When our mechanechet teaches a lesson, it's something
special. No girl in the whole school would tell you any different.
Her classes are extremely interesting and gripping, not because of
the topic, but because she has the talent - which, unfortunately,
not every teacher is blessed with - to transform any topic,
no matter how boring in itself, into something full of meaning
and fascination. She prepares a lot of varied material, quotes
from the Midrash, weaves in stories connected to the subject
at hand - sometimes including stories that happened to her.
When she starts a sentence with the words, "This happened
to me personally not long ago..." all of us, as if at a military
command, turn our heads towards her and our ears perk up.
We know from experience that it won't be any ordinary story.
With this method, the moral she wants to put across soaks into
our consciousness as if by the way, unintentionally - but our
young hearts and brains absorb the message very well, and it
also remains more firmly engraved there. The intriguing story
that carries the message stays clear in our memory... and with
it, the message itself.
This particular lesson on the Ketuvim was, I thought, even
more special than those we had heard from our mechanechet until
now. It started out as usual, the whole class waiting in expectant
silence. Even Chagit for some reason wasn't occupied with her
sketching. The seat next to me was empty. Anat had gone
home to Rechovot the day before, and I still didn't know
what her father's condition was. She hadn't phoned that day,
and today she hadn't come to school at all. I was in suspense.
I wanted to know that everything was alright, that the situation
But that wasn't exactly the subject that occupied
me now, in the Ketuvim lesson. I listened in fascination to
the mechanechet, and suddenly I noticed that I was burning
up. My face, my head, my hands and feet, all were boiling
hot, and my body was being jolted by waves of chills that
made me shudder. At first, I tried to ignore these disturbing
feelings. But it didn't work. I was thirsty, I felt completely
dehydrated. I tried moistening my lips with my tongue, but that
helped for no more than seconds. My tongue stuck to the roof
of my mouth, a phenomenon which I found rather amazing,
considering that I had already drunk three cups of water that
Why was I so thirsty? Then I felt a sharp jab in my back.
Without thinking, I turned around to see who had decided to
play the clown and poke me. Dalyah and Ednah were staring
hypnotically at the teacher. Certainly neither of them was the
culprit. Suddenly I felt another stab, stronger than the first
and covering a much broader area. What was going on? What
had happened to me? What was the meaning of these pains
in my back? And this terrible thirst? I wanted to raise my
hand and ask permission to go and drink, but I felt embarrassed.
Everyone was listening with such concentration, how could I dare
I went on suffering my pains. Raising my hand slightly served
to show me that it was trembling. I put it to my cheek, and
immediately it caught fire. Could I have a fever? Was I sick? The
thought flashed through my mind. But why? How did I get sick
so suddenly? All through the winter I had been well, not even
catching cold once. And now that summer was almost here - to
become so ill, so fast?
As if in a dream, I heard the voice of the mechanechet:
"Tammi, do you feel alright?"
I shook my head no. Suddenly it was hard for me to
speak... the feeling was terrible. The mechanechet came over to my
desk. "Your face is very flushed, Tammi," she said. "Maybe you
have a fever?"
"Maybe," I managed to mutter. "I'm hot... and cold..." My
teeth were chattering.
"Do you want to go home?" she asked with genuine concern.
"Drink..." I whispered.
She sent Ednah to bring a cup of water. I gulped the whole
cup down immediately, feeling that I had room inside for six
more cups easily. But the terrible thirst stopped.
The mechanechet put her hand on my forehead, and her face
became serious. "You have a high fever," she said. "You'd better
go home. Do you live far away?"
"No. Five minutes, walking slow." I felt better enough to be
able to get out a whole sentence.
"Can you go by yourself, or do you want someone to go
"Thanks. I'll manage by myself. I don't need anyone to go
with me." I knew how much the girls loved the mechanechets
lesson, and I didn't want to cause any of them the pain of
missing it for my sake. Besides, I was sure I would be O.K.
without help. I got up, put my notebook and writing things
into my briefcase, and turned to leave. Behind me I heard a
number of voices wishing me a speedy recovery, but at that
moment I didn't register the words. Everything around me was
When I got home, the first thing I did was to throw down
my briefcase in the middle of the kitchen and head straight for
the water faucet. I drank big gulps straight from the tap, not
even bothering to grab a cup. Perhaps hot tea would have been
better for me, but no one was home, and at that moment I was
incapable of planning and executing such a complicated project
as preparing a cup of tea.
