|An adopted Jewish girl is looking for
her roots. A surprising and exciting
plot is devised among the walls of a
Chicago hospital, the Ministry of
Justice in Washington, a shoe store in
'Petach Tikva' and a post office in
The Dividing Line
by C. Rosenberg
FAX: 718-871-8412 TEL: 718-871-8652
"Not a single creature has
the power to help or harm
either himself or others without
sanction from the Creator Himself"
With Divine Assistance
Words of Introduction
"Precept upon precept,
line, upon tine"
Praises unto Hashem, the Exalted.
Line upon line, a word in a sentence, one page added
to another to form - with the mercies of Hashem - a
completed work, hereby presented to you, awaiting your
reading enjoyment and impressions. I am grateful from
the depths of my heart for the rays of light and
knowledge that were sent to me from Heaven and that
guided me at every stage of the writing of this story. The
tale and its characters, the facts and the feelings - all are
a gift from Above.
The events described in this book do not happen to
most people, but the contending with difficult situations,
the pain that strides hand in hand with hope, the
suffering that closely embraces happiness, the faith and
the love, all are our companions throughout our lives. I
hope that these sensitive, human highlights will penetrate
your hearts and cause them to identify with the emotions
My thanks are extended to Mishpacka, the magazine
that published the story in weekly installments over the
course of a year.
My deep thanks are also extended to all the relatives
and friends who helped me in the course of writing this
tale and attempted as best they could to improve and
polish it. My blessings to my dear mother who read each
chapter before its publication and expressed her opinion
My book and I offer a 'travelers prayer':
"May it be the divine mil that You guide us to peace
and stride us to peace, and grant us grace and kindness in
the eyes of all our readers".
Wishing you pleasant and productive reading!
Giora Barak opened his eyes, startled by the
extended slumber that had overtaken him. He
should already have been in his laboratory,
busy developing the photos that the newspaper editor
had given him for his urgent attention. He leaped out of
bed, got himself ready, and was about to leave. He
wanted to say good-bye but noticed that his wife and
daughter were both gone.
He stood in the yard, stunned. Their pine tree - her
pine tree - had collapsed in the storm and was lying on
the ground. His fingers crept out instinctively to touch
the stricken trunk, the branches, and the needles that had
been thrown to the ground. His fingers verified the sight
reported by his eyes, and the wind's howling left no
doubt as to the perpetrator.
Forward.. Forward march. You have no time to stand
and agonize over a fallen tree. The films are waiting for
you; the editor is pressuring. They pay you handsomely
enough for you to produce the photos on time, not to
mourn over a fallen tree.
But his feet remained stationary, partially covered by
the thick branches and their fallen needles. He first
noticed her now, his wife Noa. She was leaning on the
fence; her eyes covered with her palms, sobbing audibly.
A pity he had not discovered the tree before she had; he
would have removed it, at least, and spared her the sight.
"You needn't cry", he said to her, sounding very
unconvincing, even to his own ears. "It's only a tree".
"It was her tree, you know", she replied without
looking at him.
Of course he knew. They had planted this tree in their
yard fifteen years before, when they had returned from
Chicago with their infant. Their joy had been too great,
too immense to be contained in their hearts. They had
felt the need to pour this perfect happiness into a vessel
and had chosen the act of planting a tree. He recalled
those moments and, briefly, it seemed to him that hardly
fifteen days, alone, had passed since then... Digging into
the ground; the trembling hand; inserting the seed. Noa,
hugging the baby girl, had turned her gaze to the seed.
"May they grow well together", she had said, and the
infant had smiled. And despite the fact that obstetricians
claim such a smile from a baby less than one month old
is not a smile at all but merely a reflex, they knew that
she had smiled. And she was still smiling at the age of
five, at ten, and at thirteen, sitting in its shade and
gathering up its pine cones.
"If it's only a tree, why aren't you going? You said
that you had some urgent work". Noa's words seem to
reach him from far away, even though she was standing
directly opposite him; they were wafted in the wind, and
they whistled in the storm before reaching his ears and
pounding upon them mercilessly.
"We can plant a new tree. We can plant a young
sapling here. It can take root immediately and grow", he
tried telling her, fearing her reaction.
"But it's her tree, and you know it. Why did it have to
fall?" she sobbed.
