Sometimes, we merit to be emancipated. Other times, we
remain enslaved in lethal circumstances.
lady peeled her orange ever so slowly, enjoying the fine spray of misted
citrus, which filled the air like an expensive atomizer. Her smile allowed her
entire upper body to momentarily release its stiffness. Although her back was
braced against a stone wall, cold in Novembers chill, she felt heat
radiate to her torn meniscus. For a brief span, she was lifted away from
Tsfats autumnal breeze and resituated in the inner sanctum of the Dead
Sea Spa that she had visited lifetimes ago.
The grandma tucked each
piece of peel into a plastic bag. It was as important to bring along tools when
sitting in public as it was to keep her hair shampooed and her face free of
grime. Her contemporaries espoused the utility of looking tattered, but that
woman remained intolerant of rank odor, unkempt clothing, and other signs of
personal disregard. It was better to receive fewer handouts because folks
doubted ones social station than to get double fisted charity because of
The moment passed. The
orange was gone. The wall again felt cold. Once more, her knee throbbed. As she
said grace, a cloud covered the sun. Hobbling, the woman moved toward a
popular coffee shop, where, sometimes, one of the waiters let her sit at an
outside table and order, for no cost, a mug of hot water. Whenever
his manager noticed that kindness, though, the berated younger man screamed at
the older woman to leave the premises. As she deposited her bag of peels into a
streetside can, she wondered whether or not the café manager would be on
duty that day.
The cracks in the
sidewalk became lines on a driveway. She was riding in circles with her two
sisters and only brother. The children whooped and screeched, insisting that
some bikes were pony and some were donkeys. Streamers flying, they pretended to
be racing offerings to the Temple. Neither scraped knees nor raindrops
interrupted their play. Only their mother hollering about lunch made them
In route to the cafe,
the bag lady checked her cell phone, the only item of worth she hadnt
pawned. Mordechai still hadnt texted. That fair child, red-headed like
his mother, and sulky like his father, was her only grandson. Her own children
were often too busy to see her, but Mordechai made delivering his
daily message to his Grandma his most important event. She wondered if the boy
would have liked a bike with streamers, and resented, for a minute, that she
couldnt buy him one. Inhaling deeply, she comforted herself that this
worlds tests would elevate her to The World to Come and that whereas she
was poor in coin, she had a rich life.
She regarded her phone
again. Sometimes, she and Mordechai would volley half of a dozen texts in a
single day. Other times, she received just an isolated regard from him. Either
way, those links helped to keep her away from her roommates illicit
merchandise and from the towns missionaries. Whats more, had she
and that dear one not had the habit of daily messaging, when she had fainted
from low blood sugar, her silence would have gone unnoticed. No one would have
been summoned to bring her to her communitys hospital.
The woman regarded the
fingers on her right hand and the ones on her left. She had kept all of her
digits as well as her eyesight thanks to the texting habit of her
daughters boy. She sighed. Her grandchild was that much more of a wonder
than were her own miracle babies. Conversely, nothing could ever surpass the
marvel of her own children. She nodded to herself; life taught through
paradoxes. She was a matriarch of generations, who lived absent of family. As
well, she was an impoverished, trained professional.
As she walked the block
to the coffee shop, she stopped at a bench to rest. Thirty years earlier, she
had birthed her grandsons mother. That labor, her second, had been
relatively swift. Rather than the twenty-eight hours she had endured with her
oldest, her grandsons mom had taken only ten hours to move from heaven to
earth. Besides, that child had been positioned more favorably than had been her
first born. As such, that daughters passage had caused her only
ordinary labor pains.
When that daughter
emerged, her head had been full of so many dark curls that she had seemed
costumed. The woman fell in love again, realizing that maternal sentiment can
be divided without losing potency. Thereafter, she remained the fierce champion
of both her first child and her second one and of all of her children yet to
Later, when that second
daughter birthed the grandmoms sole grandson, she reported none of her
mothers awe. Rather, she spoke crisply delivery and maternity ward and
commented that the hospital blankets were eminently washable.
