| Light Years Away |

Light Years Away: Chapter 67

“You don’t need to explain it to me,” Dudi whispers back. “Obviously that would be the right thing to do. But what happened to all your sacred principles?”


“My connection isn’t working.”

Gedalya moves the small, mobile mouse. He tries tapping on it. That doesn’t help.

“Just a second. It’s because I wasn’t here.” Dudi bends over the laptop and presses a key. “There you go. How about letting me censor an article for you?”

“How did you do that?” Gedalya’s emails flow in neatly, as if the connection had never been lost.

“Your connection is through my hotspot,” says Dudi, waving his phone.

“And that means?”

“Every time you’ve gone online since we’ve been here, it’s been through my phone’s connection. Don’t worry, it’s still going through your filter.”

Gedalya is still baffled. “What does that mean, through your phone’s connection? Why through your phone?”

“Your net stick doesn’t have a SIM card for chutz l’Aretz,” Dudi explains slowly. “So I turn my phone into a hotspot for you. In other words, I connect you to my network.”


“You’re supposed to say it’s not okay,” Dudi counters.

Gedalya looks at him. “So you want to take over for me as content reviewer?”

“Oh, I was just trying my luck,” Dudi answers lightly.

“You enjoy seeing how I’ve learned to compromise when I have to,” Gedalya observes correctly. “When I’m in constraining circumstances. But it would be nice if you don’t gloat so openly about my downfall.”

“I’m not gloating!” Dudi protests. “It’s totally not a downfall, anyway.”

“Nu, all right,” Gedalya harrumphs.

A nurse comes into the room and says something in English.

“Dr. Barclay is waiting for Tovi in her office,” she tells them, and Dudi translates. “It’s time to take those bandages off!”

“We’re going there now?” Tovi looks at them questioningly. She’s still very pale, and her appetite hasn’t returned.

“Yes.” With a brisk motion, Gedalya shuts the computer. The serials for Hed Kevodah have been boring him lately. But conscientious soul that he is, he goes over every word. Even the little summaries of the previous episodes.

“Is there a new chapter of B’Ikvot HaAnusim, Abba?” Tovi asks.

“Yes.” He finished reviewing all the content for Hed HaYeladim yesterday.

“And you’ll let me read it?” She’s so eager.

“Are you feeling up to it?” he asks cautiously. Until now she’s been lying in bed, showing little interest in anything, feeling too weak to read.

“Sure! The story is getting so dramatic now! Juana’s son Miguel stayed in Spain when they left, remember? And now, 20 years later, they’re finally going to meet him!”

She sits up in bed, sighing a bit. Slowly, she stands on her feet. The nurse guides them through the maze of corridors, showing them the way to Dr. Barclay’s clinic.

“But Abba.” Tovi looks suddenly troubled.

“Yes, sweetie?”

“When you correct the story on the computer, the old words still show, right? There’s just a red line through them, next to whatever you type in instead.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“So I can’t read the new chapter, then. Because I’ll see the things that need to be erased.”

“That can be fixed,” Dudi interjects. “You just need to change the settings, and then the deleted words won’t show.”

“Oh, good!” Tovi is excited again.

They reach the waiting room, with its dozens of stuffed animals and their interchangeable ears, but Tovi isn’t interested in them now. She sinks into a chair, wan and silent.

“I think that considering her condition, I’d let her read it anyway, even without taking out what I deleted, just to distract her from all the pain,” Gedalya whispers to Dudi. “That is, if it couldn’t be fixed,” he adds.

“You don’t need to explain it to me,” Dudi whispers back. “Obviously that would be the right thing to do. But what happened to all your sacred principles?”

“They’re learning how to cope with the circumstances.”

And Dudi can’t resist saying, “Baruch meshaneh habrios.”



“Okay Tovi, are you ready? You are about to see, for the first time, your beautiful new ear,” Dr. Barclay announces with playful solemnity, extending a hand toward Tovi’s bandage. Dudi translates assiduously. “After this, we’ll leave it to heal unbandaged. We’ll only leave the hearing canal sealed off, until you’re completely recovered.”

Tovi’s eyes sparkle with anticipation like a pair of gray-blue diamonds.

The doctor clips, uncoils, and removes the bandage. Gedalya looks at… a monstrosity, and nearly gasps in shock. A purple mass, swollen. Oozing with a yellowish discharge. Black stitches. He recoils and looks away, and meets his brother’s look of equal revulsion.

“Wonderful!” the doctor says, without a tinge of artifice.

The craniofacial surgeon who took part in the procedure is also here, and he, too, is pleased with the results. Dudi gapes at them wordlessly. He knows that “wonderful” translates as nifla, but he can’t bring himself to say it — what his eyes behold is far from nifla.

“Tell her that it’s…” Gedalya stops mid-sentence.

“Is there a mirror here? I want to see it!” Tovi demands. She looks the faces around her and pauses.

Zeh lo nifla?” she asks her father and her uncle. She knows the word “wonderful” from English class. That’s what the teacher always says when they give a correct answer.

