Esther Leibowitz and the Case of the Missing Shabbos Candles
by Talia Weisberg, age 16, from NY
Illustrated by Leia Resnick, age 10, from MA
Part 1: The Crime
“Mommy! I’m home from school!” I called out as I walked into my house, kissing the mezuzah. As I took off my jacket and put down my backpack, I breathed in the typical pre-Shabbos smells: cooking cholent, chicken, and kugel, mixed with the scent of lemon Pledge.
“Esther Esther Esther!” my younger brothers Dovie and Menachem shouted, half-attacking me when I got through the door.
“Hey, Dovie and Menachem,” I said. “I need to go see if Mommy needs help getting ready for Shabbos. Go play in your room.” They scampered off and I went to the kitchen, where Mommy was cooking.
“Hi, Esther,” Mommy said. “Could you get the box of Shabbos candles from the cabinet under the sink? The doctor said that I should avoid bending.” She put a hand on her pregnant belly and smiled.
“Sure,” I said, sitting on the floor and peering into the overflowing cabinet. “I don’t see it,” I told her.
Mommy frowned. “It has to be there,” she said. “It’s a light blue box towards the front. That’s where I always keep it.”
I rummaged around the cupboard, even sticking my head inside, but I couldn’t find the box of candles. “I can’t find it,” I said, giving up.
“I really just knew that it was there,” Mommy said, looking upset. “I was positive. And the box was almost full. Do you have an idea where it might have gone?” Dovie and Menachem ran through the kitchen behind us, screaming and yelling. Mommy and I rolled our eyes at the boys’ silly antics, and then resumed wondering what could have happened to the candles.
“I don’t know what happened to them,” I said, trying to remember if I had seen them since last Shabbos. “Well, I guess you have to use candles from a different box. Where do you keep the other one?”
“That was my last box,” Mommy said, looking worried. “Since it was almost full, I didn’t bother buying another one yet. Oh no! I need to light Shabbos candles in a couple hours, but I don’t have any candles here!”
“What are you going to do?” I exclaimed.
“Could you go to Bubbe and Zaidy’s and ask if we can borrow candles?” Mommy asked.
“Of course!” I said, happy for an excuse to go to Bubbe and Zaidy’s house. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
As I left the kitchen, Dovie and Menachem ran past me, playing with something I didn’t bother looking at. I didn’t have time for them. Mommy sent me on a mission! I walked the few blocks to Bubbe and Zaidy’s house and rang the familiar doorbell. Bubbe opened the door a few seconds later.
“Esther!” she said when she saw me. “Give your bubbe a hug!” I happily embraced her, breathing in her pre-Shabbos smell of freshly-baked challah. “Come in, come in!”
I followed Bubbe into the kitchen, where Zaidy was putting a pan of chicken cutlets into the oven. “Esther! What brings you here so close to Shabbos?” he asked.
“Mommy doesn’t know where her box of candles went, so she sent me over here to ask if we could borrow a few,” I said.
Bubbe shook her head, looking upset. “Oy vey! I’m sorry, Estelah, but I’m using my last ones now.” She motioned to her silver candlesticks. “I don’t have any extras to spare.”
“Oh, no! Where are we going to get candles now?” I said, worried.
“You said that the candles were lost?” Zaidy asked.
“Then I think you have to find them,” Bubbe said.
“I guess so,” I said glumly. “Well, good Shabbos!”
“Good Shabbos,” Bubbe and Zaidy replied.
When I got home, I broke the news to Mommy. She looked really upset. “Should I try to find the candles?” I asked.
Mommy looked hopeful. “Do you think you can, Esther?”
“I hope so,” I said hesitantly.
“I have to cook, then,” Mommy said. “I cook, you look.” We both laughed. “Good luck!”
Part 2: The Investigation
Unsure of where to start, I looked at the cabinet again. Dovie and Menachem came over to me.
“Esther Esther Esther!” they screamed at me. “Play with us!”
“I can’t,” I said. “I need to help Mommy and find her missing Shabbos candles.” I tried not to be smug with importance. “I don’t have time to play with you two.”
Undisturbed, they ran away. I began searching around the cabinet for clues, not entirely sure what I was looking for. I noticed a flash of green from the side. When I inspected it closer, I saw a puzzle piece that Dovie or Menachem had probably dropped there ages ago. I ignored it and continued prowling the area for a clue, going on all fours for a better vantage point. I felt something weird on my fingers, and saw traces of white talcum powder all over them. When I looked closer at the floor, I could see a trail of powder. I crawled on my hands and knees, following the path. My excitement heightened. Could the trail lead me to whoever took the Shabbos candles?
“Oof,” I heard Mommy say. I looked up and saw that I had crawled right into her legs. “Esther? Are you okay? Why are you crawling on the floor?”
“I’m fine,” I said. I looked for the continuation of the trail, but it seemed to end at Mommy. I stood up. “I found powder on the floor and thought the trail might lead me to whoever took the Shabbos candles, but it led me into you, and it doesn’t look like it continues.”
Mommy laughed. “The powder’s from me, probably,” she said. “I’ve been going back and forth to that cabinet and the sink all day. It makes sense that I left a trail.”
