Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Teves 5766 - January 11, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
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 1

We leave Fred Smith, Daniel, and his parents in the Amazon, to meet Esther of Jerusalem.

Esther watched the deep dark blue of night slowly changing to gray, filtering through the slats of the blinds. Each morning as she woke, the realization came to her that her days of school and Seminary lay behind her. Soon she would get up and go to work. She had trained to be a teacher but when it proved difficult to find a post as a new inexperienced teacher, she had looked elsewhere.

She had been lucky to find a post at Ezrat Horeinu an organization that had begun as a soup kitchen in the early fifties. Now, besides providing a hot meal each day for old people, there were a variety of other activities, from shiurim at their small beis medrash, to lessons in the afternoon for poor children who were falling behind in the class work. The secondhand clothing shop provided good clothing at rock bottom prices. During the summer holidays they ran a day camp for girls who otherwise would have been alone at home while their parents went to work.

It was a fascinating place to work, even if her job involved nothing more than sitting at the switchboard and directing calls. Esther had tentatively suggested that she help with the day camp since this was related in some way to her teaching experience. However she had been told that all the posts had already been filled. In any case these posts would end when school began again and if she didn't work at the switchboard now, then they would have to hire someone else. That meant that at the end of the summer there would be no permanent post available for her. So she smiled and said she saw the difficulties involved and remained at the switchboard.

The sun was rising now, throwing a reddish gold tint onto the walls. Soon her younger sisters would wake up. Esther took her sketchbook from the drawer of the small table next to her bed and, looking out of the window, spotted an old man walking slowly to shul. The lines of his tallis mirrored the lines of the archway through which he had just passed. With lightning strokes of her pencil, Esther drew the scene. Just as she was finishing she heard her sister mumble, "What's the time?"

Esther hastily packed her sketchbook into her purse. No one approved of the time she spent "scribbling." They hadn't approved at school, when she sometimes got so involved in her drawing that she forgot to listen in class. Her mother didn't approve when she found her "scribbling" in a notebook rather than doing her homework or helping her younger sisters with theirs.

Again her sister said, "What's the time?"

With her sketchbook now safely hidden, Esther said, "Shush, don't wake the others. It's only seven o'clock and there's no school today. Remember, you're on holiday. Go back to sleep."

Soon Esther walked through the narrow alleys that took her to the offices of Ezrat Horeinu. Almost as soon as she sat down at her desk in the small lobby entrance, the phone began to ring. "Is it too late for my daughter to attend the summer day camp? I thought I would be home for the holidays, but their other cleaner let them down and they insist I come in."

The young woman who ran the program came in just then, "Speak to the camp director and see what she says," Esther replied, thinking of the desperate woman on the line and hoping that somehow they would make space for the girl.

Esther gave a quick explanation and then handed the phone over to the girl running the day camp.

The calls followed, one after another. There was one inquiring when the secondhand clothing shop was open. There were calls asking if the afternoon teaching program continued through the summer holidays. A call came from a municipal social worker about including another family in the food delivery scheme.

On that particular day all the office staff were out. The director had gone to Tel Aviv to meet an important American donor. The secretary had gone to the town hall offices to file papers for a hoped-for new extension. The deputy director was negotiating with a supermarket to provide them with fruit and vegetables at a special rate. So, for many of the calls, all that Esther could do was take a name and phone number and give a promise that there would soon be a call answering their query.

It was midday when a call of a quite different nature came through. It was in English. Esther drew in her breath and concentrated. School English had involved more writing than talking or listening.

"Oh honey, I wonder if you can help me?" the American voice resounded down the phone line. "Our appointment for this afternoon has fallen through and my ladies will be so disappointed. We were supposed to visit a girls' orphanage, but there has been some mix-up. All the girls are out on a special trip to the beach. My friend told me about the interesting time she had visiting your place last fall. By chance I still had the leaflet in my purse. Can we come to you this afternoon?"

Momentarily, Esther felt at a loss. Would the director be in this afternoon? Would his deputy be in if he was not? Should she suggest another day instead?

"Hey honey? Did you hear me? Can we come? We can be there by about two o'clock."

Esther heard herself saying yes, asking how many women there would be, and then, as she put the phone down, she remembered that both the director and his deputy would be away all day. The secretary too would in all probability not be returning.

Esther was thinking about the situation, when the phone rang again. She picked up the receiver but heard, "Sorry, wrong number." Esther knew that now she could not get back to the American woman using the phone system's recall of the previous call. The women were coming and she could not call them off.


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