The words bothered Pinchas Bass, but he was used to being irritated by this strange rosh yeshivah
Boruch Zeldman had a little bit of the askan gene, inherited from his father. When the people in shul were grumbling that the rav’s speeches were getting too long and that it was too much halachah and not inspiring enough, it was Eliezer Zeldman who decided that someone had to tell the Rav. He’d squared his shoulders and gone and done it, offering a lengthy introduction about if people were talking behind his back he would want to know and the oilam loved the Rav and the derashos were great but maybe it would be kedai to make some small changes.
He had come home like a conquering hero, telling his wife again and again that sometimes, it’s a mitzvah to say what needs to be said. The next Shabbos, the rav had spoken four minutes shorter and Eliezer Zeldman’s face had been pink with pleasure. “Sometimes, it’s just about saying what needs to be said,” he repeated during kiddush, as if he was considering copyrighting the phrase.
When the uncles and aunts decided that Zeidy shouldn’t be driving anymore and no one wanted to tell him, Eliezer Zeldman had stepped up to the plate and spoken for all of them.
Boruch didn’t really care much how long Rabbi Schlaeffer’s speech was and he felt kind of bad for Zeidy, who had barely been driving in any case, but he did worry about his best friend and he felt like someone should tell the other bochurim about Avi Korman’s financial issues. Not because it was any of their business, but because in yeshivah, Dovi Korman was jokingly called chairman of the board. Leiber liked to tease Dovi, saying things like, “Please tell your father there was no hot water today,” and “would your Tatty mind if I took a second piece of kugel,” and Sutton had blown up a picture of Avi Korman seated between the rosh yeshivah and Mr. Portman and hung it up in Dovi’s room as a joke.
Dovi didn’t seem to mind, but now it would be sensitive, Boruch thought.
Sometimes it’s a mitzvah to say what needs to be said.
Jacobs and Halbfinger were playing basketball during bein hasedarim when Zeldman approached. They were both loud and popular and he figured they were the right place to start his campaign. He didn’t have to tell all the bochurim, he reasoned, but he did have to tell the right bochurim.
The basketball court was old and the pavement was cracked in places, weeds coming through, and no game lasted more than a minute or two, since as soon as the ball hit a bump, it would jump suddenly and fly off the court. Zeldman knew he could just wait and he’d have their attention.
Within 30 seconds, the ball had flown off the court and hit the rusty fence, and he leaned over to pick it up.
“Nu?” Halbfinger said. “Send it over.”
Zeldman held up his hands like a school teacher. “Wait, mamash a minute of your time. Just hear me out.”
He gave his little shmuess about how Avi Korman was in a rough spot, and just for the time being, it would be menschlich to refrain from making comments that might hurt Dovi. Halbfinger grunted and reached for the basketball.
Feeling accomplished, Zeldman continued his rounds. Perensky was trying to nap, but he wasn’t sleeping yet so it wasn’t a big deal, and Harari was binding seforim in the small janitor’s closet at the end of the hallway and glad to have company.
Boruch Zeldman got better at the speech each time he delivered it, and finally he was ready for Lieber, the reason for the whole campaign.
Shimshy Lieber was doing push-ups in the yard when Boruch approached.
“So listen, just a small zach…”
Pinchas Bass much preferred Europe to America, but what could he do if his son lived in Lakewood?
Over the last two years, Pinchas had enjoyed his role, welcoming Shlomo when the boy needed to get out of the house of his mother and the thoroughly unremarkable chassid she’d chosen to marry. Shlomo didn’t complain much, but he didn’t have to say anything for Pinchas to feel his aggravation.
But now Shlomo finally seemed to be in a yeshivah he enjoyed, even though the rosh yeshivah — in Pinchas Bass’s opinion — seemed a bit clumsy. With Shlomo settled in Modena, Pinchas thought he could finally afford to head back to Europe for a few months and visit his own family, check on some properties, and maybe even find time for a real business trip to the Far East. He called Rabbi Wasser, grimacing a bit at the man’s hesitant, faltering way of talking, and updated him on his plans. The rosh yeshivah assured Mr. Bass that he could travel with peace of mind.
“Shlomo is shteiging,” Rabbi Wasser said, “not just in learning and yiras Shamayim, but socially as well. He’s doing beautifully.”
But socially as well. Those words bothered Pinchas Bass, but he was used to being irritated by this strange rosh yeshivah.
Most of the bochurim were there, though Zeldman and Korman were not. This diplomatic feat, arranged by Shimshy Lieber, hadn’t been simple. It wasn’t such a big yeshivah and there wasn’t much privacy, but he’d suggested that Zeldman persuade Korman to go for a walk.
Zeldman, still in askan mode, had nodded, his expression serious. He was on it. He would get Dovi Korman off campus so that Lieber and the rest of them could do this right.
The bochurim were gathered in the laundry room, the one area where the rosh yeshivah and Mr. Portman didn’t usually venture, so they were safe.
Lieber, the self-appointed emcee, was filling the others in.
“The yeshivah will be okay, but we have to be careful not to talk about Dovi’s father anymore. That’s basically it, no jokes, no nothing. He hit a rough patch in business and it’s uncomfortable for Dovi.”
Perensky snorted. “Big-time financial issues, give me a break, he came up yesterday in his Range Rover, same as always, and Dovi has a new Ferragamo belt again. His third one since this yeshivah started. One a month. So relax with the sob stories.”
Lieber hoped his face conveyed adequate disgust. “Seriously? A belt? That’s how you gauge financial stability, Noach?”
“Ooooh, the maturity police is here, everyone hide,” Perensky hooted, ducking low and covering his head. “Watch out.”
“A joint presentation from the maturity police and financial planner S. Lieber of S. Lieber and Co,” Weldler intoned in a serious voice.
Lieber didn’t flinch, waiting out the unrest without moving.
Eventually, he won and it got quiet again. “Anyhow, the jokes and teasing have to stop — and I’m as guilty as anyone else here.”
“Guiltier,” Perensky whispered loudly, a valiant attempt to retake the room.
Gordon, sitting on the windowsill, saw that Zeldman and Korman were on their way back to yeshivah and he called out the information.
“They’re coming, maybe a minute away… we got to break this up, Shimshy.”
“Okay then,” Leiber said, back to being chairman, “you all get the point. Meeting adjourned.”
“Wait,” this was Lorb, who’d been quiet a whole time, “wait…”
Everyone looked at him.
“I hear the vort about Dovi, we’ll all be careful, but I have another question. What are we going to do for our yeshivah? If there’s no money, how can we keep this place going?”
The question hung there.
What would be with the yeshivah?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 821)
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