Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Nissan 5763 - April 9, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Kol Dichfin

by M. Sonnenfeld

Everything was exactly the same.

The oak trees, which seemingly had not gotten older, lined the streets, their empty branches stretched upward, praying for another spring. The houses' uncompromising front of dark red bricks, with suspicious windows opening on the street. The sidewalks remained full of cracks as always; the municipality, it seemed, made do with a promise of repairs. The stores retained their relatively severe appearance. And suddenly, Ben became once again a six-year-old boy casting a longing look into their crowded display windows.

Nothing had changed. Once again, the clear crystals of morning frost glistened on the cars' windshields. Then, the line of private cars was not so long but since then the entire world had advanced, so why should the neighborhood be left behind? But the wrought-iron lampposts still stood on the street corners and the bakery across the street still stoked its oven with real coals.

The smell! Yoshke the baker said that there is nothing like coal for baking bread. "Even when electric ovens are free," he once announced to a surprised costumer, "I will not put my loaves of dough in."

And now, the fresh loaves were neatly lined up in boxes, waiting for someone to buy them. Yoshke always served his costumers quickly. A quick gesture or word and the loaves were already wrapped in paper and the hand stretched out to receive his money.

How much did bread cost? Not much: ten cents, perhaps twelve. But Mama always asked, "The bread from the bottom box, yes?" The bottom box did not draw the eye like those shelves in the front. The mouth-watering smell did not waft from it either -- but it held whole loaves of bread that one could buy for only five cents.

"It's good and healthy bread," Mama used to explain in a patient tone just slightly edged with impatience. "But what? This is the bread that all the nearby stores had left last night; Yoshke gathers them and sells them cheap. Think about it: almost three loaves of bread for the price of one fresh loaf. It's the exact same bread; it was on the shelves yesterday. See how precious passing time is, hmm?"

A quick calculation told Ben that the value of a day, as far as bread was concerned, was five cents, a decent sum.

Nevertheless, he was once almost enticed. He still remembered the coin burning in his hand and Yoshke's mocking eyes. "Bread? From on top? For ten cents? Did your mother win the lottery?"

And when he saw the red cheeks, he quickly took the money and gave him a paper bag with two loaves from the bottom.

"The main thing is that you have what to eat," he smiled good- naturedly. "Your mother has a lot of children jumping on every crumb."

Indeed, the small house was full of hungry mouths. Mama drew upon every ounce of creativity she had, to stretch each cent to its fullest. That's how you could buy two loaves of bread for the price of one. That's how you could make cholent for Shabbos from a handful of potatoes and a kezayis of meat. And that's how worn-out clothes became respectable, new clothing, which faithfully served child after child and proudly waved on the long clotheslines.

The clotheslines! Now Ben realized what had changed on the street. There were no clotheslines stretched over the dusty public area. Perhaps they were hiding in some backyards, or perhaps a machine took their place. In any case, their absence did not mar the scenery, especially during a rainy season such as now when they could not be used too often anyhow.

Besides that, the worn, fading street remained exactly the same and the ancient furniture store at the corner smiled knowingly with its deep oak and mahogany colors. Another few feet further and the bars of the second floor window hinted to his old home. Three steps to the entrance opening onto the hall, the echoing staircase . . . Ben glanced at his watch: Pretty late -- if he'd stop in for even a quick peek, he'd miss the early minyan.

He quickened his pace along the familiar route. A night flight was not a bad idea, after all. He had the entire day ahead of him and even gained a tour of his childhood neighborhood. The rental car would be waiting for him at the end of davening; he'd stop on the main street to buy a light breakfast and soon he'd find himself on the expressway to the business district, the office and the workplace tumult.

He used to arrive in the evening, and go straight to the hotel for a short business meeting which ended at night. He was not complaining. He was already used to these whirlwind business trips to the city -- but this time, the timing bothered his wife.

"So close to yom tov? The very same week! It's already erev yom tov!"

However, the raw materials in the storehouses diminished steadily and the final products had to be marketed.

"Then at least travel at night, even motzei Shabbos, so you get there in the morning and save a half a day. You can sleep on the airplane. What do you think?"

