| Light Years Away |

Light Years Away: Chapter 59

“Have a look at your ticket,” Dudi said, waving some printed papers in front of me. “And think”



The voices drift toward me as I sit in my airplane seat with my eyes closed.

“Of course I love you. You’re my brother.”

“It’s kind of hard to feel that, sometimes. But let’s try to believe it,” Dudi says.

“There you go again, with the cynicism. I’m talking seriously,” Abba answers.

Abba really does love Dudi. He just has his own way of showing it. His own language.

“I’m talking seriously, too.” That’s Dudi’s voice when he’s feeling like nobody in this family understands him. I think I do understand him. Abba thinks so, too, and it worries him. “You don’t really see me, Gedalya. All you see is ‘the brother who went modern.’ You can’t seem to show any real interest in my life… in the person I am. In my work. In the things I’m passionate about.”


The airport was lots of fun.

It was very big. It was full of people and shops. And screens hanging everywhere, with numbers and letters that kept changing. At first I felt bewildered.

“I’d never be able to find my way around here on my own,” I told Abba.

Dudi encouraged me to try. “Let’s say you were here alone,” he said. “You need to get on a plane flying to Los Angeles. What do you do?”

I looked around at all the people and the signs.

“Um… I’d look around for a picture of a plane taking off?” I turned this way and that way. I didn’t really know what I was doing. “How am I supposed to know where to go from here?”

“Have a look at your ticket,” Dudi said, waving some printed papers in front of me. “And think.”

I was pulling my suitcase behind me, a cute purple one my aunts from the Silver side surprised me with. I stopped for a moment and looked at the big electronic sign on the pillar. It had rows and rows of numbers and letters, and names of cities all over the world. Suddenly I started to get it. I saw the words “Los Angeles,” and along the row I saw the time it was going to take off — it matched the time of our flight.

“Good, you found it,” said Dudi. “Now, LY is the symbol for El Al, and the number after it is your flight number, just like it says on your ticket. Now try and figure out where you have to go.”

It took me only two seconds. “That’s easy — it says ‘gate’ up there. So that letter and number after our flight number, that’s the gate we have to go to?”

“You got it!” Dudi was so enthusiastic, you’d think I’d said something brilliant. “You’re already becoming a woman of the world.”

“Tovi will be the wife of a talmid chacham, b’ezras Hashem, not ‘a woman of the world,’ ” Abba corrected him, and he took my free hand.

I was busy reading the names of other interesting cities. There were some that I never heard of before.

“Where’s Sochi?” I asked. “And I see there’s a flight to San Francisco. That’s also in California, right?”

I could see Abba had more to say, but he didn’t say it. My father is very wise.

We got in line behind lots of other people, and I chattered like that while we waited for our turn to talk to the security guard, and again when we waited for our turn to go up to the counter where they weigh your suitcases. Suddenly I realized that in a few hours, all the people in that big hall — there must have been thousands of them — were going to be scattered in different places all over the world. It would probably never happen again that these exact same people would all be together in one place. I tried to figure out the chances of it happening.

Dudi said I could be a philosopher. Or a mathematician.

I reminded him that I was supposed to be the wife of a talmid chacham.

He said there are plenty of wives of talmidei chachamim who go to school and learn all sorts of professions, and if I had a well-paying profession, I could be the breadwinner and my husband could learn. Like Shua Bernfeld or Moishy Shpinder.

I asked him if there were jobs in philosophy. It sounded like such fun, to think thoughts all day and get paid for it. He laughed and said not really. But I could find a job doing something with math.

Abba didn’t say anything.

After all our carry-on things were checked and allowed through, we found a place to sit next to the big duty-free shop, and I took out the journal Batya had given me. She’d explained that it was a travel journal. You’re supposed to write down all your travel experiences in it. I was trying to work out probabilities. Let’s say there was a world with only three people in it, and each one of them was in a different place every day. What was the probability that they would all meet again in the same place?

“It depends,” Dudi said, straightening the clip of his kippah. “How many places are there in your world?”

“Let’s go with ten places, to make it simple,” I said.

He thought for a moment. “Ten isn’t simple at all,” he said. “Let’s try it with two places.”

So we sat there, with my father learning and me and Dudi drawing in my journal a world with two places. And then a world with three places. And Dudi explained to me about probability. It was so interesting!

On the plane, I fell asleep after a while, and I had some funny dreams. Dr. Barclay was telling jokes about surgeons. She was speaking English, but I understood, because it was the joke about the plumber.

The surgeon said to the plumber, “What? Five hundred dollars for ten minutes of work? Even I don’t make that much!”

