His Brother’s Keeper – A Table of Contents

For several months, I have been sharing my blog with His Brother’s Keeper, a fictional mystery series by Eva Hirschel, set in 2000, in New York. (Since Eva doesn’t have a social media presence, I’m giving her a hand).

Some readers have asked for a linked Table of Contents to His Brother’s Keeper, because this mystery has so many chapters.  Here it is. (Unlinked chapters have not yet been published).

IMG_1578Part I

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Part II

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Part III

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

 

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His Brother’s Keeper, A Mystery Series – Part II: Chapter Two

Welcome to His Brother’s Keeper, a fictional mystery series set in 2000, in New York. I’ve decided to periodically lend my blog to a friend, Eva Hirschel. Eva doesn’t have a social media presence but she does have a mystery that she wanted to publish serially on-line, so I’m giving her a hand. (If you’re just tuning in now, I suggest that you start at the beginning). Here is Part II, Chapter 2. Enjoy!

Chapter Two

IMG_2032My new hotel was a step up. This one had Crabtree and Evelyn bath products on a marble top vanity, a real shower curtain in addition to the vinyl liner, a great view of the marina, and a coffee maker with coffee, herb teas, and hot cocoa. I was paying more for these luxuries, but safety was important, and Sarah Gelberman had given me money for expenses. I had repeatedly looked behind me as I drove, making sure no one was following. Before checking in, I had driven around the parking lot, but didn’t see the white car or any sign of my secret admirer. I tried repeatedly to reassure myself that everything was fine, that nothing strange was going on. I could have just gone home, but I was in this too deep and I had to see it through. And the truth was, though I wouldn’t have admitted it to Simon, there was something exciting about the sense of danger.

Too antsy for t.v., I pulled out my file on the Gelbermans and glanced at the last message from Meira. How could these people have been reported dead if they were in fact alive? I glanced at her message again, trying to find a hint that would help me solve this ever-increasing mystery. My eyes slid over the lines, reading and re-reading the names of family members who had supposedly perished in the Holocaust. But then I paused—someone was missing. I had been so busy before focusing on the appearance of Leib and Yankeleh’s names on the list that I had not noticed whose name was missing. Suddenly I remembered a piece of information gleaned from the marriage certificate in Altoona, and I got an idea. It was a little farfetched perhaps, but maybe, just maybe, there was a connection here.

Luck was with me, and Leah was actually in her office. This was hunch built on a long shot, but clichés aside, but it was worth a try. There was only one problem—I needed the help of an insider.

“Hey, Reb. I need a favor,” I said. “I don’t have a lot of time right now for preliminaries, but tell me, do you know the rabbi at the Jewish Memorial Home in the Bronx?”

“Hello, how are you, okay, never mind. You’ll fill me in later. Yes, I do know her. Her name is Miriam Kreiner. Really nice, a JTS graduate, a second-career rabbi who went to rabbinic school in her late forties. They love her over there. Why?”

“It’s a long story, but I met Jack Gelberman, and I think he might have a relative there. Only I don’t know her name, or if she’s in any shape to talk to me. I want to ask the rabbi for some help.”

Leah laughed. “Well, give her a call and see. This is getting more interesting by the minute.”

“I promise, I promise, when this is all over I’ll fill you in,” I said. “I’ll be your best congregant. I’ll even serve on the Religious School Committee, if you really want. Or the Capital Campaign. Or the Ritual Committee.”

“No you won’t, and we both know you won’t,” Leah answered. “But you know, if you keep on like this, you might as well go to rabbinic school yourself. Think how useful it would be in your line of work.”

I could just picture Leah at her big desk, surrounded by piles of papers and books, pushing her hair behind her ears and grinning at me over the phone. “Not in a million years, but thanks,” I answered. “Better you than me.”

“Yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say. Now a favor from you–when you’re sitting on the plane, bored to death, read my sermon over and let me know what you think. I’m having trouble with it, and I need feedback.”

I groaned. “Okay, okay, I promise. Quid pro quo.”

“You’re a pal. Look, I’ve got to run–meeting with the President to talk about tomorrow’s board meeting. When you call Miriam, mention my name. We’ve done some work together. And keep me posted. ”

“I promise, I promise. Would I lie to a rabbi?”

We both laughed, and I hung up.

***

Rabbi Miriam Kreiner was polite but stiff.

“How can I help you?” she asked, after I introduced myself and established my connection to Leah.

I hesitated briefly, then plunged right in. I wasn’t going to lie, but I didn’t have to burden her with superfluous details either. “I’m looking for someone who is a resident at the Home, someone whose name may be Chaya, maybe she goes by Chaya Esther, a woman who would be at least in her late 70’s if not 80’s, and who is most likely a Holocaust survivor. Her maiden name would have been Markusevisz but I don’t know what name she uses now.”

“I’m sorry,” Rabbi Kreiner said, her voice tighter and more formal. “I can’t give out information on residents.”

“Yes, of course, I understand,” I assured her. “It’s just that, well, this is sort of complicated. I’m an investigator, and I was doing what seemed at first like routine genealogical research, but it’s turning into something else entirely. The young woman who is my client is in danger, and if I’m right that such a resident does exist at the Jewish Memorial Home, she may be in danger as well. I know it sounds totally far-fetched. Please, call Leah if you want to confirm that I’m for real. If I could just find her name, I could come speak to her. I think she could help me.”

Rabbi Kreiner was silent for a moment as she thought. “I’m sorry. This is very, um, unusual. Let me call Rabbi Brown, and I’ll get right back to you. I hope you understand. It’s unethical for me to speak to you about this, unless I’m sure there’s a compelling reason.”

Trying not to sound overly eager or annoyed, I agreed that that was a good idea, and gave her my cell phone number. She was right, but I was impatient. It was always a surprise to meet people, even rabbis, who took ethics seriously, rather than being driven by the values of expediency, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. But I had no doubt that Rabbi Kreiner would call me back, and soon enough, my phone rang.

Rabbi Kreiner spoke, her voice softer than before. “Okay, I’m sorry I had to do that, but I hope you understand. Leah told me it was okay to talk to you, but please understand that I am doing this only because it may save someone from danger. I’m not entirely sure I should be doing this at all. So, okay, yes, there is someone here who fits your description. Her name is Chayale. That’s what everyone calls her here. Chayale Markusevisz.”

“Yes, that must be her!” I blurted out. How strange—I had seen the name on Jack Gelberman’s marriage certificate in Altoona, but I’d been so focused on him that it hadn’t hit me. Markusevisz had been my own grandfather’s name before he changed it to Marcus at Ellis Island. Could we possibly be related? If I remembered my father’s stories correctly, it was my Marcus grandparents who had the Chasidic roots back in Poland. But there was no way we were connected. That just couldn’t be.

“Are you all right?” Rabbi Kreiner asked with concern.

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry. It’s just that–never mind. Please go on.”

She sighed. “Honestly, I don’t think that Chayale will be much help to you. She’s, well, a gentle soul. A special person here at the Home. But things, terrible things, unspeakable things happened to her during the Shoah, when she was just a teenager. She was quite beautiful, and, well, you know the stories. Apparently she was never the same afterwards. She has lived most of her life in a kind of darkness. She doesn’t speak, she only sings and chants, Chasidic niggunim, prayers and blessings, verses from Torah. She’s been like a child for all of her adult life, as if she reverted back to a safe place before the horrors of the war.”

I gulped. “Oh my God, I had no idea.”

“Her nephew is her only legal next-of-kin. I’ve spoken with him a few times when he’s been here. He doesn’t live in New York, and only comes occasionally. But to be honest, and maybe this is connected to what you’re working on, there have been some strange things lately.”

I kept myself calm. “Like what?”

“Well, a few months ago a volunteer doing bikur cholim, you know, visiting the sick, came to her room. It was a Chasidic woman­­­—they’re great at organizing people to come visit our residents—an older woman who was herself a survivor. Chayale was singing away. And this woman somehow recognized her from before the war and started shouting. Maybe she just recognized the name, I don’t know. I don’t think she meant to upset Chayale, actually I think she was happy to see her. Apparently she had thought that Chayale had died during the war. But Chayale began to scream and cry and tried to push the woman out of the room. She was frantic—no one here had ever seen her like that. She somehow managed to pull her mirror off the wall and she threw it at the woman, who finally left. It took a long time for Chayale to return to herself. For days she was crying and whimpering.”

“I’m sorry, it sounds terrible.”

“Yes, it caused a big uproar,” she continued. “The staff was upset, and no one understood what had happened. Of course, how can we ever understand what she must have gone through during the war? But it’s hard to watch that kind of pain, whatever the reason. I tried to spend some time with her, talking calmly and quietly, brushing her hair. She loves to have her hair brushed. She has long braids, they’re gray of course, but every day the attendants braid it for her. They’re all quite fond of her, because usually she’s so sweet.

“So after that, it was decided that no strangers should visit Chayale. We all made the decision together, me, the social worker, the head nurse on her floor, the nurses who work with her everyday, and of course in consultation with her nephew. But there was another strange incident not too long after that. There was an occupational therapist who was fairly new to the Home. One day, not too long after the other incident, she went in to see Chayale, and apparently Chayale had a similar reaction. She screamed and cried, but instead of throwing something at her, she tried to rip off the therapist’s name tag, and she pulled at her hair. One evening shortly after that the therapist was found going through Chayale’s file. I don’t mean going through files that might have pertained to her work. I mean the confidential files that are kept in the main office. She was fired, of course. But still, it makes you wonder. And then some of her co-workers reported that she had been asking questions about Chayale, who she was, where she came from, who her nephew was, where he lived, things like that. But when she was fired, well, we just put it behind us.”

“But you made sure to tell her nephew.”

“Someone did, yes. I’m sure they did. And about the bikur cholim visitor as well. Yes, because he called me after that to ask me to please keep an eye on her, to make sure to continue to visit her. That’s what I do anyway, of course, but it’s good for the families to know that someone here cares. It’s very hard to put a loved one into a residence. I know her nephew feels guilty about having her here. But it’s really best for her here, she gets good care and her needs are too great to be cared at home.” She sighed. “Is this any help?”

“Maybe. One more question. Do you know the occupational therapist’s name?”

