"Yidden are givers, Yidden are generous, just speak to their hearts and they’ll open their pockets. Why doesn’t Motti realize that?”
The Hirschfelds were nervous, that was obvious. The introductions were stilted; the husband answered Motti’s questions tonelessly and the wife could barely speak. Motti sat them down in his little office, then went to the mini fridge to get them drinks. There was a full container of mango-banana juice, perfect. Plus a box of rugelach, not that they would touch any. Still.
He put down some cups and moved his chair to the edge of the desk — less of a barrier, less formal.
“First of all, I want you to know that you’re at the right place,” he said. “You live in Beitar, Givah Alef, right? So you probably know at least four families we’ve worked with. And all of them, baruch Hashem, had a lot of hatzlachah.”
In his mind he ticked them off: Fried, who needed that expensive procedure for his special-needs baby. Morgenstern, a fire left them with almost nothing. Blum, the mother who collapsed a month before her oldest daughter’s chasunah. And Azoulai, the one who’d signed as a guarantor for his friend’s loan and was about to lose his house. All those campaigns had gone well.
Back when he’d started three years ago, Motti could only count off a handful of successful cases, but at this point he was considered the best in the business. And it took real talent to succeed in this line of work: besides the financial and logistic technicalities of dealing with the fundraising forums, the banks, the legalities, he also had to build a storyline that would grab people, and get it written up nicely.
In the early days he’d used Google Translate, but then Ushi Moskowitz, the American who placed the ads on the sites, told him he had to upgrade — some mistake with a ball to the heart instead of a bullet to the heart. So now Motti employed two young women, native English-speakers, to create the actual text. But he remained the mastermind, the one who knew how to catch people’s attention with the right headline, the emotional pull, the pathos that each story had to relay.
“Reb Nachum, right?” He nodded encouragingly at the fellow sitting stiffly before him. “Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself, the family, and what brings you here. And here, let me pour you a drink, it’s always easier to talk after a drink.”
Nachum Hirschfeld’s story sounded pretty typical — three weddings close together, a child who needed expensive health supplements, an ailing mother-in-law. It was all legitimate, all familiar, but not enough. Motti needed that one detail that would serve as the axis of the campaign. He couldn’t pressure them, though. He was building trust.
“You’re being very helpful, Reb Nachum,” he said encouragingly. “I think we’re getting a good picture here, we’re going to be able to put together a very strong campaign for you.”
Hirschfeld looked straight at Motti. “You think?” he asked. There was no light, no hope at all in his dark eyes. “Why would some Yid on the Internet want to donate to us?”
Motti traced a circle on his little notepad. Then he looked up. “I can’t share my files with you, Reb Nachum, but this I can tell you, because I learned it from my father and I see it with my own eyes: Yidden really want to give. You just need to open their hearts and they’ll open up their pockets.”
Hirschfeld shrugged, but the eyes seemed less wary.
“But listen, Reb Nachum.” Motti leaned forward. “I need your help to open their hearts. You know, it’s on a screen, you’re not knocking on their door and meeting them in person. We need some way to connect, to make your story real. Tell me some more about your shvigger, how you help her.”
Mrs. Hirschfeld cleared her throat and Motti grabbed the opening. “Maybe the Rebbetzin can help us out. Tell me, who takes your mother to the doctor?”
“I do.” The woman’s voice was low but clear.
“Good, good.” Motti wrote sick mother, doctor’s appointments on his notepad. “Tell me some more about it. How much time do you spend on the bus, and then waiting at the doctor’s office? Who takes care of the family when you’re spending the day at the doctor? How do they manage?”
Mrs. Hirschfeld described the bumpy route of the Beitar bus, the borrowed wheelchair she had to maneuver down two flights of stairs, the phone calls from her children as she waited in Shaare Zedek. Motti took careful notes, and circled the phrases that he thought could be expanded by his writing team.
“Beautiful, such kibbud eim,” he said. “Here, let’s fill out your bank details, and let me take down your contact information. I think we can get this campaign going by the end of the week. We’ll need a picture — the best would be some of the little kids with their savta — you think you can get me something like that?”
The Hirschfelds looked at each other.
