| Calligraphy |

The Treasure Keeper

“I-I think there’s something wrong with us, Hinda,” he said softly. “Something wrong with every one of us here in this family. We’re like plants someone forgot to water; ugly, dried out, and broken. Most of all broken.”



inda’s shoes were too big; they always had been, ever since that sweltering day in August when Mommy took her shopping for school shoes. Mommy said then that the prices they charged for kids’ shoes were “criminal” and that Hinda grew “unusually fast” and that if Hinda thought she’d be back in March for another round of new shoes, she had another think coming.

And so, after the gentle young man in the store fitted Hinda’s feet for the navy-and-gold loafers she’d chosen, Mommy commanded him in that authoritative, executive voice that brooked no argument to fetch her a pair in one size bigger. Hinda put them on and looked down at feet that suddenly looked so small and wobbly in one-size-too-big shoes, and felt her throat grow hot and dry. All the way home, she held the crisp white box that aired the scent of new leather and stared silently out the window, remembering how the shoes had looked when they’d fit her feet properly; shining, smug, neat, and trim, and untellingly lovely.

She didn’t sulk and cry the way Bryna would have, nor did she rant and rave the way Benjy would have done. Hinda bowed her head before her mother’s will, weak and helpless as grass beneath a raging gale.

Even she, Hinda, with her thick and foggy mind, knew that business executives like Mommy made lots of money, and so she never could understand why Mommy always had to pinch and save on their clothes and shoes. It was Benjy, who was older and knew everything, who explained.

“It’s because of you and me being special ed,” he said, squinting down at the shoes lying at odd angles in the box. “Mommy and Tatty pay a ton of money for us to be in special schools. And also to pay all the people who have to help out because Mommy is at work so much and Tatty is always away: Maria who cleans for us, and Mrs. Peretz who cooks for us, and Sandra who babysits for Nosson and Chaim after school, and” — he paused for breath — “to pay my tutor, and your tutor, and Shira Marcus who does homework with the younger kids. And all the expensive equipment Mommy has to have, like her crutches and the chair-lift.”

When he put it all that way, it made sense they were poor. It also explained why Hinda’s very existence seemed to irk Mommy so much, and why nothing she ever did was pleasant or satisfactory; after all, she really was nothing more than a drain on her family’s coffers.


When summer waned and autumn appeared at the windows, Hinda put on her new shoes for the first day of school. The shoes made a clip-clopping sound as they flapped loosely against carpet. She clip-clopped to the kitchen for breakfast, and clip-clopped to the hall to get her schoolbag, which Mrs. Peretz had prepared. It hung on a hook at the bottom of the stairs, right near Mommy’s chair-lift. Hinda shrugged on her backpack and clip-clopped to the school bus, and on the first day of school, as her lovely and beautiful new teacher called the girls’ names one at a time, she clip-clopped all the way to her desk at the front of the classroom, sensing all the while the rustle of elbow-nudges and smug whispers that passed through the room as she went.

Ms. Silver smiled at her and looked down at the too-big shoes on Hinda’s feet and said, “What pretty shoes you have, Hinda.” And Hinda knew she was going to love this new teacher.


It was in February, when Hinda’s shoes were beginning fit better so they no longer made that humiliating clip-clopping noise when she walked, that her eyesight began to deteriorate. Shapes and colors blurred before her eyes, and Ms. Silver’s beautiful red hair appeared to be an orange cloud floating about the classroom.

“Here,” Ms. Silver said to her one afternoon. “Give this note to your mother, Hinda. I think she needs to take you to an eye doctor.”

Hinda took the note and gave it to Mrs. Peretz. On Sunday morning, Uncle Shimon knocked on the door and told her he was taking her to the optometrist. On Wednesday, Hinda put on her glasses for the first time. It was like tearing a layer of foggy plastic from a windowpane; everything was sparkling, clear, precise, and breathtakingly beautiful. She flew to school on feet light as air, marveling all the way at the crisp brilliance of this new high-definition world.

During recess that day, the girls played elimination. They always played that game, and Hinda detested it, mainly because she was deathly afraid of being hurt by the ball. The girls in her class who were good at the game lobbed it with an aim and speed akin to a heat-seeking missile. There was one girl who was particularly skilled; when Sorala Ornstein had the ball, Hinda went inside to use the bathroom.

