Hitting the Right Note| April 6, 2020
His brother was a singer. So what?
"Hoops after school?” Avi asked Nosson, his friend and fellow sixth-grader in Yeshivas Bnei Torah.
“Yeah, sounds good,” said Nosson. “But first we have to get through the rest of the afternoon.” They both rolled their eyes. Tuesdays meant a double lesson of geometry.
“Boys, to your seats.” Rabbi Leibowitz’s appearance stopped their conversation short. Both boys reluctantly settled down and looked at the isosceles triangle their teacher was drawing on the board. Basketball would just have to wait another hour and a half.
The five o’clock bell finally rang. Nosson and Avi picked up their bulging backpacks and headed out for the walk home.
At the corner Avi paused. “Let’s walk this way, okay? I need to pass by Shirim U’tzlilim.”
“Sure,” said Nosson lightly. “What do you need from the music store?”
“Oh c’mon, you know! Dovid’s CD is out,” said Avi.
“Dovid’s CD?” asked Nosson. “So what?”
“Gee, if I were you, I’d be so proud of my brother, the singer!” said Avi.
Nosson just rolled his eyes, but joined Avi as he entered Shirim U’tzlilim without another word. Avi whooped with delight when he saw Dovid’s CD, with his name prominently in the center, displayed right at the entrance.
“Hope they sell well,” said Avi fervently.
“Me too,” Nosson echoed flatly.
They got to Avi’s house and started shooting hoops, the game punctuated by conjectures of how many copies of Dovid’s CDs might be selling as they spoke.
“Hey, what’s he gonna do with all that money?” Avi asked suddenly. “Maybe he wants to contribute to your hoverboard fund?” He smirked.
Nosson didn’t seem amused. “Very funny. Even if he was rolling in dough, I don’t think he would want to use his money for my hoverboard.” His face shuttered.
They shot a few more hoops until Binyamin, Nosson’s little brother, poked his head into the backyard. “Avi,” he hollered, “your mother called. You have to go home.”
Avi said goodbye to Nosson and headed home, his head swirling with thought of CDs and microphones and cool older brothers.
The next day at recess Avi bounded over to Nosson. “Did you listen to the CD? Isn’t it great?”
“Yeah, we listened to it together last night. It was fun. And a little weird, like hard to believe it’s actually Dovid.”
“Whad’ya listen to?” asked Tzvi, who was sitting right near them.
“Azamra! Nosson’s brother Dovid put out a CD. Check it out in Shirim U’tzlilim!” said Avi enthusiastically before Nosson could get a word in.
Nosson’s shoulders tensed and he dragged Avi over to a quiet corner.
“Can you cut that out?” he asked Avi
“Cut what out?” he asked innocently.
“Talking about the CD and Dovid. I told you on our way home yesterday and not in school for a reason. I don’t want to talk about it in front of everyone.”
“Why not?” said Avi. “Your brother put out a CD. That’s the coolest thing I’ve heard recently. You’re not proud?”
“It’s pretty cool, and I am proud. That doesn’t mean I want to talk about it at recess,” Nosson repeated irritably.
“Whatever you say.” Avi shrugged.
But the next day he sat humming “Azamra” while eating his sandwich and when Yochanan asked, “What are you singing?” he said, “Oh, “Azamra,” Dovid Engel’s new song.”
Nosson, sitting across the table, shot him a dirty look, and Avi put his hands out, palms up, as if to say, What could I do? He asked!
Nosson still looked very disgruntled.
And a week later, when Avi turned his backpack over to try to find a pen and the jacket cover of Azamra fell out, Nosson looked positively mad.
“What is your issue?” he hissed at Avi.
“What is yours?” Avi whispered back through clenched teeth. “Your brother is the cool singer. You get to see him every day. What do you care if I have the jacket cover of his CD in my knapsack?”
“You’re nuts,” said Nosson, and determinedly looked back at his science notebook.
“The traffic is intense,” said Mrs. Rubin, Avi’s mother, to her husband.
“Yes, I don’t like what’s going on here. But there are still a few hours until Shabbos,” he answered, brow slightly furrowed.
