Photo Credit: Jewish Press

When I walked into that rabbis’ court, I was in a state. My head felt compressed by a thousand rubber bands. I peered at the three rabbis – one with a red beard, one with no beard, and Rabbi Shmolensky with his salt and pepper beard – sitting behind a rectangular table. The fluorescent lights shone too bright. Near a potted plant stood Binyamin managing to look respectable and upstanding even in his now shortened farmer boy pants. Two men stood next to Binyamin – his witnesses, I figured – the vice-president of the synagogue and the head of the school board. I gazed at my own set of witnesses – Mr. Charlop the butcher and Mr. Frenkel the tailor, his measuring tape slung around his neck – that Rabbi Shmolensky must’ve enlisted on my behalf.

Someone was writing on parchment. They asked me if I was fully aware of what I was doing. I nodded. I said yes. I adjusted my collar, wishing I’d freshened up a bit.

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The rabbis spoke to each of us, explained the procedures. Everything came at me in a blur. I rubbed my forehead. My throat felt hot. I felt so strange, so exposed.

Rabbi Shmolensky said, “Mrs. Walfish, you don’t look well. Please, relax.” He filled a plastic cup with water for me.

There were matters to go over, like who would get what. Maybe that’s why it’s called a Get, ha ha. I glanced sideways at Binyamin and saw a pugnacious glint in his eye, the glint that said: My way or the high way. I thought: This property and possession talk could take forever. More opportunity for Binyamin to change his mind. Let him have everything, I said out loud. I repeated, “I don’t want his stuff.”

Binyamin ran a hand through his plentiful hair and looked neutrally around the room, as if money talk didn’t matter to him. But I caught a twitch, a faint smirk I knew pretty well: What a bumpkin, and how lucky for me! I gripped my empty plastic cup so hard, it crumpled. How dare he stand there so smug and supercilious?

Rat-tat-tat. A plump pigeon perched on the outside ledge of the window was pecking at the glass.

“That’s a funny-looking bird,” the no-beard rabbi remarked. “What’s that white speck under its beak?”

“Maybe it’s a gilgul,” joked the red-bearded rabbi.

“Don’t laugh,” said Rabbi Shmolensky. “The Zohar is filled with references to gilgulim, you know.”

Binyamin cleared his throat in an obvious way, bringing the rabbis back to the present. But not me. The bird followed me with its pinprick eyes. What a look it gave me! Exasperated, frustrated, even disgusted…that’s what I saw in the cock of its head. Was it Reb Getzel? I felt light-headed at the idea. There was nothing I’d put past my Get Angel. Or maybe…just one of his cohorts with a message… for me. I closed my eyes. Four words plopped into my head like pennies falling into a barrel: Don’t be a nar. A fool. I was being a fool. Yes, Reb Getzel, I whispered. I know.

My eyes sprang open. I stared over at Binyamin. Not that long ago I had cared

for him, Shaindy, not deeply or passionately, but enough to look forward to his coming home, enough to worry about his health and well-being. Had he ever cared about me? I think he did – a teaspoonful amount, far too little – but it had satisfied me, sad to say, until that too got swallowed up in his distorted mind.

“Honorable rabbis, just one more thing,” I said to the rabbis who were bending over the divorce papers.

The rabbis looked up.

“I tended to a most difficult man these fifteen months and now I need a little help back.”

Binyamin squinted in my direction.

“Help?” asked the rabbi with no beard. “What kind?”

“The money kind.” I swallowed past the clump in my throat. “I need time and money to get on my feet again.”

Binyamin came to sharp life. “This is sheer nonsense! We all heard her just say she didn’t want any of my – any money.” He looked meaningfully around the room, hands on hips.

“Nothing has been signed,” Rabbi Shmolensky said. “She can certainly change her mind.”

Binyamin opened his mouth then pressed his lips tight. The rabbi had spoken. “What do you mean exactly by get back on your feet?” asked the no-beard rabbi with a hint of skepticism.

“I need to support myself and I need a proper job. That takes training.” I stopped. My own words hit me by surprise. “I’ll need to see a therapist, because I’m not coming out of this marriage unscathed,” I stated matter-of-factly. “Also God willing, I’ll marry again, and–”

Binyamin snorted, and Rabbi Shmolensky leveled him a look: Behave yourself.

And I will want to have children,” I continued. “Being that I’m nearly 37, I will probably need some medical help in that area. Insurance doesn’t cover all fertility treatments,” I added.

One of Binyamin’s witnesses piped up, “Did you know that the statistical odds of a woman in her thirties getting married are less than her getting hit by lightning?”

I gaped at him.

The no-beard rabbi said, “That is neither here nor there.”

“I’m not a statistic,” I said, when I got my voice back.

