Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Teves 5766 - January 18, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

by Gita Gordon

Serializing a new novel.

Chapter 10: Esther, Jerusalem July 2000 — Part 2

Esther is a recent Seminary graduate in Jerusalem who is working at the switchboard of Ezrat Horeinu, a chesed organization. Everyone is away for the day when a woman calls and asks if she can bring over a group of tourists later that day.

A group of thirty English-speaking women would be arriving within two hours and there would be no one but herself to see to them.

Esther went to the kitchen. She had just two hours to prepare for the visit and she had not the slightest idea how she was going to cope. The first thing that she saw as she entered was a row of cakes laid out on the worktops. "Why so many cakes?" she asked.

"Oh, I thought I would make a change from fruit," was the cook's answer.

Slowly Esther's thoughts gathered momentum. "Do you have fruit in stock? Can you serve that to the old people as you usually do and let me have the cakes for some American visitors coming this afternoon?"

The cook peered into the fridge, and then closed the door and nodded her assent. Now the problem of what to serve was solved. The next one was how to entertain the visitors, how to tell them about the work done at the center. Esther took the cakes to the visitor's room.

She walked down the corridor and up the stairs to the switchboard. As she walked past the room where a group of elderly ladies met each day to sit and embroider garments for sale to tourist shops, she became aware of a soft humming sound. Esther went into the room and stood listening. When they became aware of her presence the women stopped and looked up at her. They were elderly immigrants to Israel from North Africa. "We were singing the songs we used to sing our children to sleep, when they were small," one woman said.

"It brings back such memories," said another.

"When we came to Israel everything was, `Only Hebrew, only speak Hebrew.' When we sing these songs we remember our families and the land of our birth. It was a beautiful place. How could we have realized that one day we would be forced to leave?"

"These songs bring back happy memories for us," said another.

Esther thought to herself. "I don't know how to work the video machine. I can do nothing except offer cake and drink and some leaflets. I am going to lose my job because of my foolish invitation for this afternoon. Maybe if I could provide some sort of entertainment it would help things along."

She looked at the old ladies, their plain clothes, their wrinkled faces, and thought, "What have I got to lose?" and she said out loud, "Some very nice American ladies are coming to visit us this afternoon. Would you stay a little longer than usual and sing these songs to them?"

There was a, long silence, then a round of quiet laughter, and then the surprising answer. "Yes, why not?"

At two o'clock sharp a large coach squeezed itself through the narrow alley way and came to a stop in front of the bright green door of Ezrat Horeinu. Thirty well-dressed chattering American Jewish ladies entered the open doorway. They were led into a room where cakes, cool drinks, and popcorn had been set out.

Esther stood at the door and welcomed the women, pointing to the refreshments. Then, once they seated themselves at the rows of chairs, she said, "Instead of showing you a video of the work we do here, I have asked some of our ladies to entertain you with their songs."

Four women walked in. They carried themselves proudly, in spite of their simple clothing and their tired bodies. The stood demurely before the women and began to sing.

In one corner of the room an American lady began to sob softly. As the singing came to an end Esther went straight to her, wondering what she had done wrong to cause the woman such distress.

"Why are you crying? What have I done wrong?" Esther asked.

"Forgive me, but those songs . . . My mother used to sing them to me. She came to America long ago, but she remembered the Ladino songs from her childhood and sang them to me. She used to talk to me, her oldest daughter, in Ladino, though the younger children only heard her speak English. Oh! These songs bring back such memories, such stories."

With that, the American woman got up and headed straight for the singers. Esther watched her go and as she did she realized that her planning had been faulty. Consuming the refreshments had taken all of fifteen minutes. The songs had taken another ten minutes. What was she to do with these women now?

An imperious American voice rang through the room. "Ladies, sit down. I want to tell you some interesting stories. Though my Hebrew is only passable, my Ladino is fine. The singers and I understand each other perfectly. Sit down and listen as we are told some wonderful tales from long ago. I will act as translator."

The afternoon ended with yet more songs. As the Americans trooped back into their bus Esther handed Ezrat Horeinu leaflets to the departing guests. As each woman took a leaflet she made a remark.

"What a wonderful afternoon," said one.

"So different from all the other tours, we really got to know the people here," said another.

"My dear, I can never thank you enough for what you did for me today," said the woman who had commandeered the proceedings.

The next day at work, Esther reported on the events of the previous day. She had no option but to explain that the mistake had occurred because she had forgotten what she had been told, that all the senior staff would be out all that day.

The reaction was a shrug and then, after some moments, "Well I am sure you did your best. What happened to the phone calls while you attended to the Americans?"

Now Esther feared for her job. However, she said boldly, "I switched it over to the message option. When the visitors left I called everyone who had called."

So, for the moment, the unexpected visit and her role in it was brushed aside and Esther returned, chastened, to her duties.

However the checks that slowly arrived during the following month told their own story. The upshot of it all was that Esther was given a new title, "Public Relations Officer," and her own office, and someone else was hired to help on the switchboard.


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