Once home, she allowed
her husband to turn off all of the heat in their apartment and to reduce her
nesting space to their small bedroom. Although that man had bought her a space
heater, a week into her lying-in, he left her and their baby to undertake an
international adventure. He had declared no one in his company could work in
his stead. Then, as now, the old lady had sighed; that same son-in-law had gone
drinking with friends the night her daughter had bled from inappropriate
second daughter, who had shooed her mother away from attending her in the
hospital and at home, called whenever she experienced fear or pain. For half of
a night, for instance, her mother worked with her on positioning. Thereafter,
when her mother urged her dear one to follow up with a lactation consultant, to
join a support group for nursing moms, and, in general, to surround herself
with loving others, that daughter, did nothing. Rather, she exacerbated her
weakness by doing laundry and by cooking, and by claiming, after her husband
had boarded his flight, that it was best for her and her newborn to be
One business trip led
to another. A complication, from an infection, which that daughter endured
during that postpartum period, led to fertility problems. By the time that the
grandson was ten, he had texted his grandma that his father hit his mother. He
had written, too, that he had rushed at his father to drive away the striking
hand and the debilitating fist. He had been thrown against a sofa.
The scenario repeated
itself. The third time that the grandsons father had pushed him with
force, the boy had lost consciousness. The next day, he texted his grandmother,
telling her that his mother, one of her own eyes swollen shut and her lip still
oozing pus and blood, had used a combination of layer blankets wrapped around
his body and chips of ice applied to his forehead to revive him. She refused
medical care for either of them.
As for the father, he
left noodles burning in a pot on the stove and didnt return home until
his family was asleep. He muttered something about having to help out at a free
loan society. In the middle of the night, when he tippy-toed to the bathroom,
his son saw him surfing Internet pornography.
The grandchild implored
his grandmother to do something. She did. She cried. She prayed. She cried
more. His mother had never told him that Grandma lived in a single room,
available to her only because of meager government subsidies, which she shared
with three other women because she also had to pay for heat and running water.
Instead, his mother had painted his grandma as a crazy woman, who, gypsy-like,
floated from community to community in search of New Age fun.
The worried grandmother
had gone to her mentor. She also sought aid from a charitable
Her spiritualist had
waved his hands at her and had intoned that hardships are cosmic gold dust,
i.e. invaluable opportunities to raise above mundanities. Affliction, he had
espoused, is delivered to a select few as a means to keep them mindful of
directives normally forgotten.
The do-gooders had
pushed a stack of forms across their desk at her. When the grandmother had
completed them, more than an hour later, the clerk on the new shift pointed out
a problem. Since the grandma lived in Tsfat, but the crisis being reported was
occurring in Haifa, there was nothing the agency could do.
The old lady arrived at
the eatery. No manager was in sight. She eased herself into a seat at an
outside table. The befriending waiter appeared. He smiled and asked if she
wanted her usual.
A dumpster cat came up
to her table. It sniffed her and spent a long minute entwining itself around
her legs. Thereafter, it dove for the bits of sandwich that had fallen to the
ground by her seat. The previous customer had been sloppy.
parents had sheltered cats as had she when her husband was alive and their
children were small. Their pets were rescue animals of the most pitiful sort.
One was blind in both eyes. Another had just three legs. Plus, there had been
the two runts, which had been left in a book carton by their door; their
neighbors were aware that the family willing helped unwanted critters. Those
two tiny kittens had initially had to be fed with droppers and had had to be
tucked in with whichever family member was resting on the sofa. The novelty of
fending for such wee creatures was quickly lost to her children, so the woman
and her husband had provided the greater portion of those kittens
The waiter brought her
mug of hot water. She thanked him with words and with her most gracious smile.
After he left, she winced; it was getting increasingly difficult to find a
position in which her knee did not spasm.
