“Crazy! Who ever heard of a chassidishe meidel arranging things with a shadchan by herself? Her parents know nothing — she just goes ahead and meets a boy?”
It was true what they said; she looked good in turquoise — it brought out the indigo of her eyes. She fingered the teal-fringed top and the straight skirt. He hadn’t seen this yet. And straight skirts were always flattering. A Moschino chiffon scarf marbled in teal and turquoise was draped carefully over the hanger.
Always wear your best colors her mother’s voice rang in her head. Makes you look more sophisticated. Although where Shlomo was concerned her parents wouldn’t care whether she looked sophisticated or not. To them Shlomo Frankel was a nonstarter beard notwithstanding. First of all there was the tie. And the short jacket and the bent-down hat — when he wore those. And what… a lawyer? For a Radvitzer einekel? The rebbes would turn in their graves.
Downstairs the front door banged shut. Her mother must have gone to her Bikur Cholim meeting. Good — there would be no awkward questions. Rikki absently rubbed her finger around the beauty spot on the side of her chin and then stopped suddenly. Don’t do that Rikki. It looks weird. Duvid tell her how weird it looks when she does that.
She liked Shlomo. And with him she could actually talk about things that interested her. Books and politics and personnel management. Real estate and writing and why did you have to marry a shtreimel just because your father wore one?
She was sick of meeting bochurim who drove fast just for kicks and who — still in learning — bragged about landing management jobs before they’d even set foot in the workplace. “Why should I marry a leidigeier empty-head just because he’ll put on a shtreimel after the chasunah?” she challenged her parents. “So you can walk down the street with a chassidishe son-in-law?”
Her father was losing patience. “Why does he have to be a leidigeier? All chassidish bochurim are leidigeiers?”
“No of course not! But come on how many suitable ones are still around? I’m 27 you know not 19! I need to marry a mensch — an intelligent mensch — even if he doesn’t fit your image of the perfect eidem.”
Rikki smoothed down the teal top and held a choker against her throat. Did this go?
She hadn’t yet told her parents about Shlomo. Motti knew — she was comfortable sharing everything with her older brother during their frequent phone chats. He merely cautioned her to check whether she and Shlomo shared the same life goals and hashkafos. She couldn’t share the information with any of her other siblings. Although she was close with Sruli — two years younger and single (her parents wouldn’t “listen” until she was safely engaged) — she sensed his breath on her heels and felt awkward discussing her shidduchim with him. Sorele the eldest and her mother’s confidante was still pressuring her to meet the Schiffer boy.
“He’s chassidish but really normal and so put-together” Sorele had said. “You know he wears a beige raincoat.” She and Motti laughed every time that description came up.
“You know Sorele” Motti said. “All that interests her is whether someone has green eyes or blue.”
“Yes and how many rebbes you can count on each side” Rikki added. “That’s the real criterion for all of them. Tatty and Mommy are hanging on for the biggie. Why do you think I’m still waiting?”
“We… ell it’s not just about Tatty and Mommy. You’ve said no yourself.”
“Okay. That’s because most boys I’ve met were just not right. I’m not marrying someone I can’t respect simply because he’s got yichus stretching back to the Baal Shem!”
But Shlomo was different and it was getting serious. The worry chipping at her now as she slid the scarf around her neck and appraised herself critically in the mirror was how was she going to break it to her parents? She didn’t think it should come from the shadchan. She twisted her dark hair into a large clip teased it into curls and grimaced. Her parents didn’t normally ask about her evening schedule knowing that she sometimes went back to work — not unusual for the real estate office she managed — or met with her small social circle. She didn’t think they suspected anything although her mother had expressed surprise only the week before at her elegant attire. But she’d have to tell them soon. Her stomach clenched at the thought of the eruption that would follow. How could she move ahead without their support? They would never accept such a disgrace.
To them, image was everything. Two years ago, when her brother Zalman, fleeing a disastrous marriage, had moved into a run-down basement in Mekor Baruch, leaving Malky in their Gush Shmonim duplex with three small children, his parents had pressured him on the phone every night for weeks to move back. A divorce? In their family? They’d said little to family members, and even when the news had leaked to the public, her mother had continued smiling graciously at her acquaintances as though nothing had happened.
