Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Av 5765 - August 25, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Areleh Naknik

by A. Harel

Part II

Historical-based Fiction

In the first part we met Areleh, a somewhat wild young boy with no one in the world besides a "temporary" older brother with whom he happened to be paired so that the two of them could get on to a ship for Eretz Yisroel that was only open to families, along with a woman, Mrs. Shechter, who also had no family. The three became a family in order to get a certificate to enter Eretz Yisroel, bound for Bnei Brak. Areleh is sent to the Botei Avot orphanage of the Ponevezher Rov in Bnei Brak, while his "brother" is set up and given work as a builder. Life in Botei Avot is difficult for Areleh. The Rov deliberately has a mixed class of orphans and children from Bnei Brak families, in order to ease them into society. But the Bnei Brak children call the orphans "mossadniks" (institutionals) and taunt them. Areleh has a hard time, and gets into mischief. Until he meets Yossi, who has become a construction worker and greets him like a long- lost brother.


And now? With a temporary big brother like he has? Let them call him "mossadnik"! Let them! He couldn't care less! With a brother like that! An iron-concrete! He's building half the settlement with his own hands! Just let anyone of those pitifully weak Bnei Brakkis yell after him, "Mossadnik!" After all he was already a champion in arm wrestling, and anyway — if worse came to worst — he would get Yossi to protect him.

Once they called him "mossad," and another time, "nik." Until someone thought it up and then the whole eucalyptus grove was echoing "na—k—nik!" That terrible, terrible nickname stuck to him like oily paper to a sausage. It stuck to him like a clamp. "Areleh Nak—nik!" With pursed lips and his ear flaming he gave out punches — and then his heart throbbed under his ribs like a train hurtling so fast it goes off the tracks.

Once again, a delegation arrived to see the Ponovezher Rav, climbing wearily up the hill to the office of the yeshiva that would one day be built there. The Rav promised them again and again that it is only his nostalgia that drives him to fistfights, and with just a little patience he will adjust, and that he is a particularly sensitive Jewish boy and they shouldn't worry about it. "We have one great Guardian. Let Him worry about it! All the best and shalom to all of you."

And the delegation descended doubtfully down the slope of the hill.

A person needs an enormous amount of faith and vision to believe that things will indeed turn out that way. And the Ponovezher Rav? Nu, after all. Aryeh is not his only vision. He has another big one. A huge one. "Here a yeshiva will be built for 500 bochurim!"

Nu?! A serious vision. A little imaginary. But . . . who knows?

The gravel-stones show like white teeth in the sunshine. They are strewn over the hill like countless smiles. A prophecy of the end of days begins to materialize! The first floor of the Ponovezher Yeshiva is on the wires! A miracle of cement and bricks! The Ponovezher Rav runs all over the world collecting donations to build the dream that is becoming reality!

But now they are in real trouble! With the Rov gone, there is no one to calm that young kid, the survivor, `Areleh Naknik.' When he sows havoc in the vegetable garden or comes back disheveled after his fistfights, or disappears for hours and returns covered with mud and a half-wild look in his eyes— everyone stays clear of him. He bursts into the bedroom of the institution smelling of the fields. With his shoes still on, he crawls under the blanket and falls asleep. It is hard for him.

When you are little you think about pickled cucumbers and chocolate, but when you grow up a little you cannot bear it anymore!

Those thoughts rise in your head when you pass every little house in the settlement. Another Jewish home with that smell of challos baking lichvod Shabbos and gefilte fish. Orange jam bubbling on the gas and noodle kugel browned with sugar. It is just unbearable.

And when he asks himself, "Who will buy me tefillin for my bar mitzvah?" for that he does have a ready answer. Of that he has no doubt. The Rov will take care of everything.

But who will embroider the tefillin bag? Whose hand will sew the initials of his name, Aryeh Leib Shechter, with fine, colored threads interwoven with gold.