Sighing, she thought
she would have called The Israel Association for Child Protection, had the
other ladies, who sat with empty paper cups and equally empty smiles, not
revealed that the government bureau would do nothing to stymie her
son-in-laws actions, even if the IACP worked in conjunction with the
national Family Court. Those ladies reported their own unmitigated cases of
being battered and shared stories of others survival.
Placing his finger to
his lips, the waiter returned. On his tray, he bore a bowl of thick soup and a
handful of whole grain crackers. My mother just got up from shiva for my
grandmother. Her name was Laya bat Yermiachu, was all he said. He
gestured with his chin toward the book of Tehillim the woman had placed
on the table next to her mug of hot water. Before returning back to the people
inside the café, he laid, on her saucer, a bag of regular
Only one of the
womans other children had married. That daughter, though, had experienced
nothing but miscarriages. Ironically, she worked as a doctor in a Tel Aviv
clinic. Not her fancy Ramat Gan apartment, which her stockbroker husband had
purchased, not her jewelry, which he bought her on every significant religious
holiday, and not her small, squeaky dog, which he had given her, in
compensation, on their tenth anniversary, mattered. In her spare time, or so
she told her mother via phone messages, she lit multiple cigarettes, traded coupons, and broadcast chain letters. She
tried to link experiences if not generations.
Those acts provided no
comfort. So, she estranged herself from her nuclear family. She argued, in
phone messages, against risking death via fertility treatments. She alternated
between talking about her fear of the dark powers and her desire to side with
them. Further, she embraced all rabbinical leniencies she could glean from the
familys rabbis in an attempt to excuse her husband from his procreative
The old lady grimaced
and then said a few blessings before spooning soup into her mouth. Beyond her
two daughters, she had four sons, none of whom married and one of whom, she
suspected, preferred men. Her grandson would likely remain her only
Before her bowl was
halfway emptied, the woman felt a small hand on her shoulder. The appendage was
attached to a girl roughly her grandsons age. He was eleven, almost
twelve. Like the other female children with whom the grandma associated, that
girl had been kicked out of her parents home for ringing her eyes with
kohl and for favoring bright lipsticks. Since her choices in dress and, later,
in comestibles, were unlike those of her family, she had been told to leave.
They esteemed it was better for their daughter to wander the streets then to
bring traif ideas, looks, and foods home.
The grandmother looked
at the little girls loose blond-red hair. She shook her head; that
preteen was too young to work at being alluring. She
glanced at her bowl of half-finished soup and patted the chair next to her. If
the girl finished quickly, the waiter would not see that his gift had been
Without blessing G-d or
thanking the older woman, the child grabbed the bowl, brought it to her mouth
and slurped its contents. Usually, she got by with snatches of drink supplied
to her by the men who sought her. Other times, she fought hunger with the
pretty pills supplied to her by other street children. Sometimes, she found
food in dumpsters.
The woman watched the
small head bob in time to the slurps. The girl engaged in unseemly goings on,
but so far, blessedly, she roamed Tsfat rather than suffer kidnapping to an
Arab village. In such a village, she would be enslaved as less than a wife. The
only unfamiliar place in which that child had woken up, to date, was the old
The old ladys
roommates, unfortunately, had objected to that screaming little one, to that
young girl who had demanded to be returned to the streets. They didnt
care about her noise, as they, themselves, frequently engaged in loudly
articulated hysteria. Rather, they worried about her use of a few precious
centimeters of floor. Consequently, the young one had left the old ladys
domicile, taking with her, the roommates maintained, ones favorite
thimble, anothers best begging cup, and a thirds treasure of
scavenged, wrapping paper. From the grandmother she took nothing, instead
leaving on her bed a small family of cranes fashioned from the gift
Upon discovering the
childs disappearance, the grandmother had cried and prayed. She wished
herself to transform into the Mystic of Rosh Pina, a man rumored capable of:
flying, reading anyones body language, pulling secrets from The
Zohar, utilizing covert martial arts, speaking the worlds seventy
basic languages, and, most importantly, showing true kindness to the poor.
Later, she just asked heaven to help her relocate the girl.
