The next day, too, I had to stay home. But this time
it was more pleasant, perhaps because Shuki and Natti were
feeling better. They both still had a little fever, but Natti wasn't
coughing constantly as he had been the day before, and Shuki
hardly complained at all about his ears hurting him.
"It can't be that the medicine helped them in one day," I
told my mother. It was a logical theory, wasn't it? "Therefore
obviously their condition would have improved even without the
medicine. So maybe it would be a good idea to stop feeding them
that poison?" But my words were in vain. Actually, I had known
from the start that my mother wouldn't agree.
The chilly weather that had prevailed for the last few days
cleared up. One could even call it hot. Maybe that improved my
mood. That day I enjoyed staying home. Shuki and Natti behaved
very well. Shuki told Natti a story, while I relaxed luxuriously on
the living-room couch. My situation now was certainly better
than that of my friends who were sitting in class hunched
over their books and notebooks, listening to the teacher. Who's
teaching now? I wondered. That's right, now is geography. It's
certainly better, I decided, to sit at home licking an ice-cream,
as I was doing now - one of my hobbies is eating ice-cream
in winter - than to study geography. All the same, I couldn't
help being bothered by a feeling of boredom. It was alright to
stay home for a day or two, but more than that I would never
agree to! I thought about my friends in class. Suddenly, I began to
miss them. Especially Anat. I hoped she would come to visit me
today, as she had yesterday.
Anat didn't let me down. In the afternoon she arrived, but
she began her visit by telling me apologetically that this time she
couldn't stay with me for very long.
"I have to go someplace," she said, and before I had time
to wonder whether it would be polite to ask her where, she
explained: "I promised Peninah I would come and visit her
"Peninah!" I was very surprised. Why her? "Is there some
kind of test tomorrow that she asked you to help her study
for?" Peninah was not the type of girl that friends usually
wanted to visit. She had no social prestige in the class.
Academically, too, she was one of the weakest, even though
I sometimes got the impression that she was making a big
effort to achieve.
"Why shouldn't I visit Peninah?" Anat probed me attentively.
"Have you found something wrong with her?"
"No." I tried to explain. One couldn't talk about such
subjects with Anat. She wasn't like the rest of us; she was
different. She wouldn't understand. I could just picture the pair
of eyes she would fix on me if I said that Peninah wasn't
socially popular in the class; that her test scores were among the
lowest, that her clothes were old, threadbare. And as a matter of
fact, Anat was right! "Of course I don't have anything against
her, but Peninah..." No, I couldn't explain. "I didn't think you
and she were such good friends that you would go to visit her,"
I said all in one breath, happy for the flash of inspiration that
had rescued me.
"If that's the case, then you should know that in the past few
weeks I've had a chance to get friendly with her. I've talked with
her a number of times and discovered that she's a wonderful girl.
Smart, perceptive, good-hearted, just today we had a talk. I asked
her if she wanted me to visit her. Do you want to know the
truth? It seemed to me that she wasn't especially enthusiastic
about the idea. But she couldn't tell me no. I was quick to
explain that if it was hard for her, I didn't have to come
today especially. I could come another time. But she suddenly
changed her mind and said that it was O.K., I could come. So I
"Stay a tittle," I asked Anat. I couldn't deny the feeling of
jealousy that had begun to gnaw at me. Was Anat beginning to
get close with Peninah? Deep inside I knew my fears had no
logical basis. The fact that Anat was going to visit Peninah didn't
prove anything. And even if it was true, Anat had never signed a
contract with me not to become friends with any other girl.
"I'll stay," she said, "but not for a long time. Peninah
lives far away, and I have to take two buses to get there. And
don't forget, I have to get back on time, too. This time I didn't
get permission to stay out late. I've got to be back at the dorm
for dinner at seven."
I understood. I was a little mad at Peninah - through
no fault of hers, of course - and also at Anat. Couldn't she
have realized that I had been looking forward to her visit?
That after a boring day at home with two little brothers who
could drive a person crazy even when they're behaving well,
I might want a little longer visit? But of course deep in my
heart I knew that Anat didn't owe me anything and actually
I would have had no right to complain even if she hadn't
bothered to visit me at all. The only thing I should feel towards
her was gratitude.
"What's happening in class? Anything new?" I tried to cover
up my dissatisfaction. I was sure the answer would be in the
negative. But Anat surprised me.
