Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Tishrei 5767 - October 18, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Fiction by R. Shapira

I'm sitting in my kitchen, in my third-floor apartment, drinking my coffee. The wind outside is howling, trying to break through the window. We need to insulate better I tell myself, and proceed to check the condition of the window.

While I'm standing really close to the window I hear a car announcing a funeral by loudspeaker.

I open the window a smidgen, just enough to hear who was deceased but not enough to allow the cold to enter my heated house. When the loudspeaker approaches my house, I hear the announcement, "The boy's funeral . . . "

A little boy is no longer alive. He must have been a gift to his parents and they probably loved him and cared for him dearly. Who's able to understand the meaning of a child to his parents as well as I can? I waited fourteen long years until my eldest was born; I waited fourteen years for my dear, precious Chaim'ke.

I think of the boy's parents, of his family, his brothers and sisters, his friends in school. What a tragedy! A boy. A pure soul.

I hear the loudspeaker repeat the announcement. When I catch the name of the deceased boy — Moshe ben HaRav Shlomo Yudelevitz — I cease to feel the biting wind coming through the open window.

I grab hold of the window to stop myself from falling. I feel my head spinning and my heart beating rapidly. Moishele! I know him!

Know him? How can you say that you know a boy that you've only met a few times in your life?

But how can you not say that you know a boy who turned your life around, who cared about you and renewed your faith in man?

"The funeral procession will depart from the funeral home at 9:00 p.m. . . . "

I can't stop my tears. I grab my hat and jacket, say a few words to my wife and head for the door.

"It can't be him! Maybe someone else has a similar name."

"It can't be; it could be; anything can happen."

Regardless, I find myself hailing a taxi on the street. I don't know how the driver knew where to take me or even if I paid him or how much. I arrived at the funeral parlor and the funeral procession began. More people came. I saw thirteen- year-olds break down in tears and then I knew that it was he. That's how he had looked — his curly payos flew in the wind; his shining eyes reflected the goodness of his heart. There was always a smile on his face. You could always see the kindness in him. It was a rare type of goodness. It seemed like all the goodness in the world was pooled into those two brown eyes. They were full of empathy and the desire to help others. Never in my life had I seen eyes like his.

I can't control myself. I burst out crying. It's the kind of crying that racks the whole body that releases wave after wave of emotion. A cry of pain and torment. These are the kind of tears that you shed when you part with someone who helped you, someone who cared about you so much. This is the anguish you feel over the loss of someone who did everything that they could for you despite the fact that he didn't know you. Or maybe Moishele helped so much simply because he didn't know me.

Didn't know you? How could you say that Moishele didn't know you?

Moishele knew me and delved into the depths of my soul and touched my sorest spot in just a few brief moments. He knew what to say and how to relate to the pain, how to empathize. He knew how to do what a lot of people, even better people, didn't. Moishele.

Knew me, didn't know me — it doesn't matter.

Whether he did or whether he didn't, he's no longer here.

I feel that I'm melting because I've cried so much. The sobs become stronger. Tears flow and I have no control over them.

An elderly man with meticulously curled payos, a long beard and graying hair approaches me. He hands me a package of tissues. I thank him with a nod.

"Would you like a drink?" he asks and I refuse. How could someone drink now? What's he thinking? He doesn't know that Moishele . . . oy . . . Moishele.

The tears well up in my eyes again. I break down again.

I don't know how they eulogized him or who spoke. I had no need to hear eulogies. I knew him.

I owe him a lot. Everything. A lot more than a human being is able to give. After all, he was the shaliach who helped bring all the joy into my life.


It's the first day of the shiva and I can't wait any longer. I find myself wandering around one of Jerusalem's old neighborhoods searching for Moishele's house. That is, what used to be Moishele's house. Oy!

I'm pushing my Chaim'ke in the stroller.

I know that it isn't done. Who brings a four-month-old baby to pay a condolence call? But I have to bring him. I have no choice.

The sound of children learning mishnayos wafts out of a nearby window.

It is so beautiful. Children are so sweet, especially sweet. You could just stand still and listen to their beautiful voices. It's pure pleasure. You can smell the sweetness in the cool Jerusalem air. The mist rises up from between the old, peeling cheder walls and the benches, which several generations of sweet children sat upon and learned mishnayos. The atmosphere uplifts you. It transports you to a different world, to a place more spiritual, more elevated.

