Selection 6: Her Heart’s Desire // Hadassa Topperman

Two sisters are facing a life altering challenge.

It was only a few minutes’ walk from Chaim and Adina’s ground-floor apartment to the childhood home she had left six years earlier. Ever since Sara had gotten married the previous year and settled in Eretz Yisrael, with Dovid leaving for the Mir shortly afterwards, Adina and her mother had become even closer. Friday night after licht bentching was their time to catch up, as they both had busy work schedules.
Anticipating their regular cozy chat, Adina was alarmed when the usually well-groomed Mrs. Rosenkrantz opened the door wearing a creased robe and lopsided tichel, her face haggard. The dining room table, usually set for Shabbos on Thursday night, had only a wrinkled tablecloth haphazardly slung over it. “Are you feeling okay? Is something wrong?’’ Adina asked anxiously. To her dismay, her mother’s face crumpled and she collapsed on the couch sobbing.
An hour later, when there was no response to his repeated knocking on his front door, Chaim peered through the gap between the blinds, attempting to spot Adina. Then he heard footsteps rapidly approaching from behind. Turning around, he saw her breathlessly rushing towards him through the drizzle. “Let’s get out of the rain,” she puffed, pulling out the key on her Shabbos belt. “I’ll explain why I’m late in a minute.”
That night, the food was as delicious as usual, but neither of them could eat much. Adina had stiltedly broken the news to her husband, trying not to lapse into lashon hara. I could have predicted this, she thought to herself, abstractedly crumbling a piece of challah. Sara was the adored youngest child. From the moment she was born she had insisted on getting her own way. First she would turn on the charm, and if that didn’t work, she’d pout and kvetch until the other person gave in. At her wedding, Sara had acted like the queen, with Meir her devoted servant. There’s a limit to how long a man is willing to put up with that, she mused. But still, to come to this?
Adina sighed. “I can’t believe they’re actually getting divorced. It’s such a huge step.”
“But your mother told you that right now they’re only separating,” Chaim reminded her as he half-heartedly cut into his Moroccan fish.
“Well, yeah, but she’s coming back to England and he isn’t. Don’t you think that makes a massive statement?”
Chaim tugged at his beard. “I just don’t get it. Meir is such a nice guy. Ma and Daddy must be devastated.” He put his hand down abruptly on the table. “Oh, my, I totally forgot! She’s expecting, isn’t she?” Adina nodded grimly. “She’s due in ten weeks,” she said.

* * *
It was a jolt to see Sara in maternity clothes. Adina had gone to visit her the morning after her arrival. Sara sat in their parents’ kitchen, wearing an unfamiliar two-piece outfit and coordinating bandana. Her face was fuller, with the rounded chin and chubby cheeks of pregnancy, but her pallor was chalky and she had dark smudges under her eyes.
The conversation was strained. When Adina’s cell phone rang after half an hour, she was glad to have an excuse to leave.
“It was so sad,” she told Chaim that evening. “She seemed…empty. Like a shell. And Sara has always been so vivacious. When we were kids, she was the outgoing little sister with tons of friends while I was the sensible, quiet one. But now this happened, and suddenly she’s the one lacking confidence. So I’ve decided that I have to help her. Working from home means that I’m flexible, so I’m going to offer to go with her to appointments or shopping or wherever she needs to be. I’m going to be the best sister ever.”
Chaim frowned dubiously. “Are you sure that’s such a good idea? Don’t you think it’ll be hard for you to get involved in all that pregnancy stuff? You’d be putting yourself in a really painful position.”
Adina shook her head resolutely. “No. To be honest, up until now I’ve often found her kind of brash and irritating. But I have to get over my negative feelings and be supportive. And if that means putting myself in a challenging situation…” She shrugged. “I’ll look at it as a tikkun.” She turned her head away and blinked hard. “Maybe it will be a zechus for us.”
The first hurdle came only a week later. Sara was hesitant on the phone. “It’s only because you offered. My medical records from Israel are different from the ones here, so I need to go for blood tests and an ultrasound. I don’t want to go by myself and Ma will be at work. Do you think you can come with me?”
Adina was thrilled. She’d get to see a real unborn baby on the screen! It was almost as if… Well, there was no sense in getting carried away.
When they arrived at the clinic, Adina left Sara at the reception desk and went to find a couple of seats. Oh, no! How could she have been so naïve? Why hadn’t it crossed her mind that she might meet someone she knew? And of all people, it had to be Rivky Meisels. Rivky, who was always either stick thin or pregnant. Rivky who eyed Adina up and down every time they met, and smiled knowingly if she’d gained five pounds or become bloated from treatment. Not to mention that she was Chaim’s chavrusa’s wife. That Rivky.
Adina sat down in the corner of the room, hoping she wouldn’t be noticed. A moment later, little Shloimy Meisels decided he’d had enough of sitting placidly on his mother’s lap and tried to make an escape. Rivky practically tripped over Adina’s feet as she scrambled to catch her fleeing toddler. After she’d grabbed him, she turned around to apologize. Her face lit up when she saw who it was and her eyes did their familiar flick. She smiled.
“Adina, how nice to meet you—here! I can see you’re not that far along. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone! When are you due?” Adina felt her face redden.
“I came with my sister,” she answered stiffly. “I’m not here for myself.” She pointed to Sara, who was making her way towards them.
Flustered, Rivky turned around to see who was approaching. “Oh!” she gushed, obviously glad for the diversion, “I forgot that Sara Rosenkrantz is your sister. Hi, Sara! Remember me? I was your Shabbos group counselor!”
Sara nodded tersely. “I heard you got married,” Rivky continued, “but I didn’t know that you were here in London. Your parents must be over the moon, their first grandchild!” She stopped and covered her mouth. “Oh, I didn’t mean… Well, let me take your number.” She put her wriggling son down and fumbled for her phone. “So, what’s your married name? I’d love to invite you and your husband for a Shabbos meal before you have the baby. Where are you two living right now?”
There was a short silence as the sisters looked at each other. Then Sara sank heavily into a chair, her face a blank mask. Looking at the floor, she answered in a dull voice, “I’m staying with my parents. My husband…isn’t in the country right now.”
Rivky’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped. She didn’t even notice her toddler wiping his nose on her dry-clean-only skirt.
At that moment, a door opened and a blonde woman in blue scrubs strode briskly into the waiting room. “Rebecca Measles?” she called. “Oh, that’s me!” Rivky gasped with relief. “See you two around sometime!” Bundling her son under one arm, she waggled her fingers and scuttled off as fast as her heels could take her.

