Somehow They Get into You

Isaac and Tamar are eating leftovers from Shabbos—vegetarian cholent and Israeli salad—when they hear a knock on their apartment door.

“I’ll get it,” Isaac says tenderly to his wife.

He opens the door. In the flickering light of the hallway stands an old woman in a beige turban and a boxy housecoat dress, the kind that charity collectors wear. He reaches for change in the pocket of his suit jacket, then stops.

“Who is it?” Tamar’s voice drifts out from the kitchen.

“It’s the rebbetzin, Shaindel Bracha,” he says, his voice husky. Last he saw her was seven months ago, at his wedding. She’s smiling, bobbing her turbaned head, hen-like. Her plump white cheeks glow with an irresistible light. The air around her gives off a pleasant, spicy scent. A feeling of well-being envelops Isaac, just to see the rebbetzin, and yet he can’t help wonder what possessed her, a woman in her seventies, to come out on this cool, damp Jerusalem evening.

He and Tamar fuss over the rebbetzin, urge her to come in, have tea, but Shaindel Bracha waves them off, not wanting to intrude on their private time, in this, their honeymoon year.

Shaindel Bracha turns her gaze to Isaac. “I have a favor to ask.” The rebbetzin explains how she needs his help—just for a few days—to resurrect the courtyard, a place where anyone who had a problem was welcome to tell it to her husband, the kabbalist, and try to get an answer.

Isaac nods. He remembers how all kinds of troubled souls came to their courtyard. Rebbe Yehudah was a sort of spiritual and practical fix-it man. Shaindel Bracha offered advice and a slice of noodle kugel from the sidelines. Isaac had been one of those troubled souls who’d washed up at the elderly couple’s courtyard, straight off the plane from the Lower East Side, hoping for salvation, not even knowing he was seeking it, with nothing to keep him tethered to the States, certainly not his job as a haberdasher. “But who will they bring their problems to?” he asked. Now. With Rebbe Yehudah dead more than a year—this he doesn’t say out loud.

She touches the filigree brooch pinned to her collar. “Me.”

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