Rabbi Shmolensky nodded slightly. “Why should Binyamin be held financially responsible for your fertility…or infertility, if the case may be.”

Binyamin folded his arms, a righteous and aggrieved look on his face. Actually, Shaindy, I appreciated how Rabbi Shmolensky wasn’t taking my side, or Binyamin’s. He was taking the side of what was right and fair.

“I am fifteen months older than when I first entered this marriage,” I began, then trailed off. Why did I feel he owed me? “You see,” I stumbled on, ”Binyamin and I both wanted children. And yet he refused to go for infertility treatments or allow me to go. He wasted my most fertile months, when you think about it. Down the drain. I don’t care what his reasons–”

Binyamin broke in, “That woman has no right to discuss my personal affairs in front of strangers!” A vein streaked across his reddened forehead. He jabbed a hard finger in my direction. “No right!”

Rabbi Shmolensky said quietly, “I’m afraid that’s exactly what happens in a divorce court–” He stopped, stared open-mouthed at Binyamin.

The cords in Binyamin’s neck had gone taut. His nose, the hub of all his simmering wrath, I tell you it swelled and practically purpled, and his hands clenched and unclenched as if itching to land around my throat. I stood there, my palms and armpits wet with fright, but I didn’t flinch, even as he leaned toward me, I didn’t take a step back. He’d never laid a hand on me, Shaindy, but still I’d been afraid, and now the rabbis in this room knew it, too.

My witness, Mr. Charlop the butcher, stepped between us. “Back off,” he growled to my soon-to-be ex, and to my amazement he did.

Rabbi Shmolensky gestured a little shakily for me to continue.

I said, “I think my financial needs are pretty clear by now,” and all the rabbis bobbed their heads.

Whereupon Binyamin’s shoulders slumped. The jig was up. “How much?” he pushed out woodenly.

“I was thinking, I’d need about” why oh why couldn’t I ask for what I needed? “One hundred and fifty thousand,” I ended. Ten thousand for each month I’d been with Binyamin. For him, a drop in the bucket.

Binyamin gave his witnesses a Do something stricken glare, but they shrugged. He’d lost whatever credibility he’d had.

“What say you, Binyamin?” All three rabbis leaned forward as one and locked in with a penetrating stare.

He squeezed his eyes shut and nodded painfully, once, twice. Then he leaned against the wall, utterly drained, like a woman after birth. I like to think he looked relieved.

All three rabbis quickly went to work. The parchment got rolled up and lifted and then one of the rabbis dropped it in my hands. I caught the Get and then it was my turn to lift it. I was told to leave the room, for how long I didn’t know. So there I was in this room more like a large closet, with no windows. My stomach grumbled. I was starving and antsy. It felt like the walls were closing in on me, like in those scenes in old Superman movies. Had they locked me in? I tested the door knob. No, I was free to go, and I was about to say “I’m coming out!” when a weird sensation came over me. Shaindy, how can I explain it except to say, I felt this…opening in my chest. Like G-d Himself was blowing His breath into me. Honest to G-d, that’s how it felt. Just when I thought I might float off, the rabbis called out for me to return.

I opened the door and stood there, suddenly shy as a schoolgirl, and then all three rabbis greeted me in the same way, I’m told, the sages greeted the freshly-divorced throughout the centuries: “Mazal tov!”

So now you know, Shaindy, why I ran off that morning with no explanation while you were at the doctor with your newborn. Now you know the whole story, how I chose and got chosen by the wrong man, and how by the grace of G-d, Reb Getzel, and my own noggin, I got unstuck. Binyamin needs help, and I pray to G-d he gets it, but it won’t be through me.

Now here’s the part that makes me weep, Shaindy. I stepped outside with my Get in hand. I saw Binyamin drive off in his car, now (mostly) free of bird poo, in the direction of work. That would give me time to go home and pack up. Still, I made no move to hail a taxi.

“Reb Getzel?” I called faintly. Throughout the proceedings I’d felt his kind, creaky presence. He had to still be here. My eyes swept the length of the street, took in the rushing cars, the skateboarders skittering past, fat clouds breaking apart like dough in the sky. No sign of the old man. There was an ache in my chest, raw like cinderblock. I looked down. There on the sidewalk I found a trail of crumbs – rugalach crumbs. I followed them. The crumbs got spaced farther and farther apart, and I walked faster and faster, and then those crumbs wound into the park, went along a walking trail, and stopped right in front of that Japanese maple tree I so loved. I looked at my feet and stood still as rock. A plump, neckless bird pecked that last crumb off the trail. I swear to you, it nodded its head at me just before it flew away.

Now Shaindy, will you stop fussing and give me that baby? 

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