He spoke to his travel agent and in the end, it was arranged.

"The only problem is the car. The car rental office will be closed when I land. After davening, I can pick up the car."

Unlike the neighborhood, the shul was full of new faces. He did not recognize even a single person entering; even those who were already wrapped in their talleisim looked like strangers. The human scenery, at least, had changed unrecognizably. Not even one person would recognize him.

When davening was over, he lingered a minute to inspect the paroches up close. This was not the velvet curtain he remembered from his childhood, the dark blue curtain embroidered with golden lions with a crown on their shoulders. As old and shabby as they were, they had looked aristocratic and glorious, to him. Instead, a purple velvet paroches waved on the aron kodesh, well- designed with stylish square pieces of material. The windows were different as well; instead of wooden frames, colorful glass panes barely allowed in the pale sun.


He jumped, annoyed that he was caught red-handed. After all, his time was precious and here he was loitering; but who would call him by his old childhood nickname? He turned around. The man had not finished putting on his coat, and his hand had stopped in the middle of buttoning his buttons.


That one word held both softness and amazement, a slightly shabby coat, a graying hat perched on a head and small curly beard. Ben was taken aback, confused, but the stranger gave him a mischievous look and said, "Do we need an official introduction, huh?"


Suddenly, it was no longer an old-new shul but a dim staircase and Ben was once again a little boy of six who swallowed everything he saw with his giant eyes. The handful of boxes that had just been unloaded from the disappearing van were still scattered on the steps one flight down. Papa and Mama were trying to make order and he went out by himself. In America, he was told, the buildings are all very tall. The best way to know if their new home was one was to check it out, and the stairwell looked dim and somewhat mysterious, begging to be investigated. Above, however, between floors, a childish voice blocked his way.

"Where do you want to go?"

In the dark, he could make out a boy his age sitting crouched on the steps with his knees together, swallowing something. Ben stopped, and with the stories he had heard about the new land churning in his head, answered in a disappointed voice, "You're not black."

"Black? What do you mean?"

"They told me that all the children in America . . ."

"That's not true," the boy burst out. "Only the goyim, first of all, and not even all of them."

"And the buildings," Ben shot out before his source of information quieted down.

"The buildings are not black," the boy said with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "None of them."

"I meant skyscrapers." Ben quickly tried to maintain his dignity, but the smile had already melted the ice.

"What else did they tell you?" the boy asked and took a bite of his bread.

"They said that in America everyone is black, and lives in tall buildings. Everyone talks English and everyone is very rich."

"That's not true," the boy said emphatically. "Not everyone is black; there are skyscrapers but not everywhere. This building, for example, only has seven floors. You can check. English -- true, most people speak English, but there are lots of other languages. Italian or Yiddish, like me. What else did you say? Rich?" He smiled to himself. "You'll see. But I can tell you now that there are people who are not rich here, like me."

Only then did Ben notice the plate on the steps and his rumbling stomach. He remembered that he had not put anything in his mouth today besides some old crackers that were left in Mama's pocketbook from the boat. The plate held an entire piece of thick white bread and some spread covering it.

"So," the boy concluded and swallowed what was in his mouth, "You'll know not to believe generalities, right?"

The staircase suddenly seemed cold and empty. Downstairs in the apartment, Ben knew, a tremendous mess awaited him. There was no food waiting there, not to mention white, fresh bread.

"You learned your lesson?" the boy concluded.

"I did," he answered weakly. There wasn't much food on the ship either, but hunger was his first impression of the new home. He forcibly took his eyes off the plate but was unsuccessful; the piece of bread winked at him from every corner. The boy gave him a long look over the bread he was about to put into his mouth. Ben wondered for a minute if manners dictated that he refuse a generous offer of "Do you want to taste some?" or "Are you hungry?" when a small hand lightly pushed the entire piece of bread into his hand.

It was spread with butter, did you hear? Real butter, glistening from fat and cleanliness in the soft indentations of the bread. Butter that melts in the mouth and leaves a feeling of satiety.

He gave the boy a questioning look.

