I was going out of my mind. For no good reason, the kid we call Eli took the rap for whatever happened in the abandoned caravan. I mean, there were little boys and girls in there and we didn’t know anything until much later. Eli’s best friend was in there; he had evaded a weekend trip with his parents, so we said sure, Ido can stay with us.
We had just blown into the yishuv (settlement) a month ago. We hardly spoke Hebrew, and believed people were innocent until proven guilty, and we didn’t know Ido very well. We had just wanted to be nice when Ido’s parents asked us to put him up for the weekend.
Eli had made a bed for him and prepared Ido’s favorite osh plav, an Uzbek chicken dish with rice, onions and grated carrots. But that night, on Shabbat, Eli couldn’t get Ido to leave the abandoned caravan on the edge of the yishuv. He cried and begged, and Ido wouldn’t listen. I didn’t know enough Hebrew to reason with the kid.
After Shabbat, the nightmare started. Eli had done nothing wrong at all, but the settlers, social workers, and police blamed him anyway. And things got worse: The school principal came to the caravan where we lived and informed us with a very sad face that Eli and his brothers would have to find another place to learn Torah.
If Eli and his brothers stayed in the school, all the other parents would pull their kids out.
This declaration almost tore our family apart. Nathan wanted to stay in that settlement and fight it out. I said no; folks here just never learned the laws of evil speech. The laws are many, so I printed out some of them:
Like, when is it okay to say something bad about someone?
1. First, you have to make sure that something happened.
Like did you see it with your own eyes?
2. And if it’s hearsay, you still must make sure the guy did something wrong.
3. You have to speak to the bad guy first to get him to fix what he did.
4. You can’t blow up the story to make it worse than it was.
5. All you can want is to help the hurt person; you can’t want to hurt the accused person or do the same bad deed yourself.
6. If you can fix things without saying something bad, you must do that.
7. You can’t say something bad if the guy you blame suffers more than Jewish Law asks.
Folks, I would love to tell you that I walked around the settlement door to door, spreading the light of the holy Chofetz Chaim, and every person said wow, thanks, Alizah; hey, I never knew that!
That didn’t happen. People said hey, nobody does that in real life; and that made me feel kind of like an idiot.
So, why was this happening? Was it because of the bad things I had said years ago while getting a divorce, or what?
Maybe. Or maybe G-d was getting us ready for something fantastic.
The good part in this story came when we moved out of that settlement and, after discovering that every Torah school in the Negev had been warned about this dangerous kid called Eli, by a miracle we found one principal who had also been visited by these guys, and this one principal stood up and took a book from the shelf about guarding your tongue and declared he would not listen to one bad word about the boy.
People tell you to go out and seek the true tzadik, right? and they say keep trying, even if it takes a lifetime, because it’s not easy but it’s worth the trouble. I never understood what this meant, and how you can tell if the guy is a true tzadik or not? But it just happened that way; we had trudged from school to school and at last we found him. In fact, the whole gang was wonderful. The teachers loved the kids. I thought they were angels, made of light and sweetness, and yes, they were–but get this: after my last kid had graduated and moved somewhere else, the school disappeared, and the principal moved to Jerusalem.
Which meant to me that the entire outfit had materialized from the super-duper energy Eli had made when the people insulted him and kicked him off the school bus and out of the clubhouse, and all Eli did was keep quiet and never once freak out.