Not being gifted with the exceptional talents of other
authors, I do not know how to imagine and invent stories. All
I know how to do is to look attentively, with open eyes and
open mind, at the things going on around me, to be quiet,
and listen to every word, including the unspoken ones. To try to
catch every blink of an eyelash, every movement, even those that
are barely noticeable.
I try to store all these things in the personal built-in
computer in my head, and to pull out the information when
it is needed.
What I mean to say is simply that even if certain things in
the story you are about to read seem like the far-fetched products
of imagination, that is not so. The vast majority of the events
related in this story actually happened, either to me, or to my
friends when I was present.
What I had to do was to push the right button in my
"personal computer" and recall the information, then go over
it, connecting one item with another to construct this story
- which you can read now.
May it be pleasant and worthwhile reading!
Pushing in among the dozens of girls who crowded the
schoolyard, I managed to blaze a trail through, without knowing
exactly where I was trying to get to. The girls stood in bunches
of three, five, ten, or even more, talking excitedly. I was excited
too, but I didn't have anyone to share my feelings with.
It was the first day of high school - or, to be more exact,
the first time that all of us, the girls of the freshman class, were
together. I estimated that about a hundred girls were gathered
here in the schoolyard. That meant there would probably be
three ninth-grade classes.
I stood off to one side and tried to put my thoughts in order.
"Everything's going to be all right," I told myself, trying to
calm down for the umpteenth time. "This nervousness will go away
fast. We'll get sorted into classes. I'll get to know my new friends,
and they'll get to know me. For sure I'll be able to regain the
status I had in my class last year."
But here, in the middle of the noise and commotion, the cries
of joy, outbursts of laughter, and hearty back-slapping, it was
hard to convince myself that I would succeed all that quickly.
I envied all these girls who had arrived here with groups of
their friends from the same school. They had the privilege of
being surrounded by familiar faces, they knew each other - and
most important, they came with their friends from their previous
school. Getting adjusted to a new school would be much easier
for them than for me. I was a stranger. I didn't know a
In the middle of summer vacation my family had moved from
Tiberias to Jerusalem, and I hadn't yet had a chance to make new
friends. At this moment, I had no one to talk to. And I wasn't
brave enough to walk up to one of these bubbling groups
of girls and announce: "Shalom! I'm Tammi Har-el. We moved
here from Tiberias three weeks ago..." No doubt they would just
stare at me wide-eyed and make up their minds that I was a
weird girl. They would laugh at me. After all, first impressions
are very important; its usually the decisive one. No, no, it wasn't
worth taking a chance. "I'll just stand here quietly for the time
being," I thought. "No doubt I'll soon have plenty of chances
- more opportune and reasonable - to introduce myself."
All of a sudden I heard a voice near me. "Shalom..." I
turned my head quickly, to find myself looking at a young
woman, blonde and smiling. "What's your name?" she asked.
"Tammi," I managed to stammer, wondering who this person
could be. "Tammi Har-el."
"Where are you from, Tammi? You seem to be new here.
Are you a Jerusalem girl?"
"Yes, I live in Jerusalem... I mean, now I do...We moved three
weeks ago from Tiberias." I stopped and took a deep breath. I
was nervous. Who could this woman be?
"I understand, Tammi. It's hard for you today. You don't
know any of these girls, so it's natural to feel isolated and that you
don't belong yet. But that feeling will pass, too. I'm sure you'll
quickly succeed in making new friends, and all the girls in your
class will like you. Tammi Har-el, did you say?" She glanced at
some papers in her hand. "Yes, Tammi. I see your name appears
on my list...You'll be in my class."
I almost lost my breath. "You're a teacher here?"
"Yes." She gave me a friendly smile. I'm going to be the
mechanechet for class 9-1; and here, in this list I'm holding, your
name appears. So you're going to be my student. We'll get better
acquainted later today, Tammi. Good luck!"
She turned and went on her way. I saw her stop to talk to
So I'm going to be in class 9-1...I'm curious on what basis
they assigned the girls to the classes. And that nice woman is going
to be the mechanechet of my class. I wonder how she'll be. She
was very friendly to me. Is that her natural personality? Will
she be like that all year? What are the other names on that
list she had in her hand? Which of all these dozens of girls
swirling around me match up with those names?
I began to calm down a little from my previous state of
nervousness. I could concentrate better on my surroundings and
take in more details. I realized that I was not the only one who
was standing off to one side, isolated from the general jubilation.
Over there, leaning against the building, was a short, thin
girl with black hair. She stood by herself, but she didn't seem at
all confused. She was interestedly observing everything going on
around her, an amused expression on her face. She seemed to be
enjoying the show.
Right opposite me, leaning on a tree trunk, stood a tall
girl. I suddenly realized that all the girls who were standing by
themselves were leaning on something. I, too, was leaning against
a column. This probably came from an unconscious need to draw
support from something, even an inanimate object.