The letters alef, lamed, shin are on the tip of his tongue. Alef, lamed, shin, back and forth. For some reason it is more comfortable to pronounce them backwards: shin, lamed, alef. The story of his short life is encapsulated inside that: "Shelo." Just don't think about what could have been and what was not. What never was and never will be.

He paces down Rabbi Akiva street like a taut spring. Hey! There is that shoe store! By now he recognizes the stand with its pyramid of shoes and sandals. Brown straps and blue ones. Buckled. Once he had a pair like that. When? Mmmm . . .

And suddenly something bursts from his heart right to his feet! A small, sharp movement. Then everything collapses. The shoes are strewn all over. The shelves sink to the sidewalk with a metallic clang. The heels of the saleslady clatter on the sidewalk, her screams echoing throughout Rabbi Akiva Street.

Aryeh runs! It seems to him that the heels are clicking in his head and that the whole street is joining in the pursuit. Soon he will get caught! Where? Where can he escape? He looks around on all sides! The street is narrow and the houses are small and his fear won't let him go . . . He runs. Runs for it.

He passes the familiar number 97 Rabbi Akiva! Oh! Yossi would let him in! He must try!

Areleh shoots into the stairway. Yossi will protect him! He knocks on the door with his whole body. Beats on it. Yossi lets him in! Oh, Yossi! What a miracle that you are at home! Areleh's chest rises and falls.

Yossi does not ask any questions, just sends him to wash his face in the kitchen and pours him a glass of lemonade. Then he sits backwards on a chair, leans his chin on the top of its back, and looks on quietly. The boy looks bewildered. Ludicrous.

"I probably look like . . . like Eisov Horosho . . . no?" Smiles sourly.

"Actually not," responds Yossi in a low voice. "Just like someone who has been up to something. Haven't you?"

Aryeh goes to the window, and looks out onto the front of the street. "They did not succeed," he says as if to himself.

Yossi watches him without a murmur. Areleh examines his face carefully. No. There is no trace of a grievance there. That angelic face of his Yossi. So calm. He says again: "The main thing is they didn't succeed. What do I care?"

"But you didn't succeed either," murmurs the young man.

"Yes, I did!" Aryeh looks outside. "I got away, didn't I? They didn't catch me!"

"But you didn't manage to run away from yourself . . . "

Aryeh turns and fastens his eyes on him for a long moment. And then: "I'm not running away from no one! It's just . . . that . . . because . . . "

He bites his lips.

"Because . . . what?"

The boy kicks with little leaping movements. At the wall, at the chair legs. Turns his kippa to the right. Left. Back. His short hair bristles.

"Because . . . what?" insists Yossi. "You can tell me. I'm your big brother, no?"

Aryeh's nose wrinkles.

"Who taught you Chumash? And who watched over you so you wouldn't get into trouble out there, on the ocean, and who taught you kometz alef, and who trained you in the `pull-downs'? Huh?"

Aryeh's nose wrinkles more. A tear quivers in his eye. Yossi notices it.

"Come on, let's see you, how about it? You've gotten better, haven't you? Let's go, `pull-downs!"

He jumps up from his chair, sits on the bed, bends his elbow and lays it down . . . "Nu, let's go! Are you coming? Aryeh!"

His face smiles pleadingly.

Aryeh sits opposite him, stretches out his hand, bends his elbow, lays it down. They press hands. "Three four and . . . let's go to—worrrrrk . . .

Their faces contract, redden. Until . . . "Aaach! You won!!" Yossi pants. "You won!"

"Stop the nonsense, you planned it all. It's not real," the boy halts. Yossi sighs. It's true. The boy knows him. There is no point in a transparent lie, a counterfeit game.

"And if you're right, so what?"

"So nothing! And I couldn't care less!" The boy straightens his hat and strides to the front door. Yossi jumps. "One minute, Aryeh! Where to?"

"I'm going!"

"No! You are not going anywhere!"

"Yes. I am going!"

"First, tell me what you did! And why you keep on doing all kinds of embarrassing things. Why?"

Aryeh is silent. Another trace of a tear is in his eye. He drops his head on the handle that Yossi has his hand on.

