| Encore |

Encore: Chapter 49

 Once Penina Wasser made up her mind about something, she didn’t do much second-guessing. She moved forward

Months ago, right after Yom Kippur, Rabbi Wasser had delivered a parting bein hazmanim schmuess.

It had been pretty good, he thought, more or less what he had heard from his own rebbeim: the importance of helping out at home and behaving like a ben Torah. At the end, he’d smiled and said, “And don’t forget to have a good time too, rabboisai, you worked hard this zeman and deserve it. Have fun, relax, enjoy.” He’d considered saying the word “chill,” but decided it against it — it wasn’t a word a rosh yeshivah should use in public.

He’d planned a similar shmuess now, as the bochurim prepared to go home for Shabbos Chanukah, but as he stood at the head of the beis medrash sharing the ideas that had worked last time, he felt like he wasn’t connecting. The bochurim were distracted, as if there was a bad smell or strange noise in the beis medrash, and he ended the schmuess earlier than he’d meant to. The “have a good time, boys,” line also fell flat and he closed the open gemara in front of him feeling cheated, somehow.

He hadn’t planned on telling Penina about it, but as they sat there, watching the large van pull out of the front gates, it came out on its own.

“It’s like, you expect to feel a certain way at the end of a zeman — the boys learned well, they’re going home for Chanukah, it’s a big deal. But this time it’s not like that, it’s different.”

Penina wasn’t big on analysis. She was more into being direct. “Why? Cause of the music thing, you think?”

He nodded, marveling at his wife’s ability to articulate things that left him confused.

“Yeah,” he said glumly, “probably. Everything is about the single.”

Later, trying to sit and learn in the empty beis medrash, it dawned on him how right she was. Bochurim should look forward to going home, to seeing their families, but they should be leaving yeshivah with a sense of excitement to return. This time, Rabbi Wasser realized, they were nearly all focused on getting home so that they could get to work recording.

It’s time,” Rabbi Wasser had overheard Leiber say, “to hit the studio.”

He cringed and tried to focus on the Rashba in front of him.



Shuey Portman had planned on inviting the boys to his house for the final run-through before they’d actually record at the studio. Henny could make cholent and they could have a kumzitz afterward, something they could all use. But everything changed once he accepted Shlomo Bass’s invitation to come see his home studio.

He stood shaking his head as the bochur showed him around the soundproof room, pointing out the foam as if it were a piece of art. There was a large gleaming computer and Shuey looked on in wonder as Shlomo Bass sat down and deftly opened Protools, navigating the program like a seasoned arranger.

“Check out the interface,” Bass said, and Shuey realized that the bochur was being kind to him, talking to him as if he had all the latest knowledge about the industry and understood the technology. “The program can read any instrument and insert it into the song.”

Shuey shook his head. “Amazing. Shlomo, be honest, would it be okay if we did the run-through here, you have instruments and all the studio equipment? It’s like, people go to the studio, especially newbies, I’ve seen it many times, and they get completely overwhelmed by all the toys and they don’t sing normal. I just think it will be smarter to do the run-through here, give the oilam a little comfort with the headsets and mics, you know?”

Did Shlomo Bass mind? Shuey saw the look of pleasure spreading across the young man’s face.

Later, he would report this to Henny as if it were another big chinuch success, his allowing Bass to host the get-together.


This would take work, but once Penina Wasser made up her mind about something, she didn’t do much second-guessing. She moved forward.

They hadn’t made plans for Shabbos Chanukah. Sholom wouldn’t stay in yeshivah without a minyan, and her default option was to go to Brooklyn, to her sister, but now she was thinking differently.

What would set her husband apart as rosh yeshivah, she reasoned, was his ability to be there for his boys all the way, to let them know that even in the areas that weren’t connected to yeshivah, he was still their rebbi. Over the long afternoon, she worked on her plan. The kids were off from school, and if they left Thursday afternoon, she could get to Lakewood in time. She wasn’t sure where the rehearsal was going to be, but she could call Rabbi Portman and find a way to get that information.

She imagined the bochurim sitting around singing and her husband walking in just to wish them well, to enjoy the music a bit, and then leave. It would be one of those rosh yeshivah moments you read about in the biographies, the moment he went from being a yeshivah administration member to a real rebbi.

She waited until he came home from Shacharis Thursday morning. He had driven to Monroe to daven, which was a big part of his beis hazmanim relaxation, all of it — the drive; the leisurely Shacharis; the little bagel place where the guy insisted that salads had no place in a Jewish diet, only bagels, cream-cheese, and hash browns; the seforim store with no cashier, just a pushke where you put the money, so you better have exact change or be prepared to put in more than the cost.

He pulled up close to noon, humming as he got out of the car.

“Hello, a freilechen Chanukah.” He came in and lifted up Kalman, doing a little whirl.

“Sholom, I was thinking,” she started, and he turned to face her, hearing something in her voice.

“I know that we were going to do Brooklyn for Shabbos, but wouldn’t Lakewood be nice? The kids can see their friends, you can go speak to the roshei yeshivah… shouldn’t we go home?”

He looked at her oddly. “But we just talked about it and you said you’re too tired, that you can’t even cook a piece of chicken, and your sister is excited to have us… what would we do in Lakewood?”

She wasn’t sure if she should tell him that she had already called Kagan for the house. “I think Kagan is going upstate for Shabbos, they’ll let us use the house no problem, I’m sure. I don’t mind cooking…. would you like to be in Lakewood?”

He was studying her face, as if looking for clues.

“I don’t get it, Penina, what’s the deal?”

She felt silly. He chapped. “Nothing, thought it was nice, the kids can catch up with their friends, you can spend time with your friends, also a nice thing. And Sholom, I also thought that the song, you know, the single that’s getting you nervous, so the boys are getting together to practice and even though you’re not a big fan of it —”

“That’s not what I said, Penina, in other circumstances it could be a sheina zach, but not during a zeman in yeshivah, it took away from learning —”

“Yah, sorry, I know what you mean,” she said, then forged ahead. “Anyhow, I felt that once you okayed it, which you did, they should have a good feeling from you, so maybe you can swing by and give them your brachos, you know?”

Sholom stood up, looking confused. “Please, Penina. No. Just no. Brooklyn sounds great, okay?”

He left the small kitchen and went into his study, gently closing the door.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 832)

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