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Clouds of Protection

Rivky Streicher

Shuey’s voice rang out with enthusiasm, with a touch of... was it willingness to make things better? Hope? Shira couldn’t quite make it out, but it was something good, something that made the booming zeman simchaseinu ring clear and true

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

Where is that sister of mine? 

Potato peelings everywhere, piled at threatening angles like mini Towers of Pisa. And utility bills and flyers for jumble sales and last month’s mayoral elections and someone’s Chumash notes. And Branflakes — soggy, gooey Branflakes from yesterday’s breakfast… 

“Elana, where are you?” Shira called above the roar of the mixer. 

“I’m upstairs.” The reply is made faint by another noisy machine. 

Is that the blow-dryer on upstairs? Is Elana really blowing her hair while I’m slaving down here? I can’t pull this off alone, I need help now! Where is my sister when I need her? 


Shira was swamped by the rumpus of a kitchen, by her sister’s indifference. Desperation crept into her voice so her sister’s name was almost a plea, shrill and panicked. Elana came down and had the grace to look sheepish as Shira took in her freshly styled hair, so immaculate, so perfect, so starkly out of place in the chaos about her. 

“Elana, Rosh Hashanah begins in like five hours and this house is...” Shira thrust her arm forward in a sad flourish that encompassed the kitchen, the chaos, the whole situation really...

Photo: Shutterstock

“Your fancy appearance is going to help matters here, huh? Who’dja do it for”—and then with uncharacteristic bitterness—“for Daddy?!” 

The question sucked the breath from both of them and Shira blanched. I’m not usually so harsh, but this is just too much, it’s Yom Tov tonight, and I just can’t... 

Elana sullenly donned an apron. They stood coldly side by side, sifting and shaping, turning out challos and kugels and an array of dishes that were, if not decorative, then at least “much more than passable” by Shira’s assertion. 

And as Shira stood some hours later at her mother’s side, gazing into the just-lit candles, willing her eyes to travel away from the rusty holders and soar with the gently swaying flames, she sensed from the firm, grateful little squeeze of her mother’s hand that she thought the enticing aromas “much more than passable” too. 

It had been this way for the last few months, her mother conveying with her squeezes and gestures what her eyes couldn’t. She had so quickly fallen into the depression that was feeding off her battle-torn soul. Her heart, her eyes wasting away. Shira vividly remembered the day, when, looking into their beautiful blue depths, searching frantically for something, anything, in the vacant glare, she had come away cold. Her mother’s eyes were still hollow now, but, with hope born of her day’s accomplishments, Shira searched them again now and found a dancing reflection of the Yom Tov lights. Shira squeezed back the hand that held hers and a rush of mingled love and pity surged for the helpless being that was her mother.

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