The woman extended her hand. “Vaad Crisis Department, can I see your applica— one minute.” She looked up skeptically. “What on earth is this?”
lutching the sheaf of papers carefully, Reva made her way up to the secretary’s desk.
“Um, excuse me? This is my application?” Her voice rose precariously at the end of the sentence.
“You’re asking me, or you’re telling me?” The secretary didn’t even look up from the keyboard.
“I’m… I guess I’m telling you?” Reva shook her head. “I mean, I’m telling you.”
The secretary exhaled heavily, the sigh of a woman who has just looked at the clock and realized she has two more hours left at work, and also, she forgot to take out the chicken cutlets to defrost, and also, Malki has play practice tonight, and also, the dentist’s secretary already left for the day because apparently everyone else works better hours than she does, and so yet another day has passed in which she forgot to schedule Eliezer’s appointment, and also, Yehuda broke his glasses again, yet here you are, expecting her to worry about your inquiry.
“Yes?” She extended her hand brusquely, then flipped through the papers Reva had handed her.
“You’re giving me your application?” she asked, in the tone you might have expected from someone asking why you just handed her a dead slug. “Applications go to Miri, Rabbi Reinstein’s secretary. Down the corridor, third left, up the stairs, second door.”
Reva clutched the precious application and went down the corridor, hanging close to the hallways to avoid the crush of be-uniformed girls in pleated jumpers. Would her Shani be one of these girls next year? She looked closely at them, imagining.
Not that headband, for sure not, but maybe those shoes… or oooh, that bow. She took the second left, went down the corridor, up the stairs. She was admiring a particularly extravagant bow when she came to the third door — or was it supposed to be the second? No, the secretary had said third, she was sure of it — and tentatively pushed it open. Another hallway, this one dank and poorly lit.
Reva sighed, then straightened her back and soldiered on. No one said getting your kids into school would be easy. She bravely followed the winding hallway as it — was it sloping downward? And was that a chill blowing in? She shuddered, feeling as if she had wandered into a dark and foreboding plot twist, and continued down the very, very long corridor.
But everything must come to an end, except international travel with young children. Luckily, since this was just an ominous corridor filled with foreshadowing and not a Boeing 747, eventually Reva found herself in a large, fluorescent-lit office.
She hovered nervously near the front desk, where a woman who looked suspiciously like the annoyed twin of the first secretary was frantically pecking at her computer’s keys.
“Um, excuse me?”
The woman extended her hand. “Vaad Crisis Department, can I see your applica— one minute.” She looked up skeptically. “What on earth is this?”
“It’s my daughter’s application?” Reva didn’t even bother trying to edit out the question marks this time.
“For a school?”
Now Reva was annoyed. There was no reason for her to be treated as though she had handed the woman a deceased gastropod when for goodness’ sake, all she’d done had been to give her an application form.
“Yes, for a school,” she replied testily.
The woman rolled her eyes. “This is the Crisis Department, where you can submit an application for your problem of choice to be considered Klal Yisrael’s next crisis. School applications go to— no, not Chedva, she does trends, Shaindy does Fundraising Methods, Leah’s in charge of Apparel and Kitchenware… ladies!” she bellowed suddenly, and Reva jumped. “Who here does school applications?”
A chorus of “Not me”s followed.
“School applications are Up,” said the petite brunette in the cubicle next to her. “We don’t do local stuff, we operate on a Klal level.”
“You don’t do local school applications?” Reva’s voice was indignant. What, so now Bais Naomi U’Rus was reviewing applications from out-of-towners before every girl had a slot? Disgraceful!
“We don’t do school applications, period.” She shrugged and stapled a stack of papers as thick as Reva’s wrist. Awed, Reva made a mental note to search Amazon for heavy-duty staplers. “This is the Vaad l’Hamshachas Yisrael,” she continued. “We operate on a Klal level.” Wham went the stapler.
“The… the what?”
“Vaad l’Hamshachas Yisrael, the ones who designate Klal Yisrael’s top issues, trends, and talking points. We operate on a Klal level.”
“But— but that’s absurd,” Reva sputtered, much like a car part that isn’t supposed to sputter, but does exactly that when you’re pulling out to do car pool on a day when you have a Very Important Meeting at Work.