"Yes. Do you know Chagit, from the other ninth-grade
class?" I knew who she meant. I still remembered her from the
first day of school. "She's transferred into our class."
"You don't mean it!" I said, surprised. "It can't be that she
just transferred without any reason."
"To me she said that it was done at her request - that she
wasn't happy in her previous class, so she asked to be transferred.
That's all I know."
"And what does everyone say?" As soon as I said it, I
regretted it. Anat would surety yell at me, 'What difference does it
make what everyone is saying? 'Everyone' usually talks nonsense.
Their words don't necessarily match the truth...' I knew Anat by
now! I corrected myself: "How did the mechanechet explain it?"
"She didn't try to explain it at all. She just asked us to give
Chagit a nice reception and treat her properly."
"Just a minute." I remembered something important. "Where
does she sit?" There were thirty-two girls in the class, seated in
four columns of desks. In every column there were eight girls, at
four tables. "Did they bring in another table?"
Anat smiled. "I was waiting for just that question. They
didn't bring in another table, the mechanechet put Chagit next to
us, at our table."
"What!" I cried, shocked.
"She decided that we three should sit together. We have a
new table. You know the new tables, the one's covered with blue
formica? They're longer."
"A historical precedent," I declared unenthusiastically.
"And why at our table?"
Anat tried to swallow a smile. "The mechanechet said that we
were the only ones she could depend on that this kind of seating
arrangement wouldn't lead to disturbances in class. She said that
our 'trio' could be trusted not to waste our time chattering or
That was the first time, to the best of my recollection, that
I was sorry Anat was such a good girl, a girl who demanded
of herself that she set an example for others. Undoubtedly
Anat was the one the mechanechet had been talking about
when she had said that she trusted "us" and was sure about
"us." By myself, without Anat, I was no different - in terms of
disturbing the teachers - from any other girl in the class. And
now, because of Anat's good habits, they had put Chagit with
us! Who needed her? I wanted to be the only one sitting with
In the morning I had waited impatiently for Anat's visit. But
after she had gone, I felt very grumpy. For a minute I thought it
would have been better if she hadn't come at all and told me
the news. I was filled with a feeling of bitterness. The news
about Chagit's joining our table upset me. Anat's 'running away'
so quickly to visit Peninah also disappointed me. I looked for
a scapegoat on which to take out my anger, and got mad
at our mechanechet. Why hadn't she consulted us before deciding
to put Chagit next to us? Why hadn't she bothered to find out if
we agreed? I was mad at Peninah, and also at Anat.
It didn't make me any happier when my mother came back
earlier than usual from the hospital and announced joyfully that
Boaz felt much better and probably would be sent home on
"Boaz didn't mind staying by himself?" I asked, not because
it really interested me, but because I knew that my father was still
at the store.
"Actually, he probably would have agreed to stay by himself,
because his condition has greatly improved. He can already get
out of bed without me or Father to help him - something
that had restricted him very much the past few days. He's also
made a few friends his own age, so he's not too bored. But
all the same, I didn't leave him alone. Grandpa and Grandma
arrived to visit him, and they'll stay with him until the evening.
Tonight Father won't sleep at the hospital. Boaz assured us he
could manage by himself. I also think he's grown-up enough that
we don't have to inconvenience Father too much. And especially
since his condition is much better, there's no reason why we have
to be at his bedside around the clock."
"Will Grandpa and Grandma visit us too?" I asked. I loved
my grandparents, and hadn't seen them for a long time, actually
not since we had moved to Jerusalem. They lived in Haifa, which
was too far way for frequent visits.
"What do you think, they'd come to Jerusalem and not
visit their dear grandchildren?" Mother smiled, but I didn't. "Of
course they'll come! And they're even staying over Shabbat."
At any other time, I would have been jumping out of my skin
with happiness. Now, I simply surprised my mother - and myself
- with a question. "Did Grandpa and Grandma bring a present
for Boaz?" I myself didn't understand what had happened to
me. How had I suddenly become such a jealous type? Was it
just because of Anat and Peninah and Chagit? Or had the tension
of the past few days affected me?
My mother was surprised, but I could tell she was trying
not to show it. In a restrained voice she replied: "Did you
ever see Grandpa and Grandma visit a sick grandchild in the
hospital without bringing a present? Of course they brought
Boaz a present! In fact, they brought something for each of
you, and this time the gifts are especially big," she said with
a smile, patting me on the back, "- because this time they're
in honor of our move to the new apartment, and also for
Channukah presents. Grandpa and Grandma won't be able to
visit us at Channukah time."
