“Is this the principal? Menahelet Blumenthal, yoh?” Leah holds the phone in one hand, and a tissue in another as she stifles a sneeze. This cold has caught her unawares.

“Yes, Geveret Guttman. You’ve been looking for me?”

“I’ve called a few times. Listen. The girl who stays with us — Dina — how is she doing? We don’t talk her language, so we’d like to hear from you.”

“Dina?” Her voice rises on the first syllable. “You mean Daina?”

“Yoh, yoh. Dina. Daina.” Leah pushes aside the thick wad of fabric swatches she has been eyeing and tries to focus. There’s so much on her mind, but the girl has been walking around with her hands in her pockets and a blank expression; she arrives home just minutes before supper, and after she eats, she spends long hours in her room. Leah promised herself she’d get to the bottom of it.

“Daina is a really sweet girl, Mrs. Guttman. Eager to please and well behaved.” In the background, Leah hears a drawer slam. “But I’ll be honest with you, Geveret Guttman, I don’t know her that well. How about I put you in touch with Chagit Yanofsky, our music director? She gives her a lot of one-on-one time, and she probably knows where she’s holding better than anyone.”

“‘Okay.” Leah purses her mouth, resigned to the runaround. “Please ask her to call me back.”

“One second, please.” There is muttering in the background. “Geveret Guttman, Chagit should be in the staff room right now. I’ve sent someone to call her. If you can just wait a moment on the line….”

Leah aims for a polite response, but a loud, unbridled sneeze overtakes her. By the time she’s able to talk, the menahelet has disappeared. Leah fingers the fabric samples and tries to settle on the color that would best suit Tzippy’s curly-headed meideleh as well as the mechuteneste’s little girls.

“Shalom, Geveret Guttman?” Chagit’s mellifluous voice comes softly through the wire. Leah picks up on a faint foreign timbre; it must be that Eastern European background.

“So, I understand you teach Dina music, right?”

“Yes. Daina’s a pleasure to teach!”

“Gut. Gut. We just want to know how she’s doing at school. Is she studying well? Does she have good friends? What can you tell me?”

“I’m only her music teacher, but as far as I know, she’s doing well in her studies. Daina is highly intelligent. She has a number of friends. There’s one girl especially…” Chagit sounds cagey. “Why do you ask?”

“Ich veiss, she doesn’t look so happy, that’s all. We’re doing what we can, but to me, the girl looks like something is bothering her. Look — I know it can’t be easy for her, being here alone and everything. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay at school.”

Chagit clears her throat. “Like I said, she’s a great girl. Smart, sweet. She really tries to understand, you know?”

“Shoin. Well, if that’s all, I—”

“But—” Chagit interjects, then falls silent.


“I’ve had a few conversations with her recently.”


“She’s finding things hard. She comes from such a different background, and now her mother’s begging her to go back, you know, it makes it all that much harder.”

“What? Her mother, what?” Leah grabs at a stray swatch of silver jacquard and crumples it tightly.

“Didn’t she tell you? Her mother wants her back in Lithuania. From what she’s told me, I doubt she actually wants to go back and live there. But she’s feeling torn.”

“That’s crazy! You should have seen the meshuggene place she left behind!”

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 631)