Seraphina’s Heart a story by Randi Ya’el Chaikind,
from New Mitzvah Stories for the Whole Family Note: Over 80 of our Mitzvah Stories series participating storytellers are availlable to come and offer professional storytelling for your local events and simchas! Inquiries
“Sera! C’mon now, get it in gear, or you’ll miss your bus again!”
Seraphina’s mother yelled through the bathroom door, while applying mascara and drinking her morning coffee. “I will not drive you! I can’t. I have a meeting with the firm’s architect. Now get a move on it, young lady!”
“Fine, I’m going!”
Seraphina looped the scratchy wool scarf around her neck. As she buttoned her winter coat, her mother snuck up from behind and kissed her cheek with a dramatic “mmmwaa” sound.
“Mom, did you leave lipstick on me? Ew!” Seraphina pulled away, rubbing her face.
Her mother sighed and put her hands on her hips.
“Don’t forget to stop at Mrs. Simon’s house after school. Wait there until I get home, ‘kay?”
Seraphina hoisted her purple backpack around her shoulders, and rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes, yes, Mom,” she said while staring up at the ceiling, “I’ve been going there for two years. I think I’ve got the drill by now.”
She stopped at the front door and looked back at her mother. “Umm, so, have a good day. ‘kay?” She quickly ran and hugged her mother, as best she could, all bundled up in thick clothing. Her mother kissed the top of her head, and Seraphina stepped onto the snowy front porch. Another ordinary January day.
Crunching through the snow in her boots, Seraphina walked to the end of their road and waited for the bus. The sun’s heat beamed through a crack in the overcast sky. She stood in the ray of sunshine and pretended it was summertime. Turning her face up to the sky, she closed her eyes and suddenly, there she was, sitting on the beach on a hot, sunny day. It worked! The daydream warmed Seraphina up and distracted her until she heard the bus driver grind gears, slowing down.
Quickly, Seraphina lost all her happy thoughts as the bus doors creaked open before her. She swallowed hard, and then climbed aboard the bus. Seraphina heard her heartbeat drumming in her ears as she looked down the aisle, praying that her best friend was sitting near the front of the bus. There! Shun-Li smiled brightly and waved from her seat just a few rows behind the grumpy bus driver, old Mrs. Francie. Seraphina slid into the seat and slouched, hoping she was really as invisible as she felt.
“Mooooose! Hey, fat girl!”
Seraphina knew Cindy’s voice, familiar as a sister’s. An evil sister, like in Cinderella. She felt something hit the back of her head, and pretended nothing happened. Shun-Li held her hand, and Seraphina willed herself not to cry. She wouldn’t let them win. Not ever.
Suddenly Seraphina felt a sharp pain in her neck. She cried out in distress, and pulled her shoulders up to her ears. Turning around she saw Cindy had traded seats with the boy behind them. A smile curled her mouth, but her eyes were cold.
Cindy raised her eyebrows in mock surprise and gasped, “Wha-what? Are you okay… moosey? Fat got your tongue?”
Several other girls giggled and pointed at Seraphina. She rubbed her neck, and faced forward again, feeling nervous, feeling her face turn red. How far would Cindy go with this torture? Her chest heaved in fear, and she lost the battle to hold back her tears. Shun-Li stood up. Seraphina tried to stop her, telling her to shush.
Shun-Li shouted at Cindy, “Cut it out, you stupid girls!” Her thick black hair flared in the air as she spun around to sit down again.
“Cut it out! Stop it!” Cindy mimicked Shun-Li in a high-pitched voice, entertaining her minions once again. Seraphina worried that Cindy would turn her abuse on her best friend, but was silent.
The bus finally arrived at school. Seraphina waited for Cindy to get off first. She didn’t want to expose herself by walking in front of Cindy. Like a feral animal, Cindy waited for her prey, but she held back. A group of teachers waited at the curb, greeting the students when they all got off the bus. Seraphina felt safe, for now.
For months Cindy haunted Seraphina, sometimes even getting off at Seraphina’s bus stop with some of the other girls, several stops after their own homes. “Mooooose girl, giant moose girl, fatter than a caboose girl!”
Though it was a short walk to Mrs. Simon’s, Seraphina bolted from the bus to her neighbor’s house. She pulled open the door with a swift yank, and slammed it shut, her breath ragged. Every taunt that Cindy hurled at Seraphina left a mark, like a flaming arrow hitting a bull’s-eye.
