Light Years Away: Chapter 61| March 29, 2022
Yaffa’le, a good girl at heart, from a good home, was alarmed. This was more than she’d bargained for
“So Yaffa’le said she needs my help,” Nechami says. “She’s in Sinai, remember? And they’re having some kind of… party.”
“A party.” Shua creases his forehead. “Aren’t they in the middle of the desert?” To him, Sinai means a wilderness, a gift, a hallowed destination.
“Oy, Shua. The desert where Yaffa’le is, isn’t your desert of Matan Torah. Where she is, they have electricity, running water, and a sound system, apparently, and lights.” Her imagination is too narrow to go further.
“And what did Yaffa’le want from you?”
“She wants me to help her find the strength not to go to this party.”
Apparently Yaffa’le’s dear friends weren’t really planning to spend all their time in Sinai lolling about on straw mats, watching the waves and reading books. They had more exciting things in mind. And Yaffa’le, a good girl at heart, from a good home, was alarmed. This was more than she’d bargained for.
So she’d called Nechami.
“But I didn’t know what to tell her.”
“Why not?” Shua asks.
“Because what do I know about these things?”
She can advise her friends on how not to get angry when your husband takes items from your private soda stash and forgets to replace them. (“But I always replace them in the end!” he’ll protest.) And how to refrain from saying anything when he makes Kiddush again with your nice, new siddur and leaves it spattered with wine, smelling of alcohol. (“What? But I was sure it was your old siddur!”) But not this.
“I don’t know how to stop her from going to a weird party with weird things going on,” she says, “especially when she can’t even tell me what the party will be like, because she doesn’t really know. I’ve never been invited to a party like that.”
Shua makes the rounds of the children’s rooms, checking that all is well. The little ones are sleeping, the big ones are reading quietly. “Maybe we should have a party,” he suggests.
“A party celebrating what?”
“The Bernfeld Family going to their secret lookout?”
Tum bbbbm tabatatatam-tam bbbbm ding la slaph-plaph
Tovi, Los Angeles
After we get our luggage from the baggage claim, Dudi rents a car. “So we can take you easily wherever you need to go,” he says.
We go to the rental counter, and he takes out his phone and speaks to the man there in English. He taps on the phone a few times, and the man gives him a key and a code.
Then we get into the car and drive along a beautiful, wide boulevard called W Street. I know, because I take a peek at Dudi’s Waze screen. He points out the cross streets, which are very straight and orderly, and all labeled with S for south or N for north. It might be a good idea, I think, to label the streets that way in Israel, too. Beit Shemesh is pretty confusing.
We arrive at the place where we’re staying — a basement with a separate entrance that a nice family gave us for free. We drag our suitcases out of the car, and Dudi takes his phone out of his pocket again and reads out the code to me, to unlock the door. I punch it in.
There are two bedrooms ready for us, and a kitchen with lots of cold drinks and cookies and things. Abba and I choose the bigger room. I open my suitcase to take out my Shabbos dress and hang it up, and again I hear the little noise Dudi’s phone makes when he gets a text message.
“Dudi,” Abba says to him quietly.
I sneak out behind him to the entryway.
“What?” Dudi looks up at him from the pink armchair. “I’m confirming our appointment today for the pre-op checkup. We can get a bit of sleep, recover from the flight, and go out at four to Minchah and then to the medical center.”
“Thank you,” Abba says to him. “Really. But… would you mind lowering the volume of all those sounds your phone makes?”
“Um… no problem.”
“Abba,” I whisper, when we are back in our room. I take out the pouch with my toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, and soap.
“Dudi’s phone is really helpful. He used it to rent the car. And to find out how to get here. And to get the code for the door so we could get in.”
I am afraid Abba will be upset that I said that. “Never mind, no big deal. Forget I said anything,” I mumble.
“You said something important.” Abba is sitting at the desk with his Gemara. And I am standing by the door to the shower room, looking at him with wide eyes.
“We never said those devices aren’t helpful,” Abba says calmly.
“You mean… you know they can make a lot of things easier?”
Abba laughs. “What do you think? We live without such devices, but not because they’re useless. We live without them even though they’re helpful.”
“Why do we avoid them?”
“Because they can lead us to things that aren’t good. And they can cause us to waste time. And you can get addicted to them. And we want to stop before we get pulled to a place where we might lose our bechirah.”
