Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

4 Nissan 5765 - April 13, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







A Fateful Mistake

By Rachel Gil

Fiction for the Pesach season

Naftali Reichenberg's beeper sounded loudly in his pocket. Naftali's foot was still on the gas when he picked up the small screen and quickly read the message: "Bnei Brak, 6 HaNeviim St., Cohen Family. Boy bleeding from a head injury after a fall."

Naftali, known as Tuli, was used to sudden calls that disrupted his busy day. He knew that today would be no different. All other urgent matters would have to be pushed aside. The Shabbos shopping, which was always pushed off to the last minute, would have to wait a little longer. And his wife? Naftali was sure that she would forgive him after she heard what happened. She was used to dealing quietly with his sudden disappearances after the beeping — anytime, night or day. She was used to waiting at the Shabbos table laden with every kind of delicacy. Tuli's wife had accepted a long time ago that the hot soup would get cold and the children would become restless. Without complaint Shuli, his wife, would finish whatever task her husband had started before the beeper sounded.

Tuli hesitated for one second. Maybe he should let the other volunteers handle this emergency. After all, the number of volunteers had recently grown a lot. Should he continue on his way like nothing happened?

In his mind Tuli pictured the frantic boy and his hysterical mother desperately trying to stop the bleeding with a makeshift bandage. Everyday occurrences for a medic, yet Tuli still couldn't help being moved by them. Especially since his proximity to the location meant that going required very little effort whatsoever. "35 is on the way," Tuli confidently announced into the walkie-talkie lying on the seat next to him. He skillfully passed a hesitating driver, made an impressive sharp left and turned on his siren, full- volume. Tuli felt that he made the right choice.

The red light was still blinking on Tuli's car when he pulled his first-aid supplies and oxygen balloon from his trunk and rushed up the stairs to the old apartment building. He stopped at the second floor next to a simple wooden door that bore a sign saying "Cohen". No one was waiting for him at the door; everything was unusually quiet. Tuli's loud knocking brought no response. The stillness was strange for a situation like this. The quiet rang in his ears in place of the expected cries for help. As a last effort, Tuli reached for the doorbell, causing a loud noise to shake the walls and, apparently, the house's inhabitants.

"Who's there?" It was the first sign of life Tuli heard from the apartment. Tuli recognized the voice as that of an older man. It resonated with hope. Why wasn't he opening the door? "Come in, come in," urged the tired voice as if it were self- understood that the visitor should enter without being told. The door squeaked on its hinges in response to Tuli's touch. It's creaking matched the voice of the apartment's unknown occupant.

"Is it you, Dovid?" Tuli heard the man's voice laden with expectation. "It's about time that you came to visit old Grandpa Baruch . . . like in the good old days."

Tuli froze. His first-aid kit was still dangling from his shoulder, its weight bothering him. For a minute the paramedic felt silly carrying all his equipment. It dawned on him that he had come to the wrong address. "Come in. What's stopping you?" The tired voice urged Tuli to enter. "Grandpa Baruch doesn't like to wait a lot, you know . . . "

Tuli put his bag down carefully and made his way down the narrow, dimly lit hall towards the impatient voice. He quickly realized that crossing the short distance would take longer than expected due to the objects strewn across the floor and the cheap lighting that did little to repel the darkness.

Tuli's legs made their way around boxes full of old books and newspapers. The floor was covered with reeking clothing as well as various and sundry objects that had long ago become unidentifiable. A package of tissues lay next to a pair of torn socks that had somehow rolled away.

Despite the poor lighting, it was impossible not to notice the thick layers of dust that covered everything. The dust penetrated Tuli's nose and threatened to enter his sensitive lungs. He tried to prevent the upcoming sneeze, but it overpowered him. Tuli knew that this was a bad sign. A sneezing attack would soon follow. Tuli was not on good terms with dust, especially when it was concentrated in a small area and in such large amounts. He forced himself not to retreat at the sight of the two large, overflowing bags of garbage that blocked his path. Who could possibly live in such filth? How did the situation manage to get so bad?