I surveyed this tall girl with interest. She had blond hair that
felt onto her shoulders in two long, thick braids.
Her eyes were clear and bright; I couldn't make out their
exact color at this instant. Later, I was to learn that her eyes
changed color in accordance with her emotions and feelings.
Light blue, dark blue, green, grey. When she was tranquil, her
eyes were light blue. When she was gay and happy, they turned
dark blue. Her eyes turned green when she was deeply moved,
and grey when she got angry.
However, I was to learn all this only later, after I got to know
her. At the moment, and at this distance, I couldn't see the
color of her eyes at all. I didn't even know her name. She
looked like a mature, serious girl. She watched the girls around
her with great concentration, as if trying to penetrate their outer
appearance and discover their inner secrets.
Just then, her eyes turned and rested on me. For a moment
we looked at each other, and then, involuntarily, I lowered my
eyes. When I raised them again, I saw that she was still looking
"Open the doors of the lecture hall! Everybody go in!" I
heard voices announcing behind me. "Girls, everyone into the
hall! The principal has arrived. There he is." A girl pointed
at a tall, broad-shouldered man who strode rapidly past the
I sat on one of the front benches in the lecture hall. I
didn't know any of the girls sitting around me. For a moment,
I thought the girl sitting next to me wanted to say something to
me, but just then the principal walked onto the platform, and
a hush fell over the hall. Suddenly the chattering and laughing
ceased. All of us looked at our new principal.
He welcomed us to the start of the new year that we would
all share together, and expressed the hope that we would all be
satisfied, both the students and the teaching staff. He gave a
general description of how the school was run, promising that
we would hear the rest of the details from our new teachers.
His speech was short, simple, and to the point.
The next speaker was the supervisor responsible for all
the classes of the ninth and tenth grades - six classes in all,
she explained. She told us to disperse to four different rooms,
according to the initial of our last name. There we would hear
which class we had been assigned to, and which room we should
I, of course, already knew that I was going to be in class 9-1.
But which room was that? I was on my way out of the lecture
hall, swept along in the stream of girls. Outside, I could breathe
more freely, after the stuffy atmosphere of the big hall. If I could
figure out which room belonged to class 9-1, I could save myself
the trouble of going to the room for those whose last names
started with "H," avoiding that much more jostling and stuffy
As if reading my thoughts, the blond woman, my new
mechanechet suddenly appeared opposite me.
"In which room is our class meeting?" I asked, before I even
realized what I was saying. She gave me a surprised look, as
if she didn't understand what I wanted of her. But immediately
a spark of recognition flashed into her eyes.
"Oh, you're...Tammi, right? Our class meets in room twenty-
three." And she turned and went on her way. I wasn't mad at
her for not recognizing me at first. She must be very busy. ..the
first day with a new class. It's not easy to be the teacher.
No doubt during the last few hours she had gone up to other
girls who were standing by themselves, had spoken with them
and tried to cheer them up. It was hard to remember everyone's
name. Of course, it would have been more pleasant for me if
she had remembered right away who I was, but even as it
was I was not especially disturbed. I followed after her, staying
a certain distance behind. She walked energetically through the
long corridor. I kept looking up to see the signs over the
doors. I stopped in front of room fifteen. It was at the end
of the corridor, the last room on that floor. The teacher went
into a room marked "Office."
I heard someone speaking to me: "It looks like room twenty-
three must be on the second floor." I turned my head to see who
had spoken. "There were about ten girls near me in the corridor,
but the one who had spoken to me was the tall girl with the
braids, the one who had studied me while I was leaning against
"How do you know I'm looking for room twenty-three?" I
asked with a smile.
"I overheard when the teacher answered your question," she
answered in a natural tone of voice, showing no sign of being
caught off guard.
"Are you going there, too?" I asked, curious.
"Yes. Let's go together. My name is Anat."
And that's how I first got to know Anat.
We were the first ones to get to the classroom. We took
chairs and sat down. Right after us, a laughing group of girls
arrived, and within two minutes the classroom was full. The
mechanechet arrived too, and everyone sat down, full of expectant
suspense, to see what she would say.
I surveyed the class: thirty-two girls, tall and short, thin
and chubby, dark and light. A few of the faces were already
familiar to me from the schoolyard. Or perhaps from the
assembly in the lecture hall. Where was the short, thin, dark-
haired girl I had noticed before the assembly? I already knew
that her name was Chagit. I had heard a friend of hers calling
to her joyfully, "You're already here, Chagit? You beat us!"
But she wasn't in this room. She must be in one of the other
Suddenly I heard the teacher say my name. I gave a startled
jump; but a moment later, when I heard her continue, "Vardi,
Rinah," I relaxed, realizing that she was just calling the roll.
