| Family Tempo |

The Chosen    

She was demanding. But didn’t I owe it to her campaign?

Low-pitched and slow, Fiona McGlocklin, the campaign manager, had stressed in the meeting she’d held with us volunteers. My palms are wet as I make my first call for the evening.

“Hi, this is Dina Berger from Dr. Sylvie Goldfeder’s campaign headquarters,” I begin as soon as someone picks up, hoping my voice isn’t cracking.

The life-size banners of Dr. Goldfeder with former President Bush strung across the tent catch my eye. “Dr. Goldfeder for Mayor” is printed across the top of each one. I feel a surge of energy giving me the courage to push past my shyness. I believe in the cause.

“I want to invite you to a rally Dr. Goldfeder will be holding next Friday morning. Outside the main shopping center on Cobbler Avenue. Dr. Goldfeder will be speaking.”

“On Friday morning?”

“Yes,” I answer smoothly. “That way you don’t have to come out especially. You’re probably doing your Shabbos shopping then.”

The man laughs. “Very considerate. That’s Dr. Goldfeder for you.”

I jump into that opening. “Exactly! That’s why it’s so important to come out and vote. We really need someone like her in office. Someone who cares about the community, and isn’t just in it for the publicity…”

The man on the phone gives a low whistle. “I’ll try to make it. Thanks for calling.”

I hang up with a sigh of relief. I really dislike cold calling. But this call had gone pretty well. I flash a thumbs-up at Rochie, sitting in the row in front of me, and move on to the next name.

A woman answers with a curt hello. I quickly launch into my prepared speech.

“Dr. Sylvie Goldfeder?” The woman’s voice sounds disparaging.


“So that’s the story,” the woman says.

“Excuse me?”

“We used to be neighbors. And friends. Then all of a sudden, whenever she’s out and about, she’s surrounded by a group of women, like they’re her bodyguards, and she can’t even say hello. Got all hoity toity now that she’s running for mayor, I suppose?”

The silence is awkward. I mentally rush to Dr. Goldfeder’s defense. How petty! Whenever I bump into Dr. Goldfeder in shul, at simchahs, even shopping on Cobbler Avenue, she always greets me and asks after my mother.

My mother has multiple sclerosis, and Dr. Goldfeder has always been there for our family. When we first moved to Connecticut, way back when I was in fourth grade, my parents renovated the house to make it handicap accessible, not realizing they needed a permit. They’d been slapped with a huge fine they had no way of paying. Someone had introduced them to Dr. Goldfeder, who was already a lawyer and activist, and she’d taken on the case pro-bono, managing not only to have the fine rescinded, but getting the city to pay my parents compensation too.

Since then, Dr. Goldfeder has been a larger-than-life presence in my house. When I’d mentioned one Friday night that I’d signed up as a volunteer for her mayoral campaign, Mommy had knocked over her soda glass in delight. And my father’s lined face broke out in a smile that actually reached his eyes.

The woman on the line breaks the silent standoff. “Thanks for calling.” Then she mutters something indecipherable and hangs up.

I take off my headset and wipe my palms on my denim skirt.

Rochie heads over to me. “How’s it going, Dina?” We’ve been friends for years, and she knows how shy I am.

“Not bad,” I answer. But this last call has left me uneasy. “Two down, twenty-eight more to go.”

Rochie laughs and goes back to her computer.

Our shift finishes at midnight, and Rochie and I perch on the low, red brick wall outside Dr. Goldfeder’s law offices.

Rochie tosses me a can of Dr. Pepper she bought from the vending machine set up in a corner of the tent, and I gratefully sip the cold soda.

“You’d think they’d provide us with free refreshments,” Rochie grumbles as she sits down next to me. “These cans were two dollars each.”

My stomach rumbles. I pop open an oversize bag of Bissli for us to share. I’d come straight from college and hadn’t had time to eat supper.

“Remind me to ask, what’s the campaign manager assistant’s name, the one always walking around making notes on her clipboard?”


“Right, Aliza. Remind me to ask her to organize refreshments,” Rochie says and crunches on her last Bissli.

