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A Problem Called Chavi

by Eva Vogiel



A neighborly


SHIFRA PERLSTEIN, bending over her Chumash
homework, was startled out of her wits by a
loud CRASH! The window shattered and something
landed on the table in front of her.

Convinced it was nothing less than a bomb, she
jumped up in fear... and then stared in surprise at the
intruding object. It was impossible to believe that this
inoffensive-looking tennis ball had caused all that
noise and destruction. Newfield was a small, quiet,
respectable English community where balls did not
usually come crashing through one's window. Shifra
was still trembling from the shock when her mother
rushed in. Behind her, Shifra could see the faces of
several committee ladies who were hovering in the
doorway, staring round-eyed at the scene.

"What on earth happened?" Mrs. Perlstein cried.
"Shifra! Are you all right? You look quite pale!"

"Yes, I'm O.K., Mummy, really," Shifra replied,
regaining her composure. "Nothing terrible has hap-
pened. It's just this ball. It came through the

"Oh, it did, did it? And you call that nothing terri-
ble?" Annoyance made Mrs. Perlstein's voice rise to a
shrill pitch. "Just look at that window! And the mess!
Oh, really!" She was using that "just when-Pm-in-the-
middle-of-a-committee-meeting" tone that Shifra knew
so well.

"It must be that Mendel boy again!" she continued.
"He is just impossible!"

"How do you know it was Yossi Mendel?" Shifra
protested, although she knew only too well that it
was; she had already spotted the letters Y.M. marked
on the ball.

"It always is!" her mother retorted. She looked at
the broken window and sighed. "I'll have to get Mr.
Jones to fix it first thing in the morning. But," her
voice rose again, "I don't see why I should have to pay
for it!"

The committee ladies murmured their agreement
and Mrs. Perlstein began to shepherd them back into
the dining room. Shifra could hear their voices in the

"It's terrible! She just can't cope with them...."

"Her husband is away a lot, with his job...."

"The children seem to run wild...."

"Mrs. Miller would turn gray if she saw the state the
house is in...."

Mrs. Perlstein sighed. "I suppose Mrs. Mendel has
a hard time of it."

The dining room door shut behind them.

Shifra turned back to her homework, but not for
long. Partly because she felt sorry for Mrs. Mendel,
and partly out of a curiosity to see the state of the
Mendel household for herself, she made a decision.
She closed her Chumash and her exercise book, and
picking up Yossi's ball, she went out of the house,
closing the door quietly behind her.

She hopped over the small brick wall between the
two houses and rang Mrs. Mendel's doorbell.

After what seemed like an endless wait, during
which Shifra could hear sounds of someone shouting,
children crying, and a lot of clattering and banging,
the door was opened by a very harassed-looking Mrs.
Mendel. Her head scarf was slightly askew and her
forehead was creased in a worried frown. In her arms
she held a curly-headed baby of about eight months,
who kept banging her on the face with a sticky, jam-
covered spoon. A little girl of two, with a tear-stained
face, was clinging to her skirt and whimpering.

"Stop it, Shanni!" her mother said, pushing her
away. She looked at Shifra inquiringly, while trying to
ward off the baby's jam spoon attacks. Shanni's whim-
pering turned to loud crying and Mrs. Mendel picked

her up with her free arm, whereupon the baby trans
ferred the spoon-banging from his mother to Shanni,
giving that young lady another excuse to howl.

"Oh dear," Mrs. Mendel wailed.

"I'm sorry to bother you," Shifra shouted above the
noise. Shanni, as if suddenly realizing that something
interesting was going on, stopped crying abruptly.
Shifra grabbed her opportunity.

"I just wanted to bring back Yossi's ball."

"Oh. Did it land in your garden again?"

"Well... er... actually," Shifra was beginning to wish
she hadn't come, "it came through our lounge

"Through the window? The open window, you
mean?" Mrs. Mendel asked hopefully.

"Well...," Shifra felt even more uncomfortable.
How could she tell Mrs. Mendel the truth?

But she didn't have to tell her. Mrs. Mendel took a
step forward and peered across to the Perlsteins'
house, staring at the broken window in dismay!

"Oh no!" she cried. "Oh, the naughty boy! I don't
know what to say!"

She did not, however, have a chance to say any-
thing, for at that moment they were startled by a loud
thud from within the house, followed by a child's
shrieks and cries.

"Moishy!" Mrs. Mendel screamed and ran inside.
Shifra followed her quickly.

A little boy, who Shifra guessed must be Shanni's
twin, was sitting on his heels next to an overturned
chair, holding his head and crying noisily.

Mrs. Mendel put the other two children down,
picked up a spoon and pressed it on a bump on the
little boy's forehead.