We sang a few songs; danced a little. The tension evaporated.
I managed to exchange a few words with some of the girls in the
class. I made an effort to memorize the names of the new girls
I met. I wanted to surprise them tomorrow by calling them by
name without getting mixed up or forgetting. Everyone likes it
when people call him by his name, instead of "Hey, you...What's
your name again? I've forgotten..." I noticed Anat on the other
side of the classroom, with a girl I hadn't yet had a chance
to talk to. I went over to them. Anat welcomed me with a
"Tammi, this is Ronit. I don't think you've met yet."
"But now we've met," Ronit said with a smile.
I found out that Anat did not live in Jerusalem. She came
from Rechovot, and would be living in the dorm. Ronit also
lived in the dorm. She came from Beer Sheva. The conversation
among the three of us flowed very naturally and easily. We
told each other about our previous schools, our teachers, our
friends...until the teacher announced that the hour was late and it
was time to leave.
"Don't forget," she said with a smile, "Tomorrow you have
a day of learning ahead of you. Summer vacation is over."
"See you tomorrow. See you tomorrow" - that was the
sounds that accompanied me on my way home. Our new house
was near the school, and even nearer to the dorm building, which
was only about five doors up the street from us. In one minute,
walking quickly, I could cover the distance from my house to the
gate of the dorm building. Running, no doubt I could do it in
half a minute; maybe less. If Anat and I were going to be friends
- yes, she did seem very nice - it wouldn't be hard for us
to keep in touch with each other. We could see each other
That night I lay in bed, turning from side to side, trying
unsuccessfully to fall asleep. I was thinking about tomorrow. The
first day of learning in high school, in a new city, with all new
friends. New routines and rules, unfamiliar procedures. Surely
I would easily adapt to the new situation and society. In the
past, whatever surroundings I found myself in, I had always been
the life of the group. There was no reason why things should be
any different here. I wasn't dreaming of becoming the "queen
of the class." I didn't even want that. But I was sure all the girls
in the class would like me...
I don't remember at what stage in my thoughts I dozed off.
When I woke up, my room was flooded with blinding sunlight,
making it hard to open my eyes. All the same, I managed to look
at my clock, only to discover, to my panic, that it was already
twenty-five past seven. I jumped out of bed fast. This was no way
to get started - late on the first day of learning!
I filled my lungs with a deep breath. The air was warm and
dry, uncomfortable to breathe. I ran to the sink, washed hands,
and splashed my face with cool water. I wasn't at all pleased
to think that a heat-wave lay in store for us today. Fortunately,
the humidity is low in Jerusalem, so one doesn't become too
sweaty, even on a hot day. In Tiberias the hot, humid weather
had been really awful. There, in the summertime, I used to spend
most of my time in the shower.
I drank a cup of orange juice, deciding to forget about
breakfast. Who could eat on a day like this, when already in
the morning the air was heavy, suffocating, blazing and dry,
even indoors? I hurriedly threw together my sandwich for the ten
o'clock break, said "Shalom" to my mother, and went out.
I could hear my mother's voice behind me: "What about
breakfast, Tammi? And did you drink a glass of milk?"
"When I get home. Mom, when I get home. Breakfast I'll
eat some other time," I mumbled to myself. I felt a bit guilty that
I hadn't done anything to help my mother with the housework.
I should have dressed Natti, my little brother, or straightened
up the bedrooms, as I was used to doing on those mornings
when I was gracious enough to get up early. This morning I had
barely managed to make my own bed. I decided that tomorrow
I would try to get up earlier.
By the time I had reached this decision, I was at the
gate of the school. There were still five minutes until the bell
would ring, and I could relax for a moment and look around.
A caravan of girls was streaming in the direction of the old
three-storey school building, whose grayish-brown walls gave
undeniable testimony of the long years they had already held
I turned around and threw a quick glance at the street
behind me, taking in the whole scene at once. The sidewalk
leading to the school was flooded with a sea of hair-do's
- a heart-lifting sight of girls hurrying to their classes on the
first day of school. In that deluge of bobbing heads it was hard
to single out any of the girls from my class. I turned and went
through the gate, walked up to the second floor, and entered my
"Good morning, good morning," came from a few of the
girls. I answered with a rather dry, "good morning" of my
own and scanned the classroom, trying to spot a good place
to sit. The class was arranged in rows of tables, with two chairs
at each table. I wanted to find a good seat, because the place I
chose now would be mine for the whole year. A few places were
already taken, as I could tell from the briefcases that were dumped
on the chairs. I didn't want to sit in the first row; I don't like
being right under the eyes of the teacher. On the other hand,
the back row is also not a good idea. The teachers have a
habit of keeping a special look-out on it. A desk in the next-to-
last row would be good, and that's what I found, in the fourth
column of desks, which was the farthest to the left, next to the
window. The table was vacant. I went over, put my briefcase on
one of the chairs, and sat down on the other.
