| Encore |

Encore: Chapter 45

“You realize you made it, Portman, right? Like, you’ve arrived?”


The music wasn’t great and now the singing would be bad too, Shuey Portman thought with dismay.

This was the thing with Rabbi Wasser, Shuey sometimes felt: The Rosh Yeshivah made decisions without understanding the whole picture.

Rabbi Wasser wasn’t musical, and he knew it, yet he was making demands on Shuey that didn’t make much sense from a musical perspective.

The idea had seemed great at first — a single featuring Shuey and the bochurim — but now it had turned into a big headache. The song they’d chosen, “Aromimcha,” had a current feel, Shuey thought. He’d composed it back then during his singing days, but it hadn’t made it onto any album. Now Shuey was excited about the chance to get it out there. Korman and Zeldman, who were sort of running the project, were excited about it too — it was a catchy-enough song — and Shuey had allowed himself to open doors in his memory that he hadn’t touched in years.

He was that excited.

And his room was quiet and lonely enough that there was time and space to think.

Last night, he’d just sat in the large, discolored easy chair — a relic from the hotel — and let the memories flow. They were mainly happy and pleasant, many of them long buried — neither thrilling nor hurtful enough to have left a permanent mark — and as he immersed himself in them, he could smell the disinfectant used in the dressing rooms, the eerie warmth of the spotlights.

Singing had made him happy. Now he could admit that. And leaving singing had been like leaving camp at the end of the summer: He got it, it was time, life goes on, but deep down it doesn’t really leave you.

He remembered the early days, the concert in Florida on Chol Hamoed with his parents in the audience, after which his father had said, “If you take your job seriously and yourself seriously, there’s no reason singing has to be a bizayon.”

He remembered the flush of early, unexpected success, when the distributor, Danny, had said, “You realize you made it, Portman, right? Like, you’ve arrived?”


He’d been determined to remain the same guy, to keep his chavrusas from kollel and maintain the same lifestyle and habits. He would wear the same untucked white shirts, too tight around the middle, and drive the same Villager.

But then there had been Heshy, with all his “you need to think like a star” talk, and the manager who came after him, and finally Reich had taken over and insisted Shuey lose weight and learn to use an Israeli accent when necessary and also, to “deal with it.” So Shuey had dealt with it. The singing was what he loved and the rest was necessary, he figured, so he learned to wave at people and open his eyes wide as if he was happy to see them, to show up at the parties and events and hug other singers and musicians and say “brother” even though no one even made eye contact.

Sometimes, Shuey would complain to Henny, or to his chavrusa, Beckerman — as if complaining loudly meant that deep down, he didn’t really enjoy it. Once, after a very busy concert season — three before Pesach and seven over Chol Hamoed — he told Beckerman, “I feel like recently, being around all those people is changing me, the fakeness and ego and all that.”

Beckerman had looked up and said, “Recently? Really, Shuey?”

That was part of it, but there were also memories that filled Shuey with a happiness like liquid, running through his body from head to toe.

The kumzitz with Mordche and Avremel, when officially he was just supposed to open until they arrived, but he’d been part of it all night long. They had liked him. The hospital visits to that boy who’d gotten better, somehow, then his bar mitzvah in Williamsburg. The recording sessions at the old studio that went all night and most of the next day, pizza and more pizza — it was before sushi became the new pizza, Shuey mused now.

“Aromimcha” was good enough to bring him back, he thought, it had the kind of high part that still worked, it could be a thing. Then — much as he and Henny thanked Hashem that he’d left the industry, much as she shuddered at (some of) the memories — if the song worked and anyone wanted him at a concert, event, recording, project, he was in. Anytime, anywhere.

He’d spent most of the night in the chair, dozing on and off, and had woken up feeling strangely rejuvenated. He liked this job, he liked the yeshivah, but it was still nice to dream.

But then the Rosh Yeshivah had sat down beside him during breakfast and started hemming and hawing and finally said, “Listen, I’m sure the song, the tape you told me about, I’m sure it’s hafla v’feleh, but we need to find a way to include everyone. We can’t have a zach where some bochurim feel left out, you know what I mean?”

Portman wasn’t sure he did. Was this an elementary-school choir? Every kid had to get a solo? He wondered who had gone to complain to the Rosh Yeshivah. Most of the boys who enjoyed singing came to the little informal kumzitzes, and the others didn’t seem interested — some guys preferred to learn or play ball, or stam chill.

Rabbi Wasser kept speaking. “It just seems like there’s a lot of hype about it in yeshivah, very geshmak, but you have to make sure every single bochur feels part of it. That’s it.”

Shuey nodded slowly, resigned. Whatever. The music, so far, was boring and dry and he hadn’t heard any great chiddushim from his bochurim producers.

All he had was a song and a dream and now, a mandate to make sure everyone would play together nicely, like in kindergarten.

He was back in the real world.


After Maariv, Shuey sat down in the laundry room with a few bochurim and started to sing “Aromimcha,” like on most nights, but it was flat.

He remembered the conversation with the Rosh Yeshivah and he was inspired.

“Okay, listen up, we need everyone here, I need every guy in yeshivah to be here now. I want you guys to go around the building and round everyone up — I mean everyone — and tell them they have to come, even just for a few minutes. Nu, go,” he waved his hands, “all of you. Go bring guys back.”

There was a moment’s hesitation. Then Korman slid off a washing machine and made his way toward the door, and the others followed.

Shuey took a deep breath.

For a week now, Lorb and Wagner had been urging him to do this.

“Shlomo, can you stay back a minute?”

Shlomo Bass didn’t seem to hear, because he was shuffling toward the door. He came to the little gatherings because the others made him, but he didn’t participate at all.

“Shlomo. Shlomo Bass,” Shuey’s voice came out sharply, like a frustrated teacher, and he smiled as if to temper it, “can you hang back a minute?”

Bass looked surprised, but said nothing. He leaned against the door and waited.

“Listen, Shlomo,” Shuey said. “There’s a song here, we can do this, but it’s not going. The oilam is telling me that you’re the secret weapon. I need you to come through for us. Do you think you can?”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 828)

Oops! We could not locate your form.