Seraphina kind-of-on-purpose missed the bus many more times that school year. She preferred to risk the wrath of her mother rather than endure the shame of being called fat.
Shun-Li got mad at her one day. When they were washing their hands in the bathroom, she asked, “Why don’t you fight back, Sera? Why do you let her get away with hurting you?”
“I can’t, I mean, just because she’s being a jerk doesn’t mean I have to.” Seraphina looked at Shun-Li in the mirror, and then hung her head. “Besides, well, she’s right. I’m fat. I’m ugly. I’m a loser. My dad doesn’t even call me anymore.”
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Seraphina started to cry. Shun-Li didn’t know what to do. So she just put her arm around her friend and said nothing.
A few weeks later, Seraphina went home with Shun-Li after school. Seraphina knew that Shun-Li was adopted. She had told Seraphina that her parents had flown to China only a few weeks after she was born and had brought Shun-Li back home with them. But what Seraphina hadn’t known was that Shun-Li’s parents were Jewish, and so was Shun-Li! Seraphina was Jewish, too, but she didn’t really know anything about it. Though she had a Jewish grandma from Poland, who made the best chicken soup in the world, Seraphina had celebrated Christmas and eaten chocolate Easter bunnies her whole life. It had always felt funny to celebrate these holidays, knowing she was Jewish, but she didn’t have an idea what that even meant.
When Shun-Li’s Mom dropped Seraphina off at her house later that afternoon, she invited Seraphina and her mother over for Shabbat dinner.
A few days later, the two drove over to Shun-Li’s house. Seraphina was impressed by the beautiful table, set with fancy china and gleaming silverware. Shun-Li’s mother lit candles, then the whole family sang a prayer to give thanks for the delicious challah bread. Seraphina even sipped some red wine for the first time.
After dinner, it was story time. Shun-Li and Seraphina curled up on the couch while Shun-Li’s father told a story about what he said was one of the most important Jewish laws: la-shon ha-rah. When a person says mean things to another person, he explained, that’s la-shon ha-rah.
“Some people call it ‘gossip.’ But it literally means, ‘the evil tongue,’ because of the harm it can do.”
Shun-Li’s father now bent down, lifted up a small, flat board lying by his feet, and handed it to his wife. She held it firmly on top of a pile of newspapers lying on the coffee table. Then he handed a hammer and nails to Seraphina’s mother.
“Take the hammer and pound one of these nails into the wood,” he instructed her. When she had driven in the nail with a few hard whacks, he said, “Good. Now do a few more, please.” She pounded three more nails into the soft wood. When she was done, Shun-Li’s father turned to face everyone. He wasn’t smiling when he said, “This is what happens every time you say something mean to another person, or they say something mean to you. Oy! It’s like we hammer nails into each other’s hearts.”
Shun-Li’s father took a deep breath, and continued, “Now Seraphina, you’re a great girl.” Seraphina looked up at him, and cocked her head to the side. He cleared his throat dramatically. “Pardon me. I meant to say, ‘young lady’!”
Seraphina and Shun-Li giggled. Shun-Li’s father looked at Seraphina’s mother and winked.
“Of course! You are being raised by a mensch of a mom! But,” he considered Seraphina with a raised eyebrow, “has there ever been a time when you’ve said something, without even knowing it, that’s hurt someone else’s feelings?”
Shun-Li pushed Seraphina off the couch playfully. Seraphina grimaced when she hit the floor and shot her best friend a withering look. “Ow! I mean, sure, I guess. Why?” “Well, what’s one of the most common things we say if we’ve said something that may have caused an ‘Ouch!’”
“Um, dunno.” Seraphina sat back on the couch and crossed her arms over her chest. “Um, sorry?”
Shun-Li’s father pulled a nail out of the wood. “This is what happens when you say you’re sorry. You pull the nail out.”
They all gathered around the coffee table now, intrigued. “Say it again, anyone,” Shun-Li’s father asked.
“I’m sorry!” yelled Shun-Li. He pulled another nail out of the wood. “Saying you’re sorry helps, but what is left after you pull the nail out of the wood?”
Seraphina looked closely. “A hole. There’s still a hole, even though you say you’re sorry.”
“Right, so even though we can be sorry for the words we say, once we speak them, we must be careful not to leave holes in each other’s hearts. ‘Sorry’ only goes so far.”
