Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Landing the first job in Tali’s profession was challenging.

Who wants to hire an architect with no experience in the field?

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Especially when the young, petite haredi applicant looks no more than 18 years old, and the company never hired anyone from her type of background before. Why did they even grant her an interview, she wondered? She found out when the CEO, Ariel, and her boss-to-be, Amnon, plied her with questions about a seemingly unrelated item in her CV – her year of experience as a ballet teacher in a local haredi school of arts. She got the job. The company subsequently added other religious women to their workforce.

Tali’s next challenge appeared on the morning she began her job. Amnon’s department worked in a huge open space. Tali’s desk was situated in back of Amnons’ so that he could easily turn backwards to instruct her. He sipped his coffee as he explained the new project she was hired for. She reached for her own water bottle, said the brocha aloud, and only then took a swig of water.

He gaped at her in amazement.

“What did you just say Tali? You weren’t talking to me, were you? Who in the world were you talking to?”

And so Tali explained to Amnon the lessons of thanking G-d for what he has given us, even for a drink of water.

Amnon lived in a kibbutz located halfway between Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh. Yet he knew nothing about Judaism and had never spoken to a haredi Jew. Tali found herself not only in a new job, but in the position of Defender of Her Faith. Whenever he offered to give her a lift to the main road, she braced herself for a barrage of questions. Her boss was not interested in becoming a ba’al teshuva. He was an intelligent and curious person. Skeptical but not antagonistic.

During coffee break one morning in the company kitchen, he “caught” her checking the rice. The company prides itself on being equal-opportunity and democratic where employees and bosses mingle freely in the dining hall where all are welcome to partake of a hot lunch. The kitchen is strictly vegetarian, uses no disposables, recycles water and boast a huge compost heap in the garden. Totally ecological. And totally kosher, according to the elderly and nearsighted Moroccan cook. So Tali “helps” her check the rice.

When Amnon saw Tali bent over a large tray, fingers nimbly moving over the little white grains on the large plate, he burst into laughter. He sensed that it had something to do her halachic stringencies.

“What exactly are you searching for in that rice? Think you’ll find a little pussycat?”

Hashem came to Tali’s rescue. She looked up from the rice, and grasped between her fingers a dead, crunched up spider. She shoved the spider in front of Amnon’s eyes so he could view the corpse himself. He gallantly conceded.

“Vegetarians, right?” she coyly teased.

Despite his skepticism about religion, he had many fine qualities. Amnon was an excellent teacher and expended much effort in explaining and helping the people who worked under him. He generously offered professional advice to whoever approached him on matters unrelated to work. Amnon never raised his voice, did not get angry, and did not use offensive language.

Tali remained with the company for five years and grew immensely in her field, largely due to Amnon’s tutelage. When she left to open her own office she had been well-prepared.

But she was not prepared for the WhatsApp she received recently from Ariel, the CEO. I’ve been away from the company for over four years now. Why would Ariel be writing to me?

Amnon died. Funeral today at 3 in his kibbutz.”

Tali immediately phoned a religious friend who still worked there. She told her that Amnon had been ill for the last few months with cancer. Together, they attended the funeral, which was unlike any funeral they had ever seen.

Tali stood frozen in disbelief. She looked at Ariel, who was getting ready to leave, and implored: Kaddish! They didn’t even say Kaddish!

Everyone in Israel, even secular Jews, are familiar with Kaddish because whenever a soldier is buried, the Army Rabbinate perform a religious burial.

Ariel squirmed under Tali’s demanding gaze.

“You don’t have enough people left here to say Kaddish. The sun is setting in half an hour Tali, just go home and leave it. OK? Amnon wouldn’t care.”

But Tali and her friend did care and rose to the challenge. They insisted that Ariel remain and they would organize a minyan. Tali phoned her husband who was picking up some of his fellow cheder Rebbes for a staff meeting. Instead of taking them to the meeting, he diverted them to the cemetery. Her friend’s husband was home sick, but jumped out of bed when he heard that he was desperately needed, and enlisted a few boys from the local yeshiva.

Nine men raced into the kibbutz cemetery where Ariel, Tali, and her friend were anxiously waiting, watching as the coral sun descended lower and lower. The breathless young men looked at each other and asked who could say Kaddish? Because their parents were alive, they could only answer, but not lead the prayer – unless their parents gave permission. It was one of the enlisted yeshiva boys who came to the rescue.

“No problem guys. I’m an orphan. I”ll say the Kaddish.”

As the fiery winter sun sank down into the Judean Hills, men who had never met Amnon said Kaddish for his soul.

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Zelda Goldfield is freelance writer living in Jerusalem for over 40 years.
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