“Who said I want to go back to the dorm?” Chaim interjected. What? That wasn’t in the script
I sat straight at the dining room table. I even had a pen and paper with me. Yehudis had texted me the other day — What time are you available? There’s something I need to discuss with you — and I wanted to be ready.
I could relate to Chaim now, to that sinking feeling of “What did I do now?” and “What will she say?” I mentally ran through our last few encounters. My last shiur was before Yom Tov, that was forever ago. I’d also met her niece, but I didn’t think that wasn’t anything. I was drawing a blank.
I don’t know what it is about Yehudis that makes me pull my creases straighter. Well, cancel that, I do know. We’re opposites and not in a complementary way. She disapproves at a fundamental level with my approach to life. It’s funny, cause I get along with everyone, but she seems determined to have herself be the exception. I think we started off okay, but it went south so swiftly. Was it just the speeches? Did she hate the kid book shtick that much?
The phone rang. I pounced.
Yehudis got to her point efficiently, “Yom Tov is always a busy time, and I just realized I never spoke to you about our upcoming anniversary.”
“Mazal Tov! How long are you married?”
“The shul’s anniversary. Ten years.”
I chuckled, Yehudis did not.
“Beautiful, what are we doing for it?”
“The Neshei formed a committee in the summer to work on it and we’re reconvening now. We’re going to host a gala Shabbos for the shul members and the foundational donors who helped the shul start and continue to support it today.”
“Wow, sounds like you have it all figured out.” I noticed I didn’t seem to feature.
“Yes, so it’s going to be in six weeks, parshas Vayeishev. We already have a party planner and caterer booked.”
“So where do I fit in?” I cut to the chase.
“As our rebbetzin, you represent our shul in ruchniyus.” She paused. “And in gashmiyus.
I figured six weeks is a long enough time to pull together an appropriate speech.”
Appropriate. Interesting word choice
“And enough time to shop and outfit yourself and your family for the Shabbos.”
“I’m sorry?” I said that before my brain could stop me. I think Yehudis was counting on me to accept her unspoken hints, because she stammered a moment.
“This is a big celebration for the shul, and dressing for the occasion is part of it. I’m sure you’d buy a new sheitel for your son’s bar mitzvah, no?”
I really hope she doesn’t think I’m buying a new sheitel.
“I hear, thanks for the heads up.”
“Once I have you on the phone,” I said, “I thought I’d ask you about shiurim. Are they happening yet?”
Yehudis sighed, a bit too pronounced to be real. “I’ve been so busy with the anniversary arrangements that I haven’t had a chance to finish the schedule.”
“That’s okay,” I countered. “A few places called asking me to speak, and I wasn’t sure if I was available. You know the shul will always come first, but at least now I have an answer for them.”
“Right,” Yehudis’s articulation was slow and cold.
After I hung up, I allowed myself to acknowledge a thought that had been lurking at the borders of my mind for a while: Yehudis knew what she was getting when they hired Avrumi, I’d never pretended to be anything I wasn’t. Had Yehudis thought she’d be able to whip me into shape? Or was Avrumi so good that they’d decided to stomach me?
“Shopping,” I said out loud, even though there was no one home. I needed something up to date, apparently. I’d usually go with Leah, but I didn’t think she’d respond too well if I asked her to help me buy stylish maternity clothes.
I picked up the phone and dialed.
We sat at the far end of the dining room table. I’d set out fresh chocolate chip cookies in the hope that comfort food might bring comfort. Nice try, Chana.
Chaim was his usual slouchy self, and I could see Avrumi trying to keep his body language open, constantly unfurling his arms and uncrossing his ankles. He cleared his throat. Both of us looked at him,
“Let’s talk tachlis.”
Yes, let’s, I thought. Beating around the bush is so exhausting.
“Mommy told me about your little side business,” Avrumi’s tone was neutral, respectful even when he said side business, and I mentally blessed him for that. “Who else knows about it?”
Chaim crossed his arms, I was really hoping he wouldn’t stonewall.
“Chaim, you’re not in trouble,” I said. “Tatty and I are just trying to figure things out, and it’s better to go to the source than to poke our noses where it might cause trouble.”
Chaim nodded slowly. He got my drift.
“No one but the bochurim.”
Avrumi raised a brow. “No one?”
“The mashgiach knows the boys are getting stuff, but they don’t know it’s me.”
“Got it,” Avrumi nodded, thinking. Then he shifted in his seat. “Mommy’s been in touch with your rosh yeshivah, she’s been trying to get you back into the dorm.” Chaim shot me a look I couldn’t exactly read. “I think if you shut down your business, he might be more likely to let you back in.”
“Who said I want to go back to the dorm?” Chaim interjected.
What? That wasn’t in the script.
“Cause then I can’t run my business as well. A lot of local boys stay at home, they have so much more freedom. Why would I go back?”
Oh. I hadn’t considered that. Chaim had always dormed because he wasn’t local. Now he is, but I still want him out. Does that make me a terrible mother? I rubbed my hands together as though it would magically solve everything.
“Ok, let’s look at this a little differently, then,” I tried. “Dorm or no dorm, this business shows really great entrepreneurial spirit on your part” I saw the corners of Chaim’s mouth curve at that. “But you’re in yeshivah, this is simply not the time or place for this. Come bein hazmanim, come time to support your family, you’re gonna be amazing, but you’re in yeshivah, an aleph yeshivah, this just isn’t your job now.”
Chaim looked away. Avrumi reached for a cookie. Okay, so it was still my turn to talk. What to say? Chaim wasn’t hearing a thing.
“Can we talk straight?” I asked. Chaim and Avrumi turned to me, both looking bored. “You’ve had a rough start to the year, but talking to you, you seem to be okay with this direction. You don’t want such an intense learning schedule, you want to dabble in business. That’s okay, but then maybe Mekor isn’t the right place for you.
Chaim and Avrumi twinned horrified faces. Avrumi stammered, but no words emerged. Chaim’s jaw hung but he recovered quickly.
“I don’t want to leave the yeshivah, why would you say that?”
Did he not see the obvious? What did he really want?
“Chaim,” Avrumi’s voice was soft. “Mommy is simply saying that if you’re in a particular yeshivah, you follow its rules and culture. And if you don’t want to follow them, you can switch.” Avrumi’s face twitched at that suggestion, like he couldn’t believe he was saying that. “But you can’t have both.”
Chaim stared at the table, picked at a too-long thread on the tablecloth fringe.
“But what if I am both?”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 705)
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