The school was quiet, calm, the lights faintly humming. Hinda glanced around the classroom and noticed that five golden tokens were scattered on the floor near Channala Meyerson’s desk. The tokens were part of Ms. Silver’s magic; she gave them to students who demonstrated effort and good behavior, and they were redeemable for prizes every Rosh Chodesh.

Hinda picked up the coins from the floor. She held them in her hand and looked down at them, and they seemed to look back at her. The stillness drew around her as her fingers closed and locked around the glistening coins. Slowly, one by one, she slipped the coins into her shoes. There was still a narrow gap between fabric and foot, there the coins fit in supreme comfort, like a golden lining to the soft scuffed leather.

She wriggled her feet so no gold was visible and then went back out to recess feeling light and happy, knowing she carried a treasure that was all hers … and no one else would ever know.

From that day on, Hinda became a bystander in recess, focused solely on timing her classroom visits to avoid detection. On the pretext of forgetting her snack or needing the bathroom, she visited the classroom every day and returned to the schoolyard, walking with a slow, measured step, the gait of one who carries a precarious treasure. It was the same gait that carried her triumphantly home each day, her shoes as laden with gold as two pirate vessels.

As soon as she arrived home, Hinda hurried to her bedroom to gloat over her booty. The crisp white shoebox became her treasure trove. Each evening, as she counted the coins, one at a time, and stacked them in tall shining pillars within the cardboard hollow, she felt the faintest stirrings of what she thought might be called happiness steal into her heart.

Happy. The tokens sang up at her with smiling golden faces. So many; so beautiful. We’ll make you happy.

Benjy found her there, one day, and stopped to examine her collection. “What’s that?” he asked.

“Tokens,” she said. “I get them from my teacher for good behavior.”

“Oh.” Benjy looked at them again, this time with admiration in his eyes. “I wouldn’t get even one.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” Hinda agreed. She hadn’t meant to be cruel, but Benjy growled in his throat.


“I’m not being mean. You know your behavior is terrible. You’re always getting in trouble.”

“Yeah, I am.”

Benjy dropped down onto the floor at the foot of her bed. He watched her close the lid of the shoebox and slide it under the bed. Outside, the sky grew darker, as blackness sank toward them from the open heavens.

Benjy spoke suddenly, in such a low voice Hinda didn’t realize he was actually talking until most of his words had already been released into the air.

“I-I think there’s something wrong with us, Hinda,” he said softly. “Something wrong with every one of us here in this family. We’re like plants someone forgot to water; ugly, dried out, and broken. Most of all broken.”

Hinda watched him leave the room. Then she turned to the window, where night had fallen. The darkness was terrifyingly close, and bare tree branches shook gruesome fingers at her through the glass.

Hinda pulled her blanket tightly around her shoulders. Broken. We are broken.

That night, she slept with the treasure chest under the covers, clutched close all through the morbid stillness.


The next day at recess, when Sorala Ornstein had the ball, Hinda made her regular visit to the classroom. When she returned with her secret prize, the game of elimination had ended and Sorala introduced a new game called Belts. The object of the game was to leap between two markers on the floor with a certain number of steps; the  winner was the one to make the widest bounds. The girls lined up excitedly to take turns, and Hinda hung back from the group.

“Oh, come on, Hinda!” Sorala called to her. “There’s no ball in this game, you don’t have to be afraid to play!”

Someone laughed and Hinda shrank inside herself.

“What’s the matter with you?” Sorala taunted, “You don’t know how to jump or something? What are you, a cripple?”

The question was cruel, needle-sharp, and deadly. In the mild wind that stirred the schoolyard, everyone fell very quiet, looking at Hinda.

Somewhere deep inside her, the last few shreds of Hinda’s dignity collected themselves in a small army of fury that flared like a match touched to tissue paper. Her cheeks exploded with color, her teeth ground together, and without thinking, without pausing, she took a step forward.

“Get out of the way,” she hissed, pushing past the group. “I’m going!”

“It’s three steps!” someone called after her, but they may as well not have. Hinda Adler was airborne, flying across the asphalt on wings she’d never known she possessed.