Now what? Suddenly I ran out of steam. I wanted to go up
to them, to my new friends; to talk, exchange impressions. But
something unexplainable held me back. The girls were standing
in groups, chatting among themselves about things that I didn't
know anything about. Those topics formed a bond among them,
cementing friendships from the past that were continuing into
the present. Even the dorm girls, who came from various other
cities, had already formed definite groups. They had had time
to get acquainted since yesterday. I wanted very much to take
part in one of the conversations, but I had no idea how to go
"Yesterday I met her!" I heard one of the girls - I
remembered that her name was Tirtzah - saying with sparkling
eyes to a group of girls. "She was so nice. She asked me how
it felt to be in high school, and she even - you won't believe
it - she even told me she wants to invite us to her house for a
party some Shabbat..."
The girls drew in their breath. "Us? All of us?" they asked in
"A-L-L of us!" Tirzah repeated in a loud, emphatic voice.
"That's exactly what she said to me!" It took me a while to
realize that she was referring to the madrichah, the girl from
an upper class who had organized and led these girls social
activities last year. But how could I take part in a conversation
"Is the seat next to you available?" I heard a familiar voice
- refined and quiet - say to me. I looked up and saw Anat
gazing at me with extremely light-blue eyes.
For a moment the words got stuck in my throat. Without
making a sound, I stood up and moved over to the next chair,
leaving room for Anat to sit down. I put my briefcase in the
special shelf for that purpose, under the table.
"Please sit down, Anat," I said in the most natural-sounding
voice I could produce at that moment. "I arrived a minute ago,
and just now sat down." She put her briefcase down, and the bell
Our mechanechet came into the room, a faint smile on her
face, and we all stood up. With a motion of her hand, she
indicated that we should be seated. Our day began with the
morning prayers, which lasted until 8:30. After that, we started
learning, according to the schedule we had received at yesterday's
One would have thought we were already in the middle of
the academic year. Each lesson was conducted with exaggerated
seriousness - began right on time, ended slightly late. All the
teachers of the various subjects showed up, and they all stuck to
business throughout the lesson. All at once, vacation was a thing
of the past. We had begun the routine of study.
The quiet, serious Anat turned out to be the top student of
the class. She was the best in every subject, but that fact made no
impression on her. Most girls in her position would have become
proud, but she didn't. In a short time the whole class got to like
her. And I, who knew her better than anyone else did, simply
I, too, achieved quite a respectable position in the class. I
wasn't number one, but it would be fair to say that I was among
the top five. The truth is that I could have made far more
impressive achievements, but I chose not to invest the extra
effort, since I was satisfied with my already quite honored status.
Apparently my friends were also satisfied with it.
In the social life of the class I was much more active than
Anat. Looking back, I think that if I hadn't been her best
friend, Anat wouldn't have been very involved in the affairs
of the class; and that in spite of - or maybe because of
- her special academic abilities.
Not long after the beginning of the year, I-all of us
- discovered another side of Anat's nature.
It was a few days before Rosh HaShanah. Our religious
studies, of course, were concentrated on the main topic of this
season. We were learning, reviewing, discussing, and hearing
talks about teshuvah, repentance: about how important it is
- especially in Elul, the month of mercy and forgiveness - to
regret the mistakes of the past and to improve our deeds for
the present and future.
We - and I in particular - learned an original insight into
this topic from Anat.
It happened during a history lesson. Our history teacher was
a little comical. She was tall and very thin, very narrow-faced,
with high cheek-bones. It had taken us some time to get used
to her high, thin, squeaky voice. Even after we got used to
her voice, and to her, the history lessons didn't go exactly as
lessons should. Students naturally tend to take advantage of
any weakness or helplessness on the part of the teachers. We,
too, would sometimes act up in lessons where we knew that
such behavior would pass more or less without any unpleasant
consequences. That included the history lessons. And when I say,
"act up," I don't think I have to go into detail. Everybody knows
what I mean.
The only one who uncompromisingly opposed any kind of
misbehavior in class was Anat. She argued that it wasn't nice; it
was impertinent; it constituted insult and public embarrassment
to the teacher; and that teachers, too, are human beings.
Deep in our hearts we all knew that Anat was right. But
we also knew that if we never disturbed the lessons, our life
would become boring and uninteresting, and it was hard for us
to accept that prospect. So there were some girls who criticized
Anat for being excessively self-righteous. But Anat paid no
attention to such criticism. During the lesson she sat quietly,
listening and taking part - a model student.