Rikki was still worrying when Shlomo’s car pulled up. To be on the safe side, he met her outside her work instead of her home. He grinned at her as she shook damp summer leaves off her shoe and slid into the seat beside him. He looked relaxed in a blazer draped over a blue shirt and stylish tie.
“Any CIA agents lurking?” he asked.
She gritted her teeth. “Don’t. It’s really getting to me.”
He looked at her and was quiet.
“Sorry, that wasn’t a very good beginning. Hi, Shlomo. How was work?”
Shlomo pulled smoothly into the traffic-filled lane. “It’s obviously a huge thing for you; it comes up every time. So let’s talk it through.”
Rikki looked down at her lap.
“You can’t relax until you’ve told them. Wait for a quiet time when everybody’s calm. Buy some flowers or something.”
“Flowers won’t help. You don’t know them.”
“Look, I’m sure I can find some chassidish blood somewhere along the line if it’ll help.”
Rikki shook her head. “It won’t make any difference. It’s about you. And your parents, and your family.”
Rikki had met Shlomo for the sixth time before she plucked up the courage to tell her parents. Motti had offered to break the news, but she declined. “There’s no point hiding behind you. I’ll have to brave the explosion, and I’m in a stronger position if I throw the ball, rather than wait for them to find out and hurl it at me.”
Friday night, Mr. Halpern was in a jovial mood as he recounted stories from his office. The dining room was softly lit, the chandelier’s gleam reflecting off three oyster-rose colored walls and one fashionable plum-colored accent wall, all thickly adorned with paintings of venerable ancestors of the Radvitzer dynasty.
“Remember the tenant who calls himself Zeide Shmerel?” her father said, generously spooning pineapple kugel onto his plate. “The 80-year-old who entertains the staff with his ridiculous adventures?”
Rikki’s mother, glamorous in a black diamanté robe and contrasting pearls, held out the platter of paprika chicken to Rikki and chuckled. “Zeide Shmerel? So which mountain did he climb this time?”
“No mountains. Moish took the call… apparently, he swam the Pacific last week!”
Laughter bounced around the table while Mrs Halpern scooped lettuce and hearts of palm salad onto her husband’s plate. Rikki smiled, but her heart beat furiously.
“Uh… I wanted to tell you something,” she said when the laughter died down.
Her father put a forkful of kugel into his mouth and dabbed his moustache with a napkin.
“Reisy — delicious,” he said, waving his hand. He looked at Rikki. “Nu?”
“Uh… I had a shidduch suggested to me a little while ago.”
Her mother put down the salad bowl and stared. “Suggested to you?”
“Vus eppes to go to the girl? Why didn’t they come to us?”
“At my age, Mommy, it’s not unusual to speak directly to me. I’m hardly fresh out of seminary.”
Mr. Halpern set his knife and fork carefully on his plate.
“Loz ihr redden, Reisy. Let her speak. Nu, Rikki?”
Rikki had rehearsed the exact wording many times over in her mind, even practicing it with Motti over the telephone, but seeing her mother’s face, pale against her dark, silky sheitel, she suddenly found herself babbling.
“He’s really nice, intelligent, serious. And deep. Um… great middos. His name’s Frankel, Shlomo Frankel. Learned in Baltimore and… what else? He’s 31, four siblings.”
She saw her mother cock her head, looking bewildered.
“Just a second,” her father said. “He learned where? Baltimore?” He shook his head rapidly as though clearing water out of his ears. “How come Baltimore?”
“Chassidish bochurim don’t generally go to Baltimore.”
“He’s not chassidish,” Rikki said, louder than she intended. “He’s working in a law firm in Flatbush, but he goes to shiurim, he’s koveia ittim and… look, he’s a perfectly frum boy!”
Her mother covered her mouth. “Not chassidish?” She put her hand down quickly, as though realizing that it looked melodramatic. “So what is he then?”
Rikki ran her tongue over her lips. “I don’t know. Just… frum. Litvish, maybe.”