"Dovid," called the man, more impatiently this time. "How much time does it take to get over here? There's only one room," he uttered hoarsely, "It's impossible to get lost."

But it's so possible to get stuck, thought the disheartened Tuli. This path is both the shortest and longest that I've ever walked in my life.

"Is it you, Dovid?" The face was wrinkled, full of suffering and framed by a thin beard. The man's gaze appeared confused. He lay in a high iron-framed bed. The springs creaked and moaned under his movements. Grandpa Baruch, as he called himself, sat up to get a better look at his visitor. "Why are you standing there doing nothing?"

The reprimand was sharp. "It looks like you haven't been here in ages. Don't you know that I need my glasses to see you? Without them I'm completely blind. I don't hear well, no matter what, but at least I have glasses to improve my vision. Get moving."

The old man continued to issue commands while Tuli stood there rooted to the ground. "It's true you haven't been here in a very long time, but I forgive you. You deserted me for whatever reason. You stopped coming. Maybe I made trouble, but I promise you that from now on you'll be happy that you came. You know that I don't have anyone besides you." The old man continued scolding.

Tuli hesitated. He felt like a small, helpless child stuck in a quandary. On the one hand, he couldn't leave the old man without explaining his sudden disappearance. On the other hand, he was on his way to a place where they desperately needed his help. And, on top of everything else, the shopping for Shabbos wouldn't magically get done by itself.

"Is there an injured boy here," he asked, feeling like a complete idiot. No other question came to him at the moment. After all, he came to help a little boy and that's why the dispatcher sent him.

"An injured boy? What came over you?" replied the old man angrily. "Don't tell me that you're becoming a little senile at your age, like me. Sometimes I trip over my own two feet . . . but there's no boy here. I almost forgot what a boy is. My only son left me long ago; you know that."

The old man sighed, accepting the situation. "It's also not such a bad thing," said the man to himself. With shaking hands, he placed thick glasses over small, pale-colored eyes. "I see it's impossible to rely on you these days."

"I'm sorry," Tuli replied, knowing that standing in one place for so long made him look ridiculous. He tried to move a step forward, but couldn't make his legs cooperate. "Apparently I . . . "

"Don't be sorry. It's Grandpa Baruch that has to be sorry now." From the other side of the room the man gave him an appraising look. With glasses, he appeared a little more in control of things. He stood up and steadied himself. Tuli thought that Grandpa Baruch looked much younger than when he was lying in the bed with the tangled sheets.

"You know," said the old man, making his way closer to Tuli. "I thought you were Dovid, my former helper. A good neighbor arranged for him to come help me and to keep me company. Sometimes I can't manage the shopping. Taking care of the house is especially hard."

He pointed in despair to the mess around him. Next to his bed stood a large collection of disposable cups filled with some unidentifiable liquid. Cookies had turned into a foul mush at his bedside. Tuli felt his stomach churning. He tried to stop the sneezing fit that threatened to begin. "We were friends, Dovid and I."

It was apparent in the old man's voice that he wasn't checking to see if his guest was listening or not. His quiet presence was enough. "But it seems that the friendship was one-sided, because one day Dovid disappeared into thin air, leaving me with all this mess. He didn't even say anything — just left me as lonely and helpless as before."

Grandpa Baruch let out a heart-wrenching sigh. "No one ever comes here . . . " The old man talked quickly as if his allotted time would run out before he'd manage to finish talking. "Sometimes I'm so bored that I even start to talk to myself. Shaul, the neighbor from upstairs, comes down once in a while. He brings cookies, milk and bread. He's not a spring chicken either. His wife also passed away many years ago, just like mine. But at least Shaul has children who care for him, who visit sometimes.

"My son Gavriel, he should live and be well, forgot about his elderly father long ago. He never sets foot here. He thinks too highly of himself. Gavriel doesn't care about anyone. Ever since his mother died, he's been trying to find his niche, that's what he said. Maybe he'll get married some day and give me a little pleasure. But I'm sure that he ran away in order to be far away from me in order that I shouldn't drive him crazy. I don't even know where he is! So Old Grandpa Baruch lives alone without anyone caring about him at all."