I, who sat next to her, was influenced by her. That doesn't
mean that I didn't occasionally turn around to exchange a few
words with Ronit, who sat behind me. Or sometimes I would
use the history lesson to do my homework for geometry, which
was the next subject. However, under the influence of a friend
like Anat, I couldn't permit myself to take part in the pranks
and naughtiness of my friends.
In this particular history lesson, as it happened, I was
listening attentively. From time to time one could hear rustlings,
whispering, and humming from girls who were not especially
interested, even though, in my opinion, the topic was a fascinating
one. Anat sat next to me, fully concentrating on the teacher as
usual. Chedvah, who sat at the table in front of us, twisted
around towards us. She held something concealed in her closed
"Anat, can you lend me an eraser?" she asked. But the
gleam in her eye told me that the eraser was only an excuse and
disguise for something else. Without looking at her, Anat handed
her an eraser. The closed hand opened to take the eraser, and
in the process a tightly folded note dropped onto our table.
"Top secret," she whispered dramatically, and then turned around
I saw that Anat gave a swift glance at the note that lay
crumpled on the table, but immediately resumed looking at the
teacher. How strange she was! She had no intention at all of
opening the "secret letter" which so awakened my curiosity. But
Anat, I had long since learned, knew how to overcome such
insignificant feelings as curiosity.
The note was folded many times, forming a square on
which was written, in Chedvah's rounded, careless handwriting,
"Exclusive to Anat. Top Secret." Under the words "Top Secret"
were three thick, dark lines.
I felt extremely curious, and also somewhat offended. It
wasn't nice at all of Chedvah to send Anat a note that she
was forbidden to show to anyone else - and right in front of
my eyes! At least she could have done it in an unobtrusive way,
not in such an obvious manner. At the break I would pester
Anat to show me the letter. But I already knew my friend - she
would never agree. So maybe I would try to get Chedvah's
permission. And if Chedvah would not agree, that would be a
sign that the letter was about me. And if that was the case... and
The high, thin voice of the history teacher suddenly rang out.
"Chedvah, what is that note that you passed to Anat? Anat, give
me the note immediately!"
The class fell silent. The whispering stopped, and all eyes
were riveted on Anat. Anat quickly picked up the still-folded
note. Her face turned red and her lips trembled.
"Didn't you hear what I said, Anat? Put the note on my
Chedvah half turned towards us. Her face was white. "No,
Anat! Don't you dare, please!" she begged in a shaking voice.
I felt sorry for her and mad at her at the same time. Why
did she have to put Anat in such a horrible position unnecessarily?
Didn't she know that Anat never read notes that were thrown to
her in the middle of a lesson?
The menacing voice of the teacher sliced the silence of the
"Anat..." And she moved towards our table.
Deliberately and without haste, with lowered head, Anat
opened the note, but not completely. She left it folded in half,
so that it could not be read. With decisive motions, she began
tearing the paper - into two parts... then four... then again...
"Give me the note whole, not torn!" The thin voice rose
excessively high, and then cracked. "I want it immediately!"
Apparently the teacher sensed that something was going wrong.
Perhaps she had heard the sound of paper being torn.
"Too late," came Anat's calm voice. "It's already torn."
"Stand up, Anat, and leave the class. You do not have
permission to return to my lesson without written confirmation
from your mechanechet."
Anat left the room, and the class exploded in an uproar.
The teacher tried to quiet us down, but to no avail. She had
no choice but to continue her lesson in the midst of the noise
Soon after, the lesson ended. The history teacher hurried
for the exit, but didn't get past the doorway. It was Anat who
had stopped her. Later, she told me what had been said between
"I asked her to forgive me," Anat told me with downcast
eyes, "and I really am ashamed. I'm not ashamed, G-d forbid,
that I asked her to forgive me. That's exactly what I should
have done. But I'm ashamed that she didn't understand me. She
didn't agree to forgive me." Anat looked very miserable.
"You don't have to feel guilty," I tried to encourage her.
"The teacher is the one who should be ashamed!"
"Don't judge her hastily," Anat said in her considerate,
measured voice. "When I try to put myself in her place. I'm not
sure I would have done any different."
"You, Anat, would certainly have understood and forgiven,"
I cried out heatedly. "You, you're an angel!"
Anat looked at me reproachfully. "Don't talk nonsense,
Tammi." Her voice was frank. "You're flattering me in order to
comfort me, and that's completely unnecessary. I know the truth.
She thought that I had read the letter I got from Chedvah, and
that since it was about her, I tore it up so that she wouldn't
be able to read it."
"Is that what she told you?" I asked in wonder.
"What inferiority feelings!" I hissed contemptuously.
Anat was angry with me. "Don't think, Tammi, that I
didn't see the look on your face when Chedvah put the note
on our table. You were very offended. But it's easy for you
to be sympathetic towards your own feelings. To be sympathetic
towards someone else's feelings is much harder. All the same, I
hoped that she would forgive me herself, without involving our
mechanechet in the affair. Not that I'm afraid of our mechanechet
I feel sure of myself because I know that I did the right thing.