“Humm, let me see.” She thought for a moment. “It was biblical. Rebecca? Ruth? No. Oh, yes, Rachel. Yes, that’s right, because after she left Chayale’s room, apparently for some time after that Chayale sang the name Ruchel over and over. I don’t remember her last name. But it sounds like this is all making some kind of sense to you.”

“Yes, it might be,” I answered. “But I need to know one more thing. This Rachel, did she have red hair?”

Rabbi Kreiner was startled. “Why, yes, yes she did. How did you know that?”

[To be continued….]

His Brother’s Keeper is entirely fictional. None of the characters or situations described in this series are based on real people or events. Copyright (c) 2015 by Eva Hirschel.
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His Brother’s Keeper, A Mystery Series – Part II, Chapter One

Welcome to His Brother’s Keeper, a fictional mystery series set in 2000, in New York. I’ve decided to periodically lend my blog to a friend, Eva Hirschel. Eva doesn’t have a social media presence but she does have a mystery that she wanted to publish serially on-line, so I’m giving her a hand. (If you’re just tuning in now, I suggest that you start at the beginning). Here is Part II, Chapter One. Enjoy!

PART II

Just a few clicks and it’s all set in motion. It’s all a matter of finding the right people and learning what makes them tick. Everyone has the button that gets them going—it’s just a matter of finding it. It wasn’t too hard this time. I unraveled his story so quickly I even surprised myself! Now he’s jumping when I say jump, crawling when I say crawl! History repeats itself, as they like to say. Once a crawler, always a crawler, I like to say. And I say, this time history will not repeat itself. This time will be different.

They don’t know yet what is coming. But they will see. They will see that history can be overturned. They will see that we don’t have to accept the past as it is. We can change the past by changing the future. He told me that I live in the past but that’s because he doesn’t understand that it’s all about the future.

Once we crawled like cockroaches across the face of Europe. We were passive, weak. But not anymore. Not anymore. And never again. I come from that same diseased gene pool but I know that we can make our destiny—we don’t have to let it make us.

 They say they want peace. Not me. It’s not peace that ensures safety, it’s power. They don’t understand that. They’ve been corrupted by the ideas of western humanism. They say they want justice. I say I want a future. What good is justice if it’s not mine? For too long we have fought other people’s battles, financed other people’s wars and conquests and futures. It’s our turn now. No one will do it for us so we have to do it for ourselves. Just a few more clicks, a few more buttons to push, and I will have them all right where I want them. Right here. Right now.

Chapter One

IMG_1332Being by myself in a hotel room was a guilty pleasure. Even if the hotel room wasn’t anything special, and this one wasn’t, it felt like an indulgence to be alone. There was no one asking me for anything, no one to take care of, no one to interrupt me. Best of all, I didn’t have to clean up after myself, much less anyone else. I could take a shower without having to clear away plastic boats and floating dinosaurs. My single friends’ fantasies were about nights spent with someone else, but mine were about nights alone, when I could watch t.v., or read in bed, falling asleep with the light on. I loved the anonymity of hotel rooms, in which I was surrounded by blank surfaces and items that held no emotional connection or anxious reminders of responsibilities. Albeit only temporarily, hotel rooms were places of reinvention. I could be a high-powered player making multi-million dollar deals, or a cat burglar preparing for a heist. The possibilities were endless.

I stretched out on the bed and clicked away on the remote control, watching the channels change and morph into each other over and over in a desperate loop screaming for attention. There were three hours to go until it was time to meet again with Jack Gelberman, or whoever he was. Three hours to sift through what I knew and still didn’t know, what I wanted to ask and what I needed explained. The pink-faced weather announcer on the television screen gestured excitedly while trying not to drop his props. Behind him, palm trees waved in the wind. The big news was an impending rainstorm. Just my luck, to come down to Florida and miss out on sunny weather. Not that I was here to get a tan, but a little Florida sunshine would be nice. I kept on flipping, past Barney, past the Home Shopping Network’s display of cubic zirconium, past a demonstration on potato peeling techniques. Re-runs of Starsky and Hutch momentarily caught my interest, but I was distracted by a loud burst of thunder and a sudden darkening of the sky outside.

I got up and pulled back the opaque curtain. The balmy sky had transformed into a thick, murky shade of gray. Fat raindrops spattered down on the asphalt of the parking lot one floor down, and onto the windshield of the cars parked below. One car unexpectedly caught my eye. Instead of being parked parallel to the other cars in the lot, it was parked perpendicular, greedily taking up several spots. It was also strange that despite the rain, the driver’s window was open. And the driver, a man with a dark beard and what looked like a black kippah on a mostly bald head, was staring up at me.

Quickly, I moved back from the window, holding the curtain open. I slid carefully, around to the other side of the curtain, and peered out. He was still staring up at my window. Although it was probably a rental car, I committed the license plate to memory. It was too much of a coincidence that a man in a kippah would be parked outside my motel, staring in the direction of my room. The driver was there for a reason, and the reason was me. He was doing surveillance, and I was his target. I let the curtain drop, and jumped in the bed, covering myself with the blankets. The room suddenly felt cold, and I realized I was shivering.

***

“Yeah, I’m okay, really,” I reassured Simon. “Don’t worry. I’m in sunny Florida, everything’s cool.” I didn’t want to tell him about the man in the parking lot, but he knew me too well.

“Something’s wrong, Abby. I know you don’t want to worry me, but I can tell.”

“Everything’s fine. Tell me about Hannah.”

I heard Simon take a deep sigh. “I’m still uncomfortable about this.”

“Hey, relax,” I answered, trying to sound lighthearted. “Don’t be such a worrier.”

“Don’t you be such a warrior.”

“Oh come on, what is this, you have to protect me?”

“Don’t go flexing your feminist muscles at me, okay?”

“Simon, I’m an adult. Enough already.”

“An adult who doesn’t always use common sense.”

“Look, I’m meeting with Gelberman tonight at five. He’s going to fill in a lot of the blanks, and then that will be that. It’ll be a wrap. Tomorrow morning I’ll be on my way home, and this whole thing will be over.”

“I hope so.”

“Hannah.”

“She’s okay.”

I sat down on the edge of the bed. “No fever, no cold?”

“Nah. She has a rash on her stomach, nothing serious.”

Breathe in, breathe out, I told myself. Just like Lamaze.   Be calm. “What!!” I screamed. “A rash on her stomach! What kind of rash? Raised dots with a white center?”

I could hear Simon getting nervous. “No. Maybe. I don’t know. It was just a little rash. You know Hannah and her dry skin. She gets rashes all the time.”

Keep breathing, I told myself again. Never mind that there’s some unidentified stranger in the parking lot stalking me, and that Hannah is probably coming down with chicken pox. Never mind. Everything is fine. Keep breathing. Even if you were there, there’s nothing you could do to stop Hannah from getting chicken pox. Or Caleb either, for that matter. Of course, if you were there and not here, there wouldn’t be someone watching you from the parking lot. You chose to not get them vaccinated, so what do you expect? If you had, they wouldn’t be getting chicken pox now, but there would still be someone in the parking lot watching you.

“You still there?” Simon asked tentatively. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong is that it sounds like chicken pox!” I screamed. “Didn’t you have a clue? I told you it was going around her class.”

“Honestly, I didn’t think about it.”

“Obviously.”

“Didn’t they get vaccinated?”

“No. I can’t believe you don’t remember. Dr. Martin wasn’t convinced at first that the vaccination was a good idea, and we decided to wait, and then at their last checkup he said the results were more conclusive now and he was recommending the vaccine, but you wanted to think about it more and talk to Emma, and then she was busy, and I said we should just do it, and you said no, we’d talk to Emma next time we saw her, and I said –”

“So it’s my fault?”

“No, I’m just saying–”

“Oh, give me a break, Abby. Kids get chicken pox. Just come home quickly, okay?”

Yeah, I thought to myself. Come home quickly to take care of children with chicken pox, so that Simon wouldn’t be too inconvenienced. But I caught myself , and realized that that wasn’t fair. “Okay, I’ll be careful, and I’ll be home in the morning. But if the rash is still there, don’t send her to school tomorrow.”

“Got it,” Simon said in assent. “Call me tonight, before you go to bed, yeah?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.

“Love you.”

“Me too,” I said, and hung up.

Then it was time to deal with the man outside. I crept over to the window on my tiptoes, as if he could hear me. It made no sense, but it made me feel better. Opening the curtain a crack, I peered out. There was no man in a white car watching my window. The place where his car had been was empty.

As quickly as I could, I shoved my belongings back into my bag. I grabbed my laptop, my purse, and my overnight bag, and started to open the door. Then I paused, went back to the window, and looked as far as I could in every direction. Nothing. Taking my chances, I opened the door and left.

[To be continued…]

His Brother’s Keeper is entirely fictional. None of the characters or situations described in this series are based on real people or events. Copyright (c) 2015 by Eva Hirschel.
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His Brother’s Keeper, A Mystery Series – Part 1, Chapter Twenty

Welcome to His Brother’s Keeper, a fictional mystery series set in 2000, in New York. I’ve decided to periodically lend my blog to a friend, Eva Hirschel. Eva doesn’t have a social media presence but she does have a mystery that she wanted to publish serially on-line, so I’m giving her a hand. (If you’re just tuning in now, I suggest that you start at the beginning). Here is Part I, Chapter 20. Enjoy!

Chapter Twenty

IMG_0324I parked the rental car in a guest spot near the entrance to the building. Getting out of the car, I checked carefully to make sure I wasn’t breaking any rules by parking too close to the yellow line or too far from the cement barrier. If this condominium complex was anything like my grandmother’s, you could get your car towed from the lot for a multitude of minor infractions. The complex in which Jack Gelberman lived was called The Seabreeze, despite the fact that it was not on the ocean. The four identical buildings that made up the complex were ivory stucco, with brown wood trim, and blue canopies. There was a sense of well-being in the complex, due in part to the meticulous landscaping and the fresh coat of paint. Each building had been created to look like it was made up of a series of connected townhouses, with covered walkways connecting the entrances on each floor. The first two floors appeared to be made up of duplex townhouses, but Jack Gelberman’s apartment was 3C, on the third and top floor. I took a deep breath, and walked up the steps that jutted out from the center of the building.