Baruch was standing very close to Tuli now. Despite the old man's hunched back and bent shoulders, Tuli was surprised to see that Baruch was almost as tall as he. They looked at each other eye-to-eye and the old man's sinewy, vein-ridden hand rested hesitantly on Tuli's shoulder. "You know," he said, "when I put on my glasses I thought for a minute that a miracle happened and Gavriel came to visit. Maybe he even remembered that he had an old father somewhere who needed him. But miracles don't happen every day. I just pray that maybe they'll still come someday for old Grandpa Baruch. Maybe, just a minute . . . "

The old man's alert eyes stared at him intently. "If you're not Dovid and you're not Gavriel, then who are you and what are you doing here? I know that I sometimes get a little confused because of my age, but I'm sure that I never saw you before. What are you doing here?"

Grandpa Baruch's hand still rested on Tuli's shoulder. Tuli didn't try to remove it. He understood that the old man was dying for human contact.

"That's exactly what I wanted to tell you," mumbled Tuli. "Only until now I wasn't able to," he added in a softer voice, trying not to hurt the sweet old man's feelings.

Tuli's heart broke seeing the depth of Grandpa Baruch's pain and loneliness. It hurt him to think of the terrible conditions in which Grandpa Baruch lived. Knowing that there was no hope that the situation would improve only made it worse. Tuli felt unexplainably angry at Grandpa Baruch's only son for leaving the old man helpless. The son didn't even arrange for help for his father. Rather, Gavriel left his father in deplorable conditions that endangered his physical and mental health, possibly even shortening the old man's life.

"I have to run," Tuli said as he looked at his watch in alarm. He couldn't believe that he'd spent half an hour in a pointless chat with the old man while so much waited for him outside. He had wasted thirty whole minutes in the apartment. No, thought Tuli when he looked at the suffering old man. It definitely wasn't a waste of time.

"Be ashamed of yourself!" Tuli chastised himself. How could he call this conversation pointless? Isn't it real rescue work to help someone pining for a little companionship and basic human decency?

"Don't go." The old man tried to stop Tuli with a voice arousing pity. Tuli worried that Baruch would soon burst out crying, and knew that he wouldn't be able to stand up to the sight.

"I would stay, sir . . . " Tuli stopped himself mid- sentence.

"You can call me Grandpa Baruch," he replied, exposing two rows of yellow teeth. "Everyone else does. Now please, don't leave me." His rough hand brushed Tuli unintentionally.

"Don't you understand? I've been sick a little recently, been weak, and had foot pain. I haven't been able to go out a lot. I'd usually go to shul, daven, learn a little. I'd do a little shopping, do everything slowly since I have time and no one's waiting for me."

Grandpa Baruch laughed uncomfortably. "But now I've spent a lot of time in bed. I haven't seen anyone in a week. You're the first person that's come by. Don't leave me alone again. I beg you."

Tuli felt his heart melt. He couldn't leave the old man alone like this. How could he return to normal life after this meeting? A meeting that happened completely by mistake.

"I'll come visit," Tuli heard himself promise. "Don't worry. As soon as I have time, I'll come back. I'll also send someone to come clean up a little bit."

Tuli felt that he needed to add something concrete to his promise in order to alleviate the old man's look of accusation.

"G-d bless you!" Grandpa Baruch's face lit up. It appeared that he began to trust Tuli a little more. "Maybe you're my miracle, just maybe." A little hope entered the old man's voice.

Tuli began to make his way towards the door, before the old man could change his mind and try to prevent him from leaving again. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Grandpa Baruch."

Tuli extended his hand in a handshake, his equipment bag already on his shoulder.

"Likewise!" It was difficult for Grandpa Baruch to escort Tuli to the entrance. The older man looked at the paramedic intently as if to remind Tuli of his promise. Grandpa Baruch's light blue eyes didn't leave him, simultaneously demanding and pleading. Those eyes stayed with Tuli even when he left the building and entered his car. Only the persistent noise of his beeper brought him back to a different world.

