Penina faltered. Was that it? Would Avi Korman cut funding to the yeshivah because she had a rich cousin?
t did rain, at the end. Not a very convincing rain at first, the drops stopping and starting so Sholom wasn’t sure about whether or not to make the Simchas Beis Hashoeivah in the large succah or indoors; every decision he made, he explained to Penina, would have chinuch ramifications well beyond this event.
Once, he told her, when he’d been about 14 or 15 years old, he’d been sitting during Krias HaTorah and the rosh yeshivah had stopped by his seat and whispered, “You should try to stand up,” and since then, he’d always stood. At the time, Sholom reflected, he hadn’t realized that the rosh yeshivah was changing his life, but that’s the effect of a rebbi.
More somberly, he told Penina, “And that’s the achrayus, every decision has to be weighed.”
She nodded. She knew this speech and knew how much he enjoyed giving it.
“It’s like, Penina, imagine we go inside and the boys walk away with a feeling that succah isn’t that important, chas v’shalom, and it’s all on my shoulders.”
She couldn’t help it. “Sholom, if it’s raining, then you’re pattur from the succah, so that’s the halachah, so don’t you have an achrayus to teach them that, too?”
Watching him ponder this, she felt badly that she’d spoken.
“I hear you, it is a big achrayus,” she conceded, but it was too late. He was hurt — which meant he was really nervous about tonight, because normally he would brush it off.
“Look, Sholom, let’s be ready either way,” she said briskly, eager to reconciliate. “I’m going to set the big table in the dining room, I think we should move out the nice chairs and I’ll use folding chairs instead — she has in the garage, I checked.
“I’m running out to buy a box of plastic tablecloths,” she continued, “I doubt Ahuva ever heard of them.” They both laughed; perhaps it was a bit more heartily then the joke deserved, but all was well.
At seven-thirty, the scheduled start time, Penina Wasser had a mild panic attack, which was very unusual for her. It was really pouring now, so she’d set up inside the dining room. She was comfortable with the choice of menu, she’d made sesame chicken and kugel — perfect bochur food, she thought — and she and the kids had baked fresh rolls. The Coke was cold and she even had two cases of beer in the freezer, so she had the “rosh yeshivah’s wife” thing down pat. But now she had a sudden fear that maybe Avi Korman would come with his wife, and then what would she do? If Shuey Portman came with his wife — she knew Henny Portman wouldn’t come, but even if she did — Penina would be fine, they had made it work over Rosh Hashanah. But Mrs. Korman, who called her a gardener a groundskeeper, and called the yeshivah “Avi’s little project”? Penina had nothing to serve her and even less to say to her.
She looked out the window, biting her lower lip and willing Faigy Korman to stay home. Know your place, Penina thought fiercely. Your husband is a balebos, she thought, okay, he’s The Balebos, but still. You don’t have to come to these kinds of things. When we have a dinner, then you can be a mechuteneste, but not tonight.
She knew, at that moment, that Faigy Korman would come. Of course she would. That’s how these things went. And Penina Wasser shrugged and went to prepare a fruit platter.
The bell rang moments later, the first car of bochurim having arrived, and a minute after that, it rang again. The party was on.
Noach Perensky burst into the kitchen and got busy helping right away. “Rebbetzin, can I bring out the drinks? Oh, wow,” he stopped by the large foil pans of sesame chicken and sniffed appreciatively. “This is amazing. Rebbetzin… you know just what the oilem wants.”
The bell rang again and Sholom went back to the door. He grabbed Kalman’s hand as he walked and she knew it was to cover up his own nerves.
She heard his greeting but she couldn’t make out the words — the edge in his voice was audible.
“Penina, look what a choshuve guest,” he called out. She stopped slicing cantaloupes, put down the knife and went to wash her hands.
Faigy Korman was carrying a large box of chocolates like it was a baby, both arms under the wide box. “Just a little something,” she said, and Penina accepted it from her, saying, “You really didn’t have to, it’s an honor that you came. It’s very special for us.”
She put down the chocolates in the kitchen and turned to take Faigy Korman’s coat. She turned to see her guest studying the moldings in the foyer, and Penina faltered. Was that it? Would Avi Korman cut funding to the yeshivah because she had a rich cousin?
“Let me help you,” Faigy Korman followed her back into the kitchen. “Can I do the fruits for you? Oh, wow, did you really make all this food yourself? I would have sent it over from Heshy’s, silly me that I didn’t think of that….”
Penina wished she would just sit down. It would be a long night.
“Mommy,” Kalman came tearing in to the kitchen, having totally forgotten her rule about not running at all in this house, “Mommy, Tatty has bochurim who surprised him, they drove in from…from….” Kalman wavered, having forgotten from where.
Penina put down the knife down again, her mind racing. Who’d come? Most of the boys in yeshivah lived in Lakewood, and a few in Brooklyn. Harrari and Walter lived in Queens and Jacobs lived in Monsey. They’d all been planning to come.
Two boys lived in Detroit, Lorb and Wagner, but there was no way they had come.
She washed her hands and stepped out of the kitchen to see Lorb and Wagner, dripping wet and exhausted and proud and happy, her husband looking as if he’d just uncovered a buried treasure in the sandbox, the other bochurim starting a little circle and dancing with the new arrivals.
“Wow,” she came out, “this is incredible, you boys drove in special for this?”
Quiet Chesky Lorb, who learned with her husband privately every night, for whom Sholom had secretly arranged a Skype reading evaluation one day by lunch on her laptop, whom Sholom had thought to make gabbai and then convinced the boy that he would be able to read the words and nothing would happen if he stammered a bit, had gotten in a car and driven all day to be here. Wagner was more of a surprise, she thought — it was probably Lorb’s idea.
“This is incredible,” she said. “How long did it take you?”
“It normally takes ten hours,” Lorb said, “but Wags did it in about eight, he ripped.”
Wagner blushed with pleasure, even as Sholom shook his head good-naturedly and said, “That’s great timing, but you have to careful, your parents trusted you with the car….”
Jacobs had a cousin who did it in seven hours once and Tishler said Lorb was dreaming — that was impossible — but he understood why someone who lived in Detroit would drive as fast as he could to get out of there, and Lorb punched him on the arm and it was like yeshivah suddenly. And all at once, Penina Wasser was thrilled that Faigy Korman was there to see it, to see what her Sholom had done.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 809)
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