I had landed about two hours ago, feeling surprisingly footloose and fancy free.   Traveling without Simon and the kids had its advantages. I’d been able to nap on the plane, and to indulge my mystery novel cravings. Now that I was actually there, this trip was feeling fun, despite Simon’s displeasure at my going, and despite my worry that Hannah might be coming down with something. I checked into a hotel, and spent some time there having lunch and getting my bearings. Winter Park was a quiet Florida city, not a major tourist destination but a rather cultured college town. Fairleigh College, the main attraction of the town, provided the locals with concerts, plays, art and even tuition remission for senior citizens. It wasn’t the kind of place where you’d want to retire if you dreamed of spending your golden years on the beach, but it might be a nice place if you were used to a certain proximity to academia, and craved a life of culture along with your sunshine and warm weather.

To squelch my nervousness, I took some deep breaths on my way up the stairs. But deep breathing hadn’t helped in childbirth and it wasn’t helping now. What if he wasn’t home? I had called from the car pretending to be a wrong number. A man’s voice answered, which was the best I was going to get. What if he wouldn’t talk to me? What if he slammed the door in my face?

There I was, in front of 3C. It was the only door I passed that had a mezuzah hanging on the doorframe. One more deep breath, and I knocked. After a few moments, the door opened.

A tall man, appearing to be in his seventies, with a shock of white hair around the crown of his head, stood facing me. Except for the fact that his hair was whiter and there was less of it, and that he was wearing thick glasses, this was definitely the same man I had seen in the photo at the Klein’s house in Altoona, the same prominent cheekbones, the same thick lips. It was definitely the same man, but it was also like seeing a ghost. After all the research, here I finally was, standing across from the man I’d been studying. Whatever secrets he might be hiding, he was certainly real, and that was a surreal feeling. I knew I had to quickly figure out a way to get him to trust me and talk to me. And yet I continued to stare at him. Because despite his resemblance to the photo, something about his appearance was not right.

He stared back at me. “May I help you, ma’m?” he asked politely.

Trying to regain my composure, I smiled. “I’m sorry, yes. Hello. I’m Abby Marcus. I’m looking for a Mr. Jack Gelberman. Might that be you?”

As soon as I mentioned his name, the set of his mouth became tight. “And why are you looking for him?” he asked.

I didn’t have a great cover story, so I was going to have to be as honest as I could be, without blowing the surprise element of Sarah Gelberman’s story. I only had one chance at this. “Well, I’ll come right to the point. I’m here because of your granddaughter, Sarah. I came to know Sarah in the course of my work, and to be honest, I’m concerned about her, and you’re the only family she’s mentioned.”

His expression went from tense to troubled. “Come in, come in, please.”

The living room was small and dark and anonymous, except for the books that filled every possible corner and surface of the room. There seemed to be no particular kind of book that was favored. As I sat on the couch, I noticed books on history, architecture, art, physics, biology, Judaism, Buddhism, communism, and feminism. And that was only the books that were piled on the end tables on either side of the couch.

Jack Gelberman sat across from me on a faded recliner. “Please, tell me who you are, and how you know Sarah,” he said calmly, though I could hear the undercurrent of anxiety in his voice.

I explained, in the most vague terms possible, that I was a researcher living in New York. I told him that Sarah had contacted me regarding a project that she was working on for school, but that midway through, she seemed to have abruptly moved and cut off contact.   I was concerned, because I hadn’t been able to find her, and that I hadn’t supplied her with the information she paid me to find for her. I tried to emphasize the fact that I was just trying to finish a job I had been paid for, which wasn’t entirely true, and de-emphasize any sense of foul play, but I wasn’t smart enough or a good enough liar for Jack Gelberman.

“I appreciate your concern for Sarah’s well being,” he said, looking right at me. “But, and I hope you won’t take offense, I don’t quite believe your story. I can’t imagine Sarah paid you that much money to look up some information for her, certainly not enough to make you fly down here to speak to me when you could have easily called by phone. You obviously are talented at finding people. If you were able to find my address, you surely could have found my phone number. For that matter, you could have found the phone number of Sarah’s parents. The other thing that is not believable in your story is that Sarah would have paid someone to do research for her. She is quite talented at research herself, and doesn’t spend money she doesn’t have. I’m willing to listen to you, but you must come up with a better story than that.”

As he spoke, I had the eerie feeling that he could read my mind. What could I say, without spoiling Sarah’s surprise? But by now, my concern for Sarah’s safety outweighed my desire to maintain the element of surprise. Besides which, I had so many doubts about Sarah’s story that I wasn’t sure her goal had really been a surprise for her grandfather. On the other hand, this man had neither denied being Jack Gelberman, nor denied having a granddaughter named Sarah. So I took a deep breath, and began to tell this man some, but not by any means all, of the real reason behind my visit.

It was going to be hard to look him straight in the eye and not be entirely honest, so I kept my eyes on the books behind him. I told him that among other things, I was a genealogical researcher. I told him that Sarah had hired me to create a family tree for his birthday, and that she had disappeared under suspicious circumstances. I told him that there were people who had warned me away from this research, and that I was afraid Sarah might have gotten tangled up in something bigger than herself. When I was done, I looked back at him, and he was smiling.

“This is an interesting tale you tell,” he said. “It sounds incredibly plausible, and certainly fascinating. Except for one thing. I just spoke to Sarah last night. She is in her senior year at Amherst, where she is busy researching the mating patterns of moths for her senior thesis. She has never lived in New York, nor does she appear to be in any danger. Not only that, but I celebrated my birthday two months ago, in August, and Sarah gave me a lovely present. You can probably guess, a book.” And again, he smiled. “So, I am going to ask you once more, who are you, and why you are here?”

I turned and stared at him, my mouth open in surprise. “Actually, what I just told you is true. There are details I didn’t elaborate on, like the fact that I went to Altoona to learn as much about you as I could, and that I have a good suspicion that you are the grandson of the last of the Halizcher rebbe despite the fact that the Halizchers think you, or rather, he, died in Treblinka. I don’t have it all figured out. But everything I just told you concerning Sarah is true, to the best of my knowledge. The young woman who came to see told me that she was Sarah Gelberman, and so far my research inon her identity has revealed nothing to contradicts that. She signed a lease under that name, and presented the landlord with a copy of a driver’s license.”

Now he stared at me, not in surprise, but rather in thoughtful concentration. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, he ran his hands through what was left of his hair, and let out a long, slow sigh. “Well then, Ms. Abby Marcus. I don’t know what to make of the fact that you have been going around finding out things about me that I might not want to be found. But we can discuss the merits of freedom of information at another opportunity. Let me ask you this: This Sarah Gelberman who came to see you, did she have red hair?”

“Yes,” I answered, confused by the question. “Yes, she did.”

Without a word, he quickly got up, and walked into what I assumed was the bedroom. If this had been a spy novel, I would have used the few moments he was out of the room to rifle through his drawers and unearth his secrets. But this wasn’t a novel, and I wasn’t a spy. Besides, I didn’t really know how to rifle through drawers. That was all I needed, to be caught going through his things. However, while I wasn’t a spy, I was a good observer. And as I sat waiting for him return from the bedroom, my attention was drawn to a pile of mail on top of some books on the end table next to the couch. On the very top of the pile was an envelope with an interesting return address—Jewish Memorial Home, in the Bronx. I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, except for the story the Kleins had told me about a mystery relative in New York. And this letter didn’t look like a random junk mail solicitation—it was addressed to Mr. Jack Gelberman, and had a first class stamp.

Before I had time to ponder the ethics of going through a stranger’s mail, Jack Gelberman returned, holding in his hand a framed picture, which he held out to me. “This is from Sarah’s brother’s bar mitzvah a few years ago,” he said. “She’s the one on my right.   Hasn’t changed much since then, only gotten smarter.”

I took the picture, and stared at the young woman who stood second from the left in the family grouping. There was no way that this was my Sarah Gelberman. It wasn’t even a matter of hair dye. This man’s granddaughter looked Asian, or at least partially Asian. Or at least, not like the Sarah Gelberman who came to see me. She had gleaming, long black hair, dark skin, and dark eyes. Jack Gelberman’s son Nathan had married an Asian woman, and their three children were clearly a combination of Eastern European and Asian genes. The son looked a great deal like his father, with the same nose and eyes, but his mother’s broad cheeks, small mouth, and black hair. The middle sister had fair hair, the mother’s eyes, and fair skin. Suddenly I understood what everyone in Altoona had meant when they remarked on how the children looked different and stood out. No wonder. There probably weren’t a lot of racially mixed couples in Western Pennsylvania twenty years ago. And this also explained what Rabbi Bergman might have meant about there being issues over whether or not Nathan Gelberman and his family was going to join the synagogue, and why the Kleins had segued from talking about Nathan and his family to the issues of intermarriage in their own family. Nathan’s wife wasn’t Jewish, or at least hadn’t been born Jewish. This also explained why my Sarah Gelberman hadn’t known that Jack Gelberman had lived in Altoona, because he wasn’t really her grandfather, apparently. Some puzzles were solved, but a bigger problem remained. Who was the young woman who had come to me for help, and why was she paying me to research a man who was not her grandfather?

I handed him back the photograph. “You’re right, this is not the Sarah Gelberman who came to see me. But you knew she had red hair. Why?”

He took the photograph and came to sit next to me on the couch. “A lucky guess. Let’s leave it at that for now. I have some appointments this afternoon that I must not be late for, I tutor at an after-school center, but would you care to meet for dinner?”

I nodded my head in agreement. “I would love to speak to you some more.”

“Good. We will speak then.” He got up, and I followed suit. He led me to the door, and opened it.

I stepped out into the warm sunshine, a stark contrast to the unlit apartment, enjoying the feeling of the sun on my skin.

Jack Gelberman blinked in the bright sunshine. He slipped off his thick bifocals and rubbed his eyes as they adjusted to the sunlight. “Still hard sometimes getting used to the sun. Anyway, let us meet at five o’clock,” he said, his face appearing rounder and softer without the glasses. Smiling, he continued, “We’ll catch an early bird special at one of my usual haunts. It’s one of the only perks of getting old.”

I agreed, gave him my cell phone number in case there was a change in plans, and thanked him for his time. He closed the door, and I started down the steps. All I could think about was how different he looked without his glasses on, almost like another person entirely. As I drove away it again occurred to me that something wasn’t right about the man I just met, something important, but I still couldn’t figure out what.

