| Family Tempo |

Silver Lining

She’d known all along that something was wrong. Was it the lost heirloom?


Beth Jacob, the caller ID shrilly announces. Miriam squints at the phone, hovers a finger over the answer key, then firmly places it back on the counter. She waits, tapping her nails against the counter, until the ringing stops.

Why is the school calling? It must be the principal. And it must be about Yehudis.

She won’t, she can’t, not right now, she’s not ready to speak with Mrs. Gewirtzman just yet.

Maybe Yitz will do it?

Yes, Yitz will do it, she decides with a tight nod. Someone has to call the principal back, and it won’t be her, not today.

She acts breezy as she walks back into the dining room, platter of chicken in hand, aiming to keep her tone light, as if the phone call hadn’t shifted the world from its axis, as though her center of gravity hadn’t been upended from the name flashing across her caller ID.

“Yitz, the school just called, I think it was probably Mrs. Gewirtzman. Do you think you can call her back?”

He doesn’t say anything, just evenly pierces a grilled pepper with his fork. He points it at Miriam. “What’s this about?”

She shrugs, wraps herself in a careless air.

“Who knows? Probably nothing. I mean, I’m sure it’s nothing, but can you call her?” The desperation crawls into her words, and she wishes for some of Yitz’s calm.

He gives her a look, the one that tells her he can see straight through her, and she blushes, looking down. She can’t make this call, he can certainly understand that.

Finally, he breaks, takes out his phone, and asks her for the number.

One thing they did agree on: After the fire, their marriage took a hit. Like a crack in the sidewalk in the aftermath of an earthquake, what was barely discernible had morphed into a chasm that grew larger and larger between them.

Maybe it was PTSD; maybe it was all those years of infertility when they longed for a child; maybe they’d never really been compatible to begin with.

Not that any of that was discussed, it was just felt, in the way their daily check-ins trickled, then sputtered out entirely, in the way Yitz stopped bringing home a surprise bouquet every now and then, in the way Miriam no longer asked what he preferred for supper, in the way their anniversary became just another day on the calendar.

Now Miriam feels doomsday descending. Their cold war, born out of her anxiety for Yehudis, has only driven her daughter away.

Miriam knocks on her daughter’s closed bedroom door.

“Yehudis, bubbeleh, the food will get cold if you don’t come down soon.” She hears some supposedly Jewish music blaring from the other side of the door, and she winces. Yitz wouldn’t lose his equanimity over this, she knows. She can picture him shrugging, saying, “This is what teens listen to today.” But far from bringing reassurance, the thought only makes her feel more alone.

She attempts another knock, a bit more firmly this time. Is sitting down for dinner as a family too much to ask?

She’s a Yiddishe mama, she just wants Yiddishe nachas, and it’s not her imagination; Yehudis’s been spending more and more time holed up in her room, listening to all sorts of music.

“Huds?” The door opens, Yehudis peeks her head out.

“Dinner, sweetie?”

“Na, I’m wiped after today’s final, too tired to eat, thanks though.”

“Don’t you want—” But the door has already been firmly closed in her face. The conversation is clearly over.

She returns to the kitchen, Yitz’s voice propelling her there, like a mosquito to a bulb. He’s serious, all clipped tones and acquiescence. “Yes, Mrs. Gewirtzman… of course, of course… I understand…”

Miriam brings her hand to her throat, feeling the tendons respond to the steady metronome of breath.

She sits down noisily, remaining at a distance. Is it just her imagination, or can she hear Mrs. Gewirzman’s high-pitched, nasal voice from the other end? “Your daughter has been a negative influence on other girls, she’ll have to find another school.”

She’s focusing intently on a loose cuticle on her index finger, when Yitz coughs deliberately. She jerks her head up, a deer caught in the headlights.

“Was it terrible?” she asks.

“The phone call?”

“What else?”

He raises an eyebrow, pulls out another chair, and sits down.

“Nah, not at all. They wanted my help fixing up their new website. Seems there are a few kinks, she wanted a discount.”

“That… that’s why she called?”

Yitz fixes his thin peyos behind his ears, flattening them so they’re smooth and inconspicuous.

“Why did you think she called?”

Miriam just shakes her head, exhaling her fears. There is nothing to say to Yitz, nothing at all. This is a conversation she knows he has no patience to repeat yet again.