"It fell because of the storm, that's all. No need to
delve into everything and look for hidden significances
and calamities where none exist", he said to her.
She did not answer him. She approached the severed
trunk and leaned on it, frowning. Something was going
wrong; she had known it even before the storm. Their
Keren was worried; she tossed in bed at night, asked too
many questions, was too silent and withdrawn, was
absent from home too much. And now her tree, this one
tree out of all the others. Had the electric wires snapped,
had their tiled roof blown off, she was sure that she
would not have uttered a word. Thoughts of monetary
damages did not bother her; they didn't even move her
in the slightest. But Keren's tree... this foreboded
something evil in the offing, and she did not know how
to forestall it.
"We've brought you some Tu Bishvat fruits", Esther
said to her mother-in-law, Dvora. She took out a lovely
dish from her shopping bag and began piling it up high
with almonds, dates, and figs, a coconut, and even a
delectable, spiky pineapple.
Two-year-old Motti watched with greedy eyes.
"Want nana, want nana", he said to his grandmother.
They know, those little tikes, whom to ask.
"Take it all, give him everything - just don't leave it
here", said Savta, turning away from the fruit.
Esther was shocked. All right, she was prepared to
overlook the expected thanks, the elementary expression
of pleasure, but what was the meaning of these harsh
words? She drew back, not knowing what to do next.
"Did you tell Baruch that you were bringing me Tu
Bishvat fruits she asked.
"No", Esther answered defensively. Why would she
have to report to her husband that she was buying his
mother some Tu Bishvat fruits? They were always
looking for ways to gladden her. The widow had raised
her two children alone: one son was now married and
father to Motti and a baby girl, and the other son was
studying in yeshiva. The house was painfully empty;
what could have been more natural and proper than to
bring her American-born mother-in-law a platter of fruits
from those species in which Eretz Yisroel gloried?
"A pity you didn't tell him. Baruch knows how
sensitive I am about Tu Bishvat. Never mind; you meant
well", Dvora tried to regain her composure but still
refused to look at the fruit, as if she were afraid of being
unable to handle the pain.
"I'm sorry. Do you want me to take them away?"
Esther asked, confused.
"Do I want... It's not what I want. I want something
different altogether", answered her mother-in-law. And
again, her words concealed more than they revealed. The
baby began crying, and Motti wanted a fig. Esther
thanked them in her heart. They had rescued her from
this dilemma and forced her to tend to them, to calm
them, to open up a fig and inspect it, to return to
everyday words and cares.
Why did you speak to her like that, to your sweet,
loving daughter-in-law? What do you want from her? Is
she to blame? Is she the one who took away the child?
As Dvora arranged the room and threw the remains of
the fig in the wastebasket, she kept encountering the
painful platter of fruit.
She brought some Tu Bishvat fruits and forced me to
remember what I have been trying to forget all day.
Then, too, in Chicago, fifteen years ago, then, too, it had
been Tu Eishvat. I had come home from the hospital with
empty hands. My neighbors had knocked on the door,
offering their help, and had brought fruits from Eretz
Yisrael. I didn't want fruit; I wanted my baby daughter.
Dvora would have liked to cry, but her eyes remained
dry. Perhaps her well of tears had become altogether
depleted. Memories flooded her mind; all the dams she
had built with such painstaking effort had collapsed. All
the walls of forgetting which she had erected as a
protective shield had vanished. The memories and pain
threatened to engulf her. She had been banishing Tu
Bishvat from her consciousness for years - or thought she
had. And then today, the Tu Bishvat fruits had come, and
Tu Bishvat had risen to the surface, dredging up with it
her tragic misfortune with terrifying intensity.
Little did Dvora know that Hashem did not send Tu
Eishvat fruits only to cause her pain... that on the other
side of the door there awaited many momentous and
critical changes in her life; that after many years of
hemlock would come her time to taste the sweetness of
the date and the nectar of the pomegranate.
Keren approached the appropriate window.
An elderly, silver-haired postal clerk raised
head and looked at her.
'Td like a post office box", she said.
"It costs money", he noted.
"I know. How much?"
"Something like eighty-four shekels a year". The
clerk took out the necessary forms, wondering
somewhat. Why did a fifteen-year-old girl need a post
office box? Sometimes they did this sort of thing to hide
their inane letters, or it could mean something different.