"It's for you," he said simply. "You're hungry, no?"

They ate quietly; when they reached half-way through the bread, he stopped and said, "Do we need an official introduction?"

"Ah, what's your name?"

"Moshe, usually Moshenu. And yours?"

"Beinush, usually."


Over the next few weeks, Beinush learned that a meal on the steps was a way to get out of the cramped, tiny apartments and that bread and butter was a special treat in the neighbor's home, saved only for special occasions such as Rosh Chodesh.

"So why did you give me the whole piece?" he asked when Moshenu had become his good friend. "You could have given me something else, or at least just a little piece."

"Because you were hungry," the boy shrugged. "And I had two whole pieces!"

When the school year began, six-year-old Beinush found himself in Moshe's class and they continued to learn together through yeshiva. When Ben left the city and opened a business on the west coast, they still kept in touch by mail. That's how he found out that Moshe was leaving the neighborhood.

"The neighborhood is falling apart," Moshe wrote in his typical mischievous tone. "First you left and now I'm following in your footsteps. Not to the west, but to the south. My family was called upon to go learn in the southern desert."

After his parents moved near him, Ben's visits to his childhood city were short and businesslike. The place held no relevance to him. If not for the night flight, he would not have even taken such a nostalgic walk in a city full of strangers. But he was mistaken.


"So, we can forgo the formal introduction," Moshe's eyes twinkled mischievously, but Ben was too excited to notice.

"What are you doing here? I thought you lived in the south, in . . ."

Years had passed since the last letter. He tried to remember the once familiar address.

"I did live there but the kollel was looking for younger kochos. We moved back here half-a-year ago. To what do we owe the honor of your visit?"

Ben hesitated a moment. "I'm in a rush," he admitted. "I . . ."

Moshe remained full of smiles as usual. He put his arm into Ben's arm. "We'll go together," he announced. "I'm not in a rush. I'll go with you."

Outside, the street was waking up. In the distance, a train horn tooted. Moshe pressed his hand excitedly.

"The two of us together like the old days, huh?"

"Almost," he answered pensively.

"Exactly. Why do you minimize the value of the moment? Hand in hand, on this street, at this hour . . ."

"And on an empty stomach."

"And on an empty stomach, right," Moshe agreed and something in his happy tone was disturbed. "Walking together like then, on the way to cheder. I can almost hear Reb Shmuel's singsong good morning".

"And the utzu-rutzu of the mashgiach, remember?"

"It seems like in another minute Gershon will burst through the cars. How he used to cross the street -- always suddenly and always at the worst moment."

The morning enveloped them in a rush of nostalgia. The here- and-now of his racing watch and waiting office receded and pensive memories took their place. It seemed like the past itself got up and ruled undisturbed on the street.

"How long?" Ben didn't have to explain himself; Moshe understood him.

"A quarter of a century at least, probably closer to thirty years."

"That's a long time."

"Very long." Moshe stroked his beard. "What have you been keeping yourself busy with?"

"That question is too big," Ben immediately protested. "You mean my family? Yes, I have a big house and nice children; the oldest is a real yeshiva bochur. Next year he'll come here to learn. The community there is excellent," he added in an apologetic tone, "But I wanted him to come here for yeshiva gedolah."

"And business?"

"Nu, that's why I'm here." For a minute, he remembered the painful good-by in the airport -- and the unbearable noise of the huge metal birds. Moshe couldn't stand airplanes. He could never bear the thought that one of them would carry away his good friend. "When I got there, I was a pioneer in the multi- media industry, the high-tech market of today. I wrote to you about it, remember?"

"The letter is still in one of the old binders from the yeshiva days," Moshe said. "But what's happening nowadays?"

"We switched to the computer field." Ben's eyes lit up. "I have skilled staff with a lot of motivation."


"You mean profits? It's enough to say that my children don't go to cheder on an empty stomach, unless they didn't have time to eat at home. And you?"

They crossed a busy intersection. The car rental office was very close. Moshe's blue eyes became serious at once.

"I also have hungry memories," he admitted. "And I tried to do something about it. If you'll agree," he tightened his grasp. "If you'll agree to peek into this small alley for a minute, you'll see what I managed to do."