That night, somewhere in that twilight between wakefulness and sleep, memories of the fire haunt Miriam: the sudden explosion, the shrill shriek of an unknown origin, Yitz’s sharp “Stop screaming, it’s only making things worse,” his clear-headed thinking, grabbing Yehudis in one arm and running, running, running into the cool night air….

They couldn’t pin the responsibility on anyone for that awful blaze, not really. Who could know that a fault in the wiring would destroy their home entirely?

Tendrils of sleep are close, so close, but she’s jolted awake each time by the images that consume her. The place was gutted, a few more seconds in there and they’d have been gone too. It was a miracle they’d all gotten out. Her eyes are tightly closed, but she can still see Yitz, running through the smoke, Yehudis right behind him, and Miriam running after.

Was it her memory, or had it actually happened, that she’d screamed, so loud, for all the neighbors to hear: “But the pushke! The pushke!”

She tosses and turns, but each shift in position seems to tangle her further into her own web of questions.

Miriam jumps up, secures her robe more tightly around her — a fleeting sense of protection. She tentatively walks towards Yehudis’s door, uncertainty slowing her steps. That music is still playing, more softly now.

She raps, three short beats, and Yehudis’s mess of blond curls greets her. With a practiced motion, her daughter gathers her hair to the side and Miriam is struck by the earnest expression on her face. She’s about to say something cheesy, soppy, something so very unlike herself… but then she’s distracted by Yehudis’s nails. There is some sort of shiny, glittery something there…

“What’s that on your nails, Huds? There’s no way the school is fine with that.”

“It’s just clear nail polish, Mommy. Nobody has an issue with it, okay?” There is an edge to her voice, and Miriam eyes her. Nobody? Is it really just Miriam who’s blowing things out of proportion?

“Okay, if you say so.” She wills her voice to stay even. “Just came to wish you good night, sweetie.” But again Miriam is talking to the closed door. It’s her fault, she knows this is her fault, and now she has nothing to do but resume stewing in the nightmare she’s bringing on herself.

When Yitz comes in, finally, her willpower is exhausted, and she can no longer clamp down the words from escaping. “Am I crazy for thinking it’s coming true?” she blurts out in a whoosh.


“The pushke… the pushke from Bubby Kalmanowitz.”

He gives a weighted sigh, leaden with memories, pain, so many unspoken words.

“What about the pushke, Miriam?”

Bubby’s pushke had brought them their precious Yehudis; after eight years of infertility, what else could explain it? Was it chance alone that right after receiving the yerushah, Miriam became pregnant?

Like everything else in their home, Bubby’s pushke had turned to ash that fateful night. Except for some stuff in their basement that had been in storage (Yehudis’s old crib, baby clothes, a motley assortment of suitcases), their possessions are long gone.

She looks around and lowers her voice ever more softly. “I’m really worried about Yehudis, Yitz. What if it’s coming true?”

Miriam sees him clenching his fists, and prepares herself for his typical, straight-shooting response. There’s no reason to be anxious, you’ve been this way since the moment Yehudis was born, don’t let that old, dented pushke take on a life of its own.

But instead Yitz is quiet, and he just sighs again. He doesn’t even have the energy to give his usual tirade, she realizes. And that stings sharply in a place she didn’t know still existed.




Typical of his in-laws, the presentation of the pushke had been a dramatic, sensationalist affair.

They had called Miriam and Yitz, telling them they had to share something of great import. Yes, Yitz recalls, that was actually how they phrased it.

His in-laws were getting older, and he and Miriam had assumed it was something to do with their will, a potential yerushah. His shvigger’s mother had passed away a few months ago; that kind of shake-up could encourage anyone to get their affairs in order.

They’d sat down on the plastic-encased dining room chairs, sinking into the thick cushions, paper-thin strudel laid out before them. His eyes had roamed over the colorful tapestry hanging across from him: a fountain, bold, rich colors making up the mural.

His shver had sat at the head of the table, wearing his felt slippers, while his shvigger had kept busy cleaning invisible crumbs from the pastries no one had touched.

“As you know…” The shver gave a deliberate cough in the shvigger’s direction. She immediately stopped wiping at the tablecloth and sat down at his side.