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His Brother’s Keeper, A Mystery Series – Part 1, Chapter Nineteen

Welcome to His Brother’s Keeper, a fictional mystery series set in 2000, in New York. I’ve decided to periodically lend my blog to a friend, Eva Hirschel. Eva doesn’t have a social media presence but she does have a mystery that she wanted to publish serially on-line, so I’m giving her a hand. (If you’re just tuning in now, I suggest that you start at the beginning. If you’ve been following along but lost the thread since it’s been a while, here is the last installment before this one). Here is Part I, Chapter 19. Enjoy!

Chapter Nineteen

IMG_1878I stared at the list of incoming mail. Something didn’t make sense. My first thought was that my computer had somehow melded the list of my incoming mail with mail I had previously sent, though I didn’t see how that was possible. My next thought was that maybe I had gone to the Mail Sent list instead of Incoming Mail. But that wouldn’t explain it either. On my computer screen was a list of my new e-mail. There was mail from my parents, mail from Leah, mail from Meira, mail from someone I didn’t know, and six e-mail messages from myself. My parents were fine, currently enjoying the many varieties of smoked fish available in Norway and letting me know about Cousin Ida’s hip surgery, about which my grandmother had already informed me.   They asked me to send her flowers in their names. My mother went on at length about a fascinating book she was reading about Israel. In caps, so I wouldn’t miss her enthusiasm, she wrote that I absolutely had to read this book, that while we knew about Hannah Senesh and her brave martyrdom, there were all kinds of other heroes mentioned in the book that she’d never heard of, these guys named Itzik Gilboa and Shlomo Gur, and that reading this book would give me a whole new perspective on the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. It sounded interesting, but any extra-curricular reading would have to wait until I was done with the Gelbermans. Before I could forget, I quickly went to iloveflowers.com and chose a flower arrangement to be delivered the next day to Cousin Ida’s hospital room. I charged it to my credit card, and signed the card from my parents, the kids and Simon and I. Pathetic that at this age I still needed to be reminded about things like this by my parents. Then it was back to my email messages. Leah wrote to let me know that she thought I would really like the sermon she was giving this Shabbat, would I like to meet her for lunch sometime this week, and how was my study of Chasidism going? Meira had some interesting information that I would have to take a closer look at later. The mail from the unknown sender was an advertisement for spy software, which I didn’t think I needed quite yet in my career. And then there were the six e-mail messages with my own address as the sender.

All six e-mails contained the identical message:

Abby Marcus

Leave the past alone before you destroy the future. Do not meddle in things you do not understand. You have been warned.

For a moment I thought that perhaps the messages were from Simon, a bad attempt at humor. But though Simon knew enough about computers to have made these messages look like they were from me, this wasn’t Simon’s style. This had to be for real. Someone was trying to scare me. And whoever this someone was, they had done a good job disguising the source of the messages; there was no way for me to figure out who really sent this threat. I considered calling Simon to ask him what he thought, and whether he would be able to trace the messages, but I thought it unwise to bother him for the time being.

First I wrote a note for Shuki. Despite my misgivings and premonitions of foul-play, it seemed after Shuki’s meeting with the super that my young client truly was Sarah Gelberman. Forged driver’s licenses were difficult to come by and took more planning than I would give her credit for. With the license number the super has given Shuki, he should be able to obtain a good bit of other helpful information. In the note, I asked him to use the moving company’s computer to check the DMV records on Sarah Gelberman. I didn’t even know what I was looking for exactly, but I figured that it couldn’t hurt to learn as much as possible. Shuki had done this once before for me on another case, and his boss either didn’t mind, or didn’t know.

Hunched over the keyboard, my legs resting on the garbage can under the desk, I read through the mail from Meira again. Reliable as always, she had sent me scans of the documents from Yad Vashem. I printed them and searched for some important clue, but couldn’t make much sense out of them since they weren’t in English. I had also asked her to see what she could find out about the branch of the Gelberman family that had gone to Israel, or Palestine as it was then known, in the 1930’s. While it was a long shot, in genealogy you never knew what information would be helpful. From what I had gathered so far, it seemed that Ruchel and Yitzhak Gelberman left for Palestine, and for all intents and purposes dropped off the face of the earth. That would make sense, given the divergent direction they had chosen in following the call of Zionism. No doubt, as the writer of the essay in the Halizch Yizkor book had implied, their choice had not pleased Ruchel’s father, the rebbe.

Meira had been able to unearth some information about the effort to bring in refugees from Eastern Europe, against the wishes of the British. Many of those involved had been arrested by the British and put into jails, which made them heroes to the local Jews. But the name Yitzhak Gelberman hadn’t surfaced yet in any of her research. She promised that she would keep going and would let me know. I had faith that she would come up with something–she was a tenacious researcher. She didn’t accept easy answers, nor did she have any patience with what might look to others like dead ends. I knew that slowly but surely progress was being made. This is how it goes in my line of work, lots of frustrating baby steps, even occasional steps backward, but then, when you’re least expecting it, great lurches forward, brick walls that suddenly shatter, opening up roomfuls of further doorways to explore and sometimes even actual answers. I just had to take it easy and slow, stay calm and cool, and eventually things would fall into place.

But then I remembered the six ominous e-mail messages. Who was so threatened by what I digging up, and why? Why the secrecy? Who was involved? What was I getting myself into? And what could I possibly destroy by what I was doing?

All the work I had done before this job had been straightforward. Yes, some jobs required more diplomacy than others. Sometimes I had had to carefully and skillfully extract information from people who didn’t want to give it. I had had to be creative about tracking down information that people didn’t want unearthed, or that petty bureaucrats couldn’t be bothered sharing. For some jobs I had had to use my best detective skills to figure out where the right information could be found. But never had I been in danger of any kind. Never had I been threatened or told to stop. I felt like I was entering a whole new world, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there. Yet despite the emailed threat, it was still hard to believe that anyone could be so threatened by genealogical research on a Chasidic dynasty that had come to its end during the Holocaust, and which might or might not have some living, now non-Chasidic descendants. Maybe there were people who didn’t like the Halizcher teachings or philosophy, but surely not so much that they would do something violent or harmful. But I had to admit that a part of me welcomed the thrill of it, the adrenaline rush caused by the combination of anger, fear, and excitement.

When Simon finally came home, he found me still at my desk, staring at the screen. He spent a few minutes trying to untangle the obscured source code on those six e-mail messages, but while he was impressed by the sender’s ability to manipulate computers, he wasn’t successful. Eventually, we left the computer alone and went upstairs to bed. It didn’t take us too long to forget temporarily why we were angry at each other.

[To be continued]

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Some Good Books, Fall 2015 Edition

Looking for some good holiday reading, or some presents for the readers in your life? Here is a round up of some recent good books I’ve read. In the last edition of Some Good Books, I started a rating system. See below for more info about the ratings. Enjoy!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara ©©©
51Khv+2lemL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_This book is quite literally breathtaking. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and a National Book Award finalist, it was my personal top choice for the winner. This book will make you gasp with pleasure, with pain, with sorrow, with anger. This is one of those books that will change whomever encounters it. There will be the before you read it, and the after. It is incredibly gorgeous, but exquisitely painful. You can’t put it down, but it hurts to read it. The narrative follows a group of men, friends from an elite New England college, who stay closely connected to each other as they build lives and careers. There is an almost fairy tale quality to their stories on one level, as each one achieves significant success in his field. But even their privilege, whether inborn or hard-earned, can’t make them immune to pain and to the damage that people can inflict on each other. This is a book about love, about friendship, about trust, and about trauma that looks at the best and the worst of human behavior. Yanagihara digs deep into our capacity to wound, to nurture, to heal, to care, to cause harm. Do not read this looking for an uplifting story of redemption and recovery. Rather, this is a story in which the trauma is so bone deep that even the truest love cannot heal the damage. And yet strangely it is not a book without hope even in the midst of suffering.

Golden Age by Jane Smiley ©©©

51+eW3sBVxL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The third, and sadly, final book in Smiley’s Last Hundred Years Trilogy continues the march forward of the Langdon family as they continue to bump up against realities of the time in which they live. At the risk of being overly grandiose, there is something almost sweepingly biblical about the trilogy, with its spare writing and ability to depict dramatic change through the small details of individuals lives.  This hundred year journey depicts the story of a tribe as it makes its way from its Iowa farm origins and spreads throughout the country, with each generation and indeed each family member responding each in his or her own way to the world. The family members are impacted by the events, trends, and developments that occur in their lifetimes: the economy, feminism, drugs, the sexual revolution, psychoanalysis, cults are just some of the factors by which their lives are shaped. War is an especially powerful and recurrent theme, as different generations are impacted by different wars in different ways.  And yet the individuals who make up the now quite extended Langdon clan never completely sever their ties to the land and the primal power of the natural world.  From the centrality of the farm and the lack of control over things like rain and drought in the first book, this third circles back in a near-apocalyptical way to the family farm and the environment.  Climate change, with its attendant fears and impact on human life, looms large in this last book in the trilogy, which depicts a worrisome future not too far away from now. If you haven’t read the first two in the series (see review of the 2nd book), read them in the proper order, but do read them!

The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan ©©

41Kq6PCW6eL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Another Man Booker longlist title, this is one of those books that just quietly sneaks up on you until you’re completely enraptured. The story essentially follows two trajectories, one of an older woman Anne, and the other of Luke, her grandson. Anne, now battling old age, is someone who was almost famous – a pioneering photographer who garnered some attention in her time but has been long forgotten. Her grandson Luke is a soldier in Afganistan whose mission has gone seriously off course. When Luke was a child, Anne had taught him how to see beyond the ordinary into the extraordinary, a bond which still unites to two. Their stories reconnect once Luke returns home and comes to visit his grandmother, taking her on a journey which stirs up her past and his present, and illuminates that which has been hidden. Without veering into sentimentality, it is a tender tale of a pairing not seen often in literature, that of a grandmother and a grandson.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff ©©

61F+t-ywhCL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Get ready for a gyrating tale about marriage and the tales we build about ourselves and those we love. The book, a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award, is divided into the first half, Fates, and the second, Furies, as it chronicles the lives and marriage of the two central character, Lotto and Mathilde. Fates focuses on Lotto, and what better name for this character. Does he make his own fate, was it predetermined, is it all just a game of chance, or was it shaped behind the scenes by one of the powerful women in his life? Is his creativity really his, is it well deserved, or just luck? Furies shifts to Mathilde, who is revealed to be someone quite different than she seemed when she was the subject of Lotto’s narrative. This is a fascinating, at times grim, but always powerful story of passion, determination, manipulation, and our human tendency to see what we want to see in those around us.

