The girl, Cindy, was gazing at a photograph of Chana Goldblatt, taken at Chana's recent vort. Chana was her very best friend. She had learned with Cindy, taught her Rashi script, commiserated over sem meals with her, nursed her through dysentery- and now she was a calla! But Cindy's joy had soon turned to dismay when she discovered that the chasene would not be held at the Ramat Tamid, or at Moshav Flora- but in (italics) Gateshead!
It was hopeless. Cindy was just a poor backpacking student tourist from California, picked up at the cotel plaza by (I shouldn't really mention names but he's Professor Velvel Brown's son in law )- she didn't have rich relatives in Boro Park to pay her air fair- what could she do? What really hurt was that Faigie and Breindie- her two ugly- (well, that's loshon hara and NOT motzi Shem Ra but Hevel HaChen and Sheker HaYoffi) flatmates HAD been invited because they were rich & had relatives in Manchester & were going that way anyway for their Shavuos vacation and Chana had learned that you shouldn't invite people if they didn't stand a chance of attending and Cindy didn't so that was that- and it HURT. And Faigie and Breindie weren't even that close to her. Grmph. Double Grmph.
Ah Well. Got to be on a higher madrega. Can't give way to bitterness, depression, envy. BAD midos. Tush tush. Slap your wrist, Cindy.
Cindy's name wasn't really Cindy, actually. It was Senderella. The Hirsh family had really wanted a boy to name after great uncle Sender who was something of a family hero. When Cindy came along, her parents, though naturally adoring little girls, had decided not to be thwarted in their original plan. There's Daniella, Yaakova, Ariella and a plethora of similar names- so why not Senderella? Cindy, being possessed of a good amount of common sense, became "Cindy" as soon as possible.
So here was Cindy, checking red lentils for her chesed project family, and trying not to give way to the yetzer hara of negative emotions & thinking very hard about the stuff she'd been learning from Miriam Adahan, when in came Faigie & Breindie, back from a shopping trip in Geula.
"Oh Cindy, look at this simply gorgeous outfit I bought in Malchei Israel! And it was only 400 shekel! Oh don't you think it looks positively peachy?"
Feigie held the suit up to her & swayed gracelessly before the mirror, admiring herself. Her face was actually quite florid and sweating from a hot & crowded ride in an Egged bus, and clashed quite dramatically with the muted lilac tones of her new suit- but when you shell out 400 shekel on impulse you can't let yourself regret.
"It'll be SPLENDID for the Chasene!" Breindie exclaimed. "Cindy, did we tell you we're going to England for Chana's Chasene?"
"Why don't you go? England's not that far..."
"It's really beyond my means."
"Well, I don't know. Marcy flew to Monsey for HER best friend's wedding."
"Yes, indeed! Don't you want to go? I mean, if you wanted to go... couldn't you take a loan?"
"Excuse me, I really must take these lentils to the Goldbergs..."
On her way out, Cindy tripped over the uneven floor tile she'd quite forgotten about and roughly 613 tiny red lentils fell all about her like confetti. She sighed & took ten deep breaths.
"I can control myself" she murmured, as she began to place the spilled lentils in the bowl, one by one.
Faigie and Breindie suddenly dashed past her, knocking the half filled bowl out her grasp.
"Bye Cindy, we're off to make reservations!"
"Yay! England here we come!"
Waaaagh! Cindy burst into tears.
some time later Cindy stopped snuffling pitiably and made her way to the mirpeset. She calmly poured the tear wetted lentils onto a shmatta in the sun to dry them. Then she would have to sieve them to get rid of the dust & check them again. On second thoughts maybe she should rinse them through first & let them dry out- those stairs were pretty dirty. Oy- only a couple of hours of sun left! Well perhaps the blow heater. Then she would have to check them again- but that should go faster... She sighed & went to work.
As she worked she thought of Chana. What would Chana say? These trials were sent to test you, build your character. Do not despair! Great stuff, Breslov. These troubles were meant to make your Neshama great. Emunah! Bitachon! Maybe it's beshert that she can't go to the Chasene...
The phone rang.