But it would be better not to draw attention to the matter and
puff it up."
"Do you think that the history teacher would have read the
note?" I wondered out loud.
"I don't know. Maybe yes. Maybe no. And I didn't want to
put Chedvah in an unpleasant position, or even the possibility
of one, even though the whole incident was her fault to begin
with - especially since she knows I don't like it when she turns
around and talks to me in the middle of a lesson. But I think that
as a friend I was obligated to do what I did."
"You're a real saint, Anat!" I cried out in admiration.
"Who taught you to behave this way?"
I expected her to reply with some expression of humility, but
she only looked at me in silence, with contemplative, dreaming
eyes - and didn't answer. She didn't comment at all.
Our mechanechet treated the whole incident with a degree
of understanding that I had not expected. She listened to Anat,
and seemed to have to fight an inner battle in order not to
say out loud what she was thinking. A small, forgiving smile
flickered around the corners of her mouth as she listened to
Anat's story. I stood off to one side at a distance, as if
staying out of the conversation, but I managed to glance at
the two of them from the corner of my eye. The mechanechet
face didn't look at all angry. She understood who she was dealing
Anat ran toward me joyfully. "She allows me back in class!"
"What did she say to you?" I probed curiously.
"She told me: I understand you, but I hope there wilt be no
further incidents of this sort.' "
I smiled. "Excellent! You see, you didn't need any favors
from the history teacher!"
Anat pierced me with a serious glance. "You're wrong,
Tammi. I'm still going to ask her forgiveness again."
"Are you crazy?" I yelled, "Have you gone out of your
mind? Did you fall on your head and knock a screw loose? You
don't have anything better to do in life?"
"It's the day before Rosh HaShanah," she reminded me.
"Did you forget, Tammi? The truth is, even if today were an
ordinary day in the middle of the month of Adar, I would
do exactly the same thing. But I'm sure it will be easier for
you to understand me if you remember what time of year
I lowered my head in shame. I understood the reproach that
her words implied. Of course, the day before Rosh HaShanah
the custom is for all to ask forgiveness from each other. At this
time of the year, the need for pardon is clear - so much so,
that we forget that the things we ask forgiveness for on the day
before Rosh HaShanah are just as wrong to do on an ordinary
day. Once more my friend had proved more righteous than I.
I tried to change the subject. "Did Chedvah tell you what
she had written in the note?"
"No. And I didn't ask, either. She thanked me and apologized
to me for the incident, and I didn't cross-examine her."
"It's interesting that Chedvah apologized. I wouldn't have
expected it from her. It's not like her at all."
Once again Anat's large, light-blue eyes seemed to penetrate
through me. "Tammi, Tammi," she said gently, as if speaking to
a little child. "Don't you think that what you're saying borders
on Lashon Harah, slander?"
Once more I turned red. "Anat!" I exclaimed, trying to get
out of my predicament by clowning, "At the rate we're going, I'll
soon be as saintly as you!"
She didn't answer. The bell rang, indicating the beginning of
the next lesson.
Bell followed bell, lesson followed lesson. In between were
short breaks, mostly given over to conversations with Anat - for,
after all, during the lessons she didn't converse!
I wondered about the note that Chedvah had written. I
couldn't contain my curiosity, and at the next break I tried to
probe her on the subject. Chedvah avoided giving me a straight
answer, but from her evasive words I understood that in truth
she probably had chosen the history teacher as the topic of
her ill-fated letter. Thus I appreciated Anat all the more, and
my own feelings of guilt and embarrassment grew stronger. Why
didn't I know how to put a stop to my thoughts, to control
and select them? That's an extremely hard thing to do. But
at least I should be able to muzzle my mouth, and not blurt
out everything that came into my head!
Anat became a topic of conversation for the next few days.
"She's not just a coward worrying about her own skin and
her reputation," the girls told each other. "Look at the facts. She
refused to hand over Chedvah's note, and even tore it up. A
different girl would have been afraid to do a thing like that!"
"That's true. She's really something special. You can see she
demands a lot of herself. She's a girl with principles!"
Little by little we accepted Anat as one of the group,
including her strange ways - strange, at least, to us, mischievous
girls who were not used to such ways of behaving. We accepted
her as she was, and didn't try to make trouble for her. Her
tremendous integrity, a courageous and stubborn integrity that
never retreated from the principles she had set for herself, made
us relate to her with awe and respect. We forgot that she
was our own age, a girl like the rest of us.