"Stop it and tell me."

Suddenly Yossi hugs the boy. "And . . . once you relied on me. What happened?"

"You wouldn't believe me, anyway . . . " stammers the boy.

"Try me."

Aryeh examines his temporary brother's kind face. "It is . . . I dunno. Maybe because of the sandals that were up there. Exactly like the pair I had at home before the . . . and maybe they just looked like them. But . . . I dunno. I just suddenly missed . . . those sandals so much. I'm . . . umm . . . that Ima bought me. And my foot just kicked. Maybe because of all that's missing or perhaps because it wanted to forget. But it wasn't able to. For what they remember, there are no feet that can escape from, nor run nor kick away. It was left . . . in one shoe store I upset the whole display window. One saleslady, poor thing, that's it . . . "

Yossi is silent. The silence stretches endlessly.

Finally, he goes over to the window, leans out and stares far into the distance. "Do you know what?" he speaks into the distance.

"Come let's go together to that store. We'll apologize to the saleslady. We'll help her tidy up. OK?"

Aryeh doesn't answer. Beneath the window Rabbi Akiva Street is buzzing.

"And . . . next time you start missing, come to me . . . we'll do the missing together. All right?"

He waits for an answer. Rabbi Akiva Street shrieks in a whisper beneath the window.

Yossi goes up to Aryeh, gathers him close. Whispers beside his ear. Pain sketches the contours of their faces. "It's okay, little brother. It's perfectly okay. I also miss . . . all the time . . . I daven and I miss, I learn and I miss, I build walls and I miss, I sleep and I miss. Me, too . . . You understand that, don't you, little brother? So then . . . let's miss together. We will play pull-downs while we miss and . . . You'll see. We'll win! You'll see!"

And the construction worker hides his face in the boy's shoulders and tries hard not to sob like a child. But no, he doesn't succeed.


They go out into the street. The shoe store is not really that far away. The sign is already visible. Aryeh's stomach hurts but his hand grasps that of his temporary-big-brother. His warm hand. Occasionally, Yossi turns his face to him and boosts his spirits with his constant supply of smiles.

The store is slightly dimmed. Blinded by the afternoon light, it takes them a moment to adjust. Yes, it is here. The saleslady, her back to them, is straightening the shoes. The store is empty of customers. The closing hour has long since passed. Yossi clears his throat. "Mmmm . . . excuse me . . . "

The store is closed. The saleslady is busy, and does not turn around. Her heels click. "Hmmmm . . . " he tries again.

Grasps the boy's hand tightly. "Er . . . we didn't come to buy but only to . . . "

"The cash register is already closed. Sorry." She sighs, places a sandal in its place.

"Come this afternoon. Then I can give you . . . "

"No," the young man smiled. "We wanted to apologize."

"What?" the bent figure straightens.

"To say we're sorry." She swivels around. Straightens. A sandal in her hand. What does this mean? Silence. Eyebrows shoot up. The hands drop. They shiver violently.

"Yossel . . . ?" she whispers tentatively. Her hand is on her forehead. "It is you! Yossel . . . " Her eyes are wide with astonishment. "And . . . oh! It is . . . Ribono Shel Olom! It is Arik!"

She collapses onto the cushioned couch. Her thin hand trembles as it covers her forehead. "Yossel and Areleh. I don't believe it! Thank you Hashem! Thank you!"

She takes a peek at them together. Kippa. Tzitzis! It is them! Her fictitious children! Her provisional family! Healthy and well and as they should be! And they are glued to each other like two cement castings.


Now he has a temporary mother as well and he is not a "mossadnik" at all! Because what mossadnik would receive shoe boxes full of yeast cakes, or a jar of almonds and raisins? Which mossadnik has plates of latkes delivered to him in the middle of the day, or a bag for his tefillin embroidered in such a way, to be put away until his bar- mitzva?

And besides — which child from the Botei Avot would have a big brother waiting for him next to the fence at the Talmud Torah with a cup of orange juice that he'd bought for him at the kiosk, or who gave him pocket money?

