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Here and There - Stories for a Shabbos Afternoon

by Chaiky Halpern

Feldheim Publishers


Tales of Today


Glimpses of Old Jerusalem



Short stories usually gather over a long stretch of time and
this collection is no exception. Many of these stories are
fictional, while others — like "A Rebbe's Tears", "Airport En-
counter", and "While He Was Away" — are all true stories,
even though they are slightly decorated and embroidered for
popular enjoyment. "Glimpses of Old Jerusalem" is a tapes-
try woven from family memories. While it provides a picture
of a world that was, it may also bring some understanding for
the part of it that remains. I hope that together they will pro-
vide a good read for young and old on a Shabbos afternoon.

I would like to thank the production staff at Feldheim
Publishers for their work and, in particular, Bracha Steinberg
for her expert editing. Last, but not least, I would like to thank
my husband and family for their constant support and

Chaiky Halpern

Rosh Chodesh Tammuz 5759

The Raffle Ticket'  This story was first published by the author in Haderech magazine.
with yet another battered mishnayos under his arm.

IT WAS EARLY IN THE EVENING, but the murmur of voices
was steadily growing louder as Reuven made his way
through the brightly lit beis midrash. The chair next to him
was still empty: Motty had mentioned that he would be pick-
ing up his passport after dinner, and he had not come back
yet. Not that Reuven was worried about his chaurusa being
late. He smiled as he saw his study partner's large, worn
mishnayos volume resting on the shtender next to his. The
dark red cover of the sefer was a splash of color in a room
that was a study in black and white: white shirts and black
trousers, black yarmulkas on heads bent earnestly over
black letters dancing on broad white pages, waiting to be

Reuven glanced at the clock as the minute hand crept up
to the twelve. He turned his head towards the entrance. Sure
enough, there was Motty, exactly on time for learning seder,
"Why don't you get yourself a set of small mishnayos for
your daily learning?" Reuven asked good-naturedly, as Motty
took his seat. It was no secret that Motty was the mishnayos
expert in the yeshiva; time and again he had identified some
obscure mishnah for which they had all been hunting. He
seemed to have his own daily mishnayos schedule, and
some boys insisted that Motty completed the whole six or-
ders of the Mishnah once a month. Even Reuven did not
know how Motty managed it. His chavrusa was not one to
speak much about himself, and Reuven did not like to pry.

Motty fingered the frayed edges of his sefer ruefully. "I
guess I should get myself one of those pocket mishnayos
sets," he grinned. "I don't know why I don't...! guess it's just
that this set..." His voice trailed off uncertainly, and he did not seem to want to continue.

Reuven realized that he should change the subject and
did so tactfully. "Say, did you get your passport?" he asked.

Motty nodded. "They won't let me into Israel with that
photo, though," he laughed. "I look like some sort of terror-
ist." He handed the small book to Reuven casually.

"Passport pictures always come out awful, don't they?"

Reuven was not looking at the picture, however. It was
the name and address beneath the picture that brought him
bolt upright. He looked at Motty fingering his mishnayos and
took a deep breath.

"Can we take a walk after seder, Motty?" he finally said
unsteadily. "There's something I'd like to ask you."

Motty glanced at him curiously and nodded. "Sure," he

It had all begun with a chemistry set. It wasn't just an or-
dinary chemistry set, but more like a miniature laboratory,

complete with a high-quality microscope. The students at
Beis Dovid had all been allowed to examine the coveted
prize, and Reuven wondered which lucky boy would actu-
ally get to own it.

Well, not just lucky, he conceded. Rabbi Aharons had an-
nounced that the boy who sold the most raffle tickets would
be awarded the fabulous chemistry set, so obviously a lot of
hard work would be required, too.

Armed with a batch of raffle books and a pen, Reuven be-
gan his wearisome door-to-door tramp.

"Mommy's not in," he was told at the first house.

"Sorry, she's unavailable," at the second.

Then a friendly man bought two tickets. Reuven smiled
his thanks and continued on his way.

Maybe his luck had turned. But, "Sorry, I've already
bought," came the reply at the next house.

