Every man on the street had the potential to be him. Devorah started frequenting the Kotel. She davened longer and harder than she ever had before. She wanted this madness to stop. She began to miss chessed days with Mrs. Potash, because she would sit in front of the Kotel and say Tehillim until her throat hurt from whispering. She hadn’t spoken to Elisheva in several days. She had left her several messages indicating that she needed to talk to her. After she saw Asher in Geula, she had gone straight home and called Elisheva. She had decided it was time to tell someone what had happened. But Elisheva had never gotten back to her.
Seeing him again had unlocked a slew of painful feelings that had not gone away since. She felt like she was walking around with a rock in her chest, a constant and painful dull ache that exhausted her, made her want to close her eyes and sleep. On the day before Erev Sukkos, Devorah marched up to Elisheva’s sister’s door and banged until her husband opened it, looking confused. Ruchie was in the kitchen, hammering chicken for schnitzel. Elisheva was standing over a pot of soup, stirring.
“We’re going out,” Devorah said. Elisheva, Ruchie, and Ruchie’s young daughter Esti all looked at her.
“We’re going out,” Devorah said again. “Shevy, let’s go.”
Elisheva put down the spoon and wiped her hands on the front of her skirt. “I’m coming,” she said. Devorah stood at the door, her chest heaving. She tried to take deep breaths. She had never been this aggressive towards anyone. But she felt like she was running very fast up a hill, and she knew something was going to hit her, hard.
When Elisheva met her at the door, she asked where they were going, and Devorah made a vague gesture towards town. Elisheva stuffed her hands into the pockets of her skirt.
“I got your message,” Elisheva said. “I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you.”
“I don’t think that’s a great excuse.”
“I was meeting with the Rav who is finalizing the get.”
Devorah opened her mouth and then closed it. What was she supposed to say to that?
“You can still call me,” Devorah said after a minute. “I’m still around,” she said.
“Where are we going?” Elisheva asked after they had been walking for a bit.
Devorah shrugged. “Sam’s Bagels,” she said. “Geula.”
Elisheva followed her quietly onto a bus. Devorah looked at her profile as Elisheva stared out the window. She looked beautiful in her sheitel, the one they had shopped for together with Elisheva’s mother. Devorah sighed. She put a hand on Elisheva’s shoulder and squeezed. Elisheva looked at her briefly.
“It’s been a tough month,” Elisheva said. Devorah nodded in agreement, and it occurred to her that nobody, not even Elisheva knew how difficult this month had been for her.
They got off the bus and walked down the street towards Sam’s Bagels.
“We used to come here all the time,” Elisheva said.
Devorah nodded, and watched a couple of chassidim approach the counter at a take-out place across the street.
“I need to talk to you,” Devorah said.
Elisheva nodded. “I know,” she said. The waiter came and took their orders. Devorah shifted in her seat.
“It’s just been really hard for me,” Devorah said when he left.
“I know,” Elisheva said. “I knew this was coming. It came with my parents too.”
“My parents also had this conversation with me. And Ruchie too. How hard it is to have a divorced person in the family.”
“What—no—this isn’t about you.”
“Oh, I know,” Elisheva said. “It isn’t about me. It’s never about me. It’s just hard to accept divorce, nothing personal. That’s what they all said to me.”
“You know what, it’s fine. I don’t care that you’re all being like this. It’s fine. I didn’t need anyone to be there for me.”
“Be there for you? What else have I done this entire month?”
The waiter came with their food and drinks, and there was silence at the table. Devorah pushed her food away from her. She wasn’t hungry at all.
“This is what you think?” She asked. “You think I wasn’t there for you?”
Elishva shrugged. “Nobody understands what I’m going through. Nobody.”
“This isn’t about you!” Devorah stood. She hugged her arms around her body and willed herself not to cry. “This isn’t about you, Shevy. Not everything is about you.”
“Well I’m sorry for thinking my divorce mattered.”
Devorah threw up her hands. “I’m sorry for thinking my life mattered to you,” she said.
“Oh really, and what has gone so wrong in your life? Other than your best friend getting divorced?”
“You know what, it is because of you! It is because of your divorce!”
“Well I’m glad you finally worked up the courage to say it.”