Gedalya quickly pulls himself together. “It’s just a bit, uh, swollen,” he says as smoothly as he can. “And we just want to know why.” He desperately hopes Tovi doesn’t notice the tremor in his voice, in his hands.

“All right,” says Dr. Barclay happily, and turns to Dudi and Gedalya. “The swelling will go down. And the color will gradually fade until it matches her natural skin tone. You’ll have the stitches removed in Israel — we’ve already sent the details to your hospital there. You’ll go there every other day for a checkup the first week and after that, once a week, until the eardrum and the canal are fully healed.” She stops and studies their faces. “Why do you look so… shocked?”

“We thought the ear would look… like a regular ear,” Dudi confesses, knowing how silly he sounds even as he speaks.

The two surgeons laugh, and then they turn serious.

“Then that’s an oversight in our preoperative education system,” Dr. Barclay says. “You weren’t prepared for how it would look at first?”

“Not at all.” Dudi translates back and forth. Gedalya has questions, he has questions. And Tovi’s still demanding a mirror.

“Mirror. Give me mirror,” she says clearly in English.

Dr. Barclay holds out a large mirror. Gedalya and Dudi look on, tense, watching for Tovi’s reaction. Gedalya holds her hand. Her hair is held back in a big clip. She looks at herself, scrutinizes her left side, turns her head to face the mirror directly. Her forehead creases. Then she smiles.

“It’s great, Abba,” she says. “It’s the exact shape of a natural ear. And it’s in the exact right position.”

“You knew it would look like that?” he asks. “It didn’t come as a shock?”

“If it were a plastic ear, and it looked like this, I’d be shocked,” Tovi explains simply. “Because then it would stay like this, all purple and swollen. Just like in my bad dreams.”

“But because it’s an implant…?”

“It’s part of me. It’s connected to my skin, my blood vessels. And since it’s living tissue, it can change. It can heal. That’s what it means to be alive.”

“What did she say?” Dr. Barclay asks.

Dudi translates, and the doctor claps her hands in applause.

“Exactly,” she says.


Soon, Shabbos will spread its wings over the West Coast, and the burning sun will dip into the Pacific. They will daven, make Kiddush, eat and sing. Tovi will fall asleep quickly, still tired and weak. The brothers will talk, saying all they haven’t said for many years. They will be connected, and alive.

In Israel, it’s already Shabbos. “They should be taking the bandages off around now,” says Leah Silver as she serves the fish. First she gives Saba his portion. Then she serves her sons-in-law.

They’re hoping for good news, all of them. Moishy asks if all the costs of the surgery have been covered. His shver answers quietly that Gedalya still has some smaller debts to repay.

Nechami and Shua exchange glances. So do they. They’ve made one payment so far, out of many. Another 28,000 shekels to go. Tovi will already be in high school by the time they finish paying off their contribution. Every month they’ll pay interest, under an impeccably kosher heter iska. Nechami knows they did the right thing, she just doesn’t know why the right thing is often so elusive, difficult to pin down, so complex, and so hard. Why can’t the right thing be a little more defined, and leave you feeling good?

“It’s not fair,” Nechami whispers. “There really needs to be a bright green label on all the ‘right things,’ a label saying ‘I am the right thing to do.’ ”

“But then we wouldn’t be able to make choices,” Shua says.

“Of course we could,” she insists. “It would just make the choice easier.”

“That’s not called choosing, if good and evil have labels on them.”

“I choose, therefore I am,” Nechami concedes with a smile. For a moment she misses what Moishy is saying about Uncle Shmaya.

“So I introduced myself to the wealthy uncle,” he’s telling the assembly. “Nisht Shabbos geredt, but if they need more funding, maybe we could talk to him again.”

Nisht Shabbos geredt,” Abba hushes him.

Nechami’s sons have already started singing “Kah Ribon,” when she realizes she wants to ask something important. She turns to Chaya.

“What was Moishy saying about Uncle Shmaya? How does he know him?”

“He called him before Purim and introduced himself as my chassan,” Chaya says in a faint, almost apologetic voice. “Moishy was the one who got him to give those four thousand pounds.”

So it was Moishy! He was the geshmake shvugger Uncle Shmaya was talking about, when Shua called him and found out he was a little too late. Not one of her four brothers, but her young brother-in-law, the chevrehman. She could picture him, charismatic Moishy, calling up his kallah’s great-uncle, inviting him to the wedding, telling him about their fundraising campaign for little Tovi’s surgery, opening the rich man’s heart and his wallet. The chevrehman. The one with initiative. The one who knows how to get things done.

“Wow, that’s really impressive,” she tells Chaya.

Her sister is on tenterhooks. “You’re not… upset?” Chaya asks.

“Upset about what?”

“About the fact that we… that Moishy and I got there first… before you and Shua?”

She’s not. Every planet has its own orbit. And each one is tilted at its own particular angle, and shines in its own particular way.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 911)

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