Mrs. Nathan calls Rabbi Aron Asoulin to tell him Rabbi Barkoff, his benefactor, was niftar. Mrs. Asoulin is deeply worried that they will be asked to leave, but Rabbi Asoulin reassures her.
* * *
Rabbi and Mrs. Asoulin stood quietly until they were noticed. It took a few moments, because the Barkoffs had huddled their chairs together in a tight circle with their backs to the door. Unable to speak until they were acknowledged, they hung back until Mattel looked up and noticed them.
“Yes?” she said.
“Oh!” Rena turned around and stood up, having recognized the Asoulins immediately. The ice broke quickly as the two women hugged each other warmly.
“Please,” said Rena, “let me introduce you to my family. This is my mother, Mrs. Barkoff, and my sisters, Suri and Mattel. This is Mrs. Asoulin, and her husband.”
“It is so nice to meet you,” said Natalie. “I have heard so much about you all from Rena. I only wish we could meet under happier circumstances.”
Mrs. Barkoff took the younger woman’s hands into her own. “May we all have simchos,” she said. “I am glad to meet you.”
“Mrs. Barkoff,” said Mrs. Asoulin, “I have no words. Not to express my sorrow at your loss, nor to express my thanks. Our thanks,” she said.
Unsure how to approach, Rabbi Asoulin nodded and bowed his head. It was at times like these that he was very grateful for his wife’s personality. Even though he knew how nervous she was, you couldn’t tell at all. She was so naturally warm and caring that she always knew the right thing to say and do.
“Please. Sit down,” said Suri, jumping up to bring chairs.
“Thank you so much for coming,” said Rena. “We weren’t even intending to stay, but our flight home was cancelled. Tell me, how is the family?”
They knew that she was referring to Maryam, and they were equally circumspect. “We take it day by day,” said Mrs. Asoulin. “But she is in good spirits, and she is strong.”
“How old is she?” said Suri.
“Almost 12,” answered the mother.
“And you have others?” asked Mrs. Barkoff.
“Yes!” said Mrs. Asoulin, emphatically. “Many others!”
The language barrier was difficult for the three sisters, but they managed to communicate through hand gestures, smiles, a mixture of Hebrew, English, and French, and much good will. After a while, Rena and Mrs. Asoulin drifted off into a corner to speak privately.
“Tell me, how is she really?” said Rena.
“It is hard, what should I tell you?” said Mrs. Asoulin. “But every day we have her we are happy.”
“Are you working?” said Rena.
“Not yet. I am busy full-time with the family. But if your mother needs us to pay rent or anything…”
“Shh,” said Rena, unwittingly echoing Rabbi Asoulin. “I must tell you something. My mother did not even know about the house until yesterday!”
Mrs. Asoulin’s eyes opened wide with shock.
“So she didn’t know about you and Maryam either, until today. There won’t be any decisions to make right away, so please be calm. Nothing will happen today.”
“We don’t want to impose or be any trouble. It’s just that once we got everyone settled here, for Maryam’s treatments, it was hard to get the energy to pick up and do it again, back in France. We kept saying we were going to move, and then we never did.”
“It’s fine. I told you that my father was perfectly comfortable with you living there. In fact, he told me he should have done it long ago, used the house to do mitzvos.”
“He must have been a special man. I’m sorry I didn’t know him,” said Mrs. Asoulin.
“He was,” said Rena.
Mrs. Asoulin looked at her watch. “We must go,” she said. “But I will come back tomorrow, bli neder, okay?”
“Yes, that would be good. We are all alone here.”
“Why?” asked Mrs. Asoulin.
“We only intended to bring my father’s aron here, and then go right back home. But it didn’t work out that way.”
“Hmm. Hashgachah pratit,” said Mrs. Asoulin.
“As is everything,” said Rena.
As they walked out into the street, Rabbi Asoulin shook his head sadly. “I was hoping she would be married by now,” he said.
“Me, too. But Aron, while I was speaking to her, an idea ran through my mind. I must tell you…”
“Natalie, it is not the right timing. She has just lost her father.”
“It is always the right timing,” she said firmly. “There is no reason that a woman so good should not be married.”
“Can we speak about it later?” said Rabbi Asoulin. “I must return to kollel.”
“Perfect. Because it is with the Rosh Kollel that I want to make the shidduch!”
“With Yedidya? My brother?” he said incredulously.
“Why not?” she replied.
Speechless for a moment, he soon found his tongue to reply. “They are so different. From different worlds.”
“I know, but I still see it. They are both so refined and so dignified. I am almost certain they could find a common language. ”
“Perhaps,” said Rabbi Asoulin. “Let me think about it, will you?”
“Of course,” she replied. “But not for too long. We haven’t got much time. She could leave at any moment.”
He nodded thoughtfully. He had grown so accustomed to Ovadiah being single that he almost couldn’t imagine him any other way. And it was that reason, mainly, that propelled him that afternoon to ask his brother if they could speak privately for just a moment or two. It was the least he could do.
To be continued…