| Light Years Away |

Light Years Away: Chapter 64

“Maybe I was wrong to bring you here with me,” Abba says to him, with a look that silently adds, “Don’t you dare say anything uncalled-for in front of my daughter”


ON Monday morning, Abba says he wishes he could find a beis medrash with Gemaras, and sit and learn all morning.

Dudi can’t believe it.

“You’re in L.A., man!” he says. “Why not enjoy the place while you’re here? You can learn in Beit Shemesh, too.”

“I do learn in Beit Shemesh, too,” Abba says. “We didn’t come here to look for amusements, Dudi.”

“Yeah, and we weren’t put in This World to look for amusements, and so on and so forth,” Dudi sighs. “I know all about your hashkafah, Gedalya. But Tovi can’t sit here all morning with nothing to do.”

“I know.”

In the end, we work out a compromise. Dudi takes us to a beautiful park, with a view of the ocean. Abba sits there and learns, and I walk around, read my book, and listen to music on my MP3. The sunshine is wonderful, and the air seems so open, somehow, in a way I can’t describe. Open and fresh, and very bright. Los Angeles is so big — I can’t believe it. Those amazing mountains in the background. The millions of people living here. I talk on the phone with Ima, with a few friends, and with Chaya, who calls to hear how I am doing. Dudi has gone off somewhere, leaving us with sandwiches and drinks, and a few hours later he comes to pick us up. He looks very cheerful, and he is singing some song to himself in English.

“Where were you?” Abba asks him.

“What are you asking me for? Do you really want to hear the answer?”

Abba doesn’t press him. “You’re right, better I shouldn’t ask.”

But Dudi answers anyway. “I was at some of L.A.’s must-see places,” he says. “Shall I go on?”

“Maybe I was wrong to bring you here with me,” Abba says to him, with a look that silently adds, “Don’t you dare say anything uncalled-for in front of my daughter.”

I know exactly what that look means.

“What? I don’t see the connection,” Dudi says.

“If by letting you come with us, I was the cause of your going to places that aren’t in the spirit of Yiddishkeit, maybe we should have thought twice about this trip.”

“Oh, really?” Dudi is annoyed now. “You’re making me out to be a criminal.”

“I’m not making you out to be anything.”

“Could you talk about something else, please?” I say.

Suddenly I know how Chaya must have felt all those years, when she and Dudi were the only ones left with Saba and Savta Silver. When Dudi left yeshivah and brought grief to Savta, Saba kept quiet. He always keeps quiet, Saba. He thinks the whole story with Dudi is a Heavenly decree, and his job is to accept it with emunah. That’s how he explained it one time to Savta.

“Take off your hearing aid, and you won’t hear us,” Dudi suggests.

“You know I can hear even without it,” I tell him. “And besides, after my operation I’ll be able to hear with both ears. And if you’re going to be standing by my bed arguing, that’ll be the first thing I hear when I wake up with my new ear.”

We walk to the parking lot. Our rented car is burning hot from the sun, inside and out. We have to wait a few minutes for the air-conditioning to cool it off before we can get in.

While we are waiting, Dudi looks at us a bit uncertainly and says, “There’s an American Girl doll store here.”

“Like the one in Manhattan?”

I give a little jump, I am so excited. My friend Chaya Bracha had been there last summer, when they flew to her savta in New York. When she came back, she couldn’t stop talking about the doll hair salon, and the doll restaurant, and the doll hospital….

“Yeah, one of their branches is here,” he says. “I thought that might interest you….”

It interests me very much, but Abba doesn’t look too excited, and he takes Dudi aside to make a few things clear to him. At a safe distance from my wide-open ear, they have a short discussion. They come back to me. No, we aren’t going to the doll store. I swallow my disappointment. “But we’re going to Griffith Park, to the observatory and the planetarium.”

“Is it interesting there?” I ask.

“You’ll love it.”



Close to sunset, we go into the observatory to watch the stars.

“The best time to come here is in the summer or the winter,” Dudi says. “That’s when the most interesting constellations are showing.”

But even though it’s spring, Abba and I enjoy every moment. We love the giant, domed ceiling in the planetarium, made to look like the sky, and the exhibits, the models, and especially the big telescopes. There is a guide there, who points the telescopes toward the stars we know, and I see Saturn’s rings. We see Jupiter and Mercury, too, and so many stars. Zillions of them.

After that, we go to see the special exhibit about the sun.