People around them were staring. Devorah looked around, and everyone’s eyes quickly darted back to their plates. Devorah sighed, sat back down, and put her face in her hands.
“You’re the reason I’m not engaged now,” she said, staring at the table.
“You’re the reason I broke my engagement,” Devorah said. She looked up.
“You didn’t even know,” Devorah said. “I was going to tell you, and then all of this happened, and I never even got a chance.”
“I’m so sorry my divorce was inconvenient to you.”
“I tried to be there for you, Shevy! I called you every day. I waited for you. And all you did was ignore me, do things behind my back with other people, push me away—”
“What does this have to do with you getting engaged?”
“You didn’t appreciate anything I did,” Devorah said.
“I never told you not to get engaged.”
“I couldn’t! I was trying to take care of you!”
Elisheva swiped her bangs away from her face. “Devorah—”
“You needed me,” Devorah said. “And I was there for you. And all I wanted was a little time for you to listen to me. And you couldn’t even give me that.”
Elisheva opened her mouth and then closed it. “I’m sorry,” she said.
Devorah shook her head. She stood, and this time took her bag with her. “I lost that relationship,” she said. “Because of you.” She began to walk away.
“I never asked you to give up anything,” Elisheva said behind her. Devorah refused to look back at her. She knew her words were harsh, but she couldn’t bring herself to regret them. “I’m not the reason you didn’t get engaged,” Elisheva called after her.
Devorah kept walking.
She walked straight up to Yafo, all the way until Shlomo HaMelech, and down the steps towards Sha’ar Yafo. She breezed past the Armenian Quarter and through the Rova, until she reached the steps towards the Kotel. She barged through security, bypassing Birthright groups and tourists, as she made a beeline for an open spot of wall near the mechitzah. She walked straight up to the old stones, laid her arm across one, pressed her face into her elbow, and began to cry.
The tears came without stop for a long time. Arms crowded around her, pushed notes into the wall besides her, came and left, all while she stood, head pressed against the cool stone, and cried. She wiped the sides of her eyes into her sleeve. Where would she go from here? What was she supposed to do now?
Devorah lifted her face to the warmth of the sun and looked up the entire length of the wall. “I don’t know why this happened,” she said. She pressed her face into the wall, blocking either side with the palms of her hands, so all she could see was the shadows in the depressions in the stone. “I don’t know why this happened,” she whispered into the stone. “But please help me,” she said. “Please—just—” She dissolved into tears again. She began reciting Tehillim by heart. “I don’t know what to do anymore,” she said.
Time passed. Devorah’s tears quieted and she remained standing, listening to the sounds of people moving around her, people crying, people moving chairs and shtenders. A cool breeze of wind blew past her cheek. Devorah eventually lifted her face from the wall.
“Kol b’dei Shamayim,” she said. She couldn’t change what had already happened. She couldn’t even bear to think about what had already happened. How it might have been different. As she walked away from the Kotel, it became painfully, abundantly clear to her what she had done. For the first time since she had walked away from Asher in the very spot she was passing right now on her way back to the Rova, she understand what she had done, and why. She couldn’t believe how stupid she had been, how much emuna she had lacked, how much she had thrown away in her fear and shock at Elisheva’s divorce. She wiped a tear from her eye as she passed the menorah on her way up. She had lost Asher, and now she had lost Elisheva too. What else would she lose?
• • •
Devorah sat in a sukkah of a family friend who was hosting a shiur. She had walked over from her house in the afternoon after she had overheard two girls in shul saying what a great speaker the Rav was. She didn’t want to sit at home, and she certainly didn’t want another second of her mother asking her about shidduchim. As she had walked there, she had thought about the phone calls she had ignored and not returned from Elisheva since the holiday started. She had decided to stay in Ramat Beit Shemesh for chol hamoed. She had also ignored a call from Mrs. Silver. She knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but she couldn’t bring herself to speak to either of them. She wasn’t ready to talk to Elisheva, and she wasn’t ready to see another guy. She just wished she could go back to that night she had gone out with Asher. She wished she could have ignored the fear in her heart. She wished she could have made a different decision.
Devorah adjusted the hem of her skirt over her knees and crossed her legs beneath her.
“Devorah? You’re Devorah Adler, right?”
Devorah looked up at a girl in a pink cardigan who was standing beside her.
