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Follow Me: Chapter 57   

 “I was going to buy you chassan Bereishis,” Lieberman said. “But if I can win you over this way….”


Second days crept up on Yochi. One minute he was racing between concierge duties and program arrangements, the next minute everything ground to a halt and peace descended over the hotel.

Simchas Torah morning, he stood in the corner of the shul conference room, observing the crowd. The tables and chairs had been pushed to a side to make room for hakafos, little girls sat along the entrance wall, trading prizes and candy.

The room shook with lively singing and dancing, and Yochi couldn’t help smiling at the sight. The spirit that buoyed the circles of dancers was the magical result of a truly successful tour.

“I can’t believe we’re up to this,” he’d told Pessie the night before, as the waiter circled with desserts. “There’s a certain calm, now that Chol Hamoed is over, almost like our job here is done, even if closing up is a whole separate headache.”

Pessie dragged her miniature spoon through the chocolate ganache torte in front of her. “Right. Honestly, I can’t wait to be back home. Just go back to regular schedule, our own daled amos, know what I mean?”

He knew what she meant, even if he wished she didn’t really mean it. Now that the main action of the tour was behind him, he was actually enjoying spending the meals with Pessie and the kids, and he was finally getting to appreciate being pampered a little.

Well, he couldn’t change her, he couldn’t make her want this. Some people craved structure and routine, you can’t remake a person. Besides, she didn’t look too miserable — she seemed to have enjoyed at least some of the tour experience.

The seventh hakafah was winding down. Zeidy Lieberman was in his element, taking his candy man job very seriously. Yochi walked up behind him and slapped him on the back.

“Nu, Rabbiner, some Gushers?”

Mr. Lieberman grinned and threw a few packs of Sippies in his face. Yochi ducked.

“I was going to buy you chassan Bereishis,” Lieberman said. “But if I can win you over this way….”

Yochi groaned. Then Sruli Zeitlin, who served as the tour’s gabbai, banged on the bimah and announced Kol Hane’arim.

A scramble of men headed to the doors to collect their little boys. Yochi followed the throng and met Pessie in the hallway. She was holding a plastic bag full of nosh, probably the worst of the poison she’d managed to wheedle out of her girls’ pekelach.

Gut Yom Tov! How was the kiddush?”

“Grand, obviously,” she replied. “At this point I’ve gotten so used to grand, I don’t know if I’ll ever appreciate an old-fashioned Caesar salad again.”

Yochi winked and lifted Motti in his arms. “Well, there’s always another tour coming up, you know.”

A bulb dimmed in Pessie’s eyes, and Yochi immediately regretted his comment. Pessie offered a grim smile, and that’s when Yochi made the connection: Simchas Torah morning. Her family was heading over to her parents now, it was their Big Day.

And Pessie was 4,000 miles away, dining, having Kiddush — in style, yes — with a crowd of strangers.

Maybe her sister Devoiry thought she was lucky. Maybe her friends were jealous. But the fact remained, she was missing out. She’d given up something beautiful and special by joining him on this tour.

He wanted to tell her this, to acknowledge the reality. But it wasn’t the time and place for long and real conversations, he had to return to shul.

Motti squirmed in his arm. Yochi shifted him over to his other side. Pessie’s words rang in his ears, It’s not the job. It’s us.

He caught Pessie’s gaze and squinted. “Are you thinking about your mother’s chaluptches?”

Her eyes widened. “How did you know?”

He patted Motti’s hair. “It’s such a fun day, back home. I’m sure this is hard for you. I… get it.”

Pessie twisted the plastic bag around her fingers. “Uh, yes.” Her eyes darted around, at the people coming and going, at the floor. “It is,” she said quietly.

Yochi glanced back to see where the crowd was up to. People were heading inside, they were going to start any minute.

“I’m sorry,” Yochi said quietly.

He wanted to say something more, but he couldn’t think what, so he just kept his eyes on her, hoping she’d understand… well, whatever it was, he couldn’t explain it.

“Ready to go under the tallis, tzaddik?” he asked Motti.

When he returned to shul and squeezed his way into the knot of men under the enormous tallis, he still couldn’t put into words what it was.

And yet, somehow, it felt like they’d actually had that long and real conversation.

The lobby was once again filled with suitcases.

