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The call was a surprise; the reason behind it even more so. Though Rina had known Honey Klein nee Hersh for yearsthe two girls had been classmatesshe had never considered her a close friend. Their small Orthodox high school had had a student body of eighty-seven at the time of Rina's graduation: twenty-two seniorstwelve boys, ten girls. Rina had been friendly with all the girls. But as the years passed, the two women had crossed paths only sporadically; the chance meetings had held nothing beyond pleasantries. Honey had married young to an ultra-religious Chasidic diamond dealer. She had four kids. She seemed happy.
So when Honey asked if she and the kids might spend a week with Rina and her family in Los Angeles, Rina thought it strange. Her first thoughts were: Why me and why here?
Peter's ranch was located in the rural, portion of the San Fernando Valley. The environs had wide streets and big commercial plots roomy enough for storage centers, wholesalers, and warehouses. Sure, the newer residential neighborhoods sprouted tract homes and apartment buildings, but there were still many ranches large enough to stable horses and livestockparcels similar to Peter's homestead, her homestead now. The area was LA's last refuge of undeveloped scrubland, most of it hugging the timbered foothills of Angeles Crest National Park.
Rina knew Honey had closer friends residing in the heart of the Jewish communitiesin the Fairfax area, Hancock Park, or the newer westside area of Beverlywood. Honey had girlfriends who owned homes within walking distance of the Orthodox synagogues, of the kosherrestaurants and bakeries. No one deeply religious stayed at the Deckers' ranch because it was so isolated. But when Rina had mentioned the geography over the phone, Honey had brushed it off.
"So it's a little off the beaten track," Honey stated. "I figured it's about time I let the kids see the other side."
"The other side?" Rina asked.
"You know ... how the other half lives."
"This isn't exactly a den of iniquity, Honey. I still cover my hair."
"No, no!" Honey protested. "I didn't mean that. I'm not criticizing you. Who am I to judge? By the other side, I meant the fun stuffUniversal Studios, Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Grauman's Chinese Theater with the movie stars' footprints. Is that old relic still around?"
"It's called Mann's Chinese Theater now," Rina said. "You aren't planning to take the kids to the movies?"
"No," Honey said. "Just the outside of the building. And the sidewalks with the stars in them. They're still around, right?"
"No, we're definitely not going to the movies," Honeysaid, quickly. "It would be too much for them. We don'thave televisions here. We don't even have phones in thevillage. Well, that's not true. There are phones in theproduce store, the butcher shop, and the bakery. Foremergencies. But we don't have phones in the houses."
Rina knew lots of religious people who didn't own television sets or go to the movies. She knew plenty of Orthodox adults who shied away from popular fiction and magazines like Time and Newsweek. The stories were too lurid, the pictures were prurient. But no phones in the houses was a first.
"Since when is it halachically forbidden to use a phone?" Rina stared at the receiver. "Aren't you using one now?"
"I'm using the one at the bakery," Honey said. "I know it sounds like every year some group is trying to outfrum the other. That another group goes to more and more extremes to shut out the outside world. But the Rebbe's not trying to do that."
The Rebbe, Rina thought quickly. Which Rebbe? Most people thought the Chasidim were one cohesive group. In fact, there were many Chasidic sects, each one interpreting the philosophy of the Ba'al Shem Tov a little bit differently.
"I'm sure you have your reasons, Honey. I don't mean to sound disparaging. Goodness knows most people think me strange, being as religious as I am. And poor Peter. The guys at the station house think he's gone nuts. Like you said, who am I to judge?"
"You have to understand the Leibben philosophy," Honey said. "Modem machines drive wedges between people."
Leibben, Rina thought. That's right. Honey had married a Leibbener Chasid.
"Once you get used to not using a phone, it really is very nice," Honey explained. "We take walks in the park and schmooze. We have lots of afternoon gettogethers ... tea parties. It's kind of ... quaint." Honey giggled. Rina remembered it as one of the nervous mannerisms Honey had developed after her mother died. "Anyway, if putting us up is too much for you..."
"I'd love to see you, Honey, if I can arrange it. Things are a little hectic since the baby's"
"You had a baby?" Honey gasped. "That's so exciting! When?"
"Hannah's nine months old."
"Oh, Rina, how wonderful! You finally got your little girl! You must be thrilled!"
"I'm very lucky." Rina noticed her voice had dropped to a whisper. The birth had gone smoothly but there were complications afterward. Hannah would be Rina's last baby and not by choice. There was a long pause.