“I’m Penina Klausman. I’m Suri’s sister.”
Devorah blinked a few times before remembering to smile. She couldn’t stop her eyes from falling to Penina’s hands to check for a bracelet or a ring.
“So nice to meet you,” Devorah said.
Penina sat down next to her. “My sister talks about you all the time, it’s so nice to meet you.”
“Suri was just talking about you,” Devorah said, without thinking.
Penina smiled. “Are you in Ramat Beit Shemesh for the whole chag?”
“My family lives here,” Devorah said. “I decided to stay for chol hamoed too.” Devorah adjusted her skirt again and scanned the crowd for anyone else she knew.
“So nice,” Penina said. “I’m staying with one of my married friends from high school until the end of the chag—”
“Are you dating?” Devorah wanted to stop herself from talking. She wanted to be embarrassed by how brazen she was being. She couldn’t.
Penina stuttered. “Am I—dating?”
“I’m sorry,” Devorah said. “I just remember Suri mentioning something about you having a good date.”
“It’s nice,” Devorah said, “to have a good date. I was just—excited for you.”
“Oh,” Penina blushed. “Well thank you. He actually lives here, in Ramat Beit Shemesh.”
Devorah’s eyes shot up to hers.
“He lives here?” she said. Asher was from America. He did not have any family in Israel besides for a married sister.
“Yeah, his family moved here when he was a teenager.”
Devorah blinked. “The guy your sister was talking about was from America.”
Penina shook her head. “I haven’t dated anyone from America. But Suri also confuses things a lot. She kept calling me about someone named Asher for a week and I had no idea who she meant. Then I realized she thought I said Asher when I had actually said Schneur.”
Devorah opened her mouth, but Penina quickly got up and began to move away.
“I see my friend, I’m going to go sit with her. Enjoy the shiur, nice to meet you!”
Devorah hardly had time to process what she had heard before the shiur began. She was trying her hardest to focus on what the Rav was saying, trying her hardest to not be distracted by the sounds of children playing outside, but her mind was working too quickly, and in its wake, her chest began to ache. Was everything a lie? Had everything she thought and everything she felt in the last weeks been completely unfounded? She had broken up a great relationship because she couldn’t process her own friend’s divorce. And she had been angry with Asher because she thought he was dating someone he wasn’t even seeing.
“And what do we learn from this?” The Rav asked.
Devorah closed her eyes momentarily and tried to remember the prayers she had offered at the kotel. Kol b’dei Shamayim, she said to herself. Everything is in Hashem’s hands.
“It says that Klal Yisroel removed their crowns after the chet haegel, and then Hashem was angry. Why did Hashem care about the crowns? Was the chet haegel not enough to be angry about?”
Devorah tried to focus her eyes on the Rav. Her gaze wandered over to Penina, who was watching him intently. She yearned for a time when her life had been so simple, that she could just sit somewhere and be in the moment, with no thoughts to plague her.
“It’s because Klal Yisroel stopped believing in their relationship with Hashem. What were these crowns? These crowns represented our closeness to Hashem. They were a divine gift, a show of Hashem’s love, and of our relationship with Him. After the chet haegel, Hashem wanted to forgive us! What made Him really upset? When we showed that we didn’t believe in the relationship anymore.”
Devorah snapped her eyes back towards the Rav.
“Hashem still wanted that relationship! Here’s what’s important! Hashem didn’t make Himself distant—we made ourselves distant. We took off our crowns! We said ‘we don’t think this relationship is worthy anymore’ and that’s what made Hashem really upset. Hashem is always ready to forgive. We just have to believe in that relationship.”
Devorah didn’t need to hear him say it again. She stood up in the middle of the shiur and walked towards her house. She packed quietly, and then called her mother from the bus stop. She wasn’t going to waste another second. Kol b’dei Shamayim, and she was pretty sure Hashem had just given her a loud and clear message.
- • •
“Mrs. Silver, this is Devorah Adler.”
Devorah was sitting on the porch of her apartment early Friday morning. She had gotten back from Ramat Beit Shemesh last night. It had only taken her about an hour to work up the courage to call Mrs. Silver.
“It took you a long time to get back to me!”