“I don’t think my mother… the internet…” Mrs. Hirschfeld stammered.
Motti sighed, a deep sigh that conveyed his sincere and total regret. “I know, I hear you, a thousand percent. But it’s a new world, everything’s digital over there, in America. And what wouldn’t your mother do for her grandchildren, of course she wants to see them married… You think about it, I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”
“So I found the perfect shoes for Tziri, and they had headbands the same color two stores away, so I only have to worry about Mendy for Yom Tov.” Perel pulled a cucumber out of the fridge and starting dicing it.
“Sounds good,” Motti said as he laid the plates on the table. “What about you, you got something for yourself too?”
Perel smiled. “I did, actually. It’s nice, you’ll see. How was your day? Got a lot done? How’s that campaign going, the one for the little girl who needs surgery?”
“I can check now, if you want.” Motti fingered his phone. “But last I looked, it’s going well, got even more hits today than yesterday, and the money is coming in.”
“That was really smart, what you did — to get the doctor’s quotes,” Perel said, reaching for a pepper. “And the picture was so beautiful, so sad. You really know the business.”
Motti drank up the approval, the admiration, Perel’s gratitude for her new purchases. It was true, he’d always been savvier than his siblings. Back as a kid, he was doing business as soon as he could add numbers — first with apricot pits, then aravos, then that really daring step of ordering a stock of succah boards and selling them outside the shtibel. But he hadn’t really seen the bigger possibilities until he opened up that Thursday-night kiosk when he was 15. It was perfectly situated down the block from Brisk, and once he’d gotten his mother to teach him how to make her kugel — cholent he knew already — he had discovered not just new customers, but a whole new world.
Slicing pickles and spooning out cholent to the American bochurim, he figured out how to make conversation in a mixture of Yiddish, Lashon Kodesh, and English. Scouring his pots late at night, he puzzled over the mixture of bravado and naïveté that these Americans all seemed to have. And counting his earnings, he wondered at their open pockets, the money that always seemed to replenish itself, the disposable society. Whatever America was like, it surely was nothing like his home where the pots still sparkled after decades of use, the aging floor tiles still got a thin coating of wax every Erev Shabbos, and the sun faithfully bleached his father’s old shirts whiter than the crisp merchandise in New York’s department stores. In America the money just flowed.
One day he would be part of it too.
“Motti, is that you?”
“Hello, Mommy, what’s doing? Everything okay?” Motti toggled between the Brenner campaign and the Eisenstadt campaign. Both were coming along nicely.
“Yes, everything’s good. Very good, actually. Suri… Suri’s becoming a kallah tomorrow night.” Motti heard the catch in his mother’s voice.
“Wow!” he said. “Such great news! Who’s the chassan? Where are you making the vort, in your house or at Chaim’s? What time should we be there?”
Mommy laughed. She was really happy, Motti could hear it. “It really is great news. The chassan is Duvid Vallis, he’s a nephew of Chana Vallis, you know, Rochel Leah’s sister-in-law. And the vort, of course it’s here. How could Chaim pull off a vort himself?”
Of course, he should have known as much. Chaim had barely managed to keep the children fed and the house running since Gitty’s diagnosis. Now, with Gitty gone for six months already, Mommy’s surrogate role seemed to be official.
“This is the best news, Mommy, the family could really use a simchah now,” Motti said. “Chaim must be so happy, the shidduch sounds perfect. Just tell us a time and we’ll be there. And I’ll tell Perel to call you and find out what she can bring.”
Motti hung up the phone and clicked again on the Brenner tab. Brenner was making a wedding and collapsing under debt from the previous simchahs. Motti had built a nice campaign for him — Mrs. Mandel from Romema had written up the text, after he’d teased out a good storyline about the older siblings working extra hours to help their sister. It was a nice story, and basically true, and he knew that Americans valued hard work, so that was a smart approach.
He hoped that Brenner would be able to dance with real joy at the chasunah, that the Americans would come through for the shy man with the blond beard who had looked steadily at the floor tiles in Motti’s office as he explained his situation — the original debts he thought he’d be able to pay back, the next round of debts he prayed he’d be able to pay back, the new round of debts he had no idea how he would pay back. He was probably hoping Motti wouldn’t notice his wet eyes.