The girl who stood before him did not look like a
silly thing nor like someone embroiled in a serious
matter. She looked like a typical, upper-class Tel Aviv
adolescent. He suddenly found himself asking, "Why do
you need your own personal postal box?"
She smiled breezily, but some tension lingered in that
smile: "If I wanted people to know, I wouldn't need it".
He felt uncomfortable, regretting that he had
trespassed on privacy.
"Can anyone else, besides me, open my letter box?"
"No, you will have the only key".
"And if someone, let's say my mother, would come
here with the key?"
"She'd be able to open it. Keeping track of the key is
your responsibility. We cannot maintain an observation
post against letter box openers", the clerk explained.
"Good. Now I'd like to know the number of my box",
"Why is that so important right now?" he asked
"I 'm writing a letter, and I'd like to indicate where
the reply should be sent", she explained. The clerk gave
Keren the number: P.O.B. 6087 in the Allenby Street
branch - near her home, but not too close. It was some
distance from Allenby to Balfour, far enough to give her
time to read letters - if any arrived - and to absorb shocks
and reassume a normal composure.
Noa greeted her by the front yard, still clinging to the
broken tree trunk. She said hello and kissed her, as she
did each day, but the touch of her lips bespoke her inner
"It's devastating, isn't it?" Noa asked her. There was
no need to elaborate.
"No", Keren tried to sound natural. "Trees aren't
made of steel; they can break".
"So can people", replied Noa in a tense voice that
contained a hint of warning.
Keren was reminded of a previous conversation that
had taken place in this very yard. She had been six or
seven years old, and had sat with her mother on a
pleasant, sunny day at the far end of the yard.
"Ima, were there pine trees like this in Chicago, too?"
she had asked.
"I don't know. I don't remember much about the
place. We were only there for a few days".
"You don't need a few days to see a tree. One minute
is enough", the little girl had remarked with pointed
Noa tousled her blond hair. "Do you see this pine tree
"No, I can't see it. The sun is shining right into my
eyes, and it's blinding me".
"Well, that's it", replied the mother. "We got you,
and you were like a sun to us. The sun is very blinding.
How could I notice any trees?" And then, as if she were
not talking to her at all but to thin air, she said, "I hope
that you will have a good life".
"And that I won't be blinded by the sun? Is that what
you're trying to say?"
"People are so weak and fragile", she said, still
talking to thin air. "They are always exposed to pain".
Keren persisted, "Do you mean the sun?"
Noa looked at her, now. "No. I mean life. Go to
She brought her back to the present. "What are you
thinking about, Keren?" "Oh, about nothing special,
really. Has ABBA already developed the pictures he
took yesterday?" she asked elusively.
Noa, however, sensed the ploy.
"Why are you so evasive lately, Keren?"
"I'm not evasive, I'm growing up. Every person has
areas that are private, right? So do I".
Noa clasped her hands together. "We were always
open with you. When you were only three we had
already told you that you were adopted. Believe me, little
girl, not everyone would have done that, and it wasn't
easy. But we decided that there was no sense in building
our lives on a false premise".
They entered the house together, each casting one
more look on what had once been a pine tree, Keren's
Esther and Baruch Schwim stood by their baby's crib
in the children's ward of Beilinson Hospital.
"I had a very difficult conversation with your
mother", said Esther.
"What happened?" Baruch was surprised. The two
had gotten along so well until now.
"I told her that this morning I had left the baby alone.
She got terribly upset. I explained that I had been at her
side all night long, and my eyes kept on shutting by
themselves, that you had gone to kollel on time and that
there was no reason not to leave her on her own for a
few hours. The nurses had promised to keep a strict eye
on her, and her breathing had improved greatly,
"So? She didn't understand?"
"No. Her reaction was no less than hysterical. 'Is that
how one takes care of a baby? You never know what
can happen. I'm going to close the store and go to be
with her,' she threatened me. 'You're not going to leave
Baruch leaned his face on his palms.
"It was so strange... Last week I told you about Tu
Bishvat, and today - such a reaction! Is there something I
don't know?" asked Esther.
"Yes, there is. Ima hates to talk about it. That's why I
never told you. It's her secret, not mine. Ima once had a
baby girl she lost through some very strange
Life sometimes hides some very disturbing
surprises... Esther tried to digest the shocking
information, to clarify, ask, extract some facts, but
Baruch would say no more. He claimed that he himself
"But why is it such a big secret?" pressed Esther.
