| All I Ask |

All I Ask: Chapter 54

“Many people would think that the ideas Yanky has in his head are comparable to wanting to move to Madagascar”

At the end of the corridor, there would be an office. On its door would be a sign emblazoned with the words, “Shalom Eliav, Vice President, Finance & Sales Operations.”

No. That wasn’t right, Sandy realized. Shalom couldn’t handle finances, much less marketing. He needed to be out and about. Property management — that would be the right job for him. So the sign on that door at the end of the corridor, where Aryeh Wright sat and drew up lists of supervision and maintenance tasks, should say, “Shalom Eliav, Maintenance and Management Officer.”

Sandy stepped into his office, taking a deep breath and letting his dream flow unfettered.

In my dream office my son sits at my side, and we make decisions together. He’s in charge of all financial affairs. He has a degree in business administration, my dream Yonatan, and in the evening, after working at his day job with me, he’s working toward his MBA. He’s an impressive, knowledgeable man, my Yonatan, a brilliant manager whose ideas are catapulting our firm to the top financial echelons.

Shalom in my dream is my sparkling twin. He drives around in a jeep from one property to the next, keeping tabs on the tenants and taking care of property maintenance. He’s a pleasure to work with — he’s reliable and methodical, and I know that if I miss a day at the office now and then, the business will keep humming along without missing a beat.

A green pencil, the kind Sandy favored, scraped against the business card under his hand, drawing random circles. Yonatan wasn’t there. True, he’d earned his bachelor’s degree, but not in business administration. He doesn’t even want to work here with me. He’s engaged to a girl who hardly has a word to say, and the two of them plan to make their home in Jerusalem, the city of their dreams.

Their dream will come true. Not mine.

Shalom wasn’t there, either. No, instead of driving around in the jeep the company would have provided for him, he’s dragging his feet over the sidewalks of Jerusalem and snoring on park benches. He hangs around shuls with his hand out, begging for tzedakah. He’s so far down, he can’t even see the poverty line, it’s way, way over his head. He should be here in the family business, but….

It’s only a dream of mine. It’s never going to happen.

 

The phone rang. Sandy glanced at the caller ID screen. It was Aryeh Wright. Not now, Aryeh. You’re a fine fellow and a dedicated worker, but Shalom’s supposed to be here, not you. He was supposed to straighten himself out, get stable, and come and work with me, nurturing the family fortune together. I don’t want to talk to you, Aryeh. I’m getting up and locking the door, and if you come knocking, I’m not answering.

Aryeh gave up after a few more tries on the phone, and silence filled the heated office. Sandy stared at the desk in front of him. Red mahogany, your favorite, Sandy. The whole office is just like you planned it — the cabinets, the drawers, the collector’s pieces on the credenza.

But you can’t plan people’s lives for them, Sandy.

You never quite realized that until now. And now it slices into you like a deep, sudden wound. It hurts. And it will keep hurting until you let go of those dreams, Sandy. Make a clean cut. For years you’ve been struggling with yourself to let Yonatan be true to himself, but you wouldn’t quite let go. Let Yonatan go now. And let Shalom go. It’s his life. He’s chosen a life of wretchedness. Let him be.

Don’t expect anything from him. Stop waiting for him to respect you, and stop wishing he would respect Mom and Dad’s memory. Don’t expect him to turn into a respectable businessman, and don’t even expect him to take his inheritance and buy himself a decent home. Let him do what he wants. He’ll do it anyway, whether you let him or not.

And maybe one day, after you’ve buried all the dreams you had for him, and ripped up all the vague hopes you had for him, you’ll feel something you haven’t felt in a long, long time. Maybe you’ll finally be able to love your only brother.

 *******

“We have a portable hard drive here,” said Raizele’s mother to the computer technician. “It stopped working years ago, and we thought everything on it was lost. But recently I heard that sometimes the data can be recovered, so I was wondering, maybe you think it’s worth a try?”

“The data you had on this disk is important to you?”

“Not very,” said Leah Schlossman. “I mean, we’ve lived without it for nine years. But we’d be happy to get it back.” Among other things, the only copy of Raizele and Yanky’s wedding video was on that disk. If that could be retrieved, it would really be nice.

Two days later, the phone rang. It was the computer lab; they had done a complete data recovery, and succeeded in restoring nearly all the files with very little corruption. A messenger would be there shortly with the disk.

“Raizele!” a smiling Leah shared the good news immediately. “Would you believe it? They managed to restore the files on that old portable hard drive!”

“Our wedding video?! Oh, that’s such a nice surprise! Did you watch it already?”

“Not yet,” Leah confessed. “We’re waiting to watch it with you. How about coming over tonight, and we’ll all watch it together?”

“Yanky has a chavrusa, but I’d love to come,” said Raizele, more amused than excited. They’d been married ten years. The white gown, the flowers, the music — everything that had been so important then was just a faint memory now. Only the chassan and kallah still remained — and the sacred bond between them.

She started steering the boys toward bedtime, anticipating a fun evening with her parents. Yanky arrived, and he helped her get Bentzi into his pajamas.

