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April 11, 2014

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Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

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Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

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Jewish World Review Sept. 4, 2007 / 22 Elul, 5767

An Inconvenient Friend

By Libby Lazewnik

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She knew what was real and what wasn't, even if I didn't

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | I never made a decision to be friends with Chavi. She was always just sort of — there.

Our mothers were friends, you see — best friends — so it was only natural that their children would be thrown together a lot. And with Chavi and I being about the same age, everyone expected us to become just as close as our mothers were.

In a way, we did. Chavi was as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror. After all, we'd first met as infants and had spent the last twelve years growing up together. We used to see each other pretty often even before Chavi's family moved around the corner from us. After that, it was just about every day. If we weren't actually playing together, we were running in and out of one another's homes to borrow a cup of sugar or whatever else our mothers might need. I knew every detail of Chavi's house, and she knew mine. Her sisters and brothers were practically like my own.

So, though I never actually made a decision to be Chavi's friend, I ended up being one as a matter of course. Being a couple of months younger than I, she just missed the deadline for entering kindergarten when I did. That meant that I would always be a grade higher than her. At first, this bothered us both a lot. But we soon got used to the situation, and still spent so much time together after school and on weekends that it hardly made a difference that we couldn't be in the same class at school.

For twelve years, Chavi and I were like that. And then — overnight, it seemed — she suddenly became... an inconvenience.

Here's how it happened.

As I started the seventh grade, glorying in my status as an upper classman, second only to the eighth-graders (who were too dazzling for words), I suddenly found it slightly embarrassing to be friends with a sixth-grader. In school, I started avoiding her. Chavi didn't seem to notice. She was busy with her own classmates and schoolwork — as was I. After school, I often invited girls over to do homework together or to study for tests, which naturally meant that Chavi was left out. She didn't seem to care much about that, either. She was content to wait for Sabbath and Sunday, the two days that we traditionally spent in each other's company.

Right now, that tradition seemed to be cracking in places. In the early days of the new school year I still hung around with Chavi some, but more and more I was finding my free time taken up with my own classmates... especially a new girl who'd entered our school that year. Her name was Tzippora.

Not Tzippy-for-short. Tzipporah — as in the Hebrew word for a lovely, graceful bird.

Privately, I thought she was even more like a butterfly, flitting from flower to flower with airy unconcern. She was petite, with features as delicate as — well, as a butterfly's. I spent the first couple of weeks of school earnestly cultivating her friendship. She'd gravitated naturally toward the most popular girls in the class, Yael and Dassy, but now and then she found some time for me, too. When that happened, I was deliriously happy.

"Why the big smile?" Chavi asked, as she sauntered into my house one Sunday morning in late September. Having no other plans, I'd agreed to spend the day with Chavi, doing whatever might strike our fancy — or nothing, if that was what we preferred.

I had the grace to blush. "What smile?"

"The one that's plastered all over face. Did you win the lottery, or what?"

"No lottery." I gave her a foolish grin. "I just had a nice phone call, that's all. From a girl in my class."

"Who? Tzippy?"

I could feel my cheeks turning even pinker. "How'd you guess?"

"You've been talking about her a lot lately." Chavi took off her glasses, gave them a good spritz from the bottle of cleaner fluid she always kept in her pocket, and began to rub vigorously with the special soft cloth she'd brought along. "Want me to wipe yours, too?" she asked helpfully.

With a shrug, I handed my glasses over. I never realized how smudged the lenses were until after Chavi gave them one of her super-duper treatments. I used to laugh at her for carrying around her glasses-cleaning paraphernalia wherever she went, but I had to admit: The results were impressive.

"By the way," I said, as she began cleaning my glasses, "her name's Tzipporah. Not Tzippy."

"Same thing, isn't it?" She handed back my glasses. I put them on, and the world suddenly seemed a brighter place.

"Thanks," I said. "And no, it's not the same thing. Not exactly." I was ready to drop the subject — but Chavi wasn't.

"So what did Tzippy say to make you smile like that?" As she spoke, she strolled over to the fridge and helped herself to a tangerine.

"It's nothing, Chavi." My tone said, Drop it. We ended up sharing a tangerine, while I listened with half an ear to Chavi's remarks and tried to figure out what to do about my upcoming birthday.

It was the season of the Bas Mitzvah, with parties and celebrations sprouting like a rash (not a very elegant simile, but it fit the situation!) My parents were planning a family gathering to mark the day for me, but they had also offered me a modest outing with a few friends, if I wanted.

I wanted. I wanted to go somewhere really nice, and to take along (who else?) Tzippora. I figured inviting Dassy and Yael, too, would sweeten the deal for Tzippora and make her more likely to accept. The Yamim Tovim were late this year, and I thought we might do something the following Sunday, before things heated up at home. A trip to our favorite park, maybe — and a canoe ride in Piney Run Lake. Our family always loved doing that.

"A wonderful idea," Ma said with approval. "Why don't you call your friends and fix it up? We can bring along a picnic supper and have it in the park."

