The Unanswered Cry
By: Mrs. Nechama Kramer
Please say Tehillim for
A Question of Intermarriage
At first, that morning at the beginning of the month of
Kislev was just grey. But by the time I reached the gate of the
school, large raindrops were falling, and I ran fast to take shelter
between the walls of that large, antiquated building, which today
was looking more smudged and greying than ever. Glancing out
the window in the corridor, I could see clouds crowding, pushing
each other, and joining together. Perhaps they, too, felt cold?
The grey curtain covering the sky turned almost black. Holding
onto my briefcase with one hand, I passed the other over my
damp hair. My clothes had also gotten a little wet, but it wasn't
too terrible. As winter went on, they would no doubt have a
chance to get much more soaked than they were now.
In class, a festive winter-day atmosphere prevailed. The
electric lights gave a unique shade to the greyness that penetrated
the room from outside. It was nice to see my friends dressed
in their winter clothes for the first time this year. We were gay
and merry. Someone was reminded of the good old days in
kindergarten, and began to sing: "Drip-drop, drip-drop, the first
drops of rain!" Then, suddenly - the heavens were illuminated
with a blinding flash of lightning. "Girls!" someone reminded us,
"Don't forget the blessing: '...Who did the work of Creation.' But
before we could recite the blessing over lightning, thunder began
rumbling through the sky, and the lights went out.
"No electricity!..." "Great! Now we won't be able to write!"
someone said, hopeful that today's lessons would be an exception
to the usual routine.
"Don't worry," someone else hurried to pour cold water on
our enthusiasm. "Even without electric lights there's enough light
to see what we're writing in our notebooks."
"Too bad... but maybe anyway the geometry teacher will let us
out of the quiz she announced for today?"
Unexpectedly, the mechanechet appeared in the doorway of
the classroom. "What's this? The bell didn't ring yet!" a few
"According to my watch, it's two minutes past eight. Is that
late enough for you?" Our mechanechet wasn't impressed by the
dissatisfaction of her students.
"The bell didn't ring because the electricity's off!" The light
suddenly dawned on one of the girls. "I imagine there will
be more days during the winter when the electricity will go
off," the mechanechet remarked, "and no doubt sometimes it
will even stay off for several hours. It will be very ridiculous if
we don't begin studying until the bell rings."
Chedvah couldn't resist, and declared jokingly: "Why not?
We can start learning at ten... or eleven!"
"Right now," the teacher continued, "it's five after eight.
"And in case it's not yet perfectly clear to everyone, the first
lesson will start exactly at eight-thirty, as usual."
"What does that mean? We already knew that."
"All the same, it seems to me there are a few girls who forget
that fact now and then, and finish praying a quarter of an hour
- sometimes more, sometimes less - late."
We looked at one another. True, there were girls who on
certain days decided to "do teshuva" to be more "righteous,"
and to pray with great concentration and intensity, and their
prayers lasted more than the allotted time. When the bell rang
for the beginning of the first lesson, these girls would get
up, prayerbook in hand, leave the classroom and go into the
next room, the "emergency room," which was designated as a
bomb shelter and was usually empty. There they would finish
their prayers. When they had concluded, of course they came
into class, but by then we had almost always finished reading
out our homework and reviewing the summary of the previous
lesson. For someone who hadn't bothered to study or prepare
homework, this was an excellent way of keeping the teacher from
"For those girls," the mechanechet continued decisively, "I'm
announcing, so that there won't be any doubts about the matter,
the time for praying is until eight-thirty exactly! Anyone who
doesn't finish praying on time will be written down as late for
the lesson. The teachers will take those latenesses into account
when making out the semester grades for your report cards."
"That's not right," I heard a voice next to me assert. Anat?
Even the mechanechet looked surprised, and for a moment her
self-confidence seemed a little shaken. "Did you say something,
Anat?" she asked my friend. Perhaps she was hoping that she
hadn't heard right.
"I said that it's not right to limit the time for praying in
such an arbitrary manner," Anat explained herself. "It's definitely
possible that I might suddenly feel a need to pray with more
concentration than on an ordinary day..."
The teacher thought for a moment. "I can't contradict your
claim, Anat. All the same, the real reason for prolonging the
prayer, with most girls, is not the one you just mentioned."
"But it's not right," Anat insisted, "that those who really
want to pray with more concentration should suffer because of
The mechanechet stuck to her position. "We're operating in
the defined framework of a school, studies, and lessons, and
for every activity a specific amount of time has been allotted.
I'm not the one who decided how much time it should take
to pray the morning prayers. Bigger and better ones than me
have decided and ruled on this question, and we are obligated to
follow their ruling. If, all the same, this causes you a problem
personally, Anat, come to me, and together we'll find a solution.
For now, enough said. It's already ten past eight. This time, you
may pray until eight-forty, half an hour from this moment. Begin
Anat had a dissatisfied expression on her face. It was hard
for her to agree with the mechanechet's opinion, but she had to
accept the fact that in this place her own opinion was not the
deciding one. Like the rest of us, she opened her prayerbook and
began to pray.
During the English lesson, I knew, Anat didn't need to listen
or study. After all, English was her mother tongue. During this
lesson, she was sometimes willing to answer me when I wanted
to communicate with her. Not out loud, of course. She felt
that if we talked it might keep the girls sitting around us from
understanding what the teacher was saying. I would write my
question on a piece of paper, and she would answer in the same
manner. And even this she would do only when she knew that
the teacher, for the benefit of girls who hadn't yet caught on,
was repeating for the second time - sometimes even for the third
or fourth time - some point which I had already understood.
"Why did you object to what the mechanechet said this
morning?" I wrote on a piece of paper, one of a stack that
I always kept ready at hand. "Anyone would agree that half
an hour is long enough to finish praying."
"Who is 'anyone?' " she wrote back. She was such a funny
person! "Everyone," I wrote.
"I'm also included in 'everyone.' And in my opinion,
sometimes that half hour is too short."
"Why? How much time do you need to pray?"
Anat read this last question, and hesitated before answering.
She twirled the pen between her fingers, passed it from hand to
hand, and finally wrote carelessly: "It's too long. At the break
I'll explain to you. The teacher's starting a new subject. Pay
At the break, Anat explained to me.
"Praying with concentration doesn't mean dragging out the words,
praying word by word, letter by letter, so that each word takes five
minutes to pronounce, and the whole prayer lasts a few hours.
Anyone who thinks so is wrong. And those who do that are
I almost yelled at her. "How are you talking, Anat? You're
not ashamed? Of course you have to pronounce every word and
"Of course," she agreed with me. As usual, she wasn't
flustered by my attack. "One must correctly pronounce every letter
and word, not getting letters switched around, and not changing
the vocalization. A mistake like that can spoil the whole meaning
of a verse. Sometimes it causes us to say terrible things. But
that doesn't mean that we have to pray like this: 'I - gi -
ve - tha -nks - be - fo - re - You - 0 - Ki - ng
-- ' Do you understand what I mean?"
"So then what does it mean to pray with concentration?"
When Anat started explaining things, I was all ears. All kinds of
new things would become clear to me, thanks to her. Many things
that I had understood in a certain way took on a different
meaning - much more logical and right - after I had talked
them over with Anat.
"Praying with concentration means - thinking about,
contemplating, what we're saying. When I say, 'I give thanks,'
I think, 'Thank you.' I feel 'Thank you.' It's... it's much more
than that, much more than just outwardly thinking and feeling. I
become transformed completely into the reality of thankfulness.
'Before You' - Imagine! Before the Holy One, Blessed is He!
