Oh, Chana, I chided myself. You just walked into a popularity contest
She wasn’t talking. Her lips were pursed. I could tell it was gonna be a no. But I had to wait for Yehudis to actually say it. I looked around, taking in Yehudis’s living room. She had a white couch; that probably sums her up.
“The more I get to know you, the more you impress me,” Yehudis finally started. Well, that was unexpected. “You’re really stepping into the role and responsibility of a rebbetzin.” She paused again. “But I don’t think I can allow you to give the Neshei contact list to your friend.”
I waited silently. Let her explain herself. Learned this trick from Avrumi.
“I’m sure she’s a wonderful and worthy person, I’m not questioning that. And it’s unfortunate that she’s in such a tough situation, and it’s beautiful that you’re looking for ways to help her grow her catering business. But giving out a contact list is an invasion of privacy to the Neshei members. They come for the community, not to be inundated with unsolicited emails, phone calls, and the like.”
This was her argument? I put down the Nespresso Yehudis had insisted on, and faced her head-on.
“It’s just a list of phone numbers. She can also open a telephone book. This just makes it a little easier.”
Yehudis’s eyes sparked.
“I’m not following.”
“Rebbetzin, you’re not in the business world. Lists like the Neshei’s are very valuable. Like you said, it makes it easier. Any business owner gets ahold of this, and she knows it’s a list of women in a certain age range, background, likely socioeconomic level. If this is their target customer, it’s a gold mine.”
I shook my head. I got it, but I didn’t get it. “This paper is hanging on my fridge, I think it might have some soy sauce on it. You’re telling me it’s worth money?”
Yehudis pursed her lips. “We don’t sell the list because that’s not what the Neshei is for. Also, like I said before, privacy.”
“What if she wanted to join the Neshei? She was at the shiur the other day.” I paused. “I don’t know if you noticed her.”
Yehudis’s eyes narrowed. Maybe pointing that out wasn’t wise. But it was key to my point.
“Remember, Dahlia doesn’t have a husband to attend minyan, and she has a little kid, so coming to shul on Shabbos isn’t really an option.” I stopped, then tacked on brightly, “I think there’s room to consider her an honorary member of the shul.”
Yehudis tapped her fingertips against each other. “Rebbetzin, you obviously care a lot about this. You wanted to talk to me face-to-face, not just over the phone. But I’m not sure you know how a big a thing you’re asking. I appreciate your dedication, but it’s still no.”
Yehudis took a sip of her own coffee and chuckled, “It’s not like I’m an insurance company that everyone knows is ridiculous and you just need to find a loophole in the nitty-gritty rules to get approved. I really don’t think it’s appropriate to give her the list.”
She wasn’t going to budge. Was it me? Or would she say this to anyone?
I nodded. “I hear you, Yehudis. Like you said, I care a lot about this. So I’m gonna push a little further. Do you mind if we ask the other Neshei chairwomen how they feel about this?”
Yehudis sucked her lips and then her expression changed. She smiled at me. “Sure. You’re right. I shouldn’t be making a decision like this executively.”
Oh, Chana, I chided myself. You just walked into a popularity contest.
“Thanks.” I smiled at Yehudis, who was tapping her fingers again.
“While I have you here, we might as well discuss the two women who came to the shiur the other day.”
“What about them?” I was playing dumb.
“Well, you know, they’re not part of the shul and this is a shul Neshei shiur.”
“They’re my guests.” I opened my arms magnanimously.
“I know, but this is the Neshei’s event, not your personal shiur. And I think a few women felt uncomfortable by your friend’s comment in the shiur yesterday. There’s no reason for that.”
I shrugged. “A little dissent is always good. Y’know, two Jews, three views. I get nervous when everyone is agreeing, it means they’re not thinking.”
“That’s not really my point. The women should feel that Neshei is a safe environment for them. They’re coming for inspiration and growth, they’re not looking to be challenged by someone who’s not in their community. I don’t know her, but you know what they say, the clothes make the man… she just doesn’t seem like someone who shares the values of our Neshei.”
I frowned and took a sip of coffee, buying time. There were so many things she was insinuating, but I didn’t think this was the time or place for it. Tackle one thing at a time, Chana. Think it through first.
“Look, Yehudis, I hear your concern. I’ll think about it, but for right now, I’m going to reserve the right to invite people I think would enjoy and benefit from the shiur.”
Yehudis pursed her lips again. If she were my kid I’d tell her that if she keeps that up, her lips will disappear.
Rabbi Pinkowitz watched as Avrumi and I sat down. None of that shuffling-paper business. He tugged at his beard, almost like he was revving an engine. Then he started.
“Chaim, Chaim, Chaim, he’s a tayere, geshmak bochur. L’maiseh, he didn’t start the year so well.”
He trailed off, as if he were expecting us to pick up the conversation. When no one spoke, he shifted his posture abruptly, and leaned forward. “You know the yeshivah is a teivah that protects the boys from the outside world. I’m concerned that maybe Chaim, is not in the teivah in gantzen.”
I stole a look at Avrumi. He looked stoic and distant.
“As chashuve parents, I was hoping you could help me understand Chaim. Did his whole mahus change, or do you think this is temporary?”
I looked at Arvumi again, he was looking me like it was my turn to speak. But I had nothing to say. My shoulders sagged.
“Ummm,” I floundered. “I appreciate you calling us in so we can be on the same page chinuch-wise with Chaim, but I’m not sure I have any insights.”
Rabbi Pinkowitz looked surprised. “I know your family moved bein hazemanim, do you think that made a difference? Is he missing something from your old community?”
Chaim’s in eleventh grade and dorming since ninth, he’s barely been home, there’s nothing much to miss. I shrugged.
“Maybe he’s just officially a teen.” I offered.
The rosh yeshivah chuckled. “Sometimes that’s the teretz to everything, but my experience is telling me it’s something more.”
I sat back, deflated. How had I not realized something real might be going on with Chaim?
Avrumi spoke up. “Rabbi Pinkowitz, thank you for calling us in. We appreciate the yeshivah noticing and caring about every talmid. My wife and I have been having some challenges with Chaim lately and I think it’s moiradig to be able to work together with the yeshivah and really be there for Chaim.”
That’s how. I’ve been so busy explaining away Chaim to Avrumi, and relating to Chaim, I haven’t really thought about Chaim’s motives.
The meeting went on for about ten more minutes. Avrumi taking over and diplomatically getting the rosh yeshivah to work with and not against Chaim. That teivah comment in the beginning had rattled me — as if I’d been waiting for the other shoe to drop only to find out that it already had.
“We’ll be b’kesher,” the rosh yeshivah was saying. Avrumi stood up and reached to shake the rosh yeshivah’s hand.
We left the office, and though we walked in tandem, there was a chasm named Chaim between me and Avrumi.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 698)
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