F or a while, I dealt with the girls and women in groups only, on the basketball court. Now, it seemed I was going to have a little one-on-one time with Yael.

Yael loved to be on the move, but basketball just wasn’t her thing. Sometimes while I’d be teaching basic skills to the women’s group, she’d ask if she could speed walk the perimeter of the court. It was distracting for me, and more challenging to keep the others focused, but being involved in three things at once was becoming second nature to me in Retorno.

Yael had received permission from the staff to go walking before breakfast, but they required her to have a walking partner. Unfortunately, none of the other women had any interest in exercise at that hour. Since I was a “sports coach,” she asked me if I’d join her. I couldn’t get to Retorno at that hour every day, but I agreed to come once or twice a week when I could.

At first we talked about exercise, fresh air, and the names of the flowers and birds we saw. I didn’t want to pry or make her uncomfortable. She, on the other hand, started asking a million questions about me, my background, my family. I shared many things with her. In fact, I found her a good listener and enjoyed my time with her.

After a few weeks, Yael decided to tell me her story.

“There were ten kids in my family,” she began. “I say we were ten kids, but I only know eight of my siblings. I had another brother who was killed right before his bar mitzvah. He was hit by a bus.”

I fumbled for a response. “Did you know him?”

“No, it was before I was born. But it’s like he’s constantly there. Ima talks about him all the time. Compares us to him. And if anyone does something wrong, she says Avigdor would never have done such a thing. Before my sister’s wedding, Ima kept talking about how Avidgor would have been as a chatan. None of us can ever be as perfect as he was. It’s really hard to live with Avigdor’s ghost.”

“I’m sure it is,” I said, trying to imagine.

“Of course we can’t say anything to Ima. Abba protects her, gets angry if we mention anything.”

She pointed to the sky. “Look, a red buzzard.” I followed her hand to find a bird with large, predator’s wings hovering over the nearest hill. “We see a lot of them near where I live.…”

She had neatly changed the subject.

The next week when I walked with Yael, she was pulling at me to hurry before I could tighten my shoelaces.

“Are you afraid of anything?” she asked.

I laughed. “I’m afraid of lots of things.”

“Like what? What scared you today? Or in the last few days?” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 539)