| Encore |

Encore: Chapter 31 

Shlomo took a deep breath. Only once had he played his songs in public


The sky was like a perfect blue dome, with not a hint of last night’s fierce storm — like a child apologizing for bad behavior by acting extra sweet.

Shlomo Bass was standing in the backyard, behind the large swing set his parents had put in when he was 11 in the hope that it would draw other children to play with him. It hadn’t back then, but it was coming in handy now to give the boys cover as they fiddled with their e-cigarettes. Lorb had a good time trying to drink his coffee without spilling while bouncing on the trampoline.

Morning, glorious as it was, had disappointed Shlomo with its arrival. He hadn’t wanted the night to end, sensing that it would be hard, perhaps impossible, to capture the heady confidence he’d felt as he’d led the other boys into his recording studio, showing them the huge computer, the speakers, the mic with three pairs of headphones wrapped around it, the guitar and keyboard.

For a moment, he’d been worried that they would be impressed but not take it seriously, not believe him when he said it was in this room that he really lived, that it was not just his escape but the place where he was happiest. He thought they might look at it like the huge play structure with the double glider plastic swings that no one else in the neighborhood had — just more fancy toys, ways to spend money to keep little Shlomo busy.

That would have devastated him, if they’d believed that.

But they got it. Lorb had picked up the guitar and started to strum, the high part of “Abba, Abba,” and without looking at him, Shlomo had started tapping at the keyboard and Wagner had leaned back against the wood-paneled wall and closed his eyes and said, “Wow, I hear you now,” and Shlomo Bass had felt what his therapist would have called “seen.”


They had jammed for a few minutes before Shlomo felt comfortable enough to let himself go. First he played “Halev Sheli” and then, when it felt right, he said, “I have some stuff I made up too.”

It was quiet for a minute, and then Wagner said, “Come on, you compose songs? Nu, let’s hear them!”

Shlomo took a deep breath. Only once had he played his songs in public. In his old yeshivah, on Purim, he noticed the second seder shoel u’meishiv he’d been sort of close with whispering to the rebbi whose house they were in. Shlomo, already a bit drunk, hadn’t realized what was happening until it was too late. The shoel u’meishiv, whom he’d told about the music, had decided it was a good idea to push him to share it, and he’d probably been waiting for Purim all winter long to launch his plan.

It had been horrible. The maggid shiur pushed his glasses up on his nose, as if he were checking an esrog, then shrugged and pulled Shlomo to the front and said, “Nu, Reb Shloime, let’s hear the niggun,” and started banging on the table, as if expecting something fast.

Norman, who was loud on a regular day but took it to the next level on Purim, called out, “Forget Shlomo Carlebach, we have Shlomo Bass now,” laughing loudly as if this were brilliant.

Kahan, who was playing along, couldn’t get an A minor, so Shlomo was doomed from the start. He had drunk too much, so his voice was shaky. By the time he hit the high part of his “Im Eshkachech,” the crowd had lost interest, Goldbrenner thought it sounded like “Vehareinu,” which he started to sing, the Rebbi didn’t think the words were right for a Purim seudah and the shoel u’meishiv had gone to the back porch to be mechazek another bochur. That was it.

But now the time was right. At 4:25 a.m. on Chol Hamoed Succos, Shlomo Bass, in sweatpants and a T-shirt, let himself go. He played “Etz Chaim” and “Ko Omar,” and finally, he even felt ready to play “Im Eshkachech” again.

No one said it sounded like “Vehareinu,” and both boys listened. Even though Shlomo hadn’t told them he considered it his best song, Lorb said it was special, and asked him to play it again.

He played it again and again, but eventually, morning had come and the new day had started and they had gone out to get ready for Shacharis and Shlomo Bass couldn’t help feeling that they would leave and head back to Detroit and that would be it. They would get into the car and listen to their music, to Joey and Ribo and the chassidishe guy with the gravelly voice and the astonishing beats and he would be forgotten.

Maybe on Purim, Wagner would tell the rosh yeshivah to ask Bass to sing “one of his songs.” Ha.

Nothing would change.


Ten minutes away, Sholom Wasser was sitting in Penina’s cousins’ succah, feeding his children breakfast. Penina opened the sliding door and came in.

“Good morning, thanks so much! That’s so nice of you, but Kalman doesn’t like plain Cheerios, only Honey Nut,” she said, even though Kalman was contentedly eating the bowl of cereal his father had prepared for him.

Sholom smiled and she stopped walking and peered at him. “What? Why do you look so nervous?”

“Who says I’m nervous?”

“Oh, come on, Sholom, you only smile like that when something is worrying you.” After all these years, she still found it endearing that he held on to this chassan-class tip of smiling reassuringly when you felt anything but reassured.

“Penina, you don’t miss a thing,” he said generously.

He leaned back in the chair and she grimaced, because her cousin’s husband, whose chair it was, had probably never leaned back in his life and she wasn’t sure the chair could handle it.

“I’m thinking about Shlomo Bass,” Shlomo said. “He had the opportunity of his life last night, with the bochurim staying over. Friends don’t come easy to him, and I’m hoping it worked out. He’s one of the strongest bochurim in yeshivah in learning, but he walks around like he’s allergic to people, he’s missing that natural ability to connect. Even in his dorm room it’s like that. If I could have planned this, I would have wanted Wagner to be one of the boys there, he has what it takes, he has a heart for another bochur… I hope it worked out, that’s all.”

Penina refilled Kalman’s bowl with Honey Nut Cheerios and nodded. “Amen. I hope you didn’t get involved, tell Wagner anything? Because that would be counterproductive, you don’t want to make Bass into a nebach either, right?”

“Penina, Penina, don’t be so nervous,” he said.

She saw then that her husband had been saying Tehillim, and she felt a rush of appreciation for this man who cared enough about his talmidim to be sitting here on a beautiful Chol Hamoed morning davening that the door opening for Shlomo Bass not slam in his face.

“I wonder if your boys realize how lucky they are,” she said and his face flooded with gratitude. She turned and left the succah and her husband went back to his Tehillim.

When she left the succah, Sholom Wasser found the text he’d sent to Shlomo Bass the night before and deleted it. Not because he thought it was wrong or regretted it, but it wasn’t always a mitzvah to show a wife every little thing, even a wife as smart as Penina.

With that, he continued davening.

to be continued…

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 814)

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