Was it the morning's spell, or perhaps those memories? In any case, Ben found himself following Moshe down a narrow street in the opposite direction to the rental car office.

Here the buildings hugged each other in long rows. The doors were the only thing that differentiated one from another. The asphalt street was shabby and the cracks in the sidewalk were frequent and deep. White laundry waved above, hanging on long strong clotheslines stretched from one side of the street to the other.

"Here," Moshe said, and took a bunch of keys out of his pocket. As the door swung open, Ben noticed a small black and white sign which read: The Soup Kitchen. Inside was an apartment whose inner walls had been knocked down leaving a large empty room, and a tiny kitchen in the corner. Rows of long tables were covered with colorful linoleum. An ancient couch sat in the corner next to an old shtender that was groaning under the weight of a medium-sized sefer.

"You opened an institution!"

It was more of an exclamation than a question. For some reason, he could not see Moshe as an honorable president of a real institution.

"You could say so." Moshe's eyes twinkled and his curly beard smiled mischievously. "An institution for hungry people."

"Poor people."

"Not necessarily. You'd be surprised to hear how many people who can't afford to always eat in restaurants but do have money in their pockets, do not really have what to eat."

"There are so many fast food places nowadays."

"That's just a temporary solution. You can't live like that for long."


"Definitely, but there are others."



Moshe took a step forward, his hand absentmindedly stroking the well-scrubbed linoleum on one of the tables.

"You mentioned Reb Shmuel, the maggid shiur. His wife passed away a few years ago and his only daughter lives four hours away. He eats here on a regular basis."

Ben was quiet; his eyes took it all in.

"Everything is donated," Moshe explained. "The oven is from a family who moved and didn't want to shlep the old thing along. The tables are from a school that closed down. This was from the laboratory." The mischievous look sparkled in his eyes. "The principal said to me, `Leave this junk alone,' but I persisted. For two weeks, I sawed and glued and sanded and painted. You could say that I put together a puzzle of table pieces."

"And who cooks?"

"A professional cook."

"For pay?"

"Of course. Sometimes she has a volunteer or two."

"And where does her salary come from?"

"From the One Who pays everyone's salary: yours, mine and all the people running on the streets -- here and in the whole world."

"You don't have steady support?"

"Donations are not a steady thing, but Hashem always helps."

Ben suddenly felt a little uncomfortable under his friend's gaze. "So why did you bring me here?"

"Because you asked," the twinkle reappeared. "You can't show me your business so easily, huh? It's too far away. Even if it were here, you would have to give me a long explanation beforehand and an even longer one afterwards, not to mention the visit itself. My business is right on the way, right in front of us." He smiled but immediately became serious. "It's just the time, Beinush."

"The time?"

"Time of year, that is. Erev Pesach, Beinush. Maos chitim, kimcho dePischo. For two months, I am going around with a dream inside me, a dream that gets stronger every time I see the people who come here, because then I see how important it is to make it come true, but . . ." he sighed, "It costs a lot of money."

"I never knew you as a dreamer," Ben tried to smile in spite of the racing watch.

"Only recently, Beinush." Moshe's eyes glazed over. "I am dreaming about a room, actually this room." The two of them looked at the half-empty room with its mismatched furniture and worn out floor. "In my dream, it is well-lit and sparkling clean. White tablecloths cover the tables with bottles of red wine on them. China plates and embroidered napkins set with a homey touch. Thick pillows for leaning and handfuls of nuts for the children, if they'll come -- do you follow, Beinush? Smells of yom tov coming from the kitchen. Everything in abundance and beautifully set -- like a private home."

He stopped to take a breath and Ben smiled apologetically.

"You must mean . . ."

But Moshe cut him off. "I'm not finished. Lots of chairs at the tables, much more than the regular amount. And then I open the doors wide and everyone comes in. Everyone. Old and new, elderly and young, poor and rich -- everyone. Singles and families. Those whose houses are empty and those whose tables are set at home. Kol dichfin -- peshuto kimashmo'o."

