“It’s not my decision, Reb Sholom, it’s yours. I’m just sharing my perspective. If you want to go at it, you’re on your own”
Shuey Portman had never been an eavesdropper. There had never been any reason to listen in. At Three Star Snacks, he would have paid not to hear the conversations floating out from the back office — thinking to do Costa Rica but Aliza really wants to see St. Barts, the Yankees’ starting pitcher is garbage. His bosses’ bantering had filled his ears most of the day, except when they took brief breaks to peer over his shoulder and review his sales reports so they could berate him for giving L’sova a discount on the pretzel packs.
Here, in Modena, his office wasn’t even near the rosh yeshivah’s, and he certainly had no interest in hearing Rabbi Wasser’s conversations with bochurim, which were either talking in learning, or personal.
But now he was frozen in place, listening to strains of Avi Korman’s speech.
Rabbi Wasser’s office was a small room off what had been the hotel dining room and was now a beis medrash.The old bar was still there, and Shuey leaned on the dark wood, studying his phone so that if any of the bochurim noticed him, it would look like he was busy.
His phone was alive!
There was a text from Henny, a screenshot from her family chat. (She had one with her sisters, another that included the sisters-in-law, and then a cousins’ chat, but Shuey had never really gotten the rules of what sort of conversation went where. To her, it was very clear and important that he get the distinctions. Once, he asked her to help him find out which of the mobile phone chargers were any good and suggested she put the question on her sisters chat. She had turned to face him, as if to make sure he was okay. “Shuey,” she said emphatically, “that’s maybe for the cousins chat, but for sure not for sisters.”)
Now, the sisters chat was busy with his song, it turned out, two weeks after it had been released. He had secretly hoped Henny would send it to her people, but it hadn’t happened and he hadn’t asked.
Her sister Tzippy was enthusiastic.
Hen, it’s stunning!!! Why didn’t you share?
Henny replied with an embarrassed monkey emoji.
Then Shaindy wrote. OMG I heard this song a million times my kids love it, I didn’t realize it was Shuey’s yeshivah and song. It’s GORGEOUS.
That was the screenshot, and on some level, it meant Henny was on board with whatever he did now. If her sisters approved, then she approved.
He hadn’t answered last night’s text from Raffi Katz — any clarity, Shuey? Need to start promos. Pls lmk.
He wasn’t sure what he wanted. And listening to Avi Korman’s voice from inside the office was a reminder that this whole yeshivah might just fade away and then, music would be his only ticket forward.
Even if showing up in Florida wouldn’t make him a star again, it would be enough to get him back onto the circuit, for sure for bar mitzvahs and probably weddings too.
“It’s not my decision, Reb Sholom, it’s yours. I’m just sharing my perspective. If you want to go at it, you’re on your own.”
Jacobs looked panic-stricken. “The rosh yeshivah’s still in a meeting?” he asked.
“Yeah, can I help you?” Shuey asked.
“No.” The bochur’s voice was trembling. “It’s just, shiur is in 20 minutes and I feel like the sugya is slipping away from me, I can’t do it. I need five minutes with him, he always makes me feel like I got it, you know?”
Shuey nodded, but couldn’t speak.
Jacobs shuffled away, and Shuey, surprising himself, turned and knocked on the office door.
“Yes?” Rabbi Wasser sounded eager for distraction.
“Rosh Yeshivah, Chaim Dov says he can’t prepare for shiur without you, he’s falling apart, what should I tell him?”
Rabbi Wasser looked at his watch, then suddenly said, “Actually, Reb Shuey, come in and join us a minute, I want you to be here.”
Avi Korman looked startled, but Rabbi Wasser was already pulling a chair close to the desk. “Sit.
“Reb Avi was saying that we’re doing nice things, but the cost and investment don’t really justify the results, it’s a nice yeshivah like a million others. He has a right to an opinion, our hakaras hatov to him is tremendous, it’s all his zechus. That Chaim Dov comes to shiur feeling calm and ready is his zechus.”
There was something in the way Rabbi Wasser was sitting, his arm spread across the desk, laying claim to the space.
“It’s like a rumor started two weeks after I was born and it went like this.” Rabbi Wasser was looking past both of them, talking softly. “Sholom Wasser is amazing, but he’s not typical, something, epes, he’ll never have his own place, but he’s a good guy. It’s a rachmanus, really.”
Rabbi Wasser looked back at Avi Korman. “It followed me everywhere, my whole life, in different variations — good, but not good enough — until here. You gave me this place, and here, it ended. You know why?
“Because that’s what we do here, it’s what we do with bochurim. The rumors are just rumors. These stories we sometimes believe about ourselves are often wrong and we try to help the boys see a different story.
“Shuey.” Rabbi Wasser leaned over and clapped Shuey on the shoulder. “Shuey made me see that. A week after I came here he told me that if he would have had a maggid shiur like me back when he was in yeshivah, he would be a talmid chacham today. It was what I needed, and I could see he meant it. He does that for me all day, every day.”
Avi Korman was silent.
“So b’kitzur,” Rabbi Wasser said, facing him squarely, “about the offer, Reb Avi, I’m b’emes makir tov but I’ll stay here, I think.”
Avi Korman nodded, but didn’t respond. He swiveled around to look at Shuey. “You? Aren’t you making a big musical comeback?”
Shuey saw the unopened text flash across his screen. Raffi Katz: Big news. Fried is in. Prob Shwekey. Gonna b – u in or out?
“I’m not sure you guys know much about the real world,” Avi Korman shifted in his seat.
“Maybe,” Shuey said, “maybe you know more than we do, Reb Avi, but to us… this is a real world. For us, this is the real world.”
“You guys can do this on your own? You and your anonymous donor?” Avi Korman stood up.
Shuey looked at the rosh yeshivah and they both laughed.
“On our own, but probably without anonymous donors, I think we’re gonna have to move on without him.” Shuey shrugged. “He liked our music and not sure that’s part of the program going forward, so he’s probably out.”
Rabbi Wasser held up a hand. “Wait, we’re going to sing, we’re going to sing plenty. The yeshivah will be filled with music, we’re just not doing recordings.”
There was a hard knock at the door.
Chaim Dov Jacobs stood there. “Rebbi, I’m sorry, can we just run through the shakla v’tarya once before shiur, otherwise I won’t chap a word and it’s almost twelve….”
Rabbi Wasser came around the table. “Chaim Dov, nothing would make me happier, come in.”
Shuey picked his phone up off the table. Thx for offer, he typed, but I’m not feeling it.
“The rosh is coming,” Wagner called out as Shuey and Avi Korman walked out of the office, “let’s roll.”
Lorb and Tishler had a little race who could get inside the beis medrash first, meeting squarely in the doorway and jostling each other. Shlomo Bass laughed out loud, a ray of midday sun filtering in through the high windows igniting his face and creating ribbons of light on the knotty wooden floor of the Old Orchard Inn.
Shuey Portman laughed too, then moved to the side so Rabbi Wasser could pass by and start shiur.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 844)
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