Devorah smiled. “I’m sorry about that. I wanted to ask—”
“I have a few guys in mind, like I told you last time. One of them is busy now because you took so long to get back to me, but I still have a few—”
“I’m really not—”
“I can send you his resume, I really think he’ll be good—”
“I’m not looking for anyone’s resume,” Devorah said.
“Then why are you calling me?”
Devorah took a deep breath. She closed her eyes and counted to five. She drummed her fingers against her knee. “I want to contact Asher Rabinowitz,” she said.
“You want to do what?”
“I made a mistake,” Devorah said. A terrible, awful mistake. “I want to see if he would be willing to go out with me again.”
“Devorah—” Mrs. Silver paused. “I’m afraid I can’t do that. After how you ended things, I really can’t imagine he’d be interested.”
“I’d like to try.”
“I really don’t think so,” Mrs. Silver said. “I’m not going to ask him. If you want to talk to him, you’ll have to do it on your own. I don’t think it’s a great idea.”
“I really do have some great guys for you. I’d like to send you some resumes.”
“Do you know if he’s busy right now?”
Devorah sighed. “Asher Rabinowitz.” Every time she said his name, it hurt a little more.
“I don’t think so, but that doesn’t mean you should contact him.”
“I’ll be in touch,” Devorah said. “Thank you, Mrs. Silver.”
They hung up, and Devorah leaned her head back against the wall. She had known that this might happen. It wasn’t every day that someone tried to get back into a relationship that hadn’t ended well. But she needed to try. That’s all she knew. Devorah pulled up Asher’s phone number in her contacts lists, and just the sight of his number made her heart jump. Could she really do this?
Devorah stood and wrung out her hands. She emptied the washing machine of all of its contents and hung everything on the drying racks. She brushed her hair. She made her bed. By noon she was tired, hungry, and she still had not called Asher.
Devorah took a bunch of grapes from the fridge and made a cup of tea. She took it out on the balcony, opened her phone, and pressed call.
She sucked in a huge breath to keep her stomach from flipping. The phone rang once. Twice. Three times. Each space between the ringing made her grip the edges of her chair. The call went to voicemail, and Devorah hung up. What could she possibly say in a voicemail?
She called a second time, and the waiting began again. Each ring was an insult in her ear. She closed her eyes. Ring. Ring. Ring.
Devorah clenched her teeth so hard on her cheek she tasted blood. There he was—there was his voice. Did he know it was her? Had he deleted her number? Now that he had picked up, all the rehearsed lines in her head flew out the window. She opened her eyes and looked out across Jerusalem.
“This is Devorah Adler. Do you have minute to talk?”
He was silent.
“Just a minute,” Devorah said.
“Why—what—why are you calling?”
Devorah couldn’t even begin to list the reasons. “I want to know if you would be willing—” Devorah let out a breath. “If you would be willing to meet with me.”
There was another pause. She knew she was crazy. She knew this was insane, that this wasn’t done. But she would never forgive herself for not trying.
“For what reason?”
“To talk,” Devorah said.
“What do we have to talk about?”
Devorah shook her head. This wasn’t going as planned, not at all. But what had she expected? “I just wanted to ask if you would be willing.”
He didn’t reply.
“At the very least,” she said, “I want to apologize.”
“You could write me a letter,” he said.
“Please,” Devorah said.
“Fine. Saturday night. I’ll find you at the Ramada an hour after Shabbos. I don’t have much time, I have a vort to get to.”
“Thank you,” Devorah said. “Thank you.”
She closed her phone, and returned her cold tea and uneaten grapes to the kitchen. She turned off her phone and tossed it into a drawer in her room. She washed all the dishes and began cooking. By the time her roommates came home, Devorah already had two kugels in the oven and Simcha Leiner blasting in the apartment.
“We’re doing Shabbos here,” Devorah announced. A few of her roommates shrugged in agreement. She took challah dough out of the freezer to defrost, and got started on the chicken. While she waited for the chicken to brine, she began sweeping the dining room, singing along quietly.
“Devorah, is your phone off?”
“Why?” Devorah stopped dead in the middle of the chorus, the broom hanging inches off the floor. Her heart began to pound. Had he changed his mind? How did he get one of her roommates’ numbers? Did he really hate her this much?