"Oh Moishy," she said plaintively, "when will you
learn not to lean on the back of the chair? I can't take
my eyes off him for a minute," she told Shifra.

She rocked Moishy in her arms till he stopped
crying. Then she kissed his head, gave him a biscuit
and retrieved the baby from under the table, putting
him into the playpen.

"Mummy!" Five-year-old Feigy burst in through the
back door, "Tell Yanky to let me have a turn on the
swing. He's been on it for ages!"

"Oh, fight it out for yourselves, can't you!" Mrs.
Mendel sounded exasperated. "Feigy," she said, sud-
denly remembering the reason for Shifra's presence,
"where's Yossi?"

"Yossi? Oh," Feigy broke into a conspiratorial gig-
gle, "he was trying to throw his ball at a spider on the
wall next door, but he smashed the window," another
little giggle, "so he ran away!"

Having delivered this piece of information, Feigy
ran out into the garden shouting "Yanky! Mummy
said you should let me go on the swing now!"

Mrs. Mendel looked at Shifra apologetically. "We'll
pay for the damage, of course."

"Oh, never mind that," Shifra said, wondering how

she could persuade her mother to adopt the same
attitude. "Look, can I help you with something?" She
looked around. "Can I wipe those dishes?"

"Oh no, really," Mrs. Mendel protested. "It's all
right. Chavi was supposed to do it but she's gone
upstairs in a huff because Naomi's gone to choir
practice and isn't helping."

"So no one's doing it," Shifra said. She had won-
dered where the girls were.

Since the Mendel family had moved to Newfield,
three months ago, Chavi Mendel had not made one
friend. A thin, serious-looking girl of thirteen, with
straight brown hair pulled back tightly in a ponytail,
she was sullen and unfriendly and made herself very

Naomi, on the other hand, was quite different. A
year younger than Chavi, fair-haired and blue-eyed,
she soon fit in. With a lively talent for singing and
acting, she took part in every activity and became
the most popular girl in her class.

Shifra surveyed the row of tea towels hanging on
the door. "Which is the right one?" she asked.

"The blue one's mi/chi'g," Mrs. Mendel said. "It's
very kind of you."

While she dried the dishes, Shifra watched the
baby playing in the playpen. She was so fascinated by
his antics that she did not see Chavi Mendel come in
and was not aware of her presence till the tea towel
was suddenly snatched from her hand.

"That's my job!" Chavi shouted, her eyes ablaze
with anger.

Taken off guard, Shifra said the first thing that
came to mind.

"Well, you didn't seem to be doing it, did you?" she
said, and immediately regretted her words. Chavi
colored furiously and looked ready to explode.

"And what has that got to do with you?" she cried.
"Who do you think you are? Go awayl"

"Chavi!" Mrs. Mendel cried, aghast.

"I don't care!" Chavi shouted, defiantly. "It's not
her business! She can jolly well..."

Shifra did not wait to hear what she could do.
Mumbling "I'd better go," she slipped out of the house
and scuttled back to her own house with the uncom-
fortable feeling that she had blundered.

It did not make her feel any better to find her
mother in the lounge, sweeping up the broken glass.

"Oh, there you are, Shifra! You might have cleared
this mess up! I've got enough to do, washing up after
the committee meeting."

"Sorry, Mummy. I'll wash the cups," Shifra said,
hoping to make amends, though she wondered when
she was going to finish her homework.

Her brother Chaim did nothing to improve her
mood, either. He came home from cheder, where he
stayed late to learn his bar mitzvah drashah, and
asked what had happened to the window.

"I'm not telling you. It's lashon ha-ra," Shifra

declared. But Chaim nagged so persistently that
finally, much to her mortification, she gave in and told

"Oh. is that all?" Chaim sounded disappointed, his
imagination having provided far more interesting

Shifra half wished it had been a bomb. At least she
could have used that as an excuse for the sorry mess
she was making of her Chumash homework!

AS THE FRONT DOOR closed behind Shifra,
Chavi stood twisting the tea towel she was clutching.
She was conscious of her mother gazing at her with a
look of hurt perplexity. She swung round to face her.

"I suppose you think I should run after her and
apologize!" she cried defiantly.

"I didn't say so," Mrs. Mendel said guardedly. She
had long ago given up telling Chavi what to do. "How-
ever, I do wish you hadn't spoken to her like that!"

"Why? She had no business to come poking her
nose in here!"

"She wasn't doing anything of the sort!" Mrs. Men-
del protested. "She was only being helpful. Shifra
Perlstein is a very nice girl."

"I suppose you wish I were more like her!" The
bitterness in Chavi's voice was obvious.


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