What a tremendous feeling... it's impossible to describe. And
when I begin to think what "King" means, how much we fear
a king of flesh and blood, and how much we honor him - how
much more so when we speak of the King Who 'lives and
endures' forever! Then something deep, deep inside me cries out;
"Thank You! Thank You for allowing me, flesh and blood, to
give thanks to You - the living and enduring King!" Anat
took a deep breath, like someone who had just lifted something
"Don't think that it's so easy for me to explain to you," she
apologized. "And even what I've said doesn't explain the full depth
and significance of the concept of 'contemplation,' Hitbonnenut, in
prayer. hitbonnenut is not something you say, Hitbonnenut can't
be seen in the movement of the lips. Hitbonnenut is a deep, inner
feeling, hidden - so that you can see a person standing with an
open prayerbook, lips closed and eyes gazing far into the distance,
and he is praying! Deeply absorbed in the might of the words
of prayer. And on the other hand, another person may be
moving his lips enthusiastically and energetically, his whole
body swaying back and forth powerfully, yet he hasn't any idea
what his lips are saying. Of course, it could be just the other way
around. It's not for nothing that prayer is called 'the work of the
"Are you telling me that that's how you pray?" I asked
incredulously. "Just like you explained to me now - with
She smiled in embarrassment. "I'm not telling you any
such thing. But since you asked - it's very hard work. No,
usually I don't succeed in praying like that. Only under special
circumstances... such as..."
"On the night of Yom Kippur, beside the Western Wall!" I
broke in. I remembered her prayers on that unforgettable Yom
Kippur when I had sensed that Anat, though standing by my
side, was far away and high above me.
"That's right. That Yom Kippur, my first at the Western
Wall, was something special... But, even if I don't have the
strength to pray the whole prayer with hitbonnenut, at least I've
chosen one of the blessings, which I say with hitbonnenut, and
which I always try to recite with the proper concentration."
"Which blessing have you chosen?" I was curious to know.
"The blessing in which I give thanks for the biggest gift
I've received from the Holy One, Blessed is He. You know,
before I did teshuva, I knew that I was Jewish, but I didn't
see the slightest difference between myself and those who are
not Jewish. For me, everyone was equal. All were human
beings. How can we realize the special privilege of being a
Jew, if we don't know what a Jew is? That was until I met
Batyah, on the bus, that time I told you about, and I thought
that she wouldn't accept the idea that I was Jewish, since I
didn't dress modestly like her, and I rebelled at her supposed
rejection. Then I realized how important it was to me, how
proud I was to be Jewish! And that, in spite of the fact
that I didn't yet know what it means to be Jewish! Later, I
investigated the subject more. I asked questions, did research,
read books... today I think the fact that I was created a daughter
of the Jewish people is the greatest gift of all that I've received
from the Holy One, Blessed is He. Nothing else is worth that.
And I give thanks every morning: 'Blessed are You, Hashem,
Who did not make me a non-Jew!' If I weren't Jewish, how
much I'd be missing!"
Anat was carried away by her own enthusiasm. So was I.
Neither of us noticed Chedvah and Chagit, who were standing
not far from us and conversing. Apparently they had stopped
talking some time ago, and were now standing there listening
to our dialogue. Chagit was spellbound, like me, while Chedvah
made numerous efforts to distract Chagit's attention from Anat's
speech and convince her to listen to her.
When Chagit realized that we were looking at her she hurried,
somewhat embarrassedly, to turn her head away. Eventually she
succeeded in listening to something that Chedvah had already
been trying several times to explain to her. But it wasn't Chedvah's
lucky day. Just when she had finally managed to get Chagit's
attention, a girl from one of the higher grades arrived, planted
herself in the doorway of our classroom, and asked in a loud
voice: "Is this Class 9-1?" When she heard that it was, she asked.
"Is there a girl in this class named Chedvah?"
"Yes, that's me!" Chedvah hurried over to her.
"They want you in the office. There's a phone call for you.
Urgent." She turned around self-importantly and left the room,
with Chedvah at her heels.
When Chedvah returned, she was very pale. "Did something
happen?" we all asked her fearfully.
"I don't know..." she said in a shaking voice. "My mother
phoned and asked that I come home urgently. She didn't want to
explain over the phone. I'm so afraid!"
The mechanechet, who had come into the room, reassured
our panicky classmate. "I'm sure it's nothing serious," she said,
trying to encourage her.
"My mother's voice sounded strange," Chedvah insisted. "I
almost couldn't tell it was her. For a moment I thought it was
some other woman pretending to be my mother."
"Probably you are the one who was upset and nervous, and
so you thought your mother was, too. The best thing is for
you to go home, so that you'll see for yourelf that there was
no reason for worry, and you were afraid for nothing."
"I'm afraid to go by myself..." Chedvah's face had lost its
normal color. "I feel that something terrible has happened!"
"Do you want someone to go with you?" the teacher
asked, and when Chedvah nodded her head yes, with a pleading
expression on her face, the mechanechet went on to ask: "Who do
you want to go with you?"
I was sure she would choose Chagit. Ever since Chagit had
"saved" her from the grammar teacher, the two had become
good friends. To my surprise, Chedvah said: "Maybe it's best... if
Peninah agrees, she lives in my neighborhood... that way I won't
be a trouble to a different girl, who would have to travel back
afterwards... Peninah can stay at her own house... anyway by the
time she gets back, school will be over."
I wondered at her great considerateness. Peninah agreed, of
course. The mechanechet also agreed. The next lessons passed
quickly, and in relative quiet. We were all curious to know what
was the meaning of the phone call that had so upset Chedvah.
The next day, we found out.
When I came to class in the morning, I was greeted by
worried faces. The girls directed my attention to the blackboard,
where a large announcement was written in bold letters:
Mattitiahu ben Esther
for a complete recovery
"What's this? What happened?" At first, I didn't understand.
"It's Chedvah's father. He's in critical condition."
"So that's what the telephone call she got yesterday was
about. What happened?" I inquired worriedly.
Then I heard the story. Peninah, Chedvah's neighbor, was
the one who had written the notice on the blackboard, and it
was also she who told us what had occurred. "Chedvah's father
is blind. He was wounded in the Yom Kippur War, about six
years ago. He underwent many operations, tests, and treatments,
but nothing helped. The doctors also didn't know exactly how he
had been wounded. His eyes outwardly looked perfectly healthy.
And yet he couldn't see with them. At that time, Chedvah was
eight years old. We were in the same class, at the beginning
of third grade. I still remember the day she went up to the
teacher and told her in tears: 'My father can't see me. He'll never
see me. Never! He has eyes, but he can't see with them, because
there's something wrong with them. It's the goyim who ruined his
We almost cried ourselves, hearing Peninah's vivid and
moving description. She continued:
"As time went on, he was rehabilitated and managed to
get along by his own efforts, despite his handicap. Chedvah's
mother is now the main wagearner of the family. She had
always worked as a bookkeeper, but now the burden of
earning a living, and all the other things that had to be done
for the home, fell on her shoulders. When the girls - Chedvah and
her sister - were little, it was very hard. Now that the girls
are older, it's much easier for her.
"And this is what happened yesterday. Opposite the entrance
to Chedvah's house is a large open square. On the left side of
it there are stairs, about fifteen stone steps leading down to
a big public park. Chedvah's father never goes down the stairs
by himself. When he wants to go down, someone leads him,
step by step. Yesterday he was standing outside - apparently he
had been walking in the square and didn't realize exactly where
he was - and suddenly his foot slipped. No one knows just
how it happened, maybe because it was raining hard. He slipped
and fell from the top of the stairs all the way to the bottom, and
was hurt in every part of his body; but the main and most serious
injury was to his head. He got a severe concussion and is now
We were all silent. We didn't have any words we could
say. I thought of Boaz's fall, and shuddered. He, too, had a
concussion! Thank G-d his injury wasn't serious and he came
through it easily. I couldn't imagine how I would feel if I had
lost, G-d forbid, my dear brother, with whom I had now become
That day all of us, without exception, prayed with intense
concentration. We prayed for Chedvah's father in the blessing for
healing, and also said tehillim for him. The mechanechet allowed
us to say tehillim for ten minutes during the algebra lesson. We all
thought about Chedvah. We worried about her and sympathized
with her. We wanted very much for her father to get better, and
that shared desire unified and solidified us, all the girls of the
For three days Chedvah's father lay unconscious, he heard
nothing and knew nothing about what was happening around
him. The members of his family stood constantly by his bed
reciting tehillim. When one had to leave, another took his or her
place. We girls, too, said tehillim in class every day, and our
behavior in general was different from usual. It was as if
we had become more grown-up. It is interesting how events
that are painful or shocking influence people, changing them
On the fourth day, Peninah brought us news which threw
the class into an uproar: "Chedvah's father woke up! And just
imagine - he can see!"
