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Yankel’s father and his bride-to-be looked at each other.

“Perhaps you need a tea. Something hot,” Gila said sympathetically, with an Israeli accent, but he could tell she spoke English very well.


Yankel put up his hand. “I will be fine. Just give me a minute.” He shook his head slightly from side to side as though tossing something off. “Gila, how nice it is to finally meet you. My father told me that you are from Romema in Jerusalem. Is that where you were born?”

“Actually, my parents are from elsewhere. My father is from Iraq and my mother is from Taiman – Yemen.”

“You speak English so well. Where did you learn…?”

“Thank you, but my English is really not that good, but I studied at Hebrew University.”

Yankel looked at her again. He was no expert on women, but she couldn’t be older than thirty-two. She was no thirty-seven. Had his father lied about this, too?

“Why don’t we all order something?” Yankel’s father offered genially. “The cheesecake here is outstanding… Blueberry cheesecake for you, Yankel?” With a flourish, Yankel’s father gestured for the waiter. “Three blueberry cheesecakes here, please.”

Yankel took another gulp of water. “Well, it looks like we are celebrating two marriages.”

Gila leaned slightly forward. “Yes, your father told me. You may get married soon.”

“Actually, we will announce the engagement officially tomorrow night.”

Mazal tov.” She arched her brows high as she said this.

He couldn’t make up his mind if this was beautiful or ugly. Women – the torture of women! He could not stop staring at her. It was embarrassing. He could see her eyebrows were plucked, again like she was in an advertisement for Sabra liqueur. Now in his mind’s eye he saw her with a beret in a poster for the Israeli military: a smiling brunette, fresh, eyelids sparkling with the dewdrops of youth, a Galil rifle slung over her shoulder. How different these women were from those he knew here in Brooklyn. Were they even of the same tribe?

“You know, Yankel,” his father said, “Gila’s great-grandfather was the Ben Ish Chai, the great 19th-century sage from Bagdad.”

“It’s true,” Gila said. “My father’s grandfather.”

“Zera kodesh,” Yankel said. “Holy seed.”

Yankel’s father beamed and nodded approvingly.

Yankel began nervously, “I know you are going to be leaving tomorrow.”

Gila and his father looked at each other.

“By the time you come back, the plans for my wedding will be well underway and…” Yankel glanced at Gila for a fraction of a second.

As if reading his mind she said, “I see someone over there that I want to say hello to for a second.” Gila stood up again and turned her back to the two men. Her hair was tied in a ponytail. When she stood up, she seemed to tower above both of these sitting men, but of course she was wearing high heels.

Whatever he felt, Yankel still had no words for. At least not yet, but later, much later that night long after the meeting, it dawned on him that in Gila’s smile, he saw a tiger’s fangs. She was his father’s proxy, he concluded. His attack animal to finish off what he didn’t dare to: the complete annihilation of the ways of Eastern Europe. Maybe she had been one of those kind of Sabras that helped Holocaust survivors off the boat from Cyprus after the war, that one he saw in the old newsreels, but wherever she grew up, Yankel surmised that she must have been taught to scorn his type – to hate all the old ways of yeshiva men – the weak knees, the poor eyesight, yeshiva bochrim walking around at 25, 26, looking as if they were pre-diabetic, diets consisting of white potatoes, white bread, foods bleached of all nutrients. People who were of weak character, too – they refuse to serve in the army, no doubt as she had probably served.

Yankel leaned toward his father at the small round table. “I know that you gave me a present on Sunday, but it’s possible, very likely – though nothing’s been decided for sure – that a wedding for me is coming up and I need money.” He stopped a second. “More than you gave me.”

Yankel’s father’s face reddened and some veins around the corners of his eyes burned blue. “You know that my money is tied up. And here you are not even yet engaged. Why not wait a bit? I will come through for you, you know that. I always have. Zorg nit mein kind. I have you covered for two lifetimes.”

Yankel shook his head. “That hasn’t been my experience. When I need something, the first thing that I get is pushed away, and then, only then, will you release a few dollars.”

“I resent that.” Yankel’s father seemed to turn up his nose slightly into the air. “I have always been giving.”

“To a point,” Yankel shot back.

The older man now stammered. His eyes searched for Gila who was at the other side of the restaurant talking animatedly. “I have always given, but there is a limit. I myself don’t have much. Never did.”

A busboy cleared the plates, while a waiter handed him the check. The older man put on his bifocals and took a moment to study it.

“For yourself you have,” Yankel snorted.

“Look Yankel, I did not choose your path for you. It was you who chose to be a yeshiva bochur.

“So I must suffer for this.”

“Suffer? G-d forbid! I supported you all this time. Just last week I sent a check to your yeshiva.”

“How much was it?”

“It wasn’t much, but I am no Rockefeller.” “How much?” “Something.” “How much?” “This is silly. I promise you that I will help you as much as I can.” “I need to know that you will pay for the wedding.” “Such a thing is impossible. A wedding for you Yeshiva boys costs six or seven thousand dollars.”

“Actually, ten. I need ten thousand and I need it tonight. In fact, I am not leaving this restaurant without it.” Yankel resolutely folded his arms.

“The chutzpah.” Yankel’s father laughed. “How I wish I had it.”

“You have it all right. If I have to beat it out of you.”

“This is the way a son talks to his father! A yeshiva bochur no less.”

“That’s what this is all about.” Yankel’s face reddened with anger. “You can never forgive me for being a yeshiva bochur! If I were some colorful yarmulke-wearing modern Jew with multi-colored tallit, then all would be well, wouldn’t it?”

Gila returned to the table. Calmly she said, “May I have a moment alone with your father?”

“Give him the money,” she said, putting her hand on his. “Give it to him.”

Although they spoke quietly, Yankel heard everything.

“But, I don’t have…” “Give it to him.” “Five thousand is all I have.” “Give it to him – all of it.” “Okay, nine thousand. I swear I have no more.” He sat down and wrote the check for nine thousand carefully and slid it across the table.

Yankel felt a throbbing in his ears. For the rest of his life he would remember this moment: the calm writing of the check, the deliberate filling in the number amount. It was surreal, but there it was. Just like that. Yankel folded the check, put it in his pocket, and stood. He might have kissed his father, but they were both trembling from the exchange, and he thought it better just to leave.

By degree he began to recover himself with every block he put between himself and the restaurant. What a strange world, he thought, as he braved the cold wind. This was so far away from the certain uncertainties of the Talmud: a dairy knife, clean and cold, falls into a chulent pot – does the food become treyf, unkosher? What happens to the knife? Here, Gila, the unknown, got his father to write him a check. Okay, it wasn’t ten thousand, but it was nine thousand. Nine thousand more than he thought he would ever get. And it was the women, Gila and Leah, who had managed to do it.

(To be continued)

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