"I don't know. She kept it as if it were some
dreadfully shameful thing".
"But it was a misfortune, not a shame".
"People sometimes confuse the two", he said.
Esther thought for a moment or two, then declared,
"What a pity to invest so much energy in keeping a
secret. When tragedy strikes, one needs special energy in
order to deal with it. It's foolish to waste energy hiding a
Foolish, not foolish... When calamity strikes a person,
he does not always have the good sense to know how to
monitor his mental and emotional resources. It is hard to
determine the dividing line, to decide what belongs
above it and what must be put below. Esther's acute but
youthful common sense had not yet been subjected to the
test of the fraction and its dividing line; would that she
never be forced to encounter it, ever.
Giora felt repeated stinging in his eyes. At
first he attributed it to fatigue - his work load
increased from day to day. His photos had
captured first place in the market and newspapers were
bombarding him with requests for more and more
material. But when the stinging persisted even after
twelve consecutive hours of sleep, he decided it was time
to visit an eye doctor. He might need glasses, or he might
be suffering from some eye inflammation.
On Balfour Avenue, a few housing developments
away from the Barak family, lived Dr. Chanita Evven, a
leading ophthalmologist. She divided her daytime hours
between her private practice, an outpatient clinic at the
Tel Hashomer hospital, and the Maccabee Kupat Cholim
clinic. It was a full schedule, but she agreed to Giora
Barak's request for an appointment and set a time for
him to come to her house late in the evening.
"Hello, Giora. She gave you an appointment, I know,
but she was detained at her private clinic by a
complicated case", said Meir Evven, Chanita's husband.
"Is there any sense in waiting?" asked Giora.
"Yes, of course. She'll be here in another half hour.
Come, let's have a drink meanwhile".
A friendly invitation ostensibly, but something in
Meir Evven's expression disturbed Giora. An extra
wrinkle or two on the forehead, a louder than usual tone
of voice. What does Meir want from me? I have no
choice. I can't refuse such an invitation - surely not when
they're doing me a favor and inviting me into their
"Giora, I'm glad I can have a chat with you, just the
two of us. I've been waiting for this opportunity for
some time. Do you know what I'd like to say to you, if
we did away with formalities? 'Move away; do
yourselves a good turn and move away'," Meir said.
Giora's chair creaked and his expression hardened. "I
can't stand your adopted daughter anymore", continued
He's gone mad! Giora thought, and felt a pain in his
eyes. He couldn't tell whether it was a pang of fear or of
pain. He can't stand our Keren? What does he have to do
with her? Whom did she ever bother? All of their friends
could not stop admiring her, praising her talents, the
special gleam in her eyes, her zest for life, her nobility of
character - as if royal blood streamed through her veins.
More than once their friends had said to them, "You hit
the jackpot with that girl! If she had been your own, it's
hard to believe that she would have turned out like that".
What had come over Meir Evven?
"Do you know what she is doing to Chanita?" Meir
"No", replied Giora, sharply and succinctly.
"Keren has this terrible something that makes people
want to be better".
"So, so what's wrong with that?" Giora felt the
mutual rapport between him and Meir rapidly breaking
down as their conversation continued. Perhaps they
would soon be speaking two different languages.
"What's wrong with it? It's wrong - and how! Your
Keren is sunk in the lap of economic abundance, and she
comes to us full of the flighty ideals of adolescence. She
has these deep talks with Chanita: 'Don't enslave
yourself to the clinic,' she preaches to her. 'Go into
research. Research is the Eden of doctors. A paradise...'"
"Research is truly an excellent opportunity for
intellectual development and scientific discovery",
replied Giora defensively.
"It's an excellent opportunity to tread water without
making money, my dear sir. In research one can remain
in one place for three years with the most ridiculously
low salary and eventually come up with a finding that
will make the last page of a gray pamphlet put out by the
"But with research she can make discoveries that will
help mankind, that will bring balm and healing to
suffering eyes, that will provide us with more
information about the wonderful hidden worlds within
the human eye". Giora felt himself being carried away
but enjoying it. He could imagine what Keren had said
on the subject, and he goaded Meir on for having
challenged his Keren.