We were so delighted and happy, we almost raised the roof.
"How did it happen?" we demanded to know.
"Even the doctors don't understand what happened. They
claim that it's what's called a 'medical miracle.' Suddenly he
opened his eyes! Chedvah, her mother and her sister were standing
right beside the bed, and he asked: 'Where am I? And who are
these two girls next to you?' He didn't recognize his daughters.
The last time he had seen them, Chedvah was eight, and her
sister Tirtzah a little girl of four. Is it any wonder he didn't
know them? Just imagine how happy they all were! Of course,
he's still not completely well. Chedvah told me that the doctors
are giving him all kinds of tests to make sure that everything
is O.K., that he didn't lose any of his memory, that he didn't
have any brain injury that might affect his ability to function
physically. The shock of being able to see again has also somewhat
weakened him. So far, it seems that everything is alright. Nothing
has changed, except that he got his sight back - apparently as a
result of the concussion."
That day was one of the happiest of my life, and I don't
know why. That is to say, I do know, of course, it was because
Chedvah's father recovered. What I don't understand is why
this had such a strong effect on me. I had never felt especially
close to Chedvah, to the point that her sorrow should so touch
my heart, or her happiness should cause me such indescribable
"It's very simple," Anat explained to me after school as we
walked together towards my house. I had asked her to visit me
today. "All the Jewish people are brothers and sisters. We are all
related to each other, even if sometimes we don't feel it. We are
like one body. When the hand hurts, the functioning of the entire
body is adversely affected. When the hand recovers, the entire
body feels better and again functions normally. That's what's
special about the Jewish people, something that doesn't exist in
any other people."
"Mom... children... who's home?" I called as soon as I opened
the door. And without waiting for an answer I proclaimed,
"Chedvah's father recovered! And he's not blind anymore!"
Mother and Natti were at home, and so was Boaz, who had
caught a bit of a cold and had stayed home from the Talmud-
Torah. They all pounced on me, wanting to hear the happy news
again, this time with more details and explanation. All of them
had lived through these days with me, worrying along with my
worry, and now they wanted to share in the joy as well. I told
them what I had heard from Peninah.
"It's good that happy things can also be caused by a
concussion," my mother summed it up, relieved. "If it hadn't
been for that, he would have remained blind for the rest of
his life. Of course, his family went through some hard days,
but in return they were given happiness that far outweighs their
suffering." Then she repeated the words of the blessing we recite
every morning on waking: "Blessed are You, Hashem, Who cause
the blind to see!"
"And I know something else good that happened because
of a concussion that a certain boy in this family got," Boaz
began in a light mood. But when we turned towards him he
became shy, blushed to the tips of his ears, and lowered his
head in embarrassment. Mother put a loving hand on his head
and stroked his cheek affectionately. We all understood what he
was talking about.
Mother took pity on Boaz and hurried to change the subject.
"And now," she said, "I want to tell you some more good
news! True, it's not as wonderful as the news Tammi told us,
but it's very happy all the same. Aunt Shirley phoned today
from America to tell us that she's arriving here next week, on
Wednesday afternoon. She's going to stay with us for two weeks.
We'll be able to go on a lot of trips together, to show her Eretz
Yisrael, on condition that the weather is nice, of course. The first
night of Channukah comes out on Shabbat this year, so we'll
have a full week of vacation."
"Great!" we declared, and Boaz and I exchanged
conspirational glances. Mother noticed, but didn't ask any
questions or try to find out the meaning. She certainly couldn't
have guessed that our shared secret concerned her, her birthday
which would fall on Sunday, the second night of Channukah, and
the surprise we were preparing for her...
"I want you to be at the birthday party we're getting ready
for Mom," I told Anat. We were standing at the gate of the
dormitory building. As whenever one of us had accompanied the
other somewhere, it was hard for us to part.
"I'd be out of place there," she tried to talk her way out
of it. "It's a family party, and I'm not one of the family. And
especially since your Aunt Shirley will be there..."
"You know very well, Anat, that you've become part of
my family!" I told her emphatically. "Mother likes you, and
my brothers look up to you. Little Natti is in love with you.
And as for Aunt Shirley... she... wow, that's right! She certainly
will be happy to have someone with whom she can talk easily
in her language. Do you remember that you once translated her
letter for us? If I recall, that was the letter in which she told us
that she was planning to visit us and stay in Erez Yisrael through
"Yes, of course I remember!" Anat answered. "How could I
forget? That was the night I told you my life story... Does your
aunt speak Hebrew?"
"As a matter of fact, she does," I confirmed. "For letters,
she prefers English. She claims it's easier for her to express
exactly what she wants to say. But she also speaks Hebrew
- actually quite well. All the same, I'm sure she'll be happy to
use her English a bit so that it won't get rusty by the time she
goes back to the States. Won't you come, Anat?" I begged.
"Alright, I'll come," she responded to my pleading. "Anyway,
I have to stay in the dorm this Shabbat. So I'll stay one more
day. You know, Tammi," she continued after a slight pause,
"I also wanted to invite you to visit me for one of the days
of Channukah. It's true you won't have much to do at my place,
Rechovot isn't Jerusalem. All the same, I thought... perhaps we
could go to visit Batyah together. But now I already don't dare
offer you the invitation. For sure you'll want to join your family
on their tours throughout the Land."
"Of course I'll join them," I agreed. "But that still doesn't
mean that I'm giving up on your invitation. If I see it's not
going to be such an interesting day... if they're going somewhere
I've already been dozens of times, or someplace that just
doesn't especially attract me - of course I'll prefer to come
"Excellent!" Anat was excited. "I'm so happy, Tammi!"
"You just have to give me directions how to get to your
house. I've never been to Rechovot."
"In that case, this will be an excellent opportunity to go
there. It's so simple. You go to the central bus station in
Jerusalem, take a bus from there to the central bus station in
Rechovot, and from there..."
"Wait, wait, not now," I interrupted. "Tell me another time,
just before I make the trip."
"And if you don't like the idea of travelling by yourself,"
Anat said in an attempt to be considerate, "You can ask Peninah
to go with you." But her words didn't have the desired effect.
"Travel with Peninah? What makes you think I'd want to do
that?" I was a little upset. "Maybe... you invited her to visit you
"Right." Anat didn't understand why I was so grumpy. "I
suggested that she visit me during the Channukah vacation. She
liked the idea, but said she still doesn't know if she can make it.
Perhaps the two of you could plan something together..."
"Nothing doing!" I put my foot down. "I don't want to
come with Peninah!" How could it be that Anat, who was
so understanding, so smart, so wise, didn't realize that I was
interested in visiting her - alone? That I wanted the two
of us to be by ourselves, so that we could talk and discuss
things freely, opening our hearts to each other like good friends,
without a third party interfering?
"If you don't want to travel with her - so come by yourself!"
Anat still didn't understand what I was upset about. She thought
I had long since stopped being jealous of Peninah, but that
wasn't the case. "It was only a suggestion," she continued,
"but you certainly don't have to take it. Come by yourself, if
that's more convenient for you. You know I'll be very happy to
"I'm already not sure if I want to come! What if I suddenly
find Peninah there when I arrive?"
"We can plan ahead. I'll let you know which day Peninah is
planning to come, if at all. That way you can avoid running into
her. I can see that for some reason she bothers you very much."
