I shut the door softly. But it was too late.
“Where are you going?” nine-year-old Abby asked. Do little sisters need to know everything?
“Just going to Jessica’s,” I said, quickly walking away from more questions.
My feet, by habit, started to turn right, but I quickly turned left towards the forest. I thought to myself, Why should I go the long way and have time to ponder all my troubling thoughts? The shortcut is a bit prickly and uneven, but it will distract me and get me there more quickly.
I began walking quickly. And I tried — I really tried — not to think about my life and how it had changed since Daddy died. It had been ten whole years. I was just five. Why think about it now? But I knew why. Now that I’d reached the age of fifteen, I felt that I want to know where my life was headed. Maybe that’s why I chose Jessica, the life of the party, as my friend — to get away from my thoughts. But I could never run away from the future.
I tripped over a rock and it brought me back to reality. Where am I? I thought. The place is not familiar and it doesn’t look like Jessica’s neighborhood. Uh oh! I’m lost. It’s getting dark and I’ve even forgotten my phone.
I looked around. There were a few small houses. I went to the one that looked the lightest and knocked on the door. A man with a short beard and a black hat and jacket answered. He said something but I didn’t hear; I was focused on the captivating scene in front of me.
There ahead, I could see a lady and two girls with their eyes covered, standing in front of beautiful candlesticks with dancing flames. Suddenly a scene came to my mind. I was a girl of five with pigtails, ribbons, and a dress. I was standing next to a lady who seemed to be Mom but looked a bit different. Suddenly it hit me: Shabbos. Shabbos candles.
The mother and the girls by the candles finished and walked toward me, peering at my pale face.
“Are you ok? Please sit down. What is your name?” the mother asked me.
I sat down on the edge of a chair.
“I’m Orlee,” I whispered hoarsely.
“You’re Jewish!” the younger girl said.
“Well, we used to be. But after my father died, ten years ago, my mother — well, she didn’t really want to be religious anymore.” I explain.
“Orlee, you are a Jew, and forever you will be one,” the mother told me.
The family did not seem to mind my mini-skirt and short sleeves as they explained the gift of Shabbos to me. They invited me to stay for the meal, but I needed to digest everything that had just happened. They gave me directions and I walked home, completely forgetting Jessica.
When I came home, Mom was sprawled on the couch, reading. Abby was at her side, explaining how she could go to sleep late that night because it’s the weekend and she knew how to sleep in like Orlee.
“Hello Orlee, glad you’re home. How was Jessica’s?” Mom asked me.
I kept quiet.
“Mom, w-why why can’t we be Jewish? Why can’t we keep Shabbos? Why can’t we light Shabbos candles? I want to, Mom — I really want to light Shabbos candles. It’s so special, so –”
“NO, NO AND NO! No way are you lighting Shabbos candles in my home! And don’t you mention this again!” Mom yelled angrily and marches up to her room.
I noticed Abby in the corner of the room, shocked, weeping quietly. She had never, ever seen her calm mother like this. And she didn’t know what this was all about. She barely knew what it means to be a Jew. One day she will, I promised myself, no matter what.
“Orlee, what did you do?!” she said, as if I had committed some kind of crime. She ran up to her room, too.
And then I, Orlee Segal, was all alone in the family room. But I felt like I was all alone in the world.
“Look at the sun starting to set. It’s stunning!” Abby exclaimed, exactly a week later.
My stomach twisted. I bet there were more knots in there than in Abby’s old, tangled jump rope, still somewhere in the back of her closet.
I knew what this meant. I was time to light Shabbos candles. And that’s what I was about to do.
“Are you all right, Orlee? You look like a ghost!” Abby told me.
“One minute.” I said to her, running into the privacy of my room. Too bad the lock was broken, but at least Mom had gone out shopping. Last week, after “it” happened, Mom acted as if nothing had happened.
I searched through my purse, vaguely remembering the day around a month or two ago when I went to the mall with Jessica.
“Excuse me, are you Jewish?” someone had asked me.
“Uh, yeah.” I had mumbled.
“Would you like to light Shabbos candles?” she had asked.
“Oh, just come on, Orlee,” an annoyed Jessica had said.
I had grabbed the outstretched Shabbos candle kit and stuffed it into the back of my bag. I had totally forgotten about the treasure in my purse until now.
“Ah! Here it is.” Now I took the candle and set it out on my desk. I struck a small match and lit the candle. I read the blessing in English. With tears in my eyes, I added my own prayer to G-d.
“G-d, I don’t know why, but I really, really want to be Jewish. I want to light the candles, the Shabbos candles. I never felt this way before, but I wish Mom, Abby and I could be lighting these candles together.”
At this point, I really was crying.
The door suddenly opened. My heart nearly stopped. Abby walked in and stopped short at the sight. The room smelled of strawberry shampoo. I didn’t turn around. I was still awed by the magnificent candle being rained on by my tears.
I thought Abby would shriek but she just stood there, mouth hanging open. She seemed to also be awed by the candle.
Suddenly there was a voice. I froze. If you would try to count how many times my heart beat in that one minute, you would have to create a new number.
“Hi, girls. The store was closed so I just went to the accessory store nearby. I also –” My mother stopped mid-sentence as she entered the room, shocked.
I glanced behind me. There was open-mouthed, frozen Abby. And behind her was Mom, standing there frozen as well. Her face was so white, whiter than the stack of tissues on the floor, whiter than my freshly washed sheet — pure, pure white.
It looked like she wanted to say something so I waited and waited. And I waited. My heart slowed down to a normal pace and I even felt a feeling of calmness, serenity and tranquility. I waited a bit more until Mom spoke in the calmest, most pleasant of voices I have ever heard her speak in.
— Sara L. Weisberg, Age 11
New Jersey, USA