“You mean modern!” said her mother. She pushed her plate aside and leaned across the table. Her sheitel swung forward, brushing her chin. Irritated, she flung the sleek strands back. “What’s this, Rikki? The shadchan talking straight to the girl? And the boy not chassidish?” She squeezed her eyes shut as though to say, Ridiculous!
Rikki’s father stared, frowning. Then he said, “Listen, Rikkale, I understand. It’s hard for you. Your friends are married, and you want to move on. But it has to be the right type, you know? This boy is pashut not our type. Tell the shadchan no, and we’ll see what else comes up.”
“What — like all the other guys I’ve wasted my time on? With yichus to Moshe Rabbeinu? We’ve been through this before. The serious chassidish boys — they haven’t hung around waiting for me. And I’m not willing to marry some shvitzer just to get a sheitel on my head!”
“There’s the Schiffer boy,” her mother said evenly.
Rikki flicked her hand. “Mommy, I’m not interested in the Schiffer boy! He doesn’t come up to Shlomo’s knees!”
“Doesn’t come up to…? Please! And anyway—”she stared sharply —“how do you know so much about this boy, tell me?”
Rikki’s eyes flitted between her parents. She pressed her fingers hard into her knees.
“You might as well know,” Rikki said hurriedly. “I’ve met Shlomo and I like him.”
The words fell, one by one, onto the table like pebbles, and lay there, unmoving.
Mrs. Halpern’s face stiffened, her mouth slightly open. “Met… him?” she echoed weakly. “What do you mean?” She looked across at her husband. “What’s going on here, Duvid? A shidduch — by herself? Ask her. Ask her what’s going on.”
Rikki couldn’t bear to look at her father, to see the betrayal painted on his face, like the time she’d guiltily confessed, at age seven, to accepting a friend’s candies with a forbidden hechsher.
He folded his arms.
Rikki explained quickly about Shlomo and why she felt he was right for her. Her mother blinked rapidly throughout her speech, but both parents were silent until she had finished.
Then the room exploded.
Her mother’s voice was strident.
“How can you, Rikki? A moderne! A lawyer! Who knows what he keeps?”
Her father jerked his neck, once, twice, as he always did when he was tense, but his voice was calm.
“Rikki, you won’t be happy with such a husband; you can’t respect a person from such a different background.”
Mrs. Halpern’s voice rose another octave.
“Crazy! Who ever heard of a chassidishe meidel arranging things with a shadchan by herself? Her parents know nothing — she just goes ahead and meets a boy?” She gestured to the painting behind her husband, where a majestic-shtreimeled man was gazing thoughtfully at them. “What would the Rebbe say? Inzere tochter making her own shidduch? And to a what? A moderne lawyer who wears a pink shirt, probably! You can forget it, Rikki. You — can — for — get — it!”
Her father broke in.
“You’re worried about Sruli? We won’t let him go before you.”
Rikki rose, fighting tears, and walked coolly to her room. But when she repeated the conversation to Motti on the telephone after a hostile Shabbos, she cried.
“I know his background’s different, but there are so many things I like about him. He’s gentle, he has a sense of humor. He’s got depth. Integrity. He tries to understand me. I can talk to him. Should I say no because he can’t speak Yiddish? Because he wears a different hat?”
Motti sucked in his breath. “It’s a bit simplistic to put it all down to Yiddish. Chassidim have a different approach to life, to Yiddishkeit. There are things you’ve picked up from home that you take for granted, which you might miss.”
“Like… warmth in avodah. Like a relationship with the Ribbono shel Olam. Like… how are you going to educate your children?”
Rikki was silent.
“You need to explore this to see if you could be happy together. Haven’t you talked about it already?”
“Not really. We’ve talked about our personalities, our interests. About work and family. We have talked about Yiddishkeit, about how he takes his learning seriously. But not about chassidus.”