The girl licked the
bowl after drinking down its contents. She reached for the crackers, too, but
the older woman put her hand on them because she, too, had to eat. At that
moment, the waiter, who had silently been approaching the table, yelled. His
eyes were wild having seen the girl eat up his gift. He was willing to risk his
job for someones living grandmother, but not for a half dead street
The old lady bowed to
him, tried to wipe up the droplets of spilled soup with the one of the napkins
she hadnt pocketed, and quickly stepped away from the restaurant. She
wondered if the Mystic of Rosh Pina could make the cafés owner
charitable and the waiter brave and whether such a sage could help her young
friend or her grandson.
On returning to her
apartment, the woman picked through the trashcans, seeking refundable bottles.
So as not to dirty her hands, she used a tree branch. She wrapped all of the
suitable vessels in a double layer of plastic bags. She could not tolerate
waste dripping on her clothing.
Again, she checked her
cell phone. In spite of all of prayers, there was no message from her grandboy.
Of the grandmas four unmarried sons, one was a manager at a branch of a
Natanya grocery chain. Another still served in the army. A third DJed at some
sort of club in Tel Aviv. He was the closest, both geographically and
emotionally, to her doctor daughter. Her oldest boy lived in Florida, asserting
that the United States economy was better. The manager didnt earn enough
to support a family, the soldier had not yet begun a family, the DJ didnt
seek a family, and the emigrant wanted only the companionship of the Key West
For the second time in
as many hours, a soft hand patted her shoulder. The woman turned around slowly.
It was unlikely to again be the street girl. It wasnt. Rather, her
greeter, also possessed of a youthful face, was the permanent
tourist. That young wanderer practiced yoga by day and studied
supernatural writings by night. She earned her keep by intermittently selling
her services as a masseuse. A former Utah native, that woman, all dangling
earrings and long, printed skirts, had felt called to Israel.
She motioned for the
grandma to sit on a nearby bench and, uninvited, began to rub her shoulders.
She tried to make conversation as she worked. Her rhetorical regionalism did
not follow Mormonism, but Valleyspeak. Originally, she was from California. She
had moved to Salt Lake City not to become a sister wife, but to immerse her
practice of bodywork in a spiritual milieu. Eventually, she decided that of the
Holy Land would better serve her.
That slim, thirtyish
woman asked about the grandmothers grandson as it was one of the few
topics that the older woman seemed to enjoy. The healers believed that a
happy person was a healthy one.
The grandma weighed her
answer. Something had pulled that younger woman away from her home community to
places increasingly strange to her. Tsfat would never be Los Angeles and it was
certainly not part of the Mormon Corridor. Perhaps, that young one sprang from
a broken childhood. Perhaps, she misremembered a youthful trauma. Perhaps, her
mother had turned a blind eye toward domestic violence.
The older woman lifted
a pocketed napkin to her eye. She spoke of how her grandson had outgrown his
longest pants and of how he seemed to need more regular haircuts. She told of
his struggles with maths. She shared his desire to gain a puppy, too. She
weighed implying, or directly stating, that all was not well in his home, but
said nothing, not wanting to endanger a special relationship.
The woman who rubbed
knots out of the grandmas neck and eased tension from her forehead might
not want to recall her own critical episodes. Even if she remained oblivious to
the fact that most religious men, who passed by her, filled their eyes with
her, and to the fact that the woman, on whom she laid her hands, was smelly and
disheveled, she might yet be vulnerable to references to childhood hardships.
So, the grandma smiled and cooed, but censored her accounts of her
The healing arts woman
smiled back. She looked at the wet napkin, at the grandmothers clenched
lips, and concluded wrongly. Dear Grandmother, she whispered as she
slipped her own bag from the local corner store onto the older womans
wrist. Please take these. Within that thin plastic sheath were a
package of cheese, some apples, and paper sacks of the sort that storekeepers
filled with seeds or nuts.
As suddenly as she had
appeared, that young spirit disappeared among the citys pedestrians. The
old lady frowned. Without truth, Israel would be as spiritually vacant as other
lands. Moving the bag a bit, on her wrist, she continued to shuffle home.