Motti noticed. He knew that too often, the wedding brought tension and worry instead of joy and release.
He wondered how his brother Chaim — the fresh widower, with a job in the cheder office and houseful of needy children — would make a wedding for Suri.
“You have the cake?”
Motti shifted the heavy bag with Perel’s five-layer creation inside. “Yes, I have it.”
“Okay, good, just hold it carefully. Tziri, Mendy, hold my hands!” she warned. “We’re crossing a big, big street now.”
“And Suri’s a kallah, right, Mommy?” Mendy chirped. “With a white dress?”
“No, the white dress isn’t tonight, that’s at the chasunah,” Perel said.
“When is the chasunah? And where is it going to be? Also at Savta’s house?”
“No, Mendy, the chasunah is in a big hall. A fancy place. With music.”
“Music, wow. Fancy! Like a million dollars, right?”
Motti looked darkly at Perel. “May as well be a million dollars for Chaim. There’s no way he can do this.”
“But he’s not buying her an apartment, is he?”
“I’m sure he isn’t,” Motti said, shifting the heavy cake to his other arm. “But he’ll rent her a little unit somewhere nearby in the beginning. And there’s so much she has to buy. And then the chasunah itself…”
“It’s good that he has a brother in the right business,” Perel said, steering the little ones around a double-parked car.
“The right business?” Motti looked at her, eyebrows raised.
“You, Motti. Your business. You can help Chaim raise money for Suri’s chasunah. She deserves it, doesn’t she? Taking such good care of the little ones, running the house the whole time Gitty was in the hospital, and now since the shivah — watch the cake!”
Motti steadied the bag. Perel was right. He really could help Chaim.
“Wait, slow it down, slow it down.” Motti leaned toward the screen.
Avichai grabbed the mouse. “Where should I slow it down? What are you looking for?”
Motti pointed at the frozen image. “When you shot the video, you had the kids getting into bed, right? And the older sister gave each one a hug, helped them say Shema, right? I want that part in slow motion, when she bends down to kiss each one. That’s where we’re going to add the voice-over.”
“Psshhh, voice-overs. Very nice, Motti, I didn’t know you were so fancy.” Avichai clicked and dragged the mouse, then clicked again. “There, slow enough?”
Motti stared at the screen. Suri was pulling the covers gently over Layala, smoothing her hair across the pillow. Now she was straightening out Yiddel’s shluff kappel. You could see the tenderness on her face as she locked eyes with him.
“You did good, Avichai. The lighting is nice.”
Avichai smirked. “What do you know, a big movie producer we have here. The lighting, the voices, next thing we know he’ll bring in Moshe Chabousha to sing some background music.”
Background music, not a bad idea. He could find an instrumental piece that matched the storyline.
“Okay, Avichai, so let’s write down which frames I need for the final, which ones you need to do in slow motion, and you’ll get me an edited version sometime before the morning. Sounds good?”
Avichai groaned. “Who do you think you are — Bibi giving a press conference? This isn’t breaking news that I should lose a whole night of sleep, is it?”
Motti pulled out his wallet and took out two bills. “Here, take an extra 400 shekel,” he said. “This is important to me.”
Avichai pursed his lips. Then he slipped the money into his pocket and packed up his camera case.
“You always get your way, Motti, you know that?” he said. “One day when you’re a famous movie producer or prime minister — whichever comes first — don’t forget about your poor friend Avichai, who gets the perfect lighting every time.”
“Hello, Mrs. Mandel, it’s Motti Kirschenboim, I wanted to talk to you about a job.”
“Sure, Mr. Kirschenboim, let me just get my computer started up here so I can take notes.” That was the good thing about Hindy Mandel — she took the job seriously. Very British, very formal, but very reliable and committed. And her writing was perfect. Polished, dramatic, lots of heart-wrenching details, just the way he wanted.
“Okay, I’m ready. You can go ahead.”
Motti pulled his pen out of his mouth. “Great. So here’s the story. We’re doing a campaign for a kallah, she’s a yesomah. The theme of this campaign is, ‘Who will say Shema with the children?’ That’s the title that I want to appear on the piece.” Motti started pacing. “The idea is to make people realize that this girl, this kallah, she’s been taking care of her sisters and brothers since their mother got sick. I want people to really feel for her.
