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Children Talk
About Themselves

Chaim Walder

translated by Aviva Rappaport
illustrated by Voni Gerstein


Dedicated to all
my beloved students


Pressured Friendship

My name is Tehilla and I live in Rechovot. I'm in
the seventh grade and considered a pretty good

During the last vacation, my cousin Elisheva,
who lives in Bnei Brak, came to stay with us. We
have a good relationship and had a lot of long
conversations. During one of them, Elisheva
asked me, "How many friends do you have?"

I hesitated before answering. "The whole class
is friends with me."

"I meant friends friends, not just classmates,"
Elisheva said.

"Let me think," I said and started to count on
my fingers.

Elisheva looked at the raised fingers with a
puzzlement that increased when I started to use
her fingers too.

"Do you mean to say that..."

"I have seventeen good friends in my class," I

"I guess you don't know what a good friend is,"
Elisheva said. "No one in the world has more
than two or three good friends. You probably
mean people you know and like. Out of my
whole class there are maybe three girls who have
really good friends, best friends  I'm one of
them  and you're talking about seventeen?"

I thought a little and discovered that there real-
ly were a few girls in our class who stuck togeth-
er. They sat together, spent every recess together
and did their homework together. I told this to
Elisheva and she said to me, "That's exactly what
I mean. I'm talking about really good friends that
aren't apart for a minute."

"I don't even have one friend like that," I
admitted with embarrassment. "I'm friends with
everyone, and I don't have a single special friend
like the kind you describe."

"You don't even know what you're missing,"
Elisheva said, a note of disdain in her voice.

Then she started to give me a speech. 'A best
friend is like someone who belongs just to you.
She's like a Wailing Wall that you can open your
heart to without anyone else knowing. You can
share all your most personal secrets. You feel that
you're not alone in the world and that you always
have someone to talk to. And best of all, a best

friend gives you strength because 'two are better
than one."

Elisheva turned out to be a great speaker, espe-
cially when it came to the subject of friendship.
She was really good at convincing. It's a fact. She
convinced me.

During the week she stayed with us, Elisheva
gave me advice and tips on whom to choose for
a friend, how to invest in the friendship, what to
say and what not to say and, mostly, rules of what
you can and can't do in a friendship. To tell you
the truth, the whole thing appealed to me so
much that I couldn't wait for school to start so I
could savor the taste of true friendship.

The school year began, and I had already
decided to turn my classmate Naama into my
own personal friend. I decided to talk to her, to
invite her to my house, and I asked that we sit
together. She happily agreed. I let her copy my
homework, and we studied together at my house
or hers and went shopping together too.

After two weeks had passed, I allowed myself
to tell her what Elisheva and I had talked about.
It turns out that I'm not such a bad speaker
myself. The fact is that I managed to convince
Naama of the benefits of being "super best
friends" as opposed to regular best friends,
which was far inferior in every respect.

The girls in my class began to realize that we
were always together and this aroused a certain
jealousy. A few girls tried to join our friendship
and we, of course, emphatically rejected them.
They got mad and started to call us snobs, which
naturally added to our feelings of happiness. "Let
them call us what they want," said Naama (who
apparently was even more enthusiastic about the
idea than I was). "I don't care about anybody
What matters to me is what you think of me."

It goes without saying that I thought the world
of Naama and went to the trouble of telling her
so every few minutes, in case she forgot. During
the other minutes, Naama would tell me what
she thought of me, and it turned out, unbeliev-
ably, that we had exactly the same thoughts.

Without our noticing it, we turned into the
most hated pair in the class. Maybe we actually
did notice it but we didn't care.

One day, I told Naama that I had to buy deco-
rations for my sister's birthday and I wanted to
set up a time that afternoon when she could go
shopping with me. Naama told me that she was
going to a wedding in Jerusalem and wouldn't be
able to go with me. I had to go by myself.

At the store, I met Rivi, a classmate. She was a
nice, quiet girl. I greeted her with a friendly
hello, asked how she was, and for some reason I
saw that she was really surprised that I treated
her this way. "Where's Naama?" she asked casual-

ly. I didn't think her question was unusual,
because seeing me without Naama really was

"She went to a wedding in Jerusalem. How
about going shopping with me?"

Rivi looked at me in astonishment and then
answered, "Okay I don't mind." We went into
several stores and chose decorations, paper
plates and napkins. I discovered that Rivi had
very good taste and, overall, it was very enjoyable
for me to be with her.

I walked her home and before we parted I said,
"I want to tell you that I really, really enjoyed
shopping with you. Thanks for helping me and
I'll see you tomorrow."

Rivi looked very confused at hearing the com-
pliment. Her eyes sparkled. She waved goodbye
and went into her house.

The next day I got to school and sat next to
Naarna, who came at the last minute. I wanted to
tell her what had happened yesterday but she
hissed a "shhhh," and she was right. Our teacher
had warned us that if we talked during class, she
would have to separate us.

After class, I went to wash my hands before eat-
ing a sandwich and I saw some kind of gathering
that I didn't pay too much attention to. I expect-
ed Naama to come talk with me, and she did
come out and drag me off to a corner of the yard.