"There was a mistake in the address," the dispatcher informed Tuli. "You didn't hear the cancellation call?"

"How could I," Tuli wanted to retort. In his rush, he had left the communication devices in the car and thus missed the cancellation notice. When Tuli pressed the black button on his beeper he saw the correction. The correct address was the Cohen Family on 8 Nevi'im Street, very close to the Baruch Cohen that he had just met. One building away but two completely different worlds, thought Tuli. "It wasn't a mistake," Tuli said out loud. "I think I went to just the right place."

A humorous quiet emanated from the dispatcher's side of the walkie-talkie. Tuli's sense of humor was only understandable to him. Tuli felt that he wasn't even able to explain what went on. It's true that Grandpa Baruch didn't need emergency attention as it's commonly understood, but he definitely needed a different kind of rescue, no less urgent.


"Grandpa Baruch, are you there?" Tuli's happy voice filled the small apartment. It even gave the somber, peeling walls a new light. "I have a cheesecake for you. It's out of this world and I know how you like cheesecake."

"Of course," the resonating voice became livelier in Tuli's presence. "It's good you waited until I finished my afternoon nap. Now I have all the time in the world."

In a minute Grandpa Baruch was sitting up, enjoying a piece of the delicious cake. The old man beamed at Tuli. Months had passed since "the mistake" that Grandpa Baruch called "a miracle." Tuli didn't disappoint. He made room in his busy schedule for weekly visits and, as with every other project that Tuli started, he stuck to the visits admirably.

"It's impossible to recognize the place, son." Grandpa Baruch grinned over the cup of tea that Tuli made him. Recently Baruch had taken to calling Tuli "son," and Tuli didn't correct him, as it gave the old man so much pleasure.

"You don't mind?" Grandpa Baruch would always ask after he treated Tuli like a son in place of the one that deserted him.

"You understand, I don't have anyone else besides you in the whole world. At least you could be in place of Gavriel."

Grandpa Baruch could never thank Tuli enough for his weekly visits and the cleaning help that he arranged. He appreciated that someone took care of the ever-returning mess that he somehow managed to make. Tuli's children adopted Grandpa Baruch as their third grandfather. They even came to visit on their own accord.

Words couldn't express the appreciation the old man felt for the new taste of life after so much boredom. In the beginning it was difficult for Baruch to change his ways and to part with the "treasures" that had taken over his crowded living space. But Tuli prevailed. He enlisted his children to clear out the narrow one-room apartment.

In addition, Tuli's sons would arrive as punctually as a Swiss watch to escort Grandpa Baruch to shiurim. The old man would come to gradually accept this, too. Thus Baruch was forced to overcome his tendency to hide behind his own four walls. Grandpa Baruch had found a family at long last. A real family that warmly invited him for Shabbos and holiday meals. Finally Grandpa Baruch found the family that he never had.

Grandpa Baruch felt like a truly free man when Tuli invited him for the Pesach Seder, the first of many. Having Grandpa Baruch was to become a tradition for the Reichenbergs who were known to have many guests.

The old man didn't even want to think about the previous year's Seder. He was fortunate enough to have been hospitalized over the holiday for a severe case of pneumonia. Otherwise he would have probably spent the week alone with his dirty, peeling walls and disgusting floors for lack of an invitation. No one invited Baruch, not even Shaul the neighbor, who was probably too busy debating which of his children's offers to accept. At least Grandpa Baruch was surrounded by other caring Jews in the hospital. There he had a communal Seder. A charitable organization took care of all their food and holiday needs.

"What are you thinking about, Grandpa?" Tuli asked gently. He was used to the old man's retreats into his own private world, used to his changing moods.

"Whatever happened, happened!" The grandfather responded, banging his fist on the rickety wooden table as if it would help to distance the painful memories. "With your help it won't happen again," he said, in a gentler tone. "Now we're going to all leave bondage and become free." Grandpa Baruch smiled hopefully.