 

 The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami ©©© 
51jzobdRhGL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_This book has a serious pedigree: it is a Pulitzer Prize Finalist, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and winner of the American Book Award. And the accolades are well deserved.  This account by a black Moroccan slave provides an untold perspective of the colonization of the Gulf coast of the what is now the United States by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. The writing is gorgeous, with lush descriptions of both people and place, and the relationships between the characters are fully drawn in all their complicated richness. In the course of their perilous journey, the narrative deftly explores questions about the constructs of race, class, gender, and power, and of course colonization.  This book is part adventure tale, part historical fiction, part a meditation on the notions of civilization and culture, part just a beautiful work of writing that will get its grip on you and not let go until you’ve read the last page.

Untwine by Edwidge Danticat ©
51vW1Iq6wYL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Danticat’s last book, Claire of the Sea Light, was among my favorite books of the past few years. Untwine is a YA novel, and anyone looking for the magic of Claire will be in for a disappointment in comparison. But once you understand that it indeed meant to be in the YA category and adjust your expectations accordingly, there’s a lot to love here in this heartrending story of two identical twins, and the aftermath of a terrible car accident. In the face of tragedy, this book elegantly asks the question of how do you keep on living when half of you is suddenly gone? How do you understand who you are when your whole sense of self has changed in an instant? The intergenerational family relationships are beautifully brought to life and provide the life-affirming underpinning of this tragic story.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler ©

51VXVWyB4BL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_There were moments that shone in this intergenerational family story, but overall this book was only fine. Not terrible, but not great. Just fine. I am not, admittedly, a great fan of Anne Tyler’s novels, but its designation as a Man Booker shortlist title intrigued me. I read the book wanting to be surprised, but alas, that did not happen. This novel covers several generations of the Whitshank family, and centers around a house built originally by the family patriarch. Perhaps this book suffers from having been read in close proximity to Smiley’s Hundred Year Trilogy, which similarly tells the story of several generations of a family and not a house but a farm (see above). But where Smiley’s account had depth and nuance, Tyler’s feels tired and predictable.

 

Rating System

© – Good Book, but I wanted it to be even better

©© – Great Book, deeply satisfying

©©© – Amazing Book, dazzling, blew me away

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Thanksgiving Pumpkin Challah

After posting some photos of the annual Thanksgiving pumpkin challah, I got a lot of requests for the recipe. My tradition is to go to beloved cousins for an actual Thanksgiving dinner, and then to host a Shabbat post-Thanksgiving dinner the next night, which is generally also a celebration for the child whose birthday tends to fall right around then.  So the pumpkin challah has now become part of the tradition of both of those dinners. While it’s certainly not a historic menu item for either Thanksgiving or Shabbat – it was surely not eaten by the Pilgrims or by our Jewish ancestors in the Old Country or even on the Lower East Side – it’s a classic example of Jewish American cross-fertilization and a tradition-in-the-making. Here is the recipe.

IMG_1886Pumpkin Pie Challah Recipe

1 c boiled water

1/2 c cold water

1 c sugar

1 c vegetable oil

pinch of salt

2 1/2 T yeast

3 eggs

8-9 c flour

1 15 oz can pumpkin pie mix

handful of pumpkin seeds 

1/4 c crushed pecans

Optional: Extra spices or cinnamon sugar

Pumpkin challah: before

Pumpkin challah: before

1. Boil 1 cup water.

2. Put one cup of oil, pinch of salt, and one cup of sugar in large bowl or Kitchenaid type mixer.

3. Pour the cup of boiling water over the mix and stir with the oil to dissolve the sugar and salt.

4. When fully dissolved, pour in the 1/2 cup cold water. Mix well.

5. Add 2 ½ t yeast to mix. Let sit for a few minutes.

6. Add three eggs.

7. Stir in 7 cups of flour.

8. Stir in 1 can pumpkin pie puree. (Optional – add additional cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg if you want it to be spicier).

9. Knead. (Works best with a bread hook in Kitchenaid-type machine but can be done by hand).

1o. Add 1-2 additional cups of flour, depending on stickiness. After kneading, you want an elastic texture that barely sticks to your fingers.

11. Let dough rise in oiled bowl, preferably in warm, humid place. A slightly pre-warmed oven with the light on works great if the room is cold.

12. When dough has risen, punch it down, divide into 3 or 4 balls, and braid each one into a challah. You can make a round loaf and put into an oiled springform pan, or a bundt pan. Otherwise use a silicon sheet or parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Pumpkin challah: after

Pumpkin challah: after

13. Let rise again.

14. Apply egg wash. Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and pecan pieces. Or go wild and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

14. Bake at 350 until golden brown and the loaves make a hollow sound when tapped.

Enjoy!

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His Brother’s Keeper, A Mystery Series – Part 1, Chapter Eighteen

Welcome to His Brother’s Keeper, a fictional mystery series set in 2000, in New York. I’ve decided to periodically lend my blog to a friend, Eva Hirschel. Eva doesn’t have a social media presence but she does have a mystery that she wanted to publish serially on-line, so I’m giving her a hand. (If you’re just tuning in now, I suggest that you start at the beginning). Here is Part I, Chapter 18. Enjoy!

Chapter Eighteen

IMG_2470Into the bag went a spare pair of pants, a cotton sweater, two pairs of clean underwear, socks, a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt, my favorite short-sleeve black blouse, one purple t-shirt and my toiletry kit. I needed to bring clothes that would make me look presentable and put together, but not overly professional. Since I wasn’t planning on calling Jack Gelberman ahead of time, the look I was going for was earnest and concerned, not someone there in an official capacity. Luckily, everything fit easily into the small duffel bag that I had recently gotten free from the bank upon opening a new account. My files were in my laptop case, which was leaning against the bed, also ready to go. The boarding pass was in the outside pocket of the case, along with my wallet containing some of the cash from Sarah Gelberman. Ronit and I worked out a schedule for the next two days, and everything seemed more or less in place for the morning. Everything, that is, except that I hadn’t exactly discussed it yet with Simon. I was not looking forward to talking to him about this trip, and I knew that he was not going to be happy about it.

Packed and more or less ready to go, I walked out of my bedroom and went to check on the kids. Hannah was fast asleep, curled up in her bed as if in a nest, the blankets swirled around her. A day out in the autumn sun had exhausted her and she had gone to sleep without any protest. No doubt she was dreaming about apples. I bent down to straighten out the covers and pulled them up over her shoulders. She felt warm and I placed my lips on her forehead. She seemed warmer than usual, but not burning hot. Maybe she’s just overheated, I said to myself, trying to be rationale; it’s a warm evening. She hadn’t acted droopy or given any other indication that she was coming down with something. Careful not to wake her, I laid my cheek against hers and listened to her breathing. I was probably just imaging it, anxious about going away and leaving the kids even though it would be a short trip. From the day she was born, the sound of her breath going in and out, in and out, was one of the most calming sounds I had ever heard. I remained with her for a few moments, tempted to crawl right in next to her and fall asleep, avoiding having to speak to Simon. Instead, I got up and walked over to Caleb.

He was stretched out in one of his favorite sleeping places, on the rug at the foot of Hannah’s bed, his flannel dinosaur blanket clutched in his hand. Sometimes she would let him get into bed with her, and that was his favorite place to sleep. But some nights she wanted her bed to herself, and often on those nights he would sprawl on the rug, like a puppy denied his rightful place in the master’s bed. He was a loyal pup.   No matter how much he and his sister squabbled during the daytime hours, at night-time he wanted to be as close to Hannah as possible. Not wanting to wake him, I let him stay where he was for the time being, making sure he was properly covered with a blanket. Trying not to make the floorboards creak under my weight, I crept out of the room and went downstairs.

The sight that greeted me as I descended the stairs made me want to run back up quickly and stick my head under the covers. The kitchen counter was piled high with newspapers, books, half-finished art projects, and dirty dishes. The recycling container overflowed with empty cans, jars, and seltzer bottles. Coffee grinds and carrot peels mingled in the sink, along with a pot of burnt rice that needed to soak overnight. A pile of clean but still-to-be folded clothes were heaped on the dining room table. Caleb’s Brio train tracks snaked their way around the couch and coffee table, and pieces of Duplo were scattered across the rug. Construction paper lined the floor in front of the fireplace, crayons flung down across the paper waited to be crushed by an unsuspecting shoe. Plastic storage boxes of toys stuffed into a wooden cabinet were perched precariously, about to tumble off of the shelves. I sighed. Someday, my house would be neat and clean and organized. Someday I would teach my children to pick up their toys and take responsibility for their belongings. Someday I would be the perfect wife and mother.

Simon was due home shortly. He had a meeting with his partner and some clients that involved dinner, so I had eaten earlier with the kids. Before dinner we made a crumble with apples Hannah brought back from the field trip. Apple crumble was one of Simon’s all-time favorite desserts, especially served warm with Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream. I had made sure to buy the ice cream this afternoon, and I was hoping the dessert might serve to sweeten the news of my trip. I knew that things were tense at work for him; he was trying to finish up a big project for a client and they had hit some snags. He had been working lots of extra hours, and it hadn’t helped that I had asked him to come home early last night so that I could meet with Avrum Shapira. He was not going to be happy with the news that I was planning on flying to Florida tomorrow. I knew rationally that there was no reason that his work should take higher priority than my work, which is what this trip was all about, but at the same time it was his job that paid most of our bills and allowed us to live the life style we tried to maintain. He wasn’t wrong in wanting and expecting my support at stressful times like this. However, if I always put my professional needs on hold until it was a good time for Simon, I would not have any clients and therefore would not have any professional needs. If I took on a client and a job, I needed the flexibility to be able to follow the job through. Generally the jobs I took were easy enough to do through my computer and perhaps some visits to local libraries and resource centers. I rarely needed to travel, but this particular job was proving to be an exception in every way, and Simon was going to have to deal with that.

