Sleep Tight, Ya Morons
“Are you too busy again to come with us, Hannah?” Deborah asked as they left school.
“I’m afraid I have to pass up the thrill of going three blocks out of my way to watch the boys leaving the yeshiva,” Hannah said. “Not that I don’t enjoy seeing you and the others peek through your fingers and giggle and gossip about your marriage prospects.”
“Forgive me. I should’ve known the rebbetzin-in-training would have no time for fun.” Of course Hannah wanted to be a rebbetzin. What girl didn’t? As a rabbi’s wife, perhaps the wife of a famous one, she’d have unlimited opportunities to perform tikkun olam, helping to repair the world, an obligation she considered to be Judaism’s most sacred. Rav Moscovitz would’ve been outraged had she told him her opinion, but she’d never do that. She listened to Rav Moscowitz, didn’t speak to him.
Deborah tucked an errant hair under her headscarf and pulled up her shapeless wool coat to cover her neck. Lips moving, she swayed back and forth as if davening in prayer. Hannah didn’t mind her friends teasing her for following God’s commandments. Having recently turned fifteen, soon to be introduced to her future husband, she had every reason to hope for the best as long as her sterling reputation remained untarnished.
It seemed to her that everyone, not just her friends, made fun of her. Just this morning at breakfast, she’d said, “God must love gentiles very much, He made so many of them.” Her father called her my little philosopher, and her mother sat with her elbow on her knee, fist under her chin, mimicking a famous statue. When she played with them, Hannah’s younger sisters, Rivka, Sarah, and Rebekah and her younger brother, Isaac, enjoyed laughing at her silliness. Maybe in part because she herself came from such a small family, Hannah thought five children would be the proper number for a rebbetzin who’d need time to help the members of the community and maybe even engage with the outside world.
In spite of their teasing, Hannah knew her parents loved her and liked it when she expressed her own thoughts…as long as she didn’t go too far. While there were many unbendable rules, the basic ones were clear and simple: to follow the Torah, put the needs of the community before her own desires, and honor her father, mother, and Rav Moscovitz. Leaving Deborah, Hannah headed home through familiar streets. So far the winter of 1990 had been cold and wet. Today was no exception. She pulled her headscarf tight against the wind-driven drizzle and realized she’d been singing to herself: The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy, a Yiddish lullaby she’d sung yesterday to Rivka as she tucked her in for her nap.
A man came from the other direction. She sensed him look at her. Lately men seemed to be staring at her all the time, probably her overactive imagination. She focused her gaze on the sidewalk, but not before noticing that, although he wore a yarmulke, the man didn’t have a full beard. Her father disliked the modern orthodox almost as much as he disliked reformed and conservative Jews, whom he called minim, heretics. The way he would spit out the word communicated that he considered them even worse than the Christian or atheist goyim. “We don’t dislike other people,” her mother had explained. “Our traditions and our community keep us safe and make us who we are. Those people who think it’s okay for men and women to touch in public or turn on lights on Shabbos compromise with the word of God.” She didn’t need to remind Hannah of God’s feelings about such compromisers and doubters.
Hannah had never had a conversation of more than a few dozen words with someone who wasn’t haredi, ultra-orthodox. But under the covers, with a flashlight, while her family slept, she would read decidedly un-orthodox books, even essays by Emma Goldman, a distant relative whom her family referred to rarely and then only in angry whispers. But what she wrote made sense: The most violent element in society is ignorance. And she could be funny: Every society has the criminals it deserves.
As she walked, Hannah delighted in the tiny droplets of rain that hit her face with cold little hellos, like angels brushing their wings against her skin. Yes, she was odd, but in a nice way. Or so she hoped.
The sky darkened and the droplets became full-fledged raindrops. The butcher, Mordechai Kaplan, stood in the doorway of his shop, looking out on the street, now deserted except for Hannah. His stomach seemed about to burst through his blood-splattered apron. Blood? Only small spots, but there shouldn’t have been any by the time the meat arrived at his store. The shochet must drain all blood from the carcass.
Although she’d known him for four years—a relative newcomer to the community, he’d arrived from upstate, when the community’s previous butcher died—Hannah averted her eyes, as she would with any man outside her home. But also, the way he always stared at her while he spoke to her mother seemed creepy. Yet another example of the overactive imagination Mother chided her about.
A puddle forced her to step closer to the shop, close enough to smell the rotten egg stink of bad chicken.
“Come in, warm up,” the butcher said.
She’d never do such a thing.
He stepped into the rain and looked up and down the street. Then he grabbed her wrist. Yanked her inside.
Hannah screamed. He slapped her.
“Shut your mouth!”