Avi knew Heshy could be brash and over-confident, but he also knew that Heshy Labinsky had done this before, more than once
Faigy Korman wasn’t the type who offered opinions regarding her husband’s friends. She was happy he had friends at all, men being so focused on work all the time. He wasn’t much of an athlete, like her sister Yocheved’s husband who went out every Sunday to play basketball with a group of men, and she had to beg him to go to the annual men’s barbecue in their neighborhood. He was vehemently against WhatsApp chats, and if not for his shiurim and board meetings, she doubted he would socialize at all.
So when Heshy Labinsky called, she didn’t say anything. She didn’t grimace or mutter, even though she had what to say.
Heshy Labinsky, she had always thought, believed that other people had been created simply so he could boss them around with all his ideas and have them say how amazing he was. The appropriate response to any and every comment Heshy Labinsky made, she once noted, was “wow.”
He’d never been easygoing, and business success had certainly not made him more endearing. Every few months she saw his name and huge smile in a dinner ad for whichever mosad was anointing him guest of honor, and she felt relief that she and Avi had moved to Lakewood instead of staying in Brooklyn, where he’d been their neighbor.
Avi took the call on the porch, so she couldn’t hear him speaking, but he came back in looking pleased.
“We don’t have anything Tuesday night, do we?” he asked.
“No, I don’t think so. The sheva brachos for Markin is Wednesday. Why?”
“No, nothing, just I want to go out for dinner with Heshy, if that’s okay with you. Stam, just to catch up a bit, haven’t seen him in ages.”
It wasn’t Avi’s type. Maybe he wanted to unburden himself about his business woes. She hoped he wasn’t looking for a loan, not from Labinsky who would probably boast about it at the next dinner he chaired. “An old friend of mine, nice guy, recently came to me for a loan,” she could imagine him beaming, then frowning earnestly, “and I said, ‘Thank you for asking! Yes, thank you!’”
“Yes, sure,” she smiled warmly. She didn’t give opinions on his friends.
Heshy had lost weight again, something he did with increasing frequency — gain weight, and then make a big production about losing it, so it was always a topic.
Now, he was so skinny it made his smile look a bit eerie, and it meant that his wardrobe had changed again too. He was wearing a skin-tight burgundy V-neck sweater and looked, Avi thought, like a flight attendant.
“Brother,” he said, embraced Avi, and they walked into the restaurant together.
They did the small talk first. Their parents were friends and they’d been in yeshivah together, so they ran through Barry’s new insurance business, Frankel’s moving to Eretz Yisrael, and the mashgiach’s heart surgery.
They discussed their children, Heshy’s new mechutan who had more money then he knew what to do with but still couldn’t find it in himself to spring for a stroller for the new einekel.
“It’s a sickness,” Heshy said as he shook his head back and forth in sympathy and speared pieces of antipasti, “a real sickness. So much money he can buy strollers for every kid in Bnei Brak, but it’s the principle of the matter, he says, imagine.”
Avi Korman imagined, nodding along. He’d eaten too much bread and he already had a stomachache. It had weird spices on it, like someone in the kitchen was trying an experiment.
He wanted to talk about the yeshivah and find a solution. He didn’t care about strollers or weight loss. Avi Korman had a yeshivah to carry and it needed an injection of funds soon or it would collapse. He knew Heshy could be brash and over-confident, but he also knew that Heshy Labinsky had done this before, more than once.
He didn’t get to it until after the main course.
“Biking.” Heshy leaned forward to say this, as if someone in the restaurant might steal the idea from them. “Biking. You know, it’s hot right now, and you can still pull it off for a few more weeks before the weather changes. It’s healthy. It’s fun. And if you get the right people, you can make serious money.”
He reached for his phone and scrolled to the pictures.
“Look here.” The whole screen was covered in similar images. “This is right before the Wheels Turn for Chesed ride, and look what kind of chevreh showed up.”
Avi couldn’t really make out who he was looking at, interchangeable faces covered by sunglasses, helmets low, expressions serious.
“So you guys actually have a good gimmick, and hear me out.” Heshy pushed his plate forward. “You guys have a yeshivah in Modena. Most people don’t even know where that is, so already, they’re intrigued, right? So you brand it, maybe something like Make It to Modena, and you get a team of relevant balabatim to bike from Monsey to Modena, and it ends up at the yeshivah?”
Avi tried to maintain a polite, interested expression.
“Imagine, we do the ride, it’s what… let me check, hold on, 50 miles, that’s perfect. Great, great number. And then the ride ends at yeshivah, we rest up, refresh ourselves, and then the rosh yeshivah could say a little shiur — something really short, that’s crucial, maybe a bit of halachah related to biking, and then a kumzitz with the boys, you know? It’s powerful, I have a guy who can be there and video, it’ll be viral within five minutes.”
He paused to wave over the waiter and ask for more drinks. As if he were celebrating.
“Hesh,” Avi said tentatively, “that does sound so cool, maybe down the road or something… I don’t see the rosh yeshivah going for a bike-a-thon into yeshivah, you know? I need a short-term solution. It’s too soon for a dinner, there are no alumni, just some kind of small event that can carry us for a few months. Hopefully things get simpler for me by then and I can make it work. I need you to give me an idea, nothing so elaborate, though, yah?”
Avi smiled playfully, just one old friend teasing another.
He saw disappointment in Heshy’s eyes. But his friend didn’t give up.
“You’re not hearing, Korman,” he insisted. “Listen. Don’t use the word ‘fall’ — that’s a downer, use the word ‘autumn,’ it’s nicer, and talk about the — whatever the fancy word is for leaves when they change colors — you know, you’ll have a great group of balabatim if you do that. Trust me. This is my zone, Korman.”
Sensing an opening, he forged on. “And regarding the rosh yeshivah, explain to him how important this is for the boys, they need to see achrayus, not to mention healthy living. It’s win-win, Korman…”
Avi opened his mouth, then paused. Heshy Labinsky was a good guy. He meant well. This had to be handled wisely.
“Okay, Hesh, let me talk to the rosh yeshivah, ultimately it’s his decision. I have an achrayus to help him, but it’s not my yeshivah, you know?”
Labinsky nodded, looking pleased again. “I’m sure he’ll appreciate it. Trust me on this one.”
Avi Korman smiled gamely, but he felt his heart sinking.
There wasn’t much time to spare.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 818)
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