Something in me clenches in protest. We’re here to help, not to be wined and dined! But I have a feeling Rochie won’t like hearing that, so I keep quiet and brush the crumbs off my skirt as we head to the car.


he election campaign is supposed to run for two months, and we volunteer every weeknight, alternating between cold calling the town’s residents and distributing flyers to mailboxes.

The other volunteers are all college students like us. I’d begged Rochie to join, if only so we could hang out together. She boards in New York, but is home for summer break, and between the summer classes I was taking and my volunteer work, I didn’t know when we’d get to see each other. She wasn’t enthusiastic, but agreed. “At least I’ll have something to do over the summer,” she’d said, shrugging.

I was hoping she’d be a little more excited, that she’d show some interest in the campaign itself too, but I let it go.

The other staff members on the team, aside from us students, are Aliza Markowitz, Dr. Goldfeder’s perpetually sour-faced personal assistant, and Fiona. Fiona’s reputation as a campaign manager preceded her; she’d been responsible for getting Roger Williams in the neighboring town elected, and as she told us at the orientation session, “I’m taking on this project because I believe in the importance of helping women of minority ethnicities break into politics.” Dr. Goldfeder had winced when she said that.

Dr. Goldfeder needs Fiona, but she doesn’t seem to like her very much. Still, while I feel guilty about it, I like Fiona. She drops into the tent every evening to thank us and keeps us updated on the latest polls. (It’s a race between Dr. Goldfeder and Benjamin Tilson, and the margin between them is small.) I think Rochie may have something to do with it, but lately she’s been bringing us menus from the local takeout, and then driving to the store to pick up our orders.

The campaign she’s created is fantastic. The slogan is “Her Door Is Always Open,” and the flyers and posters show pictures of Dr. Goldfeder visiting many of the institutions she’s involved in. There are the kids with special needs from Achi Ezri, one of them with their arms around Dr. Goldfeder’s shoulders; the underprivileged public-school children inside a classroom; and elderly Vietnam veterans with their walkers and wheelchairs at the local old age home.


might have to go to Baltimore sometime soon,” Rochie says casually one evening, as we cruise along the tree-lined boulevards on our way to the other side of town to distribute flyers.

“Huh?” I lean forward and turn down the volume so I can hear her over Simcha Leiner. “What’s in Baltimore?”

Then it clicks.

“Ahhh,” I say and smirk.

“Dina!” Rochie’s cheeks turn pink.

“Oooh, you’re blushing.” I laugh. “That means this isn’t a first date. You’re getting serious?”

“Well, yes, we went out six times in New York,” Rochie says. “And then we spoke a few times over Zoom since I’ve gotten back. I’m probably going to meet his parents soon.” Rochie’s face is glowing, and I squeal.

Then it’s quiet. I’m not jealous. Really, I’m not. But I also can’t pretend it isn’t hard that Rochie’s about to get engaged while I haven’t even had one decent shidduch suggestion. She may be from out-of-town, but she’s a Steinberg; her family is wealthy and well connected, plus she has three brothers-in-law always on the lookout for her, and she spends most of the year in New York.

I’m basically in a desert of dating options. But I stayed local instead of going to New York for college because my mother really needs me close by. Not that being in New York would help much; my family has no yichus or money to speak of.

“Wait,” I say suddenly. “You’re going to Baltimore now? What about the campaign?”

“The campaign?” Rochie looks at me quizzically. “You’re not serious, are you, Dina?”

I’m quiet.

“Dina,” Rochie says. “I don’t want to hurt you, but I think you’re taking this campaign too seriously. Dr. Goldfeder does a lot for the community, but you talk about her like she’s Mashiach. Don’t you think you need to tone it down a little?”

“What do you mean?” My back arches in defensiveness.

“There’s something off about how much you admire her. It doesn’t seem so healthy to me.”

I fidget in discomfort, then I force a giggle and say, “I know you’re studying social work, Roch, but I think you’ve still got a way to go before you can start diagnosing.”

Rochie sticks out her tongue. Then it’s quiet again as she pulls up outside a house on the first street on our list, and I get out to put flyers in the mailboxes.


he next evening at headquarters, I’m surprised to see Dr. Golfeder herself standing at the front of the tent, striking in a tweed blazer and pencil skirt, in conversation with Aliza. I’d been disappointed that Dr. Goldfeder hadn’t been on site more, but gratified she was trusting us volunteers to just get on with it.