"Hello Mrs. Goldberg... Boruch HaShem, how are you?... About the lentils... Oh, boruch HaShem... well I hope so, what is it?...Your great Aunt Baila?... Gateshead!!...why, I... kin eyna hara... Yes! Yes! I'm interested! What does it involve?...... I see..... Oh Mazal tov!....I see... well I think I can....Yes I can, really I can!... No, I'm sure, I won't have to think about it- wait a minute- when.... ?.... O wow!! ... Thank you, thank you, thankyou!!... Yeah, Amen, Boruch HaShem... Yeah, thanks, zei gezunt.
"Chana's Chasene. I can't believe that I'm here! It all happened so fast. "Beheref Ayin". Here I am in this gorgeous hall, with chandeliers & everyone dressed so formally- dressed like a princess in pink roses and lace! Old Mrs. Baila Schwartz was so delighted with my enthusiastic service that she insisted on (italics)giving me this exquisite suit to wear at her grandson's Bar Mitzvah, then let me keep it and wear it for this Chasene, her daughter dressed my hair and "enhanced" my face - I just walked right past Faigie and Breindie and they didn't recognize me! Ohh it's all a wonderful dream!"
Cindy floated over the marble floors, radiant, joyful, congratulating the relatives, pouring out such great warmth and joy and sweetness that Chana's mother was totally enchanted by her. Chana's mother-in-law to be, Mrs. Blum, thought that perhaps she might have been smoking something illegal but Chana herself, after the perfectly executed double take, squealed for joy and performed an impromptu waltz with Cindy.
"How did you GET here? Oh how beautiful you look! Oh you don't know what this MEANS to me! Oh, it's a NES! You look so LOVELY!" and similar exuberant bubblings for a full three and a half minutes.
Chana's mother-in-law to be looked on in stuffy disapproval but we don't need to worry about her. Well, Chana needs to worry about her but as she isn't going to throw any spanners in the works she can just jolly well stand there and look as sour faced as she likes, this story doesn't have any witches in it.
Chana's brother, Michael, was only mildly worried about the aforesaid Mrs. Blum but right now he'd forgotten about her completely because he'd just been distracted and dazzled and totally overwhelmed by the vision of beauty waltzing with his sister.
He'd been at first alarmed and then curious at whatever had made his sister squeal in such an American fashion- (well, alas, there were a lot of rather over emotional American girls at his sister's sem in Israel- it was only to be expected,) and found himself immediately attracted, ahem, interested, no, merely curious- that's it- by this gorgeous, ehm- good-natured looking girl dancing with his sister.
He tried to analyse his attraction- his curiosity. Ah! It was the way she threw herself into the mitzvah of "mesameach et a calla" - yes, that was it! Mesirus nefesh! And her clothes, obviously expensive and in the best of taste. Hmm. Rich father, Good breeding. (Maybe). Two years of Collel! The opportunity to learn! Seems American. Must have flown here- lots of money. Four years of collel! Such tasteful clothes! And she looks so good in them! Ahem! Wait. I've got to meet her. Hmm. How do I know she has good midos? A plan. Ah! The test of Eliezer...
After an exhausting whirl on the dance floor Cindy glided her weary way to the refreshments table, which, fortunately for Michael, was quite close to the mechitza. Well, that is not quite true. Michael had, two minutes before, managed to con another bochur into thinking he was a member of staff and into helping him move that table three metres in the general direction of the michitza.
As Cindy poured herself some orange soda Michael sidled out from behind the mechitza and ever so nonchalantly asked her if she'd mind pouring him a drink too.
"Isn't there a refreshments table on your side of the mechitza?" She asked him, innocently.
This was not what he had expected her to say, and, understandably, he became very flustered, tongue tied and embarassed. Happily, Cindy mistook his distress for advanced dehydration and poured him a liberal cup. However, in her confusion she hadn't noticed she'd grabbed a bottle of Slivovitz instead, and Michael, in his own state of wonder, did not register this fact as he proffered his glass for a refill. Which she did.
He then turned a very strange colour and fled.
Cindy shook her head as if to rid herself of cobwebs and turned to rejoin the dancing. The rest of the evening flew by smoothly, and except for skidding on a dropped slice of strawberry tart and nearly falling into Mrs. Blum's lap, uneventfully. So smoothly and uneventfully in fact, that she scarcely noticed the passage of time. When she next glanced at her watch she saw to her horror that it was already one minute to eleven. Curfew! With an anguished cry of "Oy, Mrs. Schwartz!" she fled the wedding hall.
