April 20, 2024
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April 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Chapter 1 Summary: Three siblings and their families come together for the first time in years for a two-week vacation to celebrate their parents’ 50th anniversary.

Yaffa wiped her sheitel away from her eyes, stretched out on the lawn chair and smiled at her siblings. “It’s sooo nice to hang out together like this. It’s been ages and ages since we’ve had a chance to talk together in person.”

“Not ages. Three years,” Ari said. “Since Eli’s bar mitzvah.”

“Doesn’t count. No one can ever really talk at a simcha.” Yaffa waved a hand at Ilana. “You guys really need to come in more often.”

Ilana, who’d been watching Matan play soccer singlehandedly against Jake, Eli and Binyamin, stiffened. “You want to pay for our plane tickets?”

Yaffa said quickly, “I wasn’t trying to guilt you; I know it’s expensive. Just saying … this is nice. Us, our kids, all together like this.”

Ilana clenched her hand. She meant it kindly, lighten up. But it was hard, when all of the little barbs and snide remarks of the past 20 years rose in her memory every time her whole family got together. She so badly wanted to respond, “And were you also not trying to guilt me three years ago, when you made that comment about those who live too far away to play a real role in Mommy and Daddy’s care?”

But she forced a lighthearted smile. “Yup, it really is. Take a look at our boys playing together.”

A shout had just gone up from the soccer field, as Matan scored a goal.

“Not fair!” Binyamin cried. “You’re better than all the rest of us put together!”

“Next we’re playing basketball,” Jake said. “Just you wait.”

Matan laughed as he picked up the soccer ball and pretended to shoot it into a hoop. “We do basketball in Israel, too.”

Ari chuckled and turned to Ilana. “He’s a real athlete.”

“Yeah, I don’t know where he gets it from. Definitely not from our side of the family, huh?”

Yaffa winked. “Brains over brawn, we Taubmans.” Her face clouded for a moment as she glanced at the deck, where Shani was in the middle of giving a makeup demo on Tamara, as her sisters and grandparents watched.

“What unit is he going into?” Ari asked.

Ilana felt a sudden coldness come over her. “Kfir.” Seeing Yaffa’s blank look, she added, “It’s a combat unit that operates in Yehuda and Shomron.”

“Oh. Wow.” Yaffa blinked several times. “That’s—um—wow.”

“You must be so proud,” Ari said.

“Or scared out of your wits,” Yaffa added.

Ilana didn’t know which was more irritating, Ari’s calm assumption that sending a son to the army was a cause for celebration or Yaffa’s implying that she was sending Matan to his death.

“Uh, all of the above?” She looked down at her hands. No, honestly, the terror was much stronger than the pride. But how could she, Ms. Idealistic Zionist, admit that?

“He didn’t want to do computers?” Yaffa asked. “I heard a lot of kids do computers nowadays for their army service.”

“No, he didn’t want to do computers.”

“Are you kidding? Look at the kid!” Ari still sounded irritatingly hearty. “If he’s not going to fight for us, who will?”

Fight for us? Ilana’s eyes narrowed. Last time she checked, Ari and his family were living safe and cozy in Teaneck.

Yaffa was still pursuing her own train of thought. “Wait, he’s going straight to the army? I thought Dati Leumi boys do hesder or—what’s it called—mechina first.”

“He’s going straight to the army,” Ilana said shortly.

Ari must’ve caught her expression, because he said quickly, “Yaffa, I’ve been meaning to ask you, how’re your renovation plans going?”

As Yaffa launched into a monologue about contractors and designers and “we’re not doing anything luxurious, you understand; we totally don’t have the money; it’s just that my kitchen is so tiny it’s barely usable,” Ilana’s eyes drifted back to Matan. Her one and only son. Would she be feeling differently right now if her life had gone according to plan, and she’d had a houseful of children still at home?

But then, she’d learned the hard way that life doesn’t go according to plan.

***

“Look at this picture!” Shani squealed. “OMG, we totally need to put that one in the video! Jake, you look like such a dork!”

Yaffa, cleaning up in the kitchen after dinner, lifted her head from the sink and turned to the cousins in the living room, who were gathered around a laptop.

“Watch out, I’m gonna find an even worse picture of you,” Jake said.

“Oh no you won’t. I never look like a dork.” Shani swung her long hair over her shoulder.

Yaffa slowed her scrubbing as she frowned at the cloudy gray tiles behind the sink. There was nothing wrong with boy and girl cousins having fun together, right? Perfectly wholesome, to be working on a video in honor of their grandparents’ anniversary … even if Shani did sound a bit flirty. Well, it made sense, she was never around older boys. It’s not as if they got together with Ari’s family so often.

Her frown deepened. Truth be told, she didn’t so much like the fact that they were making this video together, either. Who knew what types of things they’d be downloading?

“That’s a cute GIF.” Tzippy giggled. “Who’s that guy?”

“Seriously?” Eli hooted. “You don’t know Justin Bieber?”

“Oh, that’s Justin Bieber. Yeah, I’ve heard of him…” Tzippy’s voice trailed off.

Yaffa threw down the sponge. OK, this needed supervising. She walked over to where they were huddled, on those infamous green couches.

“How’s the video going?” she asked brightly, trying to appear casual as she sat down next to them.

“Amazing, Ma,” Shani said. “Jake’s awesome at doing all these cool effects.”

“Nice. I’m sure Grandma and Grandpa will love it. Are you still keeping it a surprise?”

“Yup,” Binyamin said. “They have no clue!”

She raised her eyebrows. Her parents were sitting just on the other side of the large living room, playing Scrabble with Ari, Debbie, Ilana and Danny. Shmuel, she noted, was sitting nearby, learning. The odd ones out, as always. She pursed her lips.

Jake had followed her gaze. “Don’t worry, Aunt Yaffa, they really don’t. Grandma and Grandpa can be pretty, y’know, oblivious to things.”

“Yeah?” She cocked her head. The parents she knew were sharp.

“Especially lately,” Tamara chimed in. “We know, living so close. They’ve been getting very forgetful. Like, head in the clouds.”

“Well, what do you expect?” Shani said knowingly, with all the wisdom of a 16-year-old. “They are old, you know.”

The cousins all nodded solemnly as they briefly contemplated the horrors of old age, until Moriah said, “Yalla chevra, this does need to be finished by next week.” And they all happily resumed laughing at old family photos and discussing pop celebrity GIFs.

Yaffa sighed, suddenly feeling old herself. Old and so, so confused. At age 20, home and on fire from two years of seminary, her religious standards had been clear-cut and unbending. But now? Time and experience had taught her that nothing in life was clear-cut.


Ariella Aaron is an internationally published writer with a unique talent for writing stories that are entertaining and thought-provoking, with characters who are eminently relatable. A former resident of Northern New Jersey, Ariella has now transplanted her family to Israel, where she is happily living the dream of raising her brood in our homeland.

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