“Anonymous donor? Come on. Send me the wire info and I’ll tell you who it is in ten seconds flat. Give me a break”
himshy, what can I say? You’ve arrived. You made it. I know it and I think you know it too,” Rabbi Wasser said.
“Did you notice,” he went on as he lifted the blinds, purposely allowing sun into the room so that he could pretend he didn’t notice that Shimshy Lieber was crying, “did you notice that no one laughed or made comments when you were there at seven o’clock this morning? Do you chap that people are taking it seriously?”
Lieber nodded, not yet able to speak.
“That’s what I mean, Shimshy,” Rabbi Wasser said gently. “Real respect doesn’t come from compliments and it doesn’t come from kavod, that’s fake. It’s not about words. It’s about moments like this, you rolling in half an hour before Shacharis today and the guys who were there — Jacobs, Tishler, and Sutton — not even giving you a second glance. No one said, ‘You, Lieber?’ That’s a big deal.”
“Whatsamatter Lieber, you couldn’t sleep?” Shimshy spoke up in an exaggerated mocking voice, and the rosh yeshivah laughed.
“It feels good,” Rabbi Wasser said. “You’re working hard and people are noticing. That means you accomplished something big this zeman. People only take you seriously when you take yourself seriously. If you’re trying to impress others, it doesn’t work, but if you’re focused on growing, these things fall into place.”
Shimshy nodded. He knew exactly what the rosh yeshivah meant. Rabbi Wasser knew all about Shimshy’s parents, about how important appearances were to them.
Also, Shimshy thought, it was shpitz Rabbi Wasser not to mention the tears. Most rebbis would push the tissue box forward and cough uncomfortably, but not Rabbi Wasser.
He just went to stand at the window.
Shuey Portman hadn’t been at Avi Korman’s house since that first meeting last spring, and he parked with more confidence this time.
Korman, he noticed, had gone from a Range Rover to a silver Audi, while he was still driving a dented old Avalon, but still…
Raffi had texted him again this morning, and he had been meaning to talk to Henny about it — was he meant to return to the stage? — when Korman’s text had come in asking if he was around Lakewood and did he have a few minutes.
Yes, he replied, he happened to be in Lakewood.
Great, Korman wrote back, can we meet at 9:15?
So here he was. Who knew what Korman wanted? He was still a parent in the yeshivah and formally registered as president of the yeshivah.
Shuey Portman had stopped wondering what was coming next. He would roll with it.
Avi Korman embraced him, as if they were old friends, and they sat down in the living room, rather than at the dining room table.
“How are things on the back end of yeshivah?” Korman asked, and Shuey remembered that he appreciated this about Avi Korman: He didn’t need small talk to get comfortable and he got straight to the point.
“Baruch Hashem, it’s coming together,” Shuey said. “There’s an anonymous donor, we already got close to thirty thousand dollars from someone, don’t know who, which really helped. I thought it might be you, actually.”
Avi Korman looked at him oddly. “Anonymous donor? Come on. Send me the wire info and I’ll tell you who it is in ten seconds flat. Give me a break.”
“Nah, it’s impossible, I tried everything, I called the bank and all that.”
Korman smiled. “Okay, forward me the info please.” Then he stretched his legs expansively and said, “Anyhow, let’s talk tachlis for a minute, if that’s okay?”
“You know that I opened the yeshivah,” Korman said. “I saw a chance to help Rabbi Wasser and David Backman had a piece of land to give away for a write-off, so it was win/win. I jumped in, ’cuz that’s how I do things.” He shrugged and grinned, clearly pleased with this tendency in himself. “And I sort of envisioned that it might work out. Best case, yeshivah takes off and maybe becomes something, maybe the land rises in value. Rabbi Wasser had this idea that people would move out there, like a Fallsburg type of thing, but I didn’t see that. Worst case, no one shows up, he makes a go at it, sees it’s not happening and moves on with his life. It’s not like he had a job anyhow this year, right? And I love Rabbi Wasser, he’s got something special to him, so I wanted him to have that chance.”
Shuey Portman wasn’t sure where this was going. He nodded slowly.
“Well, guess what happened?” Avi continued. “Not this, and not that. Rabbi Wasser did something only he can do. He created a real yeshivah, with nice boys, but he didn’t get the alef guys and he also didn’t get the bums, the types that give a yeshivah personality. So we end up with something that’s not this and not that. It’s just a yeshivah — and why would parents send their sons to Modena if there are 50 closer yeshivos just like it? It’s nothing special, if you know what I mean.”
Avi Korman held Shuey’s gaze, and Shuey knew there was more coming.
“And forgive me, but the single was a weird idea. Who needs a song? Does it bring in one penny? You want to make a kumzitz in yeshivah, great, but who needs studios and all that? It just makes the yeshivah seem a bit more modneh, if being in Yahoopitz isn’t weird enough. Like what kind of place is Modena, you know?”
Shuey was about to protest, to tell Avi Korman what the experience had done for the bochurim, how Shlomo Bass was a different boy, how his nephew at the Mir said that everyone was listening to the song and talking about Modena.
“So I have a mehalech, hear me out,” Avi held up his hand, as if announcing that he wasn’t taking questions from the press today. “You know Rabbi Mendelson, Gavriel Mendelson, he has a yeshivah on Pine? So we’re very close, whatever, long story. Anyhow, he has a nephew in yeshivah, Lieber, sweet kid, who he’s very busy with. Anyhow, the boy speaks to him and he’s been talking about Sholom Wasser all zeman, and Mendelson is intrigued. He knows some of the parents in the yeshivah and he spoke to them. B’kitzur, he likes what he’s hearing. He has an open shteller — second seder shoel u’meishiv — it’s a yeshivah with 80 guys, good guys, and he has a waiting list from here till tomorrow. He’s the future. He wants to offer Sholom the job, and to me, it’s perfect, but mamash perfect. Chaburos, working with bochurim and all that, but no rosh yeshivah responsibilities, no fundraising, no having to be a leader.”
Shuey couldn’t speak. Even if he could, what would he say? Do you know how your son, Dovi, sits with Rabbi Wasser every night after seder reviewing shiur and just stam schmoozing? Do you see anything past the face of your huge new watch?
“But here’s the issue,” Avi Korman stood up. “What happens with you, Shuey? You’ve done incredible work, that’s for sure. You keep it together, somehow, and believe me, I feel sick that I pulled out suddenly, it wasn’t something I wanted to do….”
He shrugged again. “But you managed; you pay the bills and make sure the boys have what to eat and all that. You did great. But what now? I have this clean exit plan, Sholom goes to Mendelson where he’ll be a superstar, I tell Backman to find another mitzvah for the land, maybe he can even sell it — but what happens with you?”
What happens with me?
For a moment, Shuey imagined taking Raffi up on his offer, walking out from behind the palm trees on a gorgeous Chol Hamoed evening in Florida and starting to sing.
Maybe Avi Korman would be sitting there, part of the exclusive audience. That would be cool.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 842)
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