She was saddened, but not surprised. They’d both known this was coming. Yanky’s yichus couldn’t protect him forever
t was after ten, and as Raizele walked her sister to the bus stop, she couldn’t stop looking at the pretty necklace she’d finished making this evening. Her phone rang, and she answered Yanky’s call with a cheerful hello, still rolling the little crystal beads between her fingers. Maybe she’d make herself a cell phone handle in the same style, to match….
“When are you coming home?” Yanky wanted to know.
“I should be there in about 15 minutes. I’m waiting with Racheli here at the bus stop, and once her bus comes I’ll come straight home. Any particular reason you need me there?”
“Uh… I just want to tell you something.”
“Well, what is it?”
Should he tell her? Not tell her? Spoil her good mood? Leave her in suspense all the way home?
“Nu, tell me,” she pressed him.
“Are you sure you want to hear it now? It’s not the greatest piece of news.”
“Just tell me.” Various scenarios ran through her mind. “The boiler’s leaking again? The washing machine stopped working?”
“No, it’s worse than that.”
“They’re both not working?”
Racheli was getting on the bus. Raizele waved goodnight. She wasn’t afraid. She knew from Yanky’s voice that it wasn’t anything… tragic. What could it be? “The handle broke on the door to the kids’ room, and now the door is stuck shut?”
“But am I getting anywhere close?”
“Hmm… Bugi stopped paying the rent?”
“No. You know he already paid a few months in advance. Think in another direction.”
“Uh… Shaye Langerman asked you to do something annoying?”
“You’re getting warmer… warmer,” Yanky chanted in Morah Shoshana’s singsong. Raizele heard the slight break in his voice, and suddenly, she knew.
“They kicked you out of the beis medrash.”
“You’re very close.”
“They fired you from the yeshivah.”
“What are we going to do?”
“We’ll sit and cry.” Yanky said. She heard the sardonic smile there in his voice.
“So you’ll go back to full-time kollel?”
“No, I got another job offer. We’ll talk when you get here.”
She was saddened, but not surprised. They’d both known this was coming. Yanky’s yichus couldn’t protect him forever.
A few minutes later, as she sat with him, she heard about the position at Reb Groinem Leibnitz’s yeshivah. True to her detail-oriented self, a few minutes into the conversation she asked about the salary he’d get there. Yanky called Reb Groinem on the spot, and they set up a preliminary meeting for early next week. Then he and Raizele sat in the kitchen until midnight, focusing on the real question: planning what to say to everyone about the job change.
“Sometimes I wish I could just forget it all, and rewind to a few years ago,” Yanky said suddenly. “Just be a regular avreich who thinks about nothing but the height of his shtreimel, and just do whatever they tell me, like a robot… knowing, believing, that where I am is the best place in the world, and anybody who thinks otherwise is wrong.”
“You can’t really mean that,” Raizele said in shock.
“I do mean it.”
“All right, then — go back! If you apologize, the yeshivah will be happy to have you back. Just promise that you’re turning over a new leaf. And I think the Rebbe would agree, too, without any problem — he loves you so much.”
“How do you know that?”
“Chana Miriam said so. On several occasions.”
“But I can’t go back, Raizele. You know those doors they have sometimes in public places, with a handle only on the inside? Once you’ve exited the place, the door slams behind you, and you can’t get back in. I couldn’t go back to the yeshivah, even if I wanted to. I have a new way of thinking now, a new approach to avodas Hashem, and it’s better for me than the old way. How could I possibly erase a whole new mindset and go back to being an innocent sheep that just follows the flock?”
“You really can’t,” she agreed.
At lunchtime the following day, Yanky was standing at the stove, stirring a pot of soup, mulling over last night’s conversation. Bentzi sat at the table, a bib around his neck, knocking his spoon against his plate.
“Somebody’s knocking, Abba!” he said suddenly.
“Right, you are,” Yanky said. “Such a nice beat you’re knocking with your spoon.”
“No. Somebody’s knocking at the door.”
“Go answer it, okay? I’m watching the soup so it doesn’t burn.”
He heard cries of joy at the door. It was Nochumku’s Chani. And was that Avrumi’s voice, too? Wait — Nochumku himself was coming in with them, and sending them to the children’s room to play with Lego.
“Bring the kids here,” said Yanky. “I’ll give them some soup.” If he knew his brother, they hadn’t had a hot meal yet that day.
“Do you have enough?”
“There’s plenty. The bibs are in the blue drawer over there.”
Nochumku skipped the bibs and fed Raizele’s vegetable soup to his little ones like a mother bird hovering over her nest. After they’d all finished and run off to play, Yanky ladled out two more servings, and the brothers sat down together.
“You know my brother-in-law Itzik?” Nochumku said, placing a thick loose-leaf binder on the table. “He has a cousin who learns by Reb Groinem. I asked him for his shiur summaries, so you could read through them and start getting into the swing of things. They learn a bit differently there than by us.”