“You hear me, Mrs. Mandel?” Motti’s throat caught for a second. “I need you to describe the way she’s putting the little ones to sleep every night with such love and care, so much devotion. I need you to show everyone how this girl stepped into such big shoes before her time. She never complains, she never asks for anything for herself. Now finally it’s her turn, she’s getting married. And she deserves to start off her married life without the strain of poverty.”
Motti took a deep breath. “What do you say, Mrs. Mandel, can you write it up the way I told you?”
“I think I’ve got it all down here,” she said.
“Okay, but do you… do you feel what I’m saying?”
“I think I’ve got it,” she responded. “It sounds like a good angle.”
An angle? This was his niece, a real live human being.
“If it’s okay, Mr. Kirschenboim,” she said briskly, “I need to fill in some details before I start writing. Like, where do they live? And how old is she? And how many siblings? Oh, and the main thing, the kallah, what should I call her?”
Motti cleared his throat. “Her name is Suri. Suri Kirschenboim.”
“Ushi, is that you?”
“Hey, Motti, how are you? What can I do for you?”
“So I have this campaign I want you to place on all the sites, along with a WhatsApp package, same as usual. But this one — I want you to keep this one right near the top stories for an extra three days. It’s a special case, I need it up there at the top.”
“For you, Motti, we’ll keep it at the top.” Ushi laughed. “For a price, obviously.”
“You can’t do me a favor?” Motti tried to strike the right tone — not whining, not wheedling, more like a friendly tease. “After all the business I give you?”
“Of course I’m doing you a favor,” Ushi said. “I’ll give you the top spot for four days and I’ll give you a good price.”
Motti sighed. He thought about the 70,000 shekel he’d put away slowly, carefully, over the last few years. He was hoping to have enough soon to redo the plumbing in the bathroom and close off the porch with a proper watertight ceiling, so they’d finally have another bedroom.
“Tell me how much, and I’ll give you my credit card,” he said. What you don’t do for a brother.
“Did you check on Suri’s campaign yet?” Perel wiped the milk off Tziri’s face and bundled her into her jacket. “Here, Tziri’s ready for gan. Nu, so did any more money come in overnight? I never imagined you would make so much money in just one day… I guess the Americans really liked it.”
Motti slipped his phone back into his pocket. “Twenty-thousand dollars came in just since last night!” he said. “That’s after the first eight thousand that came in yesterday. And the video clip — I checked, it already got 150,000 hits. Imagine if this continues for the next four days… maybe next week we can do another clip, maybe we can show Suri cooking for Shabbos or something. It can be a whole series.”
Perel laughed. “In the meantime, your own little Shabbos Mommy is waiting to go to gan. Here, take her knapsack, there are treats inside for all the kinderlach.”
Motti hoisted Tziri up into his arms. He felt buoyant, joyful. “Come, let’s go to morah,” he said.
In just ten minutes, Shabbos would start. The trays were on the hot plate, the urn was filled with hot water, the lights were set… There was enough time to check the stats again, right? Motti took out his phone and leaned over the counter, swiping, then staring.
Never, ever, had he seen numbers like this so quickly. Was it Mrs. Mandel’s golden pen? His inspired storyline? The sweet voice of his English-speaking neighbor, who’d obligingly read from the script describing Suri’s bedtime routine? Maybe the music he’d added in the background, maybe Avichai’s soft lighting…
Maybe Chaim really would be able to marry off Suri respectably after all.
“I’m running over to my parents, I haven’t seen them the whole week. Okay with you, Perel?”
Perel nodded, cradling the phone on her shoulder as she wiped the cholent pot.
Motti closed the car door and turned on the ignition. Then, as if by some compulsion, he pulled out his phone and opened up the site again. The car filled with the honeyed sound of violins as the camera followed Suri through the bedrooms of the little apartment that Gitty had once filled with motherly warmth.
“When I was a little girl, my mother used to have special time with me right before I went to sleep,” the neighbor’s voice recited in perfect American English, as the camera focused on Suri helping Layala into bed. “Now that Ima isn’t here anymore, who will say Shema with the little ones if not me?”