Mother was trying to raise my spirits a bit, but I wasn't at
all cheered up by her last statement, about the presents. Instead I
asked: "What did Boaz get?"
"What's happened to you, Tammi. Is something wrong?" she
probed. "It's not like you to ask such questions!"
"What's the matter?" I excused myself with pretended
indifference. "Can't a person ask?"
Mother shrugged her shoulders. "Boaz got a small portable
electric organ. I'm sure the whole hospital is already hearing
the music of our little composer. I imagine the nurses are going
crazy... or at least using earplugs."
I didn't let my mother continue. "An electric organ! - but
that's just what I've been asking for for such a long time! It's
not fair. Mom! I should have gotten it!"
"Sorry, Tammi," Mother said coolly. "I didn't order the
presents. Grandpa and Grandma decided on their own what to
buy. I think it would be an act of ingratitude on your part
if you make an outburst like this in front of Grandpa and
Grandma. You should say thank you and be happy with whatever
"I don't need any presents!" I think I was shouting. "Boaz
for sure won't let me play his organ. What a brother. He
only thinks about himself all the time. And because of him I
worked so hard these last few days! He doesn't have to come
back from the hospital, I don't need him, because he's so
naughty, such a wild kid. For that he deserves a prize? O.K.,
tomorrow I'm going to jump off something high and break
something... maybe a leg..."
Mother came over and tried to put her hand on my shoulder,
but I slipped away quickly and ran to my room. I threw myself
on my bed and immediately broke down in uncontrollable crying.
I didn't consider myself too big to cry, and my mother sensibly
left me to myself. If she had come in and tried to calm me
or cheer me up, it would only have made me more angry.
When I came out of my room I was almost completely calm.
The crying had gotten rid of all my feelings of anger and egoism.
The only thing left was a remnant of indifferent bitterness, deep
deep within, in a place where one has to work hard to get it out. I
washed my face and eyes with plenty of water, and looked almost
normal. To my relief, none of the family mentioned anything
to me about my behavior, and that afternoon I also didn't
say a word about it.
It was late in the evening, but Grandpa and Grandma hadn't
yet arrived. The boys were already in pajamas, waiting impatiently
for the important guests.
"You know what, Tammi?" Shuki whispered to me excitedly,
glancing sideways at Mom to make sure she wasn't listening,
"Grandpa and Grandma bought us presents in honor of our new
I shrugged my shoulders indifferently. "So what," was all I
answered, and Shuki looked at me as if I were not in my right
Grandpa and Grandma arrived. They squeezed the breath
out of us with their hugs, and thoroughly plastered us with
kisses. At a certain point in the evening, the time arrived for
the presents, which really were very special this time. Arik got
a microscope, and immediately got busy with it, investigating
how many germs he could discover on the palm of his hand. This
evening Mother made an exception and allowed all the children to
stay up late. To Shuki, Grandpa and Grandma gave binoculars.
"But don't you dare spy into peoples' houses!" Grandma warned
him. Natti got a little tricycle, and immediately began racing
around the whole house on it.
"Didn't Tammi get a present?" Arik asked in wonder when
he saw there were no more presents and I still hadn't received
"We didn't know what to buy for Tammi," Grandma
explained. "She's a big girl already, and maybe there's something
she specially wants. We decided it would be too bad to buy her
a present without asking her opinion first. It might be that
we could make her happier with a different gift..."
I almost shouted, "Great! I want an organ like the one Boaz
got!" but caught myself in time. I wouldn't ask for anything. I
lowered my head and didn't answer.
"Nu, Tammi, what do you want?"
"Nothing," I muttered. I knew I wasn't telling the truth, but
I couldn't bring myself to ask for anything. Mother glanced at
me and smiled understandingly. Was it also a happy smile, or
was I just imagining it?
"That can't be, Tammi!" Grandma exclaimed as if in
disbelief. "There must be something that you want very much!"
"Why didn't you ask me?" Shuki complained. "I would have
asked for an airplane ticket to America instead of binoculars."
"And I would have wanted a ship!" Natti cried
enthusiastically, having returned from his tricycle journey around
the house and decided, apparently, that it had been too short and
boring. "A real ship, that goes on the ocean! And I would be the
driver, and drive to the whole world!"