His eyes shone, and he stood straight with his arms spread out in a welcoming gesture, as if it was the Seder night and he was already inviting everyone in.

"You don't think that's a bit far-fetched?"

He jumped as if someone poured a pail of cold water on him. "Far-fetched? What? The tables? The wine?"

"The embroidered napkins, the nuts, the china . . . No? After all these are people who don't have money and everything . . ."

Moshe couldn't wait for the end of the sentence. "First of all, not all of them don't have money. There are plenty of people who are not able to use what they have, for all kinds of reasons. But even those who don't have -- what's their sin? Why must they lean on a table covered with linoleum and be yotzei arbo kosos with sweetened juice? Don't the sons of kings need to recline, even if they happen to be poor?"

His blue eyes shot sparks and he breathed deeply.

"I didn't say that," Ben recoiled, surprised at the outburst. "I only thought that there must be a way to anchor your dream on realistic ground."

Moshe sighed. "Maybe," he said. "But that is exactly the principle of the dream: to give them the maximum. All year we make do with the minimum -- there is nutritious food and that's what's important. But I wanted just once a year, for Pesach . . ."

"And that's why you brought me here," Ben interrupted. His precious morning minutes were running out quickly.

"There's not much time left," Moshe apologized. "It's already erev Pesach and nothing has developed. I spent all the money I had on bare necessities and even that's just enough." He lowered his voice. "When I saw you, nu, I don't have to tell you how happy I was to see an old friend; I'm sure you realized it yourself. For a few minutes, I forgot everything. But when you started to talk about an empty stomach and then about your business, I told myself, `Moshe'le this is the opportunity. Here's a warm Jew who knows you, believes in you and even more -- understands. After all, he also tasted the taste of hunger once, so . . .'"

Ben shifted uncomfortably in his place.

"Ah, Moshenu, look," he began to stutter slightly. "It seems I gave you the wrong impression. My business is small, with a small staff and minimal future. We are trying to be creative and expand as much as possible, but our bank account is almost always empty." He took a deep breath and his words became more confident. "Understand, the market is always changing and you have to put in a lot of effort just to keep your head above water.We are not yet an established, international firm that can make profit from its logo alone. We have to sweat to survive."

He was indeed sweating, his face was red and he was breathing somewhat heavily. Moshe lowered his gaze.

"And a little help? A relatively small sum for . . ."

Ben shook his head in confusion. "I came here with a relatively minimal amount of money for what I have to do. I am not allowed to touch this money; it's for long- term investment. Understand," he begged, "in a business like mine, some money on the side is a must because the market is unpredictable. We had a hard winter and my financial advisor sent me here to cook up something big, as he put it."

"I understand," Moshe said quietly. His voice suddenly rang like on that dim stairwell long ago. "But there was a hard winter here too, when we came back and I saw the situation . . . Nu, good," he said. "Now things have picked up. A half a year of this place changed something. You wouldn't believe," the color returned to his voice, "in less than a month, this place was completely full. Not everyone here is rich, you know."


The posh lobby had no room for memories. Instead the facts of the business demanded his attention -- and the contents of his pocket. Ben cleared his dry throat at the end of three hours of intense business meetings and prepared for three more. The local representative of the up-and-coming company would be there in a few minutes. His calendar was very full.

"Short but to the point," he told himself.

"Can I pour you a drink, sir?"

A waiter smiled professionally and put down a tray full of various drinks. Ben looked them over and smiled. He like this one. A lot of it.

"Which one?" The waiter remained polite. Out of the corner of his eye, Ben saw his new guest entering the lobby.

"Just a minute," he answered. "My client will sit down and we'll decide which drink together." It was some kind of phobia that followed him from his childhood to the spacious house on the West Coast.

"You might as well take two more packages," he would tell his wife in the supermarket.

"One is enough," she told him confidently, but he had already put two more in the large shopping cart.

"Maybe they'll run out of it; it's always good to have in the house, you know."

He would survey the pantry. He had told the interior decorator to design the kitchen with large, deep cabinets. Every once in a while, especially after a big shopping trip, he would look at the cans lined up on the shelves. His wife quickly learned his method of shopping and acted accordingly.