When I had quenched my thirst, I stepped over my briefcase,
which lay abandoned in the middle of the kitchen floor, and
ran to my room. A moment's quick thought persuaded me that
since I was trembling with cold, my one blanket wouldn't be
adequate, even though it was a down quilt, since we hadn't yet
changed to our summer blankets. Withought thinking, without
trying to figure out how in my present condition I was capable
of doing such a thing, I ran to the boys room, pulled Arik's
and Boaz blankets off their beds and, dragging them along
the floor, one in each hand, attempted to get to my room as
fast as I could. I spread the three blankets on my bed and
got under them with my clothes and shoes still on. I closed
my eyes, and the nightmare began. A terrible shaking gripped
my whole body, so strong that I couldn't stop it. I felt that
my body was jumping and jerking on the bed, and I had no
control over my movements. My teeth knocked together loudly,
my heart beat wildly. But worst of all were the terrible pains
in my back. What horrible disease had attacked me?
Gradually I calmed down. The blankets warmed me, and
the shaking almost completely ceased. All that remained was a
shuddering, not especially strong, that came every few minutes. I
"Tammi, you're home?" I heard my mother's voice as if
muffled. The door of my room opened, but I didn't have strength
to stick even the tip of my nose out from under the blankets. I
was afraid that the moment I did so I would again be gripped
by those waves of chills and quaking, and the very thought
horrified me. At present I felt warm. Very warm, too warm
- but that was better than my previous suffering.
"What happened, Tammi?" my mother cried out. "You're
here, in the bed?"
"Yes," I answered weakly, not even sure if my mother could
hear me through the three layers of blanket. Apparently she
did hear, for immediately I felt a cool hand - cool, at least,
compared to mine - sliding gently under the covers and feeling
my forehead. She quickly withdrew it and went out of the room.
Before I could count to ten, she returned with a thermometer.
"I'm sorry, Tammi," she said softly, "You'll have to put
your head out from under the blanket. I want to take your
temperature. If I do it under the blanket it won't be accurate,
because it will measure the temperature of the space between the
blanket and the bed... besides, when you're completely covered
the fever might go to your head, and that wouldn't be good
Slowly, bit by bit, I lowered the blanket, but only to my chin,
and took the thermometer in my mouth. Mother stood by me
silently and waited. After three minutes she took the thermometer
out of my mouth and looked at it, and her face showed worry.
"How do you feel?" she asked me.
"Better than before," I answered.
She didn't answer, and I couldn't understand her strange
silence. "Do I have a fever?" I finally asked. I wasn't sure
anymore. My mother's face was unexpressive.
At my question, a small, serious smile ruffled her lips. "Yes,"
she answered, "such a high temperature it's a wonder it didn't
break the thermometer. Does anything hurt you?"
I began feeling the pains in my back once again, and said so.
My head also felt heavy.
"The feeling of heavy-headedness is from the high fever,"
my mother explained. "As for the back pains - that's one of the
symptoms of flu."
"What's my temperature?" I asked?
At first she tried to avoid giving me an answer. "What
difference does it make?" she said, "It's really not important!"
But in the end I managed to pry out of her that I had a
temperature of 104! That was an all-time record-breaker in my
life until now. No wonder I felt so bad.
The doctor was kind enough to come to the house to see
me. "I see that you already have experience, Mrs. Har-el,"
she said with a heavy Russian accent. "Your diagnosis was
correct. Tammi has the flu. She must stay in bed. No school for
at least a week." All the same, she referred me to the clinic
for a number of tests, "just to make sure everything is alright."
She prescribed a couple of medicines for "our emergency case."
I knew I wouldn't be touching them, since they were designed
to bring down fever and relieve pain, things that it's best not to
take medicine for. Then, wearing an expression of importance,
she took leave of us.