“The mosdos are doing a dinner in three weeks,” he said. “In Antwerp.”

“Nu?” She stuffed Nachumi’s comforter into a fresh duvet cover.

“Moishy Berger, the Rebbe’s nephew, is going as the yeshivah’s representative.”

That had always been Yanky’s job. He’d spoken wonderfully at last year’s dinner. He was the natural choice this time, too; the committee had been hinting since last summer zeman.

But things had changed since then. No one thought of sending him now. Moishy Berger, Yanky’s boyhood friend, would be the one to go to Antwerp. He would speak to the bochurim and avreichim, and stir their hearts. He would be the star, the hero — and Yanky would stay home.

“I have no regrets,” he said, looking for a wayward pajama sleeve. Bentzi was singing a song from the weekly parshah at the top of his lungs, and he didn’t hear a word of his parents’ conversation. “I don’t regret any of the decisions I made, but… I didn’t think I’d have such a hard time with Moishy going instead of me.

“Still,” he added in a near-whisper, “Even if I could turn the clock back, I wouldn’t change anything.”

“Neither would I,” Raizele replied. “Even though I’m sure Zehavi Berger will be going on endlessly about her husband’s trip to Antwerp. And even though… it was nice getting all those compliments about you after the last dinner.”

When the children were peacefully sleeping, she left the house. The number 75 bus took her to Har Nof quickly. But when she walked into her parents’ apartment, she could barely conceal her annoyance at finding Tante Tzippe, her mother’s sister-in-law, sitting there. She was chattering away about the restored hard drive, and it seemed she had every intention of staying to watch the wedding video with them.

“I hear that Yanky left the yeshivah,” Tzippe said, while Raizele busied herself connecting the cables.

“Yes. He’s moving to Ner HaTorah, Rav Leibnitz’s yeshivah.” Raizele kept her eyes fixed on the USB port.

“How do you and he feel about the move?”

“We’re hoping it will be a good change for everyone.”

“It’s very hard to get a job in klei kodesh these days, you know,” Tzippe said in a reproving tone.

“Yes, we know, and we’re thankful for what we have,” said Raizele. The truth was, they didn’t know it well enough. Lately she’d been feeling that she and Yanky were making the whole story too tragic. On the whole, he was doing very well for himself, and lots of people would happily change places with him, even after being fired from the yeshivah… and even after Moishy Berger, rather than Yanky, was chosen to take part in the dinner.

“You know, Raizele, a wife doesn’t always have to agree to everything her husband wants. A smart woman knows how to guide her home in the right direction,” Tzippe was saying. It was rather obvious that she’d prepared this speech some time ago, and was only waiting for the first opportunity to unleash it on Raizele. “You know what it says in Mishlei: ‘Chochmas nashim bansah beisah.’ ”

“Yes, and it also says, ‘V’iveles b’yadah tehersenu,’” Raizele answered with an innocent air, as she opened the video file.

“Men can sometimes be a bit impulsive, a bit irresponsible,” Tzippe went on with her parade of clichés, as if she hadn’t heard Raizele. Maybe she really hadn’t heard her, she was so focused on herself. “That’s why there’s a woman in the house. A woman has binah yeseirah. If a woman marries someone, and she ends up getting something else, there’s what to do about it. She doesn’t have to accept the situation.”

Raizele turned on the speakers. She skipped the first few minutes of the video. She let go of the mouse and clicked “play” when the chuppah appeared on the screen. The chuppah niggun was achingly beautiful. Yanky, a decade younger, stood next to her under the embroidered velvet canopy. His peyos were full, his beard sparse. The Rebbe stood before Yanky, reciting bircas hakiddushin. Suddenly Raizele noticed how much the Rebbe, too, had matured over the past ten years.

She takes a sip of wine. Yanky picks up the ring, and then he shows it to the witnesses, two elderly men who eye it closely and nod their heads. She holds out a soft, young, tremulous finger. “Harei at mekudeshes li,” says Yanky. The ring encircles her finger. Soon, Yanky will shatter the glass with a stamp of the foot. Soon the kesubah will be read, and the new couple will go to the yichud room.

Raizele reached for the mouse and stopped the movie with one sharp click.

“I got married to this man, Tzippe. He was mekadesh me. He himself, Tzippe — not his opinions, not his levush, not his shtreimel or his gartel. And certainly not his kehillah. Do you understand? I’m married to Yanky. All the rest is just the background.”

Tzippe arched her eyebrows. “And what if this man who was mekadesh you decides he wants to move to Madagascar? Or what if he wants to take all your savings and invest them in some unstable foreign currency?”

“If he wanted to do something crazy like that, I assume I’d try to dissuade him.”

“Nu?”

“Nu what? What are you insinuating?”

Tante Tzippe boggled for a second and then set her jaw. “Many people would think that the ideas Yanky has in his head are comparable to wanting to move to Madagascar.”

“But I don’t think so,” Raizele replied. “What can I tell you? That’s not what I think — and now that you mention it, even a trip to Madagascar might not be such a bad thing.”

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 810)

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