| Encore |

Encore: Chapter 47

Penina finally tapped the man on the thigh with her umbrella and said, “Let’s go buddy, up and out of here or I’m calling the police”



huey Portman was away, so the rosh yeshivah decided to do a quick dormitory check around midnight, just to make sure everything was calm. His nephew Ephraim was the dorm counselor, but it was important to have someone older come by also, just to look around.

You could never know.

The bochurim weren’t aware, but one night last week, a drunk had come up from the tavern down the road and tried to go to sleep on the bench in the yard. Sholom had been leaving the beis medrash and noticed the figure. He’d approached and then gone to his house to get his cellphone in case he had to call the police.

He’d made a racket looking for the phone, hoping Penina would notice and ask what was wrong. She did, of course, and when she heard, she came along with him, taking an umbrella with her just in case.

The man was fast asleep when Sholom returned, and didn’t move even after Sholom cleared his throat and said “Anschuldigs, excuse me, sir, you need to wake up.”

Penina finally tapped the man on the thigh with her umbrella and said, “Let’s go buddy, up and out of here or I’m calling the police.”

The drunk opened one eye and lifted his head an inch off the bench. Sholom really didn’t want her to call the police, because then the bochurim would come pouring out of the dorm and it would be a whole matzav and tomorrow, parents would be calling him. The frum news sites would talk about an attack at the yeshivah in Modena.

Penina picked up the cell phone and tapped the drunk again. “Hi, we have a trespasser, clearly drunk,” she spoke loudly in a voice so deliberate and loud that Sholom knew she was speaking to no one. The drunk fell for it. He sputtered, then cursed and pushed himself into a sitting position.

“Okay, okay,” he held up his hands, showing his palms, “I’m going, you can relax,” he said and Sholom felt bad for the man, even with the foul odor and stained hands. One day, he would use this in a schmooze. The dignity of man, reduced. The tzuras ha’adam, sullied. But still, a person.

They watched the man stagger down the path to the main road and Penina said she would speak to Shuey about putting up a real gate. It was time.


Now, just in case, Sholom took the umbrella with him even though the sky was clear, and he walked toward the dorm. The beis medrash was empty, and he expected that everyone would be around or near their rooms. The first few rooms had bochurim getting ready for bed, but the next one was completely empty and the one after that only had two bochurim.

“Where are the others?” he asked.

Duddy Tishler, whose glasses were already folded on the night-table, was squinting and speaking too quickly. “Maybe they’re around somewhere? I’m not sure.” He looked to his roommate, Gelber, for direction, but he couldn’t see anything so he started tapping frantically for the glasses.

“Somewhere?” asked Rabbi Wasser drily.

“I don’t know. Maybe they’re doing laundry?” Tishler said and looked miserable.

Rabbi Wasser understood and pretended that he hadn’t heard the answer. It wasn’t fair to put a bochur in that situation. “Okay, if you see any of your roommates, tell them to come knock at my door, until whatever time it is. Thanks.”

He walked out of the room and continued down the hallway, even though he really wanted to head straight to the laundry room. He wasn’t going to let Tishler feel like a snitch, so he kept himself busy in the dormitory for another few minutes. Jacobs had a question on shiur and Dovid Walter wanted reshus to go home for Shabbos for a nephew’s bar mitzvah, and finally, Rabbi Wasser felt comfortable slipping out of the door at the end of the hall and going down to the laundry room.

There was definitely action there. He heard the noise from the other side of the building. He looked at his watch: 12:39. This was unacceptable. It was five weeks into the zeman and they were behaving like it was Erev Purim.

There was music. Ah, it was the album thing from Shuey Portman. Maybe it was a bad idea.

He’d gone along with it, originally, because he thought it was nice that Rabbi Portman had a project that interested him and Sholom Wasser knew better than anyone else that it was Shuey Portman who’d been pulling together funds for the yeshivah over the past few weeks. Just like ratzon, desire, was the strongest force for a talmid, it was true for adults too, he believed, and Shuey Portman clearly wanted this badly.

It had been a mistake, and he wasn’t about to let it get even more out of hand just to save face. Shuey would understand. He hadn’t been hired to make albums or bichlal, to be involved in the chinuch. This was the rosh yeshivah’s decision.

A burst of sound came out of the room, as if to mock him. Sholom Wasser didn’t get angry, but when he did, he dealt with it. He had long ago made a kabbalah to stand in place without reacting when he felt this way, and so he swayed back and forth at the end of a dark corridor, the smell of mildew and old carpet surrounding him, an old, out-of-service change machine sitting next to him like a watchman from the past.

After waiting the full two minutes, he felt somewhat calmer and he tried to walk as softly as he could toward the room. The floorboards creaked, but no one could hear him over the music. Rabbi Wasser raised himself on to his toes to peer in through the small, narrow window.

Inside he saw a large group, about 12 boys in a semi-circle — more than half of his yeshivah — and they were singing beautifully. Rabbi Wasser stood there, frozen. His nephew Ephraim — turning 28, five years in shidduchim, over 60 different girls, over 60 different sorts of disappointment, two younger siblings married and, as he’d recently told Sholom, many of his campers married as well — looked happier and more relaxed than Sholom had seen him in years.

But what was most captivating about the picture was Shlomo Bass, sitting on top of the washing machine, a guitar in his hands. It was an ordinary brown, wooden guitar, but what Bass was doing with it was very not ordinary. His fingers were dancing and his shoulders were jumping and everything in the room — the machines, the pile of towels in the corner, the row of Tide bottles, the empty two-liter Dr. Pepper bottle on the windowsill, and the people — seemed to be quivering along with his music.

Rabbi Wasser watched and, wary of being noticed, he slipped away into the shadows. It was late, very late and the boys were meant to be asleep, but it was also a yeshivah and sometimes, growth had to happen in unusual ways. It was his job to know when and how, and this, in his opinion, was a good thing.

He closed his eyes on the landing and tried to summon up the image of Shlomo Bass’s face.

It was a good thing.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 830)

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