Everyone laughed. I understood that I couldn't get out of
giving an answer. "Not now. Grandma," I said, "Tonight I can't
make up my mind. I'll think about it, and when I know what
I want, I'll tell you. Getting a present is not so urgent, thank you
"She didn't get anything yet, and she's already saying thank-
you," Grandma joked. "Who knows what she's planning to ask
In spite of everything it turned out in the end to be a pleasant
and enjoyable evening. I almost forgot what had happened earlier
that morning. But I was reminded when I arrived at school
the next day - Grandpa and Grandma had taken my place
babysitting - and saw the long, blue table that stood in the
place of our previous one. Anat and Chagit were already sitting
in their seats, chatting like old friends. When I got to my
place Anat said to me: "We were waiting for you, Tammi.
We wanted to know where you're interested in sitting, on the end
or in the middle?"
"I'll sit in the middle," I answered quickly. Although it
wasn't such a comfortable place, at least I would be separating
Anat and Chagit.
At the ten o'clock break Anat asked to speak with me. I
didn't let my happiness show. We strolled around the schoolyard,
and Anat opened the conversation: "It's about my visit yesterday
I bit my lower lip. Was she going to start telling me how
much she had enjoyed it, and what a warm, friendly atmosphere
she had found, despite the humble surroundings? Was she going
to tell me again enthusiastically that Peninah was a wonderful
But Anat said just three words: "I was shocked." Then she
stopped and took a long, deep breath. Only now did I notice the
tense expression on her face.
After a moment she continued: "I still haven't managed to
calm down from what I saw."
"What did you see?" I asked, feeling myself pulled into her
emotional state. "Is the situation all that terrible?"
"More terrible than you can imagine! The one who opened
the door for me was Peninah's mother. Peninah is thin, right?"
"Very thin," I agreed.
"What would you say if I told you that her mother is twice
as thin as she is?"
"Impossible!" I cried incredulously. "Thinner than Peninah?"
"I told you. Twice as thin as her!" Anat repeated emotionally.
"It was frightening to see her... like a walking skeleton."
We were both silent for a long moment, until Anat continued:
"I went in. Her mother welcomed me with a smile. Peninah was
waiting for me, a little embarrased. Would you like to know what
kind of house they live in?" I prepared myself for the worst.
"Half of their house is a tin hut. Poverty is crying out from
every corner. The other half of the house consists of one room
and a small kitchen. The walls are leaning over; the furniture is
falling apart... In that one room her parents and her baby brother
sleep. The other two boys sleep in the kitchen, on mattresses
straight out of the Middle Ages, and the five girls sleep in the tin
hut, all together on one big bed made out of a few mattresses,
which completely fills the hut. Peninah told me that when the
family got bigger and the house became too small, her father
'built' that so-called 'extra room'. Since it's made from tin, it's
boiling hot there in the summer, and freezing cold in winter.
The rain leaks in through the cracks between the roof and the
wall, drips down on the beds, and soaks the girls sleeping there.
And do you think they have regular blankets? You won't believe
what they cover themselves with! I almost fainted when I saw
the heap of old clothes, torn thin blankets, frazzled curtains
- I asked what it was, and Peninah told me, trying to hide
her embarrassment, 'Those are our blankets.' When I asked her,
'Aren't you cold at night?' guess what Peninah answered me. 'Of
course we're cold. So we go to bed early, and that way we
don't feel the cold.' And that's not all yet, Tammi!" Anat's
feelings were storming. "But from the description you've heard,
you can understand how serious the situation is. We've got to do
"What can we do?" I was very skeptical. "After all, we're
only young girls."
"If we want, we can do a lot. And we're already not such
"Maybe we could buy a lottery ticket for them?" I suggested.
"Be realistic, Tammi," Anat answered patiently. "How do
you know our ticket would win? Anyway, we have to do
something urgently, immediately, without waiting around until
luck smiles on us..."
"But what can we do?" I was out of ideas. "Give me a
suggestion. I'm willing to do whatever you tell me!"
"We have to collect clothes for them. You've seen how
I thought about the feelings of repulsion I had felt towards
Peninah because of her frazzled clothes, and I was ashamed of
myself. Was it her fault that her economic situation was so poor?
