Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Adar 5764 - March 11, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

The Beggar's Costume
by Sara Gutfreund

She walks in without knocking. I am standing by the counter, wrapping the last of the shalach monos. Her steely blue eyes peek out from beneath her tattered gray kerchief. I am frightened and the slender pieces of pink ribbon fall silently from my grasp. She sits at the kitchen table and pushes aside Shira's soggy bowl of cornflakes. She asks for food. I hesitate between the refrigerator and calling the police. Who is this woman? But in that subtle moment of indecision, I catch a glimpse of her smile and I sense something familiar about her. She looks like someone I know.

As I serve her hot tea and cake, I try desperately to place her. But I can't. Instead, I find myself thinking of all the beggars that I brush by. The woman at the Kosel who tries to give me red string. I don't have any small change left so I avert my eyes. Pretend not to see. But of course I see. Just as I see the man sleeping on the freezing cold sidewalk, a tin can next to him. Walking by in our warm, fur-lined winter coats and boots, we are in a rush. Meeting someone. Now I don't remember who, but this I remember. Glancing down at the filthy blanket and ripped shopping bags and thinking: there's nothing I can do.

The woman is sipping her tea at leisure, placing it down on the table every few minutes, clearing a space amidst the piles of candy and tissue paper strewn across the table. She doesn't look at me. Doesn't speak. I think about the bus bombing. How the radio crackled the news in Hebrew that was too fast for me. But even so, I understood. And then the quick calculation: Moshe is in kollel. The girls are at school. None of my friends live or work near there. Everyone is okay. But of course, that is not true.

I stare out the window at the startling blue of the morning sky. I watch birds move through the branches of the olive tree, hop by hop. Now is the time to cry, I tell myself. Cry. Scream. Pray. But I stand next to the window thinking about lunch and the babysitter and plans for Pesach. I catch myself.

No! Cry! Don't you know? You should know. We all hurt together. And then the kids burst through the door with their pink schoolbags and sand-filled shoes and we sit down to lunch...

Finally the beggar finishes her tea and cake. She looks up at me in confusion, as if she is surprised to see me here. As if I am the stranger in my own house. That is when the exhaustion begins. A deep, penetrating, aching tiredness that flows through me like liquid blackness. It is indeed the exhaustion of living in an upside-down world. A world where I can turn my back, avert my eyes and then pray at the Kosel. A life where people's lives fall apart. My people. And I can't stop thinking about what to make for lunch.

I begin to cry, slowly and silently. And then, the crying turns to sobbing, noisy and endless. And she starts to laugh. The most beautiful laughter I have ever heard. The laughter of a thousand masks falling away. And soon I am laughing and she is crying. I am the beggar and she is the giver.

I recognize her now. Deep inside, she has always been there. The lonely beggar who hungers for a life without costumes. Here it is; the face behind the mask. Upside-down. Inside out. But achingly and finally true.


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