"I'm not promising anything," I backed down from my
previous enthusiasm. "I'll think it over. If I decide yes, I'll let
"As you like." Anat accepted my mood. "Just don't think
I'm going to punish you by changing my mind about coming to
your mother's birthday party. I'm planning to be there, as we
just now agreed!" she warned me with a smile, and the ice
between us melted.
During the last two days, I had noticed that something was
not as it should be with Chagit. Her usually cheerful mood had
disappeared. She had become very quiet - dark and closed. She
began to be dreamy, a characteristic I had never observed in her
At the ten o'clock break I went over to her. Anat hadn't come
to school that day, and I was a little bored. Ronit, her roommate,
told me that Anat had not been feeling well that morning, and I
made plans to visit her in the afternoon.
Chagit sat at her table, drawing. When I came over, she
covered the page with her arm, as if unintentionally, but her aim
was clear to me. She wanted to hide the drawing from me. All
the same, I managed to get a glimpse of two large, green eyes.
She colored most of her drawings with colored pencil. She had
drawn only the eyes, nothing more.
"What's new, Chagit?" I asked casually. "Have you eaten
"Yes, certainly. Didn't you see?" She seemed a little restless.
"I didn't see... I always just see you sitting and drawing.
Maybe you finished eating fast..." I tried out my guessing powers.
"Did you get another illustrating job?"
"Don't I wish! Unfortunately, the answer is no. I just like to
draw for myself."
"Can I see what you're drawing?"
I sensed that I had put her on the spot. "I'd rather not show
you. It's not finished yet."
"When it's finished, will you show me?"
She became confused. "Uh... yes. Why not, actually." She
thought to herself, and then suddenly changed her mind about
her original decision. "You can see it now." She took away
her arm. Out of the paper two large, green eyes looked at me,
"Are you trying to draw someone in particular?" I inquired.
"No," she answered with a forced smile. "Just the eyes of
someone in particular."
"Am I disturbing you?" I asked, trying to be polite.
"No, not at all," she said casually, but her glance said the
opposite. I didn't pay any attention. I had come over to her with
a certain purpose in mind, and I intended to say everything I
wanted to before I went away.
"The last few days, you seem a little strange, Chagit." I
looked her right in the eyes. She averted her glance to avoid
mine, which proved to me that I hadn't been mistaken.
"Something's bothering you," I continued mercilessly.
"You're daydreaming. You're closed off, you're... something's
disturbing you. Am I right?"
"And if you are, so what?" She preferred to answer with a
"If so, maybe I can help you!"
She was silent. So was I. The silence continued too long and
made me feel uncomfortable. Just as I was trying to think of
some way to get the conversation going again, I heard Chagit say
in a confidential whisper: "Do you really want to help me? The
truth is that I thought about talking to you... but I hesitated. I
wasn't sure how you'd react, I was afraid that... I thought that
you and Anat could help me. But I was embarrassed to speak
"Enough apologies!" I said with emphatic friendliness.
"Maybe it's something to do with the place where you're
working?" I tried to ease her confession.
"Yes - and no. It's connected, but not exactly..."
"Stop keeping me in suspense," I told her.
"Alright. I'll try... It was caused by the fact that I'm working,
but it's not exactly a matter of my work... oh, it's too complicated
to explain it that way!" Her thoughts were not collected. She
was trembling a little, and had turned paler. I decided not to
pressure her, but to let her pour out her heart in whatever
way was easiest for her.
"Sit down, Tammi." She made room for me on the seat next
to hers. "I don't want you to faint standing up," she added with
a sad smile.
I sat down, but didn't say a word.
"You know that I work in a shoe store. It's pleasant work,
and usually I enjoy it a lot. The owner is a good-hearted man
and always willing to help me. Recently, for example, I needed
money to buy a geometry book and some notebooks, and he gave
me an advance on my salary. I get to see people, talk with them,
hear interesting stories. It's not boring. Sometimes it's a little
hard, especially when I have to climb a ladder a few times a day
to get shoes from the top shelves. But I'm young and strong, and
it doesn't especially strain me. All in all, it's very comfortable
work." She smiled. I smiled back. She took a deep breath, and I
"My boss has a buyer, whose job is to purchase stock for
him from the various companies. He's a nice boy, around twenty.
Whenever he gets to the store he always turns to me and says,
"Shalom, how are you?" He takes an interest in my work, and
asks if it's not hard for me. He has a good heart, you can
see that in his eyes..." Without meaning to, I shot a glance
at the green eyes of the drawing. I didn't say a thing. "When he
brings the stock, one of my jobs is to arrange it on the shelves. He
always helps me to put the boxes of shoes on the higher shelves.
'Why should a girl have to climb a ladder if there's a man here?'
That's what he says to me. Once he told me that I was nice."
She blushed. "I didn't pay any attention. A few days ago, he
asked me if I was willing to marry him."
"What!" I was flabbergasted. "You're only fourteen!"
"Fifteen," she corrected me. "I lost a year of school. It used
to be that people would marry at that age, and even earlier."
"Tell me, is he even a religious boy? Does he keep the
She took a deep, deep, breath. Then she let out all the air,
took another small breath and told me: "He's an Arab."
The shock that hit me was complete. "An Arab! Poor you!
And when you told him that you are Jewish, and he shouldn't
dare think that you would agree to his silly idea, he started
bothering you? Because of that you're trapped in fear, and you're
asking my help?"
Apparently I had jumped to conclusions too fast. "No,"
Chagit explained patiently, "I want you to help me decide."
"Whether to tell him yes."
"What! You can't be serious."
"I'm completely serious!" It seemed that the task of
explaining things to me was hard for her. "I think about it
all the time."
"Think about what?" I was in shock.
"He's a wonderful boy... refined and good-hearted. He's so
nice. You have to see him when he looks at you like that, with his
big green eyes. He doesn't look at all Arabic! And he speaks
exactly like anyone else, with no accent at all. If you saw him,
you'd say he was a Jew! I'm sure I'll have a good life with him,
so why not? Of course, I'll still be Jewish!"
I almost blacked out. I thought I was dreaming. She was
considering it seriously! "Have you lost your mind, Chagit!"
That was all I could say. "What kind of crazy nonsense has got
into you? Marry an Arab?"
"That's not an answer. I need a stronger and more logical
reason. What's the matter, isn't an Arab a human being? He lives,
breathes, thinks, feels - exactly like any Jew! And he's good-
hearted, understanding, considerate, much more - I'm sure of
it! - than a lot of Jews. He agrees that I'll remain Jewish.
He doesn't even mind if I keep the mitzvot. He told me so
specifically. According to the halacha, my children will be
Jewish. So what's the problem?"
"You already want to get married?" I asked out of curiosity,
after I had somewhat recovered from the initial shock.
"Not yet, of course. But in another two or three years, it
would be possible. We'll see. But right now I need to know where
I stand. What to tell him. I'm still hesitating."
"Of course you'll tell him no!"
I sighed. "Chagit, all I know is that it's forbidden for a
Jewish girl to marry an Arab... that it's forbidden for the Jewish
people to become intermarried among the other nations. But
Anat will certainly know how to explain it better than me.
If you give me permission, I'll tell her. She'll know what to
say to you, how to convince you in a way that will put your
mind at rest."
To my happiness, Chagit replied: "I agree that you can tell
Anat - but only her. And also she's not allowed to talk about
this thing to anyone in the world! And..." She hesitated for a
moment. "Are you sure that Anat will understand me? That she
won't laugh at me?"
"Do you want to know the truth?" I answered. "I myself
don't understand you. If anyone is capable of understanding, it's
Anat. Will she laugh at you? Certainly not! Anat doesn't laugh
"Good. So talk to her. I'm waiting for an answer as soon as
I knew that Chagit's future depended on her conversation
with Anat, and I waited impatiently for the schoolday to end.
But as if on purpose to aggravate me, it was Tuesday, the
only day in the week when we learned until three, an hour
longer than any other. The minute the last bell rang, I leaped
out of my seat and ran home. Putting away my briefcase,
I explained to my mother hastily, in vague terms, that I was
in a hurry to go somewhere important and would have to skip
lunch just this once, and ran to the dorm to visit Anat.
