"What I was counting on didn’t mamash work out. Money is tight. So we need to find a backup plan for the yeshivah"
Avi Korman knew that he had no choice, but he also knew that the chances of the Rosh Yeshivah considering the suggestion were less than slim, so he spoke like a man who didn’t believe his own words.
“Basically, this friend of mine was giving me ideas to help the yeshivah.” He paused and started again. “Not really a current friend, more like an old friend who I stay in touch with, but he has some interesting ideas, he’s done good things for all kinds of tzedakos. I mean, he’s the one who had the idea of Shomrei Shemittah, I’m sure you remember that campaign, and he was the guy who came up with the kiruv-dollars….” Aware that he was blabbering now, Avi Korman paused again.
Rabbi Wasser kindly pretended that everything was normal and made small talk while Avi collected himself. “I stopped drinking so much coffee,” the Rosh Yeshivah said, lifting the blue mug he was cradling in his hands. “I switched to herbal tea. I miss the coffee, but I was giving the bochurim a shmuess about smoking and the vort was that well beyond the health risks and unpleasant smell and expense — which are all emes’eh problems — there’s the etzem issue, which is being meshubad to a taavah. Its like willingly becoming a hostage. It’s a stirah with being a tzelem Elokim, I think. HaKadosh Baruch Hu made adam to be higher than anything else, so how can a person let himself be owned by a desire?
“Then,” Rabbi Wasser said, taking a pause to sip from the mug, “I started thinking about the fact that it wasn’t so honest of me, because I also have zachen, you know? So I started with coffee. At least this way I can be honest when I’m tovei’a for the bochurim, I’m trying to cut back too. And you know what Reb Avi? It’s hard. Harder than I thought. Sometimes I feel like it’s a taanis.”
He smiled then, so earnestly that Avi felt a little stab of sorrow. There was no way this man was not the most sincere rosh yeshivah on the planet, he thought.
He was determined to talk it out, explain the reason he’d driven down, and he started one more time.
“That’s incredible, Reb Sholom. I’m sure the fact that the bochurim are hearing shmuessen from someone who’s working on the same things as they are makes a difference. It’s rough with coffee. I also tried a few times. My wife switched to decaf without telling me, and it took me about ten seconds to chap the trick….
“Anyhow,” he leaned forward and started to shuckel, “anyhow. We started this yeshivah together, I told you that you should say shiur and teach Torah and yiras Shamayim and I would take care of everything else. You did yours, and you’re doing yours, all the way, but I’m in some trouble. I was counting on certain deals working out, I expected cash from a refinancing arrangement, whatever — irrelevant right now — but what I was counting on didn’t mamash work out. Money is tight. So we need to find a backup plan for the yeshivah, that’s my concern.”
Rabbi Wasser’s face was alive with concern and worry. “What about you, Reb Avi? Leave the yeshivah on the side for a second, what about your mishpachah? You have a life, a house, an eidem in kollel…what about you?”
It wasn’t pain Avi Korman was feeling but awe, a strange sense of pride that he’d chosen this man, this out-of-work high school rebbi, and made him a rosh yeshivah. What a prince.
“I’m okay, Rosh Yeshivah,” he said. “There’s money coming in, and I’ll swing my smaller obligations, don’t worry, but the yeshivah is costing me about $30,000 a month, and I can’t do that alone right now, that’s all I’m saying. B’kitzur, I went to this friend of mine for help. I thought he would have an eitzah for us, and I want to discuss his plan with you. That’s why I came.”
Something had shifted in the room, like when an airplane takes off and everything crammed in the overheard compartment suddenly shifts and settles in place for the long haul. The Rosh Yeshivah was in listening mode, a position that came easily to him.
“So this friend says that biking is a big thing now,” Avi said. “People enjoy the challenge of being part of organized bike-rides, and they’re ready to spend money, especially for a good cause. He also says since most people never heard of Modena, let alone the yeshivah, we can do a bike-a-thon, have people leave from Monsey or somewhere like that, and head for yeshivah, it’s sort of a race. It gets lots of attention, so he feels it’s win-win, we’ll make money for yeshivah and people will hear of the yeshivah. My friend thinks that the right chevreh, as he calls it,” Avi laughed a bit, as if to dissociate from the term, “would join this simply because it’s new terrain, a different route than they’re used to, and the scenery is really great here.”
It was quiet, and Avi said, “That’s it, zehu. That’s the pitch.”
The Rosh Yeshivah didn’t have much of a beard, but he grabbed his wispy brown beard and bent it forward, like he was thinking in learning.
“Reb Avi tei’ere,” he said, “I think that because you’re a big baal achrayus, you’re more desperate than I am. You’re so worried about the yeshivah and what will be that you feel such worry and you want to help us. Ashrecha, you’re a chiddush of a person. But I’m not as desperate, I guess, I’m so makir tov for what you did so far and the Ribbono shel Olam won’t let us fall now, I’m sure of that.”
He stood up and walked to the window. “A bochur,” Rabbi Wasser said, then paused as if considering whether to say the name, “one of the bochurim told me this morning, ‘Rebbi, I never in my life looked forward to the beginning of a new zeman before. This was the first time.’
“It’s your zechus, Reb Avi.”
The words were touching, Avi Korman thought, but they didn’t temper the mild hurt of the Rosh Yeshivah keeping the bochur’s name anonymous. Not because Avi needed the hock, but because it meant he wasn’t an insider anymore. One conversation, he thought, and he wasn’t a mechutan anymore.
Late that night, he would tell Faigy about the conversation, how impressed he was at the Rosh Yeshivah’s calm reaction. He wouldn’t mention the hurt at the Rosh Yeshivah’s making peace with the idea within seconds.
And at the same time that Avi and Faigy Korman were sitting on the wide porch with the thick-cushioned swing that no one ever used, Sholom and Penina Wasser were sitting at the creaky kitchen table.
The heavy blanket of darkness from outside made the small kitchen with the bare bulb hanging over their heads seem more dramatic, like they were the only two actors on a stage.
“Penina,” Sholom said, “I don’t know what will be or how we can continue without him, but what was I supposed to say?”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 820)
Oops! We could not locate your form.