“Mommy’s mother was nifteres a few months ago, something that was difficult for us all.” Miriam gave the requisite sniffle, as the shvigger dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.

“You know Mommy was zocheh to get the silver pushke that Bubby Kalmanowitz brought with her from Hungary. The pushke that was sewn into Bubby’s coat when they escaped Europe, the one that was passed from daughter to daughter and miraculously survived the trip.”

Miriam and Yitz glanced at each other; so far, this was all old news.

The shver and shvigger also glanced at each other, sharing a smile.

“We’ve been discussing it a lot, Mommy and I… and even though it rightfully belongs to Mommy now, we also know the pushke has tremendous powers of bringing yeshuos.”

He cast a compassionate eye at Yitz, and then Miriam, and then deliberately at Miriam’s belly. Yitz squirmed at the tactlessness of it all.

“And so, we’ve decided that it would be best if we present it to you now. Why wait until we die?” He gave a slow, mournful chuckle. “It’s known to be a segulah, and we’d love to see a grandchild from you in our lifetimes,” he’d said meaningfully.

The pushke was encased in saran-wrap to prevent it from oxidizing. The shvigger had held it between her hands lovingly, as though it were a child, and then placed it in Miriam’s hands with reverence.

“It should bring a yeshuah, gezunte brachah v’hatzlachah, un Yiddishe nachas!” the shver had fervently proclaimed.

“Amen,” Miriam responded, hugging her mother tight as tears filled her eyes.

And only nine months later — nine months later! After eight years of infertility! It could only have been the pushke; how else could anyone explain otherwise?

Miriam had repeated the story too many times to count over the past 14 years… At her mother’s shivah, a few short years after Yehudis’s birth, that was her fallback story, the card she pulled when the silence grew awkward. To her, it highlighted all of her mother’s positive qualities: her kindness, selflessness, concern for others, love for her children.

So why is she talking about the pushke now?

“What about the pushke, Miriam?”

Back when they’d first received it, the pushke had taken a place of honor, residing beside her leichter. Miriam had polished it weekly, wouldn’t let anyone put money into it; there was an organization-distributed pushke for that. Only she could hold it, lest it get dented in the process. Privately, Yitz thought an additional dent wouldn’t make much of a difference, but still, he’d found his wife’s sentimentality endearing.

Then came the fire, and it seemed Miriam couldn’t move on. At first, Yitz had been patient, spent long hours listening to her, her fears, her anxiety, the pushke, Yehudis, the pushke. But eventually his patience had worn thin.

And now he thinks that if he hears about the pushke one more time, he’ll scream.




She jolts back to the present from her reverie and sits up on the couch, ramrod straight.

“All this time since the fire, I was so worried about Yehudis… I never thought it was a sign about her ruchniyus.”

“What?” Yitz sputters, his face contorted in confusion. “The fire? Yehudis? What are you talking about?”

Miriam plays with the fringes on a throw pillow, twisting them around and around her fingers. “I’m just scared, okay? It’s clear, Yitz. The pushke brought us Yehudis, and then there was a fire, and we lost it, and…”

“You think the pushke brought us Yehudis,” he says quietly. “Who can understand Hashem’s ways?”

Miriam flutters her hand, as if swatting away a bothersome fly.

“How else do you explain it?”

“So now… now you think, because the pushke melted in the fire, Yehudis is going to chas v’shalom die?”

Miriam smooths the wrinkles her twisting created.

“I…” she gulps. This is more vulnerable than she’s been in years, and it’s hard, allowing her husband to peek into the dark spaces of her mind. She plays back his words in her head.

“I had thought. I had thought we should be careful, daven harder, that maybe it was an omen she was going to die. But now I’m rethinking everything… all this time…” She looks down, her voice quiet. “Maybe it was her spirituality I should’ve been worried about.”

She looks up, searching Yitz’s eyes for understanding, compassion. Instead, Yitz just shakes his head, his frustration growing, as the chasm between them widens.

The next night, they sit at PTA, across from Mrs. Rhine; Miriam had insisted that Yitz join, despite his discomfort. The Chumash teacher has a no-nonsense air about her, and she straightens her papers against the desk.

“So,” she says, smiling at them both, then glances at her notes again.

“Mr. and Mrs. Perlmutter. Yehudis’s parents.”