All my ducks were in a row, for a change. Ronit was around and available, and every minute of the kids’ waking hours for the next three days were planned out. I had typed up detailed lists with the daily schedules for Simon and Ronit. I didn’t really think I would be gone for three days, but just to be on the safe side I had thought through the rest of the week. I even briefly considered taking Caleb with me and dropping him off with my grandmother while I went about my business down there, as she lived only about an hour away from my destination. But she had answered my e-mail with the news that as much as she would love to see us, she was heading over to the Miami area for a few days to see her one of her cousins, who was recovering from hip replacement surgery. I reminded myself to send Cousin Ida a get-well card.

I was racking my brain trying to think of additional things I could do to prove to Simon that things were under control. I had gone so far as to lay out clothes for the kids for the rest of the week, in neat piles on top of their dressers, even though it was inevitable that Hannah would want to wear something else entirely, and the less it matched, the better.

The phone rang and I reached for it, glad for the distraction.

“Hey, Abby,” said Bird. “How are you?”

I settled myself on a stool, turning my back on the dirty dishes. “Fine. You?”

“Fine, fine. So what’s the deal? Are you considering my offer? Why haven’t I heard an immediate yes?”

I groaned. “Oh, Bird, not everyone’s like you. Not everyone knows what they want right away.”

She laughed. “Okay. But you’ve had a few days. What are you thinking?”

Just then the phone beeped, indicated another call. “Hold on, call waiting.” I depressed the call button. “Hello?”

“Hi Abby.” Simon’s deep voice boomed into my ear. “Everything okay over there?”

“Yeah. How’d the meeting go?” I asked, doing my best not to sound accusatory.   “I thought you’d already be on your way by now.”

Simon cleared his throat. “Abs, it’s not going so great. I’m going to be at least another hour.” He paused, waiting for a response, but I didn’t say anything. “I’m sorry, hon. I wish it was over, believe me. Will you wait up?”

“I’ll be up, I’ll be up. I need to talk to you. Hold on a sec.” I clicked back to Bird. “Can you hold on another minute? It’s Simon. I’ll be right back, okay?”

“Sure,” she answered.

“Thanks.” I clicked back to Simon. “Okay, I’m back.”

“What’s up? Everything okay? I can’t really talk now.”

“Yeah, fine. But I need to go to Florida tomorrow.” I got up and walked over to the sink, willing myself to face the mess. “I’ll explain when you get home.”

There was silence on the other end.

“You there, Simon?”

A strange sound came from the receiver, something between a sigh and a groan. “I assume you’re not joking. And I assume this has to do with Jack Gelberman, and not your grandmother.”

“You assume correctly.” As I spoke, I dumped the carrot peels in the garbage and ran more water in the pot. The warm sudsy water felt good on my hands.

“Shit, Abby. This is a really bad time for me right now. Never mind the fact that you’re in way over your head here with this whole Gelberman thing.”

Now it was my turn to sigh. “Simon, you have to go back to work, and Bird’s waiting patiently to finish our conversation. We’ll talk later. Good luck with the rest of the meeting.”

“Abby, this isn’t fair. You can’t just throw this at me.”

I attacked the bottom of the pot with gusto I didn’t know I had in me after this long day. “Simon, trust me, I’ve got to go. It will be fine. Just a quick trip down and back. Ronit is around. It’s not a big deal.”

“Look, they’re calling me to come back in. Don’t make any quick decisions and we’ll talk later. You didn’t buy a ticket already, did you?”

I turned the faucet back on and ran more hot water. “What did you say? I can’t hear you over the water.”

“That’s an old trick, Abby. You bought the ticket, didn’t you?”

My silence was enough of an answer.

“I can’t believe you would—look, I really gotta go. I’ll be late, but try to stay up, okay?” Simon’s voice was strained and my guilt level increased. I knew he was under a lot of stress at work, and I wasn’t helping the situation.

I exhaled loudly. “Okay. I’ll probably be downstairs working.”

“I’ll come down when I get in. Believe me, I’d be home if I had a choice.”

“I know. Go, good luck. I’ll see you later.”

I clicked back to Bird. “Okay, I’m back.”

She picked up right where she had left off. “This job is made for you. You have to at least give it serious consideration. Flexible hours, good pay, benefits. Come on, what are you waiting for? Someone else is going to grab it up, and you’ll be sorry forever.”

It really was a great offer and I needed some time to think it through. “Can you give me a week?” I said, renewing my futile attempt to scrub burnt rice off the bottom of the pot. The pot needed to soak overnight, but I was too stubborn and too jumpy to just let it be.

Bird thought for a moment. “Okay, but just for a week. I really can’t do more than that.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I’m sure that I won’t need more than a week to resolve this case.” Famous last words.

[To be continued…]
His Brother’s Keeper is entirely fictional. None of the characters or situations described in this series are based on real people or events. Copyright (c) 2015 by Eva Hirschel.
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His Brother’s Keeper, A Mystery Series – Part 1, Chapter Seventeen

Welcome to His Brother’s Keeper, a fictional mystery series set in 2000, in New York. I’ve decided to periodically lend my blog to a friend, Eva Hirschel. Eva doesn’t have a social media presence but she does have a mystery that she wanted to publish serially on-line, so I’m giving her a hand. (If you’re just tuning in now, I suggest that you start at the beginning). Here is Part I, Chapter 17. Enjoy!

Chapter Seventeen

IMG_1773It was late in the day by the time I got back to Brooklyn with Hannah and her class. Ronit met us at pick up and I sent them home, then ran to the subway as quickly as was humanly possible, risking looking rude toward the other mothers for not sticking around to do the usual after-school post-field-trip chat.

The Jewish Genealogical Division of the New York Public Library was located in the basement of the main branch of the library on Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street. I dashed up the many steps leading to the front doors of the library, nodding in passing to the famous lions who kept guard on either side of the stone steps, avoided the New Yorkers sprawled across the steps taking advantage of the sunny day, and ran inside. The temperature was quite a few degrees colder inside the building, but the chill that ran down my spine was not due to the cold. There was a special kind of reverence that hit me every time I entered this branch of the library, the main reference branch of the whole New York Public Library system. Libraries were a kind of sacred space, and this particular library was truly worthy of reverence. Its vast spaces, hushed tones, muted color scheme, majestic murals and high vaulted ceilings created a sense of awe. Just trying to grasp the amount of knowledge and information available within the walls of this building was enough to make me giddy. Forget Central Park, the Empire State Building, or the South Street Seaport–the main reading room was one of the great wonders of New York.   A cavernous, echoing space filled with polished wooden desks, substantial wooden chairs, and green desk lamps, where an incredible spectrum of humanity read, wrote, researched, and dreamed, the main reading room was a candy store packed with endless possibilities of knowledge.

This afternoon, however, my research led me downstairs, to Room 101. It was a miniature version of the main reading room, complete with the same wooden desks, chairs, and reading lamps. Though my work rarely allowed me to indulge in it, I loved the tactile adventure of pure research, research that involved actual books, card catalogues, pens, and index cards. The Internet and other new technologies made research so much easier and faster, yet something was missing from the process. There was almost nothing I loved better than sitting at one of those wooden tables, a pile of books in front of me waiting to be opened, and my supplies at the ready. If it was possible to bottle the musty, slightly clammy smell of old books, I’d be one happy person. My work this afternoon promised to be the old-fashioned kind of book research, a good antidote to the computer searches and e-mail driven work I’d been so busy with lately. Despite the twinge of guilt I felt about not spending the afternoon with the kids, and especially Caleb, whom I had not seen all day, I was excited and in a great mood.

I walked over to talk to the librarian, a tall, thin, amiable guy, with a lopsided grin and a head of dirty-blond curls inexplicably parted in the middle.

“Hi there,” he said. “What good stuff are you coming here to find, and how can I be of service?”

I explained what I was looking for, and he helped me locate the book. According to him, I was lucky that NYPL had the book, because their collection of Yizkor books was incomplete. The best source for Yizkor books, apparently, was the YIVO Institute, except that it was impossible to find anything there.

Before I knew it, I was happily ensconced in a chair, the Halizch Yizkor book in front of me and a pile of notecards and a pen to my right. I could have turned to page 138 or 174 right away, but first I wanted to get an idea of the structure of the book. Each Yizkor book is different, but the basic elements are the same. It is a history of a certain town, one that either no longer exists today at all, or one in which there are no longer any Jews. The books generally record the renowned rabbis and dignitaries who lived in the town, along with information about the communal institutions. There can be memorials to other people who lived in the town as well.

Jews had first come to Halizch, a small shtetl about 30 kilometers from Warsaw, in 1763. There they lived for many generations, on relatively good terms with their Christian neighbors. In 1935, about sixty percent of the population was Jewish. The Jews of Halizch were mostly simple folk who worked in manual labor or owned small family businesses. There were woodcutters, milkmen, a blacksmith, tailors, watchmakers, a kosher butcher, innkeepers, and the like. There were the standard Jewish communal organizations, like the chevra kadisha, the society that prepared bodies for burial, the cheder, where boys were educated, the beis midrash, where they continued their Jewish studies, the mikveh, or ritual bath, and of course the synagogue. Like many Polish synagogues, it was a modest wooden building that purposely did not call attention to itself.   But it was what went on inside the synagogue that was a source of great pride for the residents of Halizch, for the town was the seat of the Halizch chasidic dynasty, home of the Halizcher rebbe.

Jews came from all over to meet the rebbe, study with him, and hear him speak. On Shabbat the town would be packed with visitors who made long and difficult journeys in order to be able to spend time in the presence of their rebbe. It was a great honor to get to share a meal with the rebbe, who, seated at a large table ringed by his chasidim, would take small bites of food and then pass along the rest of his meals to be divided by his followers. At these meals he would tell stories, sing niggunim, and teach Torah. During the time memorialized in the Yizkor book, the years directly preceding the war, most of the local Jews were followers of the rebbe, Yosef Yehudah, who had followed in the footsteps of his revered father, Leib Mendel. There was a great deal written in the Yizkor book about these beloved rebbes. Both were said to have incredible powers, to teach and to preach, to heal and to comfort. Both were thought to have direct lines of communication with God, their Creator. Much was written about Leib Mendel’s healing touch and comforting song, and about Yosef Yehudah’s eyes, with their ability to penetrate one’s very soul with a glance.