I also remembered how I had felt about her homework and
test scores. Now I could understand her situation. It wasn't for
nothing that our Sages said: "Don't judge your fellow man until
you stand in his place." If I were in her place, I wouldn't be
able to study and do homework, either. I wondered where she
did her schoolwork. In the kitchen, where her big, crowded
family ate and her brothers slept? Or in the so-called 'bedroom,'
sitting on one of the mattresses with her little sisters jumping
all around and acting wild? Or maybe in her parents' room,
which no doubt also had plenty going on in it in a family like
"We also have to make sure they get warm blankets," Anat
went on. "Another thing that's extremely important is to stop all
the leaks in the roof. Winter is almost here. As for a different,
more comfortable apartment, we'll talk about that afterwards. In
the meantime, it's very important that the rain shouldn't leak
into the 'girls' room.' It would also be good if we arrange for food
to be sent to their home, let's say once a week. Anonymously, of
"How are you going to do all that?" I asked skeptically.
"Are you going to go from door to door asking for clothes and
Anat reflected for a moment. "I thought about that," she
answered. "We can't organize all this by ourselves. We have to get
someone grown up to help us. I think we should talk to our
teacher about it. As the mechanechet of the class, she has a certain
amount of responsibility for the situation of her students."
"Won't you be embarrassed to talk with her about a subject
"Embarrased?" Anat didn't understand what I was talking
about. "One of our friends needs help. Why shouldn't I speak
with anyone I think can help us? So what if she's our mechanechet
That's exactly why..."
"I've got an idea!" I broke in. Quickly, I told Anat about
yesterday's events, explaining all about the organ. "Grandpa
and Grandma are waiting to hear what I want for a present
- now I know what to ask for! I'll ask that instead of giving
me a present, they'll give me the money they had set aside for
my present. I won't tell anyone what I'm going to do with the
money. It will be the first contribution to the fund for helping
out Peninah's family!"
Anat gave me a long look. Then she asked very softly, "Are
you sure you're willing to give up the present you have coming to
"Of course I don't want to give it up," I admitted frankly.
"Obviously I'd prefer to get a present. But when I think what
is more important - that I should get a present, some kind
of thing which is certainly a luxury for me, or that Peninah's
family should sleep under warm blankets starting this winter - I
don't have any doubt which is more important."
Anat didn't fall all over me with praise and compliments.
I hadn't expected her to. She just said: "It's very nice of you
to think like that. All the same, Tammi, it would be better if
you think it over carefully before you make a final decision,
so that you won't have regrets afterwards."
"I'd better not think," I answered. "The more I think about
it, the less I'll want to give up my present, and yet I know
that's the right thing to do!"
Anat didn't answer this comment of mine, she just smiled.
That same afternoon, I told Grandpa and Grandma that I was
interested in receiving money instead of a present. They were
a little surprised, but agreed without probing into the matter
too much. Grandma did try to find out if I was interested in
opening a savings account at the bank, but Grandpa interrupted
her, saying, "Let our Tammi alone. Grandma. She's already a
big enough girl that we don't have to mix into her business.
I'm sure she has something good in mind to do with the money."
I thought to myself that in fact I was going to open a savings
account, but in a much safer bank than the ones people use so
much. My savings would be deposited in the bank of the Holy
One, Blessed is He...
Anat, too, didn't sit around twiddling her thumbs. The next
day she told me that she had gone to the mechanechet's home
to speak to her - after making an appointment beforehand, of
course - and that our rescue plan was getting into high gear.
"Wasn't the mechanechet surprised when you brought up the
idea?" I still couldn't believe that Anat, a fourteen-year-old girl,
was acting in such a grown-up way, enlisting the cooperation of
people many years older than her.
"If she was surprised, she didn't show it. What did shock
her was that such a serious situation had escaped her notice. She
promised that she would speak with teachers, neighbors, friends,
and relatives, and organize urgent help - without revealing the
name of the needy family, of course, she promised me that. I don't
want to put Peninah in the uncomfortable position of everyone
pointing at her - even if they would do it only behind her back.
The mechanechet also said there is a possibility of getting them
an apartment in which they can live like human beings, for
a nominal monthly payment. There are government-financed
housing companies that have large numbers of apartments which
they rent out for a small sum to families qualifying for help
- and Peninah's family certainly qualifies!"
"It looks like things are beginning to move in the right
direction," I said, handing Anat an envelope that contained my
contribution - which, to tell the truth, was quite a considerable
sum of money. "And it's all because of you, Anat. Only you are
capable of bringing about wonders like this! Anyone else in your
place would have let matters go along as they had been, without
making the effort to change the situation."