* * *
“But you know, it was totally worth it,” Adina told Chaim over seared salmon, blistered green beans and wild rice. “The ultrasound was simply miraculous! We actually saw the baby moving, the little fingers and toes.” She sighed happily. “It was unbelievable. You can hear the baby’s heart beating!” Adina’s euphoria faded slightly. “The strange thing was that Sara seemed so out of it. I mean, she took an interest but she was kinda distant. So that’s when I had this amazing idea.”
Chaim smiled indulgently at his wife’s animated expression. “Nu, let’s hear it,” he said. Adina sat up straighter. “We should adopt Sara’s baby!” she announced triumphantly.
The fork fell from his hand with a clatter and grains of rice spattered the tablecloth. “WHAT?!”
Adina leaned forward in her chair. “This is the answer to our dreams! We get a beautiful new baby, and Sara gets her freedom. I’m sure she doesn’t want to be a single mother at 19. She still has friends who aren’t married; she’ll want a social life. She doesn’t need to be stuck at home with a baby; she’s never been that fond of kids anyhow. And when she’s ready for shidduchim, she’ll find it a lot easier if she doesn’t have a kid in tow.”
Chaim shook his head in disbelief. He tried to interrupt but Adina was just getting started.
“This way, everybody gains—even the baby! It’s much healthier for a child to grow up in a two-parent family. It’s much more stable.”
Chaim held up a restraining hand. “Wait a minute. Have you mentioned this idea to Sara?”
“No. I wanted it to be a joint decision. But—”
“Adina, please listen. There is absolutely no way you can ask her to do this. I’m sure she already feels awkward enough around us, and you’d be putting unfair pressure on her. Besides, she’d never agree! What mother wants to give up her own child?”
“But it’s in everyone’s best interest!” Adina pleaded, her eyes glistening. “It’s not as if she’d be cutting herself off from the kid. We’d let her visit whenever she liked, or even babysit.”
“Babysit? Listen to yourself! You’re getting totally carried away! It’s not our child!” Chaim’s voice cracked with emotion. Then he softened. “I’m sorry. I know we both want a baby, but this is not the answer.”
Adina pushed aside her untasted meal and reached for a tissue. “But maybe Sara will have the same idea,” she whispered. “What will we do then?”
Chaim sighed. “If—if—she does, then I’ll speak to a rav.” Clear as a bell, she heard the words he didn’t say: But you know that isn’t going to happen.
One evening a week later, Chaim sat down for supper and looked at his plate, bewildered. “Even I know that macaroni and cheese doesn’t take very long to prepare. Did you have a really heavy workload today?”
Adina passed him a bowl of oversized chunks of cucumber and tomato. “Oh, it wasn’t work,” she smiled apologetically. “I had the best afternoon with Sara. First, we went to her doctor’s appointment. It’s so incredible!” She poured Chaim a glass of juice. “Then we went shopping. The choices out there are mind-blowing. So many different kinds of wheels, suspension, storage space…” She made a brachah and took a bite.
Chaim frowned, perplexed. “What, were you buying a car?” he asked.
Adina giggled. “No, a stroller. You know, for wheeling the baby around. But we didn’t buy anything yet. Sara was ready to pick one out in the first store we went to, but I convinced her that she needs to do more comparison shopping. Daddy gave us a generous budget, but you wouldn’t believe some of the prices! We also have to get a car seat and a bathtub. Loads of stuff. Sara doesn’t care so much, but I think it’s worth doing some research and buying the best. After all, some of these things will be used for years.”
Chaim eyed his wife’s vibrant expression warily. “And Sara’s okay with you making the decisions?” Adina pursed her lips defiantly. “She’s very happy with my input. I’m helping her.” He prodded a clump of limp pasta. Adina’s face relaxed and she smiled knowingly. “Oh, I see what the problem is. The food isn’t up to my usual gourmet standards. Don’t worry, tomorrow you’ll get something more substantial. Besides, Sara’s coming over for supper. My parents are going to a sheva brachos.”
The following night, Adina regaled Chaim about everything they’d ordered to be delivered after the birth. Sara picked at her noodles and stir fry, staying mostly silent. As soon as the dishes were stacked in the sink, she apologized that she was tired and headed home.

