’le at the advertising agencies, so they say, ‘Just give me the version Gedalya approved, and we’ll go with that.’ What do you think of that?”

“I’m happy that other publications are adopting high standards,” Abba said. I looked at him. He really did look happy. “If our children aren’t seeing words and ideas that are foreign to Yiddishkeit, that’s good. If pesukim and phrases from tefillah aren’t being used to sell things, and there are no references to anything indelicate, then I’m happy.”

I was proud of Abba. But I was afraid Yaffa’le would start arguing with him and spoil everything.

“Dudi,” she said, “your brother is absolutely right.”

“Well, well!” Dudi said, looking at her with his eyebrows raised. “Coming from you, that’s something!”

“I mean it,” she said. “On Thursday I opened the paper and I was really mad when I saw the changes they made at the last minute. I’m going to make the marketing manager pay — he owes me for this. And Gedalya is right.”

“If Gedalya is right, that means your ad wasn’t okay the way it was. So it follows that you were wrong.”

I looked from Dudi to Yaffa’le, and back to Dudi. My siblings were doing the same thing, sitting there with open mouths, turning their heads like they were watching a ping-pong game.

Yaffa’le answered Dudi, “It’s not a matter of one side being right and the other side wrong. The ocean’s job is to make waves, and the beach’s job is to hold them back.”

Abba started to sing “Azamer b’Shevachin.”


After candle-lighting, Nechami lay down and sank into her pillow. For two hours, a wave of bizarre, disturbing dreams washed over her. No little boy cried, no little girl asked for a snack, and the angel of dreams took the opportunity to torment her freely.

Her younger sister, it seems, already has four children. Moishy says he can’t raise four kids two weeks after the wedding, and he has to go to kollel. The clients are yelling at Chaya for not sending their slide shows on time. Nechami comes over to help. She arranges all the little ones in one big baby stroller. First she seats them all in a row, and then she decides to take the stroller apart and reassemble it with two seats in front and two behind.

“Ima!” Yossi and Yehudit are suddenly at her side, pulling at her arms. “Ima! Abba’s making Kiddush!”

“Thank goodness,” she mumbles, realizing in a flash what a ludicrous dream that was. She pulls herself together quickly and comes to the table, stopping on the way for netilas yadayim.

“You saved me from a horrible dream,” she tells her husband.

She had been worrying about Chaya when she fell asleep. Right before Shabbos, her sister had told her that the bedroom closet door had fallen off, and the fridge was shorting out all the time.

“Happy to help,” Shua laughs.

The boys give a hand, serving and clearing, and very soon they’re finished with the Shabbos meal. Nechami gives basic instructions for getting the little ones to bed, makes sure someone will stay home with them, and takes two blue containers of dry ice from the freezer.

“Who is that for?” Shua accompanies her out of the house, on the way to his longtime chavrusa.

“I’m going to see what’s going on with my sister. Her fridge went on the blink on Erev Shabbos. She might need some help.”

“You’re not too tired?” he asks, concerned.

“Not anymore. I won’t be able to sleep now.”

“When will you be back?”

“I don’t know. We’ll see.”

The young couple insisted on making Shabbos at home the first few weeks, not to impose on their hardworking parents during the pre-Pesach cleaning frenzy. Nechami thinks of her sister, so young, sitting alone on the couch, and she quickens her pace.

They’ll have to see about getting that closet door fixed, she thinks. She wonders what happened. Did the hinge break completely, and they’ll have to get a new one at one of the hardware stores in Beis Yisrael? Or did those ancient screws just rust away? There’s a really nice electric screwdriver in the toolkit Moishy’s brothers gave him… she’d love to inaugurate it.

“Hey, mah nishma?” If Chaya’s surprised to see her, she’s trying to hide it.

Nechami hears a voice from the living room. A man, learning.

“Oh — Moishy’s here?”

“Of course.” Why would she ask that? “I told you a long time ago that he was planning to learn at home on Friday nights.” And I’d curl up on the couch, saying Tehillim or reading the Hed Kevodah.


“Is your fridge okay?” Nechami asks. “I brought some dry ice, just in case.”

“Thanks!” Chaya says with genuine appreciation. “You’re such a tzadeikes! But baruch Hashem, it’s working. There was just a little problem with the plug — you know, that white plastic around the pins.”

Nechami is familiar with that malfunction. She’s fixed it herself, using two irons and a radiator. “And you fixed it?”

Chaya stares at her. She wants to say something, but she’s hesitating. “Yes,” she says. “We fixed it.”

“Who fixed it?”

“Moishy.” Chaya is blushing. She knows what her sister’s thinking, how she’ll feel.

But no, she doesn’t know.

Nechami is thrown back, as if picked up by a sudden, powerful wind and dropped in a little rented apartment in Geula. There she is, a young kallah, calling in a plumber when she hasn’t managed to fix the faucet herself.

“Could I see that broken closet door?” she asks. It’s dawned on her that she won’t be inaugurating that beautiful Makita impact driver, nisht oif Shabbos geredt.

“Moishy fixed it,” Chaya says quietly. “It took two minutes, with his Makita. We just screwed the hinge back on in another place, because the holes had gotten too big.”


“He did,” Chaya concedes. “I stood there making unnecessary suggestions.”

From the living room, Nechami hears a sweet singsong.

“U’mihu bechor kodem sheba lidei Kohein…”

He’s learning maseches Bechoros. She recognizes it right away, eishes chaver that she is.

“V’im atah omer shehu bechor, im kein tein li kulah…”

Her sister’s house is well-lit and warm. Nechami is afraid that any moment someone will put the thinnest, sharpest drill bit on the impact driver, come up to her, and drill into that spot deep inside that she didn’t know was there. Trrr… that soft, hot whirring. Her heart will stop beating. An ambulance will come, its siren echoing through Rechov Shmuel HaNavi, and the paramedics will think it’s cardiac arrest. When they fill out their report, they won’t know that under “cause of death,” they should have written “jealousy.”

But the drilling doesn’t happen.

Nechami waits for the burning to start. But jealousy doesn’t come. Maybe jealousy only comes to empty hearts, and hers is full now. It took her years. But now she has it.

“I… I was afraid to tell you,” Chaya says. “Because I knew… I knew how…”

“You didn’t need to be afraid.” All at once, Nechami knows what it is, this feeling that’s flooding her. It’s simple joy. She’s very happy for her sister. There’s always room for joy, particularly if you’re already full. “It’s all right, Chayushke. You can go right on being happy, I won’t bother you.”

In beautiful Yerushalayim, a woman walks alone on Shabbos night. She climbs the slope of Rechov Yechezkel. There’s no ambulance, and the street is silent. And with great love and a serene heart, she walks home. To her own house.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 896)

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