And I see only one thing in front of me: Moishele.

Moishele learns exceptionally well. He's dedicated. His voice is sweet and resonant.

"Chaim'ke," I tell my little son, "listen. You have to be like this one day. You must be like this, if not for me than for Moishele."

Walking in the narrow, windy Jerusalem streets while searching for Moishele's house, we lose our way. Finally we arrive. Large bereavement notices are pasted on the outside walls of the building.

"The pure child that passed away at a tender age . . . "

We enter the small, crowded house that used to be Moishele's.

It was here in this house that Moishele was taught to give wholeheartedly. It was here that the seeds were planted for Moishele's greatness to sprout. Here he acquired a love for Torah and yiras Shomayim. This is where Moishele grew up.

We sit down silently. Chaim'ke is on my lap. And then I can't stop myself again. I cry, brokenhearted. I grieve over a dear child that is no longer. Chaim'ke gets scared and begins to cry also.

I encourage the baby. "Cry Chaim'ke, cry. If you didn't get to know Moishele, at least cry for him."

The two of us, father and son, sit in the small Yerushalmi house, mourning Moishele.

The members of Moishele's family look at us uncomprehendingly. I understand them; if I were them I would also like to ask what a Sephardi avreich with a little baby is doing in an old Yerushalmi house on the first day of the shiva for their son. And why is he crying so much? Why doesn't he stop?

But they don't ask. I hear other people wiping away their tears. I feel that I can't hold it in any longer. I have to tell them.

That's why I came.


It was a year and a half ago. It was a boiling hot day in Jerusalem in the throes of summer.

As usual, I was returning to my quiet home for lunch and a short rest after kollel. I headed for the bus stop at one o'clock.

I take the long way home every day so that I can pass by the cheder on the next street over. I like to watch all of the children walking home from cheder, sweet children with flapping payos discuss their day in cheerful tones. Children: Do your parents know how to appreciate the treasures that they've received? Do they know how to say thank you?

So much beauty is inside these children, so much happiness and pleasure.

I take the long way on that scorching summer day, as usual, and wipe the sweat off my forehead. I won't give up the scene, no matter what.

At the turn in the road I meet a sweet boy, one of the many who are leaving school at this time. He looks familiar. He nods in greeting. He's polite. We've been seeing each other on our way home now for a long time. Every day we nod hello to each other and continue walking.

I don't know him and he doesn't know me. But when a Jew sees someone day in and day out, he says hello. The boy smiles as he nods; I remain serious, trying to hide what I feel inside my heart.

But he stops me, unlike previously. "May I ask you a question?"

I'm taken aback. What could he want to ask, I wonder. I don't even know his name nor does he know mine. But if he'd like to ask a question, why not?

He speaks to me respectfully, "I see you passing by here every day and you always look sad. Is there a way that I can help you?"

He's sincere, pure, kind.

At first I'm surprised — how can a boy who's about ten years old see in me what others can't? He looks beneath the surface, understands and isn't embarrassed to offer help.

It's something rare. How many children are like this? How many adults?

This is a boy that knows how to look inside a person and to understand.

I look into his eyes for the first time and I see goodness, the kind that you don't encounter every day, the kind that you may have never encountered.

Our eyes meet. The goodness radiates through a pair of pure, penetrating Yerushalmi eyes.

On second thought, I'm surprised at myself. What good can a ten-year-old Yerushalmi boy do? What can he do that many others who are older and wiser than him couldn't?

Of course I didn't say any of this.

But I can't refuse those eyes that so want to help, to make things better. Those eyes want to share my pain.

Then I find myself leaning on an old Jerusalem fence at one o'clock in the afternoon on a boiling hot summer day. Suddenly I'm telling the boy about my life, my sorrow and myself.

I poured out my heart to him in a way I haven't done in years. I told him how much I long for a child, how much I yearn for one and how much I'm lacking without one to fill my house. I tell him what it's like to go everywhere alone — to family celebrations, to shul, everywhere. It's a void I always feel on Shabbos and holidays when the table is so empty. The house is too quiet, too neat. It yearns for a child's voice to fill it, for a child to spill toys all over, for someone to make a mess, to cry, to laugh, to bring a little bit of joy home.