When she had gone, I sighed with relief. My fever was still
high, but it didn't disturb me as it had before. The turmoil in
my body had subsided. I lay calmly on my back and stared at
the ceiling. Light and dark spots danced gaily in front of me,
leaping, swirling and hurting my eyes. I closed them, and
suddenly my heart skipped a beat. Anat! What was happening
with Anat? When would I be able to see her again? With my
own ears I had heard the doctor say that I was contagious and
my friends could not visit me until I was better. When would the
fever go down? I wanted to see Anat! Had she come back to
Jerusalem at all? And when I would see her - what would she
have to tell me? Wordlessly I prayed for her father.
The next four days will always be a blur in my memory.
I slept a lot, but it was not a restful sleep, for I would wake
up from it only to feel even more strongly those terrible pains
in my back. I couldn't lie down, couldn't sit up, and certainly
couldn't stand. I was stuck in bed. Every two and a half minutes
- maybe more often - I had to change to a different position,
which always turned out to be not much better than the one
before. I blessed sleep when it came, though the pains didn't stop
even in my sleep.
On Shabbat night I began to feel much better - actually,
the improvement had already been noticeable on Friday, when my
mother suggested that I take a shower in honor of Shabbat. At first
the idea frightened me, and I hesitated. But then I heard a critical
voice within me say: "Really, why not?" As soon as I showed
willingness to listen to that voice, I suddenly felt a current
of energy that steadily - but rapidly! - spread through my
tormented, sick limbs. All at once I said to myself: "Stop thinking
you're sick! I'm healthy, healthy, healthy! I have strength - a
lot of strength! And now I'm getting up to take a shower!"
I gathered all the strength I didn't know I had, and suddenly
sat up in bed. At first my head was spinning a little, but
it quickly found its place - on my shoulders - and settled
down. The next step was already easier. I got out of bed and
walked around a little, at first in my own room, but afterwards
going to to visit the boys in their room. "Tammi got up! Tammi
got out of bed!" my brothers greeted me with cries of excited
happiness. It was worth having been sick, just to hear them and
see their joy...
After the shower I was already three-fourths well. On
Shabbat night I sat at the table with the rest of the family, I
had even insisted on getting dressed in my Shabbat clothes.
"Mother," I said during the Shabbat meal, "Have you heard
anything from Anat?"
My mother's forehead wrinkled. "It's really strange!" she
said. "She didn't phone at all... I think every one of your friends
called, except for Anat."
My friends, who had been forbidden to visit me in person,
had phoned all during the afternoons. Since I couldn't get out
of bed, my mother had answered the phone. She had thanked
each one for her wishes for a speedy recovery, and reassured
them that my condition was not serious.
"And no one said anything about Anat?"
"That's good," I murmured. "It's a sign that the situation is
not so terrible..." But maybe they were afraid to tell the truth?
No one is happy to be a bearer of bad tidings... I shook off those
thoughts and joined into the Shabbat songs.
The next day, Shabbat morning, Chagit came to visit me.
"I wanted to visit before," she apologized, "but your mother
didn't allow me. She said you would probably feel better on
Shabbat and I could visit you. I told the other girls, so it
looks like you'll be having a lot of visitors." Chagit was
still working in my parents store, and was very satisfied there.
My parents, too, were very happy with her efficient help.
From Chagit I learned that Anat had not yet come back to
"Your desk looks strange without the two of you," she said.
"Every teacher that came into the class threw a glance at your
place and immediately asked: 'Where are Tammi and Anat?' They
thought you were both absent for the same reason..."
I didn't tell anyone in the class about the accident. "Do you
know why Anat went home?" I asked, trying to find out what, if
anything, Chagit knew.
"Yes. Peninah phoned her house, and we found out that
her father is sick. You knew about it, right?" She took it for
granted that I was up-to-date on everything that happened with
Chagit, and the other girls, didn't know exactly what had
happened. Anat hadn't given any details about her father's illness.
I bit my lip and with a supreme effort held myself back from
telling everything I knew. If Anat didn't want to give details, she
must have her reasons.
