She doesn’t know Mo very well if she thinks he’s going to get his hands dirty with some Ikea furniture. He wouldn't even build our own furniture
Star Fact: Most stars exist in pairs
Iinhale, and the scarf I’ve wrapped obsessively around my face presses itself against my mouth. Exhale, and the fabric flutters out again. The city itself seems frozen, as if someone has taken a picture and just pasted it over the usual vibrant life. The city that never sleeps is sleeping.
I’d be depressed by all the gray, but I actually remembered my earbuds before leaving the loft, and my playlist creates a bubble of sunshine that the 15-degree weather can’t pop.
He’s waiting at the entrance, lab coat poking out beneath his coat, white against the blue of his jeans, smiling at my plaid-covered face.
“It’s cold!” I say defensively through the layers, and he laughs, pulls the door open, and ushers me inside first. Who says chivalry is dead?
I pull off my hat with fingers long frozen, shaking out the glossy locks, and free myself of the excess weight.
We sip our macchiatos, my fingers curled against the cup’s warmth, laughing over absolutely nothing and yet everything.
Mo orders us sandwiches, tells me about a patient, and my heart swells. He’s a rising star, one of the youngest surgical residents ever, and he’s mine.
Am I a star? They say so, although late at night I wonder if I am truly measuring success by how many lives I’ve poked holes in, ripped apart, and displayed for all the world to see, all in the name of journalism. The answer is usually yes, but it’s the success part I’m interested in. Mo gets up to get me a refill; I watch him go, and then look around, trying not to feel too smug.
I’m almost used to the envious stares we engender; they hardly make an impression anymore. But I smile extra widely as he walks back toward me, and I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit it was for the benefit of the other patrons in the cafe.
Stars exist in pairs, I tell them silently, and turn toward Mo.
I’ve always been attracted to the shiniest toys, the biggest roles, the most popular group. And with careful planning that I refuse to call manipulation, it’s usually worked out in my favor.
And now I have Mo, the brightest, shiniest star in the area.
I stare at my ring finger, where another star glistens, and my stomach erupts with colonies of butterflies.
Forever is a long time, but that’s what Mo was offering. And I accepted.
Five Years Later:
Star Fact: The most massive stars are the shortest lived
Mo pokes his head into the kitchen and whistles. “I didn’t even know the counters were that color. Becks, you have magic hands.”
I grin and wiggle my gloved fingers at him. “You know it. And buckets of elbow grease to round out the equation.”
He laughs. “Heading to the makolet, what can I get you?”
Come to think of it, I’m starving. A Starbucks Frappuccino with a chicken caprese sandwich, my stomach says.
“Can you get a package of wings, three sweet potatoes, two jars of baby food, and a bag of green beans? And then can you get two YoLo puddings for the starving people to eat while dinner cooks?”
He salutes and strides away in a flash of white Adidas.
I open my mouth to say something, and then snap it shut, grinding my teeth.
Why? Why, why, why can’t my brilliant husband get the unspoken rules? Does he see anyone else in Neve Yaakov wearing white Adidas? You don’t have to be an ex-journalist to grasp the scoop here.
I turn back to the counters and scrub with renewed vengeance. My stomach tightens, but I refuse to call the feeling bubbling up inside “disgust.”
He returns laden with bags. We sit Indian-legged on the porch — we’ll have to wait until after Shabbos to buy patio furniture — and eat our creamy puddings slowly as we watch Sarah crawl up and down, examining the unfamiliar space.
“Sooo good,” I say unenthusiastically. Mo nods. We lick our spoons, too tired to speak.
The truth is, there is nothing in the entire makolet that I actually crave. Unlike every CVS and 7-Eleven on every corner in Manhattan that carried my Entenmann’s donuts, Twix bars, and hostess cakes for splurge days.
Although Israeli chocolate can definitely give Hershey’s a run for its money.
“Oh, you know what?” Mo says suddenly. “Hezky Baum from next door invited us for the Shabbos day meal. Nice, no?”
My heart sinks. Why did the guy have to be named Chezky?
Mo’s “Hezky” pronunciation is humiliating. As a language aficionado — a skill that made me a killer reporter, if I do say so myself — I feel my teeth start to grind again. “Nice,” I answer slowly.
“He’s a good guy, Hezky,” Mo says.
Okay, there is no way we’re going.
“But what about her?” I say. “I heard her screaming this morning. You know I can’t handle dramatic people.”
He looks at me, disappointment written all over his face, like someone has taken a Sharpie and just went to town.
