Wednesday, May 14, 2014

An Agent of HaShem: A Short Story

Minna sat at her bedroom window and surveyed the tables her friends had so lovingly set. It was a feast of autumn colors blending beautifully with the foliage in the back yard. She breathed a sigh of satisfaction. If anyone would have hinted to her four years earlier that she would now be so content she would have deemed them crazy dreamers.

It had been so painful to bid her friends and apartment goodbye four years earlier. Granted that apartment had not been the castle-in-the-air she had imagined as a child but it was hers, hers and Gil’s. They had saved the money for it when they were still single. That nest egg along with their new immigrant mortgage allowed them to buy a three bedroom home in Gan Erez, the newest suburb of Jerusalem. How exciting it had been to move into a brand-new neighborhood. Feeling almost like a pioneer Minna eagerly greeted each new family as they moved into the building.


“Chaim and Sima are Americans, too,” she excitedly reported to Gil as they sat at their Shabbat table their first Shabbat in their home. “She wants to organize a weekly class on the laws of proper speech.”

“In Hebrew or English? Gil asked.

“Easy Hebrew,” Minna answered confidently. “And Sharona, she lives right below us, is more than happy to help me if I don’t understand. And Malka, she’s originally from France, wants to sign her daughter up for piano lessons with me. And Rivka, above us, wants to start a walking group. She says just going up and down these hills is as good as aerobics and we can visit and shop while we walk.”

Gil smiled lovingly at his bride. “You’re happy we bought here?”

“Oh yes! And you?”

“Uh-huh,” Gil agreed. “I like the men at the minyan. Chaim and I are going to learn together. It’s an easy ride to work. And when I feel the city closing in around me I can go out on our porch and enjoy the view.”

Minna and Gil loved their porch. Many meals were eaten at the patio table they had brought with them on their lift. When the weather was right they took their Shabbat rests in the lounge chairs out there. For Sukkot they were able to invite all the neighbors to their large Sukkah for a Yom Tov Kiddush which was really a luncheon.

Everything was idyllic the first few years. If Minna was worried that she had not become pregnant no one knew. She happily gave music lessons, headed the neighborhood chesed committee, went to Torah classes, and walked daily with Rivka and some of the others. It was on a cloudy day after Pesach that Rivka gave her some bad news.

“We’re moving,” she told Minna apologetically.

“Why?!?”

Rivka sighed. “My mother’s not doing well. We’re going back to the moshav where I grew up.”

“Bbbut..”

“I’ll miss you,” Rivka said sincerely.

“I’ll miss you!” Minna agreed emphatically. “But how will you manage on the moshav?”

Rivka smiled at her friend’s concern. “My husband has a job lined up and I’ll teach gym at the school.  The kids will love all the fresh air. It will be good.”

Minna nodded.

“Don’t worry. We’ll sell the apartment to someone nice.”

Naama and Baruch Yankel bought it. Minna thought their names were a good omen. Naama meant pleasant and Baruch blessed. So, she decided, they would be a pleasant blessing. Only they weren’t…

They seemed nice enough in the beginning. They were friendly and smiling when they knocked on the door to borrow things. And they always nodded understandingly when Minna ran into them in the elevator and reminded them to return the borrowed item. They were never annoyed when she would knock on their door and demand the return of the iron or vacuum cleaner or some other important item. She didn’t bother to ask for the onions or the eggs or the milk.

“Oh, thank you for coming to get it!” Naama would exclaim. “You saved me a trip, but then with four little boys it is so hard to get out. You probably have a lot more free time.”

After several such encounters Minna stopped opening the door when Naama knocked. Still, when they made their annual Sukkot Kiddush Gil made sure to invite Baruch and his family.  Everyone either brought something or helped Minna set up, everyone except Naama.

“Oh,” she commented seeing everyone arrive with platters and bowls. “I didn’t know I was supposed to bring anything.”

“You weren’t,” Minna replied graciously.  “You were supposed to come and enjoy yourself.”

“I will,” Naama declared. “I wouldn’t have had time to make anything anyway. You have no idea how hard it is to chase after four little boys all day long. And now that I’m expecting, well… Why’d you nudge me?” she demanded of Sima.

Minna continued smiling and ignored the exchange. What she had a hard time ignoring, though, was the behavior of the four little Yankel boys. No wonder Naama had no time for returning borrowed items. They ran all over the porch, pushed into people, put their grubby hands into the egg salad and then smeared some on the lawn furniture.

“Here, Naama,” Minna offered her neighbor a package of baby wipes she always kept on hand for her students’ fingers. “Can you wipe your boys’ hands please so they don’t stain the upholstery?”

“I guess you care more about your furniture than people’s feelings,” Naama retorted angrily. “It’s a good thing you don’t have any children.” She gathered hers and left.

Malka was standing right next to Minna as the barb was shot and she hugged her friend. The next day she approached Naama to try and make peace but was not successful.

“I don’t want to speak badly about her,” she said to Minna later. “But I think you should know that Naama doesn’t mean to be hurtful. She’s just very insensitive and has no clue that anything she said was mean.”