Shabbat passed pleasantly. Only after having tasted the taste
of sickness could I appreciate the blessing of health, I understand
how much I had to thank the Holy One, Blessed is He, for every
single minute that I was healthy.
Chagit told me the news of the class. Nothing special had
happened, but it was pleasant to hear. All of a sudden, as we
talked, I became aware that Chagit was very involved in the life
of the class. That was something that could not have been said
five months previously. Then she had sat off to the side, isolated
from the other girls, trying to get attention through her antics. I
smiled to myself.
"What made you smile suddenly?" Chagit wondered.
At first I felt uncomfortable, but in the end, after insistent
requests on her part, I acquiesced and told her what had gone
through my mind. She listened soberly to my words.
"You're right," she said in a quiet voice after I had finished.
"I decided to turn over a new leaf... three people are responsible
for the change: you, your mother, and Anat. I owe a debt
of thanks to all three of you for the change that I've gone
through... excuse me, to four, not three. The fourth is-my own
splendiferous self!" She smiled mischievously. "After all, if it
weren't for me and my will-power, I wouldn't have been able to
change the former situation in the slightest."
I was glad to see that deep inside she was the same girl, gay
and full of humor as always, but now these qualities had been
turned in a positive direction.
"Anat was the one who put me on the right road," she went
on thinking out loud. "Through your merit, because you were the
only one who took a serious interest in me... who thought about
me once in a while." She fell silent for a moment. "I'll never
forget Anat's words, when she explained to me the importance
of my being Jewish, a daughter of the Jewish people. Ever since
that conversation, I'm filled with joy whenever I recall: 'I'm
Jewish!' And that is not just a one-time event, it's a reality that
continues every single minute. So there's no limit to the joy and
satisfaction... and your mother - may she be well! - She helps
and encourages me so much..."
"Anat is no ordinary girl," she said thoughtfully, changing
the subject. "Just show me anyone else like her..."
I thought for a minute, and then declared: "There isn't
"It's very interesting. You must know everything about her,"
she said, studying me closely.
I couldn't lie to her. "Not everything, but a lot," I answered.
I felt a little uncomfortable talking about my friend in her
absence. What if Chagit should become curious and ask me
what else I knew?
"Don't worry, I'm not going to ask any more," she reassured
me, and changed the subject.
During that Shabbat other friends came to visit me - all the
girls from the dorm, as well as those who lived near my house.
When we saw that a respectable quorum of our class were at my
house we decided - with my mother's permission - to have the
Se'udah Shiishit meal together. We borrowed a few extra loaves
of challah from neighbors, and my friends mobilized to set the
table and serve the meal. As for me, they sat me in a place of
honor and didn't allow me to lift a finger. I sat and watched
them silently. As they sliced, chopped, set out, and garnished,
they chattered and laughed gaily. In those moments, when all my
good friends were with me, it bothered me very much that my
one friend was missing - Anat.
The sun slowly descended, hiding itself behind the mountains.
A slight, pleasant breeze ruffled the curtains and approached
me, blowing on my cheek as if, wanting to wake me up and
return me to life. Even stronger than the breeze were the
shadows of evening, as they began to penetrate the room, I felt
my heart fill with fierce longing for Anat's presence.
Right after my father recited Havdalah over a cup of wine,
I went to the telephone. I felt that I had to call and find out
what was happening with Anat! Before I could lift the phone, it
rang. "Whoever that's for, try and make it short!" I proclaimed,
"I have an urgent call to make." Then I picked up the phone and
"Anat! How did you know I was just picking up the
telephone to call you?"
"I didn't know. How are you, Tammi? I understand you're
"You knew I was sick?" I was surprised.
"Of course I knew! Our friends told me. That's why I
didn't try calling; I knew anyway you wouldn't be answering the
phone... especially since I didn't have good news to tell..."
"And what is the situation now, Anat?" I waited tensely for
"Thank G-d, there's been some improvement." She sighed.
