The Taliban Lady and the Coffee Machine

There is a widely held belief – probably true – that, in general, women are more interested in people and men are more interested in objects: gadgets, toys, and the like. The two incidents I’m writing about give credence to that notion. What they have in common is that they both stem from an inability to talk on the phone.

Barbara had just come back from The States, a visit timed to coincide with the birth and brit milah of Tina and David’s second son (whose moniker is Milo, if you’re interested). Barbara is not much of a shopper (an understatement!), but she was given the responsibility of returning with two Android devices: one to replace her aging Galaxy and one to replace Natania’s unspeakable Chinese knock-off. She also had a number of items to bring back for an assortment of friends.

It was a Thursday morning, and she had finished her volunteer work, helping to pack food parcels for an outfit known in English as Victims of Terror. Her plan was to bring over one of the items she brought back to her friend Arlene, who lives nearby. Normally, she would have called first to make sure it was a good time. However, in moving the SIM card from her old phone to her new one, she somehow lost almost all of her contact information. (Don’t ask me what this is all about, I’m an Apple guy.) Unable to call, Barbara walked over to her friend’s apartment unannounced. 

Arlene opened the door, and there in the apartment was a Taliban lady! For those of you not up to speed on these matters, there has been a pernicious development in, of all places, Beit Shemesh, where nothing unusual ever happens. A group of women have decided that the run-of-the-mill Hareidi dress restrictions for the fair sex are not modest enough; they have created an outfit similar to the burkas required for women in Saudi Arabia and other enlightened places in the region. Hence the descriptive epithet.

Barbara, meet Taliban lady; Taliban lady, meet Barbara. The comment my wife made right off the bat was, “Oh, for a moment I thought you were a nun!” For her part TL had no time for such exquisite banter; she had her son, maybe ten years old, with her, sitting in a corner. Her instinct was to shield him from whatever harmful thoughts might arise should he see a seventy-year-old woman, whereupon, using her cape, she covered his eyes and backed him further into the corner.

Despite Barbara’s obvious immorality, TL was still willing to lend a helping hand. One of her purposes in coming to Arlene’s was to collect names of anyone in need of a shiduch, so that Tehillim could be recited in her behalf. TL asked Barbara if we had a needy candidate or two for inclusion. Looking TL straight in the eye (not an easy task if the other woman is wearing a burka), Barbara announced, “We don’t do that!”

Long silence, one that Barbara had no intention of breaking. Shortly thereafter, TL got up and left, her son’s neshama unsullied (leaving our daughter Natania to find her bashert on her own).


The story, as Arlene described it, was this. TL (no surprise, an ex-pat American) would drop in on her once or twice a year for some reason or other. This time, it was to repeat to Arlene something she had just heard about tzniyut, and she went on-and-on about the importance of modesty in what women wear, unaware that there is a very clear distinction between being demure and being crazy. Just as she was finishing her spiel, the doorbell rang, and in walked Barbara in her short-sleeved top. Arlene said she couldn’t have planned it any better if she had tried – and she would have tried if she could!

Perhaps I should mention that Barbara and Arlene go ‘way back to their teen-age years in Rochester, NY. While we were gallivanting around the Tri-State area, Arlene and her husband, Yehuda, raised a family in a small apartment in one of Jerusalem’s religious neighborhoods. Yehuda is from a rather large Yemenite family, and one of his sisters is Varda, a very close friend of ours. For the last number of years, Varda’s daughter, Smadar, (who lives in Columbus, OH) and her kids have been spending their summers in Israel. Last summer, Smadar and four of the children spent some quality time in our spacious quarters in Ma’ale Adumim. And that’s where we pick up the second part of my tale.

Smadar was duly appreciative of our hospitality, to the extent that she bought us a Nespresso inissia coffee machine (not one of the super-duper, fancy-shmancy models, but still a considerable investment). Barbara was appropriately impressed with the thought behind the gift, but, being the practical person I love and cherish, she explained to Smadar that 1) I wasn’t drinking that much coffee; 2) We really didn’t need another THING in the apartment; 3) We had no room for it anyway. My predilection is, if someone offers me a gift, accept it and say thank you (which is why I have a collection of inexpensive wines that I will use only to cook with). It wasn’t that important to me, and as I am willing to accommodate guests free-of-charge, no expensive gifts required, I was willing to pass up the offer The upshot was that Smadar had somebody else she could give the machine to, and as far as I knew, that was the end of the matter. The Nespresso machine disappeared from sight, and I assumed that Smadar had taken it with her.