"Think of it as a test of your middos every time you ring
that bell," Rabbi Aharons had told them. "It's supposed to be
pleasant to open your front door and hear a stranger ask you
for a donation. Try to explain what the raffle's for and try to be

It wasn't easy, Reuven found as he tried to make himself
heard above the wails of a grumpy toddler clutching his
mother's skirt. "I'm sorry to disturb you," he apologized.
"Would you like to buy a raffle ticket in support of Talmud
Torah Beis Dovid?"

"I'll see if I can find any change," the woman said. While
she searched, Reuven could hear the clatter of cutlery as the
children of the house waited for their supper, and he wished
he could come calling at a more convenient time. But his
only free time was the busiest time in a household.

When the woman finally produced the money, Reuven
wrote her name out as quickly as he could and hurriedly
thanked her. However, Reuven's smile was looking more
and more forced as yet another frazzled housewife shut the
door in his face.

The next road ended with a small crescent that wound
into another neighborhood. Reuven didn't think there were
any religious families along this road, but he vaguely remem-
bered an accessed alleyway alongside one house that was a
shortcut to the main road. He eyed the well-kept houses and
their sculptured gardens curiously. Wait! Wasn't that a me-
zuzah behind the trellis of red and yellow roses?

It was only after he'd bounded up the steps that he no-
ticed the words "Souvenir of Israel" painted across the small
ceramic mezuzah. "Well, it's worth a try," he decided and
pressed the buzzer.

"Yes?" The woman who answered the door seemed
nice. Encouraged by her appearance, Reuven launched into
his sales pitch.

"Hello," he said with a friendly smile. "I'm selling raffle
tickets on behalf of my school. Would you like to buy one?
They're giving away some really nice prizes."

"And what school would that be?" the woman asked cu-
riously. "Do you live in this neighborhood? I've never seen
you with Marmaduke's crowd."

"I live just a few streets over that way," explained Reu-
ven. "But my school is about a half-mile away. It's a Jewish
religious school, Beis Dovid."

"Hmmm," said the woman as she looked him up and
down. Then she smiled brightly. "Well, how can I refuse
such a polite young man? I'll take two."

Another two gone, thought Reuven as he cheerfully
made his way back home afterwards. Marmaduke? What
kind of name is that?


As things turned out, although he worked hard, Reuven did not win the prize, and Yitzi Green became the proud
owner of the coveted chemistry set. But the first lottery
number drawn was one of Reuven's customers, and Reuven
was given the job of delivering the prize.

"Reuven Newman," Rabbi Aharons announced at the as-
sembly. "Raffle ticket number 8762 won first prize, and I
think you're the one who sold it, so we'll let you be the one to
deliver the prize to the lucky winner!" Rabbi Aharons handed
Reuven the big box with an equally big grin. "Here it is, Reu-
ven. All yours. You've got the address written there. Any idea
of the name?"

Reuven took the slip of paper, and his eyes widened in
surprise when he saw the address: 13 Hallandale Crescent.

"I don't believe this," Reuven groaned inwardly. "And she
won the Yachin U'Boaz Mishnayos]"

Once again Reuven trudged down the elegant street dur-
ing the late afternoon, even more reluctantly this time
around. "Now how do I explain this?" he muttered to him-
self. "A book by the Rabbis? Six books by the Rabbis? Very
valuable to those who know what it is?"

The lady of the house opened the door and was as pleas-
ant as he remembered her to be. She looked inquiringly at
Reuven as he desperately cleared his throat yet a third time.

"I remember you!" she finally came to his aid with her lilt-
ing voice. "You are the polite young man who sold me some
raffle tickets. Don't tell me I've actually won something?"

"," Reuven finally was able to say. "It's
a beautiful set of um...these mishnayos. They're... well..." He
held them up for her to see.

Once again, the woman came to his rescue, cutting short
his attempt to explain what they were. "Yes, I know what
mishnayos are," she said, taking a quick peep into the box.
She looked at him reflectively and then she laughed.
"Marmaduke wants a fancy camera for his Bar Mitzvah. I
wonder what he'd say if we gave him this instead!"

And that was that. The door politely closed in front of her
and the Yachin U'Boaz Mishnayos, and Reuven, feeling rather
confused, went home and forgot all about it. Until now.

