He felt unkind thinking such thoughts, like he was being ungrateful to Penina’s cousins
The dormitory was completely empty, but Sholom Wasser thought that its silence also had a sound. He walked down the hall that had been so noisy and boisterous just five minutes earlier, the happy commotion of the last-minute packing and grabbing sweatshirts and pillows, the talmidim of the Yeshivah Gedolah of Modena going home for the first time since the yeshivah’s opening. There had been fist bumps and awkward hugs and Dovi Korman had started a little dance on the creaky front porch of the hotel.
The zeman was over.
There were empty potato chip bags on the floor and a bottle of Coke sat in its own sticky puddle. It was okay, Sholom thought indulgently, the usual mess made by boys in a rush. Boys being boys. He walked on, gingerly opening the door to each room, not even sure what he was looking for.
It was just something he’d wanted to do all zeman long, leisurely walk to the dorm of his yeshivah and look around: his own rosh yeshivah had done it weekly, opened drawers, lifted seforim and books off night tables and flipped through the pages, removed tapes from the tape recorders and peered at them, but Sholom hadn’t felt ready for that.
Not when the boys were there.
Now, he jumped back, startled at the picture on the far wall of the room. It was him. Sholom Wasser, walking near the edge of the large field, the stone fence of the neighboring property in the background. It was a nice picture, and part of him wanted to run and call Penina, show it to her. He studied the picture, wishing for a moment that his expression was a bit more serious and rosh yeshivah-like, like Rav Boruch Ber in the woods of Poland: here, he looked like he was pondering the weather.
He walked back to check whose bed it was: Shimshy Lieber. That was interesting. Sholom was pleased. Halbfinger had Rav Chaim Kanievsky looking at an esrog and Dovid Walter had the Chofetz Chaim hanging over his bed, but Shimshy Lieber had him.
Sholom took a picture on his small flip-phone: he wasn’t yet sure if he would show it to Penina, but it would be good to have it around.
His family was only leaving to Lakewood in the morning. Their own house was rented out for the year, but Penina’s cousin and her family were leaving to Eretz Yisroel for Succos and they had no problem lending out their house. Sholom wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea — it was a large and fancy home in a neighborhood where he knew no one, though he had visions of going to shul and making friends and who knows, maybe one or two of them would connect with him and they would have a shaychus and want to help the yeshivah? These things happened, right?
Maybe it would even lead to a parlor meeting, though Sholom wouldn’t be comfortable with one of those events with sushi and wine and a professional kumzitz guy and who-knew-what-else, even tzedakah had to be given in an appropriate way, he felt. He decided that he wouldn’t introduce himself as a rosh yeshivah when he came to shul over Succos, he would sit in the back and daven quietly, but if they asked, he would let them know. Avi Korman hadn’t come out and said he was under financial pressure, but he’d found enough ways to let Sholom know that the yeshivah needed other sources of funding. Maybe this was his hishtadlus. Sholom could see it now, the hashgachah of accepting Meir and Ahuva’s huge house and that being the doorway to the yeshuah; it would all work out.
The girls were excited about the trampoline, Kalman was excited because there was a swimming pool, and Penina was happy because she liked when things worked out perfectly, neat little solutions that fell into place: the zeman ended Motzaei Yom Kippur, Ahuva was leaving 11 in the morning to the airport and had a cleaning lady getting the house ready for them, no worries, it was even a favor for Ahuva, since the plants needed to be watered and the mail taken in and all that — even though Penina assured Sholom that it was her cousin’s way of being nice, there was full-time help and Ahuva didn’t really need anyone to water her plants.
He was happy too, not because of the pool or the landscaped garden, but because of the large glass-walled Succah, already installed. This way, he could host a Simchas Beis Hashoeivah for his boys.
Penina had asked her cousin, who’d thanked her for the zechus and said sure. Shlomo had it all figured out. He would invite Avi Korman, of course, maybe ask him to speak, and Shuey Portman would come with a guitar, it would be special. In later years, the first group of Modena talmidim would remember this Simchas Beis Hashoeivah, Sholom thought.
He would call each talmid to check in on them before Succos, he decided, and invite them personally. He stepped around a small tower of Pringle cans taped on top of each other, smiled benevolently at a mirror clearly designed to make a person look obese, and headed out of the dorm, already thinking about which bochurim he would ask to speak at the Simchas Beis Hashoeivah.
On the second day of Chol Hamoed, Sholom Wasser stood in the massive backyard and looked up at the sky. The clouds that had been wispy white in the morning now seemed darker and denser.
“Why are you sniffing?” Penina asked from the porch, leaning over the wrought iron railing.
He smiled, not sure himself what he’d been smelling for.
“It feels like it’s going to rain, and I’m worried. Do you think we can move the party indoors if need be? Do we have reshus?”
“Sholom,” she shook her head, “you need to stop worrying. Ahuva is practically my sister, closer even. She stayed with us for two weeks every summer, we didn’t sleep a wink, just schmoozed all night long.”
She enjoyed this memory, Sholom knew, and it had been her answer to many of his questions. He wasn’t convinced and she saw that.
“It’s fine. I’ll text her, but I guarantee you it’s no problem. If it starts raining, we’ll use the dining room. There’s room there for your yeshivah and three more yeshivos.”
He nodded, grateful for her reassuring competence, but he didn’t come inside. There was something about this garden — even with the orange-tinted dahlias and the fake wooden wheelbarrow and rows of spidery witch hazel that looked like they would keep blooming all the way into the winter — that was cold, lacking personality, or character: nothing like the field behind yeshivah with its different shades of green grass and sudden ditch, a half-foot drop, then an unexpected carpet of dandelions. The rough patches and muddy area, even on the hottest day, and the smell of pure earth, the soft drone of insects even when he couldn’t see them — that was outdoors. This was just artificial.
He felt unkind thinking such thoughts, like he was being ungrateful to Penina’s cousins, and he sat down in a large swing chair, reaching for Chana Malka and Pessy and helping them climb in.
There was nothing to worry about, so why did he feel so worried?
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 808)
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