“Lashon hara, Becks,” he says kindly.
I flush. He’s right.
It’s really Mr. Baum’s own fault. Why couldn’t he be named Ari?
The table looks gorgeous, and Perri Baum is a sweetheart. And when a cockroach crawls across the floor and she emits a familiar scream, I can practically hear Mo’s wordless “You see?”
I want to have fun, I really do, but I’m too busy trying to figure out what it is exactly about Mo that proclaims “newcomer.” He’s wearing a suit, not too fitted, not too loose. Black velvet kippah. Black Shabbos shoes, Adidas safely stowed away in his closet. But there’s no mistaking it. And there’s no mistaking the super-helpful slow tone that Mr. Chezky Baum has adopted for the duration of the seudah.
I tune back into the conversation just in time to hear Mo start a story about the time we hiked Mount Kilimanjaro. “Heavenly sweet-potato kugel!” I practically shout. “Mo, you must try this!”
He’s slightly startled at my exuberance over cooked sweet potatoes, but he’s a good sport.
More importantly, the Mount Kilimanjaro crisis is averted.
Star Fact: Millions of stars are invisible to the naked eye
The compliments start slowly, like the faucet in the second bathroom that emits a nearly nonexistent trickle before picking up in a flood-like rush.
The first comes at the Neshei Melaveh Malkah dinner. “Chavi Posen,” the smiling redhead at the salad bar says.
She squints at my name tag. “Rikki Porter. Oh! Is your husband Reb Mo? My husband’s obsessed. Honestly, the only reason my husband actually makes it to the daf yomi shiur is because Reb Mo sits next to him. You must be so proud!”
I blush, only slightly bemused. Reb Mo?
Redhead grabs a pretty blonde away from the blueberry muffins. “Cheryl! This is Reb Mo’s wife, Rikki!”
Cheryl gasps and covers her mouth with her hand. “No way! Well, behind every great man… It’s so nice to meet you!”
And the two of them stand there, staring at me like I have all the answers.
The next time it happens at the makolet, where I’m trying to figure out how you say cornstarch in Hebrew.
I rock the stroller back and forth, wondering if I should ask for kemach tiras, when a perky voice breaks through my musings.
“Rikki?” I look up; it’s Mirel Barnett from the gym.
“Hi Mirel, how are you?”
“Baruch Hashem!” She looks excited. “My husband just told me that your husband agreed to learn with him once a week. He is so excited!”
Now I’m confused. Mo is brilliant, true, but he’s light-years away from 25-year-old Chaim Barnett’s level of learning. He’s thrown himself into learning while doing ulpan, but the second he’s proficient enough in Ivrit, he’s going to continue his surgical residency.
I tell myself he doesn’t look insulted when I ask for an explanation.
“Obviously it’s not the level of learning,” Mo says, shrugging. “It’s the bren.”
I laugh at the yeshivish term; he smiles.
“I guess I still get excited, and the other guys find it, I don’t know, refreshing.”
I smile at him shyly. “They love you.”
He blushes. I push on. “It’s incredible how you influence others to enjoy their learning as well…”
The look on his face is priceless, and I feel like the worst wife in the world.
Because really, what I wanted to hear, was that he was the star. Not the cheerleader.
I’m folding laundry, trying to keep my eyes open, when my phone rings. I squint at the American number before picking up.
I sit up straight. Who would call me Becks? “Rebbetzin Fein?”
Excitement wakes me up; I jump to my feet and start pacing around the living room.
“How are you, Rebbetzin?”
Suri Fein sighs. “We’re wonderful, Becks, but we miss you. How is our favorite couple doing?”
Guilt surges through me. I should really be calling her weekly with nachas calls. We owe everything to her and the rav, after all.
I talk quickly, telling her all about Mo and his fan club.
“Wow.” She sounds awed. “You got a good one there, Rebecca.”
“I know, I really do, baruch Hashem.” I feel that old flush, the one that comes from having the shiniest toy in the room.
“Speaking of good matches, I’m actually calling about my nephew, Sruli. He’s coming to Eretz Yisrael for two weeks, and we’re looking into the Scherman girl from Neve Yaakov. I was wondering if you could make some calls for us?”
I blink, flattered the Rebbetzin would trust my judgement. “Of course! Tell me a bit about Sruli?”
Rebbetzin Fein’s voice warms. “Oh, he’s marvelous.”
I head out to the porch while she talks; the Jerusalem night air is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, not even on Mount Kilimanjaro.
