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Responsibilities

Esther Kurtz

Rochel rolled over in bed. It was after two in morning. Hindy had abused the power she had access to — now Rochel had a chance. She shifted uncomfortably

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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I DON’T WANT TO “I don’t want to forgive her, I don’t want to forget. I want to wallow in bitterness toward her”

W hen she first got married, she used to answer the phone right away. There was a thrill and sense of maturity that someone was calling her — on her own landline, in her own home. The shrill ring of the phone told her she had her own place, and room to be herself. The novelty wore off after a while, and the phone was no longer a symbolic light of independence.

These days, the phone’s ring took on a more serious note. Her responsibilities always seemed to come in the form of a phone call.

“Mrs. Landau, your kid just threw up. Please come pick him up.”

“Honey, can you fill up the car? I’m gonna be home late today, and I need to run out right after to make it to the chuppah, so I’m not gonna have time…”

“Sheifeleh, you think you feel bad that you can’t go to the wedding, I feel worse. You can at least cry to your husband — I don’t have a husband to cry to anymore, and I still can’t go to my grandchild’s wedding.”

And then there were the responsibilities she took upon herself.

“Rochel, we need to make a final decision on head counselors, do you have a minute?”

She got this phone call every year. Her aunt ran “The Camp” to go to, and head counselor was affirmation of being “the coolest ever.” Every year Aunt Brenda called to ask her opinion on the applicants who were Rochel’s students. Rochel was always honest, and her aunt always listened.

As an English teacher, she really knew her students. Girls let their guard down in English classes. It’s not Chumash, or Navi, so they can’t be accused of apikorsus, and the range and depth of discussion could easily rival any hashkafah class, without the pressure of saying the “right thing.” And Rochel really knew her girls and still loved them.

She loved Devorah, who thought she deserved extra points for writing “Thank you” with a smiley face at the end of every test. She loved Ahuva, who prided herself on veering teachers off topic with her beguiling, earnest eyes. She loved Bella, who really tried, really really, who at the end of the day would never get it, but still persevered. She loved Malky, who slept through her class, and who would on occasion pop up and give an insight into a piece of literature that crystallized it for the class — and redeemed her behavior for the past month. She loved Pessy, who never showed up because she was the chief cook and bottle washer for the extracurricular program, and who called the night before any test or paper was due, asked a lot of questions, and usually ended up with a high score. She loved Shani, who would have made a great hippie had she been born two generations earlier.

And Leah and Esti and Chana and Michal, and all her other students throughout the years, all had quirks, all had very redeeming qualities. She liked them all, she loved them all — except for a few. She could never like the entitled ones, the “es kumt mir” girls. Yes, everyone spoke of entitlement, and on a certain level, it was present in every girl, but only a select few really and truly believed it.

“Rochel, we’re seriously considering Hindy Mandelbaum.” Brenda’s brisk voice crackled through the line.

Rochel grimaced. Hindy. Why did it have to be Hindy? She hated Hindy, even though she wasn’t one to generally feel something as strong as hatred toward anyone.

“Yes, Hindy,” Rochel responded vaguely.

“Tell me about her,” Brenda asked.

Tell you? Rochel hesitated. She didn’t know what to say. The baby in her arms slept peacefully. Rochel jogged him awake. He wailed.

“You know what,” Rochel said, “it’s not the best time right now, my baby’s crying, do you mind calling me back later?”

“Yes, sure, sorry,” Brenda said. “When—”

But Rochel cut her off, hanging up. Maybe she wouldn’t call back, emotion whispered. Of course she would call back, logic shouted. She soothed the baby. He was fine. It would be fine.

But it wasn’t fine. The rest of her day fell apart. Laundry wasn’t folded, supper was tuna sandwiches, papers weren’t marked, and her husband was ignored.

“Do you plan on telling me what’s bothering you?” Laibel asked as she turned the lamp off to go to sleep. “Did I do something?”

“No,” Rochel said, arms crossed across her chest.

“Please?”

“Whatever.” She turned away. “Aunt Brenda called me about head counselor. She’s seriously considering Hindy Mandelbaum.”

“Oh,” Laibel said. He seemed to have understood most of the implications. Not all, though. “I know you don’t really like her—”

“Hate. I hate her.” Rochel interrupted.

“Oookay, I know you hate her, but why would someone calling about her turn you into a crank?”

She turned to face her husband. “Because I’m torn. Am I supposed to be honest? Because, hey, it’s my aunt calling me — it’s clearly bashert for Hindy to be put in her place. Or should I just say what everyone else would say about her? Or should I just avoid the conversation?”

“You should talk to someone,” he answered simply.

Now Rochel sat upright. “Talk to someone? All they’ll tell me is that she’s just an immature girl who made a mistake. I’m older, more mature, and have a huge responsibility — this type of job can make or break aspects of a girl’s life and I can’t interfere by giving a bad report. I should forgive her, and move on.”

Laibel started to open his mouth, but Rochel continued, building to a crescendo. “And then they’ll tell me it was Yom Kippur not so long ago,” she bellowed. “And that not only should I forgive, but that I have to. That I’m a bad person if I don’t. And you know what?!” She paused for air. “I don’t want to!” She took a breath. “I don’t want to forgive her, I don’t want to forget. I want to wallow in bitterness toward her. But it’s my own private party, no one’s invited to this mad pity fest. So I don’t know what to tell her!”

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