Deena held Miri’s and Nechama’s hands not to lose sight of them. She passed the Sampson family — the grandfather’s condition had stabilized over Yom Tov, and at the last minute, Mrs. Sampson had rejoined the tour for second days. A group of people surrounded them, asking how the patient was doing, telling the Sampsons they’d keep davening, “We hope to hear good news.”

Incredible, the memories each tour guest was taking home. The same tour, but a vastly different experience for every single person.

Bubby Lieberman strolled over and reached for Deena’s arm. “I don’t know about my luggage, but I’m afraid I’m going home with a few extra pounds.” She patted her stomach. “The tour should offer a follow-up gym membership, huh?”

Deena grinned, but the comment made her think. A brush with death, weight gain… What are you taking home?

It was easy to drown out the thought, with all the noise in the room. Not now, she couldn’t afford to go there now.

She spotted Pessie near the back of the lobby, once again alone with her kids. Her toddler broke off in a run, and she quickly chased him. But the little boy looked back at her, giggled, and wiggled his way through the crowd, running straight toward the back wall — and the waterfall.

Deena ordered her girls to stay put and dashed over. “I got you, Mister,” she sang as she snatched Motti up, a few inches from the waterfall.

Pessie sprinted over, panting. “Phew, thanks. If there was one thing that stressed me out on this tour it was this waterfall.”

Motti squirmed in Deena’s arm. Pessie took him from her.

“So now your real vacation starts, hmm?” Deena asked.

Motti tugged at Pessie’s sheitel. “Honestly,” she said, pulling his hand off, “I’d rather just go home with all of you.”

They headed back to Deena’s girls. Hindy, Zissi, and Malkie Hersko came over, and the kids got busy with the fidget toys the tour had handed out after breakfast. Deena and Pessie found an empty sofa nearby and sat down.

“Okay, Deena,” Pessie said. “It feels like you’re leaving now, it’s over, but look, I’m going to do my hishtadlus and ask you one more time. I know you feel like you can’t do this, but really, you know it’s a matter of getting past your fear and everything, right?”

A groan was about to escape from Deena’s throat, but then her eyes landed on Miri — Hindy had said something that made her giggle — and she held it back, instead shifting her gaze to random people in the lobby.

“Right,” Pessie said, answering her own question. “So listen, you’re going to have a lot of time to think now on your flight. Take his résumé — I have it, I’ll email it to you — and when you’re back home and all settled down, maybe you’ll give it a chance?”

Deena was staring at Yocheved Englard, watching the woman from Chicago sip from a huge cup of coffee.

She tore her eyes away and turned to Pessie. “You really don’t give up easily, huh?”


“Well, I don’t know the first thing about this person, except, okay, he’s a gracious apologizer. But I’ll give you this much, Pessie.” She paused, sinking back in her seat. “You’re right,” she said at last, quietly. “It isn’t good to be alone.”

Pessie just waited. Deena twisted the eternity band around her finger and lifted her eyes to face her. “Not when you’re single — and not when you’re married.”

She watched Pessie’s face shadow.

“I don’t need his résumé. I’ll know where to get it if I need it. And… thank you. I know you care.”

Ruthie Laufer was sitting on the opposite aisle, all the way in the back of the aircraft. Deena had busied herself with her carry-on and pretended not to notice when she passed with her kids.

She’d been getting busy and pretending not to notice since the morning after her show, after learning that @sleepaholic was Ruthie — Ruthie Laufer — and she’d shared so much, such personal stuff, about Zev, about her whole… everything.

Ruthie had tried apologizing, but Deena had waved her off, whatever-ed the whole thing, as though it was nothing, as though she didn’t even care.

Now, as the hushed plane cruised through the sky, she couldn’t pretend anymore, she couldn’t take the pained expression on Ruthie’s face, when…

When she’d done so much for her.

When she’d been so well-meaning.

When she’d tried to be a true friend.

She pretended one more time — when they gathered their kids to get off the plane for their stopover in Zurich.

But once they were settled in the lounge, waiting for their connecting flight to be called, she pulled out her phone. She had service now, she could do it.

She logged on — MeMyselfAndI.

me: Thanks for giving me my space.

me: I appreciate it.

me: I’m all spaced-out now, lol…

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 788)

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