I get the strangest sensation when I pass those two strangers. My skin actually prickles. I feel better as I get closer to the shul. Abba gives a shiur there every day between Minchah and Maariv. I hang up my jacket on the hook and take out my pocket Gemara.

Old Mr. Teitelbaum frowns. He opens his mouth like he wants to say something but then shuts it again with a snap. I step over the bench and sit next to Abba. He nods briefly. The shiur is halfway through. Mr. Arev, a very nice man, shows me the place where they’re holding.

I try to concentrate, but it’s hard. My mind keeps going back to little Yael, huddling under our kitchen table. I kind of identify with her because I’m actually shy myself, but I’ve never done anything like that. I wonder if Abba and Ima knew she was a little strange when they agreed to take her?

Mr. Arev nudges me. It’s my turn to read the text. I feel Abba’s eyes on me, questioning, as I translate and try to explain the words. He senses that I haven’t prepared sufficiently, and I hate to let him down. I was so curious about Yael that I didn’t review the daf after cheder. What a relief to finish my lines!

Mr. Teitelbaum’s bushy eyebrows are bristling. I don’t think old people really remember what it is like to be young. He’s always giving me lectures about how many hours he used to learn when he was my age and how my generation wastes time and will probably come to nothing.

Shiur is over. Chairs and benches scrape the floor as we stand for Maariv. The familiar quiet hum of the congregation davening gives me a pleasant kind of calm. In just a few minutes I’ll be walking home with Abba. On these walks we discuss all sorts of interesting topics, whatever I want to talk about. Tonight, I’ll ask him about Yael.

The men are leaving after the tefillah, hurrying to their own homes for dinner and family time. I recognize Mr. Pinchas Gutman pushing against the flow of people toward the door. I wonder what’s wrong. He seems tense. I stand at a respectful distance while he talks to my father, trying to be patient. The last of the other men trickle out of the shul. Only the three of us are still inside. Mr. Gutman is raising his voice a bit, which makes it hard not to listen. Should I wait outside in the cold and dark?

Just when I feel totally forgotten, my father suddenly gestures for me to come over and join them. “Meir, do you know Mr. Gutman’s son, Shimon?” he asks.

“I’ve seen him,” I reply. Shimmy Gutman isn’t in my circle of friends. He has his own chevreh, and they pretty much keep to themselves.

“I told Mr. Gutman that you’ll help Shimon,” my father says. “He’s having a rough time, and needs a real friend.”

My mouth falls open. I close it and swallow hard. “You want me to learn with him?” I ask in a funny voice that didn’t sound like mine at all. I’m in shock at the idea of being friends with Shimmy Gutman. He’s the class bully, and I keep as far away from him as I can. I give Abba a beseeching look, willing him to understand that this is not a good idea. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 691)