Just doorways before
the building where she roomed, she met another acquaintance. That lucky other
didnt have to use the community centers locker room to get clean;
basement room boasted a shower. She repeatedly invited the old lady to use it,
but the old lady had thought the idea weird.
She invited the old
lady to many opportunities, appointing herself the grandmas community
bulletin board. There had been free music and poetry recitals, about which the
grandma would have been ignorant had it not been for that woman. There had been
free elder clinics, too. That day, though, the gal-with-the-shower was eager to
share more valuable news.
Speakers Library had scheduled a book sale. Inventory would be sold for
as little as one or two shekels per volume. She asked which kind of novels she
ought to reserve for her friend.
The old lady smiled and
shook her head. She couldnt afford such a luxury, even were the price to
be dropped to mere agarot. She offered her friend an apple, which was gladly
received. She offered, additionally, one of the still mysterious paper sacks.
The lady declined, citing a diet.
Before leaving, the
other one reached into her sack and passed the old lady two empty, glass
bottles. She muttered about not being worth visiting the recycling center for
such a pittance. She then promised to treat the old lady to a book of her own
choosing; she would ask the reference librarian to await the elders
The grandmother smiled
in answer and hobbled on. When the young woman was no longer in sight, she
checked her phone. No message.
In her room, she fell
asleep. It was best to nap during the day, when the ambient temperature was
agreeable. At night, she moved around her buildings hallways or walked
the streets to keep warm. Tsfat was lovely in the summer, being one of
Israels literally elevated cities, but its winters were challenging. The
heat she paid for merely kept frost from forming on the furniture.
When she awoke, she saw
that her cell phone, which she had foolishly placed on her
had fallen to the floor. Fortunately, none of her roommates were back. She
again hid that device in her sweaters pocket. Sighing, she glanced around
her room. There was not much space. Beyond her own shared bunk bed, her
dwelling was filled with another bunk bed, a burner, and a small refrigerator,
from which her roommates stole her food. Additionally, there stood a single
dresser. In one corner was a slim door behind which were located a modest
toilet and a tiny sink.
After washing, the
grandmother pulled one of last weeks rolls from beneath her mattress. She
tore around the places where rodents had nibbled, tossed those bits on the
floor and prayed. That roll and similar treats had been delivered by Tomchei
Shabbot, Food for Sabbath, a charity aiming to enable poor Jews to celebrate
Shabbot. When possible, the woman concealed part of her allotment behind a
loosened cement block next to her bed. If she wrapped her food in layers of
plastic bags and covered those bags with vinegar, small creatures bypassed
them. She fished her vinegar bottle out from the pile of clothes under her bed.
It was almost empty.
Other times, leftover
food got stuffed under her mattress or beneath the rags she called her pillow.
Usually, two, four and six-legged beasts found her supplies. That loss would
continue as she could neither quietly or easily move the cider block.
After eating, she
washed again, dried her hands on a dirty shirt and prayed. One of her returning
roommates interrupted her recitation to demand the rest of the food concealed
beneath her bunk. The grandma proffered the apples to that violent, alcoholic
roommate, but said nothing of the sacks of nuts or the brick of hard cheese
secreted behind the wall block. After eating, the other dropped to sleep on the
bunk reserved for a different woman. The grandma didnt wake her. Rather,
she finished her prayers and then left their shared domain.
A block from home, she
withdrew her cell phone from her pocket. There was yet no message from her
grandson. It was bad enough that she was unable to gather all of the street
girls, to feed and otherwise care for them, to teach them, specifically, life
skills such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping and to give them, more
generally, large doses of self-esteem. She wished she could magic their
parents brains into welcoming them back home and could poof the local
municipality into delivering them there safely. She wished, too, that she could
transform her roommates anger and frustration from addiction to public
service. Those broken women were wise in the ways of life. Their insights could
help so many families if only they could be urged away from drugs and drink
toward service. She wished, also, that she could conjure, for the
California/Utah/Tsfat woman, a stable job, a steady spouse, and a solid sense
of self. Above all, she wished she could deliver her grandson from
Sighing, she limped to
a nearby stoop and sat. The air was taking on a chill and the sun was setting.