Late that afternoon, Reuven and Motty, his large
mishnayos again under his arm, strolled down the lane to-
wards the river. "You know," Reuven ventured at last, break-
ing the companionable silence, "I couldn't help noticing your
home address on your passport. I used to live not far from
there. I remember the beautiful roses in front of your house."

Motty turned to him in astonishment. "Our roses?" he
asked. "How do you remember them? Were you ever actu-
ally at our house?"

"Just once," Reuven hesitated. "Well, actually twice. You
see, I was there one year selling raffle tickets."

Motty stopped short in his tracks. "Raffle tickets?" He
stared at Reuven. "My mother told me all about it. Was that

"Yes," Reuven grinned uncertainly. "It was me."

He looked at Motty impishly. "Tell me," he asked, "do
they really call you Marmaduke back home?"

Motty laughed. "That's my mother for you! I was always
'Duke' to my friends, though. And now it's on my passport."
He paused. "Somehow, I don't think they'll call me that in Ye-
rushalayim, though."

He grabbed Reuven's arm. "I can't believe this. You know
I'm not a big talker, but you of all must hear the

Winning the mishnayos, of course, had been a big joke at
first. Duke had quickly dispatched the set to the top shelf of his bedroom bookcase, almost out of sight. Somehow it did-
n't seem to belong on the downstairs bookcase along with
the encyclopedias and Chinese cookbooks his mother was
always collecting. His mother did dust them lovingly each
week, along with his vast collection of Bar Mitzvah presents
displayed on the other shelves, and had once told him how
his grandfather used to study these very same books many
years ago. He had placed alongside them the siddur he'd
learned to read from in his Bar Mitzvah classes, which now
were mercifully behind him, and forgot all about them. Until
the fire.

There must have been an electrical problem. Some un-
seen wire must have sizzled behind some back wall long
enough to burst into flame, and tongues of fire had licked up
the back of the house before dawn, while the family was
asleep. Then, for some unknown reason, Duke's mother
couldn't sleep and, after tossing and turning for hours, she fi-
nally gave up and went downstairs for a cup of tea. The smell
of smoke hit her as she reached the first-floor landing, and
the muffled, crackling sounds behind the wall were unmis-
takable. It was her screams of "Fire!" that woke the family.

It took more than that to wake Duke, though. The smoke
had already filled his room, located just above where the fire
had started, and the fire truck was rushing shrilly down the
street before he came out of his smoke-induced stupor. The
next thing he remembered, he was sitting on his neighbor's
stoop, dressed in his striped pajamas and staring at his bare

"I'm all right," he mumbled, pushing aside the preferred
orange juice without bothering to look up. So was the rest of
the family, and he knew that was the main thing, but when
they were finally allowed to go back into the house, it hurt to
see how most of the real damage was in his room.
He stood there looking at his bed still in its place, rum-
blankets and sheets in a sodden heap, and his eyes trav-
eled to the opposite, charred wall and all that remained of
his school books, stamp collection, and array of Bar Mitzvah
presents. His mother came up behind him and rested a sym-
pathetic hand on his shoulder while he tentatively touched
the mangled mass that had once been his beloved Nikon
camera. Their eyes traveled together up the black mess and
spied a splash of color on the top shelf. The set of mishnayos
and siddur had survived intact.

This time it was Duke who lovingly took the books down
from their precarious perch and dusted the soot off them. "I
can't even read most of these," he confessed as he riffled
through some pages wonderingly.

"Maybe it's time you learned," his mother said quietly.
"After all, they're the only things left to you from your Bar
Mitzvah." She paused. "Do you know, after what's happened
here tonight, I'm beginning to think they were the only things
that counted."

"It's getting a bit frayed at the edges, isn't it?" Motty asked,
fingering the sefer, it's bright red binding somewhat dark-
ened from years of constant use. "Things have changed very
much in the house behind the red and yellow roses since
you've last seen it, Reuven. Though I'm sure my father and
brothers can put my mishnayos to good use while I'm away
at yeshiva in Israel, I've always insisted on taking the set with
me wherever I go. Now you know why."

He laughed. "But I don't think I'll take them along when
we go off to Yerushalayim, Reuven. I hear sefarim are pretty
cheap there."

.....end of selection


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