“I guess I need to find another clue,” I said. “I found one of Dovie and Menachem’s puzzle pieces, but that’s not a clue, since they probably lost it there ages ago. They make such a mess and never clean up.”
“Whatever you say, Esther,” Mommy said. “This is your investigation.”
I decided to call my best friend Penina and see what she would think of the case. I went into the living room and dialed her number.
“Hi, Penina, it’s Esther,” I said, then told her all about the missing Shabbos candles.
“Well, have you really checked everywhere for them?” she asked.
“Well, not literally,” I admitted. I went around the house, even looking through the most unlikely spots. “Is there a point to looking for the candles in Dovie and Menachem’s room?” I asked Penina as I stared at the closed door to their room.
“You can try,” Penina said half-heartedly.
I knocked on the door. “Dovie? Menachem? Can I come in?”
“Go away!” they yelled. “No girls allowed!”
I rolled my eyes and walked away. “They won’t let me in. But Mommy would never have put the Shabbos candles in their room anyway.” I went back into the living room and flumped onto the couch. “I don’t know what to do! I’ve looked everywhere in the house, and I couldn’t find any clues.” I heard the front door open, and Tatty’s voice boomed through the house.
“I gotta go, Penina, okay?”
“Okay! Good luck finding the candles, and good Shabbos!”
“Good Shabbos,” I said, and we hung up.
“Esther?” I heard Tatty say.
“Tatty!” I got up and hugged him.
“So how was school today?” Tatty asked me.
“It was good.” I told him a little bit about school, and then updated him about the missing Shabbos candles situation.
“Hmm. This is a mystery,” Tatty said.
After he went into the kitchen to help Mommy out, I combed through all of the closets and rooms one more time. Even after I made sure to look in every corner, I couldn’t find the light blue candle box that Mommy misplaced.
“Any luck?” Mommy asked when I came to the kitchen after my second search.
“No,” I said glumly, disappointed that I wasn’t able to help Mommy. “I looked everywhere! In every closet, every room, every place a box could fit, and I just couldn’t find it.”
“Well, I did find one loose candle rolling around in the back of the cabinet,” Mommy said, showing me a battered, discolored, very old candle. “So at least I can light tonight.”
“That’s good,” I admitted. “But I still want to find that box.”
“I could’ve used up the box and forgotten,” Mommy said, trying to make me feel better. “You know I do stuff like that all the time!”
“Yeah, like last time we were at the supermarket and you bought two more apple juices even though we had three full bottles in the house,” I said.
Mommy chuckled. “See! Don’t feel bad, Esther. You did a great job, and it means a lot to me that you helped out. Go get dressed for Shabbos now. I’ve got all the cooking done, and Tatty is doing some cleaning for me.”
“Okay,” I said. “I want to look at the cabinet one more time, though.”
Giving up, I searched the cabinet under the sink one more time. There wasn’t anything there, just as I expected. I shut the cabinet door, still feeling bad that I hadn’t found the box of candles, and felt something sticky on my hand. I looked and saw a smear of strawberry jelly.
“What did you give Dovie and Menachem for lunch today?”
“Um, I don’t remember,” she said distractedly, taking a pan out of the oven.
“Try to think. It’s important,” I stressed.
“It was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Mommy said.
“What kind of jelly?”
“It would have to be strawberry,” she replied. “They don’t like grape.”
“Then I think I’ve found the candles,” I said.
Part 3: The Solution
“Where are they?” Mommy asked, looking at my empty hands.
“Ill be right back.” I ran to Dovie and Menachem’s room and opened the door. They were sitting on the floor, their backs to me. “Dovie? Menachem? What are you doing?”
“Building a house!” Menachem said. I went over to where they were playing and saw the discarded candle box, and a small building made out of Mommy’s Shabbos candles.
“Where did you get these?” I asked.
“From the cabinet under the sink,” Dovie said.
“Do you know what these are?” I asked them.
They shrugged. “Blocks,” Menachem said.
I laughed. “They’re candles! Mommy needs to light them for Shabbos, you silly boys!”
“Oh,” they said, looking sad. “So we can’t play with them anymore?”
“How about I give you my old blocks? They’re better to play with than these,” I said.
“Okay!” Dovie and Menachem exclaimed enthusiastically. I got my long-unused box of blocks from my room and gave it to the boys, then collected the candles into their box.
“I found the candles,” I sang as I walked into the kitchen, and told Mommy how Dovie and Menachem took them to play with, not realizing they weren’t toys.
Mommy laughed. “Oy vey! Only you, my smart Esther, my finder of hidden things, could have figured that out!”
“I feel silly, though,” I said. “Dovie and Menachem kept wanting to play with me, and I kept saying no because I was too busy trying to find the candles. Had I taken a moment to play with them, I would have found them sooner.”
“I guess that just shows we always have to spare some time for our siblings, even when we’re busy,” Mommy said. “However long it took, thank you so much, Estelah!”
“It’s nothing, Mommy,” I said. “I’m just glad that you can light Shabbos candles this week!”
“Me too,” Mommy said, giving me a big hug. “Hooray for Esther Leibowitz, Jewish girl detective!”
Stay tuned for more Esther Leibowitz adventures in each issue!