“Thanks!” Yanky was truly grateful. “I heard their shitah is different, and I’ve been wanting to get hold of some summaries.”
“So here you go, I saved you the trouble.”
“You schlepped out to Ramot just for this?”
“What does it matter if I went special or not, as long as you have the summaries? Have a good look through, and no hurry about returning them.”
Nochumku wasn’t in any hurry either. He had something to say.
“One Motzaei Shabbos, back when I was a teenager, I woke up in the middle of the night,” Nochumku said, over the happy chatter and laughter from the children’s room. “It was after 2 a.m., and I heard Tatty and Yerachmiel Poiker learning in the living room. Tatty sounded so alive and alert, he was so connected to the learning… and I couldn’t stand it. I really thought I was going to die from the jealousy. It was filling up my whole chest so I couldn’t breathe. I remember thinking, well, if I die now, at least Tatty won’t be able to learn with Yerachmiel for a whole week… and then I realized that if the levayah would be on Sunday, Tatty would get up from shivah on Erev Shabbos, and on Motzaei Shabbos he’d be right back there, learning with Yerachmiel… so I wouldn’t even get that out of it.” He smiled wryly.
“You? You were having thoughts like that?” Yanky could hardly believe it. Nu, Nochumku wasn’t perfect — he wasn’t the most organized fellow in the world, and he was a bit narrow-minded, maybe — but he was so generous, so big-hearted! Yanky couldn’t picture him burning with jealousy.
“Yes, me,” said Nochumku.
“Well, what happened in the end? Obviously you didn’t die.”
“In the end, Yerachmiel went away. And I was happy. It was a rishusdig, sad kind of happy. I was happy Yerachmiel was gone, and he wouldn’t take up all the room in Tatty’s heart anymore. After a while, Tatty caught on — a little late, but he caught on to what I was going through, and he started giving me a lot more attention. At first, I felt too bitter to cooperate, and I refused to learn with him. I felt like, now that his precious Yerachmiel has left him, he suddenly remembers his son? But Tatty was patient, and he didn’t give up, and with a lot of effort on my part, too, we managed to form a good relationship. The past was always there between us, and maybe it still is… but it doesn’t stop us from being close.”
“You’ve never told me all this, until today.” Yanky had never realized how deeply that whole Yerachmiel parshah had affected his brother. He wondered why Nochumku had picked this day to share the story with him.
“I know. I never saw any reason to tell you. But today… I felt my heart going out to you. Don’t laugh at me, I’m not getting sentimental, but last night, I saw how you looked when you came to the beis medrash to learn with Weinberger. You looked so… confused, and sad. And I just wanted to be your big brother and protect you, like when you were a kid starting mechinah alef, and I chased away the kids who were giving you a tough time.”
Yanky smiled. “I still feel grateful to you for that. You remember that huge kid with the bright orange peyos, who used to come out to the schoolyard when the younger kids were playing, and kick a ball at them? He was terrified of you. After you yelled at him once, we didn’t see his face again. I was so proud of my big, strong brother.”
“I wish I could come to your rescue now, too,” said Nochumku, “and chase away anybody that bothers you. But I can’t. So I just came over to be with you for a bit, and to let you know that people can get through hard times, even when it doesn’t seem possible. You’ll get past this. It may look like the end of the world, but it’s not really.”
“It does look kind of like the end of the world,” Yanky admitted. Last night, as he tried to fall asleep, the magnitude of his loss had finally begun to sink in. The yeshivah had been the center of his life. The whole kehillah revolved around it. To lose a position there was to lose your status in the kehillah. To have a chunk of your life chopped off.
“But b’ezras Hashem, you’re going to become a choshuve ram by Reb Groinem, and be much more successful than you were here.”
“I hope so.” Yanky was getting choked up. Like his brother, he disliked sentiment, but Nochumku’s gesture was so full of love.
Nochumku would rather have me get down on my knees before the Rebbe and the rosh yeshivah, and promise never to get out of line again, and beg them to let me stay. He’d rather see me break off all connection with the watchmaker and forget everything I’ve ever known from outside the chassidus. But despite all that, he came here today to be with me. Never mind my opinions or his opinions, he’s here just because he’s my brother. Not a word of preaching, not a word about the reasons they had to fire me. And he took a bus out to Ramot to get me these summaries from his brother-in-law’s cousin, just because he wanted to help me… and maybe also so he’d have an excuse to come over.
“And when that day comes,” Nochumku predicted, “and you build a reputation outside of our chassidus and your name starts becoming a household word, you won’t forget the pain you’re feeling today. It will always be there in your memory, but it will look different.”
He put down his spoon and looked directly at Yanky.
“You know why?” he said. “Because it will mean something.”
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 808)
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