Brunette’s eyes flashed. “Oh, yeah, another person who thinks all this happens on its own! No one appreciates us. Listen, lady, you think crises sprout on their own? You think every frum woman just simultaneously decides to buy the same pleated skirt on the same day? You think it’s a coincidence that all of a sudden, every frum mosad is running the same sort of matching funds campaign? Don’t you know that mikreh is from Amalek—”
“Esti,” the blonde-sheiteled woman to Reva’s right held up a hand, bemused. “It’s okay, she just took a wrong turn somewhere. Listen, Mrs.—?”
“Klugman?” offered Reva, wondering if her question marks made it sound like she was offering an alias.
“Listen, Mrs. Klugman, I’m heading upstairs anyway, I’ll be happy to drop off your application, you’ll never find the office — they do that on purpose, or they’d never get any work done because of the mothers hanging out to ‘apply pressure,’ ” said Blonde, her fingers demonstrating elaborate air quotes. “I just need someone to cover my desk while I’m gone. Be a doll and just answer the phone, will you?”
“Um, I don’t know h—?” But the woman was already out the door in a swish of Aparallel before Reva could finish her statement/question, and her coworkers were all looking expectantly at Reva. With a resigned sigh, she took the vacated seat and looked around.
Except for the dank and underground parts, the office could have been any frum one in Lakewood: populated by young women in middle-parted sheitels and Lug boots, clicking and typing and talking. And come to think of it, the dank part wasn’t all that different from the first place she’d worked. She wondered if she should apply for a job; the current market being what it was, she should be able to land a job working nine to two, and the extra 85K she’d get as a starting salary would definitely help with the building she’d need to dedicate to get into Bais Naomi V’Rus.
Just then, her reverie was interrupted by a loudly trilling phone. Reva jumped rather like a woman whose reverie has been interrupted by a loudly trilling phone and looked nervously around.
“Uh, hello? How can I help you?” she asked the caller, grateful that this was, in fact, a legitimate use of a question mark.
“Hi, is this the Crisis Center? My husband just lost his job. He was a hippotherapist and developed sudden onset severe allergies to hay. Can you arrange for a full-length feature and an ad campaign about acute adult onset hay allergies?”
“Um, just a minute please?” asked Reva. She turned to Esti with an expression of panic.
“I think she said her husband is allergic to hippopotamuses?”
“Segulah-of-the-month club, extension 104,” said Esti.
Reva turned her attention to the caller. “I’m so sorry for your predicament? We’ve added your complaint to our files and will let you know when the issue reaches crisis proportion. In the interim, I’m going to transfer you to the Segulah Department, where a representative will help you choose between a minyan of hippotherapists who will light candles every day for a year at PT Barnum’s gravesite or a group of high school girls who will be mekabel bli neder not to shriek in public for five consecutive minutes.”
Transferring the caller, Reva felt a wave of relief similar to the one usually reserved for the first five minutes after getting the last child off to school on their first day. Like that one, which only lasts a few minutes once you realize that three of your children have half days and now you have two pickups with no busing, Reva’s relief was similarly short-lived because the phone trilled again.
“Mrs. Klugman? This is Chedva, you’re at my desk, you know? I just dropped off your application, and I told them you’re covering my desk while I’m away, and the secretary says they just adore how community-minded you are. She says that in their algorithm, civic-mindedness offers a 3 percent boost, so you just catapulted from the bottom of the list to number— uh— 473.”
“But I thought Bais Naomi V’Rus has only 18 slots this year?”
“Yes, that’s true, but you’re definitely making headway. Listen, I just got a call from Leah at Apparel and Kitchenware, she’s about to go on lunch break, do you mind covering for her instead? You should know that dressing right is a 42 percent advantage,” ended Chedva in a conspiratorial whisper.
Slightly confused, Reva stood up and made her way to the desk near the wall. This chair, she noted, was plush teal velvet with spindly gold legs, while the desk was a minimalist white number with artfully arranged office supplies in tasteful pastels. Reva wondered briefly if any work actually got done at the desk.