The last belt was close, but not close enough; Hinda stumbled, her ankle twisted painfully, and a moment later, she was on her knees on the scratchy black ground, her shoes lying helter-skelter amid a flurry of rolling gold coins.

One second passed, one heartbeat of horror that shuddered through her, and then she was surrounded by 16 pairs of accusing eyes, and from that horrifying vortex of swirling surprise and outrage came the screech of 16 voices shouting in unison.



When Hinda stayed after school that day to speak with Ms. Silver, she suddenly wished she wasn’t wearing her new glasses. She wished for the old days, when Ms. Silver’s hair looked like an orange cloud and her mouth was a pink blur somewhere beneath it. Oh, to be smeary-eyed now, spared the crystal-clear sight of Ms. Silver’s beautiful face, with every line pulled into an expression of eloquent sorrow and disappointment!

Beneath the humming lights and the ticking clock, Ms. Silver peered closely at Hinda’s face.

“I know you understand in your mind that it’s wrong to take what belongs to someone else,” she said softly. “It’s my greatest hope you’ll understand it in your heart, as well.”

Hinda said nothing.

“Tomorrow I want you to bring them all back, Hinda,” Ms. Silver said. “Every single coin you’ve taken from your classmates.”

Hinda stared down at the traitorous shoes, the shoes she now hated more than anything in the whole wide word.

“Every single one,” Ms. Silver repeated sternly, and as Hinda looked into the grey-blue eyes that were part fire, part ice, she knew there was no way out.


That night, Benjy was sitting on the floor in her bedroom, waiting for her.

“There’s a kid at school,” he said softly, “who’s been really, really mean to me.”

Hinda looked back at him with dull eyes. She almost wished he’d stop talking; she didn’t want to hear his pain. But he looked at her with a face that spoke anguish, and so she listened silently, letting his words hit her like hot stones on a blistering wound.

“It’s that Avrumie Gruenbaum,” Benjy hissed. “He told the whole class that … that my parents are — getting … are getting divorced.”

“Divorced!” Hinda sat up very straight. “That’s not true, is it? That’s not true at all!”

“Of course not,” Benjy said furiously, “Avrumie’s just trying to make my life miserable. But he tells these things to the kids. He says that’s why Tatty’s never home. I say it’s just because he travels a lot for his work, but Avrumie laughs and says ‘Yeah, right,’ and they all believe him.”

He stopped talking and Hinda saw his hands had balled into fists. “One of these days I’m gonna give it to him. I’m really gonna give it to him. I don’t have to take this type of thing from no one!”

Hinda was quiet. She was too hurt, too humble, too beaten to feel anger and rage the way Benjy felt it. Instead, a new coldness crept across her heart, as if all the colors in the world had turned yet another shade duller. Her slow, sluggish mind could not define or identify her feelings, most certainly it could not begin to find a means to express them. Only two words resonated within her right then, in her heart and in the tears that soaked her pillow that night as she wept unceasingly into the beige cotton print. So sad the words squeezed from her mind, from her heart, in great painful convulsions that threatened to sweep her away into the black oblivion of nighttime, So sad, so sad, so sad.

The next day, Hinda stayed in during recess, staring at the floor while the other girls streamed out the door like a chattering, giggling river. When she was alone with Ms. Silver, she walked to the front of the room holding the sharp white shoebox in her hands. Ms. Silver looked at it for a moment, and then took it. As the box crossed hands, Hinda thought that if the human heart made noise as it broke, the whole room would have been filled with a mild groan, the sound of something weak and fragile crumbling to ruin.

Then Ms. Silver reached into her own bag, and pulled out a small, shiny wooden box, a box with two metal latches fastening the lid closed.

“I want you to know, Hinda,” she said, holding it out, “that real treasure is only found inside yourself.”

With shaking hands, Hinda took the box. Slowly she opened it. There was a mirror inside the lid, the rest was empty. Hinda blinked stupidly at her reflection and then closed the lid. She looked back up at Ms. Silver.

“I want you to take this box home, Hinda. Each day I want you to write down one good thing that you did. Show it to me in school. Then take it home and put it in your box.”

Hinda nodded. She put the box into her backpack and then walked away into the cold and windy schoolyard.