"That's why I called - to let you know. I thought you would be
Anat told me that her father had lain unconscious for five
days in critical condition. The doctors said that his chances of
regaining consciousness were slight. They were doubtful whether
it was possible to save his life. Anat's mother was so hysterical
that she, too, had to be hospitalized. Elitzur's family were
constantly at his bedside. Anat, too, spent most of her time in
the hospital-and I had thought I was suffering greatly when
I was sick... Anat undoubtedly had suffered much more than I
had, even though she herself was perfectly healthy.
"On Shabbat morning my father came to," Anat told me
the good news. "He is very weak, but managed to talk a little.
He remembers that he was driving to pick up my mother at
the airport, and that he was very excited. He made a right turn,
and that's where his memory ends. Apparently he didn't notice
a delivery truck that was just coming around the corner, and
it ran into him-we hope he'll recover quickly now that he has
I wholeheartedly seconded the hope.
"When will I see you, Anat?" I asked.
"It looks like I'll be coming to school tomorrow," she replied,
"but as soon as school's over I'll go home. Until my father
recovers, or at least improves significantly, I won't be living in
the dorm. I'll be travelling back and forth every day."
"Too bad," I said. "I won't be able to see you tomorrow.
I don't think the doctor will let me go back to school yet.
There's no comparison between how I feel now and how I felt
before, but I'm still not completely recovered. I've still got a little
We both were silent.
"It's not so terrible, Anat." I overcame my feelings and
pretended to be cheerful, since I didn't want to make her feel
bad. "I'll try to get better as fast as I can, and you - don't you
worry about me... don't feel bad that you can't visit me. For sure
you father is more important than me and takes precedence..." I
abruptly finished talking, because I didn't know at what point my
voice might betray me - even though I knew what I was saying
was true, and meant it sincerely.
"Even if you hadn't said it, I have no other choice." Anat's
tone was quiet and deliberate. "In any case, I'm glad you feel as
At 9:30 Wednesday morning I heard a light knock on the
door. My parents were at work and my brothers at school,
so I was alone in the house. The doctor had not yet given
me permission to go back to school.
There at the door stood Anat.
"I decided to miss class today and come to visit you," she
informed me. "We haven't seen each other for a long time."
I was very happy about the unexpected visit, but at the same
time a little surprised. It wasn't like Anat to act like that... there
must be some hidden reason why she had come to me instead
of to class. I consoled myself that the reason would probably
become evident almost immediately.
"When did you arrive?" I wanted to know.
"Just now. I came straight to you."
"It's really nice of you..."
The conversation began to sound too artificial to me.
"How is your father?" I asked after we had sat down.
"Thank G-d, the same. There's been no change for the worse,
and although the situation is not extremely encouraging, it's not
"What do the doctors say?"
"They don't promise anything."
"With G-d's help your father will get well!" I said confidently.
Boaz had recovered, and so had Chedvah's father... why should
Anat's father be any different from them?
"G-d willing." And again she fell silent. Her mood seemed
I looked into Anat's eyes and said in a low voice: "Anat,
you want to tell me something. Why are you hesitating?"
"It's hard for me. You're right that I want to tell you... I
would have been surprised if you hadn't sensed it..." She took a
deep breath and began. "Yesterday evening I visited my father in
the hospital. No one was with him except me. I told you not long
ago that since he had done teshuvah my father had begun to act
strangely, especially when he saw me. Since he came out of his
coma, I've seen him a number of times, and to my surprise
he started acting towards me as he used to - with affection,
with friendliness. The shadow disappeared from his eyes, and I
thought that you had been right in your guess that he had been
upset because of worry about the reunion with my mother. When
he saw that his fears were not so justified, he calmed down...
"Yesterday evening I sat by him and we talked. I tried to
turn his thoughts to happy subjects.
" 'When you get better. Father, we'll have a special party to
give thanks to Hashem.'
" 'When I get better,' he murmured, echoing me. I ignored
the dark overtones of his expression, and continued:
" 'After that we'll all go on a trip, the three of us, you and
mother and I...'
" 'Where will we go?' He looked at me curiously.
" 'To America.' I talked in a rush, trying to sound natural.
Perhaps because of the blow to his head, my father had forgotten
many things - including our plans for the summer? 'At first,' I
continued, 'the plan was that just Mother and I would go, since
it wasn't possible for you to get any more leave from your
work. But now I'm sure they'll let you have time off for your
recovery... it will be much nicer to travel with you and Mother,
the whole family together."