“I know, and I left all the food prepared, and Brochi said she’ll supervise the younger kids’ baths. But still, I hate to be away from home on a Friday afternoon.”
Mrs. Rubin’s younger sister had made her first bris — first boy after three girls — and the Rubins had decided to go without their kids, drive out to the next town where Avi’s aunt lived first thing Friday morning and hopefully be back a bit after the kids came home from school. But things hadn’t worked out as planned. The mohel had been delayed, the bris had been late, and though now they were on their way back, a major accident had brought traffic to a standstill.
Mrs. Rubin were not too concerned at first, but after two hours passed with almost no progress, she was frantic. Mr. Rubin tried to stay calm, but a glance at the clock, not to mention the worried phone calls from their kids, had him plenty nervous, too.
Three hours before Shabbos, when they were still pretty close to Lakeview, Avi’s father gave up. “That’s it,” he said. “We’re getting off the highway, we’re pretty close to an exit, and going back to your sister for Shabbos. The other side of the highway is moving.”
“But the kids!” Mrs. Rubin said nervously.
“We’ll have to make arrangements for them,” said Mr. Rubin, sounding calmer than he felt. “Brochi can go with Sarala to her friend Goldy, Binyamin can hopefully go to the Senders, and Avi to Nosson Engel. Let’s start on those phone calls.”
Ten minutes later, the plans were made, their neighbors all expressing their sympathy and graciously agreeing to take the kids for Shabbos.
“Well, looks like we got a vacation,” said Mr. Rubin.
Mrs. Rubin forced a smile. “Now comes the hard part,” she said. “Calling the kids to tell them.”
“Should be okay,” said Mr. Rubin. “Sarala will be with Brochi, Binyamin practically lives by the Senders, and Avi’s been really tight recently with Nosson Engel.”
But Avi, surprisingly, sounded disappointed when he heard the Shabbos plans.
“Will you be okay, sweetie?” his mother asked worriedly. “You love the Engels, don’t you? And hey, you’ll get to see Nosson’s famous brother singing zemiros, that should be a treat for you!”
All the Rubins had heard more than they cared to about Nosson’s famous brother.
“I’ll be fine,” Avi said, sounding anything but excited.
“Hi,” said Nosson when Avi walked in carrying his bag. “Let me show you where to put your stuff,” he continued, and eyed his bag as if wondering if a picture of Azamra was going to fall out of it.
The coolness they had been feeling to each other recently thawed as they started an intense game of chess, but the awkwardness returned when Dovid came into the kitchen looking for something to eat. Avi jumped slightly.
He felt Nosson staring at him and composed himself, but there was a chill in the air again.
The seudah that night was lively, with Nosson’s twin brothers running circles around the table and his sister’s high-pitched rendition of her parshah sheet making everyone laugh. Avi slowly started to relax.
But he couldn’t help but notice Dovid complaining that his sister had forgotten to buy matbucha before jumping up to help his mother serve the soup.
And the zemiros the Engels sang were… regular, with no major complex harmonies from Dovid and certainly no solos like Avi had been imagining.
And when Dovid spoke in learning to his father and threw up the twins in the air when he came in from shul Shabbos morning and bantered with Avi and even Nosson about how many candies they had caught at that morning’s aufruf in shul, Avi felt a twinge of disappointment.
Dovid was regular. The same friendly older brother he’d always been to Nosson, polite to Avi, and fun with his twin brothers. Avi thought he was starting to understand why he’d been making Nosson so nervous the whole week.
When Shabbos was over, and Avi’s mother called to say they were on their way home, with thankfully no traffic, Nosson offered to walk Avi home.
“Sorry,” Avi said, without much preamble.
“It’s okay,” Nosson said, seeming to understand. “I’m sorry too. It’s just this is what I was so nervous about. People making a fuss about Dovid, thinking he changed, that he’s rich or something.” Avi blushed, remembering the hoverboard. “We’re all proud of him, but really he’s just Dovid, not Azamra.”
They reached the Rubin’ s house and Avi wished Nosson good night and headed to his room.
It was time for the weekly cleanup of his knapsack his mother insisted on; he had to get rid of the accumulated garbage, check that he had supplies for the week, and throw out a certain CD jacket cover.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 806)
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