She told me that she didn't feel well. Late yesterday afternoon
she had gone to town to shop. It was a little cool, and she didn't
think to take along a coat and umbrella.
"Halfway there I got caught in a drenching rain. I caught
a little cold, that's all." Anat favored me with an "all stuffed
up" smile. Her eyes and cheeks were red, and her hoarse voice
sounded a little strange. "I would have come to school, but
this morning I had a low fever and the dorm mother didn't
allow me out. It's lucky she didn't make me go to the clinic. How
are things in the class?"
"Anat," I told her, feeling my heart begin to pound faster
than usual, "as soon as I realized this morning that you
weren't going to come, I knew I would visit you. What I
didn't know was that I was going to skip lunch and run to
you. I have something very important to tell you - I must
get your advice!"
Anat looked at me inquiringly. "When I asked you how
things are in the class, I thought you were going to tell me that
everything was the same as usual and there's no news. I only
asked out of habit. But what is it? Something happened?"
"In the class? No. But I had a talk with one of the girls of
our class. With Chagit."
I repeated to Anat my conversation with Chagit. Her red
face lost its color and went pale. "Terrible!" she murmured.
I looked at her with wide-open eyes. Anat, always so relaxed
and calm, was shaken! She was even more shocked than I had
"What could have happened to Chagit? Has she gone out of
her mind?" Anat got out of bed, went over to the closet, opened
it, took out a heavy, warm sweater and began to get dressed.
"What are you doing, Anat?"
"Putting on a sweater. I already have enough of a cold. I
don't want to get really sick."
"You're feeling cold?" I still hadn't caught on.
"Now, in my room? No. It's too warm for me. But outside
"You're going somewhere?"
"Yes." This time it was she who looked at me in amazement.
"I'm going to Chagit. And you're coming with me, of course!"
"You're not going out of this building, Anat!" I objected.
"You're sick, you have a fever!"
"I have to. If we don't do it today, tomorrow might be too
"We won't wait until tomorrow. Tell me what to do, what
to say - and I'll take care of the matter. You can't go out!" I
"I can't do anything else!" Anat said stubbornly. "It's
impossible for me to tell you what to say, everything depends on
the reasons she'll come up with. And both of us have to go, so
the pressure on her will be heavier and stronger."
"Where are you going to look for Chagit?" I demanded.
"At her house. You know her address, don't you?" She
looked at me worriedly.
"I don't know it. And I don't have any idea who to
ask... wait, But I do know where the store is where she works."
Anat's face lit up for a moment, but then immediately
darkened. "Today's Tuesday, the stores are all closed in the
"True, but Chagit works on Tuesday too. The owner of the
store appreciates her and trusts her. On Tuesday, when there
are no customers, she puts the store in order, takes inventory,
sometimes also receives new stock. That's what she told me
"Excellent! We'll go to her at the store."
I gave up the idea of changing Anat's mind. "Now it's
only three-thirty. It'll take fifteen minutes to walk there. I don't
imagine she starts working before four."
We waited about a quarter of an hour before leaving. "There's
no point wandering around the street at this hour, and in such
cold weather!" Anat had begun to get back to her usual self
and act in a reasonable manner, but her state of mind was
still stormy. For the whole quarter of an hour she didn't stop
talking about Chagit. "It's only the result of light-headedness, of
thoughtlessness!" she stated decisively. She didn't use her mind.
What we have to do is explain to her in a logical manner why
it's forbidden for Jews to intermarry among the other nations... so
that she'll know, she'll understand how special is our people, the
Jewish people, and that its specialness is maintained as long as
we stand apart from the other nations, but not when we join with
them... for then it becomes diluted and, G-d forbid, is lost."
"Do you think you can explain these things to her
"I hope the Holy One, Blessed is He, will put the right words
into my mouth."
On the way, as we walked downtown, I said to Anat: "I
don't understand how Chagit agreed... why wasn't she afraid to
tell me her secret?"
"She's not the only one," Anat answered me seriously. I
looked at her uncomprehendingly, and she explained: "I also am
not afraid to tell you my secrets..."
I reddened in embarrassment. "That's... that's different."
"It's the same thing, Tammi." Anat was in a thoughtful
state. "I already told you once that with you it's possible to
be open. You're so understanding and sympathetic... it's hard to
"You see? You're the only girl in the class who sensed
that something was wrong with her. Who else, besides you,
goes up to her every once in a while and takes an interest in
"Chedvah's always with her."
"Chedvah? Nonsense. They undoubtedly just chat about
completely unimportant things. Their friendship is purely
superficial. When she wanted to speak out her thoughts about
something serious, something that was really bothering her, with
a serious friend, she chose you."
I didn't respond. I just lowered my head, and Anat continued:
"You were right when you told me, back then, that Chagit needed
someone who would make friends and be close with her... you're
not mad at me for asking the mechanechet to move her seat?"
"Anat!" I got mad at her. "It seems to me that I told
you at the time that I would be very happy if you would
do that. What do you think - I didn't realize that Chagit's
company had a bad influence on me?"
"All the same, I made a mistake," Anat continued to blame
herself. "I should have told you to keep on being friendly with
Chagit. I should have done the same myself, and the two of us
should have seen to it - indirectly, of course - that Chagit
would get involved in the social life of the class. Then maybe she
wouldn't have been influenced by the friendliness of that young
man... that Arab... and wouldn't have paid any attention at all.
Because she wouldn't have been in need of friendship!"
"I see someone moving the curtain behind the store window,"
I said. We waited for the light to turn green so we could cross the
street. The shoe store was diagonally opposite us. "There's a hand
putting up a shoe... it must be Chagit!" I guessed.
A car pulled in front of the store, blocking our view. The
light turned green. We crossed the street, when we had taken
a few steps, we heard a voice behind us: "Excuse me, excuse
me..." We made room. A young man, his whole head and chest
hidden by a tall stack of shoe boxes tightly tied with heavy string,
went past us, walked up to the entrance we had been heading
for, pushed down the handle with his elbow, and opened the
door. We waited for him to take two steps into the store, and
then we started to enter.
"Sorry, the store's closed today, it's Tuesday." The owner
lifted his head from an account book, pushed his spectacles down
to the end of his nose, and raised his eyes.
"We didn't come to buy," Anat explained.
"So what did you come for?" inquired a plump woman, also
bespectacled. Apparently it was the owner's wife. The young man
put down his tower of boxes, turned in our direction, and looked
at us indifferently.
"We're friends of Chagit. We have to tell her something."
"Chagit's working now."
"It's extremely important!" we insisted.
"Alright. O.K." The owner softened. "Chagit is in the next
room, on the left." He showed us where to go. Apparently Chagit
was an efficient worker, so he was willing to let her talk with us
even though she was working. The wife, however, didn't like
the idea, she spoke a few words to the owner in a language
that any child would have recognized as Hungarian, and he
responded with a gesture of the hand indicating, "It's alright,"
and went back to his accounts. All the same, his wife continued
looking at us with dissatisfaction.
For the first moment, Chagit was surprised, but an
expression of understanding immediately came over her face
- understanding, and embarrassment.
"Shalom," she said. "You got here so fast."
"You knew we were coming?" we both asked almost
"No," she answered. "That's why I'm so surprised."
"We want to talk with you, Chagit," Anat said.
The head of the young man appeared in the doorway.
"Ahalan, Chagit. What's new?"
"O.K., thank G-d."
"Lot of work? Working late?"
"No. In another half hour I'll be finished straightening up
here... if the boss doesn't give me something else to do, I'm going
He looked at us. "Friends from school?"
"Yes." A feeling of tension hung in the air. An embarrassing
silence prevailed for a minute, and then: "See you later, Chagit."
"See you later..."