" 'Why do you want to go to America?' my father was
interested to know. 'If I know my daughter, it seems to me that
she's a lover of Eretz Israel!
" 'That's the truth,' I confirmed, 'But of course you
remember...' I spoke cautiously. As I mentioned, we weren't
sure yet whether he had completely regained his powers of recall,
and I was afraid his self-confidence might be damaged if he
discovered that his memory was betraying him. 'I'm sure you
remember that I have something important to take care of there,
"He thought for a long moment, and suddenly his expression
became disturbed, as if something was clouded for him... slowly
the cloudiness cleared from his eyes and they gleamed strangely
- as if a memory woke up that until now had been asleep within
him. 'You're referring to Maggie...' he said very slowly, in a
totally lifeless tone of voice.
" 'Yes, that's right, Father.' I tried to sound cheerful, not to
show my fears at the worrisome signs. 'You don't object anymore
to Maggie's coming to our house, right? You understand how
important it is to save her and return her to the Jewish people...'
I was confident that, now that my father had done teshuvah,
he would feel the same as I did on this subject, and would
be an enthusiastic partner in accomplishing the task I had taken
"I was very astonished when I perceived that his reaction
was completely different from what I had expected. He ignored
my words, acting as if he hadn't heard, and it seemed to me
that his thoughts were a-sail on distant seas, very far from
mine... he answered my words in half sentences, with disconnected
phrases... finally he asked me gently to leave the room, because
he wanted to sleep... to show that he was sincere, he closed
his eyes. Although I had no doubt that he didn't intend to
sleep, I fulfilled his request and went out. Since his eyes were
closed, he didn't see me go onto the enclosed balcony of his room.
A heavy curtain separated the balcony from the room, and I stood
concealed there. Evening had started to fall, against the darkening
background my silhouette wasn't noticeable. I leaned against the
railing and sank into thought. My heart beat wildly - I felt
with undeniable certainty that my father was hiding something
"My mother came into my father's room. I didn't see her, just
heard her voice. My father answered her question, and that simply
confirmed what I had already known - that he had no intention
of sleeping when he asked me to leave the room. It was my
presence that disturbed him! I began to cry in a low voice
which could not be heard in the room. I tried to stop my tears,
to quiet my stormy emotions, but without success. I decided
to stay on the balcony until I calmed down - to avoid the
cross-examination my parents would subject me to if they saw
that I had been crying.
"At first my parents talked in an undertone, but gradually
their voices rose and I could clearly hear their words - which
were very surprising to me, and extremely painful.
" 'We must tell Anat,' my father argued in a weak voice.
'It's impossible to let the situation continue like this! Who knows
what the future holds? She has to know the truth!'
" 'Under no circumstances!' my mother insisted adamantly.
'Do you want to make your daughter miserable?'
" 'Yes, she's my daughter! And I love her so much, my
only daughter... oh!' My father's sigh broke my heart. I almost
burst into the room, but suddenly heard him crying softly,
and was riveted to my place, stunned. My father was weeping!
It was the first time in my life I had heard him do that.
What was the great secret that my mother was hiding from me,
and that caused my father such intense emotions?
"After a few minutes he calmed down, and I again heard his
voice, which trembled somewhat.
" 'Jenny... if I'm forced to, I'll do it... I'll tell Anat myself... but
you should know that it will harm me and hasten my end.'
"At that point my mother began to cry. 'I can't... no... how
could I tell her? She'll be so miserable!'
"Silence again prevailed, and then it seemed that my father
reached a decision. He said in a relatively calm and quiet voice:
" 'I feel. Jenny, that I don't have much more time to live. It's
true the doctors say my condition has improved, but I sense that
my days are numbered. No, don't cry. It's better for you that way.
You know what I'm talking about. We wouldn't be able to go
on living together once I returned to the way in which I was
brought up in my youth... and it's better for me, too. Maybe
in this way I'll atone for my many sins. It's only Anat who
gives me no peace... but I'll see to it that the matter is taken care
of, and she will know everything!'