The shower there is strange… so American. There is a whole selection of toiletries there, and I open the shampoo and smell it cautiously. I end up using my own good old Pinuk shampoo that I’d brought with me from Israel. When I come out, Abba is still sitting and learning. I go to the kitchen and drink some cola. I come back to the room, get into bed, and sleep for a little while. When I get up, I see that Abba is sleeping. I walk around the apartment, feeling confused. Dudi is sitting in the front hall, bent over some papers. He is on the phone with Nechami, explaining something to her.
Nechami’s phone rings over the rumble of the bus. It’s Dudi, and he wants to discuss his booklets with her. The people at the science foundation were so impressed with the material that they suggested compiling it all into a book — a science book for religious children. But Nechami, much as she loves her brother, can’t devote her time to discussions right now.
“Do you know what the most precious thing in the world is?” she asks him. “In the physical world,” she adds, as she and Shua step off the bus in a neighborhood at one of the highest points in Jerusalem — a secret place. They enter the path Nechami discovered one time, leading to a small, hidden public park.
“Wait a second, let me think,” Dudi says, taking the question seriously. “It must be one of the heavy elements. I think it must be, mm, californium. Let’s assume, if a millionth of a gram costs about $27, then—”
“No,” Nechami interrupts him. “The most precious thing in the world is a bein hazmanim night. I’m so sorry, Dudi, but I’m not able to talk about the project right now.”
Tovi, Los Angeles
“Elements? Like hydrogen and oxygen?”
“And carbon, and helium. And lots more.”
“How many are there?”
“A hundred and something.”
“Why do there have to be so many?”
Dudi laughs. “Ask the Artist Who created them.” He’s bent over the periodic table of elements, marking it with arrows and words.
“This one, let’s say.” I point to one near the end that Dudi had circled before, when he was talking on the phone.
“Californium. It’s used to make nuclear warheads.” He waves his hand in a gesture like he’s destroying the world. “And it can also be used to detect layers of water and oil, when they’re digging wells.”
“And it’s the most expensive?” I ask Dudi. Wow, he knows so much.
“Extremely expensive and precious. There are only a few grams of it in the world.”
Dudi sits there, thinking about whether to give californium a whole page in the booklet, or crowd it in with other elements. I leaf through the printed pages in front of him, with enlarged pictures of atoms on them.
Dudi points to his phone. “This device alone contains 70 elements,” he says.
I should have known not to ask. When you ask Dudi a question like that, he’s actually going to answer it — in thorough detail. I fell into that trap.
“Copper for the wires, tantalum for the micro-capacitors, nickel in the microphone, silicon in the chip, tin and lead in the welding. Then you have the colors in the screen — they’re made of a bunch of elements from the lanthanide series. And there’s lithium in the battery… and don’t ask about the rest.”
“My father says a device like that can bring you to things that aren’t so good,” I say.
“Your father is right,” Dudi says. “Things that aren’t only not so good, but really bad.”
“Do you ever get to those things… that aren’t good?”
“That’s not a question you ask people,” Dudi says with a stern look. “But sometimes I see something that’s not exactly good. And I do spend more time fooling around with this thing than I’d really like to.”
“So you could do teshuvah and get rid of it,” I say.
“And then who would take you to the clinic today, and how?”
“We could manage,” I insist. “We could take a taxi.”
“How would we get the messages from the hospital?” Dudi counters.
“They could send them to the computer, couldn’t they?”
“How would I call Yaffa’le to find out how she’s managing?”
“You could call her from our phone.”
“Okay.” Dudi laughs. “I’m not throwing it out. But for you, I won’t touch it until four o’clock this afternoon.”
Tumtum tum krffffffff diggi diggi boom boom na nananaaa
At the Bernfeld bein hazmanim party, there’s a single bench in an empty park, perfectly positioned so it faces a spectacular view. From afar, Shua and Nechami try to spot the Kaduri Project, Tnuva, and the skyscrapers slowly sprouting on Rechov Yaffo.
“I don’t think I’d withstand a nisayon like that,” Nechami says, “if I were by myself, far away, with friends trying hard to talk me into it.”
Her yetzer hara is a cute little thing. What’s the worst it ever convinced her to do? Maybe to gossip a little, to make a face when Shua comes home too late again, to yell at the kids a bit when their room is a mess, to tell a white lie now and then. Sometimes, in its wickedness, it makes her forget to bentsh, when she’s hard at work at the computer.
Shua is smarter, though. “That’s why you’re not there,” he says.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 905)
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