* * *
As her due date approached, Sara came over to Adina’s apartment most days for company. She didn’t seem to mind that Adina was usually busy working. “Sometimes she doesn’t even want to talk,” Adina mused to Chaim as they strolled around the park one Sunday morning. “She’s miles away in her own world. I guess she’s worrying about the future. There’s something odd going on, as well. I can hardly ever get through on my parents’ landline in the evenings. I asked Ma about it when I stopped by earlier, but she looked kind of furtive and mumbled something about Sara needing to make a lot of calls. I don’t know whom she’s talking to so much or why she doesn’t use her cell phone. She seems to be avoiding all of her old friends.”
Chaim paused under the broad branches of a sycamore. “I can venture a guess,” he responded. “She must be talking to the rabbanim who are sorting out her get. It could be that there are problems. If she’s speaking to someone in Eretz Yisrael, she would probably use the landline. I haven’t heard anything about the divorce being finalized yet, have you?”
Adina gasped. “Of course! That must be it. No wonder she’s been so quiet.” Her face saddened. “And this poor baby being born amidst such conflict. I still think…” She caught sight of Chaim’s expression and suggested abruptly, “It’s getting cold. Let’s go home.”

* * *
When Chaim arrived back from work the next day, Adina greeted him enthusiastically. “Guess what?” she enthused, handing him a cup of coffee and a plate of his favorite caramel-pecan cookies. “I’ve come up with the best plan. I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me before. I’ll go to the hospital with Sara when she has her baby! Oh, don’t look at me like that. It’s a fabulous idea. My mother is at work during the day, most evenings she’s volunteering at the bridal gemach, and at night she’s exhausted. I’m much more flexible. If I stay up late, I can sleep in the next day. And just seeing a brand-new neshamah will be so—” There was a thump as Chaim set his mug down a little too firmly.
“Adina, stop,” he said gently. “Your mind is running away with you again. Think logically. Just because you want to go doesn’t mean that Sara wants you there. I know she’s your sister and you’ve become much closer recently, but this is her baby and she has to feel comfortable. Don’t you think your being there would be hard for her?”
“But I could help her!” Adina pleaded. “I could take her mind off things, give her a massage, say Tehillim…”
Chaim rubbed his eyes tiredly. “Maybe she wants a companion with a little experience,” he suggested cautiously. “Don’t women like to take someone along who’s been properly trained? You know, a labor coach or whatever it’s called. She’s probably booked one already.”
Chaim was right. The ringing telephone woke Adina early one Wednesday morning, 15 days before Sara’s due date. Chaim had already left for shul. Upon his return, she broke the news. “Sara had a boy at 5:15 this morning,” she stated curtly as she broke eggs into a bowl. “She had a labor coach, as you said she would. My mother was there, too. She didn’t want to wake us up, so she waited until 7:00 to call.”
Chaim could hear the tremor in her voice. “Mazel tov,” he said softly. “How do you feel? Are you okay?”
Adina scrambled the eggs with unnecessary force. “My feelings don’t matter. It’s Sara and the baby who are important now.” Tersely, she heaped Chaim’s breakfast onto his plate. She didn’t join him at the table but moved around the kitchen distractedly. Shaking toaster crumbs into the sink, Adina told him that she had offered to buy some baby clothes for Sara, as she’d borrowed a hospital layette from a gemach but now needed her own things. She brushed away Chaim’s concerns. “It’s fine. Really. I want to see the baby anyway. And it’s not as if I have to go far. They sell all these things locally.”