And when one afternoon Yossi arrived in a van loaded with sacks of cement and sand and honked at Areleh and took him for a ride—the nickname "mossadnik" was finally demolished and buried.

Beside the vision of the yeshiva which blossomed into a joyous reality, there arose another small vision. An "Areleh Naknik" who was calm.


Mrs. Shechter occasionally sent parcels, and arrived to see with her own eyes very the bed "that the child slept on," and whether the breakfast contained the five food nutrients. She also became the unofficial housemother of the "Agudas Yisroel kibbutz" where Yossel resided. When the bochurim left for work, she washed, ironed, mended, cooked nutritious vegetable soups and took care of shidduchim.

Yossel was already 22, wasn't he? A wonderful age for a shidduch, by all opinions! In normal times he would already be married with one or two children, but . . . yerachem Hashem! There were certain delays, of the type that it was better not to speak about. But why grieve?

She hinted to him. Affectionately reprimanded him. Explained, demanded an answer. "I am right, no?" she entreated him.

Yossi was perplexed. Certainly she was right, but . . .

"We don't have time for `buts'!" she hastened to reply.

"But . . ." he demurred.

"But we don't have time!" she cut him off and proceeded to sing the praises of a certain person his age who had qualities that were simply perfect! And she knew her very well, and since she also knew Yossel—well you could trust her, Mrs. Shechter, with your eyes closed! And besides, it was her own daughter, after all!


"Of course! My daughter! My only one! What, didn't I tell you that, right from the beginning?"

She smiled. "Nu, we're getting older. One more good reason to bring matters to a close like they do in the storybooks."

The young man was bewildered.

"Like. Yes! But different! This is not bubby maises! No story! It is my daughter whom I sent on to Eretz Yisroel two months before we sailed. I told you about her, don't you remember?"

He did not remember.

"It's not important," she said. "So what do you say, Yossel?"

He said he would ask his rav. The next day, Mrs. Shechter waited for him beside the Ponovezher yeshiva's building site where he worked. "Nu?" she called out.

A small cement mixer was rattling and jingling and she had to raise her voice. "What did the rav say?"

He stood there, dusty, with his eyes lowered. "It should be with mazel tov . . ." he answered. He blushed.


Areleh waits beside the gate in the grounds of the Talmud Torah. Today he didn't come either! He is disappointed, and moves away. Kicks at the gravel scattered around. Not today either. He promised yesterday and he didn't keep his word either. What's going on with Yossi? Maybe he doesn't love him anymore.

At the end of his study day, Areleh rushes to the building site, runs between the workers. Yossi isn't there. "Have you seen Yossel?" he asks someone on the scaffolding.

"Who? Yossi?" laughs the construction worker. "He's getting ready for his wedding!"

Areleh runs to the "kibbutz" apartment. Yossi isn't there. He races back, quickly, to Botei Avot. They'll soon be out looking for him. He has missed dinner, anyhow.

The next day too the boy is glued to the gates of the Talmud Torah. Yossi didn't come. When evening comes, the boy runs off from the institution and dashes to Yossi's apartment.

They meet on the stairway.

"Oh! Yossi!" the boy falls on him. "Yossi! I've been looking for you! Where have you been? Why haven't you been coming?" He breathes with difficulty.

"Hello, little brother! Hey! What an assault! I have a lot of things to take care of before the wedding. I am just busy, busy! Come another time, all right?" and he pinches his cheeks and stamps down the stairs. Disappears.

Aryeh is left in the middle of the stairs. He purses his mouth and goes back down. One step after another, wearily.

On the way back he passes by the shoe store, hoping to meet his temporary mother. She always has some candies in her pocket, and even when she doesn't have time, she makes him buy a soda pop from the nearby kiosk on her bill. He quickens his steps. Here is the sign. The display window. The door is closed. "Back soon" says the cardboard sign.

`Soon' means in a little while. So he waits and waits. And waits.

But she doesn't come. He drags himself back to the Botei Avot like an old, old man.