Why hadn’t she talked about it with him? Rikki wondered. If it was such an important part of her life, why hadn’t she brought it up? The question disturbed her… and she realized with surprise she’d never considered it before, never crystallized in her own mind what spirit it was that papered the walls of her parents’ home. Perhaps she hadn’t dared to tease apart something so spiritual, as though by exploring it, holding it up for inspection, she would turn warmth and depth into something cold and academic — turn chassidus into Hasidism.
“Okay,” she said slowly. “Okay. I’ve got thinking to do.”
When Sorele called her cell phone the next morning, Rikki was at the office, having sought refuge in the Sunday morning silence. She endured Sorele’s harangue: Did she know what she was doing to Tatty and Mommy? That Mommy hadn’t slept since Friday night? That she was turning them into a laughingstock just so she could play Miss Independent? Rikki interrupted once to defend herself, but Sorele wasn’t listening, and after a few moments, Rikki switched the phone to loudspeaker, turned to her computer, and struggled to concentrate on her inbox.
She worked alone in the office all day. When she came home that evening to get ready to meet Shlomo, she saw her father in the hallway. He nodded curtly. Her mother, passing her on the stairs a few minutes later, ignored her. A band squeezed Rikki’s forehead.
By the time she entered the hotel with Shlomo, her head was pounding. He indicated two chocolate leather armchairs, discreetly hidden by a huge leafy plant in a Grecian cream-colored pot. She smiled as they sat down, but said little as he made small talk.
After a while, he stopped talking and lifted his eyebrows.
“Yeah, fine. Why?”
“You’re not usually so quiet.”
She looked steadily at him and said, “There’s something I need to discuss with you.”
“Oh? Sounds ominous.”
“N… no, I don’t think it is.”
Shlomo leaned forward, his hands between his knees. “Okay, I’m listening. Spill the beans.”
Rikki found it hard to speak at first and rubbed her fingers on the soft ruched leather along the arm of her chair. Then, in a rush, she told him what had transpired Friday night, and about her conversation with Motti. That she liked him, Shlomo, but she was anxious to see whether their vastly different backgrounds were compatible.
When she had finished, Shlomo let his eyes travel absently around the elegant lounge. Then he said, “You mentioned a relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu. What does that mean?”
“It means…” She paused. She had spent a good part of the night thinking this through for the first time in her life. “In chassidus, the Ribbono shel Olam is very real. He’s not just a conceptual truth; He’s an everyday part of your life. And mitzvos are things you do to—” she hesitated, fumbling for words, “to please Him. It’s like… when you love someone, you don’t just do the minimum for them, right? You go over and above. That’s a relationship.”
Shlomo frowned. “It’s a bit absurd to suggest that I don’t have a relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu just because I’m not chassidish. We keep the same Torah, you know.”
Rikki hooked a finger inside her necklace.
“No?” he asked.
She laughed uncomfortably. “Of course we do.”
“So… there’s emotion in chassidus. There’s a special quality of warmth in a chassidish shtiebel — much more singing, less formality — something you don’t get in a more modern shul.”
“Rikki,” Shlomo said, running a finger over his eyebrow, “help me understand. I go to shul three times a day, I learn, I shake arba minim, I light Chanukah candles. I even eat matzah on Pesach, believe it or not. These mitzvos are central to my life, right? So where’s the difference?”
“Don’t be flippant, Shlomo. Please.”
He exhaled. “I’m sorry. Okay — could you explain it to me?”
A vision slid into Rikki’s mind — the final seudah in the fading moments of Pesach. The family sitting around the table; the white tablecloth scattered with matzah crumbs, the shells of hard-boiled eggs crumpled on plastic plates, a single remaining slice of salmon glistening on a platter. And they are singing. Her father’s eyes are closed as he sways back and forth, singing the words over and over again, in a passion of yearning. Kareiv yom, kareiv yom, asher hu lo yom v’lo layla. Bring the day close, bring it close, the day that is neither day nor night. When they finish, they sing the song again, once, twice, three, four times, each time the emotion growing stronger, more urgent. Zalman, eyes also closed, bends his head in time to the slow beat. Motti sings the low harmony; under hear breath, Rikki hums the high harmony, and the beauty of the sound stirs such a longing in her that it almost frightens her. Ram, hoda, hoda ki lecha hayom, af lecha halayla. High One, make it known, make it known that the day belongs to You; even the night. The slow, haunting melody hangs like a soft curtain over the room, and Rikki suddenly sees wetness glittering at the corners of her father’s eyes. Her calm, stoic father, who never cries.
