Reach for the Stars| October 10, 2019
Little Sister, Big Sister
By Chani Muller
Dini, u want 2 chk out Teen Thrill’s sale Thurs? R
I took the pink Post-It and tossed it onto Dini’s desk. Just then, Mrs. Gibber turned around and I sat up straight. Mrs. G. had a zero-tolerance policy for passing notes, but some things, like the sale at my favorite store, couldn’t wait ‘til after class.
“Girls, just a reminder about the dikduk test. There was some confusion about the date, so I repeat, it’s next week on Monday,” said Mrs. Gibber. I stifled a groan and took out my calendar. Grr. There was no way I could go shopping four days before a test. I needed to study seriously to do well. This was so annoying.
“Dini,” I said, walking home later that day, “I seriously cannot believe she scheduled a major test the week of Teen Thrill’s sale. I heard they have really cute sweaters. I’m really upset.”
Dini was less sympathetic than I had hoped. “You don’t have to miss the sale. So you won’t get to study Thursday, big deal. It’s only Monday today, you can study the rest of the week. Worst-case scenario,” and here she put on a really horrified face, “you won’t get a 95 or more.”
I shrugged. Dini was wrong. I had to get at least a 95. And that meant I had to study seriously every night ‘til the test.
I wasn’t that good at dikduk. Or math or biology or grammar either for that matter. But so what? I was a Feder. And Feders did well at everything. So I wasn’t a naturally brilliant student, but I made up in effort what I didn’t have in brains. All my sisters were in dance for seventh grade production and I was only an average dancer, but I spent the night before tryouts practicing my routine about 10,000 times… and got in. We Feders got the message along with our baby formula: try hard enough, and you can do anything.
Which is why I was going to have to miss the sale.
What if I just didn’t study until the night before and then got a mark in the eighties? I thought rebelliously. Nah. It was fun to think about, but I would never do it. How would I face my teachers, my parents, myself?
I staggered into Mrs. Gibber’s class the next Monday like a zombie, exhausted from a week of intense studying, but I aced the test. I knew it even before she handed back the papers the following day with a bright red 97 scrawled on top of mine. “Well done, Ruchoma,” she’d written on top, and I allowed myself a small smile as I walked back to my seat.
Five minutes before the last bell rang, Mrs. Lieber, the G.O. and chesed coordinator, walked in. We all perked up.
“I’m here to give out your chesed assignments, girls,” she said, a huge smile on her face. We all smiled back. Bais Leah’s chesed program was only for seventh and eighth graders, and we were all excited to be a part of it.
(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 781)
Man on the Moon
By Leeba Leichtman
I squeezed my eyes shut as the 12-ton meteorite zipped past me, exploding just seconds later, but already miles off. Phew! That was close.
My feet landed on the crater-decorated surface, softly crunching on the layers of moon dust as I looked around in wonder. Oh, boy! I had arrived.
My alarm clock. Oh, no. I wasn’t on the moon, after all. I was lying under my covers and if I didn’t get up, I’d be late for school again. School… sigh. I rolled over, lamely trying to convince myself that it was still night. Please, please, can somebody tell me that this — reality — is in fact the dream, and that I’ll soon be waking up from it?
No such luck. I pushed my covers off. New day, here I come.
* * * * *
“I didn’t know they sold yarmulkes in Wyoming. Or is that why yours looks like Yaakov’s grandmother knitted it?” Nachum jabbed Yaakov, standing next to him, and both of them laughed. I turned and walked away, shame prickling my neck and cheeks, but shoulders straight as I pretended to smile.
I’m not from Wyoming. I’m from Nevada. Henderson, to be exact. Nachum didn’t know what he was talking about, and Ma had told me that at least a hundred times in the few months since we’d come—well, maybe more like 86, or 87 if you count the time last night when she said, “He doesn’t understand, honey — and that’s his problem, not yours.” The thing is, nobody else gets it either. They don’t tease me like Nachum; they simply don’t talk to me.