She too had things to take care of! She's a busy shvigger, boruch Hashem! But why did it say, `Back soon?'

Mrs. Shechter thought for a moment. "Why? Because they always write that on store signs when they need to close up before the regular time. What, you mean you waited? Oy, sweetheart! What a shame! Nu. Anyway, I'm sure you understand. Three weeks to go before the wedding! The house that Yossel is constructing with his own hands, talented boy that he is, is almost ready. And there is so much work. To choose curtain material for the kitchen window, to make sure there are pots and blankets and all kinds of other shmattes.

"S—o much! Work. So you waited, did you say? Poor thing. Mmmm . . . you know what, tzaddik? Run to the kiosk. Buy yourself a cone, eh?"

He refuses.

"But you love . . . nu, run along."

She puts a coin in his hand. He goes to the kiosk. Buys. On the way back to the institution a toddler passes by him on a three wheeler. Areleh gives him the cone.


Six days to the wedding. The dorm counselor has already informed him, with a big smile, that he may have vacation on that day. Mrs. Shechter has sent him a new suit, gleaming shoes, a matching tie, a new cap.

His roommates approach the clothes with reverence, stroking the soft material, breathing in the unfamiliar scent of new garments.

But Aryeh barely glances at them. He goes out to the vegetable garden, sits next to the bush beneath which the cucumber jar is buried. He had long forgotten about it. Who cared about such rubbish as that, when you suddenly discover you have a family?

He feels around the dark soil. His fingers soon locate the small jar. One pickled cucumber. Inside, greenish muddy liquid. The cucumber has withered. It is rotting.

They announced lights out. He goes into his room, which is by now fully dark. Gives not the slightest glance to his new clothes. He crawls under the blanket fully clothed and with his shoes on, as he used to do. He shivers. Curls up. Feels like that lone withered cucumber lying forgotten in the jar. Buries his hands in his pockets. Uuuh. It is cold. So cold. Deep inside his pocket his fingers touch the paper. His heart misses a beat.

The note! He had forgotten about it for so long.

He sits up and takes out the note. It is a little torn but readable. With great devotion he had protected it from the laundry, transferring it from one pocket to another, from one pants to another, as if it were a passport or identity card . . . He holds it close to his eyes, in the light that creeps in from the window.

"I the undersigned, Yosef (Yossi) ben Yitzchok Menachem take under my protection . . . " He reads it over and over and falls asleep sitting down, the note clutched in his hand.


In the classroom the pupil lays his head on the desk and looks vacant. Rebbe Yonah goes up to him. Lays a hand on his forehead. No fever. "How are you, Aryeh? Don't you feel well?"

Aryeh is silent.

"Do you want to go and lie down in the dorm?" the rebbe suggests.

"No," whispers the boy.

What would he do there by himself? And what would it help, anyway . . . He stays in the Talmud Torah, but drained of energy or interest, riveted to his chair. He doesn't go out to recess. Doesn't eat his sandwich. Does not answer the boy's calls.

Rebbe Yonah is worried. He starts the round of questions again. Does your stomach hurt? Your head? Did you sleep well last night? Then what is wrong?

"Nothing," the boy lowers his eyes and unwittingly the tears begin to flow. Those awful tears! Yossi had asked him not to do embarrassing things.

But . . . what did it matter . . . Yossi didn't care about him anymore. Yossi was only a temporary brother, obviously. In another few days he would set up his own house and maybe have his own real children, his private ones. Not temporary ones. And that's it. Aryeh weeps.

Rebbe Yonah is horrified and exits the classroom. The Ponovezher Rav is not in the country. To whom can he turn?

Aryeh gets up slowly from his seat, and goes back to the institution. He wanders around the vegetable garden and sits beside a small pit where the last jar of the pickled cucumber gang is buried, and digs his face between his knees.

Evening falls. It is dark, suddenly. Perhaps he had fallen asleep? He blinks. A familiar voice calls his name. "Aryeh? Areleh, are you here?"