I never brought my own son to cheder. I never asked a child to leave me alone for a little bit. I was never woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of my child crying.

The years pass one after another. We've already waited thirteen years and . . . nothing.

I see that he understands; I see his large brown eyes looking straight at me. They share my pain.

"That's all," I finish my story and plan to ask him how a ten- year-old Yerushalmi boy can help.

He looks at me for another minute. Then he opens his bag and pulls out a pencil and note pad. He asks that I write down our names.

"Everything will be fine," he says. "G-d willing."

I look at him and don't understand. What will be fine? Nothing's fine. Where does his confidence come from? What can he do?

But I don't say anything. I carefully write down our names and add, `yearning for children.' Then I return the tidy notebook to him and say good-bye to him with a nod. I don't have anything else to say. I take a few steps and then stop. Wait a minute. He knows everything about me and I don't know anything about him. I don't even know his name.

"Hey," I call after him. He turns around.

"What's your name," I ask him. He smiles.

"I forgot to tell you; my name's Moishele — Moishele Yudelevitz."

I etch his name into my memory. You can't forget the name of a kid like this.

"Bye," I say and start walking in the direction of the bus stop.

My wife must be worried. I'm never late in the afternoon. What reason would I have to be late?

I've never had a reason to hop into a toy store to pick up a prize that I promised or a book that a child needs. I only wish that I had to do such things.

While sitting in the bus I find myself thinking about Moishele, the first child who ever really showed an interest in me, who ever wanted to help me.

But then I start to doubt that Moishele could make a difference.

I'm hot. I open the window.

"Excuse me," I hear from the seat behind me, "the air conditioning is on."

I mumble "Sorry," and close the window. I wipe the sweat off my forehead. I'm boiling. How can air conditioning alleviate a heat wave that originates deep inside the heart?

I see Moishele again the next day. "Hello," he says, "A group of us kids are staying after school to say Tehillim," he explains as if it were the obvious thing to do. I'm surprised. Delighted. My spirits begin to soar.

"Do you have any news?" he asks with the innocence of a child. I shake my head no.

"Bye," he says and we each continue on our way.

Two weeks later I bump into Moishele again. "Well?" he asks. His eyes shine with emunoh .

I look back at him and don't say a word. "We'll continue," he informs me, "and everything will be fine, G-d willing."

Then he adds, "They're waiting for me," and heads back to cheder. I continue walking toward the bus stop, thinking about what he said. `Everything will be fine, G-d willing.' That's the faith of children. It's so simple and obvious to him. He stays after school every day with his friends and says Tehillim, to ask Father, Hashem, to help and he believes that everything will work out, just like that.


Nine months later I walk down the familiar back streets once again. No, I'm not walking, I'm dancing. My legs feel weightless, I feel like I'm floating. I can't contain my joy. I stop at the cheder and wait.

Soon I'll also be able to send my son to cheder, soon I'll be able to listen to my own son learn Mishnayos out loud.

What joy! I am so grateful. I run towards Moishele when I spot him in the distance. I can't wait for him to come.

I grab Moishele and hug and kiss him. Children gather around us to watch.

"Moishele," I shout, "We had a boy!"

Moishele's eyes beam with joy. We almost danced right there on the spot.

"Mazel Tov! Mazel Tov!" Moishele says.

We just look at each other. We can't say anything more. There's nothing else to be said.

Our hearts overflow with happiness. I say both of our hearts because someone who shares the pain, who understands, who helps is also a full participant in the joy.

"I have to tell my friends," Moishele says.

"Of course — how could you not share the news with the people that prayed on our behalf?"

"Wait a second," I call after him, "The bris will be on Sunday, G-d willing, at nine o'clock in the hall next to the kollel."

"Great," he says.


"And this is my Chaim'ke," I finish telling the mourners my story and hug the baby.

This is the Chaim'ke for whom I waited fourteen years. This is the baby that brought so much joy into our lives.

Chaim'ke is hungry. He begins to cry. I join him.

Everyone cries along with the baby. We all sit in the small, crowded house and cry. We mourn for Moishele.


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