Dr. Goldfeder approaches the mike.

“Good evening, and thank you so much for all the hard work you’re putting into this campaign,” Dr. Goldfeder says. There’s applause and whistles, and someone ululates. Aliza scowls, but Dr. Goldfeder gives an enigmatic smile. “Aliza has told me how dedicated each of you are.”

She stops, and her eyes rove the room before continuing. “I have an announcement to make. Unfortunately, Fiona McGlocklin, our campaign manager, has left the team.” I stifle a little gasp. Everyone else seems unmoved. Then I tune in again as Dr. Goldfeder continues. “With just over a week to go, that isn’t the end of the world.” She pauses to take a drink, but her shaking hand belies her calm tone.

“The margins are so slim that every vote counts. But we can do this! I’m counting on you to make this campaign a success, even without Fiona’s ‘expert guidance.’” At the words “expert guidance,” she lifts her arms and moves her lacquered fingers in pantomime of quotation marks. “Your efforts can help us win the campaign. So keep on making those calls. Keep on encouraging your friends and family to vote. Keep on being the best ambassadors you can for Goldfeder for Mayor!”

She leaves, and the tent begins to hum with conversation.

“Why do you think Fiona left?” Rochie asks.

“No idea,” I respond.

“I’m guessing she didn’t get along with Aliza,” Sarit interrupts us. “You should have seen Aliza’s face when Dr. Goldfeder spoke. She was beaming.”

“She always looks like that when she’s around Dr. Goldfeder,” Rochie responds. “It’s the only time she cracks a smile. She’s a bit obsessed. Just like our Dina over here,” she teases.

I get clammy all over. What’s Rochie’s problem? Yes, I’m dedicated to the campaign. So what? Why doesn’t she appreciate what a tremendous baalas chesed Dr. Goldfeder is, how much she’s done for my family?


ater that night, Aliza calls me and Rochie over.

“I need you two to take another project,” she says, without looking up from the fluorescent orange clipboard she’s doodling on.

I’m instantly curious. “What?” I ask.

“Dr. Goldfeder is hosting very important Shabbos lunch guests. Influential people.” Aliza finally looks up. “Very influential people.”

“And?” I prompt.

“I need you to help her. She’s having the food catered, but she needs girls to set up the tables so they look classy, and then on Shabbos morning, to serve the guests.”

“What, like waiters? Why can’t the catering company provide waiters?” Rochie wants to know.

Aliza looks at her and blinks slowly. “Catering companies usually hire teenage boys. She needs people who will make a good impression, who won’t embarrass her or cause trouble. These are real VIPs, and everything needs to be perfect.”

“That’s ridiculous⸺” Rochie begins, but I cut her off.

“We’ll be there,” I say, elbowing Rochie.

She frowns.

“Come on, Rochie, it’ll be fun,” I cajole, noticing from the corner of my eye how Aliza nods at me, even gives me a glimmer of a smile.

“I’m not missing Shabbos lunch with my family,” Rochie says matter-of- factly. “I’ll be going out of town Sunday, and it’s not a good week for me.”

That’s not an issue for me. My parents will be thrilled that I’m doing something to help the campaign.

“You’re going away?” Aliza’s thin eyebrows rise into her widow’s peak.

“Yes.” Rochie looks directly at Aliza. “I’m going away for a few days.”

“Nice,” Aliza drawls, tapping her pen against the metal clip of the clipboard. “But you’ve committed to being here. So it’s only fair that you help us out on Shabbos, to compensate for your missed days next week.”

Rochie shakes her head, and I shake mine right back at her. “That’s fair,” I say.

“Listen to your friend, Rochie,” Aliza murmurs. “She’s a smart one.”


lthough Shabbos usually finds me in a sweater and long skirt, I wear the dry-clean only tweed dress I bought for my brother’s bar mitzvah — and wore only once — to Dr. Goldfeder’s house on Shabbos.

Despite her attitude, Rochie comes too. She looks me up and down, but I ignore her. And I have fun, sliding cloth napkins into rings, plating gefilte fish and microgreens, filling bowls of piping-hot cholent. Rochie’s very quiet, and I can’t work out if she’s sulking or spaced out thinking about her trip tomorrow.