But then the plumber said the wrong punchline and ruined the joke.

“In Israel, it ends differently,” I tried to explain to her.

The interns stood there laughing out loud, and I didn’t know why. They called the nurses and doctors and secretaries over to join in the fun.

I looked in the big mirror that was there. I was Tovi, but with two normal ears.

“The end is different everywhere,” Dr. Barclay said in Hebrew, with a heavy accent.

I could hear her on the left side, too, without my hearing aid! It was amazing! Sound wasn’t being transferred from my skull to the hearing device anymore, it was going straight into my ear. But then Abba talked a bit too loudly, and I woke up.


“We have a task to complete in This World. And we have instructions to follow,” I hear him say.

“Yeah, but we’re not robots that can just follow instructions mechanically,” Dudi answered heatedly. “That’s what you can’t seem to understand — because you’re stuck in your narrow point of view. Human beings are complex.”

“I’m not a robot, either. Is that what you think?” I keep my eyes closed, but I can picture my father with his hand on his forehead as he addresses Dudi. “You think I don’t realize how much easier it would be for me to have a home computer and use it for shopping and banking? And even without the computer — to go on trips wherever I feel like, to do what I want, to read whatever comes along…. Do you think I don’t have any desires, that I’m not human?”

“You feel like doing things that are assur sometimes? Tssk.” Dudi clucks his tongue. “What is the world coming to?”

“The cynicism in you is like the salt in a salad,” Abba sighs. “Impossible to get it out. Yes, sometimes I feel like doing things that are off-limits, okay? When Kantorovitch brings in his magazines for his ‘professional research’ and I step into his office and see him and the production manager bent over a colorful article, do you think it doesn’t draw me? Of course it does. I overcome the urge to join them. I know it’s not good for my ruchniyus.”

“I admire you for that,” Dudi says. And this time I don’t think there’s any salt in it. “But not everyone can live like that, or wants to.”

“We don’t do what we want,” Abba explains to him. And I know he truly means that.

They don’t know I can hear them, but luckily for me, I’m sitting to their left. Abba changed places with Dudi while I was asleep, I guess. He’s sitting next to me now, and Dudi is on his right, in the aisle seat. So my right ear, which hears so well, is positioned to take in every word they’re saying. Their conversation drifts to things that aren’t really suitable for my age. Interesting things. Dudi starts talking about how things were for him before he got engaged to Yaffa’le. That’s the most interesting thing in the world and I would love to hear more. But Abba wouldn’t like that. It’s not appropriate.

“Abba, I can hear you,” says a sleepy voice from somewhere inside me. “I’d love to sit here quietly and keep on listening, but you taught us that we don’t do everything we want, right?”

All at once, they both stop talking. They turn and look at me.

I rub my eyes. “So don’t talk about stuff that’s not appropriate for kids now, okay?” I tell them. “I’m going to try to go back to sleep. When you want to go on with your conversation, ask me quietly if I’m awake. I’ll tell you if I am.”

“All right, Tovi,” Abba says.

Dudi laughs and says, “Don’t worry. She’ll turn out more like you than like me. Tovi, you’re one of a kind.”

It’s cold in the airplane, and I pull my thin hoodie around me as tightly as I can. Outside the window, there’s a weird kind of mist. It doesn’t look like night or day. This whole flight is weird. We took off from Israel at 1 a.m., and we’re going to land at 6 in the morning. But somehow, 15 hours get spread out over that time. That’s a lot!! The meals they’re giving us are weird, too, but they taste good. This whole thing, traveling to Los Angeles, is weird, but yummy. And I’m tired.

I think about Ima, and how she cried so hard when we left. She hugged me and couldn’t let go, until Abba told her gently that the taxi was already outside. And then she hugged me once more, and again she couldn’t let go. It would make a really touching story if someone wrote it, about a mother who has to stay home while her daughter travels to the other side of the world for a surgical procedure.


I guess I fell asleep again for a while, because when I opened my eyes again there was Los Angeles down below us. It was incredible. We landed very close to the ocean — that was scary. We rubbed our eyes and slowly made our way out of the plane, went through passport control and waited for our luggage. I never knew there were so many people in the world. It was already seven in the morning when I sat down to watch our suitcases while Abba and Dudi joined a small minyan, right there in the airport.

Now I have my journal open, and I’m drawing in it with a plain pencil. Batya said you can also draw in a travel journal, you don’t only have to write. And this is how my journey in California begins: Abba’s left arm, the sleeve of a white cotton dress shirt rolled up. Dudi’s left arm, the sleeve of a light-blue polo shirt rolled up. And straps of identical black leather tightly wound around both arms.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 903)

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