Anat probably realized how we felt about her. But because
she was who she was, with all her unique qualities, she didn't
react as any other girl would have. She didn't take advantage
of her special status by trying to "take over," to impose her
opinions and desires on us. In her quiet, pleasant way, she served
as a model for us of a girl whose whole ambition was to
reach perfection in her personal traits, in her behavior, thoughts
On the day before Rosh HaShanah, when we were about
to part, wishing each other a good year, I saw that Anat
was a little hesitant, as if there was something she wanted to
tell me, but she was weighing how to say it or whether to
speak at all.
"Will you be coming back right after Rosh HaShanah?" I
asked, trying to get a conversation started.
"Of course. After all, we'll be having classes between Rosh
HaShanah and Yom Kippur. And Rechovot isn't that far from
"Rinah surely won't come back from Safed," I said. "She
got permission from the mechanechet not to come back until
after Sukkot." Then I added: "For that alone it would have been
worthwhile for me to have gone on living in Tiberias!"
Anat didn't seem to be listening. "Tammi," she said, "I
want to ask you a favor. There's still plenty of time, but I
prefer to ask now, so that you'll have time to get your parents
permission. I want to stay in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur. I want
to pray at the Western Wall. If it's not especially hard for
you, I would be very happy if I could be a guest at your
I didn't let Anat finish her sentence. I was so happy I almost
pounced on her.
"Anat, you're so funny! You hesitated such a long time,
struggling with yourself until you finally got your question out.
My parents certainly will agree, and I - I'm in seventh heaven!
But..." I suddenly thought of something. "Are you sure your
parents will agree to let you be away on Yom Kippur? They
won't be mad at you?"
It seemed as if a shadow darkened her face for a moment. Her
eyes lost their sparkle when she said, "No, they won't be angry."
Then as if talking to herself she mused: "That will be wonderful.
The eve of Yom Kippur, Kol Nidrei, by the Western Wall..." The
cloud that had just shadowed her face and eyes was replaced by a
concealed tremor of deep excitement.
From that moment, I waited impatiently for the time to go
by, for Rosh HaShanah and all the days between Rosh HaShanah
and Yom Kippur to pass. A whole day with Anat - that would
be marvellous! For sure I would learn a lot from her, from
Finally, Yom Kippur arrived.
Dressed in our festival clothes, wearing cloth shoes, our
prayerbooks in our hands, the two of us walked through the
streets of Jerusalem in the direction of the Western Wall. A
Jerusalem late-afternoon wind cooled our faces, fluttering through
our hair. I filled my lungs with air. Jerusalem has a special
wind, unlike that of any other city in Israel - or, I suppose,
in the whole world. And now one could smell the fragrance
of the eve of Yom Kippur. One could almost touch the special
atmosphere, the holiness of the day. Around us flowed crowds of
people, all in a hurry to be on time for Kol Nidrei. There was
such a variety of Jews - Jerusalem's in gathering of exiles. Jews
of every type and origin, from countless different lands, each with
the special way of dressing that typified his group.
"The Jewish people are unique," I thought to myself. "We
are so different from each other in our customs, our lifestyle, our
dress, our language - in everything! And all the same, all of
us run side by side to the Western Wall to pray Kol Nidrei on the
eve of Yom Kippur. For the differences between us are only
on the outside. The inner essence and way of life are the
same for all of us. We are all Jews. What unites us is the
Torah of Israel, which remains forever one, never changing from
land to land or from era to era. And even if the customs
differ in some details from one geographical area to another,
or from one type of Chassidim to another, the source and the
guiding force is always the Torah of Truth which was given to
Moshe at Mt. Sinai."
Anat walked along beside me in silence. I had no way of
knowing what thoughts filled her head. With eager eyes she
drank in the picturesque human panorama that flowed all around
us, near and far. Her eyes couldn't get their fill of looking;
her lips were trembling with excitement. It seemed to me that
she was controlling herself, forcibly holding back tears. I would
never have imagined that Anat, always so quiet, moderate,
and restrained, could be filled with such powerful emotions. I
didn't want to disturb her, and so we strode along together,
neither one of us uttering a sound. It was Anat who finally broke
"To think that a few thousand years ago, exactly where I'm
walking, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, and the other great men
and women of our nation walked, and now I'm stepping on the
exact place where, perhaps, Adam stepped. Just imagine it!" she
cried in a storm of feeling.
Here was an exceptional way of thinking. Only one person
would have thoughts like those - Anat.
We reached the Wall. For a moment, we lost our breath.
Never in our lives had we seen such an ocean of people. And all of
them had come in order to unite themselves with the remnant of
our holy Temple, and with the whole Jewish people. Their faces
were imbued with the holiness of the day. All at once they had
left behind the everyday routines of life, the material concerns
with which they were almost constantly occupied. For one day
they would rise far above the ordinary world.
