Avi Korman felt like he was about to cry. He looked down. Dovi would never forgive him
Avi Korman wasn’t a fool. He appreciated that Sholom Wasser asked him to speak — it was a classy thing to do — but he knew his place. He was uncomfortable enough sitting at the head of the table, next to Sholom and Shuey Portman, but he’d promised Dovi that he wouldn’t sit with the boys.
There was a time that he imagined that he would be that cool father, the one whose teenage son would be okay with him hanging around when friends were over, but it turned out that there was no such thing. Even now, Dovi, sitting at the far end of the table, kept looking up to make sure his father was still far away. Avi didn’t mind. He was enjoying the singing and it was nice to see Dovi sitting in a comfortable little circle, eating, schmoozing and singing.
The boys were urging Shuey Portman to sing something alone, and Avi detected the wariness on Rabbi Wasser’s face, as if he wasn’t sure how far to let it go.
Shuey seemed ready to sing, but Halbfinger, who was playing keyboard, didn’t know the songs Shuey mentioned, which was embarrassing for everyone. Sholom Wasser used the pause to start speaking.
“Kodem kol, I have to thank Reb Avi,” he said. Avi straightened up and hoped his face hadn’t colored — that would embarrass Dovi who, Avi noticed, was getting slapped on the back and high-fived.
“I don’t think we ever had the zechus to have Reb Avi meet all of you, but the yeshivah, our heilege yeshivah, is really his, it’s his idea and his zechus.”
“Whew, nice,” Perensky started clapping, more to tease Dovi then anything else, Avi realized, but the rosh yeshivah didn’t appreciate it: he looked at Perensky and gently said, “Noach, you’re right to be makkir tov, but some things go beyond applause, this isn’t a camp skit.”
Avi felt bad and wondered why the rosh yeshivah was embarrassing the bochur, but Perensky took it in stride. “Yah, sorry, rebbi,” he said and waved, appearing thrilled at having been singled out, and Avi Korman realized that there was a lot he didn’t understand about running a yeshivah, the inner dynamics of the flow between the rosh yeshivah and the boys. He felt like an outsider, but it was a nice feeling. These boys were in good hands. He’d chosen well.
Rabbi Wasser continued, thanking Shuey Portman as well. “You boys know what Reb Yehoshua means to all of us, there’s nothing in yeshivah that he doesn’t make his problem. Ashreinu that we have him and ashrecha, Reb Yehoshua, that you get to be the one who makes sure that these tei’ere bochurim have what they need so that they can shteig.”
Avi Korman felt like he was about to cry. He looked down. Dovi would never forgive him.
The rain was pouring down with a roar. What appeared to be a wall of water covered the massive windows, with individual drops of rain visible, like out of a cartoon.
The bochurim were laughing, preparing to run for their cars. Penina gestured urgently to Sholom and he followed her into the walk-in pantry.
“Sholom, you can’t let those two boys drive back to Detroit tonight, I heard them saying they have to get back. You have to put your foot down, it’s sakanas nefashos.”
Sholom was nearly backed into the shelf and he knocked down a bag of pasta with his shoulder as he nodded. “Okay, thanks,” he said, “I’m on it.”
He walked out of the kitchen and approached Chesky Lorb. “I assume you guys have a plan of where to sleep tonight, right?”
“Um… we’re holding by going back, don’t worry, rebbi, we can do this,” Lorb spoke quickly.
Wagner hovered, like a protective older brother. “Really, rebbi, I’ve done this a million times. I did it in a snowstorm already,” he added.
It was quiet. Maybe if Avi and Faigy Korman hadn’t been looking on with concern, Sholom would have wished the boys a safe trip, but he didn’t. Instead, he said, “I have news for you, guys. We have plenty of room for you here, or you can make other arrangements, but there’s no way you’re leaving Lakewood tonight.”
He opened the back door a crack and looked out. “No way,” he said, more firmly this time. “I don’t let.”
Penina was motioning to him. He knew what she wanted. There really wasn’t room for them, she was saying, because she promised Ahuva that they would only use the main floor. Sholom knew this, but he also knew that the boys would make other arrangements rather than stay there.
Faigy Korman jumped in. “We have a perfect guest room, boys, you’re more than welcome to spend the night by us.”
Without looking, Sholom Wasser knew that Dovi Korman wouldn’t appreciate the offer. He was a nice boy, but not the type who would want Lorb and Wagner in his home during bein hazmanim. Thankfully, Lorb knew that too and he said, “Thanks so much, I think we’re going to stay with my aunt, she lives right here. I’ll call now to ask her.”
He headed to the study and pulled out his cell phone, but Penina Wasser heard him say, “There is no way in the world that I am calling my aunt, not a chance. She has two million kids and bunkbeds in every room and my uncle is the type who probably sleeps in the succah when it’s raining too. Zero chance.”
“But l’maaseh we can’t go, the rosh yeshivah said no way?” Wagner said and Penina’s heart swelled. The rosh yeshivah.
“I hear. But my aunt isn’t the eitzah, and neither is Korman, you know he’s not down for that kind of chill, we might chas v’shalom use one of his towels, you know how he is… we’ll figure it out, this is Lakewood.”
Penina knew she should stay out of it and let them figure it out, but she couldn’t help following them too closely as they came back to assure Mrs. Korman it was taken care of.
It was only once the Kormans had left that she heard Lorb ask Shimshy Lieber if his family had a guest room.
“You know that it would be no issue anytime, but now it’s Yom Tov,” Lieber looked genuinely apologetic, “so it’s a bit nuts. My married sisters are by us, and my nephew is sleeping on the floor in my room. The kid is four and he snores louder than Zeldman.”
“Hey, no worries,” Lorb said, “me and Wags can sleep in yeshivah, on a bench, you guys go take care of your nephews.”
He laughed, but Penina could see he was nervous. She started mentally rearranging the house, wondering if she could put Kalman on the couch.
“You could sleep by us, we have plenty of room.”
It was quiet, and it took Penina a moment to see who was speaking.
It was little Shlomo Bass, who’d come late and had barely spoken all night.
Lorb shrugged and said, “Yah, amazing, thanks. Wags, let’s do it?”
Shlomo Bass looked shocked and scared and thrilled all at once.
“Perfect, I’ll call my mother right now,” he said.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 810)
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