“He’s an illui, brilliant, a masmid like you can’t imagine. Also fun and charismatic. Really, just a special person. A real star, you know?”
I stare out at the night, eyes watering from the cold, and blink at the studded sky through a veil of sudden tears.
“He sounds wonderful,” I murmur.
I stay out long after we’ve hung up, and I wonder if a worse person exists in this world. Because my main takeaway from my conversation with the Rebbetzin is that if I had met Mo after I became frum, I never would have married him.
Star fact: Stars do not actually twinkle. They only appear to twinkle due to turbulence in the earth’s atmosphere deflecting the light that reaches our eyes.
We’re halfway through dinner when my phone beeps. “I’nore it,” Mo says, through a mouthful of fried chicken.
I stare at him, because when has he ever ignored his phone? Like, ever? Although, come to think of it, Mo is hardly on his phone anymore. Strange.
I check it later, when I’m putting the leftovers away. It’s funny how I enjoy domesticity. I’d dreamed so long of a penthouse with live-in help, and then I’d actually lived those dreams with great satisfaction, but I enjoy the soothing rhythm of dishwashing and sweeping my horribly speckled floors.
Faye had sent me a SOS.
Benny is trying to build our Ikea furniture.
I’m scared he might actually die in the process.
Is Mo around?
I grin. Faye was the next best thing I took away from my kiruv classes, and devastating though it was to miss her wedding last month, I’m thrilled that she’s finally here. Cherry on top is that Mo and Benny have really hit it off. But she doesn’t know Mo very well if she thinks he’s going to get his hands dirty with some Ikea furniture. He wouldn’t even build our own furniture, asking me to hire some yeshivah bochurim to do it. His hands are his most valuable assets, residency break or no residency break.
“Faye thinks Benny is going to kill himself building their new furniture,” I throw out casually.
Mo pops up out of the fridge. “Oh, boy. Should I go over there? Happy to help him figure out the gibberish that they call instructions.”
I think my mouth is hanging open. “Um, you want to go over to the Greenes and build furniture? As in, with a hammer? And a, a, a uh—”
Mo grins, watching me falter. “That was your entire repertoire of tools, wasn’t it?”
I laugh. “Okay, yes. But really. You will?”
Mo winks. “Sure, I’ll just change into jeans first.”
I think I clutch my chest, because he hastens to yell, “Kidding, kidding,” over his shoulder before going off to call Benny Greene and offer his assistance.
I decide to join the peanut gallery with Faye, mainly because I can use some girl talk.
We watch the men drill and bang and laugh while we work our way through a huge bag of popcorn.
“How’s married life?” I ask Faye quietly.
She gives a half-smile. “Partly magical, partly exasperating.”
I poke her. “Perfectly said.”
She looks at me. “Oh yeah? But you and Mo are made for each other.”
I stare at Mo, at his pristine surgical fingers that are now covered in sawdust, his black pants with paint smudges, and his Adidas that for some reason seem endearing in the moment. He’s clutching a screwdriver, and if I squint, I can replace it with a scalpel.
“I know,” I say softly. “I just… need to be reminded sometimes.”
Faye puts an arm around me and squeezes, her flowered tichel tickling my face.
“I think that’s normal,” she says. I want to tell her that I’m not normal, that I’m terrible, but maybe, perhaps, she’s right. I can want things, we all do, but still be content with what I have right in front of me.
It’ll just take all I have, and then maybe more.
We sit like that awhile, watching them work, until the bookcase and table are standing on their own.
Happily, no one loses a limb, or their lives, in the process.
Star fact: When you look at a star (or any object in space), you are seeing how it looked in the past.
We stumble inside, sweating and breathless. It’s supposed to cool off at night, for heaven’s sake. “Gorgeous Selichos,” I say tiredly. Mo nods lethargically from his seat on the recliner. I squint at the clock; it’s one a.m. “Okay, I’m tucking this angel girl in and heading to bed before I fall down.”
Mo nods. “See you later. Gotta do the daf.”
I gape at him. “It’s one a.m.!”
He laughs tiredly. “The daf waits for no man,” he says in a deep voice.
I laugh back uncertainly. I feel bad to leave him, but ever since our conversation about how he encourages the other guys to learn, I’ve noticed how he’s really thrown himself into daf yomi.
I don’t think he’s worked this hard since medical school. He schedules appointments around his daf shiur, misses dinners and fundraisers, and stays up late making up the daf if he did have to miss it. I wouldn’t have even noticed if I wasn’t looking for it, but I am.
My eyes are wide open. Maybe for the first time in our relationship.