They smile back, but Miriam fidgets in her chair, waiting for the reprimand she fears is coming.

“Yehudis is a lovely, lovely young lady, and it has truly been a pleasure having her in my class.”

She leans forward half an inch, a conspiratorial air enveloping her.

“There is one thing, though, that I really must discuss with you.” Can this be it? Her Yehudis has been found doing who knows what, with who knows who, who knows where… The school. The school knows.

Miriam’s mouth is dry with fear. She frantically squirms in the uncomfortable metal chair.

“There’s a minor issue…” the teachers continues. “Homework.”

Oh. Homework. Homework? Well yes, that could be an issue, a potentially disastrous one. But is that all?

The teacher looks at them, a hawk with her eyes on the kill. “Is there something going on at home?”

Yitz and Miriam glance at each other, then quickly look away, as if that one glance is all the evidence the teacher needs.

“No… no, no,” Miriam stammers, “most definitely not.”

Yitz gives an endearing grin. “Nope, things are good on the home front.”

“Hmm.” Again, a shuffle of papers. “Well, I’m certainly glad to hear that. Why might an otherwise bright, achieving girl be neglecting her assignments?”

Why might she? Because she’s probably involved in numerous activities that are distracting her from the most important thing! Because she is sliding down a slippery slope to exactly nowhere.

Deep breath, deeeep breath. Miriam wills her rapid heartbeat to slow its gallop, for her runaway thoughts to stay focused on the teacher’s words.

She turns toward her husband, begging him with no words to fix this; isn’t that what attracted him to her in the first place? He’d always been the tranquilizer to her turbulent emotions, the rock to her winds and whims.

Yitz deciphers her mental signals. “Hmm, that’s a fair question,” he says to the teacher. “Can I just ask, though, how are other students doing in terms of homework? Is our daughter really the only one not complying?”

Mrs. Rhine is clearly caught off guard.

“Well, in fact, yes, that’s right, a number of girls are struggling this year… And I’ve been speaking with each parent, individually, to get to the bottom of this.”

“Mm hmm.” Miriam studies Yitz from the corner of her eye, impressed at his restraint.

Mrs. Rhine glances at her attendance book again, murmurs something, and says, “That seems to be all. Please do have a word with Yehudis about homework.”

The meeting is effectively over, and as they exit, Miriam hears Yitz whisper to the lone father in the waiting area, “Heads up, none of the kids have been doing their homework this year. I think it’s time for a parental revolt.”

Miriam smiles, experiencing a long-buried pride towards her husband. She allows herself to indulge in the positive feelings, to soothe some of the friction that has developed between them. And a flicker of hope sparks deep inside.

She’s putting finishing touches on the salmon for supper when she overhears Yitz and Yehudis in the den, talking.

Mrs. Rhine had come in that day, mumbling something about homework policy, and that there had been some concerns communicated; changes would be implemented to make it more “manageable” for the girls.

“I’m so glad someone finally talked some sense into her!” Yehudis giggles.

“Y’know, kiddo, you still do need to do homework though, right?”

She hears Hudi’s soft sigh. “I know, I know. Homework’s not my strong point.”

That — that. How Yitz can take a hard conversation, turn it into a chance for connection. How he can focus exclusively on Hudi, not letting his own stuff get in the way.

Miriam listens to the laughing, the light camaraderie between her husband and daughter, and a pit of jealousy fills her stomach. Their voices lower, and she walks stealthily to the living room, feeling like a criminal. She shakes herself; this is her home, there is no reason for this.

In as carefree of a voice as she can muster, Miriam jauntily sing-songs: “Hey, Hudi, I heard Trending’s is having a flash sale, do you want to head over there?”

Yehudis’s face is luminous, a sun. “That’d be awesome! Can we go now?”

She shrugs, feeling buoyant and carefree. “Why not?”

Their conversation in the car ride over to the strip mall is light, and Miriam is enjoying this time with her daughter. Why don’t they do this more often? Oh, because Miriam never offers. As she turns into the parking lot of Legacy Hills, she glances over at Hudi; what is it about her daughter that causes her stomach to churn in fear?

They meander through the aisles, squished between a hundred teenage girls, swishing through racks of clothing. Yehudis grabs a few T-shirts, as Miriam silently wonders about the clinginess of the material. She hears Yitz’s steady voice: This is what all the girls are wearing, she’s no better and no worse than any of her peers, and offers to relieve Yehudis of the bounty on her arm.