Motti punched in his username for the GoGivers site and logged on to the Kirschenboim Wedding account. It was now at $176,322. The Americans were coming through; they were going to help Suri start off her marriage with new linens, with good strong pots, with pretty towels and pretty clothing and all the things that mattered. His father was right: Yidden really want to give. You just need to open their hearts and they’ll open up their pockets.
He put down his phone and started driving.
Motti heard Chaim’s voice before Mommy even opened the door. It was loud, it was strong, it was angry.
“And not only did he bring a photographer into my house without my permission—” the voice was saying as Mommy opened the door.
“A gitte voch, a mazeldige voch,” Motti said loudly.
Mommy stood there, eyes wide.
Motti walked determinedly inside and found a seat at the table, right across from Chaim. It has been set for a little Melaveh Malkah — some challah, a tray of marble cake, leftover sunflower seeds from Shabbos, three cups of tea.
“A gitte voch, Motti,” Tatty said mildly. “Can we offer you some tea?”
“That’s okay, I’ll get it myself,” Motti said.
Chaim said not a word.
Motti returned to the table holding his tea. His mother watched him anxiously, averting her eyes only to steal a nervous glance at Chaim.
Tatty clapped his hands together. “So, Motti, how’s business?” he asked.
Motti tried to ignore the glowering man across the table. “Chasdei Hashem, doing well,” he said.
“Doing well, he says,” Chaim muttered. “Doing well. Invading people’s houses, trampling on their privacy, violating their daughters….”
Motti snapped to attention. “What are you saying? What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you.” Chaim pushed his teacup aside. “You, Motti, my little brother. With your video crew, and your technology, and your total lack of decency. My little brother! How dare you?” He balled his hands into fists and banged the table. “You take people inside my house and put my daughter on the internet?”
Motti shook his head.
“It’s not like that, Chaim,” he said. “It’s not like that at all. Trust me, I’ve been doing this a long time. Yidden are good, they want to give, you just need to let them connect. The video — it’s nothing, it’s just a clip, it’s a way to let them connect, that’s all.”
He lifted his teacup and took a sip. It was hard to enjoy it under Chaim’s withering glare.
“Nu, Tatty, what do you say?” Motti said in an intentionally light voice. “You know the Yidden in America, isn’t is true?”
Tatty leaned back in his chair and tapped the table rhythmically. “Sure it’s true,” he said. “I will never forget all those beautiful Yidden in America who hosted me all those years, every time I went collecting for a chasunah. Gross in Boro Park who gave me his best guestroom, and Levenstein in Lakewood who woke up early and took me around to the minyanim… Such special people. How could I forget?”
Motti looked at his mother. “And you, Mommy, do you remember?”
“I remember when Tatty was away,” Mommy said. “He used to call before Shabbos and tell me about the amazing hachnassas orchim, the way the people there really knew how to help out other Yidden.”
Chaim sat immobile, a rock.
Motti took a handful of sunflower seeds and very casually cracked one open. “Was it — was it degrading?” he asked.
Tatty cocked his head to the side and looked appraisingly at Motti. “Well, it’s for sure not very pleasant. But degrading? That’s a strong word. It’s not pleasant to ask for money, to tell people about your needs, but Hashem made us all needy in different ways. And you should know, a lot of those people I visited — I was able to give them something too.
“Gross’s father was a Spinka chassid back from the heim,” he went on, “and you can’t imagine how much he loved hearing stories about the Rebbe, the ones from my father. They gave him such a chiyus. And there was that gvir in Toronto, he had a son who wasn’t so easy. I used to sit after supper and learn with the boy, you can’t imagine what it did for him. And there was that couple in Flatbush, they asked me to daven for the wife, I said sefer Tehillim for her every day until the tests came back okay.
“So yes, like I said, it’s not pleasant to ask for money, but I wouldn’t call it degrading. Sometimes we get to give, sometimes we have to take. That’s how Hashem made His world.”
Chaim cleared his throat. “You say it’s not degrading, Tatty, but tell me: Would you send your wife to collect? Your daughter? Would you put a picture of a fresh kallah on the Internet?”