Areleh curls up. Like a porcupine. Bristles his thorns. It is Yossi! He recognizes his voice even among the hundred other voices. It is a little shaky perhaps.

"Areleh? Are you here?" The boy's face is buried between his knees, he hears the treading of the shoes in the sand.

He comes closer. Halts. Breathes next to his ear. Yossi sits beside him. "What's going on with you boy, huh?"

Silence. "Would you mind lifting your head just for a minute?" Almost annoyed.

"Aryeh, speak to me!" The boy is silent.

"All right, as your big brother, the champion at pull-downs, I command you to . . . "

"My big brother?" His head shoots up. "My big temporary brother!" His ear is flaming. "You are not my brother at all and not anything! Go away from here! Get yourself married! And go away!"

"Hey! What is all this anger? What have I done?" The chosson was insulted. "Are you going to drive me away like this, three days before the wedding?"

"Wedding!" the boy cries, leaping to his feet. "This wedding of yours doesn't interest me one bit, and I'm not coming to it at all!" And he flees to his room.


The room is empty. What a miracle! The boys are eating now. Everyone is in the dining hall. He trembles. He is so cold and tired — dead tired. What's the matter with him? He sits on his bed, and stops himself from peeking at his new clothes lying so neatly on his dresser.

He digs his hand in his pocket. Again the note. He won't take it out at all. What for? To read again and tear his heart out over its crooked lines. "I the undersigned, Yosef (Yossi) . . . herewith undertake . . . "

His fingers, of their own accord, draw it out of his pocket anyway. It was all just a game. A make-believe family. How had he not seen that? He had got all happy for no reason. He had thought. He had hoped. He had felt. For nothing . . . a temporary family. So foolish of him. A family?! He had no family. None! None! And he never would have!

When Yossi came into his room he found the boy fast asleep sitting up. He laid him down. Took off his shoes. Covered him.

And then, the note fluttered to the ground. The room was dark. He picked it up, drew it a little closer to his eyes, and then stood motionless. His glance was lowered. The note was slipping from his fingers.

For a long moment he stood like that. And then he raised his head sharply, folded the note, placed it in his shirt pocket, and left the room.

The night before the wedding. The children walk beside him on tiptoes. Whisper loudly. Tomorrow Areleh's brother is getting married! They finger the new jacket with awe. With cautious fingers they stroke and smooth the tie.

And then, as if in an old nightmare that keeps repeating, Aryeh appears out of nowhere, wild, unkempt, spattered with mud.

From the morning, he had managed to get into a fight with whoever or whatever moved in his range of vision. He had pulled out of the radish bed all the green sprouts and drowned the flowers with the watering hose. The children keep well out of his way. Only Helfgut makes an attempt. "Areleh, are you coming to play hide-and-seek?"


"Then come let's do `pull-downs.'"

"No! I told you already," the boy screams. "No! No! No!"

Helfgut runs away. Sometimes he dares to peek inside his room. Steals a quick glance, and then runs for his life. Areleh is lying on his bed. He gets up. Sits down. Goes to the window. Comes back. Goes to the closet and opens it. On the bottom shelf lies a small suitcase. He pulls it out, biting his mouth. Lifts it with a swing onto the unkempt bed. Opens it. The teeth of the zipper hiss backwards.

A few lone clothes are folded in the closet. It is so easy to pack and so simple to get out of here . . . go. Nothing at all. There are his tzitzis folded. One threadbare pair of pants. Two shirts. Another kippa. A sweater. Socks don't count. The shoes on his feet and the cap on his head. Was there anything else?

So far he had not even had a bar mitzva, so he did not have any tefillin. Oh, but he did have his siddur with the signature of the institution. The Botei Avot of the Ponovezh yeshiva and the signature of the Rov. That was all. He takes a look around.

Ah . . . the new wedding clothes. Yossi's wedding. No. He would not take them. For what? He would leave those. He swallows his tears.

He puts it in the suitcase. The zipper fastens on the suitcase. He grinds his teeth. Closes it hermetically. Lifts it to the floor. Oh! There is something else small! He almost forgot . . . the note! The note he will put in . . . no! He will leave the note. He won't take it. What does he need it for? Once it existed. From tomorrow—it would be no more.

