Chapter 01

The Pit is Empty
Chapter One

The wedding was going full blast. Dina and Malka took a break from the dancing.

“It’s so exciting! Chava’s wedding. She’s only two years older than us. She just got back from seminary six weeks ago. And now she’s married!” Malka gushed. She looked around, then poured herself a drop of wine from the complimentary bottle the caterer put on each table.

“Careful you don’t get drunk,” Dina drily quipped. She squinted at the glass in Malka’s hand. “Did you actually pour anything into that glass?” she wondered out loud.

“Just enough to get a taste,” said Malka as she quickly downed the illicit drink.

Dina faked a yawn. “Yes. Of course. The Malka Principle. Bend the rules, but don’t break them. So when your mother asks if you drank any wine, you can plausibly claim, ‘Not really.'”

Dina herself never could get the hang of the rules. If there’s a rule, it should be kept, she felt. And if the rule can be bent, that should be part of the rule. So Dina was always getting into trouble because she would be strict when others bent, and she was bending when others were strict. She felt like a sheep that had gotten away from the herd.

Malka neatened her new dress. “C’mon. Let’s go back to the dancing. It’s so much fun. Everybody’s happy for Chava and Guy.” She began to get out of her seat.

Dina stared ahead, not moving. “I’m not happy.”

“Ok. Ok. We don’t have to go into that again.” Malka grabbed Dina’s arm and pulled her back into the circle of spinning women.

As Dina and Malka disappear into a blur of motion, we have a moment to consider their conversation.

Dina and Malka’s families are close. The girls’ fathers have been Chavrusas from the year in which the girls were born. Malka came into this world on the fourteenth of Adar Rishon; Dina on Purim Adar Sheni. Most years they have a shared birthday party. Their mothers joke that the girls are twins, except that they have different parents.

Dina and Malka go to Shaarei Chaim.

Malka’s mother is the school counselor at Shaarei. She supports the family. She also has clients who come to the house on Sundays for therapy. She makes good money at it. She’s satisfied with her role of supporting and raising the family while her husband learns full time.

Dina’s mother teaches crafts one hour a week at Shaarei. She also sells yarn out of the house and gives private knitting classes. From the time she was five years old, Dina has helped out the family finances by knitting small items that are sold online. The family is always struggling to make ends meet. If not for the small stipend Dina’s father gets from learning to supplement the budget, they would be out on the street.

Dina was eleven when she found out in history class at school that there are laws against child labor.

She came home that afternoon and screwed up her courage to confront her mother. “I’m not making another scarf!” she announced petulantly.

“Yes you are!” shot back her mother.

“What if I tell the police?” Dina timidly threatened.

Dina’s mother handed her the telephone. “Go right ahead. Do me a favor. Maybe I’ll get a vacation while I’m in jail.”

Dina’s mother is dissatisfied with her role as housewife and breadwinner. Although, she would never admit it to herself nor to anyone else.

Now we understand Dina and Malka’s reactions to the wedding. And so let’s descend back into the catering hall.

Shhh. Dina and Malka are returning to their table.

“Just think. In two years I could be married,” Malka laughed.

“Just think. In two years I could be married,” Dina mourned.

“You sound like you’re going to be fixed up with Esav,” Malka remarked, as she reached for a plate of wedding cake. “Your husband is going to be a top learner. One of the best in his school — maybe THE best.”

“How can they all be ‘the best’?” wondered Dina. “How come no one ever says, ‘I have a boy who is an “average” learner’?”

“And if he is an average learner? Who cares! He’s your best. Someone you can support. What more could you want, Dina?”

“Someone who supports me,” said Dina feebly, her voice barely audible above the music.

Malka was annoyed. Just because Dina’s mother constantly struggled was no reason for Dina to undermine The System. Didn’t her, Malka’s, mother thrive within The System? Wasn’t that enough? Besides, what other choice did Dina have — to go to college?

Malka drove the point home. “You know that the non-Jewish world is not for us. Do you want to go to some university and get Traifed up there?!” Malka asked incredulously.

Dina was defeated. “I guess you are right,” she replied. “Hand me a piece of cake.”

Malka sat back comfortably, confident that The System could beat back all challengers. But Dina was still not so sure.