"That's Rashid," Chagit explained to me, casting quick
glances at Anat as if trying to determing whether she knew
"That's just what we came to talk with you about," Anat
said with the utmost naturalness. But Chagit quickly hushed her:
"Shh... shh... not here. He might hear us."
"You finish in another half hour?"
"More or less."
"You're coming with us," Anat decided for her.
"Where to? What is this, the military police?"
"Of course not. But you don't want to talk here, and you're
right. So I'm inviting you to my room at the dorm."
"Maybe it would be better for us to go to my house?"
I suggested. "Probably your roommates will want to come in,
Anat... in my room we can talk undisturbed."
Both of them nodded in agreement. Most of the time we
were silent. Chagit worked energetically and quickly.
"I'm going," she informed the owner when she had finished.
At first he wanted her to stay and arrange a few other
things, but Chagit excused herself, saying that those things were
not urgent, and she could do them another time.
"We have to take care of something important," we helped
her out, and the owner had no choice but to agree to let her go.
"Are you coming to work tomorrow?" he tried to make sure
he was covered.
"G-d willing. Why not?" Chagit asked.
The owner's wife again broke out in Hungarian, and Chagit
told us, after we had got some distance from the store: "I work
like a donkey. The owner appreciates me, but his wife - she's
never satisfied. She made up her mind that she's not going to
work in the store anymore, and I do all the jobs she used
to do, and more. She's always got some criticism. Fortunately for
me, she's not always in the store - only on Tuesday afternoon.
So that her husband and I shouldn't violate the prohibition
against yichud, being secluded with someone you're not married
to," Chagit explained.
It was hard to get our talk started. I waited for Anat
to begin. She realized, of course, that this assignment was her
"Tammi told me all about it," she said. Chagit didn't answer.
"And I have to tell you that I was shocked." Chagit remained
silent. Her muscles tensed, getting ready to jump up. She stayed
silent. For a moment Anat lost her courage, but since she had
begun, she had to continue.
"The truth is that I still don't believe you meant seriously
what you said. I'm sure you're going to tell me now that what
you told Tammi before was said in haste, in a moment of
thoughtlessness, and that you never considered such a thing
Chagit was tense. "Why do you say that?" Her voice had
a defensive tone. "Everything I said to Tammi is right. And I
still think so. As a matter of fact, I'm not thinking of getting
married tomorrow, but the time will come when I will have to
do that, and I don't think Rashid is any worse than any other
boy, just because he wasn't born a Jew!"
"No one says he's any worse. I wasn't trying to compare him
with anyone else, and in any case that wouldn't be possible."
"You see! You admit it yourself!" Chagit snatched at Anat's
words with great enthusiasm. "If there's no difference between
him and a Jewish boy, why shouldn't I think of marrying him?"
"That I didn't say," Anat corrected her. "There is definitely
a difference. What I said was that it's not possible to say that
he's worse or better."
Chagit was confused. "You're getting me all tangled up," she
said after a moment's thought. "Stop philosophizing. Just explain
to me why it's not allowed to marry him!"
"Because you're Jewish, and he's not!" Anat declared with
"Those are nothing but labels," Chagit dismissed her words.
"In reality anyone can see that we're both human beings, with
thoughts, feelings, wishes, aspirations - we're not in any way
different from each other!"
I thought to myself, "How are you going to get out of that
one, Anat?" I was certain that if it had been my responsibility to
speak with Chagit, I wouldn't have known what to say to her,
how or with what to change her mind.
"Your problem, and the problem of many others as well,"
Anat explained patiently, "is that you don't uderstand what it is
to be Jewish. The explanation can be summed up in a few words,
which when you first hear them will probably antagonize you.
You are a daughter of the Jewish people, Am Yisrael - and Am
Yisrael is the chosen people!"
She stopped there, fixed a sharp glance on Chagit, and waited
for her reaction. It wasn't slow in coming, and it was a strong
one - but I could see from Anat's expression that the nature of
this reaction didn't surprise her, she had even expected it.
"How are you talking!" Chagit stormed. "Do you know
who you sound like? Like the Germans... Yes! Like the Nazis.
They claimed that the German people were a superior race
- 'the chosen people,' as you put it. And look what they did
to themselves, and to the whole world! All because of that
racist outlook! My father was in Europe during the Holocaust.
If you don't know what happened there, come with me and
talk to him. He'll make sure to tell you what the Germans
did to him, claiming - just like you! - that their people was
'the master race,' 'the chosen people,' who had to rule over the
Chagit paused, breathing heavily from the exertion of her
vehement oratory. She didn't notice a tiny smile that tugged at
the corners of Anat's lips. I, who was carefully watching her
reaction, noticed it. For a moment it seemed to me that she
had deliberately provoked this outburst of Chagit's, in order to
take the wind out of her sails before the journey even began...
"You mentioned in one breath three completely different
concepts." Chagit, I noticed, was taken aback by the quiet, calm
tone in which these words were spoken. She had been expecting
a tone similar to her own, a vehement speech, a loud, agressive
voice, a rebuttal, a counter-attack - anything but what her
ears were hearing. Anat continued: "What connection is there
between "master race," "chosen people," and "ruling over the
"It's amazing that you don't understand the connection,"
Chagit mocked. "It's perfectly logical. When a particular people
claim that they are chosen and superior to other peoples, that
automatically produces a desire for power - and for suppression
of the people they consider inferior to them!"
This time Anat smiled broadly, not only with her mouth, but
with her eyes as well. Chagit was surprised.
"That's it exactly! That's what I said at the beginning,
you don't know what it is to be a Jew, nor what it means
to be a chosen people! You know, yes. You know how the
Germans twisted that concept to give themselves an excuse for
their criminal acts. They produced the race theory, and used
it to claim that the German people was the most superior
of all, and the Jews, the most inferior. The Jews, who constantly
fulfilled their assigned task - in spite of the evil decrees and
persecutions that had been their lot throughout the generations,
and the trials that no other people had to undergo - continued to
uphold their Judaism proudly, and that fact posed a threat to the
German people's world domination. Therefore they placed them
at the bottom of the list and worked to annihilate them. According
to their theory, an enlightened world held no room for such
an inferior race. An outlook like that repulses anyone with
any human feelings, and that is obvious. But when the Jews
assert: 'We are members of the chosen people,' we don't tie
that fact to any concept of a 'master race,' nor to the natural
consequence: a thirst for power and a desire to suppress the other
nations of the world."
Anat stopped and studied Chagit as if trying to penetrate
into her and discover whether she had absorbed these words, or
whether they were too deep for her. Chagit looked thoughtful.
She fixed her gaze on some undefined spot on the wall of my
room and fell silent. Her stony glance, her rebellious expression,
her earlier tension - all these softened a little. It seemed that
Anat's words had found a path into her heart, and she was
thinking them over privately.
"If you're so interested," she said suddenly, with feigned
casualness, "I don't mind sidestepping into this philosophical
debate, it could be interesting."
Anat smiled again. "I'm not debating, Chagit," she explained
to her. "I'm talking, clarifying. I'm also listening to you, and am
willing to accept your words and agree with them, to the extent
that they are right. A debate is when each one holds onto his
position stubbornly, without wanting to try and understand the
person he's talking with. The only purpose of a debate is to make
oneself heard and impose one's opinion on others. My goal is
that you should understand what I think. For that purpose,
I also hear and understand you. I call that a conversation.
Philosophical? I don't object to calling it that..."
This detour from the main subject helped. Chagit smiled
understandingly. It was a serious smile, and somewhat forced
- but the first smile from her in the course of the conversation.
"You claim," she said, "that the Jews have another, different
way to explain the concept of the 'chosen people.' Before
you explain to me how you interpret that concept, I want to
understand why there is any need at all for a chosen people."
The conversation had taken on a more relaxed atmosphere.
To this point, I hadn't opened my mouth. I was more interested
in listening than speaking.
"When you understand what 'chosen people' means, you'll
also understand why the world needs one... but actually, why
shouldn't there be a chosen people?"