"I don't think anyone in the world would have been able
to ignore a situation like that if they had seen it with their own
eyes, as I did. It's simply shocking."
On Friday around noon, Boaz came home. Except for the
bandage that stood out prominently on his forehead and the
fact that he had gotten a little thinner, he was the same boy I
remembered from before he went to the hospital. Outwardly, I
mean. Inwardly, as I very soon found out, this was a different
"How do you feel, Boaz?" I asked, just because I felt I was
"Thank G-d, O.K." he answered with a politeness I wasn't
used to from him. "And how are you? Mom told me you worked
very hard at home while I was gone."
"True." I didn't deny it. "The important thing is that it's
Boaz opened up his bag which he had brought back with
him, and with a spirit of generosity I never knew was in him,
began passing around sweets to his brothers who hadn't had the
"privilege" of being in the hospital.
"Stop, Boaz, enough!" Mother decided. "They can't eat so
many sweets all at one time. We'll save the rest for Shabbat. We'll
make a little party for you and your friends, to thank Hashem
for your recovery."
"What's in that little bag?" Shuki asked, when he realized
that the unexpected shower of sweets had stopped.
"Those are presents I got," Boaz said. "I'll show them to
you one at a time - but don't you dare touch anything without
permission! I don't want everything to get broken and ruined in a
minute. This is a magnetic chess set, but only Tammi and Arik
are allowed to play with it, if they want. Anyway Shuki and Natti
don't know the rules. And this is a helicopter that really flies."
Boaz pushed a button on the side of the toy and demonstrated
for us. "See how it takes off... circles... and sets down!" The
little boys got excited. Boaz thought for a moment and then
decided: "O.K., I agree to give the helicopter as a gift to Shuki
and Natti. But only on condition that they don't fight over
What happened to Boaz? I wondered. He never used to be
so good-hearted and generous.
"And this is a book I got from one of my friends. Of course,
it's still mine, but Tammi and Arik are allowed to read it... and
this is the present I got from Grandpa and Grandma." He pulled
out the last item.
My brothers pounced on him with excitement. "Let us play
it a little!" they begged. I stood off to one side. My eyes were
practically bulging out of their sockets from envy. I too had once
had it within my power to get myself an organ like that, with
its brilliant white keys, its black keys above, and any number
of buttons at the side which no doubt could produce wonderful
sounds, sweet to the ear, didn't even go over to look at
the organ close up. For sure Boaz wouldn't allow anyone to
touch it - and I didn't want to beg. I wasn't about to let him
see how much I yearned to try playing it.
"I don't allow anyone to touch my organ!" Boaz decreed.
What I allowed, I allowed. The organ is only for me!"
There. I knew it. Something had happened to Boaz that had
changed him for the better. But even that change had its limits.
And really... I didn't have time to finish the thought before I heard
Boaz's voice: "The only one I allow to play the organ sometimes
is Tammi. She's big enough to be careful with it. I trust her to
take good care of it and not break it." I fixed a pair of amazed
eyes on him as he continued: "Come here, Tammi. I'll explain to
you how to use all the buttons. I met a boy in the hospital
who taught me what every button is for. I had plenty of time
to practice. It'll be nice when we can play it together, with
I forgot my pride, my indifference, my anger at Boaz. We left
our little brothers grumbling behind us, and went into my room,
where Boaz showed me how to operate all the magic buttons. I
already knew the notes, more or less. We tried playing different
tunes - sometimes a little off key, and sometimes getting stuck
and not knowing how to continue.
"That's only at the beginning," Boaz promised. "The more
we practice, the better we'll know how to play it. That's what my
friend in the hospital told me. He plays great, and he learned by
Playing the organ together made us better friends. I wasn't
afraid to ask him, "Boaz, why are you allowing me to play on
He smiled in embarrassment. "It's... for two reasons. The first
one is that when I was lying in the hospital Mom took care of me
with so much devotion that I felt like I had to give her a present.
But what could I give her? Then suddenly I remembered that her
birthday is coming soon. Don't you think it would be wonderful
to make her a surprise party? We can play the organ, and the
little children can sing... and I want you to help me."
"Great!" I said enthusiastically. "I see you must have been
bored there in the hospital. Otherwise you wouldn't have thought
of such a brilliant idea. You know what else we can do? I'll
write a song in honor of Mom, together we'll put it to music,
and that song, sung by all the children, will be a birthday
present for her!"