The table looked regal, adorned with polished silver, just the way Tuli liked it. Tuli had a weakness for silver and would buy more at any opportunity. His friends helped him fill his display case — it was amazing how much it could hold. The impressive collection was polished in honor of the holiday and it gave a special luxurious feeling to the dining room filled with guests.

Everyone was there. Tuli's in-laws had come from the distant north to spend the entire holiday with their children like every year. Tuli's own parents also planned to stay the week — and of course there was Grandpa Baruch. Tuli made sure that each guest was given comfortable quarters in the family's large house. He also helped each person feel comfortable with the others. Tuli's own children enjoyed the company, thanks to the special attention they received.

"I'm here by accident," Grandpa Baruch was accustomed to say, jokingly. Everyone was familiar with the incident that brought Grandpa Baruch to the Reichenbergs half a year earlier and made Grandpa Baruch a member of the family, a part of them.

"A crucial mistake," agreed Tuli, though no one knew how momentous it would be.

"Careful, Grandpa," Tuli said as the old man started coughing while drinking. He managed to participate through the fourth cup even though it was obvious that the effort made him dizzy. Baruch attempted to finish most of the cup, leaning on the shiny pillow. It had already absorbed quite a few stains from Baruch's previous drinks.

"And it happened at midnight . . . " sang Tuli in the familiar Pesach tune which made Grandpa Baruch smile tiredly.

"Midnight?" Grandpa Baruch had never managed to keep his eyes open that late before. Judging by how tired he felt, Grandpa Baruch thought that it was already morning.

Just then the singing began and, suddenly, the grandfather was completely alert. He listened intently, completely absorbed by the particular way in which the melody was sung, and by the way the words were pronounced. Baruch's gaze became more and more dreamy as he, too, joined in the singing. His rough voice became more melodic than ever before. He sang louder than everyone else without even noticing.

Grandpa Baruch sang ecstatically, transformed. He swayed from side-to-side, not noticing that he had unconsciously lifted his hands up high. Everyone became quiet and watched as Grandpa Baruch sang in dream-like ecstasy. Tuli noticed, suddenly, that he and Grandpa Baruch were the only ones singing in a beautiful harmony. Their voices melted into one, an exceptional outpouring of emotion that touched the soul.

"Grandpa Baruch?" Tuli's tone was fond of the old man who was still immersed in his sweet dream-like state far away from the table and from them.

At that minute Baruch opened his eyes. He looked like he was returning from a distant majestical place. "How do you know that tune?" he asked in a mixture of amazement and trepidation.

Grandpa Baruch didn't wait for an answer; he was still caught up in his own private experience. "That tune has been passed down in my family for generations. I've never heard it sung anywhere. It reminds me of the good old days when I was really free. When I was back with my own family, at my own Seder table. My children . . . " He looked down, inwardly, as if he were going back, there.


Baruch's wife, Tzipporah Cohen, had been an exceptional homemaker and a perfect wife. She had hands of gold and her mark was everywhere. She was a great educator and concentrated her talents on her two children whom she loved dearly. Unfortunately, she was unable to give over everything that she wanted before she became ill at an early age. Her dreams of a large family were never realized and Baruch Cohen was left bereaved and lost after her premature death.

He had been so dependent on Tzipporah that he felt like a tree uprooted. Baruch felt that the responsibility was too great for him to bear. He was unable to get out of his crisis. His eldest was twelve at the time and the youngest was four. The two boys were thrown this way and that, along with their father.

The eldest had been extremely close to his mother and was unable to digest the loss. He remained traumatized for a long time. The little boy was not of the age to get pulled down and remain stuck, but the loss was too great for him, too. Baruch knew that if only he himself had been stronger and had managed to stay above water, everything would have somehow been all right. But he sunk and the house that had formerly been full of spontaneous laughter due to Tzipporah, now became a cold place full of suffering.

Baruch was responsible for the house falling apart. He was responsible for the gloomy atmosphere that prevailed, and he would feel guilty ever after over the destruction of his family.