The clock ticked.
“No,” Tatty said, looking steadily at Chaim. “I wouldn’t.”
“You hear?” Chaim roared, shoving his chair backward and standing up. “You hear, Motti? Very nice, all your talk of beautiful Yidden and mitzvos and open hearts. My daughter does not belong on the internet! Take your clip down, take my daughter off. Refund the money to whoever donated. Go find business somewhere else.”
Motti cracked open another sunflower seed and studied his brother.
“How will you pay?” he asked.
Chaim shrugged. “I have friends, I’ll speak to them and see if they can help. Remember my friend Yossi, that American who used to learn near me in the beis medrash? He lives in Monsey now, maybe he can put something together. His shver’s name is on a lot of buildings. He’ll give, Hashem will give. I’m not worried.”
Motti shrugged and took a long, unconcerned sip of tea. “I was only trying to help you,” he said.
“Such help I don’t need.” Chaim grabbed his coat and made his way to door. “Gitte voch, Tatty, gitte voch, Mommy. I’ll speak to you tomorrow.”
The door closed. Hard.
Motti didn’t see Chaim until two weeks later, on his way in to the Greenbaum bar mitzvah. Chaim was on his way out, along with Shmieli and Yiddel. Motti smiled and nodded, and Chaim nodded back as he shepherded his boys out into the night. Motti headed up the staircase. Then something made him turn around and watch his brother, silhouetted by a streetlight, make his way up the street. Chaim’s shoulders were slumped, weary.
The next morning Motti tried to put those defeated shoulders out of his mind and focus stubbornly, resolutely, on his business. Chaim could talk about phone calls and friends and connections, but Motti knew how to bring in real money.
He left a message for Avichai — a new client had seen Suri’s video clip and was interested in doing something similar — and put together some notes for an upcoming story. Then he logged in to the GoGivers site. First he checked the Suri Kirschenboim page, just out of habit. CAMPAIGN HAS BEEN CLOSED, the header said. Motti swallowed and opened a new tab. He had to type in the information for the Kessner family; they’d just given him a go-ahead yesterday. There were emails to return and voice notes to listen to. There was work to do.
Later that afternoon, when he heard a loudspeaker in a telltale singsong, he opened the window. “The levayah of the ishah chashuvah, Malka Fried…”
Malka Fried — that was Meilech Fried’s wife. She had been sick for years. There were still at least five children left at home. Terrible news.
Motti went back to his computer but something was niggling at him. He dialed Avichai.
“Shalom, adoni rosh hamemshalah,” Avichai said.
“Nu, Avichai, how are you?” Motti answered. “Listen, I have an interesting job for you. Do you have a small camera, something discreet?”
“What now, Motti, you need me to spy on the Russians or something?”
“Something like that,” Motti said. “I want you to go a levayah and get good footage of the kids saying Kaddish, but I don’t want them to realize.”
“Ah, a secret mission,” Avichai said mockingly, but Motti heard something else in his voice too. Avichai appreciated a challenge. Good. Soon enough Fried would need to raise money, and Motti would be ready to help him.
All you have to do is open their hearts, and they’ll open their wallets.
“Okay, let’s try this again,” Motti said gently.
The Rosenzweig almanah dabbed at her eyes with a tissue, then took a deep breath. Avichai nodded from behind his camera.
“My husband — he was very weak then, the doctors told us they didn’t think he would be able to breathe on his own too much longer. They said…” She gulped for air. “They said they were going to give us some time together before connecting him to a ventilator.
“So they left the room, and then…” her eyes darted furtively toward the camera, then fixed again on her lap. “Then he told me that no matter what happened, he wanted me to put away money for a— a tutor, to help Yanky shteig even without…” She swallowed hard. “Without a father.”
Avichai nodded again and put down the camera.
Motti nudged the cup of coffee toward the edge of the table. “Here, take a drink,” he said gently. “That was good, you said it very well. It’s going to be a great campaign, you’ll see.”
The woman’s lips were colorless. She shrugged into her coat and grabbed her battered pocketbook.
“You don’t want the coffee, Mrs. Rosenzweig?” Motti asked.
She was gone.