"Isn't it preferable that all the people of the world should be
equal? Why produce differences and classes?"
"Could such a situation exist? Is it really possible to arrive
at equality?" Anat asked Chagit's opinion. She hesitated.
"Uh... I think so. Why not?"
"How can we arrive at complete equality among people, if
from the moment of birth we are different from one another?
I have light hair and blue eyes, while Tammi, for example, has
brown hair and eyes. Is that equality? You are a bit short, and
thin, Peninah is tall..."
"The external appearance doesn't say anything about
equality!" Chagit said somewhat impatiently. "Being equal
means... how can I explain it? It has to do with more important
things, with opinions, actions, with the way we treat other
people... to treat others the way we would want them to treat
"We can never be equal in those 'more important things'!"
Anat declared decisively. "O.K., let's forget about externals and
move on to matters of opinion: In your opinion, red is the nicest
color, while I prefer purple. Or matters of action: You like
spicy foods, while I favor sweet... We'll never reach agreement
on things that depend on personal taste. The last point you
mentioned is correct. We must treat the other person with respect:
be considerate of him, appreciate him, understand him. Every
human being deserves this kind of treatment, whether Jewish
or non-Jewish. And that's where we find the difference between
the race theory of the Germans and the Jewish declaration that
we are a chosen people.'
For the Germans, that was a position
which granted them rights of rulership and suppression. For
the Jews, it is a quality which produces obligations. For them,
it expressed itself in negative actions towards others, for us, it
expresses itself in an obligatory relationship towards ourselves.
We demand things of ourselves that we would never consider
demanding of others. We must serve as a symbol and an example.
At the same time, we don't disrespect those who act differently
from us. We, as Jews, have a certain role in the world - the non-
Jew has another role. Each one must fulfill his task. We, the Jews,
have been chosen to make known the existence of the Creator of
the world. Now do you understand, Chagit, the meaning of
"I understand what you want to say, but it sounds very
illogical to me. How can the concept of 'chosen' be connected
with the idea of 'obligations?' The chosen people should have
rights that the other peoples don't have!"
"You're right - if we accept the mistaken assumptions of
the non-Jews. Do you know why? Because of the difference in
the chooser. The Germans chose themselves as the 'master race;'
therefore they defined the concept as it pleased them. But we did
not choose ourselves. Our 'chosenness' was imposed on us by
the Holy One, Blessed is He. Whether we want it or not, He
chose us, and we can't get out of it! Therefore it was also He
who defined for us what it means to be the chosen people - of
the Holy One, Blessed is He. It means obligations - which for
us are a great privilege, the privilege of fulfilling the commands
of the Creator of the world. Who specially chose us as His
emissaries! We also have privileges in the ordinary sense of the
word, but only with regard to the Holy One, Blessed is He.
We have no right to claim our privileges of our own accord,
and those privileges certainty are not expressed as domination
"This is the first time I ever heard that our being a
chosen people means having obligations put on us," Chagit said
"First understand and agree with me that our task in the
world - the purpose for which Am Yisrael was chosen - is so
that all the peoples should acknowledge the existence of G-d.
Then you will understand why, at least superficially, all our
privileges consist entirely of - obligations."
"And if I don't accept that? Let's say I decide that it's too
hard for me, and I don't want to be Jewish?"
"The reality of your being a daughter of the Jewish people
doesn't depend on you. You were born that way. No one asked
your permission - and that's it! You're Jewish. Just as it won't
do you any good to rebel and say, for example, 'Why am
I not a bird? Why was I born a human being?' - just as
you cannot choose your parents, you were born to your mother
and father and not to mine, and it's not within your power to
change that fact, in the same way you can't change the fact that
you are a Jewish girl, and as a result, your children will also be
"But, look, I can decide not to be Jewish. Let's say I stop
acting Jewish... of course that doesn't mean I'm really thinking
about doing so," Chagit hurried to explain herself, so that we
shouldn't, G-d forbid, misunderstand her. "But that's an actual
possibility, isn't it?"
"You can deny the fact that you're Jewish, but that won't
mean that you're not Jewish; just as you have the option of telling
everyone that Mr. and Mrs. Har-el, Tammi's parents, are your
parents, but you'll always remain the daughter of your parents,
who gave birth to you. Being Jewish is a reality that can never be
changed!" Anat said with finality.
The three of us fell silent. For me, too, Anat's words, for the
most part, were a tremendous revelation. I quickly went over what
she had said, and suddenly an idea flashed into my mind. For the
first time in the conversation, I spoke up.
"It seems to me also that if a Jew denies his Jewishness, that
very act causes damage to himself, and also to the whole world!"
Both of them gave me questioning looks, and I took a
long, deep breath. I felt excited. It was the first time in my life
that I had stood in this position, "I" facing "myself," with my "I"
asking the "myself' in me: Who am I? And what is "myself?"
What do I want from myself, and what does "myself want from
me? And the answer was: "You are Jewish - entirely, totally
Jewish. And you want to be Jewish, in the way a Jew should
be. It's just that sometimes you don't know it..." But now,
Anat had clarified the matter for me clearly and unmistakably.
"It's like... like a person who was born with certain talents.
Take, for example... let's take Einstein. If he were to say, 'It's not
my fault that I was born with this kind of brain, with the mind
of a genius. I don't want to use it! I don't want to be different
from other people.' And if he would suppress that urge within
him to think, ponder, establish theories, invent inventions, and
would go and become a simple construction worker - would
he be doing himself good in any way? No. He would only
be doing himself psychological harm. He would be wasting
himself. Would he be doing humanity any good? By forcing
himself to act like an ordinary person, would he be contributing
to the cause of equality? Of course not! Just the opposite! The
world would have lost everything that he discovered and invented
when he 'submitted' to the talents with which he was endowed,
developed them, thought, probed - and arrived at results that
the entire world uses and benefits from!" I took another deep
breath, and looked to see what effect my words had had on my
two friends. They were listening with interest.
"You, Chagit, can understand that very well. You have a
tremendous talent for drawing. All day you sit and draw; you
can't stop. It's an urge you can't repress. Undoubtedly you feel
that your talent is being wasted, standing there selling shoes.
I know, you'd certainly prefer to be occupied with drawing
instead. Right or not?" I demanded.
"Right," she said with a smile.
"That's how it is when a person is born Jewish. He has a
certain destiny, a task, a contribution that he is supposed to make
to humanity. And if he doesn't do that, he's denying his purpose.
He himself suffers from that, even if he forces himself not to feel
the suffering. The Jewish soul within him suffers, is afflicted
and tormented, and the whole world loses what he could have
- and was obligated to - contribute to it, and which, instead,
he held back from the world!"
"You're brilliant, Tammi!" Anat complimented me sincerely.
"I wouldn't have arrived at that on my own, Anat." I tried
to play down my importance. "You're the one who turned my
thoughts in that direction."
Anat turned to our friend. "In what direction did I turn your
She hesitated a little, gave an embarrased smile, but
immediately became serious. "I understand what you're trying
to say, and... I must agree. You explained the matter to me in
a way that is logical and acceptable. I understand what a Jew
is, and why he has to be different from a non-Jew, and that
this difference is not a form of discrimination. But you still
haven't explained why it is forbidden for me, as a Jewish girl,
to marry a non-Jew. After all, you yourself say that I'll always
remain Jewish. My children will also be Jewish. I'll go on fulfilling
the mitzvot of the Torah. So why isn't it allowed?"
Anat gave her a long, penetrating look. It was the first time
I had ever heard her speak so strongly and emphatically: "Based
on what we've discussed up to now, you should have understood
on your own that a step like that is impossible. We know now
that we and he are different from each other. With all due
respect for this non-Jewish young man, who, by your account,
is intelligent, refined, good-hearted, and has other fine qualities
- he still remains non-Jewish. And you are Jewish. Just as oil
will always rise to the surface of water..."