"My weeping burst out uncontrollably. How could my father
talk that way, and just when we thought his condition was
"Very quietly I opened the door that connected the balcony
of his room to the balcony of the adjoining room. In this way I
slipped from balcony to balcony, until I reached the first one in
the row. My eyes were clouded with tears. I stared at the
floor so as not to attract attention, but that made it hard for
me to see the people who passed me in the corridor, and I
kept bumping into them... I mumbled 'Pardon me,' apologizing
in all directions. People looked at me pityingly. Who knows
what they thought on seeing a weeping girl walking through the
hospital corridor. Outside, I hailed a taxi, which took me straight
home. There I closed myself in my room, in my bed, hid my face
under the pillow and... you can picture to yourself what I went
through..." Anat looked at me dry-eyed. Could it be that she
had cried so much that the wellspring of her tears had dried
up? I nodded my head sympathetically.
"When, late in the evening, my mother came up to my room
and called my name, I didn't answer. I pretended to be asleep. She
went out. Only towards dawn did I fall asleep. I'm so confused,
and tired, and upset, and even... frightened! And the worst of
it is that I can't ask anyone. I heard with my own ears those
terrible words of my father - that by telling me, he would
hasten his end. And I can't ask my mother, either. For one
thing, she doesn't want me to know the secret, and she's so sad
and worried, fearing for Father. What should I do, Tammi? I
don't know where to turn! I can't concentrate on anything! I
couldn't go to school today. There's a geography test, as I'm
sure you know, but how can I take a test when my thoughts are
wandering completely elsewhere? So I came to you."
I was in a very frustating position. I wanted to help Anat, but
had no idea how. Her problem was too heavy for me, altogether
beyond my control. More than that - it was way beyond my
comprehension. We were confronted - Anat and I - with
a mystery that we had to try to solve ourselves, with our
own resources, without turning to those who had the ability to
clear it up for us.
Anat released me from my predicament.
"Don't think, Tammi, that I expect you to solve my problem
for me. I realize that you don't know any better than I where
to turn. The meaning of all this will become clear only with
time, when my parents decide to tell me. But in the meantime,
it's so hard for me! It's good that I have a friend with
whom I can share what I'm going through. If I were alone, I
wouldn't be able to stand the psychological strain."
"Altogether, Anat" - the words slipped out of my mouth
without preparation - "lately you're so different from the Anat
I knew at the beginning of the year... when I met you, you were
a calm, quiet girl, everything you did was deliberate, settled,
balanced and well-considered... sometimes I even thought you
were too cool and indifferent... and suddenly you've changed so
Anat trembled a little. "I know, Tammi," she whispered in an
agonized voice, "and that change worries me. I don't know what's
happened to me... ever since that day when I found out that I
have a sister - Maggie - whose existence my parents had
hidden from me... I think that at that point I began to lose
my trust in them. And that fact has shaken my psychological
condition... I've become more suspicious, seeing everything as if
through a magnifying glass. Something is storming inside me,
inside, anything out of the ordinary that happens makes me tense
and nervous. I'm always wound up tight and ready to spring, like
someone before battle. All my mental and emotional powers
are primed and on alert as if... as if something terrible is about
to happen! I'm afraid..." Her voice became almost inaudible,
as if she was unwilling for her own ears to hear such terrible
words. "I'm afraid that unless the situation changes, I could have
a nervous breakdown!"
I wanted to say, "Don't talk nonesense, Anat. Things like
that don't happen to little girls." But I didn't say it. Without
replying, I got up, went to the cupboard, and took the two
mandolins from their places, mine and Anat's. She preferred to
keep her mandolin at my house, since we always played together,
and usually in my room.
A sad smile - but a smile! - somewhat lit up Anat's face.