Two nights later, Motti sat on the couch, watching absently as Perel ironed Mendy’s Shabbos shirt. He swiped and tapped, checking that the Rosenzweig campaign was still in the top spot, right after the third news story. Then he logged on to the GoGivers site. The money was coming in; little Yanky would have his tutor, just as his father had hoped.
Perel added the freshly ironed shirt to the pile and pulled one of Motti’s shirts out of the basket. She stretched it over the ironing board. For a moment, he imagined Avichai standing in the corner with his camera, commanding Perel to talk.
“My husband, Motti, he liked his shirts lightly starched,” she would be saying. “But with extra starch on the collar — it had to sit just so, you know? Motti — it was important to him to look right. It really mattered. But more than that, he loved being the provider. He loved to give. That’s what really made him happy — to take good care of me, the children, the family.”
Imagine Perel standing there, baring her soul to the lawyers, the grocers, the housewives and yungeleit and real-estate moguls and Amazon sellers and party planners and bored bochurim and high school girls clicking, tapping, swiping right over her pain.
But tell me, Ribbono shel Olam, how else do I get them to see these desperate children of Yours, to realize how badly they need help?
It was close to a month later when Motti saw Chaim schlepping two six-packs of seltzer up Rechov Shmuel Hanavi.
“Here, let me take that,” Motti said, grabbing one. “Where are you headed?”
“Home,” Chaim said.
“Great, so I’ll walk with you.”
Chaim was silent.
“How are things going with the chasunah?”
“Suri’s stocking up?”
Chaim kept walking.
Motti pulled out his phone. “Sorry, Chaim, important phone call,” he said, and started jabbering to some imaginary business contact. He kept it up until they reached Chaim’s apartment, then dropped the seltzer down, waved, and watched the door close.
Back in the bright sun, he dialed Mommy.
“Tell me, Mommy,” he said without preamble. “How’s Suri doing with her shopping?”
Mommy sighed. “It’s not easy,” she said. “Chaim’s trying, but his friends in America… Things take time.”
“I hear,” Motti said.
He stood for a moment, thinking about bathroom tiles and a watertight ceiling, an extra bedroom so Mendy would have somewhere to sleep when the family grew. Then he turned and headed toward the bank.
Half an hour later, he handed Mommy a sheaf of bills. “Here, Mommy, take this,” he said. “I want you to take Suri shopping. Get her some really nice sheva brachos outfits, whatever shoes she needs, a good coat. Quality, something that will last. Tell her that’s what grandparents do for their eineklach.”
Mommy held his hand very tight. He felt a tremor in the fingers. “You’re a good boy, Motti,” she said.
That night, when Tziri and Mendy were safely in bed, he broached the subject with Perel.
“Listen, Perel, I met Chaim today, and he’s really not managing with the chasunah. You know we have some money put away for the renovation, but I think this is more urgent. What do you say?”
That was the thing about Perel. She liked nice clothing, of course she wanted a bigger home, but more than that, she wanted to share their blessings. The renovation could wait, of course it would wait. Motti was so talented, so gifted, soon he’d be able to save up the money again. The main thing was to help Suri right now.
“Why don’t you take her out shopping one afternoon?” Motti said. “You can pick out linens, towels, pots and dishes. Let her think you’re the rich aunt with amazing taste and tons of money to spare. Let her feel spoiled for once.”
The next morning, Motti drove to Sanhedria. He parked outside an old stone building and knocked on a door three flights up.
“Shalom aleichim,” a bearded man with sharp eyes said.
“Aleichem shalom,” Motti said. “My name is Motti Kirschenboim. You know my brother Chaim, I think — he lives on Rechov Fishel, recently lost his wife, he was looking into a rental unit of yours for his daughter after the chasunah… Can I come inside?”
The man nodded.
Twenty minutes later, Motti was back in his car. A fat envelope had been safely deposited with the man with the sharp eyes. He would make sure that Chaim received a steep discount on the first year of rent for Suri’s newlywed apartment.
“Hello, Mommy,” Motti said. “I came to check out the heater, like you asked. Which one is making problems?”