"Enough! I don't want to hear any more. I want
money. Chanita is progressing very nicely and Keren is
driving her crazy with her ideological nonsense. It's hard
to believe that such a young girl could have such an
impact on a doctor. 'We have some chemistry between
us,' Chanita tells me. Trouble upon trouble! After each
talk she has with Keren, I have to convince her to drop
her fantasies about research and concentrate upon
dollars. For me, medicine doesn't represent any
marvelous worlds, only dollars and shekels, you hear?
Dollars and shekels". Meir's voice bordered between
anger and hysteria, vibrating between open rebuke and
Dvora leaned on the counter in her store on Rechov
Chovevei Zion in Petach Tikva. The agent of a factory
was displaying his latest stock of shoes. She deliberated.
The prices were reasonable, and the credit terms
definitely appealing, but she was disturbed about the
quality. It was not worth risking the store's good
reputation merely because of a difference of some ten or
twenty shekels per pair of shoes.
"Really, lady, I'd like to close the deal, already.
When will your husband be in?" asked the salesperson.
"He won't be coming. He's gone", said Dvora with
"Where to? Europe? America?" asked the
"No. To paradise".
He cleared his throat, searching for some words of
apology. "Er, I didn't know. How should I know?"
True. How could he have known? Perhaps she
should hang up a sign on the store: "My husband passed
away"? Perhaps she should announce openly to every
salesman who entered the store: "I am a widow.
Caution". How could he have known?
Sometimes, and it happens not too rarely, one jumps
from the frying pan into the fire.
"You can't pass up these shoes, Mrs. Schwim. Don't
go by your personal taste. These are shoes for young
ladies. They'll love them. Do you, perhaps, have a
fifteen-year-old daughter? This is the kind of shoe she
would want on her foot. Listen to me, I'm prepared to
give you a pair for your daughter, free, and then you can
order in bulk, how's that?"
Do you, perhaps, have a fifteen-year-old daughter?
Perhaps. I hope she still exists, that she is still alive
and happy. But do I have her? No. She was taken from
me. I don't know where she is, with whom she lives,
how she looks, what she thinks, what language she
speaks, what is her scale of values. My daughter, my
own flesh and blood -1 don't know a thing about her. I
came home on Tu Bishvat, in frozen, snow-covered
Chicago, with empty hands and a heart coated with frost.
"Hey, lady, are you with me?"
No, I'm in Chicago.
"Lady, would you like a pair for your daughter?"
A pair for my daughter. What size does she wear?
She must have delicate feet. Size? Perhaps a
thirty-seven? She has a narrow foot and walks along,
somewhere, with aristocracy, like one with blue blood
coursing through her veins. Shoes! How can such small,
inconsequential things warm a heart? There in Chicago
she had found herself dreaming about tiny shoes, pink
ones, knitted or made of lacy material, with little
pompons bobbing on top. Strange, but each time she
thought about her, in those days and nights, she had
always ended up picturing those little booties and feeling
a certain jealousy of the anonymous woman who took
the delicate little feet and inserted them gently into the
When she opened her eyes, shaking off her memories,
the salesperson was already gone. He probably had
despaired and left. What would he report back at the
plant? That they should forget about selling to the "Right
Foot Forward" shoe store? That it had some weird
owner? How could he know? How could he know that
his chance question (Chance? Providential!) had
penetrated deep into her wound and generously rubbed
salt in it. How could one know that those simple,
innocent remarks and superficial questions had the
power to hurt, to step on toes and bunions, to draw blood
from open wounds? Can one really be naive? Must one
develop and utilize superhuman sensitivities so as not to
hurt anyone, even unintentionally?
Someone entered the store and asked for a pair of
flats. Blessed customers! Not only because they kept her
going, but, primarily, because they created an island of
solidity and safety in her stormy, painful, searching,
wondering sea of life.
Keren went out to the garden carrying a
spade. Most of the fallen tree had already
been cleared away, but she wanted to examine
the condition of its roots. She bent over and began
digging, one clod of earth and then another, clearing
away the stones and crumbling the large clods but mostly
uncovering the roots to see if they had been damaged.
"Why are you doing that, Keren?" she heard Noa's
voice. She let go of the spade, as if she had been caught
at something naughty. "The tree was broken, and that's
that. You yourself said that it wasn't so terrible", said
Noa gently, approaching her. Keren didn't answer. How
could she tell her adoptive mother that she was
concerned about the roots? That searching for her roots
had become an obsession with her?