“It was once thought that the sun was made of iron,” Dudi reads out from a printed card, translating it for us.

“Who thought that?”

“Everybody. All the astrophysicists. Until about a hundred years ago.”

“How could it give us light and warmth, if it was made of iron?”

“They had no explanation for that.”


There was just one young scientist who read the lines on the spectroscope differently. All the others saw iron there. She insisted that the sun was mostly helium and hydrogen. They all laughed at her. It was no wonder they laughed. They couldn’t allow themselves to respond any other way. Their calculations, their careers, all the work they’d done up to that point — it all depended on the iron in the sun.

The professors demanded that she retract her theory.

And Cecilia Payne, a young doctoral student at Harvard, was compelled to retract. To declare, against her will, that her findings were false.



After a fleishig supper, we are very tired. Abba hustles me off to bed, reminding me that we have to show up at the medical center at seven in the morning. Dudi yawns and starts getting ready for bed, too.

“There are cups and basins here,” Abba tells him, pointing toward the small bathroom next to our room.

“I know.”

“I noticed that you didn’t put negel vasser by your bed last night. I thought you didn’t know the equipment was here.”

“I knew it was there. I just didn’t use it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t wash negel vasser by my bed.”

“Why not?”

“So you’ll have something to hassle me about, of course.”

“It’s a mefureshe Mishnah Berurah.”

“Gedalya, stop it already.”

Without a word, I prepare a basin and a full cup for myself, and another for Abba, next to his bed. I say Krishma and take off my hearing device, so I’ll only have to plug up my one ear for the argument that is about to come, and I get into bed. I snuggle under the nice, soft comforter. If I ever get rich and live in a city with big hospitals, I’ll have a guest unit like this, too, in my basement.



If only people would just do what they should.

Chaya should move to Neve Tzinobarim, because that’s what her husband wants; Moishy should want to stay in Yerushalayim, because that’s what they agreed on before the wedding; Yaffa’le should stop all her nonsense; Dudi should stop all his nonsense, and then maybe he could restrain his wife a bit; Nechami should work a little less, she’s knocking herself out with these all-night sessions; Shua should help her a little more.

“Nobody does what they should,” Leah Silver sighs over morning coffee at Yocheved’s house.

“Do you do what you should?” Yocheved asks.

“I try.”

It’s eight in the morning now. At six in the evening, Israel time, Tovi will have her procedure. “She’s such an amazing girl. She told me they talked this morning — I mean, it’s still last night where they are — about the first thing she wants to hear with her new ear.”

“Will she be able to hear right away after the surgery?”

“Yes. Not fully, because she’ll be bandaged. But if all goes well, she’ll come out of surgery with an open hearing canal. That’s why they made sure she had a hearing aid all these years, to keep the inner ear functioning.”

“And what does Tovi want to hear, first thing?” Yocheved is curious.

“I don’t really keep up with the music all the young people listen to….” Leah names the song. “Maybe you have it, and we could listen to it now?”

“Yes, I have that one.” Yocheved takes her little MP3 player and scrolls through the playlist. She’s facing the wall. Like Chizkiyahu, the king who didn’t want wayward children. Who didn’t marry, so as not to bring them into the world. Who fell ill and nearly died, and was sharply rebuked. Perhaps to this day, the navi’s cry still echoes. B’hadei kavshei d’Rachmana lamah lach? Who gave you permission to interfere with Hashem’s hidden calculations?

She plays the song. The answer. I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. I shall heal you.

Koh amar Hashem: Shamati es tefillasecha, ra’isi es dimasecha. Hineni rofeh lach.

And Leah cries, because her little granddaughter is about to undergo a complex, sensitive, and expensive procedure, and she’s afraid. And because her son and daughter-in-law are wandering in unknown territories. And she’s afraid.

And Yocheved cries because she knows that after Chizkiyahu was healed, he married and had sons who were just as he feared. And in her weeping there is a bit of comfort, because even Chizkiyahu, a good and upright king, had such sons.


It took many years for people to discover that the sun isn’t made of iron. They’re not always so quick to understand that people aren’t made of iron, either. Although if you think about it, it’s obvious. Iron can’t burn, blaze, change, illuminate.


After Dudi falls asleep, Gedalya takes a basin, fills a cup with water, carefully and quietly places them next to his little brother’s bed, and goes to his room.And then, either you become a hydrogen bomb, scattering devastation all around you…

Or you become a sun, a source of life, warmth, and light. And entire worlds are sustained by your energy.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 908)

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