No-one saw her race outside, stand in a large and vile piece of gum, leave her shoe behind and continue down the road at a most unladylike pace- no one but Michael, who had just emerged from the ladies' bathroom feeling, by now, a little better. He followed her receding shadow with his eyes, that is to say, both receding shadows as he perceived it, and then noticed both left shoes glued firmly to a very wobbly stairway.
Michael, of course, intended to perform the great mitzvah of hashavas aveda, but since he felt rather embarassed at his reaction to his sister's friend, most unbochur-like, he decided to proceed cautiously and secretly.
Over the next few days he made a few discreet inquiries and finally discovered that Cindy Hirsh was in Gateshead accompanying Mrs. Baila Schwartz on a visit to attend the latter's grandson's Bar Mitzvah for four days and that- OH NO! both of them had flown back to Israel (it)yesterday. Cindy was attending seminary in Bayit VeChatzer and, hmm, perhaps he could convince his parents that he really wanted to study at the Mir.
Michael's parents were somewhat cynical, as English folk tend to be, of his sudden enthusiasm for Mir yeshiva after he had settled so well into Gateshead - his waxing lyrical over all the opportunities to perform mitzvos sheteluyos be-aretz just served to increase their suspicions. He assured them that taking ma'aser from radishes bought at the local Marks & Spencers just wasn't the same. He longed to see the sun drenching the Jerusalem stone, he longed to walk in the footsteps of the Patriarchs, he longed to go scuba diving in Eilat. After days of continuous nagging and collecting scenic picture postcards and reading quotes from back issues of S.P.N.I. magazines from his cousin and extolling the virtues of life in holy places and how it might refine his neshama, Mr & Mrs Goldblatt finally gave in and booked him a ticket.
Michael travelled straight to Jerusalem from Ben Gurion, but did not stop at Mir. He travelled north to ?Avda airport and flew to Eilat for six weeks of snorkelling in the Red Sea. He returned to Jerusalem with several sea urchin stings and peeling skin and learned for a further six weeks at the Mir till he noticed it was already Rosh Hashanah and he had not yet done a thing about Cindy Hirsh. Perhaps he was procastinating. Perhaps he was a little nervous. Nah.
Meanwhile, Cindy was becoming restless with singles life at the sem. When she folded laundry at the Goldbergs she sighed & she wondered when, if ever, she would be folding her own little shorts and t-shirts. She had met several likely candidates from the sem's "brother" yeshiva- "More Sameach" and from "Yesh! HaTorah!" but they just weren't for her. One was into ninja wars against women lib-ers (show them who's boss around here) others just looked anemic. Her bashert must be out there somewhere. Prince Charming riding a white...tallis?
As for the shoe, well...when the left shoe had not shown up at the lost and found desk of the wedding hall by the evening before she left England, she sighed and popped the right shoe into the Shwartzes waste paper basket. Then, afraid Baila might happen to see her gift cast away so casually, she pulled it out again, put it in a bag & placed it sadly & lovingly into the garbage can, excuse me, dustbin, outside--as if it were truma & ma'aser. Not logical, but such a costly shoe could not be treated with less ceremony.
The matching shoe was sitting in a similar polythene bag, nestling next to a salt-encrusted snorkling mask and a Mars Bar in Michael's travel bag. Michael himself was now sitting on a wall in Bayit VeChatzer, staring at the Sem across the road & feeling much as he normally felt going to the dentist. Perhaps worse. He'd managed to find the only teacher at Mir who lived in Bayit VeChatzer, charmed him with his ready wit (or naive boyish helpless grin, whichever) & gotten himself invited for all of Rosh HaShanah. A coup! After a (delaying) swim at Boys Town he was finally plucking up the courage to approach the Sem. Here we go! HaBayshan Lo Lomed! Hashavas Aveda! Oy!
Michael took out the Mars bar and started to chew.
"I say! Is that fellow eating a Mars Bar?" exclaimed Breindie, craning her almost non-existent neck as much as it was possible through the window.
"Where would he get a Mars bar?" sniffed Feigie. "Is he cute?" she lurched at the window to seize a view.
Cindy was checking a large bag of oatmeal under a reading lamp and concentrating hard.
"He looks a bit like Chana's brother, & what a dish he was!"