I ask her about it, and her smile says it all. We exchange hugs, but the mazel tov gets stuck in my throat.

On Motzaei Shabbos, Rochie calls. “Are you in the mood of going to the mall with me? I need a manicure,” she explains.

“Sure,” I agree. “I think I’m going to get one, too.”

I can hear the surprise in her voice, but she does her best to hide it. “Sounds good, I’ll pick you up in twenty.”

The petite manicurist spends a long time massaging my cuticles with lavender-scented oil. “Is this your first manicure?” she asks with a frown.

I nod.

“I can tell,” she grumbles as she picks up a pair of cuticle clippers.

Rochie makes a noise, a cross between a cough and a chortle. “I get it,” she says.

“Get what?”

“You’re imitating her. You wore a tweed dress on Shabbos. Now you’re getting a manicure.”

I jerk my hands away from the manicurist, knocking over the vial of lavender oil. She scowls and begins to blot the mess with a fluffy towel. “I’m in the parshah, Rochie,” I retort.

“Very funny, Dina. I said it before, and I really mean it. You’re obsessed. She’s just a person. And we should never have gone to her house on Shabbos. It was totally inappropriate of Aliza to ask us.”

I frown and will myself to keep my palms flat on the table. “You think so? I mean, Dr. Goldfeder does so much for this community. Look what she did for my family. Don’t we owe her something?”

“You need to have gratitude to someone who does a kindness for you. But that doesn’t mean they own you,” Rochie replies. “Genuine givers don’t expect anything in return.”

I chew my lip as I think that over.

“What color?” Rochie’s manicurist asks her.

“Periwinkle Pink,” she answers. “Dina?”

I’m distracted. “Yeah, same,” I mutter. I can’t decide if Rochie has a point, or if she’s just mad at being asked to plate someone else’s food.

“You know, I’ve had enough of all this Dr. Goldfeder business,” Rochie says. “Count me out. I’m not part of this campaign anymore.”

I’m shocked. “Don’t you think you’re taking things too far now?” I challenge her.


I blink away sudden tears. It’s time to admit it. I am jealous of Rochie. I’m jealous of how everything is so simple and straightforward for her. How she’s so sure of herself. How she doesn’t feel any need to be part of someone, something bigger.

I need to be alone. “I’m so sorry,” I tell the manicurist as I push back my chair. “I have to go. I really apologize about the mess I made.” I drop a $20 bill on the table and bolt.


ochie’s engaged.

Fast work, I think when I see the collective WhatsApp she sends out to everyone in her phone book on Sunday night.

I should call her. Apologize for leaving so abruptly last night and wish her a huge mazel tov. But I’m too worked up. She has no idea how she’s turned my world upside down. Is she right? Is something off here? Does my admiration for Dr. Goldfeder border on unhealthy obsession?

My phone buzzes. It’s another collective WhatsApp from Rochie. Vort on Thursday, July 12th at 36 Anderson St., Baltimore, MD at 8:30 p.m. Looking forward to seeing you!

Makes sense that the vort is in her chassan’s hometown — Rochie has elderly grandparents and tons of family there.

Then I stop short.

Thursday. In Baltimore.

No, no, no, no! How could Rochie do this to me? Thursday’s Election Day.

Ice cream. I need ice cream. I trudge to the kitchen, hoping there’s some vanilla left over.

Mommy’s sitting in her wheelchair at the low island, peeling potatoes. Her tired eyes light up when she sees me. I grab a peeler and sit next to her. She looks at me again and furrows her brows. “Everything okay, Dina?”

I sigh. “Rochie’s engaged.”

Mommy just looks at me, understanding and empathetic, and waits for me to continue.

“I’m kind of confused.” I pick up a potato and turn it over and over. “I’m happy for her. But I’m also mad. She says Dr. Goldfeder is taking advantage of us and that I admire her too much and she quit the campaign. Then she went off to Baltimore and got engaged.”

I attack the potato savagely, and tears leak from the corners of my eyes.

“Why does Rochie think Dr. Goldfeder is taking advantage of you?” Mommy asks.

“Mainly for asking us to be waiters there on Shabbos. And in general, for expecting so much devotion, and so many hours of our time. She thinks the whole campaign is overrated.”