A few weeks ago, in some random conversation, Barbara mentioned that the Nespresso machine is still with us. “How can that be,” I insisted, “Smadar took it with her.”

Ah, but I was wrong! (Or at least I was mistaken, which is not quite as bad.) Upon inspection, I located said Nespresso machine in its original box, in a bag, on a shelf, in the closet in Natania’s room, where it had been placed for safe-keeping one year ago.

Well, it’s not doing anybody any good just sitting there!

As many of you know there is extensive discussion about Who-owns-what in the Talmud, but I can’t recall any case like this: Reuven gives a gift to Shimon, who says he doesn’t want it. Reuven says he will then take the object back but does not in fact do so. After a year, can Shimon, who still has possession, change his mind and use it?

I readily admit that I am not qualified to render a halachic opinion on this subject, but I gave in to temptation and pulled the device out its packaging to admire it. If we had heard anything from Smadar that she was coming to collect the machine, I would have graciously conceded, put all the paraphernalia back in the box, and waited for it to be taken away. But she and the kids had been here over the summer and had apparently returned home to Columbus with nary a word to us.

The temptation to break down and use the Nespresso machine grew stronger every day. If anyone has any questions about how to use one of these devices, there are several official How-to-use-a-Nespresso-machine-for-dummies videos on YouTube, in which the nice lady tells you everything you need to know. Fill the water container and affix it to the back of the machine; hit the proper button to turn it on; wait for the lights to stop blinking (25 secs.); lift the handle and insert a capsule; push the handle down; hit one of the buttons, at which point you’ll have your coffee ready in ten or fifteen seconds. Oh, don’t forget to put a cup under the spout, or you’ll have a big mess! (But you knew that already.)

I inspected the carton that comes with the machine, with sixteen capsules of different coffees with names like Rosabaya, Livanto, Volluto, Cosi, Dulsão, coffees from all over the world, some strong and some really strong, decaf if you insist, to make any a little cup or a big cup, whatever you want. More capsules? Order on line or head over to their amazing store in Mamilla. Two and a half shekels a pod is more than you want to spend? No worries. Tehilla is bringing back some reusable capsules from The States, which I can fill myself with the house blend from Roasters, my go-to coffee place in the shuk, bringing the cost down to about half a shekel per cup.

I could stand it no longer! First, I cleared a space on the counter, then I cleaned the machine the way they tell you to before using it, opened the carton, pulled out the first capsule I could get my hands on (Rosabaya), turned on the machine, and filled one of the demitasse glasses I had purchased in the shuk a few days before. I poured the coffee into a large glass filled with ice cubes and soy milk, perfect for a Ma’ale Adumim afternoon in August when you truly do not want to know how hot it is. There. The deed was done.

Barbara had intended to call Smadar, but either she never had her number or lost it with the rest of her contact information. At this point in time, she figured that she ought to at least send Smadar an e-mail to inform her that we decided to use the Nespresso machine and to thank her for the gift. After a couple of back-and-forth’s, we understood that Smadar had intended to give the machine to someone else. She hadn’t contacted us because she knew that Barbara was going to be in The States, thought she was still there, and assumed I was going as well. The upshot was that we couldn’t call her, and she never thought to call us.

A few days later, Natania was back in Ma’ale Adumim for dinner, giving us the opportunity to regale her with the history of the Nespresso machine now sitting on the counter. At which point, she reminded us, “Smadar gave you money instead. Don’t you remember! When you told her you didn’t want the coffee machine, she gave you ___ shekels instead.” Long pause, punctuated by the sound of two brains in gear, desperately trying to remember. Natania wasn’t going to forget; we had apparently given most of the money to her so she could take Johnny, her over-sized Norwegian Forest cat, to the vet.

Well now, that’s a horse of a different color! Under those circumstances, the Nespresso machine was certainly not ours; we have been merely guarding it. We probably would not be liable if somebody broke in and stole it, but we certainly shouldn’t be using it – even though we were! Simple solution: we’ll give Smadar back the money she gave us, and everyone will be happy – except maybe the other folks who are still waiting for their Nespresso machine.

There you have it: Barbara involved in what might be considered almost a conversation with a woman she happened to meet, while I was obsessing over a machine to improve my coffee experience. Just think what a timely phone call or two might have accomplished; but then, I would have had nothing to write about! What did people do before we all had cell phones?

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