Hershel’s hat was faded from the sun, water-stained from the rain, the wayward brim turned up in the front and down in the back. It was the perfect prop for the pauper in our annual Purim play.
I had been nagging him to dump it for months. You know the saying, “As long as the shoe fits, wear it”? My husband applies that adage to everything: our graying sofa (was it originally blue?), our dining room table with the wobbly legs, and our Amcor refrigerator. Aside from a few scratches on the finish, a mammoth crack in the plastic vegetable drawer, and a missing egg shelf, it just celebrated its 23rd birthday.
As much as the sight of him sporting the hat continued to bother me, I put the issue on a back burner when a much graver problem came up. Our 15-year-old son, Eliyahu, came home from yeshiva, and we noticed black and blue marks all over his back and legs. Eli insisted that no one had hit him, and he hadn’t fallen. Why was he so bruised?
Our family doctor was consulted. Concerned, he sent us to the emergency room. They conducted various blood tests, and found that something had happened to Eli’s immune system. We were sent to one of Israel’s renowned hospitals.
Our whole family has been on an emotional roller coaster ever since. We’ve met the most wonderful, caring people who have helped us and Eli weather this draining challenge. I’m praying that this illness will soon leave his body as suddenly as it came.
A few days ago, Hershel went to visit Eli. His oldest sister, Sarah, who lives in Netanya, said she would meet him at the hospital, and they would drive back together to our home in Yerushalayim. Before meeting him, she went shopping. My sister-in-law likes to help us out when she can. She called me up to tell me about some bargains she had found in the open-air shuk.
“Ita, you won’t believe what I bought today. First of all, I picked up three kilos of soft tomatoes. You’ll be able to make enough matbucha salad to last for the next two months. Then, I found a huge pumpkin on sale. We could make a big pot of pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin latkes. And you’ll plotz when you see the beautiful sheepskin vest I bought. It has a lovely beige lining and big gold buttons. I can’t wait to see it on you! To top off a fruitful day at the market, I found a Shabbos outfit for you – a two-piece ensemble with zebra stripes. It’ll match perfectly with your Shabbos turban.”
Her enthusiasm was palpable. But between you and me, I had no interest in an ensemble that had any resemblance to a zebra. And I didn’t want to look like a sheep. But I couldn’t say all this to my husband’s big sister.
I didn’t have to. Later that evening, Hershel and Sarah tottered unsteadily into our apartment. Concerned, we all gathered around them. Something was amiss. Hershel was jacketless, and my usually buoyant sister-in-law was quiet and bagless.
Hershel spoke first. “We just had a miracle happen. Sarah was driving her car [a jalopy that dates back to the days when Reagan was in office] on the highway from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim. We were cruising along. I detected a faint smell of smoke, but figured it was coming from a distant forest fire. I looked out of the car window, and noticed a man up ahead of us frantically flailing his arms back and forth.
“I realized he was trying to signal me, so I asked Sarah to pull over to the shoulder of the road. She did, and we heard the man scream, ‘There’s smoke coming out of your engine. Get out of your car!’ We jumped out of the car and ran over to the metal side rails.
“Two minutes later, there was a loud explosion and the car was on fire. The police and Hatzalah came. Baruch Hashem no one was hurt. But the car and everything that was in it were totaled.
This might sound strange to the reader, but while Hershel was recounting the story of their incredible escape, I experienced a wave of great relief. Hashem was sending me a personal note that read, “Ita, I know you’ve been going through a difficult challenge with Eli these last few months. Don’t worry. I’m with you and I’m watching over your whole family. And I’m taking good care of Eli.” I felt like Heaven was giving me a big hug.
Hershel and Sarah sat down to supper. Sarah spoke up. “Baruch Hashem we’re alive. Gam zu l’tova about the car. I had it for a long time. But I really feel bad about the loss of the clothes. It was such a nice vest… and the outfit was a really good buy.” I nodded my head in commiseration, but didn’t say anything. Hershel thought I was upset.
“You know Ita, there’s something that I’m sure you’ll be happy about. Remember my hat – the one you’ve asked me to get rid of for the last couple of months?”
“How could I forget it?”
“Well, I did forget it. I left it with my jacket in the backseat of the car.”
Heaven was giving me a really big hug.