The only sound in the kitchen is the swish of potato peels falling on the counter. “Communication,” Mommy says finally. “Go speak to Dr. Goldfeder. Be honest about what you’re feeling. See what she says. I’m sure a conversation will clear things up.”

I hesitate. I’m all for openness. But with Dr. Goldfeder? What if she thinks I’m an immature brat? What if she doesn’t take me seriously or makes sarcastic gestures like she did when she spoke about Fiona?

Mommy is nodding at me encouragingly. I trust her judgment. And Dr. Goldfeder had been so good to her. There’s no way she’d treat me badly; Fiona had probably done something to deserve it.

I smile and squeeze Mommy’s hand.

But there’s still a skeptical voice inside me that sounds like Rochie, and I put on headphones, letting the music drown it out.


y heart is pounding as I enter Dr. Goldfeder’s office, with the green front door and vintage knocker, and approach her secretary’s desk.

“I’d like to speak to Dr. Goldfeder,” I tell her. She has the same sour face as Aliza.

She looks me up and down. “Who are you?”

“I’m one of the campaign volunteers,” I explain.

“She’s not available,” the secretary says curtly.

“Oh. Okay.” I drum my fingers on the plexiglass window. “Do you have any idea when she will be?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Oh.” I hear Rochie’s voice in my head: “Weird for someone whose campaign slogan is ‘Her Door Is Always Open.'” But then a door down the hallway does open, and Dr. Goldfeder comes out, smiling. The secretary looks shocked. “I’m not really available,” she says, looking in her direction. “People are so needy. They’re coming after me all the time.” There’s scorn in her voice when she says “needy,” and I’m thrown off kilter. But then she smiles at me and says, “For Frayda Berger’s daughter, though, I have time. Come, Miss Berger, come into my office.”

She takes me by my arm and propels me into her office, pulling out a chair as though I’m a senior citizen. I don’t even need to wonder how she knew I was there; there’s an additional computer on her desk with security footage from the lobby, the tent, the parking lot, and the hallway outside the restroom in black-and-white boxes across the screen.

Dr. Goldfeder sits down at her trendy glass-topped desk and looks at me expectantly. You can do this, Dina, I tell myself, and then, sitting on my hands to stop them from shaking, I describe how confused and uncomfortable I am about having been asked to wait tables at her house.

She has perfect posture, Dr. Goldfeder, and I automatically pull my abs in, straighten my back, and lengthen my neck in imitation of her as I watch her pick up a piece of paper on her desk and read it, her manicured forefinger skimming each line.

I shift in my chair, and it squeaks. Dr. Goldfeder puts down the piece of paper. “I understand,” she says. She leans back in her chair. “What’s with your friend, the Steinberg girl? How does she feel about all of this?”

I have no idea how I’m going to answer that question. “Umm, Rochie, she just got engaged, so she’s busy with that and can’t continue with the campaign,” I stammer.

Dr. Goldfeder nods. “That’s better. I need a certain type of person to work for me, and she isn’t that type.”

Am I that type? I wonder, feeling nauseous.

“You should know, Aliza Markowitz reported to me that you’re the most dedicated of all the volunteers. I would expect nothing less of a Berger. I know how hardworking your parents are, how dedicated they are to your upbringing, despite their challenges.”

I blush. I’ve never felt more validated than I do now. A lot of my confusion evaporates in the puff of my pride. Hear that, Rochie.

“I know a person with potential when I see one…” She trails off.

A warmth rises in me and I look down at my reflection in the glass-topped desk.

“I apologize that you felt it was inappropriate when Aliza asked you to help out on Shabbos,” Dr. Goldfeder continues calmly, “though I must acknowledge that your assistance was instrumental in impressing some very influential people. I’ll speak to Aliza to make sure nothing of that nature happens again.”

“Thank you,” I whisper.

Dr. Goldfeder appraises me with crinkled eyes — she has crow’s feet, I notice — then smiles in that enigmatic way of hers. “Thank you, Dina, for your contribution to this community. It’s very valuable.”

I nod and mumble something incoherent about it being my pleasure.

Dr. Goldfeder cocks her head and looks carefully at me. “Now your friend is a kallah. It must be quiet for you in that department.”

I blush again. How does she know that?