I saw that she was very angry. I didn't know why.

"How could you do something like that to
me?" she shouted.

"What did I do to you?" I asked.

"Don't try to get out of it," Naama said. "I know
that you went shopping yesterday with Rivi."

"I did go."

'And you don't know why I'm mad?"

"No. Look, you couldn't go with me."

"One time I can't go with you and you've
already found a new friend?"

I was shocked. "M don't get it. What did I do?
All I did was meet her "

"Tell me everything," said Naama. "Girls saw
you walking from store to store, talking with
each other. And if that's not enough, you even
walked her home. True or false?"

"True," I said, "but "

"For me, that's enough. You'd better find a dif-
ferent best friend," said Naama.

I burst out crying. "Please forgive me," I said
(even though I didn't exactly understand for
what). "Just tell me why it makes you mad, so I'll
know. Are you in the middle of a fight with Rivi?
Did she do something to you? I'm willing to
make peace between you."

Naama gave me a look. "It seems to me that
you'll never understand. We're friends. That's it.
Period. Comma. Exclamation point! Without a

colon. I have a friend named Tehilla and she has
a friend named Naama  and no one is going to
come between us and try to make trouble."

I looked at her dumbfounded. "She didn't try
to make any trouble between us. She's a very
nice girl. I don't know what you have against

Naama caught on to the fact that I really didn't
understand what she wanted from me, so she
motioned for me to sit down and she started to
lecture me on the main points of her theory.

"I have nothing against Rivi or any other girl.
But we're friends, and we need to guard our
friendship. The minute you start being friends
with other girls, what will happen to our friend-
ship? You're the one who told me the difference
between seventeen 'good' friends and one 'super
best' friend. If you want to go back to the way
things were, tell me as soon as possible and

At this point, I thought to myself, True, having
such a good friend gave me a lot but...but still,
why did it have to be so extreme?

"...Shifra and Rivi and Bracha and Esti. Go
ahead and be friends with them and finished,"
Naama ended her lecture, part of which I hadn't

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'll try not to irritate you
any more."

Naama forgave me, and we went back into
class parading our friendship so that everyone
would know that we were still best friends and
that Rivi hadn't managed to break us up.

In the coming weeks, the situation started to
get worse. Naama forbade me to talk to certain
girls and allowed me to talk with others only on
subjects that had passed her inspection first. Rivi,
of course, was forbidden for conversation and
friendship. She tried to talk to me but my replies
were cold and to the point. Too bad she didn't
look into my eyes. Maybe she would have seen
there what my mouth couldn't say

Naturally all the various prohibitions made it
so that I couldn't talk to half the girls in class,
among them some I really liked and admired. It
really hurt me, but I was so enchanted with my
friendship with Naama that I felt too weak to
rock the boat.

It wasn't for nothing that Naama and I became
the two most hated girls in the class. I have to tell
you that we worked hard to earn this hatred.

A year passed this way. It was a year in which I
merited a super best friend at the price of seven-
teen best friends and twelve with whom I had a
good relationship that was destroyed by my
friendship with Naama.

During the year, I had a lot of fights with
Naama, and they were all about our friendship
and guarding it. On the other hand, she would
write me letters in which she wrote in detail her
deep admiration for me. My relationship with her
was good on the one hand and problematic on
the other. She was a faithful friend but she had a
few entrenched ideas on what faithful meant,
and I didn't agree with all of them.

At the end of the year, my cousin Elisheva came
to visit again.

The minute she came, I told her that I had a
super best friend and her name was Naama. I
told her that I was really happy and that it was all
because of her. She was the one who gave me the
idea to find one best friend out of all the others.

I asked Elisheva how things were going with
her best friend, the one she had told me about,
and she said, "We're no longer friends." She
didn't say anything more.

During the following days, I tried to get out of
her the reason for the friendship's breaking up
but it seemed as if she preferred not to talk about

Shabbos came. Elisheva and I walked a little in
the sun when suddenly we met Naama.

"Shabbat sbalom," I said to her, seeing Naama
scrutinizing Elisheva. Ub oh, I thought. Trouble.

"This is Elisheva, my cousin," I hurried to say.
"The one I told you about."

I could see on Naama's face that she was trying
hard to decide if Elisheva was a "cousin" who I
was allowed to talk to or a "friend" who was
absolutely forbidden. It was as if I knew what was
going on in Naama's mind, and no wonder. I
knew her well enough to read her thoughts.
Likewise, I already knew in advance that Naama
would decide that Elisheva was more of a
"friend" than a "cousin," and that I'd have to stay
as far away from her as possible. How did I
know? I just knew her mind.

"Could you come over here with me for a
minute?" Naama said. "I want to tell you some-

I knew it wasn't nice to do and could even hurt
Elisheva's feelings but I couldn't say no. At that
moment I realized that I was afraid of Naama.

"Why didn't you tell me that she was staying
with you?" she asked.

