| Encore |

Encore: Chapter 43  

Sholom Wasser had been doing this long enough to recognize the look of a bochur who wants to talk, but doesn’t have the confidence or courage


On November 1st, Avi Korman missed a payment. It was the first time.

It wasn’t a big deal, and by the third of the month he’d figured it out — the money came through and he assured Shuey Portman that it had just been a technical problem, his secretary was away, and it was all a big misunderstanding — but in his voice, Shuey heard something else.

Shuey himself been on line in crowded grocery stores when the cashier looked up and frowned, indicating the credit card and shrugging, and he’d also done the “so strange, makes no sense, probably a fraud detection thingie, you know” more than once. He remembered waiting in the pizza shop for half hour to get his order, and when he paid, the cashier said, “Insufficient funds, brother,” like he was announcing the starting lineup. Shuey knew panic and he knew, as he heard Avi Korman speak, that he couldn’t count on the steady, monthly cash injection anymore.

Yeshivah Gedolah of Modena would figure this out, and he sent his first email to the entire parent body, not asking anyone for help with the style, and not stopping for a break until he’d finished typing it and hit send.

It was pretty good, he thought.

Dear Parents,

Baruch Hashem, you might have heard that the yeshivah has grown this zeman, with interest growing throughout the olam hayeshivos. The Rosh Yeshivah aims to keep the yeshivah small, so that he can invest himself in each individual bochur, and he only accepted a few of the many applicants.

This line had made Shuey pause for a moment, because there hadn’t been many applicants. There had been four, and two of the boys had been accepted.

Shuey hit backspace and changed it to “several” applicants.

Baruch Hashem, we’ve expanding in every way at the yeshivah, having renovated dormitory rooms, upgraded the facilities, and purchased many new seforim. While we appreciate all you’re doing and have worked out tuition agreements, we can use a bit of extra help.

Because the Yeshivah Gedolah of Modena is all about “extra.”

Then came the paragraph that Shuey was proudest of.

Late at night, when the Rosh Yeshivah sits down with a bochur to review shiur just one more time, he’s doing a little bit more. When we make sure that along with the regular Shabbos meals from the caterer, there is cholent and kugel for an oneg Shabbos on Friday night, we are doing a bit more. And friends, I wasn’t going to share this, but between us, last week, one of the bochurim wasn’t feeling that great. The doctor in town was closed and the yeshivah driver was away for the night. So we drove him to Monsey, to an Urgent Care, and didn’t wait until morning even though it wasn’t at all serious. The rosh yeshivah said that every bochur is a child, and he means it. It’s all about extra.

Can we ask you to consider doing a little bit extra too?

Thank you for reading this and thank you for being part of the Modena family.

Shuey smiled at this last line too. The Modena family. It sounded nice.



Sholom Wasser had been doing this long enough to recognize the look of a bochur who wants to talk, but doesn’t have the confidence or courage to voice it.

Mordy Halbfinger was a sweet boy: quiet, polite, and a bit on the outs, it looked like. He lingered after Maariv, and he approached with a kushya on the Rashba, the sort of the question that the rosh yeshivah could tell was just an excuse to talk. He answered it just the same, but then sat down on one of the benches, Mordy doing the same.

“How are things going in yeshivah stam azoi, are you happy?” Rabbi Wasser asked. “Chavrusas, friends?”

Mordy nodded. “Baruch Hashem, it’s going well, the learning is geshmak, I like the guys in my room.”

Sholom Wasser wished he knew how to drive a conversation forward, like some other rebbeim, but that wasn’t his strength. He found himself grasping for ways to continue the discussion, and settled on, “Do you miss home at all?”

Halbfinger looked at him oddly. “Home? Nah, not really.”

Sholom Wasser was out of options. “So what is it?” he blurted out. “What’s making you look so out of sorts?”

Halbfinger looked grateful. Okay, thought Sholom, sometimes asking it straight-out is the smartest way to go.

“Look, I didn’t come here to start the whole camp thing again, basically.”

This was slipping away from him. “Camp thing?” Rabbi Wasser asked.

“Yeah, rebbi knows how in camp it’s all about what you can do, like there’s the basketball team and the cantata guys and the scenery people and the geshmak counselors? It’s like everyone’s a team and you better be good at something if you want to make it, find your team and stick to it. It’s like, all about your talents,” Mordy said.

“Okay, okay,” Rabbi Wasser said, his mind racing as he tried to figure out where this was going.

“I came to yeshivah to try to learn, to be part of the chevreh, regular stuff. I didn’t expect this to be camp, to be surrounded by the talent show here too.” Mordy Halbfinger was speaking with obvious bitterness, but the rosh yeshivah still had no idea what he was talking about.

“Talent show?”

“Yes, they’re busy all day with their dumb harmonies and arrangements for the song, you know, the single, it’s mamesh like camp. I’m not a singer, that’s not my thing, and because I couldn’t care less, I’m suddenly out. After night seder, they’re all hanging around Rabbi Portman and singing away, no one playing ball, no one schmoozing in the dorm, it’s like the whole yeshivah is on hold and I don’t like it.”

Rabbi Wasser had never really understood the whole song idea and he still didn’t know what a single was, but he did know that it wasn’t what he wanted. It was clearly not just a distraction from learning, but also a little club, one that included some bochurim and excluded others.

“You know what? I hear you, loud and clear,” he told Mordy Halbfinger, and placed a hand on the bochur’s shoulder. “It’s not okay, and I’m going to take care of this, don’t worry.”

And then he added, “And no one will know where this came from, it won’t get back to you.”

Halbfinger’s face flashed with gratitude and Sholom felt, once again, like he was up to the task he’d chosen for himself.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 826)

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