"And you, I see, don't even have to be stuck in the hospital
to come up with terrific ideas!" Boaz said.
A compliment from Boaz? That was something I wasn't
used to at all. Then I remembered that he had started out by
saying that there were two reasons. I asked about the second one.
Boaz reddened. "But you won't tell anyone?" Only after I had
promised did he agree to reveal his secret to me, which clarified
what had brought about the surprising generosity he had shown
"That's also a present for Mom," he explained. "I know
how dissatisfied she is with my behavior. Every once in a while
she complains about how egotistic I am, and only think about
myself. It never bothered me personally. It was convenient for
me to worry just about myself. Until I saw how Mom was
willing to give up everything for me - and then my conscience
started bothering me. That's what grownups call it, right? I
started feeling sorry for how I acted. Dad and Mom took such
good care of me and tried to make things easy for me, and
I... I never thought about anyone else. I felt like I was getting
treatment I didn't deserve. So I decided that from now on I
would try to deserve that kind of treatment."
"That's why you gave out your things?" It was more a
statement than a question.
"Right. It was real hard for me. It's not easy to change
and act the complete opposite of how you acted before. But
I made up my mind - so I had to stick to it! I thought of
some things my teacher taught me in the Talmud-Torah. He said
we're supposed to walk on the 'golden path,' in other words in the
middle, not to be extreme in any one direction. But he said that
when a person has a certain fault that's already extreme, he has to
first go all the way to the other extreme, and do just the opposite
of how he was used to acting, and from there after a while he'll
get back to the middle, the 'golden path.' So that's how I'm
planning to fix my problem of selfishness."
We both were silent. Boaz must have been in the mood for
sharing his feelings, for after a few minutes of silence he went on.
"You know, Tammi, the first day when I was lying in the hospital,
I was sure I was going to die! I'd never been in a hospital
before, and everything around me scared me. Mom cried, Dad
looked pale and worried, and the doctors had serious faces.
At first, of course, I didn't know what was going on around
me, but when I came to I heard words like 'unconscious...
concussion'... I was so weak I couldn't even talk. And I was
sure that my condition was fatal. I wanted so much not to
die! I was afraid! I was afraid that in a little while my soul
would go up to heaven, and there they would show me the
charge sheet for everything I had done in this world, and send me
straight to Gehinnom. During those minutes I decided that if
the Holy One, Blessed is He, would help me and I would be
saved and stay alive, I would try to be better... to act like I
"Poor Boaz!" His story made me feel pity for him. "What
a terrible experience! But you weren't close to dying at all. Your
condition wasn't all that bad."
"Now I know that. But then, when I was lying in bed
surrounded by green walls, and by doctors who were also
dressed in green - lots of doctors, and nurses, and all kinds of
machines - it was impossible for me not to feel sure I was going
to die. And even though I know now, all the same I intend
to keep my promise that I promised in those scary minutes. But
do you promise you won't tell anyone?" His voice had a pleading
tone. The truth is that I would have wanted to tell someone.
Anat, of course. But his imploring eyes forced me to promise.
Was this the beginning of a new era in the relationship between
me and my brother Boaz?
On Sunday, after one quick glance at Anat, I asked her:
"Something's bothering you a lot, right, Anat?"
"Right." But she wasn't impressed by my talent for mind-
reading. She had long before revealed to me her "secret code"
for reading her feelings. "My eyes are green today, I suppose."
"Didn't you look in the mirror this morning?" She smiled at
my answer, but her lips were trembling a little.
"Did something happen?" I was starting to get worried.
"No, nothing happened. I'm upset because I've found out
something I don't understand. Something extremely puzzling. But
before that, I have good news. It's about Peninah." A small cloud
appeared on my forehead, and disappeared as fast as it had come.
"I had a talk with my parents," Anat continued. "They are
willing to deposit a certain amount of money every month in
Peninah's parents' bank account. All I have to do now is find out
the account number. I don't suppose that will be especially hard.
Don't I have marvellous parents? They're so understanding! It's
just too bad that..." She bit her lip and stopped herself in
mid-sentence, but I knew what the next words would have been
if she had said them: '...too bad they don't understand that they,
too, should live like Jews...'
Anat never used words like "religious" and "non-religious."