* * *

Adina parked outside the large store she’d visited with Sara to look at strollers. No inferior quality goods for this baby, she’d decided. The shop held rack after rack of adorable tiny garments. Checking her list, Adina had a blast filling her basket with adorable items, mostly in shades of blue. At the checkout, the bored teenage cashier asked through a wad of gum, “Do you want any gift bags?”
Adina felt her face growing hot. It was obvious that the purchases weren’t for her. She wasn’t heavily pregnant or toting a newborn. Grabbing the receipt, she fled to her car to compose herself.

* * *

The maternity ward was noisy and filled with visitors. Clutching her packages, Adina hurried towards the correct room. It was easy to spot Sara. She was the only one all alone, sitting up in bed and flicking through a magazine. Her face lit up when she saw Adina.
“I’m so glad you came! I can see you brought a ton of stuff. Thank you so much!”
Adina leaned over to give her sister a hug, her eyes flicking over to the tiny bassinet by the bed.
“Mazel tov! How are you feeling? Do you want to see what I—Oh, my goodness!”
Her attention was caught by an enormous cellophane-wrapped teddy bear, adorned with cascading ribbons and three bobbing helium balloons, that was sitting on Sara’s nightstand. Adina eyed it curiously. Who could it be from? It wasn’t really her parents’ style, but maybe they’d gotten it anyway, given the circumstances.
“Cute, isn’t it?” commented Sara. “The bear is bigger than the whole baby.”
“Who gave it to you?” asked Adina.
Sara fiddled with her blanket, hesitating. “It’s from…Meir,” she replied quietly.
Meir? The shopping bags slipped unnoticed from Adina’s grasp as she gaped at her sister. “I don’t understand. He’s in England? He came to visit you?”
“No. He ordered it from Eretz Yisrael. But he’ll be flying in tomorrow for Shabbos, for the shalom zachar. And im yirtzeh Hashem the bris milah will be next week, and then eventually the pidyon haben. He wants to be around.”
Adina sat down, shocked. “But won’t that be really awkward, seeing him after all this time? Isn’t it a bit…inappropriate?”
Sara looked around the room. “Would you mind closing the curtain?” she requested guardedly. “There’s something I need to tell you.” Enclosed in a modicum of privacy behind the blue fabric, she continued.
“I didn’t say anything to you before because I wasn’t sure how things would turn out. But Meir and I… We’re probably getting back together.”
Adina stared. “What? I don’t understand, I thought—”
“It was all my fault that we split up,” Sara explained in a low voice. “Meir never wanted to. And part of the idea of me coming back to England was that I would go to therapy and speak to rabbanim. I didn’t really want to, at first. I was too angry and self-centered. But you know what made me take the first step? Seeing you and Chaim. You have such a great marriage—and you were so nice to me! How did you do it?” she asked wonderingly. “The situation must have been so hard for you, but I never heard you complain. You were so unselfish. You did everything you could for me, more than I’ve ever done for anyone.” She reached for her sister’s hand. “Adina, you are my role model. I wish I could be just like you.” She raised her brimming eyes to Adina’s. Tentatively, she asked, “Do you think it’s too late?”
Speech was frozen in Adina’s throat and she felt dizzy with confusion. Sara wanted to be like her? How was that possible?
From next to the bed came a small snuffling noise, followed by a whimper. “Oh, the baby!” Sara exclaimed. “He woke up.” She reached into the bassinet and tenderly lifted out her tiny, perfect, beautiful son, her tear-stained face glowing with love.
Pain clawed at Adina’s heart as she looked on. Then Sara said, “Would you mind holding him while I look through everything you brought me? You are the best sister ever!”
Mind? Vaguely, Adina heard Sara’s enthusiastic approval of all the items she’d purchased.
Embracing the precious bundle, she delicately stroked a petal-soft cheek. Chaim was right, she thought silently. No one could give you up. How could I have suggested it? Sara thinks I’ve been unselfish, but the whole time I was really thinking only of myself. A tear trickled onto the baby’s head. He squirmed in her grasp and began to cry. Sara reached out to take him and Adina’s arms were achingly empty once more.
The curtain twitched open and a woman in a white tunic appeared. “Is it convenient to do your newborn hearing screen now?” she asked.
Reluctantly, Adina stood up. “I’d better leave. Ma told me you’re coming home tomorrow, so I guess I’ll see you then. Mazel tov again.” She leaned over to caress the tiny head one last time. Impulsively, Sara reached an arm around her sister’s shoulders and gave her a hug.
“Being in labor is an eis ratzon,” she told her older sister with emotion, “so I want you to know that I davened for you and Chaim that your tefillos should be answered. I know it’s a cliché and I’m not saying it to hurt you, but im yirtzeh Hashem by you.”
Adina smiled valiantly and returned the hug. “Amein,” she whispered. “And you know what? Im yirtzeh Hashem by you, too.”

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