Thursday, February 25, 2016

Not a True Story: Inspired By Real Tragedies

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“You should have told me that Avi was getting out for Shabbat,” Rena told her sister reproachfully.

Tova shrugged her shoulders. “It was a last minute release and I’d already made your favorite chicken and black and white cookies.”

“But now I’ll feel like a third-wheel charity case.” Rena smiled wanly.

“Oy!” Tova’s hands flew to her face in compunction. “You’re never a charity case. You’re my twin sister whom I love very much.”

However Tova heard the truth of Rena’s words. She, too, had been looking forward to their girls’ Shabbat but forgot about her twin when Avi called earlier that morning. He’d told her his officer had said things were quiet enough on the Lebanese border for him to have a thirty-six hour pass. Her poor husband hadn’t been out of the army for eighteen days. Tova wondered what he was more excited about: seeing her or having time to take a long as shower as he wanted.

“You know, Rena,” Tova hugged her sister. “Avi will be spending all his free time catching up on his sleep. We’ll still have our heart-to-heart talks.”

Before Rena could reply baby Yossi stirring in his bassinet claimed Tova’s attention. As she picked up her son Tova reflected how she and Avi had always planned for Rena and Natan to be the baby’s godparents at his brit. Only their plans went awry two days after Yossi’s birth. It was Tova’s mother who told her of Natan’s imprisonment.

“What do you mean they arrested Natan?” Tova had exclaimed angrily as her mother urged her to eat her dinner she’d made. “What for?”

Her mother had shrugged her shoulders, palms up, with a hopeless look on her face.

“What’s he charged with?” Tova had persisted.

“Nothing,” her mother had responded bitterly. “Absolutely nothing! He’s in administrative detention. They can keep him up to six months without any charges.”
Tova had bit her lip acknowledging the truth of her mother’s words. “Why do you think they took him in?”

“That mosque that burned. They’re blaming the men from his yeshiva.”

Tova had shaken her head sadly. With the exception of her husband there was no one she was closer to than her first friend from her mother’s womb. Still, the two girls had chosen different paths by the time they were fourteen. Tova decided to attend the large Jeruslaem high school just a few blocks from their home. Rena picked a boarding school in the hills of the Shomron. While Tova spent much of her free time being a girls’ leader in the Bnai Akiva youth group Rena was helping to build a new Jewish settlement near her school. Tova’s first date with Avi was arranged by his learning partner in Rav Kook’s Yeshiva. Rena met Natan during a Shabbat at the settlement. Tova’s wedding was held in a modest Jerusalem hall. Two months later Rena and Natan were wed in a field near the site of their trailer. Although quite different in their approaches to life the two young men quickly formed a mutual admiration society. Shared Shabbat visits to their in-laws were arranged as often as possible and the two always looked forward to spending time learning together. That all ended two months earlier with Natan’s arrest. 

“So,” Avi directed his attention to his sister-in-law as he sipped his soup. “Is there anything new with the situation?”

“Actually there is.” Rena put her spoon down and took a deep breath. “The lawyer called me this morning. They showed him the report and the fire at the mosque was due to faulty wiring, not vandalism.”

“So Natan’s coming home!” Tova clasped her hands excitedly.

“Not so fast,” Rena chewed her thumb nail. “The court doesn’t like all the articles he posted. They say it’s incitement.” Her voice turned scornful. “If they’d put away all the Arabs that write inflammatory articles there wouldn’t be any room left in the prisons.”

“It’s terrible,” Tova agreed earnestly. “Two more teenagers with knives went on rampages on the number 61 bus yesterday. Fourteen years old!” She was indignant. “What happened to doing homework and playing soccer?”

“Something needs to be done,” Avi agreed. “But right now it’s Shabbat.” And he began a Shabbat song.

Tova’s prediction had been correct and Avi slept most of the time he wasn’t in synagogue or at the table. It was late afternoon when Rena thanked her twin for all the effort she’d put into making her favorite foods.

“With pleasure,” Tova glowed, glad to have her work appreciated. “But,” she frowned, “you didn’t eat much. I’ll have plenty to send back with Avi and even a care package for you.”

“Thanks,” Rena blushed. “I really don’t have much of an appetite…” Her voice trailed off.

Tova raised her eyebrows. “Are you feeling nauseous?” 

Her sister nodded blushing even more.

Tova hugged Rena excitedly. “How far along?”

“A little over two months. I was at the doctor Thursday. I haven’t even told Natan but I’m bursting.”

“I’m sure you are!” Tova jumped up in excitement. “Oh, I pray Natan will be out tomorrow, but at least before the baby’s born.” 

“Amen!” Rena replied. “Now, don’t tell Ema or Avi or anybody.”

“Of course not,” Tova responded with mock indignation.

They spent the rest of Shabbat whispering about the pregnancy, baby Yossi, and hopes for the future. Following Havdalah Avi suggested bringing in pizza for a post-Shabbat meal.

“Great idea!” Tova was enthusiastic. “I need to feed Yossi so why don’t you take Rena with you. You,” she turned to her sister, “can get some rugelach from the bakery next store, okay?”

“No problem.”

So Rena wasn’t in the pizza store when the thirteen-year-old pulled out a knife. She didn’t hear the cry Allah Akbar but she did hear the gun shots. As she joined the crowd on the sidewalk she saw, to her horror, Avi lying in a pool of blood. It seemed just a matter of seconds before the MDA medics arrived and when they did she took off as fast as she could to her twin.

Running with all her might she forgot for a minute about her husband in jail. Instead she was focused on Tova and didn’t stop praying. Thank you, HaShem, thank you for letting me be here to help my sister. Please, please HaShem don’t let my sister become a charity case. Please HaShem please let Avi be okay. Her eyes filled with tears and she echoed Queen Esther’s heartrending cry from the 22nd Psalm. My G-d, my G-d, why have You forsaken me.

Before the tears could fall she checked herself. Just as she reached the apartment building she caught her breath and began singing softly.  I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and, though he may tarry, I wait daily for his coming.  Breathing deeply she opened the door to Tova’s home and whispered one more prayer. Please let it be today.

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