“Oh good, you’re here.” Leah stood up briskly. She flashed a smile at Reva, which faded as she looked Reva over. She winced when she got to the shoes. “Well… never mind, it’ll be fine. Look, if Nick calls, he’s the shoe department from Bloomingdales, just tell him I’ll call him back, same with Lauryn from Barneys. And don’t, under any circumstances, answer any questions about skirt length, we’re not releasing that for another two weeks, until we review the Shorman data. I don’t care what the suppliers start telling you about lead times, they’ll have to deal.”
“That’s right,” smiled Esti. “We don’t make the rules, we just enforce— oh no, wait, we do make the rules.”
The women in the room all chuckled politely. Reva wondered wildly if there was a Laugh Committee too.
“Well, I’ll be back in ten.” Leah swung her Kate Spade bag over her shoulder. “Thanks for taking over, I really appreciate it!”
“You too!” Reva waved, then cringed the way you do when you say “You too” in a context where it makes no sense. “I mean, um, enjoy! Hope it’s yum!”
Brunette chuckled, less politely. “Oh, Leah’s not going to eat on her lunch break, she’s Trends, remember? Now she’s intermittent fasting, she can only eat from two to eight.”
“Oh,” Reva blushed, remembering the vort she’d attended the other week, where the hostess had urged her, “You must try these miniatures, they’re heaven!” and — in an incredibly misguided moment — she had, only to realize, when the chocolate was three millimeters from her mouth, that not a single other woman in the room was eating.
Now, to cover her embarrassment, she turned to the other women. “Like… I just don’t get it. What do you mean, you make the rules?”
Another woman smiled patiently. “You know how everyone always says, ‘that’s what everyone is doing,’ or ‘that’s what they say.’ Well, who do you think the ‘they’ is?”
Half an hour later, Reva had answered five phone calls, sent four emails, and placed six callers on hold, along with a myriad of other plot developments that the paragraph break above kindly allow us to gloss over, but trust us, stuff happened, and it was plot-like. She wondered if she should apply for a raise, the job market being what it was, but then remembered that she hadn’t yet been hired.
“You’re doing great,” said Leah, returning from her fasting-break after a lunch-like period of time. “You’re really a natural. Are you looking for a job? Because I really think the Crisis Department could use someone like you. There are a number of openings that haven’t been filled since that guy from Cincinnati solved the shidduch crisis and the housing crisis.”
“All the single girls got married and moved to Lakewood,” explained Chedva. “So now there’s an employee crisis, our desk is short-staffed, and we haven’t been able to sink our teeth into anything really substantial for a while.”
“Well… I guess tell me more about what it would entail?” asked Reva. “Like— I don’t even know how you determine what’s a crisis.”
“So, nothing can even get started before there are at least six or seven letters to the editor.” Chedva became brisk and businesslike, pulling out folders and files. “But it doesn’t count if they’re all from the same person, or from bochurim in the Irv. That can be hard to sniff out, but with experience you’ll learn. Like see here… there are eight letters about how there are no longer any snow days because of Zoom school, but the sender’s IP address is the same for each, even though this one says Anonymous, this one is P. Cohen from Boro Park, and this one’s from ‘Name Withheld.’
“Once we have enough letters, we send out field reps who lurk at bus stops, park benches, and coffee rooms to see if enough people have self-righteous, uninformed, but very emphatic and mutually exclusive opinions on the topic,” explained a woman who somehow reminded Reva of every other frum woman in the Tristate area.
Esti cut in elegantly. “Then of course it goes to the appropriate rep for review, she needs to fill out the correct application and upload it, and then she presents an appeal to the board, which votes on it — it needs a two-thirds majority to pass.”
“The board has four members, but at least one of them usually has mixed feelings, so the math works,” added Leah.
“Or it did, until we had the boys’-yeshivos-don’t-have-enough-secular-education crisis,” muttered Shaindy, who was taking a quick break from toggling between three crowdfunding campaigns, all of which had somehow reached their goals in the last two hours of the campaign and were now in the bonus round.
Reva wrinkled her brow like a woman who has never had Botox.
Leah winced. “If you do take a job here, maybe we’ll keep you in Crises, and not Style and Trends, okay?”
“But why does a crisis need an official imprimatur?” asked Reva. She had the vague feeling she shouldn’t be asking this — it was something she should know intuitively but didn’t, like how to buy the right shoes each season without waiting to peer surreptitiously at what her neighbors were wearing.
