At least if Miri wasn’t eating, she was smiling. Deena had been holding her breath, but this tour seemed to be doing great things for her
Yes, it was fun. Definitely. Wasn’t this what she thrived on? But at the same time, being Nuts & Basil took a lot of energy, especially when the kids were constantly around and she could only pray that they behaved.
Deena’s grin was starting to ache, the light in her eyes at risk of dimming. Yom Tov morning had dragged on like one long reel — What I love about this cheesecake is that it’s rich and light at the same time, unbelievable, I need to become friends with this pastry chef and Hey, sweetie, you’re so cute! Do you also like to cook and bake like your mother? When she entered the succah after davening, she was eager for a break and grateful for her small, inconspicuous table at the far end of the tent.
“You didn’t bake this challah, Ma, right?” Miri asked, eyeing the bread suspiciously.
“I didn’t, but it’s delicious. Isn’t it?”
“I don’t like it.”
Her girls stayed at the table all the way through the first course, eating nothing plus nothing. Then Zissi Hersko sneaked up behind Miri and pressed her palms over Miri’s eyes.
Miri giggled. “It’s Zissi, I know!”
A moment later, they skipped off, Nechama trailing behind them.
Oh, well. At least if Miri wasn’t eating, she was smiling. Deena had been holding her breath, but this tour seemed to be doing great things for her. Meshaneh makom, meshaneh mazel?
But now that her girls had disappeared, she suddenly found herself sitting alone at an empty table.
Her eyes traveled over the cavernous tent. The tour had nailed the ambiance. Covered chairs, tall candelabra centerpieces, and if she could toot her own horn, the most elegant tablecloths and dinnerware.
But it wasn’t the décor that drew her gaze. It was the crowd. She’d started to get to know the people — in the lobby, in the hallways, at the kiddush. There were the Kurlandskis from Toronto, a polite doctor-lawyer couple. The Englards from Chicago — the husband possessing the shrewdest pair of eyes; his wife was an innocent-looking woman with a wicked sense of humor. There was one childless couple, she forgot the name, a bunch of youngish middle-aged couples, the two families who’d signed up through her post and didn’t stop fangirling her.
And then there was the Lieberman family.
The extended Lieberman family: high-spirited parents with their five couples and a gaggle of grandchildren. They were a bunch of giants — “If you aren’t tall you’re not a Lieberman,” one of the daughters had told Deena — with very loud voices. Deena wondered idly what Zeidy Lieberman did for a living that allowed him to take his entire family on a Succos tour.
The Liebermans had requested a long banquet table so they could all sit together. They occupied the center of the tent and seemed to feel very much at home there.
Deena sat stiffly. At every table, flatware tinkled over chatter. There were spontaneous bursts of laughter, a feisty debate carrying on at a table over on Deena’s left. Everyone was caught up in the pleasure of a splendid Yom Tov seudah with family.
She lowered her eyes, pressed together a pile of challah crumbs. The empty chairs around her table seemed to taunt her. Is this really better than spending Yom Tov with your parents? With Zev’s parents?
And then another thought hit her, sharp and accusing.
You aren’t the only one doing this meal solo.
Her eyes shifted between the families until she spotted Ruthie at a table near the succah’s entrance. Her classmate was holding her toddler on her lap, but other than that, her table was also empty.
There was no way to deny the truth: The only thing more nebach than sitting together with another single mom was sitting alone at two opposite ends of a tremendous succah tent.
This was ridiculous. She was ridiculous. Ruthie would have been too glad to spend the Yom Tov meals together, but Deena had made her disinterest quite clear.
And now she was left to suffer for her pride.
Deena looked up. It was Rivkie Berkowitz, the caterer’s wife.
“I’m so sorry to bother you… We have a little problem. Can you come to the kitchen?”
“I told you,” Binick whispered to Yochi as they watched the audience in the succah tent drink in Rabbi Baumehl’s words. “You need that kneitsh of ruchniyus to make the gashmiyus complete.”
Yochi smirked. “With such entertaining ruchniyus, who even needs gashmiyus?”
Binick chortled. But Yochi grew serious. “Really, it’s not exactly true. I’m extremely impressed with the people on this tour. I walked into shul at six this morning, there were quite a number of guys sitting over their Gemaras. And by the time the daf shiur started at seven, there was mamesh a crowd.
“I chapped a schmooze with that Schnitzer fellow — you know, the one from the insurance? — and he told me that for him this is the highlight of the tour. He took an early morning walk around the hotel, then sat down to learn for two hours straight. He says the learning has never been so geshmak in his life.”
“Niiiiice,” Binick said. “A good testimonial.”
Yochi grimaced, then looked up as laughter erupted in the crowd. At the podium, Rabbi Baumehl was poker-faced.
“Ruchniyus,” Binick remarked, grinning.
Yochi glanced at his watch. “He should be done in around ten minutes. Let me go check if Berkowitz is on schedule with the main course.”
He passed his family’s table on his way out of the succah. It was empty. Okay, so Pessie was busy with the kids somewhere, taking someone to the bathroom or whatever. He didn’t have to worry about her, although it was a pity that she was missing Baumehl’s speech.
Turned out, she wasn’t busy with the kids. She was in the kitchen — (which was maybe even better than enjoying a good speech. Did she appreciate being an “insider”?) — and, he quickly learned, Berkowitz was not running on schedule with the main course.
The atmosphere in the kitchen was tense, and Berkowitz’s face was flushed as he rushed from the stove to the oven and back. At the end of the kitchen, Pessie was talking to Mrs. Lizman, who stood over a large skillet, maneuvering something around with a spatula. Berkowitz’s wife stood next to the huge stainless-steel island, clearly anxious.
Yochi inched over to Berkowitz. “What happened?” he asked carefully.
“The oven was off for the past hour,” he reported grimly. “The mashgiach consulted with Rabbi Weiser about having a worker reset it. They figured out the halachah and the oven is back on now, but it’s going to take some time to get all the food hot. I’m transferring some of the food to the stove to speed things up. Mrs. Lizman is helping out.”
Yochi’s head spun, and his first irrational thought was T.
But he forced the thought away. This has nothing to do with experience, it could’ve happened to anyone.
Then he called his managing skills to task. “Okay, let’s stay calm here,” he ordered. “Really, Gedalya, don’t worry. How long do you think it will take?”
Berkowitz pulled off his oven mitt. “At least another twenty minutes.”
“Nisht geferlich.” He turned to a pale Mrs. Berkowitz. “Can you do me a favor and go get Mr. Binick?”
She nodded and hurried off.
Twenty minutes. Rabbi Baumehl’s speech would go for another five minutes or so. The crowd was going to grow restless. The only solution would be the choir. A nice long piece, some chazzanus maybe? It wasn’t the end of the world.
He would update Binick soon, but meanwhile, they couldn’t waste time. “Pessie?” he said. “Do you know where Mossberg sits? Table 12. Can you go ask him to come over here?”
“Sure!” Pessie said. There was an undeniable delight in her voice. “I’ll go get him.”
Before she left, Yochi saw her lock eyes with Lizman, a triumphant smile on her face.
Lizman, however, did not look all that delighted. She abandoned her spatula on the counter and gave a little cough.
“I need to go check up on my kids,” she muttered. “I’ll be back soon.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 780)
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