How could she capture that glow for Shlomo in words, without sounding trite? The sense of wanting to be close to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, without seeming pretentious?
Shlomo was watching her with a quizzical expression.
“Hashem is there, with you, you know?” she said. “When you daven, when you sing zemiros. We sing a beautiful ‘Kah Ribbon’ on Friday night, and there’s a part where you exclaim, ‘Oy, Tatte zisse!’ — and it’s so full of yearning.” Her face grew taut. “Do you understand?”
She knew it wasn’t enough, that it was a puny description; that he wouldn’t, couldn’t understand.
“I’m trying to,” he said. “But… if this is so important to you, couldn’t you bring it to a marriage?”
She traced her finger around the face of her watch and did not look up at him. “It’s my father who brings the bren, the warmth of Yiddishkeit, into the family. I suppose that’s what I’m looking for in my own marriage. And the thing is—” she raised her face and looked at his, “if you don’t understand it, you might not appreciate who I am. How I approach Yiddishkeit. And… your approach might bother me.”
Shlomo drew his eyebrows together. Then: “Look, I don’t fully grasp this… this… approach, but it’s obviously crucial to you. All I can say is, I would try very hard to be aware of what it means to you, because… I want to understand you. Will it be easy? Probably not. But it means a lot to me to make sure you’re happy.”
Rikki smiled faintly.
“But—” he paused, “I want you to take your time. Think about it. I want you to be sure.”
It was still early when Rikki let herself in at home. Her parents were sitting at the kitchen table, her mother’s burgundy leather Tehillim lying open before her. They looked up as she came in.
“Rikki,” her father said cautiously.
Her mother watched her face. “You’ve been out with that boy again.”
“Yes.” Rikki opened the gleaming ivory cupboard, took out a cup and tipped a spoonful of coffee into it.
Her mother frowned. “I’ve told you 20 times not to drink coffee at night — you won’t be able to fall asleep.”
“Fine? Fine? I wish it was fine!” retorted her mother, lifting her chin. Then she stopped, and her tone became gentle. “Rikki, listen. As much as I love you, I can’t support something I totally disagree with. If you go ahead, you think we can stand by you? We should make fools of ourselves and everything we stand for?”
Rikki was pouring hot water. She flinched at her mother’s words, and as the droplets stung her skin, she put the cup down roughly. She swung around to look at her father. He gazed back steadily. Rikki turned and strode out of the kitchen.
Motti answered on the second ring.
“I can’t take this tension,” she said, her voice tight. “I know they’re miserable. But I need to think straight!”
“How can I decide? Is a chassidish home so important to me that I’d give up Shlomo for it? Or do I like him enough to accept the difference?”
“Well, your age is an important factor. Maybe the sacrifice is worth it for you. But ask yourself this: Can you ever get everything you want?”
Could you ever get everything you wanted?
She had tested the weight of that question before. Yossi Hirschler — like her, a Radvitzer blue blood — had made her laugh, but left her feeling she was the one in charge. Chaim Dym was reliable, intelligent (she’d almost thought this was it), but very dry. Avrumi Moskowitz was well-spoken… only he thought life’s choices were about shtreimels and cars.
So what did you give up on?
Rikki slept poorly that night, as Motti’s words tumbled in her mind. At work, she chased up difficult rents, dictated a warning letter to a tenant, discussed a new housing project…. but all that day, and the next, and the next, her thoughts revolved around blue shirts, white shirts, and shtreimels.
y the time Rikki made her decision, her seesawing had steadied to a gentle roll.
She and Shlomo decided to make a small vort, away from her neighborhood, far from gossiping lips and to minimize the hurt of her parents’ absence. That wasn’t to say that no gossipmongers turned up to see if it was true that he was a total moderne — pink shirts, they’d heard! — but Rikki’s guests mainly comprised a scattering of close friends and siblings. Sorele lingered for 20 minutes to report back to her mother, and two aunts arrived, but most — curiosity notwithstanding — stayed away, unwilling to offend her parents.
