Mrs. Barkoff is disappointed that her husband and daughter did not tell her about the house in Jerusalem. She realizes that she can only decide what to do with the house after shivah; therefore, she will complete shivah in Israel.
* * *
“I’m sorry, Mommy. If I had known it would hurt you so much, I would have asked Tatty to tell you, or to let me tell you. Tatty had a lot of secrets, you know, that weren’t secrets. He was just very discreet, and he didn’t like to brag about what he did. You know this, Ma.” Rena sat beside her mother and held her hand tight.
“But I never thought I would be one of his projects!” Mrs. Barkoff began to cry. “I thought he told me everything.”
“Did you tell Tatty everything?” Rena asked.
“I told him everything he needed to know,” her mother replied.
“Listen to yourself!” said Rena, and they both started to laugh. “I’ll stay on with you, after the shivah. The hospital told me to take as much time off as I needed.”
“It’s not necessary,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “I can manage perfectly fine. As you now know, I am fluent in the local dialect.”
“I know you can manage. Please just give me the privilege of remaining with you, okay?”
“I suppose,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “And thank you. But oh, Rena. It’s just too much.”
“I know, Ma. Get some rest.”
Mrs. Barkoff’s eyes were closing before Rena finished speaking, and by the time she closed the door, she could hear her mother’s calm, easy breathing.
As she stepped away, she was accosted immediately by her sisters. They both began to fire questions at her, so she stood and waited until they noticed she wasn’t answering them and finally stopped.
“Rena, what is going on? I feel like I’m back in California,” said Mattel. “Every time I take a step, I feel the ground move beneath my feet.”
“Earthquakes,” said Rena. “That’s a pretty good metaphor, for a math whiz.”
“I have my moments. Now please, tell us what you know!”
Five years earlier, upon her return from one of her camp trips, Rena stopped by her parents’ apartment and found her father there alone. She would have had no problem speaking to them both, but it was hashgachah pratis that it was he with whom she spoke. She had met a family, she told him, from a small town in France. She had been able to speak with them in her broken, high school French, and she had grown very close with their six-year-old daughter, who had required a lot of nursing care during the trip. They told her that a doctor in Israel had developed a special treatment for their daughter’s condition. He would be willing to treat them without a fee, but they needed a place to live and money for expenses.
She hadn’t meant to ask him to help specifically; she had only planned on unburdening her heart, but as she spoke she realized that her father had many contacts in Israel and other places.
Before she could get the words out, she looked into his eyes and saw that he was already figuring out a solution. He told her that he could speak with some of the members of what he called his Tzedaka Club, but the way he could really help was with a place to live.
He stood up and walked out of the room for a few moments, and when he returned, he was holding a small manila envelope in his hand. Written across the front of it was a name, an address and a telephone number. Inside was a key.
When Rena asked him what it was, he didn’t answer right away. Now she knew that he was debating what to tell her, how much to tell her and what not to tell her. She was shocked when he finally revealed that he owned a large house in Jerusalem that was, at the moment, divided up into apartments. He told her the family was welcome to stay there for as long as they needed to. All they had to do was contact the man whose name and phone number were written on the envelope, and he would take care of all of the arrangements once they arrived.
Then he looked at her oddly, and said, “I probably should have done something like this before.” Rena asked him whose house it was, and he said it was Mommy’s. Rena stared at her father warily, knowing that her mother had never mentioned a house in Jerusalem before. “She doesn’t know about it,” Rena guessed.
“Not yet,” her father had answered. “But she needs to hear from me, not you. Is that understood? I’m trusting you, Rena, l’shem mitzvah. Please do not disappoint me.”
Rena had been so happy that she had something concrete to offer the sweet, suffering family that she actually hadn’t thought twice about keeping it from her mother. It seemed a small price to pay for such a big mitzvah.
“So where is the family now?” asked Suri.
“They are actually still living there. It was just better for them here than in France,” said Rena.
“What happened to their daughter? Did she recover?” asked Mattel.
“No, she didn’t.”
“And Tatty just let them stay?” Mattel prodded.
“He kept saying he would start charging them rent at some point, but he never did.”
“Wow. That’s some story,” said Suri.
“If I would have known that Ma would get hurt, I never would have kept it from her. It’s just the way things happened.”
“What do you think she’s going to do?” asked Suri.
“I have no idea,” said Rena. “None at all.”
To be continued ….