"Uh...because...uh, because I thought...! mean,
I don't understand. She's only my cousin," I

"Elisheva is not only a cousin. She's also your
friend and even a best friend. You told me that
yourself," Naama said.

"We'll talk about it tomorrow," I said. "It's not
nice for me to leave her standing there like that.
It's really not polite."

"Make up some excuse and send her home,"
Naama practically commanded me.

I felt tense. On the one hand, I knew that I
couldn't do something like that. On the other
hand, I knew I would do it. This scared me. I real-
ized that Naama was actually controlling me and
that I was accepting this control over myself.

"What should I tell her?" I asked, my voice

"Tell her that we made up to meet friends,"
Naama said.

"But it's not nice. Please." I was about to cry.

"Do what you want," Naama said. "It's up to
you to decide if you're my friend or not."

I walked hesitantly toward Elisheva. "Listen," I
said, "Naama told me that...I remembered that..."

Elisheva cut me off. "I know what's going on.
Go with her. I'll go home."

"I hope you understand me," I said. My eyes
signaled to her that I was in distress.

"Go ahead. It's okay. I understand everything,"
she said.

I went over to Naama and we started to walk
and I looked back and saw Elisheva standing
there alone and sad. I felt my heart break, but
still I kept walking.

"I don't waaaaaant," I heard a shout and knew
that I was the one shouting.

Naama grabbed my arm. "What happened?"
she asked.

"Leave me alone!" I shouted from the depths of
my heart, and ran back toward Elisheva. I tripped
and fell. Naama and Elisheva ran to help me get
up and found me sobbing my heart out. I had
never cried like that before. I was caught up in a
storm of emotion and felt like the cap had been
taken off a bottle of fizzy soda.

"What happened?" asked Naama. "What did I
do to you?" I saw that she was surprised and
wounded to the depths of her soul. Elisheva
offered me a hand, I motioned to Naama to give
me hers, and they both pulled me up and sat me
down on a nearby bench.

We sat there for some time in silence. Naama
and Elisheva were shocked at me, and I was
shocked at myself too. Naama and I quietly
sobbed and Elisheva joined us, I guess sort of
identifying with us.

After a while, we heard Elisheva say, "I'm to
blame for the whole thing."

We turned to her in surprise. "What are you to
blame for?"

"I'm the one who first gave you the stupid idea
of having one friend instead of seventeen. I'm
the one who gave you those childish rules of per-
mitted and forbidden. But don't worry - I've
already gotten my punishment."

We realized Elisheva was about to tell us a sen-
sational story.

"I also had one super best friend. Thanks to
her, I fought with all the friends I used to have,
and there were a lot. I hurt girls' feelings, I
ignored them, and I did everything to make them
hate me. I acted just like Naama, and forbade my
friend from being friends with other girls. And
what happened in the end? She had a fight with
me, became friends with another girl, and
together they started saying all kinds of things
about me and revealing personal things I had
said in the utmost secrecy. I was left without a
best friend and surrounded by thirty girls who
hated me and rejoiced at every misfortune that
came my way. It took me a long time until I
rebuilt my relationships with the girls in my class.
I went through a lot of pain and humiliation, and
now I know that even if I'll have a super best
friend, it won't be at the price of my other

We were really confused, Naama and I.

"What I suggest to you, Tehilla, and also to you,
Naama, and actually to all the girls in the world is
not to give in to the unreasonable demands of a
friend, even if it costs you the friendship itself. A
person who makes conditions for friendship
shows that she's selfish and loves just herself.
The problem is that once you're in it, it's hard to
get out. Look at what you almost got to, Tehilla.
You were about to leave your cousin in the mid-
dle of the street and for what? So that..." Elisheva

fell silent, but her glance at Naama completed
the sentence.

Then she turned to Naama. "The truth is that I
don't judge you unfavorably because I was just
like you. Tomorrow I'm going home to Bnei Brak
and the two of you will probably talk about this.
I have no control over what will be decided in
the end. But take my advice, and don't limit your-
selves by keeping apart from the rest of the girls."

We said goodbye to Naama and went home.
Elisheva and I talked the whole night. She told
me all the details of her story and we cried. How
we cried that night!

Elisheva went home. The next day I met Naama
and she tried to dismiss what Elisheva had said.
But she quickly realized that what had once been
would not return. I told it to her outright. I said,
"I'm planning on being friends with the whole
class. Don't worry  I'm not going to give you
up as a best friend. But this is my test to see if you
really love me or just yourself. If you decide to
get mad at me over it, that's your privilege. It will
hurt me, but it won't change my decision."

In the month that's passed since then, I've
restored my connections with most of the girls in
my class very carefully, so as not to hurt Naama,
and yet, determined to make clear that I'll never
agree to be in a kind of prison or under threat.

It wasn't easy. Lots of girls had been hurt by me
and I didn't know to what extent. Plenty of
attempts were made to break up my friendship
with Naama, attempts that failed thanks to hours
I spent calming her down.

Now the situation is such that I have a lot of
best friends and two super best friends: Naama
and Rivi - - and the door is still open to more.


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