Shlomo’s mother, a dentist in her 60s with a sleek auburn sheitel, was chic and warm. She kissed Rikki and told her how happy she was to see Shlomo so joyous. His lawyer father, gray-haired and reserved, welcomed her to the family. But despite the excitement, and Shlomo’s reassuring presence, Rikki teetered on the edge of a yawning hole.
Could she know… for sure? Really know? The vort was delightful — but… where was the singing, the dancing, the passion?
They set their wedding for eight weeks later, just after Succos — a deliberately short engagement. “I can’t stand this for long,” Rikki told Shlomo tearfully. “My parents barely talk to me. ‘Good morning, good night, can you bring the mail in?’ They’re hurting, I know, but I can’t talk to them.”
Shlomo looked at her with dark eyes.
Two days later, his light blue shirt looking crisp under a dark jacket, Shlomo pushed open the door of a property management office. The interior gleamed glass and chrome, and his shoes clicked on the glossy ivory tiles.
The receptionist paused, mid-typing, and stretched her lips plastically. “Can I help you?”
The young man shifted. “Yes. Can I see Mr. Halpern, please?”
The receptionist ran her finger down a page and showed her teeth. “Do you have an appointment?”
“Uh, no. But it’s important. I’d be grateful if you could fit me in.”
Mr. Halpern was holding a phone to his ear and frowning at a computer screen. He nodded at the young man and gestured to a sleek leather chair. “Right,” he said briskly into the phone. “So how long till the carpets are down?”
Shlomo observed him surreptitiously. His dark beard, graying round the edges, was neatly rounded and tucked under. His peyos were smoothed behind his ears, and his deep-set eyes looked at Shlomo appraisingly under finely shaped brows. He wore a white shirt, no tie, and a dark waistcoat. Glancing at the desk, Shlomo immediately noticed Rikki in what seemed to be a family photograph, her face thrown back in laughter, hand outstretched toward the photographer as though she was calling, Wait, wait — not yet!
Mr Halpern replaced the receiver and smiled politely. “Yes, what can I do for you?”
Shlomo tried to breathe evenly. “Uh. Good afternoon, Mr. Halpern. We haven’t met before, but I wanted to talk to you.”
Rikki’s father narrowed his eyes. “You’re collecting?”
Shlomo half-smiled. “No. I want to discuss something very important. To both of us.”
The man looked wary. “Yes?”
“My daughter?” Rikki’s father frowned. “My daughter?” He stared at Shlomo, his face creased, and then his eyes widened. “Who are you, may I ask?”
Shlomo ran his fingers along the edge of the polished desk and laughed a little. “Ah… I’m Shlomo Frankel. Rikki’s chassan. Can I have a few minutes?”
The older man shot him a sharp look, but his face swiftly became impassive. “Go ahead.”
“Firstly, Rikki has no idea that I’ve come here.”
Rikki’s father inclined his head.
Shlomo unwrapped his whittled and varnished speech. “I know that you wanted Rikki to marry someone like you — someone chassidish — which obviously I’m not. But during our meetings, I’ve tried to understand her, understand where she’s coming from. I appreciate Rikki very much, and I want to make her happy.” Shlomo paused, trying to gauge his listener’s calm expression. “Right now, she’s suffering. It’s hard for me to see her so miserable. Granted, I’m different from your family, but I’m frum and serious. You might want to speak to my rav.” He leaned forward. “Mr. Halpern, I don’t want your daughter to have to choose between her chassan and her parents.”
The clock on the office wall ticked loudly and Mr. Halpern’s chair creaked as he shifted. He rested his closed hand on his chin and regarded Shlomo over it, his face unreadable. “I hear.”
Shlomo lifted and replaced his yarmulke and his voice became more vigorous. “Your daughter is a great girl. She’s intelligent, she’s deep, she’s thoughtful… she’s…”
Rikki’s father uttered a small sound, almost a chuckle. “I know my daughter. I’ve known her for 27 years. She has alle mailes. But I want her to be happy.”
