| All I Ask |

All I Ask: Postscript

Soon after the first chapters were published, the questions and doubts came

 

A

ll I Ask began with an act of petty theft.

It was early morning, the 11th of Tishrei, and the Succos issue of Mishpacha was waiting outside on my doorstep. Along with all the special Yom Tov supplements, the marketing department had added a CD to the package. Already after Tishah B’Av they’d begun dropping hints about the exclusive musical production that would be available only to Mishpacha subscribers and purchasers to enhance their Yom Tov.

A bochur, tefillin bag in hand, approached our house. He must have been on his way to Shacharis, that first pristine Shacharis after Yom Kippur. He bent down, delicately tore the plastic wrapper that held our Yom Tov Mishpacha, slipped the CD out, and hurried away with it.

We saw him from the window, but by the time we realized what had happened and went out to check whether our eyes had been deceiving us, there was no one to pursue.

The subscription department sent us a replacement for the stolen disk. So we had our music — but the incident left a deep, troubling imprint on me.

If, in the heart of a chareidi neighborhood, with the cries of Ne’ilah still echoing, a bochur in chassidic garb, carrying his tefillin, could enter a private yard and help himself to someone else’s property, then, then…

Then that meant he could murmur Kol Nidrei and five tefillos, and say Vidui ten times, fasting and shuckeling with his machzor open before him — and the next morning, go and steal.

And then go on to Shacharis, and shuckel some more, with his siddur open before him.

Maybe it was time to tell a story about people like that, I thought, about people who were withered, empty shells. Or about people who could end up like that, if nobody caught them in time. The people who stood with the rest of us, reciting the words in the machzor; who picked up the lulav with the rest of us and shook it right, left, up, down, and danced on Simchas Torah, and lit the Chanukah candles. The people who ticked off all the boxes.

What’s it like being one of them? I wondered. What goes on in such a person’s mind? What do they feel? What song sings in their heart (aside from the ones on our CD), and what cry of sorrow secretly steals out at night? They put on a good show, that’s for sure. Their friends and relatives don’t usually notice a thing. Only the wife at home watches with a fearful heart, and sometimes, even she doesn’t know…

The seed of All I Ask began to germinate, and I remain indebted to that bochur who made off with a CD and gave me a story.

 

 

Soon after the first chapters were published, the questions and doubts came.

“Are you sure you should be writing about this subject?” people asked me. “Why would you broach this topic in public? Aren’t you nervous?”

“Why should I be nervous?” I asked, aiming to clarify the question.

“Because you’re legitimizing it!”

In all truth I had some qualms, and I made every effort to write the story with sensitivity, consulting gedolim about my doubts. I discarded plenty of material, some of it very intriguing, because I felt a strong sense of responsibility to get my story right.

I don’t think the story gave anyone license to be apathetic about their Yiddishkeit. Anyone who was feeling disaffected was already feeling that way long before I wrote about it, and the story wasn’t advising anyone to feel that way or presenting it as some glorious, life-enhancing option. What the story was saying to these disaffected people was this: It hurts to be so disconnected, it’s painful to go through the motions when your heart and mind don’t work in sync — but there’s another option. You don’t need to suffer, and you don’t need to go off the derech, either.

I also got some feedback that I was offering some sort of “hechsher” to people who leave their native community or chassidus for a different one. I found the question strange. Read the story and you’ll know that I gave no approval to anyone. I told the story of a person who found an independent mashpia, and would probably have drifted away from Yiddishkeit if not for this mashpia. The story doesn’t take place in a vacuum; I have known several such people.

But if you truly know the history of chassidus, if you internalize the stories of tzaddikim who drew followers from all kinds of families and backgrounds, then you know of the parents and families who opposed the searchers’ quests, and of the seekers who kept searching anyway, because what they really sought was a vibrant bond with their Creator — even if that manifested in a different community, a different approach, a different derech.

 

Then there were the readers — many of them — who reprimanded me for “killing off” Lulu.

I don’t really know why they wanted so badly to see Lulu stay alive — so he should continue freezing in the Yerushalmi winters, sleeping in the streets, and go around shabby and unwashed, his beard growing wild? If they really cared for him, they’d be relieved that he didn’t make it out of the trenches alive. After all, Lulu is happy now. He’s in a good place, enjoying the Shechinah’s glow.

At the same time, I took the comments as a compliment. If readers are pained by the passing of this bothersome beggar who shakes his collection cup at them while they’re shopping for Shabbos and who sleeps on their sidewalks (and anyone who doubts the accuracy of these details can go out to Rechov Yafo any night and see how many “Lulus” are bedded down on the street — it’s heartrending), then apparently they got the message that a beggar is not some weird mutation, or wild anthropoid, or just an annoyance. He’s a person with a Divine soul just like us. He once had dreams, just like us, and maybe he still does.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 819)

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Comments (8)


  1. Avatar
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    R. Goldenberg

    While most authors recognize the importance of a strong opening (to catch the reader’s attention) and an intriguing storyline (to keep the reader’s attention), some authors don’t realize the importance of a strong ending. The feeling that stays with the reader long after the story is completed.

    Ruti Kepler does.

    In addition to focusing on topics that are rarely covered and giving us a glimpse into the minds of those we otherwise would know nothing about, the story had a very powerful conclusion. To leave a reader with two funerals and still positive is a gift. Thank you for not having the Eliav brothers meet in This World — as it keeps the story realistic — yet including that detail of having them die the same day, which was touching and bittersweet.

    Looking forward to many more stories by this author!