Apparently someone informed the authorities that the children were walking around neglected and hungry. It was especially difficult for the younger son who desperately needed someone emotionally healthy to look after him as he was only in school a few hours a day. They talked about the father who had ceased to function. Soon a stern-faced social worker appeared at the door and informed Baruch that he would have to place his children, or at least the younger one, in temporary foster care until Baruch could get back on his feet.

Baruch felt the last ounce of strength leave him. He didn't even have the ability to object. "Okay," he agreed in a feeble voice, lacking hope. "At least the children won't suffer. At least they'll start to live, not like me, half- dead."

To Baruch's great surprise they didn't rush to take the children from him. They arranged for the older boy to stay at a nearby dormitory during the week. The younger boy was farther from him, but Baruch didn't have a reason to complain. He knew that in his state he had nothing to give them. Baruch knew that the arrangements were good for them and he hoped that one day he would be able to pick himself up, recover from his terrible loss and reunite the family.

It never happened. The days passed and Baruch felt like a machine on two legs. He lived, breathed, worked and even made Shabbos for the two boys who would come home at the end of the week. Never more than that. No feelings, no excitement, no pleasure in his accomplishments. He was a robot in every way.

He clung desperately to what was still left, hoping to mend the rifts, but to no avail. Baruch couldn't give of himself to his children. Baruch's eldest son always blamed his father for his lost childhood and for the family that he never had. Most of all, Gavriel blamed his father for walking around, listlessly. The embarrassed boy felt abnormal everywhere.

Things could have continued like that forever except that one day the social worker came and informed Baruch that the youngest was being taken away permanently. The boy was nine years old. Apparently the foster family had become really attached to the boy and wanted to make him completely theirs. They didn't want the boy to be somehow connected to a father who was unable to function.

Rina, the sweet-faced social worker, turned out to be as tricky as a snake. She came to Baruch's house almost every day for a week and tried to convince him to sign the adoption papers. It would be in the boy's best interest, she said, to turn Baruch's son into someone else's child even though the latter didn't give birth to him.

"Think of the boy," she would say. "He needs someone permanent to lean on, someone strong. He needs a clear identity. He'll flourish in a family that will be completely his. See for yourself how happy he is."

Baruch's head said yes; his heart said no. He couldn't bear the terrible idea and all the pain it would bring. His own self-interest wouldn't let him sign. Baruch knew that it would be best for the boy — his son was doing so well, even succeeding in school and making friends. The foster family put everything they had into him, their only child.

The child was polite, and brought up well. The boy could only benefit from stability in the future. Besides his purely selfish interests, Baruch didn't have a single good reason why he shouldn't agree.

Baruch suffered from health problems at the time. He felt that he had aged prematurely and knew that that was how his children viewed him. He didn't have anything left to give them. After much wrestling with himself and with the help of the social worker, Baruch signed. Baruch only hoped that one day his son would know of the big sacrifice he made for him.

Baruch signed at a moment of weakness. He would regret signing for the rest of his life. As more and more time passed, the emptiness grew. Baruch knew that he had made a mistake that no father was allowed to make. He tore himself to pieces over giving up his son. Why couldn't he have been stronger and demanded that things continue just the way they were? The middle path was the best one — the adopted family would have a son of their own, and he, too, would retain his boy. But as of the moment he agreed to hand the boy over, the family received a son and he, Baruch, was left with nothing.

Baruch tried to undo the adoption. He begged and pleaded with the social workers. He tried to convince them that he had made a mistake, but it was too late. His son was already overseas with his new parents. Since adoption law didn't require adopted parents to maintain contact, there was nothing the social workers could do. They didn't even know where the new family was living. Baruch was left with his guilt and an older son who turned his back on him and barely even recognized that he was alive.


"Grandpa Baruch?" Someone shook him a little too forcefully and Grandpa Baruch was all too happy to forget the nightmare that had so taken over his life. "Are you okay, Grandpa?" Tuli's kind eyes looked at him, concerned. "I thought you were about to faint. You looked so . . . We've been trying to wake you up for a few minutes already."

