"What’s there to explain? It’s embarrassing, it’s disappointing, it’s frustrating, concerning. That’s not enough?”
Avrumi was being too quiet. I picked up a half of a slice of tomato and covered my mouth with it, then made my eyes go wide to complete the look. He looked up from his lunch and didn’t even crack a smile. Maybe I should’ve used cucumber slices for eyes.
“Is someone dying? Am I in trouble? Are you dying so therefore I’m in trouble?” I asked.
He finally cracked half a smile at my last line.
I looked back at my plate. The cheese in my pita pizza had congealed. Gross.
Avrumi put down his fork.
“I was talking with Menachem Schloss about Yamim Noraim seating and what have you, and then he tells me that he drove by the yeshivah to drop something off for his son — did you know they have a boy in ninth grade in Mekor? Anyway he saw Chaim outside during night seder, he was smoking something, he thinks it was a Juul, y’know, one of those nicotine-only e-cigarettes, he wasn’t sure.”
I waited. Avrumi seemed to have finished.
“And?” I tried prompting him.
“And? What’s there to explain? It’s embarrassing, it’s disappointing, it’s frustrating, concerning. That’s not enough?”
“So he’s smoking. Not the best of choices, but he’s a teen having a bad year, not the biggest surprise. And he’s blowing off night seder, same thing. He’s just being a kid.”
Avrumi’s eyes narrowed.
“Chana, this is a pattern. It’s one thing after another this year. I don’t think it’s wise chinuch on our part to look at this as ‘just a kid.’ Also, Menachem Schloss saw it; it leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.
Aah, that’s what I was missing. I’d thought Avrumi was bigger than that, but…“Did it feel like Menachem Schloss was judging you?”
Avrumi looked blank. “I have no idea. I was judging me.”
“I hear. It’s tough.” I frowned for him. “We took this job because we thought it would be best for everyone in the long run, but it’s not the kids’ fault that you’re a rav.”
“I know, but this would bother me no matter what I was.”
“True, because Chaim’s doing something so beyond your character. But still, it wouldn’t bother you half as much if you weren’t in this position.”
“Probably,” he conceded. “We still need to do something about Chaim.” I tilted my head a bit. “Yes, really, Chana.” Avrumi read my hesitation.
“Okay, I can give you a firm maybe,” I offered.
Avrumi picked up his fork and speared a single piece of lettuce. “Fine. To be continued.” He closed his eyes in thought. “Something else I wanted to ask you. Seats for Yamim Noraim. Where do you want to sit? All the way up front? Right? Left?”
“By the entrance,” I said quickly. “I want to see who comes in, help them get settled. Also, I need a quick getaway. Tzvi’s not staying in shul all day. Although maybe Chaim can babysit if he’s not up for shul.”
Avrumi shot me a sharp look.
“Kidding, kidding,” I reassured him. Whoa, Avrumi was really concerned about Chaim.
The regular crowd was there. I was flattered, people showing up more than once to hear me. Even if they were free, if I was awful, there were easier ways to kill time.
I smiled at Tehila Cohen and Leora Richter. And then I saw them in the corner, slightly huddled and out of place. Dahlia and Debby from the library. I caught their eyes and waved exuberantly at them. They smiled and waved back, then sat down now, noticeably more comfortable.
I walked to the lectern. Yehudis Schloss was sitting in her usual spot. She looked at me, looked to the back of the room and then looked back at me. I withered a moment and prayed she wouldn’t say anything.
Reaching into my bag, I pulled out “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” “You’ve probably read this book a million times. If you haven’t read it, you should have and are in for a treat today. Either way, today we’re gonna look at the hishtadlus angle of the book. What happens when you add Hashem into the mix?”
The women settled in their seats and I started with my storytelling shpiel. The woman laughed and sighed at all the right places. When I opened the floor for discussion afterward, the women were more than ready.
“Y’know the waiting room, it gets me every time.” Sarah Singer started. That really opened the discussion doors.
“I know,” I added. “Anyone who’s ever been in shidduchim relates to the lines, ‘Waiting for a yes, or a no.’ ”
The women kept talking, me contributing my two cents when necessary. Then Dahlia raised her voice. “I dunno. This book never worked for me. It’s the American Dream, the pull yourself up by your bootstrap myth. It takes any sort of failure and places it on you, and why is that fair? How life plays out isn’t always your choice.”
The room went into an awkward silence. There wasn’t even any shuffling or breathing. Mayday, Mayday, Chana. The regulars weren’t ready to hear dissent from an outsider.
I looked around to read the room, then stole a glance at Yehudis. If looks could kill…
I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered my cell. Avrumi says they’re all telemarketers, I’m still curious.
“It’s Sharon, how are you?”
“Sharon! Hi! How are you?” I moved from the kitchen table to the couch.
We small talked about nothing for a few minutes, and when there was a pause and Sharon didn’t serve back her volley, I waited.
“Listen, Chana, I’m not sure you’re the right address for this, but I thought it was worth a chance.”
“So while I was dropping off my grandson today, I was talking to my daughter about who I saw at the library, and I mentioned Dahlia, and my daughter started pestering me about how she looks, how’s her kid, and on and on. Finally my daughter tells me that Dahlia recently got out of a miserable marriage by the skin of her teeth. She doesn’t have family locally, but she has a job, and she doesn’t want to uproot her kids now, they need some stability.
“What I’m saying is, she needs some support. I’m not sure where you come in, but you’re a rebbetzin and that’s usually a good start.”
I oyed and sighed along with Sharon’s talking. It was terrible. I saw Dahlia today too. But then Sharon finished her speech, and I was left being the rebbetzin.
“I don’t know how much being a rebbetzin is going to help, but I’ll do what I can.”
“Thank you Chana, I knew you were the right person to call.”
The conversation shifted and we chatted about nothing and everything. I learned that Sharon is a baalas teshuvah, that she grew up in Maine, that she misses her dogs. “Soon I’ll be old enough to not care about society and get one,” she said. Her husband died of a heart attack three years ago, she has a single son who lives in Florida, and she hates olives.
We hung up, and I leaned into the couch, letting myself blend into the fabric. How to best help Dahlia. I’ve never gotten involved in something like this, but I’m usually fairly resourceful. I grabbed a throw pillow and stroked the tassels, letting my mind do some work.
It kept hitting the same answer, but I wanted a different one. The best resources I had at my disposal was the Neshei. I smothered myself with the throw pillow. I may be an optimist, but I’m not a fool. This call wouldn’t go over as well as Sharon’s had.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 697)
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