I get it: I’m a bit of a freak to them. I make them uncomfortable, because they’ve never met anyone quite like me before. And I’ve stopped trying to say Nachum’s name — or Rabbi Streicher’s, for that matter — because even the nicest boys in the class can’t hide their twitching lips when I try to say “ch” properly. I know, they’re not trying to be mean… It’s just lonely, that’s all.
That evening, I called Noah.
“Hey, what’s up, Danny? When are your folks coming back to Nevada?”
I sighed. “No such plans.”
“So what are you doing all day? Studying Talmud?”
“No, not yet. I start that in a year or two — if I manage to stick it out in this place that long. But yeah, we do a lot of Hebrew studies.”
“So what? You’ve always been the smartest in our class, Dan. I’m sure you’re doing fine.”
“Technically, yes… I’m pulling decent grades because Mom hired a rabbi from the neighborhood to help me catch up with all the Hebrew and everything. He helps me with homework and stuff. It’s kinda weird, needing a tutor, but I’m sure I’ll get used to everything soon. Anyway — how’s soccer?”
Noah filled me in on the scores and the news from my old team. Not that I’d ever loved soccer, but I did miss the guys. I missed being on my own home turf, in a place where people appreciated me. Sure, sometimes they teased me for being brainy. They even poked fun at my red-haired, skinny-bones appearance. But that had all been good-natured and friendly. Here… it just wasn’t the same.
“Well… Talk to you some other time, Noah. Tell Josh and Brandon I say hi.”
“You got it, man. Bye.” We hung up.
(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 781)
The Blue Door
By Malka Winner
You know that magical feeling you get when you walk into the succah for the first time? Everything’s glowing and glittering and new and old all at once, and it’s so special and familiar at the same time. Saadia got that delightful sensation when he walked into his grandparents’ succah each year. There was something about Papi and Meme’s elegant succah, decorated with their special Moroccan furnishings, which transported you to another world. From the piles of brilliantly colored, gold-embroidered pillows to the rug-covered floor, from the huge pictures of Moroccan chachamim to the intricate metal lanterns hanging from the beams, theirs was a succah to behold. The one thing that bothered Saadia was the blue door.
The blue door wasn’t the succah door. In fact, it was a door to nowhere. It was just built into the succah’s eastern wall. And, in Saadia’s not-so-humble opinion, it stuck out like a sore thumb (which had just been hit with a hammer while building the succah).
The door looked odd amongst the tapestry-draped walls and portraits of the Baba Sali and the Rif. Everything else was tasteful and classy, but the door was old and cracked, its sky-blue paint badly chipped. The handle looked like it was a thousand years old, black with age and use. Yet, year after year, unfailingly, the door was there, part of the succah.
And every time Saadia asked his grandparents about the door, they would say, “We brought it with us from Morocco,” and leave it at that. Once — and only once — did Papi say, his voice a whisper, “There’s a time and place for everything.” But that was it.
And when Saadia would ask his father about Papi and Meme’s strange (and ugly, in Saadia’s not-so-humble opinion) door, he would also say, “They brought it with them from Morocco.” As if that was an answer.
Sometimes his father’s voice would trail off, like he wanted to say something else — though he never did. Saadia would listen very carefully, trying to hear what his father was not saying — something very big and important about that door — but Saadia couldn’t decipher the silences. Sometimes a person has to listen between the words people say and don’t say.
So the first weird thing about the door was that it was there at all. The next weird thing was how it looked. And the third weird thing was that no one ever explained it — either because they couldn’t or, more likely, didn’t want to. But that’s not all. There was an unspoken rule in Saadia’s grandparents’ succah: Don’t touch the door.
Unspoken rules can sometimes be more powerful than those that are verbalized. And they can also be more tempting to break….
Saadia knew he wasn’t supposed to touch the door, or rub the handle with his fingers, or look through the strange keyhole, shaped kind of like a mihrab, a niche with a semicircular top. It was almost as if he — and everyone else — was supposed to pretend that the mysterious door wasn’t there at all.