"It will be hard for me to get into the mood," she said, "but
when I begin to play, that will be the best medicine for me... thank
She held the mandolin in both hands, tuning it with slow
movements. With a distracted expression in her eyes she passed
her fingers over the strings, which gave out hoarse, broken,
"I just wanted to tell you, Tammi," she said, looking
into my eyes, "I've thought about this a lot... I'm sure you
remember, when the history teacher refused to postpone my
test... we were both very angry with her... I said to you then that
it wasn't the teacher who refused me, it was the Holy One,
Blessed is He, Who put the words into her mouth. I also said
then, that it was difficult to perceive what was good about
it..." She was in a very intense emotional state, taking short,
rapid breaths. "Just imagine, Tammi, if I had received that
longed-for permission to miss the test and had been driving with
my father to the airport..."
The very idea made me shudder. Why hadn't I thought of
that? It was the hand of Providence that had prevented Anat
from going-probably it had saved her life.
"The heavens are watching over you, Anat." I hurried
to take advantage of the moving revelation. "The Holy One,
Blessed is He, is not going to let anything bad happen to
you." I was referring to her earlier words about a nervous
She smiled, apparently catching the allusion.
We played the mandolins together, singing quietly as well.
I saw how Anat's countenance gradually became clear. Serenity
and calm enveloped her. Her eyes became dreamy, her whole
expression was like that of an infant with nothing to disturb
its rest. Once again, as countless times before, I gave thanks
to the Holy One, Blessed is He, for having created something
that could calm Anat.
The days passed one after the other with no significant
change. I recovered from my illness and returned to school.
Anat's father remained bed-ridden. His condition did not show
improvement, but neither did it get worse. He was released
from the hospital and taken to his home, where he remained
under constant medical supervision. We continued praying for
his recovery and hoping for the best. Anat came to school
every day. On some days, she went home immediately after
school, on others, she slept at the dorm. On rare occasions,
she stayed overnight at my house. The teachers understood
her situation and were not overly strict with her. To Anat's
credit, it must be said that she did not try to take advantage
of the teachers consideration to her. She studied more or less
as usual, doing homework and taking tests. It was not for
nothing that the teachers trusted her, relating to her differently
from how they treated any other girl. They had come to know
her, and realized that Anat would not make use of her special
privileges except when there was no choice.
During these days, except for the infrequent times when
Anat stayed at my house, I was hardly ever alone with her.
During the breaks, at least half the class would crowd around
her, asking how her father was, probing, inquiring, encouraging,
reassuring - and so it went until the bell would ring for the next
Chedvah, Peninah, and Chagit in particular formed ties with
her. They never stirred from our desk. Chedvah, who not long ago
had undergone a similar experience, felt it her duty to strengthen
Anat's confidence that her father would indeed make a rapid
recovery. She unfolded the story of the many years during which
her own father had been blind, told about the situation of her
family - especially dwelling on the description of her own
feelings - and then went on to relate the incident of her father's
fateful fall. In vivid language she painted before our eyes the
shock that had overcome her family, the worry and sorrow
that had befallen them during the days when her father lay
unconscious. Her story reached its climax when she described
- and this was the part she loved best to tell, and repeated
it again and again - how her father had opened his eyes
and asked Chedvah's mother innocently: "Who are those two
girls standing next to you?"
"Your father will also get better, Anat!" Chedvah would
declare enthusiastically, while the rest of the girls murmured their
Anat's reaction was restrained. Sometimes she would nod
and say, "Yes," or "Certainly," or "With G-d's help" - and
that was all. She, who knew the full gravity of her father's
condition, could only hope for a miracle to restore him to health.
The doctors, too, didn't try to conceal the fact that there was no
improvement in the patient's condition, and that medical science
could do nothing for him.
Chagit and Peninah did not talk much, but they tried in
every way possible to ease Anat's burden. Almost silently, without
realizing it, they competed with each other to help Anat. They
hardly ever left her side, constantly on the lookout for some
opportunity to encourage her. Such opportunities were rare, but
Chagit and Peninah both still felt obligated to Anat - each
in her own way. They tried in whatever way they could to
repay her, if only in some small degree, for her kindness to
As for me, I knew that all this commotion around her only
disturbed Anat. If anyone had asked her, she certainly would
have replied that the biggest help they could give her would
be to leave her to herself. There was no doubt that during
these difficult days she needed her friends' encouragement and
their demonstrations of affection - but she would have preferred
that these be expressed in a more restrained manner.