“Elisheva Braun called me a few times. Said she’s trying to get in touch with you.” Shaindy held out her phone. “She’s on right now, if you can talk.”
Devorah took the phone. “Shevy?” She said.
“Hey,” Elisheva said. She sounded nervous.
“Hey,” Devorah said. She turned down the music, and began braiding her defrosted dough. They were both quiet for a few minutes. They had never had a fight like this before.
“I tried to reach you earlier today.”
“I turned my phone off,” Devorah said. “To get ready for Shabbos.”
Devorah flipped the dough onto a pan and cracked an egg into a glass. “How was Sukkos?” She asked. She brushed her challahs with egg, sprinkled them with sesame seeds, and then tossed them into the oven.
“Fine,” Elisheva said. “I spent it with Ruchie.”
“How is Ruchie doing?”
“Still waiting for me to leave,” Elisheva said.
Devorah sighed. They weren’t getting anywhere. “Why don’t you come to my apartment for Shabbos?”
“That would be great.”
Devorah continued cooking, her heart now stirring from the anticipation of seeing Elisheva, and the terror of confronting Asher. She handed the phone back to Shaindy, and went to make up the guest bed for Elisheva. By the time she had showered and set the table, Elisheva had arrived. Devorah took her bags and led her to the guest bed.
“I’m glad you came,” She said, and she was sincere. She gave her a quick hug and hurried to get dressed.
When they all came to the Shabbos table, Devorah was able to finally breathe. Elisheva was here, by her side, and she knew that they would be able to forgive each other. They always had. And no matter what happened tomorrow night, she knew she had done everything she could.
• • •
While the wicks of the havdala candle were still smoking, Devorah rushed to her room to start getting dressed. Elisheva was two steps behind her, sifting through her closet.
“Tell me what to grab,” she said. “You want makeup too?”
“Give me that skirt,” Devorah said. “Throw me some shirt that matches.”
Devorah slipped on the skirt over her stockings, and Elisheva pulled out a shell and a sleeveless blouse that complimented the skirt. Elisheva crouched to the bottom of her closet while Devorah fixed her hair in the mirror.
“These shoes are good,” Elisheva said. She stood behind Devorah in the mirror.
“You look beautiful,” she said.
Devorah half-laughed to keep herself from crying. Her stomach felt like it was flipped inside out.
“Perfume?” She asked.
Elisheva shook her head.
“You’re right,” Devorah said. She placed the container back on the counter and threw her arms around Elisheva.
“I’m terrified,” she said.
“It’s going to go great,” Elisheva said. “I just know it.” She kissed Devorah on the cheek. They held each other briefly.
“Go,” Elisheva said. Devorah grabbed her purse and skipped out of the room. She hailed a cab. No walking tonight, no waiting for busses. She wasn’t going to take any risks.
Devorah held her phone in her lap, and with every vibration of the car she feared it was him calling to cancel. But her phone was quiet. Devorah tapped her foot against the carpeted floor of the taxi. She sent up a silent prayer that Asher would be willing to listen to her.
When the taxi pulled up to the hotel, Devorah exited the car and stood on the curb, looking up the staircase. She made herself wait there for a full minute. She made herself breathe. Then she began to take steps carefully towards the door, one by one. She began to count them under her breath. It didn’t make it any easier.
Most dates she went on, she had a hard time finding the guy when she first walked into the hotel. Usually it took a minute or two of looking to realize both people were looking for each other. Tonight, she spotted him immediately. He was leaning against the opposite wall, watching the door. He had seen her, too. Devorah had to physically stop herself from turning around and running back down the steps to the street by grasping the nearest ledge. He had pushed himself away from the wall and began to walk towards her. Her heart was beating out of her chest.
She steeled herself for whatever was coming.
“Thank you for meeting me,” She said. She hated how breathless she sounded.
He nodded. She couldn’t read his expression. He turned. “Should we sit?”
Devorah followed him in shamed silence. She didn’t know if she ever would have been able to do what he was doing right now. And if she didn’t know if she could even stand to meet someone who had hurt her like that, what made her think that he’d be willing to actually forgive her?
When they sat, Devorah looked up at him, and tried not to remember their first date.
“It’s been a few weeks,” she said. Stupid. Stupid. What was she thinking? What was she saying?