"And our frisbees, and baseballs," my brother exclaimed.

"And our roller skates," my little sister chimed in.

As excited plans began to swirl around us, I found my mother's eyes on me. "So who are you planning to invite?" she asked.

"Tzipporah," I said promptly. "And Yael, and Dassy."

Ma waited.

I avoided her eyes, saying nothing. It was my sister who said it for me.

"What about Chavi?"

"Yes," Ma said quietly. "What about Chavi?"

I hesitated. Never before had Chavi's friendship seemed like such an inconvenient thing. I mean, she was okay to have around as a general rule — but the thought of including her in my special outing with my special new friends made me wince. It would be like mixing oil and vinegar, never an easy thing...

But not including Chavi would mean all sorts of embarrassing explanations and in the end Ma would probably make me invite her anyway. So I mumbled, "Of course I'll invite Chavi. I never said I wouldn't, did I?"

"You didn't say you would," my sister pointed out.

"I'll go call her now," I said, scrambling to my feet. It would give me an excuse to leave the table and my mother's probing glance — and inviting Chavi would be a kind of warm-up or rehearsal for the really important calls I'd be making later — to Tzipporah and the others.

Everyone accepted my invitation. A sunny day was forecast for my birthday outing. Ma packed a cooler full of delicious-looking food, plus a cake she refused to let me see until it was time to bring it out for dessert in the park. Then, she assured me, to the strains of "Happy birthday" I'd get to cut the first slice...

We took two cars, because ours wasn't enough for my family and friends. By some clever maneuvering, I managed to seat myself in Daddy's car with Tzippora and my other classmates, while Chavi ended up with my brothers and sister in Ma's minivan. I was very conscious of the new outfit I was wearing (even though Ma had advised against wearing something so new and pretty to go canoeing in the lake). Tzippora's outfit cast mine in the shade, but I didn't care about that. Her frequent bouts of giggling (Tzippora was a big giggler) made it almost impossible to carry on any sort of real conversation, but I didn't mind that, either. It was enough to know that I was in my father's car, with Tzipporah beside me and a fabulous outing just ahead. We would spend the afternoon and early part of the evening together, and by the time it was over, our friendship (I hoped) would have been firmly cemented for the rest of the beautiful year ahead...

There was a flash of blue through the green of the evergreen trees. "Piney Run!" my little sister would be shouting in the other car. And my brothers would be craning their necks for their first real glimpse of the lake. And Chavi would say... But I didn't want to think about what Chavi would say. I was worried enough about the things she might say in front of my classmates today. For a second, I entertained a wistful image of this birthday outing, minus Chavi's embarrassing presence. Who needed a sixth-grader along at a time like this? Especially one like Chavi. Why, she might say anything...

"Hi, everyone!" It was Chavi's voice, and it was coming to us across the parking lot as my younger siblings tumbled happily out of the minivan in her wake. I waved stiffly, then returned my attention to Tzippora and the others.

"Do you want to take out canoes?" I asked. "There are kayaks, too, but those are just for one person each."

"Canoes sound like fun," Tzippora fluted. In chorus, her friends agreed with her. We made our way down to the sparkling lake, which seemed to be waiting especially for us. Only we girls would be canoeing today. Ma was going to watch my little sister in the playground, while my two younger brothers had opted to run around on the grass instead, playing frisbee and ball with my father.

Daddy went to hire the boats. There would be two of them, as each canoe held only three people. The attendant pulled the first canoe up to the pier and invited us to get in. Politely — I was the hostess, after all — I stepped aside and let my guests get in first.

Tzipporah was the first one in. She took the middle seat, where she sat like a princess on her throne, looking around at the rest of us with a musical giggle. Dassy and Yael quickly followed, Dassy taking the front seat and Yael choosing the rear, where she would do most of the steering. I was dismayed. I hadn't thought this out. It had all happened to quickly... The second boat was ready, and the attendant cheerfully calling, "You two girls next. Hop in!"

We hopped in — first Chavi, then me. After all my carefully planning for this outing, all my technicolor dreams of spending this time with Tzipporah — here I was, stuck in the other canoe with only Chavi for company!

"Want a bottle of water?" Chavi called over to the other boat, holding one up. "Paddling's gonna be thirsty work. Feel that sun."

"No, thanks," Tzipporah giggled. "I'm fine."

"You may be making a mistake... I know what," Chavi said. "You could put it in your skirt pocket. It's big enough."

Airily, Tzipporah shook her head. "Too bulky." She called something over her shoulder to Dassy, and they both laughed.

"She's going to be sorry she didn't take the water," Chavi remarked. "Look at that sun. It's flaming!"

It was my cheeks that were flaming — with embarrassment. I wished Chavi would sit quietly and enjoy the ride, without offering Tzipporah and the others her advice or help. I peeked over my shoulder at her, on the rear seat. Chavi was busy polishing her glasses with her special spray and cloth. She looked up at me, and grinned. Much too loud, she called, "Want me to wipe yours, too?"

