| Encore |

Encore: Chapter 54 

Shuey looked up. Sholom Wasser didn’t normally talk this way. Entailed? Given to understand? Was he in a courtroom?


On a snowy Thursday morning three weeks after Chanukah, the single was released with little fanfare. It was a week late, but that was normal, Shuey knew.

And the bochurim, the young men whose voices gave the song its energy and life, were oblivious, sitting and learning in the beis medrash.

That suited Shuey Portman just fine. He closed the door to his office, wished that his Dell computer had speakers, and then closed his eyes and listened to himself sing.

“Pretty good,” he whispered. “You still got it, Ports.”

He would play it for the bochurim, of course, but only when he was ready. Maybe after seder, with real speakers. He tried to imagine the rosh yeshivah’s reaction and, even after playing out various scenarios in his mind, he still couldn’t predict how Rabbi Wasser would view this.

He’d heard about politics in yeshivos. From speaking to others in similar positions, it seemed like the tension was part of it and the arguments were inevitable, but this was the closest he and Rabbi Wasser had ever come to friction.

Fully expecting the song to be a hit, Shuey had preempted any stress by mentioning casually at breakfast that morning that the song was special and he hoped the rosh yeshivah would sit down to enjoy it. It was meant to be out any day now.

Shuey didn’t look up as he said this, buttering his bread for the second time and concentrating intently, but he saw the rosh yeshivah’s grip tightening on the handle of the coffee mug.

“Reb Yehoshua,” Rabbi Wasser said, “I have a serious question. Now that it’s all done, all behind you, the oilam sang and it’s going to be public and all that, don’t you think I should have been given to understand before what it entailed?”

Shuey looked up. Sholom Wasser didn’t normally talk this way. Entailed? Given to understand? Was he in a courtroom?

Shuey shrugged. “You know, it was more like an idea, and then one thing became another and here we are. I didn’t know myself what it involved. And the boys definitely enjoyed it — the spirit, the achdus. Look at Shlomo Bass, for him alone it was kedai, he’s a different kid, no?”

The rosh yeshivah looked at him, then shook his head slowly and said, “That’s mamash not the point.”

Avi Korman frowned.

“Faigy, how does Dovi sound to you?” he called out.

“Great,” she said as she came into the study, “he says the chavrusas are great and he has friends. He’s learning well. Why? You look worried.”

“Because I think that Shuey Portman is cracking up, that’s why, and I’m nervous about that whole yeshivah. Rabbi Wasser is great, but I hired Portman to be the normal one, to run the yeshivah like a regular place. You know how Rabbi Wasser can be a little clueless sometimes, and I thought it was working, but now I don’t know.”

“Why, what happened?” Faigy Korman sat down in the study, across from her husband. Her rule of marriage was that if her husband wanted to talk, she dropped everything. Her sister was on hold, but she would eventually catch on and hang up, right?

“I never really chapped the whole idea of doing a song,” Avi said. “What are they, some kind of girls’ camp? A program for struggling teens? It’s a yeshivah, after all. But I saw that Dovi was pumped up, so I didn’t say anything.”

Faigy waited.

“Then Portman starts sending me weird texts about some fund,” Avi went on. “I had no idea what he was talking about and I told him that and he made winking emojis, and then said come on, of course you do. I still didn’t and still don’t. I thought it was some kind of new fundraising tip, but he was like all ernst that he knows the secret and I literally had no clue what language he was speaking.

“And now,” he pointed to his phone, “their song is out and it’s pashut an embarrassment. I thought it was going to be like some kind of kumzitz, a few bochurim singing ‘Lulei Sorascha,’ that type of matzav, but it’s a real song, with artwork and a million strange names in the credits, like a groisse production. The whole thing is bizarre and I wouldn’t mind understanding what’s going on and where the rosh yeshivah I hired disappeared to.”

He squinted and read from the computer screen. “Special thanks to the rosh yeshivah and hanhalah of the Yeshivah Gedolah of Modena for giving us the greatest reason to sing.” He grimaced. “I mean, come on Faigy, this is a normal place?”


Ephraim Milner read the text message once and then a second time.

For some reason, it hit him hard. Harder even than when the Lowy girl had said no after the fourth date, the last time he’d even been remotely interested in a shidduch. This was more personal, in a way. He knew the yeshivah was struggling for money and this was going to be his way to show hakaras hatov.

He liked it in Modena, liked the opportunity, liked the bochurim he learned with and liked the easygoing, casual vibe. He liked driving his cousins to Monsey every day, a trip he found relaxing, and he liked hanging around with Sholom and Penina, a couple he thought oddly matched but also perfect for each other.

His trip to Manhattan, to Yosef Gutstein’s apartment, had been his first attempt at solicitation and he’d anticipated a nice donation to the yeshivah. He would bring it to Rabbi Wasser and Shuey and they would look at each other and nod, silently agreeing: “Ephraim isn’t just a good dorm counselor and chavrusa, he can do it all, a talented young man we have here.” He would basically be part of the hanhalah after that.

And maybe next time a shadchan asked him about plans and talents — “So you’re a dormitory counselor and you learn privately with bochurim and drive kids to school?” — he would let drop that actually, he was heavily involved with the yeshivah’s finances and things were going quite nicely, thank you very much.

But now, as he read the text from Yosef Gutstein, Yosef Gutstein who was looking for places to give money, he felt a familiar sinking feeling and he realized that this too was probably not bashert for him.

Hey Ephraim,

Was nice to see you. Thanks for coming by, was fun to catch up.

I’d been searching around to find out about the yeshivah, Yeshiva Gedolah of Modena, which you told me was a regular yeshivah, same as any other, like Philadelphia or Passaic, you said.

Today, someone sent me a song from the yeshivah, the boys singing or something like that. It’s a nice idea, and yeshivos have a right to do what works, but there are others who can give money to that sort of thing, I’ll stick with the traditional yeshivos.

That’s where I’m at.

Stay well Ephraim,


Every line stung, including the unexpressed notification that Ephraim had burned his one chance. He actually had a yeshivah friend who made money and wanted to give out money, and here he’d gone and blown in.

Ephraim Milner saw Rabbi Wasser speaking with Shuey Portman, and he hadn’t been planning to interrupt, but as they turned toward him, he couldn’t hold back.

“Why did we have to make a song and turn this yeshivah into a joke?” he asked.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 837)

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