The next morning, Hinda dropped a scrap of paper on Ms. Silver’s desk.

I brushed my teeth without being reminded.

“Wonderful,” Ms. Silver smiled, and that afternoon, Hinda made her first deposit into the new treasure box.

I picked up a piece of garbage from the floor. No one asked me to, and no one was even looking.

“How responsible!” Ms. Silver crowed.

Hinda shrugged. She took the paper home with her and placed it in her box for safekeeping.


Days went by, and little by little, her box filled with scraps of do-goods. Sometimes she caught herself reading them, sometimes she even smiled as she did.

“Another collection!” Benjy scoffed. “You girls are into the dumbest stuff.”

And then one day, Benjy came home from school early. He was a mess, his lower lip bloody and mangled, a large ugly bruise shining from his right eye. Mrs. Peretz had gone on an errand; there was no one to attend to Benjy, and so Hinda did it, removing an icepack from the freezer and pressing it against his lip, trying to quell the frightful panic that threatened to overwhelm her.

“What happened?!” she half-screeched, half-sobbed, as Benjy dropped his head, moaning, against the kitchen table.

“I couldn’t take it.” Benjy whispered. “Avrumie Gruenbaum …”

“Oh no, oh, no!” Hinda swiped helplessly at the table, where blood was pooling from the gash in Benjy’s lip.

“He said Mommy and Tatty are getting divorced. He felt so bad for me, he said. It’s not my fault, he told everybody, that my mother is a cripple. I couldn’t help it, Hinda! I ripped into him, ripped into him like a wild animal. I screamed and fought until the rebbi tore me away from him … and then I ran away.”

Benjy lifted his face; and it was so gruesomely muddy, bloody, and tearstained, Hinda thought she would vomit.

Benjy gave another low groan and took the fresh wad of paper towels she offered him. “I’m going to be in huge trouble,” he said slowly.

“You have to tell them what he said!”

“Tell Tatty and Mommy what he said about them? Never, Hinda. I wouldn’t do that. They’re going to ground me, and punish me, and who knows what else, but I’ll never tell. You can’t hurt your parents that way, it’s just not right.”

They were both silent then. Hinda ripped more paper towels, and Benjy stared sightlessly into thin air.

And then something happened to Hinda. A powerful emotion overtook her, and she suddenly peered closely into Benjy’s eyes and locked his gaze with hers.

“You once told me we’re all broken, Benjy, but there’s nothing broken about what you’re doing. What you’re doing is totally, completely, and perfectly whole.”

Benjy stared back at her, and his eyes grew damp above the mud-streaked cheeks. “Know what, Hinda?” he said softly, “You’re not at all as stupid as they make you out to be.”

It was the most meaningful compliment she had ever gotten in her life.


At six o’clock, Ms. Silver heard the rat-a-tat of crutches in the hallway, and she knew Mrs. Adler was on her way. Ms. Silver sat up straighter, and adjusted some papers on her desk. Batsheva Adler appeared in the doorway.

“Good evening. I’m so glad you could make it tonight,” she said, smiling softly.

Mrs. Adler just nodded and lowered herself into a chair, propping her crutches against the desk.

“Hinda is doing so wonderfully,” Ms. Silver continued. “I wanted to meet with you to discuss the possibility of mainstreaming her into a regular education classroom.”

“Really?” Mrs. Adler’s eyebrows went up a few inches. “I find that very surprising.”

“Do you?”

“There’s no way you’re telling me Hinda can function on a mainstream fourth-grade level.”

“No, she isn’t able to function on a fourth-grade level. But watching your daughter, I’ve realized that her learning disabilities are only half the problem.”

Something about the red-haired woman’s gentle confidence made Mrs. Adler bristle. “Oh, really,” she said loudly. “And what exactly, according to your professional opinion,” she sneered, “is the other half of the problem?”

“The other half has nothing to do with Hinda’s cognitive abilities, and everything to do with her emotional state. Hinda suffers from emotional deprivation, Mrs. Adler. She has what it takes to excel, but is greatly encumbered by the fact that she is terribly, terribly, sad.”


“Yes, Mrs. Adler. Children need more than just food, shelter, and education. They have emotional needs, as well. And when their emotional needs aren’t met, they fail to thrive. What I see before me in the classroom every day is a beautiful, intelligent girl who struggles to function both academically and socially because she is malnourished for love and attention.”