I’m dicing cucumbers for Israeli salad, trying to get them as small as Perri cuts them, when Mo bursts into the kitchen, out of breath. “Becks, Becks!”
I grin at him. “Hi. Right here.”
Now I’m worried. “Mo. What’s going on?”
He plops into a chair. “Rabbi Levy has a wedding tomorrow night and he asked me to give the daf shiur. Me!”
He looks so panicked; I smother a laugh. “Mo! That’s incredible. Good for you!”
He looks at me like I’ve just lost my mind and started speaking Mandarin. “Rebecca. I can’t give daf shiur. I just… I can’t.”
I look down at my butcher block cutting board. He still has trouble with the ches pronunciation and something about him is still just hopelessly new to the game. But he has fire and passion and brilliance, and even though it goes against everything I stand for, I hear myself saying, “Oh, yes you can, Mo. Who was the hospital’s youngest surgical resident? Who understood the concepts Rabbi Farkas taught in our first-ever Torah class? Who dived right into Gemara and never looked back?”
Mo looks uncertain. “I mean, yeah, maybe, but—”
“No ‘but,’ ” I snap, my own uncertainty turning my voice harsh. “Would Rabbi Levy ask you to give the shiur if you can’t?”
Mo stands up and he suddenly seems very tall. “You’re right,” he says simply. “Thank you, Becks.”
I nod fiercely, choosing to ignore the tone of surprise in his voice.
The kitchen is finally kashered, my aluminum-lined freezer is finally stocked, and I’m more than ready to hit the hay. I peek my head into the dining room and find Mo fast asleep on his Gemara.
He looks so peaceful, but I know that if I don’t wake him, he’ll just go to bed even later.
“Mo,” I say. He doesn’t stir.
He sits up suddenly, blinking very fast.
“You fell asleep,” I say.
He nods blearily. “Must. Go. To bed.”
I look down at his Gemara. “You finished the daf?”
He shakes his head, there’s a red crease on his face where the leather had pinched the skin.
I bite my lip; images of the all-nighters he pulled during med school flash through my mind.
But that was med school. There’s no scholarship on the line here, no promotions.
I look at Mo, who is rubbing his eyes.
There’s him. There’s Mo and his dreams, and whether or not they are my dreams right now, I must respect them.
I turn briskly to the kitchen. “Red Bull or black coffee?” I call over my shoulder.
“For energy. So you can finish the daf.”
Mo doesn’t follow me so I head back into the dining room. “I mean, a kidney function exam can’t beat the daf, right?”
Mo smiles faintly, remembering, I’m sure, the exam that had him going around the clock for 42 hours straight. Of course, the second it was over, he fell into bed and slept like the dead for 18 hours.
Now, with minyan and tefillin, he doesn’t really have that luxury.
“Coffee,” he says quietly. As I click the kumkum on, a strange feeling overtakes me.
Star fact: He leads forth the stars by number; He calls each one by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. (Yeshayahu)
I place the bagels artfully on a platter and then decide they needed to be stacked. I know my neighbors will laugh at my Americanness, serving bagels and spreads, but I just can’t fathom serving schnitzel and rice as celebratory food. And this is a celebration.
Mo’s first siyum. I wait for the disappointment to fill me — men his age have made tens of siyumim by now — but all I feel is pride. His first siyum. Night after night of learning, of staying up late, early mornings up with the sun, delving into the depths of the pages before him. And I stood on the side, judging and mourning, until I opened my eyes. And today, finally, it was a celebration for both of us.
Last night, as I was rolling out cookie dough, Mo came to find me.
He slid onto a kitchen chair and grinned at me.
“You have flour on your nose.”
I swiped at it half-heartedly, too tired to put in the effort.
“I wanted to thank you.”
I blinked at him. “Me?”
“I never could have done this without you.”
But I only got on board like a month ago, I protested silently. I just smiled at him, though.
“When you complimented me, all those months ago, it quieted something inside of me, a fear I had, of never really catching up to the other guys. And every time it got hard after that, I thought ‘Becks believes in you.’ And that kept me going. And you made me coffee late at night and pushed me to give the shiur…”
He looked at me, eyes shining, and I promised myself that one day, if not today, I would actually deserve his thanks.
Now Mo is pacing back and forth, reviewing the devar Torah he is going to share. I watch him from the side, and for the first time, I send up a small thanks of my own.
Thank you for my husband, I tell Hashem silently. He is good, and he is hardworking, and he is so special.
And then, because people don’t change in one day, I whisper, “And he is a star.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 806)
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