"A ssignments for the coming month” was the subject of the editor’s terse e-mail. Faigy clicked the e-mail open and read the neat list:

1. Interview Meira Brook

2. Investigative Report: Jerusalemites making money from foreign tourists

3. Investigative Report: The Shawl Ladies. Underlying causes, the spread of the phenomenon, opposition

Meira Brook’s husband had passed away a year ago, nine years after being severely injured in a terror attack. That should be a pretty simple interview, thought Faigy… to the extent that human suffering can ever be simple. “Brook: the term ‘severely injured,’ what it means, how the media ignores the suffering of the wounded,” she scratched on a stray sheet of paper she’d found in the children’s room. “Jerusalemites profiting off Diaspora Jews: apartment rentals, service providers, caterers. Tour guides. Managing empty apartments.”

But at the third topic, she balked.

“Shawl ladies aren’t an ‘investigative report,’ ” she said to her husband Ari, who was peeking over her shoulder at the screen to see what his wife would be working on over the next month, and what she’d be going on about over supper for the next couple of weeks. “They’re Sarah, and Rivka, and Chaya Bracha, and Udel… you know what I mean? And each one of them has her own feelings and thoughts. People are never a ‘report.’ They’re people. I wouldn’t want to be called a ‘report.’ I’m Faigy Krinsky. I’m not a phenomenon.”

You certainly are a phenomenon, Ari thought, but kept it to himself. “So what are you going to do?”

“I’ll tell the editor to give that assignment to someone else.”

“And that someone else will write an article about the Shawl Ladies that you’ll like even less,” Ari warned her.

She knew he was right. She could just imagine Yossi Pollak writing condescendingly about “residents being shocked by the spreading phenomenon,” or Raya Ne’eman delineating, with utter superficiality, “the causes and motives” behind the choice to don a burka. Her colleagues were all talented and hardworking, great at investigating and getting the facts… but she didn’t think they had what it takes to get to the hearts of these black-clad women.

“You should keep the assignment, and write it the way you want it to be written,” said Ari. Quietly, he imagined anguished suppers amid heated rhetoric about terror victims and mentally unbalanced women. Well, at least that was better than that coaching series. Eating your omelet at the end of a hectic day while your wife philosophized about setting goals, defining purposes, and the benefits of having a personal coach was definitely a painful experience.

A moment of silence. Ari left Faigy at the keyboard as he moved softly from bed to bed, stroking the sleeping children. “I’ll write about it,” she said. “Maybe even a series of articles. And the subtitle will be, ‘They’re People. Not a Phenomenon.’ ”

Now the Shawl Ladies assignment was an electromagnetic current, compelling her hands to the keyboard and holding them captive. She typed and typed: questions, ideas, possible subheads. Ledes, endings. Then she moved on to her other articles, and when she was finished, dawn was breaking, cold and bright, over Jerusalem.

“Again you were up all night writing!” cried Ari when he got up for vasikin.

“My ideas made me write them down,” she said defensively, “and I couldn’t say no.” That was the truth. And it wasn’t the first time they’d done that to her, those ideas of hers.

Now she needed to go and find a shawl lady and talk with her. That shouldn’t be a problem, Faigy thought; the streets of Zichron Moshe were full of them. She just had to stop one of them and start a conversation, or follow her home and knock on her door. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 667)