  2. Avatar
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    Abba Greenberg

    As the author in All I Ask mentions in the postscript, we have definitely been viewing those who are homeless and/or panhandling with a different perspective.
    This story provided an understanding of how the people living on the streets are there for many different reasons. It has managed to take people that are otherwise viewed and judged with scorn, derision, or indifference and succeeded in humanizing them by giving voice to their hurts, wants, and needs; their stories, lives, and dreams.
    I definitely take notice of these people more that I’ve done in the past, offering a smile and kind word in addition to the few shekels. It isn’t rare that I come home and tell my wife, “I saw Lulu today.”
    Indeed, I saw a person and for a moment I saw an entire world.


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    Shuey Schwartz

    Thank you for a diverse and professional publication that allows for so many to shine. I thoroughly enjoyed the serial All I Ask with its implicit critique and appreciation woven perfectly into this well-crafted story.
    With so many dynamics at play, it was written in a profound way with nuanced and believable characters that teach us so much about others and about ourselves. The fact that it was a fictional story makes it less threatening for us to learn from and to accept all the tangible lessons that were to be gleaned from throughout the work.


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    Yossi Oratz

    Kudos to Ruti Kepler for a great job on All I Ask. The story had so much depth and nuance, and it was thoroughly enjoyable.
    Then came the postscript. As she was going through the postmortem (pun intended), Mrs. Kepler expresses her surprise that people reprimanded her for “killing off” Lulu, and she says:
    “I really don’t know why they wanted so badly to see Lulu stay alive — so he should continue freezing in the Yeruahalmi winters, sleeping in the streets, and go around shabby and unwashed… if they really cared for him, they’d be relieved that he didn’t make it out of the trenches alive.”
    Did I miss something? Is Mrs. Kepler saying that if we deem someone’s life not worth it because of the suffering that we think that they are experiencing, we should be happy when it ends? Do you think Lulu wanted it to end?
    And isn’t this a false dichotomy? Instead of wishing for the end for people with difficult circumstances, can’t we just as well wish (pray) for it to change?
    I had a friend who had severe depression and was near suicidal, and I remember thinking that his life was miserable. I couldn’t see how life would improve for him, or why he wasn’t right that his life wasn’t worth living. I met him two years later, and he was radiant, fulfilled, and had a position of leadership. Somehow, what I wasn’t able to figure out, Hashem did.
    Please, let’s be careful before we insinuate that we are the judges of the value of people’s existence and survival. In truth, that is a Western ideal, and why babies are aborted, life support is disconnected, and physician-assisted suicide is becoming acceptable everywhere. It’s against what we believe in; let’s not forget it, even in our fiction.


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    Mordechai Blau

    I absolutely loved following the serial All I Ask each week in Mishpacha and was saddened when it ended.
    I just wanted to comment on why a “Yanky” would choose to seek a connection outside the confines of his particular chassidus: perhaps it felt right and resonated with him when the avodah wasn’t just real, but was his own. It was acquired and not just inherited.
    Perhaps it is a good thing if people would be able to search for a path that works for them, if they would have the opportunity to explore different routes and not just stay within a certain framework because of its social construct or familiarity. Perhaps they can be able to do so not only without judgment of family and “friends,” but with their encouragement.
    There was once a time when people would look for a rebbe, for a moreh derech. They would search until they felt that they had found their place, where their soul was on fire and the avodah worked for them, whether the emphasis was on Torah, tefillah, emes, self-negation, chesed, or another. Then they could feel fully part of their chosen derech, instead of being just another statistic for the amount of families “belonging” to this mosad, chassidic court, or community.
    May we have the strength to pursue that.


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    Nuchem Samson

    Thank you for the serial All I Ask; our family really enjoyed reading it each week. There were so many subplots and dynamics within this carefully crafted offering. I was particularly taken by “Yanky” and his uncertainties, self-perception, and eventual discovery of his own mashpia.
    There is a place to question certain things. Instead of getting disillusioned, we can search for a place, mashpia, and environment that reflect our values and where our heart and soul connect to. Yanky is misunderstood, but one must do what’s best for them and their growth even when it is seemingly unconventional.
    I also like that in the portrayal, he remained part of the chassidus and maintained an appreciation of it and was in awe of the Rebbe. I also loved the intimate scene in which the Rebbe bentshes him after their frank conversation, and later the Rebbe’s very public acceptance of Yanky’s derech.
    There are many of us who would have loved to be in his prestigious position regardless of the inner turmoil. It takes someone who is self-aware to call himself out and strong enough to eventually do something about it, with Yanky redirecting his energies once he chanced upon something he connected to.


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    D.S.

    It was with mixed feelings that we read the last chapter of Ruti Kepler’s phenomenal serial.
    On the one hand we are so sad it’s finished — it was the first thing my husband and I read every week! But what a beautiful ending, the perfect finale to a most wonderful story.
    How does she do it? Writers like Ruti Kepler are definitely few and far between. She has an amazing way of bringing out each character from all kinds of walks of life and making you feel like you know them personally. Even though it was a fiction story, the powerful message made it inspirational reading.
    We will miss reading about Yanky and Bugi and Lulu….
    With grateful thanks for a superb publication week in and week out.


  8. Avatar
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    S.J.S

    Ruti Kepler, how could you? How could you end All I Ask and how could you “kill” both Sandy and Shalom (Lulu)?
    Every Thursday when I get my Mishpacha I allow myself to read one or two articles. It’s like tasting the cholent before Shabbos. All I Ask was one of those. In hindsight, it’s a good thing I didn’t save it for Shabbos, when you’re not allowed to cry.
    I seriously loved this story. The plot, the characters, and their delopment: the Rebbe, the watchmaker, Yanky, and Raizele.