Mrs. Adler’s mouth was half-open, and she stared at Ms. Silver disbelievingly.

“You must be out of your mind,” she said quietly. “I’ve met many young, fresh, and arrogant teachers, but honestly, I’ve never seen one quite as young, fresh, and arrogant as you.”

Her voice rose an octave.

“Do you know how much money we pay to send Hinda to this school? Do you know the hours and hours of tutoring we pay for? And you want me to believe all this is because she is sad?”

Ms. Silver blinked.

“Not all of it,” she said. “I reiterate, Hinda is also challenged by learning disabilities. But I do feel that learning problems account for only half the problem.

“I apologize,” she said, dipping the head of flaming red hair, “that I have to deliver this message, which I’m sure is painful for you to hear. But as Hinda’s teacher, I see myself as her friend, and as her advocate. You’re her mother. I’m sure you can say the same about yourself?”

Mrs. Adler’s hands were shaking with fury as she reached for her crutches.

“I’m the chief financial officer in a dog-eat-dog business,” she said with gritted teeth. “I got to where I am with my own sweat and blood. You have no idea what it takes for a frum woman with a handicap to achieve what I have. And I didn’t go through all that for some young, hot-headed ideologue with a master’s in educationhere Mrs. Adler’s tone was heavy with unmistakable sarcasm — “to tell me she can’t teach my daughter because she is sad!”

“I never said I can’t—”

“Goodbye, Ms. Silver,” she said. “My time is quite valuable, and I have wasted enough of it here with you tonight!”

She turned and left the room, the sound of her crutches beating an angry tattoo.


Batsheva Adler could barely concentrate on the road as she drove home, her head and heart overtaken by a fierce wave of rage. How dare she? Blame all Hinda’s problems on her mother, as if it was somehow her fault that her daughter was slow and thick-headed as a 10-year-old tree stump!

The car swerved into the driveway. A blast of cold air hit her as she emerged from the car, and suddenly she found her rage transformed into a strange and surreal wonder. She looked up at the house; it was her house, and yet how well did she know its inhabitants?

The chair lift was ready for her at the bottom of the stairs, and when she arrived at the second floor, she found herself standing outside Hinda’s room. The curtains were open, revealing a dark and twinkling night sky. A moonbeam danced delicately on Hinda’s dark hair. Batsheva moved closer; there was something beside Hinda’s head on the pillow. When she lifted the object in her hands, it slid from the shadowy darkness into the moonlight, a small wooden chest full of tiny paper-scraps.

She opened one and read it.

I brushed my teeth without being reminded.


I picked up a piece of garbage from the floor. No one asked me to, and no one was even looking.


I hugged Chaim and Nosson. I told them “I love you.” I was the first person who said it to them all day.

Batsheva’s heartbeat slowed as she stared down at the scrawled handwriting. Slowly, she opened another.

I cleaned Benjy’s bloody lip and helped him when no one else was around. I trusted him when no one else did. He is not broken. I am not broken. We are whole people.

Batsheva could not remember the last time she had cried. She yelled often, and laughed occasionally. Tears were something she had never thought she could afford, and yet now, they came, in gushing torrents that spilled and scattered like apple-blossoms in the dark.

Beneath her mother’s weeping shadow, Hinda slept.  Who was this girl, this beautiful child who had gathered what was broken and made it whole?

The answer came to her in the flush of Hinda’s cheek as she bent to kiss it. It came to her in the glimmer of her own eyes that reflected at her from the shiny mirror as she closed the wooden box. Hinda was a treasure.


It only took another few weeks before Batsheva had a treasure chest of her own, filled with tiny little paper-scraps of her own do-goods. A glance inside would have told a tale of courage, persistence, and a relentless determination to change.

And one night, while the moon hung outside her window, suspended like a glowing lantern in the inky black sky, she wrote: I found the strength to fix what I never knew was broken. Her pen hovered over the paper for one more moment, and then she added, I am the keeper of treasures.

She looked at the paper, smiled, and gently closed the lid of her treasure box.

(Originally featured in Calligraphy, Succos 5773)

Oops! We could not locate your form.