She was wiping out any chance I might have had of making a good impression on my new friends. Gritting my teeth, I threw a sideways glance at the other boat, to see if anyone had heard. Tzippora was giggling again, but I couldn't be sure why.

"Let's start!" I called, anxious to put some space between our canoe and theirs before Chavi could do any more damage.

"Don't sink the boat!" Chavi called out merrily to the other canoe.

I clenched my jaw. She was sinking my chances of being a social success with these important girls, that's what she was doing...

Off we went, our canoe gliding across the glassy lake like a strangely-shaped swan. Behind us, Tzippora's canoe was moving more slowly. In a minute, I saw why. The girls were fooling around — using their paddles the wrong way, passing them back and forth to each other, even getting up to switch seats. I could have told them that this was a mistake: Canoes are not the most stable boats in the world. But I held my tongue, and Chavi — too busy steering to notice the others' antics — thankfully did, too.

We were out in the center of the lake now. The trees, just beginning to be tinged with autumn's palette (I'd read that expressions somewhere, and it described that early-fall day perfectly), floated past us in a stream of perfect color. Behind us, I heard a shout.

"A fish! Look, Yael, it was swimming right over there. Did you see it! It was so big..." Tzipporah was chattering excitedly, leaning over the side of the canoe in her effort to find the elusive fish.

"Wanna switch seats?" Dassy called. "Maybe you'll be able to see better from here."

Tzipporah got up, giggling at the precarious way the canoe tilted in protest. Dassy rose at the same time. The canoe thought it over for a second or two, and then decided that it didn't like what was happening. With a gentle shrug, it tipped all three girls both neatly into the lake.

"Aaak!" Tzippora, who'd sunk momentarily, came up sputtering. "Help! I'm not a very good swimmer..." Though the attendant had urged us to wear our life vests, Tzippora had left hers off as "too bulky"...

Dassy was already at the canoe's side, where Yael was trying — while treading water — to turn it right-side up. Neither of them was anywhere near Tzippora, who had fallen on the canoe's other side — the side closest to us. I saw the beginnings of panic in those delicate blue eyes. Her clothes were dragging her down. On the other side of the canoe, Dassy and Yael were too busy with their recalcitrant canoe to even notice that Tzippora was in trouble. I froze, trying to decide the best way to help her.

Suddenly, something shot past me, headed straight for where Tzippora was frantically splashing. It was Chavi's paddle. Chavi leaned forward, holding the paddle out and calling encouragingly, "Grab hold of it, Tzipppora. We'll get you out in no time."

Tzippora grabbed hold, and Chavi hauled her closer to our canoe. Together, we helped her in — taking care not to tip our own boat over in the process. Tzippora sat shivering and shaken in the bottom of the canoe.

The other two girls had managed to right their canoe by this time, and were clambering aboard. Seeing Tzippora seated in ours, Yael called out, "You should see your hair, Tzippora! Looks like seaweed!"

"Th-thanks a lot," Tzippora said, teeth chattering. Then, to me: "Sorry to cut this short, but can we go back to shore now?"

"Of course!" With one accord, Chavi and I began to paddle toward shore. Chavi offered Tzippora a water bottle, which she accepted this time. Then she offered me one, too.

"Why'd you bring so many?" I asked curiously.

"I just brought enough for all of us, that's all." She seemed surprised at the question.

And suddenly, so was I.

It felt like ages since I'd remembered how nice people could be — people like Chavi, that is. How they could offer their help and schlep extra supplies, just because that was the way they were. The way things ought to be. For too long (though it had been only a few weeks, since school began) I'd been keeping company with people who cared more about how they looked than about how other people felt; who preferred meaningless laughter to meaningful conversation. People who, when all was said and done, made me more uncomfortable that I'd liked to admit.

People who weren't — Chavi.

We had to cut our outing short to get Tzippora home for some dry clothes. At their request, we dropped Yael and Dassy off at their own homes, too. We ended up having our picnic supper on our own back patio, with just the family and Chavi in attendance. When Ma brought out the birthday cake and everyone sang to me, I felt my eyes brimming with a whole mix of feelings that I couldn't put into words.

Chavi saw my awkwardness with the knife. "Want me to help cut it up?" she offered helpfully.

I was all cut up over the way I'd been treating her, but she didn't seem to mind. She knew what was real and what wasn't, even if I hadn't for a while.

My eyes had blurred, making my glasses wet. Without a word, Chavi handed over her spray and cloth. I rubbed hard. When I put the glasses back on my nose, the first thing I saw was my inconvenient friend, grinning at me.

And, for some reason that had little to do with the special spray, the world suddenly seemed a brighter place.

JewishWorldReview.com regularly publishes uplifting and inspirational stories. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Libby Lazewnik, the highly acclaimed juvenile author, writes weekly for the Monsey, New York-based Yated Ne'eman. Comment by clicking here.

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