"What brochoh do you say on abundance?" he would tease his children. "It's a pleasure in its own. When I grew up, the few cabinets we had were usually empty. Can you imagine?"

But they couldn't imagine. A generation that grew up spoiled could not understand the feeling of a mother who went to sleep at night knowing that her kitchen was completely empty.

"Run," she used to urge them in the morning, so they wouldn't realize there was nothing to eat and wouldn't ask questions that she couldn't answer. "You'll be late to cheder. Run, I said!"

But she made sure to turn her face away, that was etched in a mother's pain. Afterwards, if she had gotten something, she snuck in during recess and pushed a bag into his hand. He could never explain the salty taste of the piece of bread.

"And if she didn't get something?" his son asked.

"Nothing happened. We just waited until lunchtime."

That was not all. Who could describe the pitiful Shabbos table? Mama used to set it determinedly: a starched tablecloth, clean plates, a bread knife and saltshaker, as customary. Everything else awaited Papa's return: the empty pot in the kitchen, the tray of challos and the room's hollow smell, a smell that absorbed the smells of cooking that seeped into the hallway whenever someone else opened his door.

Usually there was something to eat; they didn't remain hungry for long. But the undefined wait, the nagging doubt of "maybe this time not?" and the lack of sureness remained and caused him to stop at a bakery on his way home from work, put an unexpected bag on the table and once again hear his wife's protest, "Bread? The house is full, Ben. I just bought two fresh loaves this afternoon."

The rep's polite greeting brought Ben back to the tray of drinks. He waved his hand at the opposite chair, inviting him to sit down. He would not endanger his future; the money from the company's account must fill its original purpose. His children would never come home to an empty house and be bothered by question of "What will we eat tomorrow?" He smiled at the guest.

"And now to business. I wanted to propose . . ."

The conversation swept him into the precise bounds of financial reality.


"And maybe anyway?"

The rented room in the hotel was partially lit. Piles of documents lay on the desk, the fruit of the passing day. The window looked out twelve stories above the dark street onto people hurrying in the light of streetlamps. Ben hoped that every one of them had a good meal waiting for him.

The neighborhood played tricks on him, as if all the memories got up and joined his childhood friend Moshe's words, and they divided the sights that passed before his eyes into two categories: hungry and sated. The question -- his question -- returned and taunted him, as if it was echoing in the unseen stairwell.

"Poor people?"

And Moshe's answer rang in his ears again and again.

"Not necessarily. You'd be surprised to hear how many people who have money in their pockets do not have what to eat."

They don't have what to eat . . . He fumbled through his pocket, searching for his checkbook. The pantry in his house appeared before him: many large cabinets designed by a professional interior decorator -- and they are empty.

He took a deep breath and turned on his laptop. The tiny screen lit up. You can only work with dry numbers, right? The datasheet demanded precision. After he carefully summarized the chart, the screen asked, "Additional data?"

A quick check told Ben that he had nothing else to add. His hands automatically typed "no" as a childish voice, his voice, lingered in his ears.

"So why didn't you give me something else?"

Ah, the butter, the rare taste of Rosh Chodesh . . . He could see Moshenu's small shoulders shrugging. "Because you were hungry, and I had two whole pieces!"

The simplicity with which the words were said touched his heart. There were no calculations about the future. Would the one piece of bread he ate last until lunch time? Even the spell of a once-a-month treat did not affect him. He resolutely picked up the telephone and ordered an outside call.

"Moshenu? Yes, it's me."

The words ran into each other, but gradually slowed into normal speech.

"Yes, I thought about it again. Look, you were talking about the basic supplies you barely managed to buy; what else do you need? Do you have a list? And the prices?" He listened for a minute. "Yes, it's fine. I told you I thought about it again. We can limit our expenses at this stage; it's important that you should have enough of everything. How many? Twenty packages? I would say twenty-five is better, it's always good to have extra, you know."


The stylish paroches awaited him in shul the next morning. For a moment he wondered what kind of impression the material would have made on him if he were a little boy once again. Even the colorful windows could really be impressive. Moshe, as he noticed before he began davening, had not yet arrived, but he was waiting for him next to the car when shacharis was over.