“Send me your résumé, will you?” she continues. “All my siblings live in the tri-state area, so I know a lot of people. I even have a nephew or two in shidduchim.” She winks. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” She picks up her alligator-skin phone case and snaps it open. “I have a phone meeting in a minute.”

I leave her office, closing the door gently behind me, and sit down on one of the cushioned chairs. My hands are still trembling and my cheeks still feel hot, but I’m giddy with relief. Elated.

I’d been honest about my confusion. And Dr. Goldfeder had been so respectful in response. And she’d even asked for my shidduch résumé! Imagine a date with Dr. Goldfeder’s nephew. What if I married a Goldfeder? What if I became Mrs. Dina Goldfeder?

I hear jeering laughter from the other side of Dr. Goldfeder’s door, and I can’t help but overhear her conversation. Her voice is dangerously low, and I feel chills in my spine. “You’re going to sue me? For unfair dismissal?” There’s that laughter again. “You do that, madam. But I’ll just remind you that I’m one of the most well-respected lawyers in the state of Connecticut, Fiona. So you’d better make sure you find yourself a very good attorney.”


Dr. Goldfeder, jeering at her?

I stumble down the hallway and out into the parking lot. Unfair dismissal? Dr. Goldfeder had fired Fiona? Something isn’t adding up.

Rochie. I want to call Rochie.

I’m about to open my car door when someone calls my name.


I turn toward her slowly. “Yes?”

“The secretary told me you had a meeting with Dr. Goldfeder,” she says.

I nod, my nausea returning.


“I told her I felt it was inappropriate that you asked Rochie and I to help out at her house on Shabbos. She said she’d speak to you to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.”

Confusion flits across Aliza’s face. “Speak to me? But she told me to ask you and Rochie. She said you two were perfect for the job.”

We lock eyes.

Aliza puts her hand over her mouth, as though she wants to stuff her words back in.

It’s like when you play a hard game of Sudoku, and you stare for ages at the board until suddenly the solution comes to you, and all the numbers magically slot into the right squares.

How could I have been so stupid? So blind?

Sour-faced Aliza and Nameless Secretary. As if being miserable, down and under was a criterion for being employed by Dr. Goldfeder. So many student volunteers, most of us bowled over by the privilege of being on the mayoral candidate’s staff, none of us experienced or worldly enough to feel anything other than awe of her. Except Rochie.

Is that what she’d meant when she’d said Rochie wasn’t the type of person she could work with? Someone confident, sure of themselves, from a respected family was a threat to her. And is that why she got rid of Fiona? Because she was coming in as her equal, not her underling?

Snippets of comments swirl about in my head: People are so needy. The entourage of people she surrounded herself with when she went out in public. The grueling volunteer schedule. The way she got Aliza to do her dirty work, supervising us, asking Rochie and me to help out at her home, when it really all came from her.

Her complimenting me, disarming me with her sweetness, but at the same time making me dependent on her for connections in the shidduch world, her reminding me of my humble background as the daughter of recipients of her kindness.

All of us, props in her one-woman show. Accessories she needs even more than we need her.

And I’d fallen for it. As if I could only feel important if I attached myself with complete loyalty to someone I admired. Someone who didn’t even deserve my admiration that much.

I’d forgotten that Hashem runs the world, that He gave me my family situation, that He was Mezaveg zivugim. And mostly, I’d forgotten that only He is perfect.

I need to speak to Rochie.


have to call three times to get through.

“Hello.” Her voice is icy. But at least she’d picked up.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m really, really sorry that I rushed off like that. It really was pathetic.”

“It’s okay,” she says, and she sounds sincere.

“You might have a point,” I blurt.


“I think I do admire Dr. Goldfeder too much. For no good reason. She’s just a human being,” I say.

“Good morning, America! I’m so glad you worked that out.”

I sigh. “You don’t realize this has totally turned my world upside down.”

Rochie sounds distracted. “Dina, I really want to catch up with you about this, but another time. We’ll make a date, ‘kay? ‘Cuz I think I wasn’t so nice about this whole thing, either, and I want to apologize too.”

I want to cry and laugh at the same time.

“Think you can swing breakfast on Thursday morning?” I ask. “I’ll be in Baltimore for a vort.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 771)

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