Round the Latke Platter
Something very domestic hovered in the atmosphere of the tiny
Deganit was sitting by the wooden table, peeling potatoes.
Sharon read the list of ingredients over and over again,
including the directions for preparation written on the small
notepaper which her upstairs neighbor, Rivka, had jotted down
"Are you sure this is going to come out decent?" she asked
"What could go wrong?" answered Deganit, adding another
peeled potato to the growing pile beside her. "My grandmother
always made latkes for Chanuka. As a girl, I used to put a
small stool next to her and would stand and watch her making
Ofra organized all the ingredients on the marble counter.
"Does this dorm apartment perhaps have a grater to grate
these or will we end up having a simple supper of mashed
potatoes, after all?"
Drawer after drawer was opened. The contents of the kitchen
cabinets were carefully examined and finally, Sharon ended up
going to Rivka to borrow a suitable grater.
"She wished us luck and reminded us to leave one over for her
to taste," said Sharon, proudly standing up the grater near
the frying pan. She now took out two tomatoes and two
cucumbers from the old fridge and asked Orly to prepare a
"If you've already come to visit our humble abode," laughed
Sharon, "you might as well make yourself at home and lend a
The candle flame danced upon the window sill on the metal
Menora, actively participating in the bustle. The girls
poured some oil into the large frying pan. The smell began
spreading through the room, a warm, inviting fragrance.
They shared an apartment that belonged to the seminary for
Jewish studies. Several other such apartments were scattered
in nearby buildings, loosely related to the human landscape
in this Jerusalemite neighborhood. In this setting, they took
their first steps, hesitant or decisive, simple or more
The walls in this apartment absorbed soul-searching talks,
difficulties and deliberations, were witnesses to moments of
closeness, or of alienation. They registered the tears of
pain and of joy. And they took leave of those who went onward
to establish their own homes.
Orly was now sitting with them. She laid the knife down on
the wooden cutting board and spoke emotionally, accompanying
her words with expressive hand motions.
Deganit stood with her back to her, briskly stirring the
mixture in the bowl, turning the latkes that had browned, and
listening carefully to every word.
"D'you understand?" Orly looked into Sharon's understanding
eyes. "The seminar was like an electric shock for me. I went
there just out of curiosity, for the experience, like someone
goes to Mexico or Costa Rica, like I traveled to India two
years ago. Like I've always loved to search and discover the
taste of newness, of experimenting with, oh, life.
"A little bird whispered to me in my heart that this time it
would be different. Something would be demanded of me from
all this business. Maybe, that's why in my subconcious I kept
on putting off Deganit's invitations for three years. Three
years! Can you believe it?" she explained to Sharon. Deganit
smiled at the latkes, listening on the sidelines.
"Deganit has been pursuing me for three years. The truth is
that she's not the only one after me. When she used to come
to Haifa, to her parents, I always hopped over. Something
bound us together since childhood.
"At first, I came to see what was happening to her. Perhaps
she'd gone off her rocker. Later, when I realized this was
so," she chuckled, "I came to try to shake these crazy ideas
out of her head. When I realized it was futile, I still
continued to visit. You know, out of curiosity, to see what
was so appealing about that medieval nonsense, this so
uninviting way of life. What had caused her to get up and
leave everything, to defy us all and go suffer the slings and
arrows of abuse from her society.
"She didn't have it bad, before. I can testify to that. So
why, out of the blue, did she choose this way? Deganit tried
to explain to me, to convince me, even to proselytize. She
would sometimes preach for hours about these lofty ideas. I
felt she was being swept up by some kind of strong current,
but she was not succeeding in drawing me along.
"From time to time, when she would give up on me and any
receptiveness she hoped I had, she would say: `You know what,
Orly? I'm a bit weak in explanations. I'm not yet ready for
all of your attacks. It's not so long ago that I was in your
shoes, on your side of the fence. I haven't yet acquired a
sophisticated defense line. Go to a seminar! There, they'll
explain everything to you. They won't leave you hanging with
unsolved problems or unanswered questions. Go! If you're so
convinced of your own viewpoint, what difference will it
"`O.K.' I answered her, as everyone had taught me to say.
`Those seminars have brainwashing experts. They can't
possibly have real substantial proofs and arguments.' Then,
finally, last month I gave in. I was at loose ends at the
time. I had just returned from a serious trip abroad and
hadn't begun my studies at university yet.
"The timing was ripe, just perfect," she winked at Deganit
who was preoccupied with her bowl as if she were out of the
picture. "I had the free time and she was able to convince me
how boring life was just then. So I went..."
"My parents are always telling me to go and learn something
specific, something organized, with a goal and a future. I
agree that this is important for the long range. Enough of
playing around, of my half-baked attempts in such a wide area
of interests, my pursuit of passing whims, occasional jobs,
"But believe me, if I had known that that was how they would
talk there, in the seminar, I would never have gone!"
Orly seemed perturbed as she continued her monologue, "Now I
am facing a real dilemma. My protective walls have come
tumbling down, one after the other, like a house of cards. I
was always a sincere, truth-loving person. And I can't help
admitting -- they are right! Whoever tried to convince me --
was simply right in every single word, every sentence.
"At some point, I regret it. Why did I have to know
everything? I had it good before, too, or, at least, pretty
good. There are always some tight spots, difficult moments
when you confront your own self and wonder where this crazy
world is running to. But in general, I didn't have it bad in
life. So why did I have to rack my brain to discover that
there exists an absolute truth that obligates me to turn my
whole life upside down?"
Sharon and Deganit remained silent. They began eating their
latkes. Orly was too overwrought to be able to listen. They
let her continue.
"What am I doing here now? To be honest, I know this is the
truth, but I don't have the strength to change. To be more
honest, I'm lacking the courage. My parents don't know a
thing. When I came home after the seminar, they thought I had
been visiting by a friend. I haven't been sleeping for many
nights. I have no one to talk to. There may be lots of people
around me, but I don't know of a single person to whom I can
talk without fearing that they'll swallow me alive with all
my weird ideas.
"What's going to be? I'm afraid of doing teshuva.
"Tell me, Deganit, can one keep mitzvos without doing
"Why not?" said Deganit, smiling inwardly. "If that's how you
feel like defining it, go right ahead."
"I've already reached the understanding that I must begin
keeping mitzvot. I can't just keep living my life as a
"So you don't want the label of baalat teshuva stuck
to you," Sharon summed up for her, understandingly. "Why
don't you stay here overnight? We have an extra bed."
"Could I?" Orly had been waiting for such an invitation but
had been afraid to suggest it herself.
"Oh, it's quite accepted to have overnight guests. Tomorrow
you can go and speak to Rabbi Levine and he'll decide what's
"I don't want to have anything to do with rabbis any more!"
Orly reacted, laughing at this pronouncement. "At this rate,
I'll be going home tomorrow with a skirt down to the floor
and sleeves to my wrists. My mother is liable to have a fit!
Enough! I'm staying here overnight, but tomorrow I'm going
home. And that's final!"
"Say `bli nedder'," said Ofra, who entered the kitchen
To be continued...