"I looked for a rental car," he explained. "I wanted to tell you yasher koach again."

"I didn't see you at the minyan."

"I davened vosikin," the curly beard smiled. "I wanted to buy everything before the rush and boruch Hashem I did. Do you have a minute? You can see for yourself. The cook is already at work with two volunteers."

But he also had to hurry. He already had two phone calls and a number of messages awaited him on his computer.

"I cannot understand what you're doing," his company's financial advisor wrote. "We spoke about a much larger business deal than what you did yesterday."

Ben checked the difference between the plan and reality again. He still had a respectable sum; another investment was definitely reasonable, but his schedule did not leave him time for anything immediate. He'd have to wait until the evening.

The last meeting was at a small kosher restaurant. The parking lot was almost empty. The head waiter was apologetic.

"One moment, sir. I know the table was ordered, but we had a small mishap. A bottle of fine wine awaits you, on the house."

Two uniformed waiters worked feverishly in the corner. Soon everything was clean and set.

The head waiter smiled at him. "You can take your place now, sir. I'll bring the wine."

The customer was alert despite the late hour. They struck a good deal after an intense discussion. It was only in his hotel room that the computer reminded him of the sum from the morning. Ben was taken aback, but the incident in the restaurant left no room for indecision.

"How many tables are there Moshe?" he heard himself saying into the receiver. "And how long is each one?"

"Don't you remember?" the mischievous tone came through. "I already told you that it's a conglomeration of pieces of all shapes and sizes."

"Then add some material to each side so everything will be nice, O.K?"


The clotheslines stretched across the narrow streets were especially full. Signs of the approaching yom tov were in the air. After all, that night was already bedikas chometz, Ben reminded himself.

"I am appointing you to be my shaliach," he told his oldest son at last night's phone call. "Check all the rooms carefully. Mommy will help you."

"It's so strange," his son complained. "You're really the baal habayis."

"I'll take my place, im yirtze Hashem, the day after tomorrow, a bit after chatzos," he had reassured his son. "I have a ticket on an early flight."

The door swung open just like the last time, letting pleasant smells into the hallway. Moshe looked up, completely surprised, over a roll of white material.

"Beinush! What are you doing here?"

"My first meeting this morning is only at 9:30. I wanted to see how things are going."

"Boruch Hashem," Moshe called, excitedly. "The tablecloths came and the food is almost ready. I'll bring the matzos in the afternoon, and my wife will try to fix up something for napkins and matza covers."

"And wine?"

Moshe nodded to a box in the corner. His hands were full of white material. "That's what I bought."

"It will be enough?"

"I hope so."

"And nuts, dishes?"

"We'll manage, be'ezras Hashem."

Ben wanted to ask. "And your dream -- did it come true?" But the words stuck in his throat. Moshe watched him with an understanding look.

"Look, Beinush," he stood up and pinned serious blue eyes on him. "You did yours. I did mine. And the Baal HaBayis will come and do His."

Outside, the tumult of last-minute shopping awaited him. Ben barely managed to maneuver his way through the narrow street. Someone had placed a boiling barrel of water for kashering at the corner, and sat behind it stoically. The rental car proceeded carefully, but it almost bumped into a make-shift stand.

"Hey mister, careful!" A young boy protected his wares - - embroidered napkins laid out on a bench. The words were well- styled in gold and purple colors: afikoman, matzos mitzvo and even Leshonoh habo'oh beYerushalayim. Ben could not help but notice the embroidered colors and shining words.

"Do you want to buy, sir?"

Once again, he was the six-year old boy with eyes hungry for beauty. Even the shul was extremely plain, like the fronts of the houses, but there two glorious lions stood proudly on the paroches.

"How much do the napkins cost?"

His laptop lay on the seat next to him, but he ignored it and concentrated on the differences between the napkins, their quality and price. The boy spoke quickly and gave him two napkins to chose from.

"How many do you have?" Ben asked, ignoring the impatient honking behind him. "If you can bring them to this address, I think I'll take all of them."