“Because a crisis is in the mind,” explained Chedva. “Calling it one makes it so.” The others nodded solemnly, or at least as solemnly as they could while eating Greek salads over their keyboards.
“So for example, if I were to click this—” Reva nudged her cursor over to the X at the top of the window labeled “school admissions crisis: 2022 version”— “then it would all be over?”
Instantly the women were on their feet, tossed salads cast aside. These weren’t the sort of women who spilled lettuce on their skirt whenever they ate, Reva noted ruefully as she tried to subtly assess the cleanliness of her own skirt.
“Don’t!” cried Leah. “School acceptances are one of our best yet. Insoluble, universally applicable, deeply divisive.”
“I still don’t get why we need crises?” asked Reva. “Or, if we have them, why you choose them? Or why you need to choose trends, or segulahs, or campaigns, or these dumb pleated skirts. Why can’t I pick out my own skirt? This one makes me look so fat!”
“Let me explain it you,” said Rochel kindly. “Life is hard, isn’t it? So many tzaros, so much pain….” She sighed heavily. “It can eat you up.”
The other women nodded in somber agreement.
“Well, that’s true.” Reva frowned. “But, um, how does a Crisis Department help with that? Don’t you just make more problems?”
Rochel shook her head in amused protest, like you do when your child earnestly informs you that Moishy’s father is a policeman and arrests little boys who don’t brush their teeth. “We don’t deal with tzaros,” she explained patiently. “We deal with crises. And everyone knows that the best way to feel better about your own life is to hock about someone else’s crisis.”
Everyone nodded in sage agreement (the wise type, not the color). Except Reva, who was feeling obstinate, Lug boots and all. “Is that really what we should be aspiring to?” she asked, displaying a maturity she’d apparently acquired at some point during this story.
Esti shrugged. “It’s the reality. We don’t create the reality. Only crises.”
The women chuckled in kinship. Frankly, Reva was starting to find all of these chorused reactions to be annoying.
“Whatever,” Shaindy snapped. “Point is, all of these crises really help Klal Yisrael. Especially the women. Everyone knows there’s no better way to calm down than hocking about someone else’s tragedy.”
“Yeah,” chimed in Chedva. “And besides, what would the magazines print if…” her voice trailed off guiltily.
“One minute.” Reva snapped her fingers. “One minute… is all this just to give fodder to the mag— hold on a second, do you have a sponsor?”
The women’s eyes shifted guiltily. Leah quickly stuffed a Family First mug into her purse.
The gears in Reva’s mind were whirring as rapidly as the blades on a food processor. Crises. Inbox. Clothing. Yeshivah week destinations. Ads. Segulahs. More ads. Suddenly it all made sense. She lunged for the mouse.
“Nooooo!” Reva cried dramatically, using her best Bais Yaakov play voice. “If you think that my daughter is going to be— I mean, if you think I’ll let bnos Yisrael suffer without schools, just so you can sell magazines, then you—” her fingers hovered over the mouse, to give the story a dramatic boost and also allow the other characters to offer desperate pleas, even though in real life it would have only taken a second for her to click the X and erase the school crisis for once and for all.
Rochel trembled. Shaindy shook.
Chedva spoke up, the desperation in her voice evident in the way the writer used the word desperation. “No! You can’t— you can’t do that!”
“Watch me.” Reva smirked, fingers still hovering improbably.
Chedva was frantically pushing buttons on her phone. “She’s in, I promise, your daughter—what’s her name, Shani, right? We can get her into Bais Naomi V’Rus, no problem, there were only 455 people on the list ahead of her anyway.”
Reva paused, unsure.
Leah jumped to her feet. “And I’ll throw in a Goyard bag! Plus… plus my friend runs Le Soulier, you know, the shoe store off County Line? I can get you into the September presale! No back-to-school lines!”
Reva cocked her head, considering. It would be nice to solve the school crisis for Klal Yisrael, sure. But then she’d have to wait on line for hours with them to buy shoes. Was it worth it?
Reva thought for a moment, then squared her shoulders, determined and defiant.
“All my kids can go to the presale, or just Shoshana?”
“All of them! All of them!”
“Well then!” Reva smiled sunnily and stood up. “I guess I’ll be heading home…. But before I go… Rochel, do you have any open positions?”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 784)
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