"There's no such thing," she once explained to me. "We're all
Jews. There aren't any non-religious Jews. Non-religious means,
'secular, non-holy,' and the Jewish people are all holy. It's just
that unfortunately there are Jews who don't act like Jews, like
sons and daughters of the Jewish people. They try to resemble
non-Jews. But whether they like it or not, they remain Jews,
a holy people, sons and daughters of the Holy One, Blessed
is He." That's how Anat explained it to me, and I agreed
I didn't pry into what was bothering her this morning. I
knew she would tell me herself. She didn't keep me waiting long.
"When I got home Friday, no one was in the house. My
parents were still at work. I went in, put away all my things in
their regular places and then, as I always do, looked around to see
what was new at home. You know, it's pleasant to get back home
after three weeks of being far away from your house. When
I come home, I always roam through the rooms, look on all
the shelves, peek into all the drawers - only the ones used
by the whole family, of course - sniff the familiar, beloved smell
of my house, discover new things that have been added while
I was away, go through the mail to see if there are any letters
for me. I don't open my parents' mail, but this letter was different.
It wasn't in a sealed envelope. By chance it was stuck between
the pages of a book my mother was in the middle of reading. I
picked up the book, and two sheets of paper fluttered to the floor.
I picked them up and started to read them, just out of curiosity,
but then couldn't stop. It was a very strange letter, written in
English, in an unfamiliar handwriting. The first words gave me
a jolt. Fortunately, there was a chair right by me, otherwise
I would have fallen on the floor. The first line of the letter said:
"My dear mother..."
For a moment I didn't take in what Anat was telling me.
But then I understood. She shook herself out of her sudden
silence. "I couldn't help reading it, not knowing if it was right
or wrong to do so. I translated the letter and copied it down.
I just had to share this discovery with someone!" With that,
she opened her schoolbag, took out a folded piece of notepaper,
and held it out to me.
I read. It was a very ordinary letter, which no one would
have found surprising at all, if it hadn't been - if it hadn't
been so totally unexplainable.
My Dear Mother.
Everything is O.K. with me, and I hope with you, too.
I haven't written for a while. I simply haven't had a spare
moment. We were in the middle of finals at the university,
and I wanted to do well. By now I can tell you that I
did very well on the finals, and got very high grades.
One thing I've certainly inherited from you is your
sharp mind. I hope you're proud of me and happy to
hear the good news.
How are Eli and Anat? Nothing that you've been
telling me in your recent letters surprises me at all. It
was obvious to me from the beginning that this would
happen sooner or later. How could you have thought
that she wouldn't run into someone from her father's
family, when you live in the same city with them? And of
course the next logical step is that they would influence
her to follow their way, and also to go to a school
where the education fits their outlook.
Mother! I've received all the pictures you sent
me, and enjoyed seeing them very much, but all the
same I very much want to see you face to face.
And also to see my little sister, who has grown up
over the years. You say she very much resembles me,
and I can see that when I look at her picture. Why
don't you bring her with you for a short visit? Isn't
there some way you can get some time off from your
work? Perhaps you'll make a special effort, for my sake?
I've almost forgotten how you look in real life. It's been
almost ten years since the last time I saw you.
I'd better not nag you any more. I'm sure you know
how fiercely I long to see you. I would come to visit you
myself, except that you've forbidden me to do so. You
don't want Anat to know about me. And I respect your
wish, even though I don't understand your reason. What's
wrong with her knowing that she has a big sister?
That was all. I looked at Anat in amazement.
"That's as far as I copied," she whispered. "The rest wasn't
"You have a big sister?" I asked in surprise, though I knew
that on this subject Anat was exactly as well-informed as I.
"That's what I gather from the letter. That I have an
older sister and that my mother, for some reason, doesn't
want me to know that fact. Why? What could be the reason?
Why are my parents hiding this from me? I didn't ask them.
I didn't want them to know that I've discovered it. I want
to investigate the matter myself. One thing I'm already sure
of, My father is not the father of Maggie - that's the name she
signed the letter with. She refers to him by his first name, Eli,
while she writes of my mother as 'Mother.' She asks how he
is, briefly, just for the sake of politeness. She speaks about
him as being my father, and hardly discusses him at all. Her
letter is concerned with herself, with my mother, and with me.
I'm interested to know - who is her father? I never knew
that my mother had been married before..."
"A mystery," I agreed. Do you think you'll be able to
"I'm going to try," she murmured. "The matter gives me
no rest. But one thing I'm almost sure of, I'm not going to ask
my parents for information on the subject."