She hesitated a moment. "I could appeal to your emotional
side. I could suggest that you speak with those hundreds and
thousands of young women who, like you at first, didn't
understand that significant difference between Jew and non-Jew,
and unfortunately married young Arab men. They very quickly
found out that they had made a terrible mistake. Their children,
by Jewish law, are Jews. But fingers will always be pointed at
them: Their father is an Arab! At the same time, the Moslem
religion claims that they are Moslems. Yet for the Arabs, too,
they will always remain 'the children of a Jewess.' So that
their whole life long, they will feel cut off, children without
a people, lacking identity. Would you want to cause your children
such tremendous suffering?
"But that's not the point I want to dwell on. I'm telling
you simply: You are Jewish. You are a daughter of the Jewish
people, who were commanded by the One Who chose them
to guard their specialness and not to intermarry among the
other nations. By not obeying that command you yourself, with
your own hands, are cutting one of the main cords that bind
you, as a Jewish person, to the Creator of the world. Who
chose you as a daughter of the Jewish people. In so doing,
you are disconnecting yourself, and the generations who will
come after you, from the roots that nourish them. By your one
small step you are succeeding to do what the enemies of Am
Yisrael, over thousands of years, have failed to do. In times
of persecution, explusion, extermination - the Jews refused to
betray their people and their religion, and they even sacrificed
their lives for these. Is it within your power to guarantee on
behalf of your children that they will be able - or will agree
- to continue acting like Jews, when they live in the midst of
a foreign people? You are cutting them off, transferring them to
a people that is not theirs, making them nameless and ownerless.
Are you willing to take an act of that kind upon your conscience?
Are you willing to accept the responsibility, when some time in
the future your sons and daughters will come up to you and
ask you: 'Mother, why did you do this to us?' "
The question echoed in the space of my room, and suddenly
I became aware of the fact that we were only fifteen years old
- even though Anat's presence among us blurred the framework
of age. Perhaps it had simply caused us to grow up several
Chagit sat with her head buried between her shoulders,
elbows on knees. I didn't see her face, and couldn't try to
read from her expression what was going on inside her. When
Chagit raised her head, her eyes were wet. She didn't try to hide
it. Looking straight at us, with tear-filled eyes and a voice that
trembled somewhat, she said: "No... I don't want it to be as
you've described to me... but what can I do?"
"You can stop thinking the ill-considered and completely
illogical thought that you can continue the chain of Jewish
tradition while married to a gentile!"
"O.K. I've stopped thinking that. But how am I going to get
out of this now?"
"How will you get out - of what?"
"I'm still working in the same store, and so is Rashid. I don't
believe he'll just decide, one fine morning, to quit his job," she
said in a weak voice.
We understood her fear. "Stop working there!" Anat
suggested. "I'm sure you can find other work."
A wonderful idea flashed into my mind. "I have a solution
for your problem, Chagit," I said enthusiastically. "I've heard
my parents saying a number of times that they need to get
someone to help them with their work at the store. We have a
fabric store, you know. Thank G-d, a lot of customers come
in, but some people are impatient, and when they see a long
line they leave and go to another store. My father thinks an
extra worker would greatly improve the situation. I'm sure my
parents will agree to employ you!"
Her eyes sparkled. Anat, too, seemed happy. But Chagit's
face immediately became serious again. "I'll be very happy if
you speak to your parents, and they agree... but I won't be able
to begin working at your store immediately. I promised my
present boss that I would give him two weeks notice before
"Very reasonable," Anat said. But it presented a problem.
We all remained silent, thinking.
"Listen," Anat said suddenly. "Actually, it's better this way.
Now you'll have two weeks during which you can make it clear
to that young man that there's nothing between you. If you
were to run away suddenly and disappear, he would look for
you. And it's reasonable to assume that he would find you,
and then you would be in an unpleasant position. The fact that
you'll be staying a few more days at your present place of work
gives you the opportunity to let him understand that you're not
interested in him. Try not to insult him, of course..."
"If you're interested, I'm willing to come to the store with
you every day, so that you'll feel more comfortable," I suggested.
"I'm sure Anat will also agree..."
Chagit smiled at us gratefully. "I see I was right to turn to
you." Her tears had already dried, but her eyes still sparkled. "I
had a hard battle with myself. I felt there was something here
I wasn't coping with... but I didn't know exactly what. I needed
someone to explain it to me. Don't think I'm not proud to be
Jewish, but until today I didn't know what was the source of my
pride. I thought it was a misplaced pride, and felt uncomfortable
She was in an open and revelatory mood, and without
weighing it very carefully I dared to ask her: "Of course, from
now on the thought of marrying a non-Jew will be very far from
your mind. But it interests me to know what made a Jewish
girl, studying at a religious school - and apparently also from a
religious family - consider a possibility like that?"
She thought a little. "I'll tell you, so that you'll understand
me, so that I won't seem completely strange to you. As I
mentioned before, my father is a Holocaust survivor. At the
moment I won't tell you about what he went through there,
it's not relevant to the subject. But he has claimed ever since
that the Jews themselves are to blame for what happened
to them. In his opinion, the fact that they were different from
their neighbors caused the hatred towards them. If they had tried
to blur the difference, they wouldn't have aroused the fury of
the gentiles against them."
"But that's ridiculous," I said. "The Jews have been in exile
among the gentiles for thousands of years. And history specifically
shows that when they preserved their uniqueness as a people, the
gentiles appreciated them. But when they tried to breach the
barriers separating them from the other nations - the disasters
began. The European Holocaust, too, was preceded by the period
of the so-called Enlightenment movement, the Haskala.
Chagit thought for a moment before answering. "In any
case, that's what my father claims. He arrived in Israel, the sole
survivor of a large family, and here he married my mother,
who is of Yemenite origin. From my mother I heard stories
of the good relations that had prevailed between them and
their Arab neighbors. They lived in peace, helped one another,
and had practically no friction, certainly not on the scale of
what happened in Europe. So I thought, if my grandfather
and grandmother could live in peace with the Arabs and
still remain good Jews, why couldn't I too? In that way I
would also be contributing to better relations among the two
"But now you realize," Anat said to her, "that the quiet
that prevailed between the Jews and the Arabs in Yemen existed
precisely because the Jews emphatically and stubbornly held to the
principles of their religion, being careful of every commandment,
minor or major. Would it ever have entered the mind of a Jew
there to marry a non-Jew, or would a non-Jew ever have
thought of marrying a Jew? That behavior was what produced
a relationship of appreciation towards the Jews. But, as Tammi
said before, the attempt to blur the boundary between Jew
and non-Jew is what led to the Holocaust. The non-Jews had
to prove to the Jews that they were indeed different, even if they
were unwilling to admit it!"
Chagit looked at her in amazement. "That's so clear!"
she said. "How could I ever have thought otherwise? Do you
know what, Anat," she surprised us, "from now on I also
am going to begin to say the blessing, '...Who did not make
me a non-Jew' with full concentration!"
Anat blushed. "How did you find out..."
"I overheard when you were explaining to Tammi. I listened
to your words with interest, and then I decided that only someone
like you, who was proud of her Jewishness, could help me in my
struggles with that subject. I didn't have a close connection with
you, so I turned to you through Tammi."
"One thing is still not clear to me, Anat," I said to my
friend. "How did you become so expert in this subject, and many
other subjects about which you've spoken to me? Girls of our
age aren't so well-versed on topics like these, which require a
lot of deep thought."
"Well," she answered, taking her time, "I do think deeply.
And when something is not clear to me, I investigate, ask people,
look into books, until I arrive at an answer that satisfies me.
Batyah helped me a lot, especially at the beginning, when I
was really an ignoramus. The knowledge that I was ignorant on
such important subjects motivated me to study, to make up for
all I had missed in my first years..."
"And the result," I said humorously, "is that you know a lot
more than all those who didn't miss those first years."
She smiled. "It's still not too late," she said to me with great
seriousness, despite her smile. "You can begin from today..."
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