"More like a fish! I heard he spent most of the evening in the women's bathroom puking!"
"Faigie! That's loshon hara! Oy that Mrs Blum was a dragon, poor Chana, and so ugly!"
"He's coming to the building! What a nerve!"
"I'll go get the door!"
"No you will not!"
The two of them raced for the apartment door, collided numbingly & clattered noisily down the stairs. Cindy had not even noticed. Her eyes felt hypnotised. She knew she would be seeing after-images of oat flakes for hours afterward. Why didn't Mrs Goldberg just give her children cornflakes? Oh well, A chesed is a chesed.
"Um, excuse me--I, er um, I'm, well, looking for Cindy Hirsh... I think." said the blushing young man at the door.
"CINDY!" screeched Breindie, derisively. "What do you want with (it)her?"
"Um, well, apparently she misplaced her shoe at a wedding hall in Gateshead, and I've, well I've come to return it..."
He finished rather lamely as Faigie's face, jostling rudely next to Breindie's, was a picture of incredulity, realization and almost malicious mirth. Well, not (it)almost malicious, I can divulge that it was genuinely malicious mirth as she went on to say,
"Well, you've (it)apparently made a mistake, because our dear flatmate, Cindy Hirsh was not at that Chasene as it happens, so you couldn't possibly have her shoe...so, well, where did you get that GORGEOUS tan?"
"Eilat, but Cindy Hirsh does live here... yes?"
"Well, she lives here, but you can't come in because this is a girl's dorm and we have strict standards of modesty here."
At this, Faigie snorted a huge knowing laugh into her lace hanky.
"Could I speak to her, please?"
Sighing, Breindie turned and began to holler "CINDY HIRSH! CEEENDEE HIRSH! CEEENDEEE!!! Apparently she's not here."
"What?" said Michael, uncovering his ears.
"She's not here, now push off before the dean shows up."
As Michael retired to a low wall under a eucalyptus the two ugly flatmates rolled their eyes at one another and walked back into the building.
A short while later.
"Hey, Cindy, We've been thinking, and, um, we've come to the conclusion that we've been treating you awfully badly, and we shan't hold it against you any more that you're American and..."
"What Feigie's trying to say is- would you like a game of Monopoly?"
After three hours of astonishing camaraderie the girls began their Yom Tov preparations. When Cindy hopped out to take the checked oatmeal back to the Goldbergs the spot on the low wall under the eucalyptus was vacant, but just a little bit warm.
* * * * *
While Breindie and Faigie sniggered to one another over their Yom Tov meal in their apartment that evening, (no-one had invited them), Cindy was sampling the rubia and pomegranate seeds while studiously avoiding eye contact with the young English bochur at the other end of the table. He was stealing the occasional furtive stare & Cindy was blushing and holding rapid, nervous conversation with Mrs. Goldberg. You might have guessed it- yes indeed, Hashgachah pratis strikes again. Rabbi Goldberg happened to be the only Rabbi teaching at the Mir who also lived in Bayit VeChatzer. When Michael walked in from shul, Cindy recognized him at once as that unfortunate victim of dehydration in Gateshead, & he recognized her as the girl of his dreams- especially since she was now wearing the same dress that she wore at the chasene.
So near, but yet, so far! But there was no time to waste! At the end of the seudah when the black coffee was served Michael broached the topic with Rabbi Goldberg, and discovered that Cindy had been a devoted helper of the family for many months. Rabbi Goldberg in turn appreciated Michael's enthusiasm in learning and life in general, and after a quick consultation with Mrs. G. backstage in the kitchen, and then another few blushes from Cindy, the date was set.
They met in the fragrant shade of pines and olives, across the valley from Har Tzion, a honey colour moon floating in the sky and the shrill chirps of huge ugly black crickets lurking in the cracks in the buildings, each adding its own music to the pleasant Levantine evening. The two young people gazed across to the Old city, across the deep, aromatic haze of vegetation, lost in their thoughts until Michael finally took a breath and spoke.
"I wish those flippin' crickets would pipe down."
"Oh, Michael, isn't this all just so lovely? Don't you feel privileged that we live in this city, the holiest in the world- in the holiest land in the world- and it's all so beautiful?"
Michael fumbled with something in his bag.
"Would you care to try on this shoe?"
* * * * *
And they lived happily ever after.
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