Yehudis lifts a turquoise dress, casually drapes it across herself, smiling down at the fabric.

“Ohhh, I loooove this one, I’m gonna try this on quickly.”

Miriam narrows her eyes as Yehudis floats towards the dressing rooms, a familiar pinch in her mouth setting more firmly. It is a dress that will certainly not cover Yehudis’s five foot seven stature, not even standing.

In a moment she’s out, twirling in front of the full-length mirror. The hem lays a good inch above her knees.

“Wow, I looove this color, stunning, right?” Yehudis is still smiling as she turns toward her mother.

Miriam narrows her eyes. What is she supposed to say now? She is stuck between a rock and a hard place; she can’t accept this dress as is, but she also can’t say anything about lengthening it.

Would Yehudis really do that, have the chutzpah to purchase an item like that on her mother’s credit card?

Before she can figure out the perfectly delicate balance of a response, Yehudis’s face obviates the need for one: She’s picked up on Miriam’s blatant disapproval. The sun disappears behind a cloud, a giant gray one, and there’s an ominous silence that precedes the inevitable storm.

Hudi’s face pinches, and her eyes are cold. “I have a headache, I think I’m going to step outside to get some fresh air. I feel like I’m suffocating in the crowd over here.”

Miriam watches Yehudis stalk into the dressing room, come out in her own clothing, then walk out the glass door. Miriam knows the shopping spree is as good as over. She wishes she could have kept her feelings to herself. Would Yehudis have bought the dress? Maybe she would have realized it was too short, but Miriam hadn’t given her the chance. Her body is heavy with the weight of false accusations.

She picks up the pile of clothing from the floor of the dressing room and walks towards the cashier, subtly cutting the line that snakes halfway through the store. Miriam touches the young girl’s arm as she turns her back to grab a large green bag.

“Do you mind if I keep this here for a bit, my daughter just needed—”

“No longer than 15 minutes, ma’am.” The cashier takes the items, dumps it unceremoniously behind her, and continues the transaction.

With shaky feet, Miriam goes outside to find her daughter. She looks to her left and right, can’t locate Hudi’s familiar lanky frame. Where has that girl gone to? A familiar panic fills her, her mind jumping to a million awful possibilities.

She slowly trails down the path, peeks into the manicure salon: it’s empty, save for one octogenarian getting her nails painted a garish red. The shoe store: nope. The gym: she doesn’t even peek, Yehudis wouldn’t step foot into a gym. There’s not much else here at The Shoppes, only a beat-up old shtibel, a motley assortment of seforim gracing its entrance.

Where had she gone wrong? She thinks back to last night’s PTA, when she had allowed her own ego to step aside, giving space to acknowledge her husband’s strengths. If she’d been wrong, so wrong, about him all these years, who’s to say that she can’t be wrong about other people in her life?

Maybe Yehudis is in the shul. Music and polish aren’t the only things that define her daughter.

She squeezes through the door, peeks her head in to the ezras nashim. There is no surprise when she sees Yehudis davening Minchah, facing the direction of the aron kodesh. Miriam grabs a siddur, stands at Hudi’s side. She takes three steps backward in humility, three steps forward to join her daughter in prayer.

It’s never too early to start Pesach cleaning.

It’s been a while since Miriam tackled the basement. Truth be told, she’s not sure she’s been there since the fire. The insurance company had sent a clean-up crew, and she knew what remained was just junk, some old stuff in storage.

But even junk needs a good Pesach cleaning every now and then.

Miriam grabs one box, opens it hesitatingly, concerned a rat, or worse, will greet her.

Instead, she sees a silver matchbox, a long-forgotten relic that used to reside beside her leichter. Who would’ve expected to see that down in this box? She’d assumed it had gotten lost in the fire, along with everything else…

And then she remembers, oh, that’s right, before the fire, I had told the cleaning lady to bring the silver down here to clean it. I do hate the smell of polish! I wonder if we have to tell the insurance—

And with a gasp, frantically clawing, she digs through the wrapping paper. And there, nestled at the bottom of the cardboard box, still cushioned in saran-wrap, lies Bubby Kalmanowitz’s precious pushke.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 779)

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