Moshe's excited voice came out of the receiver.

"Beinush, I didn't think, I . . ."

"But I did. I was thinking about those who have money in their pocket, but how did you say it? They don't have what to eat. I don't want them to feel that their status went down."

The computer shot him accusing looks the entire day. The financial advisor was very surprised and even tried to clarify things over the telephone. However, the fault did not lie in Ben, the seasoned business man, but in the hungry six- year-old Beinush, of sensitive eyes and understanding heart.

"You can cut back," he confidently explained to the confused businessman. "And anyhow, it's really like paying back an old debt, no?"

That evening, the room on the twelfth floor was full of feverish plans. "Flower arrangement? For whom?" his wife's voice sounded somewhat strained.

"For the Soup Kitchen. I'll tell you when I come back. But how do you arrange such a thing?"

"Order red or white roses," she quickly advised. "You can't go wrong with that. Put them in tall, narrow vases on the tables and they'll make a festive atmosphere."

The small suitcase he brought was packed and ready. Tomorrow, immediately after shacharis he would go to the airport. The car, as agreed upon, would remain there. He just had to remember his tallis zekel and call Moshe to say good- bye. It was too bad he couldn't do it face to face, but on erev Pesach there was no time for that.

The minyan started at seven. As a bechor, he would have to forgo breakfast anyhow, unless he had time to join a seudas mitzvo, but in any case, he had to be at the airport at 9:30.

"Flying again?" He could almost see Moshe wrinkling his face in disgust. He always hated those giant iron birds.

"Of course, Moshenu, if I want to be home."

"Then have a safe trip and hatzlochoh!"

Now he was almost on his way home and his heart was light, but the ticket taker's face was stony.

"You'll have to wait in the lobby," she told him. "We can't take off right now."

Rumors flew through the airport about suspicions and airport police. Ben paced back and forth nervously between the ticket counter and the waiting area.

"There's no use applying pressure," the ticket agent told him with strained politeness. "As soon as we can take off, we will."

The racing clock forced him to continue pressuring.

"I have to get home today, during daylight. I must get home for our holiday. It's very urgent."

The agent listened patiently. "I'm sorry, but we are doing the best we can to speed up the process. I hope you can board the plane within the next hour."

The next hour! There was never such a long hour. He was irritated every one of the sixty seconds of every minute of the hour.

At noon, a light rain began to fall on the runway. Even if he could take off that minute, he would not get home in time. The agent was very apologetic.

"You can fly tomorrow," she offered generously. "Or the next day. Or any flight you want."

The car was already taken at the rental agency. With his small suitcase in his hand, Ben stumbled into the first taxi that came his way. He knew that the hotel had empty rooms, but meals had to be ordered in advance if he wanted a good hechsher for Pesach.

The receptionist gave him his previous room and even allowed him to call home. The few minutes left before yom tov did not give him time to go to his room and call from there.

"A security problem, yes. I'm here. I'll come home on motzei yom tov. Don't worry, everything will be fine." His voice was somewhat choked. "There's a lot of company for Pesach, no? You'll have a full seder table. Yes, tell him I'll be the baal habayis on the last days of Pesach. Gut yom tov!"

He had just enough time to shake off his weekday suit and wipe off his shoes when the clock informed him of the yom tov's arrival.

The oak trees accompanied him. They lined the streets. Their black branches stretched heavenward in holiday prayer. The walk was longer than he thought, and he quickened his pace to the narrow street crowned with clotheslines. From a distance, the small sign winked at him: Soup Kitchen.

The stairwell was somewhat dim, but bright light shone from the partially-open door. Ben could see the edge of a long table covered with a white tablecloth and bottles of red wine on top. The hotel's wine seller had taken care of it, as he had promised Ben in the morning right before he left for the airport. There was no china, but the paper goods were beautiful. Even from outside, he could see the embroidered napkins and vases of flowers, which gave a homey atmosphere, and the happy smiles of the people around the tables.

The inviting door answered his knock immediately. Six- year- old Beinush gave it a mischievous smile as he opened it wide and walked into the festive atmosphere inside.


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