Asher nodded again. He checked his watch. She remembered that he had a time limit.
“I’m an idiot,” she said.
Asher looked up at her.
“I’m an idiot,” she said again.
His eyes had widened. He didn’t nod. He didn’t check his watch.
“I did something terrible to you,” she said. She furiously blinked back tears. Now was a stupid time to cry, she told herself. Not now. Please, not now.
“I was not expecting it,” Asher said.
“It was stupid,” Devorah said. “It was terrible, and stupid, and I—” She covered her mouth and tried to breathe deeply.
“You don’t have to do this,” Asher said. “People break engagements all the time.”
Devorah shook her head. “I made a mistake,” she whispered. She refused to look at him. She didn’t want to see the expression on his face.
“I don’t—” Asher stopped, and Devorah continued to stare at the floor. “I don’t understand why you made me come here tonight.”
At that, she looked up at him. “I just said—I just wanted to tell you—”
“You called me after four weeks to tell me that you made a mistake?”
Devorah swallowed the lump in her throat. She knew it had been crazy, to try this.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s true.”
Asher shook his head. “You called me to tell me that? You couldn’t tell me—why you did it? What possessed you to end everything the way you did? Why you—why you—”
“I made a terrible mistake,” Devorah said. She couldn’t stop her tears. She just flicked them away. Asher looked away from her. He stood and turned towards the door. Devorah wiped both of her eyes and waited for him to leave. When he didn’t after a minute, she looked up.
“Well?” he said. “Are you coming?”
Devorah jumped out of her seat. She followed him out the door and down the stairs. He began walking up a street seemingly at random. She struggled to keep up with his pace.
“For four weeks I’ve been wondering,” Asher said. The moon was half-bright in the sky above them. “For four weeks I’ve been thinking of every conversation we’ve had. I’ve asked rebbeim, I’ve talked to shadchanim. Nobody understood what happened. And then I saw you one day, almost run over by a bike in Geula—”
“I thought you were dating someone else,” Devorah said.
He stopped. “And I’m not allowed to?” He asked.
“You are,” Devorah said. “I just hoped you weren’t.”
“I don’t understand you,” Asher said.
“I’ll make it simple,” Devorah said. She sucked in a breath. “Something happened to me that made me terrified of getting engaged. I had no time to think about it, no time to process how I was feeling, nobody to listen to me and tell me I was being crazy. I made a rash decision and threw away this relationship. And it didn’t take long for me to realize that it was the worst decision I had ever made.”
Asher opened his mouth, but Devorah continued. “You were the best person I had ever known. And every minute I spent with you made me—so happy. It’s not that you’re not allowed to date, Asher, it’s that I hoped you weren’t. Because I hoped that maybe, maybe you could find a way to forgive me.”
“And—what?” He cleared his throat. “And what—get engaged?”
Devorah closed her eyes and then opened them again. “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen next,” she said. “That’s up to you.”
Asher leaned against a pole that was beside him, crossed his arms, and stared at the floor. Devorah found herself looking at the crown of his hat.
“This is a lot,” Asher said.
“I know,” Devorah said. She hitched her purse higher on her shoulder. “It’s okay,” she said. “Why don’t I leave now, and you can have some time to think about what I said. I know what I did was horrible. I’m sincerely sorry, and I understand if you choose to leave things here.”
Devorah turned on her heel, not quite sure where she was going, but sure she would either find a bus stop or a cab. She was a few paces away before he spoke again.
“Wait,” he said. Devorah stopped, unwilling to turn around. Her heart began pounding again. “The last thing I want,” Asher said, “is to watch you walk away from me again.”
• • •
Spring in Jerusalem was cool but sunny that March. Anyone walking through the Old City that morning could see a kallah holding a bouquet of yellow flowers, posing for pictures near the sun-bleached stone walls. A few friends trailed behind her, fixing her hair, arranging her veil. The kallah herself held her bouquet closer to her face as directed by the photographer. The sunlight twinkled over her hair.
When she was dragged over to the men’s side to sit beside her chosson and watch the guests dance, the small, sparkling crown she had chosen to clip on above her veil began to slide off her head. She took both hands and steadied the crown, pushing the pins deep into her hair. She turned her head and smiled at her chosson. He was already smiling at her.