We prayed with feeling, drawing ourselves close to our
Creator. Every now and then I darted a quick, hopefully
unobserved glance in Anat's direction. But she apparently didn't
notice my frequent looks at all. She was completely immersed
in the uniquely exalted prayers of the day. Her eyes were veiled
with a strange glaze that hid them and her - or perhaps not
her, but me? - and separated us. It was as if she hovered
in a different world, far above mine. No matter how much
I wanted, it was beyond my ability to pull myself up and
reach her. I sensed it. This sensation enwrapped me entirely,
and for a moment I was filled with feelings of inferiority in
comparison with her. But immediately I reminded myself that
Anat - was Anat. She was always different, always special. In
everything. I had to accept that reality, and be happy that she
was willing to be my friend and allow me to observe and learn
The prayers ended. Full of feelings, we turned to go home.
Suddenly Anat stopped and stood still as if riveted to the spot. Her
brows gathered, her lips compressed to a thin line. I was getting
ready to intervene, for her eyes had turned grey. I knew they
had, even in the dark. Anat was angry. Why? What had upset
her so much on this holy night?
"What is SHE doing here?" The words were forced from
between her teeth.
"She? Who?" I didn't know who she was talking about.
"She!" Anat still spoke to herself, as if unaware of my
presence. "How dare she come here - and on this day!"
For a moment I panicked. I was worried about Anat. Had
the fierce currents of emotion unsettled her mind? But I recovered
immediately. When I looked in the direction Anat was staring, I
understood the reason for her indignation. A young woman,
straight and thin, was walking towards us from the distance. She
wore a long black dress and a wide, dark-colored scarf, which
came down over her forehead with a broad white stripe. A large
cross swung on the front of her dress. She was a nun. She looked
at us with quiet, tranquil eyes, a serene expression on her young
face. No doubt she had no idea of the feelings her appearance
had aroused in Anat. She passed us and continued on her way.
Anat had not yet calmed down. "How can it be?" she
stormed. "A gentile, a nun, in the holy city of Jerusalem, the
capital of the Holy Land... beside the Western Wall, the remnant
of our Holy Temple... on the night of Yom Kippur!" For her,
there could be no greater contradiction. Reality had suddenly
pulled her out of the dream in which she had been immersed,
had yanked her down from the heights of the spiritual world in
which she had hovered - and apparently had also caused her
to become immersed in unhappy thoughts.
"That's the way it is, Anat," I tried to console her. "But that
very fact shows the greatness of Jerusalem, the Holy City. All the
nations are drawn to it like a magnet. All of them claim ownership
rights - and not just partial ownership, or partnership - over
it. Does the world lack beautiful cities, ancient ones, steeped
in historical grandeur and tales of heroism? And all the same,
every nation, every religion, turns its eyes towards Jerusalem
- Jerusalem, which we know is ours, and which they all wish
A spark flashed in her eyes, which had returned to their
usual light-blue color as she gazed at me. "Thank you, Tammi,"
was all she said. And I felt myself zooming into seventh
Ever since that Yom Kippur, whenever I strolled through
Jerusalem and saw a nun, or a priest, or a church -
and unfortunately they are very numerous in Jerusalem - I
remembered Anat: her burning glance, her compressed lips,
her eyes flashing anger - Anat who had become angry the
first time she had seen gentiles, and not just any gentile, but
those who represented the Christian religion, walking around
Jerusalem and acting as if it was theirs. And not only the first
time. Anat remained in Jerusalem for nearly a year all told; and
whenever such a phenomenon appeared, she became wrapped in
an inexplicable anger.
The night following Yom Kippur, after we had broken our
fast and my little brothers had been put to bed - with Anat's help,
of course - the two of us sat on the balcony of my house. The
skies of Jerusalem, dark and sparkling with thousands of tiny
points of starlight, spread over our heads, and a large bowl
filled with cubes of red, sweet watermelon sat on the table
in front of us. I stuck my fork into a cube of watermelon.
A Jerusalem night is something I'm incapable of describing, even
with the strongest words and the most vivid adjectives. The only
way to understand it is to experience it.
"I owe you my thanks, Tammi," Anat said.
"Thanks? What for, Anat?"
"Because you agreed to have me as a guest in your house.
This Yom Kippur is the most tremendous I've ever had."
"Me too. On your merit. Maybe I'm the one who has to
"There's no contradiction." She gave a little smile. "You can
thank me, and I can thank you."
"You're funny." I couldn't find any other words to define
what I wanted to say.
Anat suddenly became serious. "No. You don't understand,
Tammi. You don't know..."
"What don't I know?" I became a little curious. Her voice
didn't sound exactly ordinary.
"Perhaps it's better if you don't know yet. Another time.
Not this evening."
"All the same, Anat, if you've already started..."
She fell silent, closing her lips forcefully. I didn't urge her
We continued talking about truly unimportant things,
ordinary things that I don't even remember anymore. We finished
eating the watermelon cubes and went to sleep.