She drifted back to her life with her husband as lived in a Haifa
One Purim, their
son-in-law had taken a bus from his district to theirs to deliver their
mishloach manot, their Purim basket. In addition to his basket of goodies, he
had brought them a basket full of baby. His ten month-old son was sleeping
under a light blanket in the second parcel that he had left at their door.
His father had dressed
that little one as an ethereal butterfly. That Purim costume, an onesie decked
with fabric paint and strung with gossamer wings, glittered in shades of purple
and blue. Although the sleeping baby seemed more radiant than the shiny ribbons
and glistening sequins decking his pajamas, it was all that his grandfather
could do not to tackle his father. Quietly, he asked about his daughters
hospital, the son-in-law replied. Fell down a flight of stairs. Oh,
and would you watch him for a while; I have more baskets, in the car, to
While her husband went
next door, to the apartment of a family bursting with children, to borrow
diapers, formula and baby food, the not-yet-old lady called the city medical
center. Her daughter had been admitted. She suffered from a broken arm, a few
broken ribs, and a concussion. She was patched, but being held for observation.
The nurse answering the phone said nothing of the police officers guarding her
hospital rooms door. She said nothing, too, about the cigarette burns on
the patients arms and face.
The grandma called her
doctor daughter and asked her to stop by her hospitalized sister. She called
her son, who assisted in a big grocery store and pleaded with him to leave work
immediately to help confront her son-in-law. She rang up her child in Key West
and asked him to fly home. Regrettably, her American boy was disinterested in
tangling in family affairs. Her music jockey, who didnt answer, was
likely sleeping off a late night. Her soldier, assigned to an invisible unit
was unreachable. Her store manager son got stuck in traffic on Route One. When
her son-in-law returned to their apartment, all sweet smiles and nonchalance,
only she and her husband were there to refuse his admission. Their best effort
consisted of chaining their door and drawing the bolt.
He screamed at them and
then set off the fire alarm in the hallway when he threw lit matches at the
ceiling. In the end, a few months after he had left his baby in their
apartment, he successfully sued them. His wife returned to him. The courts
ordered the grandparents to return the grandbaby. When the grandmas
husband died of heart failure, her son-in-law again sued her, thus depleting
her finances and causing her insurmountable debt.
As she massaged her
aching knee, the woman thought of the bravery of Naami of the Bible. Naami had
not shied from taking her daughter-in-laws baby, Ruths child, Oved.
Heroic, Naami had even obliterated, sort of, Ruths connection to the boy.
She remembered the Biblical verse that stated Naami took the child and
placed it on her bosom and became nurse to him. If only it would have
been as simple for her to protect her grandson.
The old lady looked
both ways before crossing the street, despite the hour and the relative quiet
of her neighborhood. In a nearby dumpster, cats were scavenging for dinner. A
random Arab threw stones at them, causing them to scatter under
The woman had
mistakenly believed that when her grandbaby got older, he would be saved by
some religious schools mandate that boys dorm at school. She had not
considered that her daughter, pressed by her son-in-law, would seek permission
for their child to sleep at home.
After the Arab passed
onto a side street, the cats returned to the dumpster to seek their dinner. The
woman shambled along. At the local makolet, she would trade in her bottles for
money. Maybe she would have enough to buy another bottle of vinegar.
While she was trading
empty vessels for sour rinse, her phone, at last, rang. She did not recognize
the caller I.D. When she pushed the communication button, she heard weird
background sounds. Her DJ sons voice greeted her. Behind him screamed not
club music, but sirens; he was calling from a hospital emergency room. His
sister had reached out to their doctor sibling, who had, in turn, dispatched
him to make a rescue. Beyond patient care, that medico refused anything to do
His lone nephew had
been pronounced Dead on Arrival. He thought his mother would want to