"I'm fine." The old man's wrinkled face softened when he saw the circle of worried people around him. "I was only remembering the olden days when I last heard those tunes."

"You never told me that you had another son whom you put up for adoption," Tuli remarked in a shaky voice. "You only talked about Gavriel."

"It's an old sore that I didn't want to open. I guarded the secret with all my might." The man's eyes were moist. "I was embarrassed by what I did. Embarrassed that I signed. More than thirty years have passed and I still haven't talked about it with anyone."

"How do you know the tune that was known only to my family?" Grandpa Baruch repeated his earlier question.

Tuli hesitated before he answered. He looked around until he saw his parents' nod. Only when he got their permission did he answer carefully. "It's a tune from my father's house. A special tune that he would sing every year at the Seder."

Tuli didn't say more. His eyes were moist. Tuli looked into Grandpa Baruch's light-blue eyes framed by the thick glasses. The realization hit him.

"I'm also adopted," Tuli whispered, overwhelmed by his revelation. "I was adopted at age nine and then we immediately went to the States. Since then, I haven't seen or heard anything from my father. I was told that he wanted to put me up for adoption and that he signed the papers happily since he wasn't able to raise me." Tuli finished, in shock.

"We also identify." Mira and Shlomo, Tuli's adoptive parents, looked compassionately at the old man. "Social Services didn't tell us that you were under so much pressure. They told us that you signed willingly because you yourself wanted to put Tuli up for adoption." It was obvious that Mira and Shlomo told the truth and that they didn't know how to compensate Baruch for the treachery done to him. "We stopped sending you letters because we were told that it was pointless."

Silence filled the room. The festive atmosphere became filled with tension as thick as marble. Tuli's parents were hit the hardest by the news. Their faces, drained of color, looked almost sickly. Tuli shook uncontrollably. His wife, Shuli, was to shocked to say anything, now that she was face-to-face with her true father-in-law for the first time.

The news paralyzed Baruch Cohen. It appeared that his heart couldn't handle the turn of events. It was too much to digest. Here he was seeing his own son after thirty years. And his son was himself a husband with a family. Incredible. The man that had been helping Baruch over the past several months was really his own son.

"I need a glass of water," Baruch said, holding his chest. It wasn't clear if the pain was from the news or if his heart really couldn't handle the shock.

"Grandpa Baruch, Dad," Naftali pronounced the magic word hesitantly. He hugged the bent man's body tightly. "Just don't faint now." He expertly held the shaking man's hand and silently tracked his father's pulse.

"You're from Hatzolah, no?" The old man smiled. He looked at his son with pride. "Naftali Reichenberg — Cohen, I think I'm starting to feel better."

Awkward smiles. Confusion was written on the pale lips of all those present. It seemed that the normal proceedings of the Seder would be forgotten with the momentousness of the night. "We have a real grandfather! We have three real grandfathers now!" Eight-year-old Shimon shouted. In Shimon's excitement, he had yanked the tablecloth. The sound of breaking glass filled the air.

"Mazel Tov; Mazel Tov!" The family cried, feeling that the breaking glass shattered the unbearable tension in the room.

Someone began humming to himself the generations-old tune that brought the whole revelation about. Slowly the others also found themselves joining the indescribable singing that melted hearts and burst all barriers. Even Baruch, who was starting to feel better, joined in. He glowed as if reborn.

"I always dreamed of a son like this. I prayed that I would miraculously find my real son and now I finally have."

Baruch looked lovingly at Tuli as the singing subsided. "Tonight I've even found real grandchildren."

"And all because of a little mistake in the building number," added Tuli in a shaking voice. "A mistake more significant than any other."

A sudden harsh sound blotted out Baruch's low sobs and hid Shuli Reichenberg's emotional outpouring. What a great time for the beeper to go off. "Excuse me," the pale Tuli said, "Someone lost consciousness on the street next to ours. I have to run."

"My son," Baruch Cohen said smiling with satisfaction, "just don't go to the wrong address again. You never know what a mistake like that could cause."


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