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Hearts in Translation

Leah Gebber

“And I see that there’s not even a kippah on your head, Hashem yerachem, a sheigetz you’ve become, one of those shkutzim on the streets and maybe are you taking ich veis those types of cigarettes that have chemicals, those drugs…”

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

The first day on the job, Dudi’s shoulder aches. 

The second day is agony. Lifting the pail is okay, he uses his left hand. But then he has to dip the broom into the paste, lift, twist, and holding the pashkevil with his right hand, brush it over with the thick liquid glue. Enough glue for the poster to stick, not so much that it tears the paper or makes the black ink run. 

Lift pail, position poster, up and down with the glue. And again. And again. At the end of Dudi’s day, he examines his shoulder in the small square of cracked mirror in the bathroom. He sees nothing but whitish skin. He thinks he hears the guys laughing at him in the other room. 

The third day, he rolls out of bed late, then hangs around Abramovitz’s printing gesheft, watching the pashkevilim spew from the printer. Click. Whirr. Black on white. He watches, unblinking, until black and white blur into gray. 



Click. Whirr. Black and white. 

But then Mr. Abramovitz gives him a shove, there, on his right shoulder where it aches. Dudi flinches, gasps, almost yells. Then he swallows. He piles an old shopping cart full of the posters, grabs a jerrican of paste and a broom, heads out onto the rounds. 

He starts at Kikar Shabbos, all four corners. Gadi, one of the guys in his apartment, told him to start in the Bukharan quarter and finish in Meah Shearim, but he prefers to get Meah Shearim out the way. It takes the most time, eckles him the most, and this way, he’s safe in the Bukharan quarter when his brothers came back from cheder. And when Tatte returns home from the silver store.

Photo: Shutterstock

Gadi and Nimrod laugh at him. “Bizbuz,” they tell him. This job is a waste of time and energy. And what does he get for it, 32 shekels an hour? The Osher Ad superstore pays 38. You’re inside, out of the cold or the sun, no aching shoulders. They’re even going to give a Purim bonus — two bottles of vodka. But only for over-eighteens. 

Only Nimrod — Nechemiah in past life — is over eighteen, but what does that matter? 

Osher Ad is an idea, but Dudi can’t bear the thought of spending hours stuck inside, not after years spent staring at the gray-tinged plaster of his cheder.


Day thirteen of his new job. Dudi wakes up late, stomach still bloated from his makeshift Purim seudah. It had felt good to sink his teeth into something that wasn’t a potato boreka — meat, a real meat burger, all 400 grams of it. He felt it slide down him and kick out the lethargy. 

In the end, Osher Ad had given the guys arak, not vodka, but they’d had a good time all the same. When Dudi saw the bottle, he’d almost told them, don’t you know that the mitzvah to drink is punkt wine, not spirits? Then he’d laughed at himself and matched them, cup to cup. By the end of the night, his stomach was a small, round mound and his head felt like the whirring printer. Now, the thought of food makes him feel sick, but as he leaves for work, he picks up the arak bottle — it’s still half-full — and slings it into his bag. 

He runs off to Abramovitz’s, dodging the little boys that clog the streets on their way to cheder. After last night, he looks worse for wear, and he runs his hand through his hair. Maybe he needs a haircut. But then, how long is too long? He’d thought he was patur from the questions when he took off his yarmulke. But it turns out the questions don’t disappear, just change. It’s not, is this enough for a k’zayis? Or, if Tatte says pas nisht and Rav Veiner says nisht geferlech, who to listen to? Instead it’s, where do you eat? Do you check for a hechsher or does none of it matter anymore? What stops you from doing anything, anything at all?

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