He feels in the pocket of his pants. His fingers don't find it. Where is the note? He bends down under the bed, moves the pillow, shakes the blanket. No. It is not there. He feels a twinge in his stomach. What could it mean?

His fingers feel around the empty pocket with fear. Perhaps he should run to Yossi, to write him a new note . . . Oy! Nonsense! What does he care?

Tears stream from his eyes. He couldn't care less. The tears fall. Like little notes in the wind.

And then—a knock on the door of his room. He wipes his eyes on his sleeve. "Go away! I told you! I don't want to play hide-and-seek!"

Again the gentle knock. "Go home, Helfgut!" he yells hoarsely.

Mrs. Shechter comes in. Behind her is an unfamiliar young lady. Areleh doesn't know why, but the tears begin again. He is embarrassed. Turns around, his back to them.

"Areleh, mein kind . . . " her voice is so soft. So quiet. He cries silently. "Aryeh, this is my daughter, Yossel's kallah."

Even Mrs. Shechter is very hoarse.

"She has come here with me to invite you to the wedding, mein kind."

He is quiet, his lips quivering. "Do you hear, Areleh? The wedding is tomorrow. We are waiting for you . . . "

"No, no, no," his head shakes sharply.

"Aryeh . . . " she attempts gently, pleadingly.

"Go away from here," his trembling shoulders beg.

"Areleh, my child . . . "

"No! Go away! Leave me alone . . . " His head is laid on the wooden shutter, his ear burning. They should go. Go. All he wants to do now is sleep. Just sleep. They whisper. He listens anxiously.

"All right Aryeh. We are going, but there is a letter here for you. Read it, ok?"

He doesn't respond.

"Read it, my child. Just for me. Please," and they go out.

He can hear the swish of their dresses and the door closing gently. And then silence.

He peeks. Have they gone?

He goes up to the table. There lies the lone envelope. His heart pounds. His heart is enveloped in pain. His hand reaches out. He opens it.

"I, the undersigned, Yosef (Yossi) ben Yitzchok Menachem hereby take under my protection and responsibility . . . Sincerely . . . ."

Beside the crumpled note, the old one, lies another note. A smooth polished page. New.

P.S. Areleh! We talked it over with the rav and the counselor. They agree. And what about you? Will you agree to come and live with us? The house will be big enough for the four of us. I have built an extra wing for you and Mrs. Shechter. The kitchen won't be big, but I am sure we will manage. The rav has agreed. So how about you? Will you come? Think it over and give us an answer. Awaiting your reply, Yossi, in the name of my kallah, too.


The suit was a tiny bit big on him, because "you are growing like a radish"! Ima Shechter laughed. Until next winter she would be cracking up about you, be'ezras Hashem. The shoes creaked with importance at every step, like new shoes straight from the box. And his ear burned. In the meantime he hadn't had a chance to give the chosson, Yossi, his letter of reply.

Perhaps after the chuppah he would do it. Or, actually, tomorrow, perhaps. It was not that urgent. The note lies in his suit pocket, and Areleh is holding up one of the four poles of the chuppah. Yossi is very close to him and looks like someone whom all you had to do was touch him and he would sway! That "pull-down champion" like him! His eyes are closed and a light pallor of excitement lights up the face of the chosson. So festive he is.

As for the kallah, it is impossible to see her, obviously. She is covered in her veil. But in any case girls are not interested in pull-downs and other such boyish exploits. Aryeh smiles. They are saying the sheva brochos under the chuppah but he can "see" the note lying in his pocket.

Soon he would be dancing with Yossi in the center of the circle. He would dance and dance until the morning! Then maybe tomorrow or at some other opportunity he would show his reply to Yossi and his wife. Written on the clean paper. The new one.

He didn't have to rack his brains on how and what to reply. It was so easy! Easy as pie! He had simply written in big, giant letters, just four words: Yes! I am willing!


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