“Thank you for trying,” Minna told Malka. What she didn’t tell her was that she was four weeks pregnant. That was a precious secret she was sharing only with Gil.

Meanwhile, as insensitive as Naama was, she began to sense disapproval from the neighbors of the way she had spoken at the Kiddush. Instead of regretting her words she convinced herself she was justified. Minna had embarrassed her in public and therefore she could respond as she wished. Her irritation grew with each passing day and she began telling the others how Minna refused to open her door to her. She complained that the piano students’ noise kept her from resting. She let her boys bounce balls from their porch onto Minna’s and Gil’s at all hours and then demanded that they should let the boys in to get them.

Minna tried her best to ignore the abuse until the day Naama dumped her dirty water from washing her floors over the edge of the porch onto Minna’s clean laundry hanging in the sun. It had been the only day of sun that week and Minna stared at her now filthy wash with disbelief. Counting to ten over and over again she took the elevator to the apartment above hers and knocked loudly on the door. The reception she received was hardly pleasant.

“What are you doing here?”Naama demanded.

Swallowing bravely Minna answered. ‘’I think we should go talk to the Rav.”

“Okay,” Naama smiled sweetly. “My Rav is in Meron.”

“No,” Minna shook her head. “The Rav of Gan Erez.”

“He’s not my Rav,” Naama slammed the door.

That evening Minna ranted and raved to an equally angry Gil. “If it’s a neighborhood problem we need to speak to the neighborhood Rav, not her private Rav.”

“I don’t believe she has a Rav in Meron,” Gil said simply. “I think she just made that up to put you off. I don’t want to go into all the dirt but Baruch is not so normal, either. We’re not going to be able to change them. I’ve been thinking that maybe we should move.”

“Move?”

Gil nodded. “We could get a great price on this apartment and move out of the city into a little village with a house and a yard.”

“What about your job?”

“I could work from home and come into the city once every week or two.”

“And Chaim?”

Gil sighed. “That would be a drawback, but I’m sure I could find a good learning partner where we move.”

“What about me?”

“There will be music students wherever we go.”

“But Sima and Malka and Sharona and the others?”

“Minna, you’re such a nice person you won’t have trouble making new friends.”

“But I don’t want new friends. I like the ones I have.”” Minna began to cry.

“Never mind,” Gil didn’t want to upset his pregnant wife. “It was just an idea.”

The torture continued, though. Trash was thrown daily from the Yankel’s porch onto theirs. Naama closed the door of the elevator in Minna’s face every time she got the chance. The little boys grew tired of balls and began throwing wooden blocks over the balcony. Minna began to think seriously about her husband’s suggestion. 

And then there was the day that Minna left the building to do some errands and saw Naama and her brood riding their bicycles down the sidewalk, in the same direction she was going. Her first instinct was to head right back to the elevator but it was the last day to pay the water bill and she had a piano student coming in an hour.  As she hesitated the oldest Yankel boy rode his bike straight into Minna’s legs. Naama continued on her way, oblivious of her son’s escapade, and didn’t see Minna crumble to the ground.  It was someone from across the street that came to her rescue and called an ambulance. Minna spent five days in the hospital.  It was not a simple miscarriage. She was told she would probably not be able to have another pregnancy.

No one except Gil knew she was pregnant so no one knew she had lost the baby. Her friends understood that she had a concussion and was being kept for observation. Despite their visits and concern Minna came to the bitter conclusion that Gil’s idea was indeed a good one. With a heavy heart she agreed to move. And with an equally heavy heart she said goodbye to her friends and apartment in Gan Erez. 

The new village was lovely, though. She loved the tree-lined paths, the scented flowers, the slow pace of life, and she made new friends. After about a year she felt close enough to Miriam to confide about her miscarriage. Her friend was more than sympathetic. She spoke to her brother who was a fertility specialist. He had a waiting list a yearlong but Miriam was able to shorten it to six months. The treatments had not been easy. However Minna was willing to do whatever he said. Now she surveyed her garden and its set tables with tears of thankfulness. Gil quietly came into their room and stood beside her.

“The mohel will be here soon.”

“He’s ready,” Minna cuddled the baby in her lap.

“And you?”

“Me too,” Minna nodded. “Look the guests are arriving.”

Through the window they watched neighbors and some of Gil’s co-workers file in. Suddenly Gil tensed.

“What’s she doing here?” He pointed at Naama who had entered the garden with Malka.

Naama’s eyes glanced to where her husband pointed. She smiled. “I invited her.”

“YOU INVITED HER! After everything she did to you! If it wasn’t for her we wouldn’t have left Gan Erez.”

“If we hadn’t left Gan Erez I wouldn’t have met Miriam and if I hadn’t met Miriam her brother wouldn’t have helped us and if he wouldn’t have helped us who knows if we would have our son. Naama was simply an agent of HaShem. I wanted to thank Him so I invited His messenger.”


5 comments:

Batya Medad said...

Wow, what a lesson...

Ester said...

Thank you!

Mirel Abeles said...

What a wonderful story. Real gadlush nefesh!

Ester said...

Thanks, Mirel

Esther Jacobs said...

What a moral tale. I am not sure I could have been that insightful!