At the back of the book was an extensive list of those from Halizch who died during the Holocaust. I checked the lists, and saw right away that Yosef Yehudah, Yankeleh, and Leib Mendel were all listed as having died in Treblinka. As far as this book was concerned, none of them had survived.

Many of the essays focused on the impact of the Holocaust on the town and on its inhabitants. Their experiences in the war were chronicled and the memories of their suffering and deaths properly recorded. From what I could gather from flipping through the book, the Jewish citizens of Halizch suffered greatly in the war. By the time the war ended, the majority of the town’s Jewish population had been killed. Most of the Jews of Halizch had been Halizcher chasidim, and had loyally followed the teachings of their rebbe that their fate was in God’s hands. Only some, like Mrs. Freiburg and her husband, left and thus survived. The passivity of it astounded me, especially since I had been fed a rich diet of active Jewish resistance to martyrdom. The heroes of my childhood were the Jews who had fought back, the partisans and the ghetto fighters, because that was the only way I could make sense of such a situation. I was able to accept that Jews lacked the resources and numbers to effectively stand up to the Nazi war machine, but the kind of passive acceptance of fate that I saw spelled out before me in the Yizkor book made no sense. I didn’t want to incorporate this new information into my understanding of the Holocaust. I had always rejected the idea of Jews going like sheep to the slaughter, as it came dangerously close to blaming the victim. And more than that, I didn’t understand the kind of faith in God and loyalty to a human leader that would cause people to not try to save themselves.

Remembering that I didn’t have a lot of time before heading back to Brooklyn, I forced myself to stop musing and get back to work. As I continued to flip through the book, one account leapt out at me. It was written by Moishe Feldman, a survivor who, like Avrum Shapira, had been in Treblinka. Included in this account was a strange dream, identical in every way to the dream I had heard in the Achim Brothers Luncheonette except for one interesting difference. In this version of the dream, the boy rising from the mass grave was clutching a large silver Kiddush cup. The symbolism of this cup meant a great deal to the writer of this account, who, like Mr. Shapira, saw the dream as a sign of reassurance and love from the rebbe, whose cup it had been and who had used the cup on many special occasions with his chasidim. I made some notes on this version of the dream, asking myself whether this was in fact something that both men had actually dreamt, or perhaps heard from another party and had come to think of as their own. The rationalist in me had to ask also whether it had been a dream at all, or whether in their weakened, almost delirious states they had actually seen something happen that they naturally thought could only be a dream.           I continued to flip through the book, and my eye was caught by a sketch of a Kiddush cup. I turned back a page to the beginning of this entry, and saw that it was written by Avrum Shapira himself. And sure enough, the picture of the cup was on page 174, one of the page numbers he had scribbled on the piece of paper he stuffed into my bag. The essay was intended as a memorial to Mr. Shapira’s father, the local scribe, and detailed the kind of work that he did and what a good and pious man he had been. But there was also some mention about other aspects of daily life in Halizch, including the relationship between the chasidim and their rebbe.

Apparently there was a special, oversized silver Kiddush cup that played an important role in the community. It was very old, and was said to have been handed down to Yosef Yehudah from his father Leib Mendel, who had been given it by his teacher, Yoel Shlomo . A prized possession among the Halizchers, the cup was greatly sought after for use in weddings and at brisses, and was passed around to all when the rebbe shared a meal with his chasidim. It seemed to function almost as a good luck charm. It would make sense then that Moishe Feldman might have dreamed that he saw the grandson rise from the grave clutching the kiddish cup, and that he would have understood the vision as a good sign. I wasn’t sure exactly why Avrum Shapira would have pointed me to this page, unless he was trying in a round-about way to show me that there were other versions of his dream and to explain the discrepancies by letting me know how important the kiddish cup was to them. It didn’t totally make sense, but I made a note and decided to keep going. I was about to turn the page, when my eyes were pulled back to the picture. Something about that drawing looked incredibly familiar. But surely, despite its age, it was a common design. Perhaps I had seen one like it in a museum or a book of Judaica. Maybe a cup like this one had even been featured in the Jewish calendar that we got sent every year from one of the local Jewish funeral homes. Yet something bothered me in the pit of my stomach about this cup, and all I could think to do was make a note on yet another index card. This cup must play some role in my case—it must be important, or Avrum Shapira wouldn’t have sent me to look at it—but I couldn’t fathom where it fit in. I flagged the page with a post-it so that I would make sure to xerox it before I went home.

The next essay I turned to was about the conflict between the Zionists and the Halizcher chasidim. Though Zionism had not been particularly popular, there were apparently some local Jews who were attracted to the idea of a new Jewish state. Primarily young people, they saw Zionism as an antidote to the Jewish life available in Eastern Europe, a life filled with constant fear and terror, a life based on faith and not on action. Though affiliating with the Zionists meant making a break, both emotional and physically, with their families, some had chosen this path. In the early 1930’s a handful of young people left Halizch for Palestine, including Ruchel and Yitzhak Gelberman. And then in the late 1930’s and into the early 1940’s, as the situation became even more dire for the Jews, several emissaries from Palestine slipped back into Eastern Europe on a mission to try and save as many lives as possible.

The account was vague on the details of this attempt, like how they were able to enter Poland, and who funded their mission. Between the weapons and bribes necessary to carry out their task, they had to have been heavily financed. But this was a collection of memories and personal accounts of history, not a scholarly work, and so many details were left out. I would have to do more research on this issue elsewhere. However, the essay did recount the story that I had already heard, that the Zionists were primarily concerned with saving children, and well-known figures, the Halizcher rebbe Yosef Yehudah among them. But as I had already learned, he adamantly refused, citing his faith in God, his loathing of the Zionists who were forcing the hand of God by trying to establish a Jewish state before the arrival of the Messiah, and his unwillingness to abandon his followers to their fates. A strong man he must have been, to refuse a chance to be spared. The account told in detail how the chasidim went to the rebbe en masse, begging him to at least let the boy Leib Mendel go, so that the future of the Halizchers would be assured. But he stubbornly refused, even when they came to him with all the gold and jewelry they could collect, in order to pay for false papers and secure passage. The account conveyed some of the anger, disappointment, and confusion of the chasidim when the rebbe refused. And despite his immediate refusal, they had still given their hoard in to his safekeeping, in the hopes that he would change his mind. Though nothing in the essay indicated what might have happened to the valuables subsequently, there was one part that especially intrigued me. It said, “The rebbe turned his back on the Zionists and their offer of help. His followers understood his reasons, but still felt he should have saved his grandson. Though no one wanted to doubt the rebbe, some secretly wondered if his refusal had something to do with the fact that his chossen had taken his beloved daughter away from Poland and away from chasidut.” I knew enough Yiddish to know that chossen was the word for both groom and son-in-law, but I didn’t understand the reference. Was the author’s use of this word here merely a vague allusion to the fact that the rebbe had a son-in-law who had chosen Zionism over chasidism? Or was this reference more specific? Could it mean that Yitzhak Gelberman had been actively involved in trying to save the rebbe and Leib Mendel? If so, might the trail of the missing money lead in his direction? This was getting more tangled by the minute, and none of it was making sense or providing the answers I needed. Though it was a tenuous possibility at best, I diligently made a note to check out whether or not Yitzhak Gelberman had played a role in rescuing European Jews, and kept going.

There was one essay on the Halizcher dynasty that was particularly interesting. It was written by Shlomo Linsk, who had grown up in a Halizcher family. His father had been Yosef Yehudah’s shamash, his right-hand man whose glory lay not in his exemplary scholarship or in his immense riches, neither of which he possessed, but through the access and proximity to the great rebbe that he gained through his selfless devotion. He composed letters for the rebbe, functioned as an intermediary between the rebbe and his chasidim when needed, and made countless arrangements of all kinds, behind-the-scenes work that garnered him little fame but much praise from the rebbe. In his memorial essay, Shlomo Linsk traced the genealogy of both the family and the dynasty, connecting Leib Mendel back to the Baal Shem Tov himself, through a chain of disciples and disciples of disciples. Linsk’s version was almost identical to what Rabbi Springer had described to me. Leib Mendel, Yosef Yehudah’s father, was the founder of the Halizcher dynasty. Leib Mendel had been the disciple of Yoel Shlomo, who was the disciple of Yisrael Eliezer haLevi, who was the disciple of Dov Baer, who was the disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.   The line went straight back to the source. Leib Mendel had been no unknown upstart, rather he was the inheritor of a tradition and a hand-picked leader. He had yichus, the right credentials. Linsk’s account echoed what I had already heard and read elsewhere, that while Yosef Yehudah had only daughters, it was acknowledged that his grandson Leib Mendel, named of course after the original rebbe, would someday become the next leader. As a young boy he had already greatly impressed the Halizcher chasidim with his piety, scholarship, oratorial skills, and innate leadership ability.

I kept reading, looking for some new information. I turned the page, and the page number jumped up at me. Page 138. Why had Avrum Shapira directed me to this particular page? Impatient now, I quickly scanned the text. And there it was. A story, a rumor really, an unconfirmed wisp of possibility. It was believed that the original Leib Mendel had inherited not only the mantle of leadership from his teacher Yoel Shlomo , but something else as well. What Rabbi Springer had not told me when he spoke about the connection between the Halizchers and the Baal Shem Tov was that supposedly the first Leib Mendel had inherited the only original writing left by the Baal Shem Tov. Rabbi Springer had told me that the Besht had left no writings, but according to Linsk’s essay, that was not entirely the case. Supposedly, Yosef Yehudah was given a piece of parchment by his father on which the Besht had written some of his teachings. And not any teachings, but his teachings about the end of days and a prediction about coming of the Messiah. This was no small thing. The only extant writings by the Besht himself, and about such an important topic. Being in possession of such a thing must have contributed greatly to the status of the Halizchers, and to that of their leaders.

The first question I had to ask was whether this story contained any truth. Did such a document actually exist? And if it did, was it really from the Baal Shem Tov, or was it written by a later disciple? Was it a complete forgery? Linsk’s essay went on to try to prove that such a document did in fact exist, and that it had once been carefully inspected by a local scribe, Menachem Shapira, who had supported its supposed provenance. It would be logical to assume that this Shapira was the father of Avrum Shapira. This was obviously the piece of parchment of which he had spoken when we met. But Linsk continued by lamenting the fact that like so much else, the document disappeared during the war and had probably been destroyed.