“Oh, Motti, tattele, thank you so much for coming,” his mother said. “Here, take a drink, you want a piece of cake maybe? No? Okay, so the problem is here, in the bathroom. The heater isn’t going on. Do you think you can figure it out? If not, I’ll have to call Handelsman, and he charges so much just for the visit…”
“Here, let me get the stepladder and I’ll take a look.” Motti climbed up the ladder and started fiddling with the electric heater. He pulled the string down once, twice. Nothing happened. He went down and checked the fuse box. Everything looked fine. He opened up Tatty’s toolbox and took out a screwdriver. Maybe the coils had come loose?
The bell rang. Motti heard his mother open the door. The sound of voices — some high, younger voices, and a deeper, weary one.
Motti stood on the stepladder, listening to his mother give out taffies to the grandchildren, wondering whether he should say hello to his brother.
He heard the squeak of a chair being pulled out. Chaim was sitting down. Another squeak. Now Mommy was sitting down next to him.
“How are things coming along with the chasunah?” she asked.
“Good, good,” Chaim said. His voice had a lilt to it. “Suri has almost everything she needs, and she’s going to set up the apartment with her friends tomorrow.”
“Beautiful,” Mommy said. “And what about you, did you get yourself something new to wear?”
“I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, but Hashem helped. Yossi, my friend from Monsey, came through. He sent over money — enough money even for that.”
“I’m so happy, Chaim, it will mean a lot to Suri to see you with a smile. The truth is, we’re all so excited for this chasunah — Devoiry and Malka keep talking about it, and I know Hershey and Motti are excited too…”
“Motti? Motti’s excited for my daughter’s wedding?” Chaim’s voice was hard. “No, Mommy, it’s just a business opportunity for him, that’s all. Sometimes I wish I could tell him not to bother coming. Why should he come to the simchah he almost ruined?”
Motti held the screwdriver tight.
“I think about the chasunah sometimes,” Chaim went on, “and I wonder how I’ll manage to dance with him, how I can even look him in the eye. He thinks you need technology and internet and all kinds of clips and tricks. He doesn’t know anything. Yidden are givers, Yidden are generous, just speak to their hearts and they’ll open their pockets. Why doesn’t Motti realize that?”
Motti stood silently on the stepladder, watching the mirror fog up as he breathed in and out.
Finally the front door closed, the voices receded. He waited a few minutes more, then wandered casually into the kitchen.
“Good news, Mommy, the heater’s working now. You don’t have to call Handelsman,” he said, making sure not to meet her eye.
It was a cool night in the Holy City. Inside a low-ceilinged wedding hall with chipped tiles and fluorescent lighting, a crowd was gathered. The music started up, an ancient melody that blended hope and prayer and yearning. Chaim Kirschenboim joined his new mechutan as they escorted Duvid Vallis to the chuppah.
Now the crowd turned to watch as Suri stepped tentatively into her future, weighted by pain and loss but cushioned by so many signs of care and nurturing. Her closets were full. Her tiny little kitchen was stocked with sparkling pots, pretty dishtowels, a fresh cream cake in the fridge. Her father’s shoulders looked less weary somehow as he waited for her under the chuppah.
Motti stood off to the side, watching. The chassan, eyes closed tightly, davening for health and blessing and security and a happy home filled with sweet little voices. The kallah, clutching her gown and maybe clutching for her mother’s presence. Mommy sniffling quietly, Tatty’s lips moving, Chaim standing silently, forehead furrowed.
Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t come to the simchah that he almost ruined. How can I even look him in the eye?
Motti watched his brother, this man who was hurt and beaten yet dignified all the same. He looked at the kallah standing beside her chassan and for once the slideshow in his mind wasn’t cascading through the tiles, the fresh paint, and the watertight ceiling that could have been. He thought instead of an eternal home he had helped build.
Mazel tov! The drumming started up and the air crackled with singing and exclamations and satisfied murmurs. The chassan’s and kallah’s eyes met, an island of their own in a sea of rejoicing.
Chaim smiled, a smile of gratitude and relief and maybe even joy.
Yidden are givers, you just need to open their hearts.
This was Motti’s simchah too. He leaned in and gave his brother a kiss.
“Mazel tov,” he told Chaim.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 854)
Oops! We could not locate your form.