April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Chapter 19 Summary: Debbie and Yaffa experience a slight thaw in their relationship as they decide together to search for the Taubmans’ will.


 

Yaffa and Debbie were each sitting cross-legged on the floor of the den, surrounded by papers. Bank statements, pension statements, an electric bill from 2013; it didn’t surprise her that her parents kept every financial document they’d ever received in the past five decades, but boy did it make their job difficult. As she threw the electric bill on the discard pile, she suddenly heard a car motor outside. Her shoulders tensed; next to her, Debbie jumped. They both sat still until the motor faded into the distance. Yaffa gave an exaggerated swipe to her forehead. “Phew, close call,” she drawled. Debbie’s eye darted nervously to the clock on the wall. Yaffa was reminded irresistibly of the spy movies she used to watch back in the day; grinning, she began humming the soundtrack from Mission Impossible.

Debbie’s eyes widened, and then her face slowly relaxed. “You were a Tom Cruise fan?”

“Big time. Man, I was crazy about him.”

It seemed like a different era, she and her teenage friends giggling through the night as they tried out the hairstyles in Seventeen magazine and discussed which celebrities they had the biggest crushes on. Baruch Hashem, her own daughters were growing up in a different world.

Debbie pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, and straightened the three piles of paper in front of her: bills, financial statements, garbage. “Do you think the will is even here? Maybe it’s, like, in their safe deposit box?”

Yaffa had also considered that, but shook her head. “Look at all this stuff,” she said, sweeping a hand over all the papers on the floor. “My parents keep every grocery receipt just in case they’ll need it one day. I can’t imagine them not keeping a copy of such an important document in their house.”

Debbie nodded and went back to her pile, while Yaffa opened a new drawer in the overflowing filing cabinet. A Schwab investment statement fell into her hands; she placed it on the floor and dug deeper. There was a file labeled Taxes 2007 and a folder with a deed to a property located in Arizona. Yaffa traced the notarized seal on the document. Her parents owned property in Arizona? Each discovery of how much her parents had deliberately hidden from them was like a fresh wound.

She replaced the deed and continued combing through the drawer contents, wondering what other treasures she’d uncover. A villa in Majorca? A ski slope in Switzerland? She amused herself for a moment picturing her parents as the owners of an uncharted Pacific island, as her hands continued flipping through files.

Suddenly, she sucked in her breath. She pulled out a file that said in bold, capital letters, Important Legal Documents. Heart beating fast, she opened it up. There were birth certificates – hers, Ari’s, Ilana’s. Her parents’ marriage license, from back in 1972. And there, underneath, was a heavy manilla envelope labeled Will.

Yaffa glanced at Debbie; her sister-in-law was frowning over a Northwestern insurance statement. Should she tell her what she’d found… or was she, as the daughter, entitled to the first look, all on her own?

Slowly, she opened the envelope. She caught a glimpse of the words at the top: Last Will and Testament of Lawrence Sheldon and Gail Susan Taubman.

Instinctively, she closed her eyes. What was she doing, reading her parents’ will? It felt like the ultimate invasion of privacy, like sneaking a peek at them after death. Should she put it back, pretend she hadn’t seen it? Then again, her mother had given her explicit permission to go through their personal papers.

The ping of Debbie’s phone in the silent room made Yaffa start. Debbie read the text. “Ari said they’ll be here in about ten minutes.” She made a face. “Oh, well, we’ll have to continue our search next time. At least we made some headway on the paper sorting.”

Yaffa didn’t respond. Debbie’s head snapped up as she noticed Yaffa staring down at the envelope in her hands. “Hold on a sec, you found it?” She stood up and ran over to where Yaffa was sitting. “Amazing! Let’s take a look quick.”

She tried to take the papers out of the envelope, but Yaffa held them tight.

In a trembling voice, she asked, “Debbie? Should we really be doing this?”

Her sister-in-law gaped at her. “We discussed this already! Now you’re getting cold feet?”

Yaffa frowned. “I don’t know, it doesn’t feel right. Maybe… maybe we should ask a shayla?”

Debbie looked like she was about to explode. “Oh, how typical! Now, when we have less than ten minutes to spare, you’re getting all frum on me. Your mother said it’s fine, Ari said it’s fine, but the big tzaddekes has to go ask her rabbi!” She tugged the envelope out of Yaffa’s grip and eagerly took out the papers.

Furious, Yaffa tried grabbing it back, but Debbie quickly danced away. Yaffa tried swiping it again but stopped, feeling ridiculous. They weren’t five-year-olds; if Debbie insisted on reading the will, she wouldn’t stop her.

Stewing in her fury, Yaffa watched Debbie’s face as she rapidly scanned the contents. Despite herself, she tried to decipher Debbie’s reaction. Gleeful? Disappointed?

Suddenly, Debbie gasped. Her face drained of color.

“Yaffa,” she said, the papers shaking in her hand. “You’d better read this.”

***

The last time they’d had a full sibling zoom meeting was when they’d planned their parents’ 50th anniversary party. Had that only been three months ago?

Yaffa sat in Ari’s leather recliner, grasping her phone as she rocked back and forth, waiting for Ilana to get on the meeting. She hardly knew what excuse she’d mumbled to her mother as she’d left the house together with Ari and Debbie; all she’d known was that she’d needed to get out of there, fast.

Ilana’s screen blinked on; Yaffa saw that she was wearing a robe and sitting in bed. She felt a pang; it was really late in Israel. Had she been overly histrionic in texting Ilana: Urgent! Emergency meeting NOW?

Feeling bad, she put on a smile. “Hey Ilana, how’s it going?”

Ilana raised her eyebrows. “You called an emergency midnight meeting just to have a friendly chat? Tell me what’s going on. Did something happen to Dad?”

“No, no, he’s the same. Everything’s fine.” She swallowed. Everything was not fine. “But we just discovered an important piece of information that we felt warranted urgent discussion. See, Debbie and I were sorting through Mom and Dad’s papers today, and we – uh – came across her will.”

On the screen next to hers, Ari winced. He and Debbie were sitting across the room, zooming from their own devices.

“Anyway,” Yaffa continued, “We opened it up and— and–”

She couldn’t continue; the rush of feelings was choking her. Ari took over, in his calm, measured voice.

“And they discovered the reason that Mom and Dad never told us about their wealth. According to their will, they’re bequeathing pretty much all of their money to start a tzedakah foundation in their names.” He paused, and even Ari’s voice had a tremor of emotion as he said, “Apparently, they never planned to share it with us at all.”

By Ariella Aaron

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