Seraphina’s mother spoke up. “So, we’re human. We say things we regret sometimes. How do you fill the hole after you apologize to someone?” Her voice sounded tight and far away to Seraphina.
Shun-Li’s parents nodded their heads and shrugged their shoulders. “May we live so long as to find the answer!”
Seraphina’s father said optimistically.
“May we practice thinking before speaking!” said Shun-Li’s mother.
Before long, summer vacation started, and Seraphina spent her days happily at the lake with Shun-Li. One day, she noticed a moving van down the street from her house. Seraphina walked over to meet her new neighbors. With horror, she saw Cindy carrying a box from the truck.
Seraphina quickly ducked behind a tree, and then peeked around it to watch Cindy and her family. Just the very sight of Cindy raised the hairs on the back of Seraphina’s neck, and her fists pumped open and shut. She looked left and right, waiting for the right moment to catch Cindy off guard when her parents were inside the house. Seraphina’s heart raced as she plotted a payback plan for all those times Cindy had teased her, bullied her, and shamed her.
Thoughts raged inside her head. She imagined walking over to Cindy and calmly saying, “This is for all the times you called me Moose!” and then punching Cindy hard in the stomach. She pictured running at Cindy like a warrior, screaming at the top of her lungs, “Oouuuucccchhhh!” before pulling Cindy by the hair and flinging her into the dirt. Seraphina wanted to watch Cindy sob and shake with fear before her. She wanted Cindy to understand what it felt like to break into a million pieces and disappear when the wind blew.
Yet Seraphina was afraid. She had never felt so much anger and bitterness before, and it scared her. She slid down to the grass and sat with her back against the tree. “One,” she breathed in. “Two,” she breathed out, just like Mrs. Simon had taught her the day she had run home from the bus. She counted to ten, then to fifteen, to make sure her anger had subsided.
Seraphina turned to watch Cindy and bit her lip as her anger flared all over again. It was no use! She was a walking wound; like that piece of wood, with lots of nails sticking out of her, and Cindy had done the hammering. Seraphina felt hopeless. Tears of frustration filled her eyes. To make matters worse, if she moved from behind the tree, Cindy would surely see her crying. My life is a huge nightmare, thought Seraphina.
As she leaned against the tree, a shaft of sunlight broke through the leaves, beaming soft summertime warmth directly on her face.
Seraphina remembered the cold winter days, and how she could warm herself with just one shaft of sunlight. She sat enjoying the familiar strength of the sun’s glow, wondering what to do, when suddenly she felt the snap of inspiration inside her. She stood up and stepped out from behind the tree. Her knees were shaking as she walked with purpose towards Cindy.
Seraphina dug her fingernail into her palm to stay focused and resist the urge to run.
Cindy was rummaging through a box and held up a Barbie doll. “Oh, hey, Seraphina! Do you live around here, too?”
Seraphina was astonished. How could Cindy not remember taunting her down the entire length of this very street? Seraphina pushed herself to speak. She was so anxious that her words came out in a flood. “Cin, Cindy, you, you were just horrible to me this whole year, and, ah, well…” Seraphina’s voice steadied, and she said with conviction, “You nailed holes in my heart!”
A few steps away, Cindy’s mother put down her box and walked up behind her daughter.
“What’s going on here, Cindy? Are you going to introduce me to your new friend?”
Cindy looked at her toes for a long time, but Seraphina’s eyes never left Cindy’s face. Cindy finally looked up at Seraphina and said quietly, “Mom, this is Seraphina." She hesitated, then looked down at her feet again and swallowed hard. “Seraphina…I…uh, I’m…sorry.”
Seraphina froze, filled with mixed feelings and confusion. How do you fill the holes left behind after someone apologizes? Immediately, Seraphina knew the answer. She lifted her face to the sky, and imagined the warm, yellow sunshine flooding her body, filling the holes in her heart.
After what felt like an eternity, Seraphina opened her eyes and saw Cindy and her mother staring at her. She smiled brightly at them, straightened her shoulders, and said, “Welcome to the neighborhood!”
Then Seraphina skipped home, bursting with good news. She couldn’t wait to call Shun-Li!
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43 authors won a place in this juried collection. The author of Seraphina's Heart, Randi Ya’el Chaikind, is a professional coach, author, and facilitator, and is active in Jewish leadership in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is one of 43 winning story authors in New Mitzvah Stories for the Whole Family, part of the award-winning Mitzvah-Centered Life Series from Reclaiming Judaism Press.