All of this of course led to many more questions. Why had Avrum Shapira not told me about this directly? Why had he not spoken about the document, when he clearly wanted me to learn about it? Why had he gone so far to convince me to give up the chase when we met in person, and then provided the very clues that would help me continue? And why did he need to point me toward this information in the first place? How was it connected to my search for the Gelbermans? If this precious document had existed at one time, had it survived the war, and if so, where was it now? Was he trying to tell me that searching for the Gelbermans might be fruitless, but that a search for the Kiddush cup might turn up something of interest?

This mysterious document was undoubtedly a source of pride for the Halizcher chasidim. It was something that would have conferred legitimacy, as well as the superior sense of being the chosen of the chosen.   This piece of parchment could consequently be important to a person seeking an instant road to leadership in the Chasidic world today, or to a group seeking a bigger piece of the internal political pie of within a branch of Chasidism. But could someone really want it badly enough to act in a threatening manner, in a manner completely out of keeping with the basic ideals of chasidism, and of Judaism as a whole? Could someone want it so desperately that anyone who got in the way was in danger? Part of me found it hard to believe that Jews could cause harm to others over issues of ideology or faith. But my other, more cynical side reminded myself that ideology, faith and power were closely connected, and that there were plenty of Jewish bad guys. There were Meir Kahane and his followers, Kach and the guys from the Jewish Defense League, there was Baruch Goldstein who had coldly murdered a group of Muslims as they quietly prayed, and of course there was Yigal Amir, who shot and killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhack Rabin. What motivated all of them was exactly that potent brew of ideology, faith, and power. Despite the fact that the reading room was overheated and stuffy, I suddenly found myself chilled. I had to admit that for the first time since I had heard the name Jack Gelberman, I was truly scared. I might actually be up against something bigger than a simple genealogical search. But realizing this did not make me any less interested in this case. If anything, my resolve to get to the bottom of it was strengthened. I needed to find Sarah Gelberman, I needed to meet Jack Gelberman, and I needed to start getting some answers to my questions.

[To be continued…]
His Brother’s Keeper is entirely fictional. None of the characters or situations described in this series are based on real people or events. Copyright (c) 2015 by Eva Hirschel.
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His Brother’s Keeper, A Mystery Series – Part 1, Chapter Sixteen

Welcome to His Brother’s Keeper, a fictional mystery series set in 2000, in New York. I’ve decided to periodically lend my blog to a friend, Eva Hirschel. Eva doesn’t have a social media presence but she does have a mystery that she wanted to publish serially on-line, so I’m giving her a hand. (If you’re just tuning in now, I suggest that you start at the beginning). Here is Part I, Chapter 16. Enjoy!

Chapter Sixteen

IMG_2312The soil in the orchard was a deep, rich brown. I breathed in the loamy sweet-sour scent and exhaled. What a difference a one-hour drive north made. We were in the countryside, surrounded by apple trees and the fertility of the natural cycle of growth and harvest. These were small apple trees, not fully mature but just right for the four year old farmers currently grouped around one particularly well-endowed tree. The owner of the orchard had just finished explaining how he raised the trees, and they were discussing the relative merits of Delicious, Macintoshes, Granny Smiths, and Jonathans. Now the children were gazing up in wonder as the farmer demonstrated the proper picking technique and explained how the apples were sorted according to size and quality. A good part of it went over their heads, but they listened attentively and asked questions.

As the farmer continued to speak, I sat down on the ground behind the children, avoiding the overly ripe apples that lay on the ground in puddles of sticky, fragrant mush. The sun was unusually warm and I took off my jacket. Tilting my face up to the heat, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the stolen moment of peace. How good the sun felt on my face. It was an easy cliché that city dwellers didn’t know where their food came from, but there was truly something to it. It was so simple when buying an apple at the store, even at the coop, to forget the miraculousness of it, to forget that the apple came from a tree tended by a farmer, fed by water and sun, grown from a seed. Yes, there was photosynthesis and genetics and biology and botany and chemistry and fertilizers behind all of that, but beyond the science there remained the miracle that set it in motion. We knew enough to understand the how, but we still didn’t understand the why, and maybe that was where God came in to the equation. It was truly an incredible thing, an apple, a thing of glory and wonder. And at that moment I suddenly understood what I had read about the Chasidic idea of the miracle of the everyday. I understood the need to say thanks for the miracle of an apple, and the need to say a prayer before eating such a miracle. It wasn’t just to say thank you to God for having created the apple and providing it to us for food, but it was also a way to sanctify the moment, to stop and notice the miraculousness of God’s creation rather than taking it for granted. How better to praise God than to notice these everyday miracles and rejoice in them.

I opened my eyes and looked at my daughter. She stood between her two buddies Jonah and Zoë. As they listened to the farmer, she and Zoë held hands in the unselfconscious manner of young children. Her curls bounced as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other, her dark eyes bright with excitement, her upturned cheeks glowing in the sunlight. Talk about miracles. It was still amazing to me that this little creature, who had emerged from my body looking like a hairless elf now not only possessed a mass of dark curly hair and an enormous vocabulary but friends of her very own. It was fascinating to watch her interact with her peers, especially when she was too absorbed to know I was watching.

Hannah had been independent practically from the moment she was born, trying to push herself up in my arms into a sitting position at three weeks old so that she could see what was going on around her. She crawled at five months and walked at ten, always in pursuit of what to explore, always pushing the limits of how far she could go before I would call her back. When the other mothers in my mothers’ group were complaining about separation anxiety and clinginess, I would have nothing to say, wishing silently that my brave daughter would show signs of either occasionally, if for no reason other than to reassure me that our love affair was mutual. I came to realize that as the mother my job was to reassure her when she needed it, but that it was not in the nature of things for her to reassure me about anything. She showered me with kisses and hugs when she felt like it, and was happy to be hugged and kissed and cuddled when she was tired or not feeling well, but the rest of the time she was simply too busy investigating the world as fast she could to be content sitting in my arms.

At four, she was as independent and self-confident as she had been as a baby and toddler. She had emerged in the last year as a real person, with likes and dislikes and her own way of seeing the world. Now that she had left babyhood behind, Simon and I were enjoying her in a whole new way. The intensity and drive in her personality that we saw in her as a baby was still there, and was channeled into what she was learning and doing at school. She hadn’t been the kind of baby who was happy just being held, but now she couldn’t get enough of sitting with us and telling us about the differences between an apotosaurus and a T-rex, what animals lived in Australia, or how to make the color purple. It was absolutely delightful listening to her talk about her day, and analyze the various intricacies of preschool social dynamics. It had come as a shock to realize that I was going to enjoy interacting with her more and more as she got older, and that that was really what parenthood was about, not whether you started with solid foods at four months or at seven, or whether you nursed for three months or two years, or not at all. It was the ability to accept and appreciate your child as a person, to teach and guide and raise that person while all the time acknowledging that the person he or she was had already formed inside.

A jarring vibration at my side jolted me out of my reverie. Damn. I was always annoyed on field trips when other parents spent the whole time on their cell phones. What was the point of coming if you weren’t really there? But I could see that it was Shuki, and I knew he wouldn’t have called if it wasn’t important. My left leg had fallen asleep, but I got up as gracefully as possible and walked a little bit away from the group in to an empty part of the orchard.

He had met with success. Once again I marveled at both Shuki’s skills and the power of cash. Holding a fifty dollar bill in his hand, he had convinced the super of Sarah Gelberman’s building on Second Street to talk to him about Sarah. It was looking likely that the young woman was for real, as the super had a copy of her credit report and driver’s license, even though he wouldn’t let Shuki see them. But the combination of cash and a promise to share any contact info he found convinced the super to give Shuki her parents’ phone number, which she had given him in case of an emergency, and her license number. The lease wasn’t up until June, and it looked like Sarah, who had moved in sixteen months ago, had cleared out in a big hurry, without any prior notice and without paying the last month’s rent. Needless to say, the super wasn’t happy and welcomed a chance to track her down and collect his money. But he did report that until she left, she had been a model tenant, on time with her rent, quiet and neat. For a little additional cash, Shuki was allowed in to the building, where he managed to speak to Sarah’s former next door neighbor, a musician who, as luck would have it, was home during the days and worked at night. He hadn’t seen Sarah move out, but he had noted that about two months ago, when he was coming up from doing his laundry, he had seen Sarah entering her apartment with two of what he called “chasids,” who he described as being in their twenties, with beards and black hats, wearing black suits with white shirts. More specific than that he couldn’t be, but he remembered being struck by how incongruous they looked here and wondering what business they had with Sarah. He had seen a similar man again, last Thursday night, around 8:00 at night. He remembered, because he was getting ready to go to work when he heard noise in the hallway. He had looked through the peephole, and saw a man pounding on Sarah’s door and yelling at her to open up.   Sarah opened her door and immediately slammed it, but the man hadn’t let up. Finally, just as the neighbor was about to intervene, she opened the door again and let the man in. The neighbor had remarked to Shuki that he thought it was unusual that a girl like Sarah would have one of those guys for a boyfriend, but that in this city anything was possible.

I thanked Shuki so profusely I think I embarrassed him. This was extremely helpful information, but probably not good news. It also made me more worried than ever about Sarah Gelberman’s well being. Where had she run to, and why? Who was this man at her door, and what did he have to do with all of this? And still, the biggest question of all, what was this case about anyway? Just a nice foray into genealogical research, as Sarah had told me, or was there something else going on here, as Mr. Shapira and Mrs. Freiburg seemed to think?

At this point, there seemed to be only one sane thing to do, and that was to pay a visit to a mysterious man living in Winter Park, Florida. I had done a lot of circling of the target. By now I was sincerely worried that Sarah was in danger. It was time to go to the source. There was too much going on that I didn’t understand. But first, I had one more visit to make in New York.

[To be continued….]
His Brother’s Keeper is entirely fictional. None of the characters or situations described in this series are based on real people or events. Copyright (c) 2015 by Eva Hirschel.
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Filed under Abby Marcus, Fiction