Sometimes, when Saadia slept in Papi’s sukkah or was alone there for brief moments, he thought he could see a faint glow emanating from the mihrab keyhole, like there was a light beyond it. And sometimes the chipped techelet paint took on a strange, luminous quality. But each time he noticed it, it was just something he saw from the corner of his eye, and Saadia was left wondering whether he’d ever seen it at all.
(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 781)
"Meet the Artist"
By Chaya Rosen
"Did you see this?” Chananya thrust the flyer at Mindy. “I saw it at my friend’s house. They said I could take it home to show you. You gonna enter, Mindy? You’ll win for sure.”
Mindy’s hazel eyes settled on her younger brother. “I saw it.”
“And? Did you enter? Look, the winner will get to help illustrate Yechiel Yaakovson’s next book!”
“What? Really?” Mindy took the paper from Chananya. “I didn’t see that. Yechiel Yaakovson’s next book? I can’t believe it. He’s world-famous! What happened to Shira Meyer?”
“Who’s that?” Chananya bent down to tie an errant shoelace. Mindy gaped at him from the couch, where she’d been doodling. “What do you mean, ‘who’s that’? You know Yechiel Yaakovson, how could you not know Shira Meyer?”
Chananya’s head shot up. “I read Yaakovson’s books like everyone else, ‘cause they’re, like, the best books on the planet! But I don’t read any of those Shira Meyer or whatever her name is, books. They’re probably for girls.”
Mindy smirked. “For your information,” she said, “Shira Meyer is the one who illustrates all of Yaakovon’s books. And guess what? There ain’t no comics without illustrators!”
“Wow, so she’s really good,” Chananya said, duly impressed. “I like her drawings.” He plopped himself on the couch next to his sister. “I like your drawings, too.”
Mindy smiled. “Thanks, Chananya.”
“So you’ll enter the contest?”
Mindy fingered the paper in her hand. She gave a little shrug. “Maybe,” she said, and stood abruptly. “See you later.”
She went out through the back door to the backyard and sat down on the grass, listening. The sounds of the neighbors playing outside and the quiet rustle of leaves calmed her. She shifted her position on the prickly grass.
Her mother always said that Mindy was born holding a box of crayons in her tiny hand. Of course that wasn’t really true, but Mindy knew what Imma meant. She still teased Mindy for her first masterpiece: a wall “mural” sketched with the burnt, blackened end of a discarded match. Imma always said that had she known this would be the first exhibition in a lifetime of art, she would have captured that very first picture on camera. Little Mindy was barely a year old at the time of that story, and in short order, Imma had arranged a real box of crayons for her little artist, along with a thick pad of creamy paper. Mindy had never stopped drawing since.
Mindy shifted again. Everyone said she had incredible talent. Unnatural talent. Her fingers worked magic on paper and canvas, with oil pastels and brightly colored paints, with watercolors and carefully-shaded pencil drawings. Several of her creations had been framed and beautified the walls of her own home, as well as the homes of grandparents and other relatives.
In sixth grade, which was her seventh year of art lessons, the teacher had called her parents. “Mindy’s ready for the next level,” she’d said. “There’s not much more I can teach her here. She’s way too far ahead for this class.”
For the last two years, Mindy had progressed on her own, working with professional art books that her mother brought home. Mindy knew people loved her work. She loved it, too. But... to enter an art contest? The flyer invited adults and teens ages 13 and up to participate, so she’d be among the very youngest artists to enter... and there were so very many talented artists. She stood up, shaking off her skirt. No, she wouldn’t enter.
Everyone tried to convince her otherwise. Imma pleaded with her, Chananya begged her, even Abba asked her to reconsider. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to... The prospect of helping work on one of Yechiel Yaakovson’s books was tantalizing. But there were adults whose entire careers consisted of drawing! She didn’t stand a chance! The winner would need to be someone on the level of, well, Shira Meyer.
(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 781)
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