Shlomo placed both hands on the desk. “That is the only thing I want for Rikki,” he said warmly. “And I want to do whatever it takes to make her happy. That’s why…” He stopped. “That’s why I’m here. Because she loves you and she wants your support and this situation is breaking her. Yes, I’m not chassidish; yes, it’s not my derech — but does that mean Rikki must be cut off from her family?”
Rikki’s father pushed his chair back. “You may be a very nice young man, but I don’t think you understand how deep the differences are. We want Rikki to feel comfortable with her husband’s family. And I also don’t think you understand how greatly we value the chain of our mesorah. Rikki is part of that.” He stood up and extended his hand. “But I appreciate you coming to see me.”
“Mr. Halpern,” Shlomo said spiritedly, standing also, and leaning toward the older man. “I see you feel strongly about this. You care about Rikki’s happiness, and I understand that yichus is very important to you. But can I ask you something? Is it worth it? Depriving yourself and your wife of nachas from your daughter? Not to see grandchildren grow up? Not to attend brissim and kiddushim and bar mitzvahs?”
The words hung, quivering, between them.
Then Shlomo held out his hand and the man took it. “Thank you for seeing me,” he said. As he left the office, he heard the phone shrill, and Mr. Halpern said “Yes?” Shlomo quickly walked through the front door and up the street.
At supper that night, Rikki’s father was unusually ebullient. He joked with his wife, complimented the meatballs generously, even asked Rikki how her day had been. Rikki answered with confusion — It was fine. Thank you — and said no more.
When Rikki left the room, her father dropped his head into his palm. “Her chassan came to see me today,” he said shortly.
His wife was gathering the cutlery together, and she paused with her hand midair, knives and forks jutting upward. “What?”
“He came into the office.”
She emitted a sound, half laugh, half gasp. “For what?”
“To talk to me.”
The cutlery clattered onto a plate, and she blinked rapidly. “He came to talk to you?” She waited, then said impatiently, “Nu, zug shoin. What did he say?”
He lifted his head from his hand and clapped his palms down on his knees. “What can I tell you? He took me by surprise.”
“Duvid. What. Did he. Want.”
Mr. Halpern looked at his wife and his tone became brisk. “He wanted to make shulem, that’s what he wanted. He wanted to ask us to accept him. He wanted to say that Rikki’s miserable. That afileh he isn’t chassidish, he’s trying to understand where she comes from.”
“Is he indeed?” She pulled at her lower lip, her brows drawn together. “So what did you say to him?”
“Thank you for coming.”
“That was the whole conversation?”
“Reisy, I wasn’t about to start a heart-to-heart with a yingatsch I’ve never met before. He seemed very menschlich, he said he wants to make Rikki happy, I said we have a mesorah, a long line of yichus and that’s very important to us.”
“And that was it?”
Her husband buttoned up his sweater. “More or less.”
She pushed her chair back, lifted the stack of plates, put them in the sink, and turned to face her husband.
“What does he look like?”
“Tall, trimmed beard. Blue shirt. Speaks very well.”
“What else? I don’t know.”
“Duvid, I don’t understand you. The boy comes to see you, and you don’t even check what he looks like?”
Her husband closed his eyes and swatted his hand dismissively.
She picked up the sponge and put it down again. “And what? We should just smile and nod and shulem al Yisrael? All the rebbes, all the zeides for more than two hundred years — they all count for nothing? And the town — they’ll have plenty to say! We’ll be a laughingstock!” She leaned forward. “Maybe you involve the Rebbe? Listen, if she marries this Frankel, her children will be different, their children will be different… the whole chain crumbles! You’re happy to take responsibility for that?”
Her husband leaned his elbow on the table and rested his head in his palm again. “I don’t know, Reisy,” he said heavily. “I just don’t know.”
he next seven weeks passed like a whirl for Rikki: Yom Tov, appointments, decisions, plans. The first half of Succos, spent with Motti and Estee, was comforting; during the second, at home, the presence of Zalman and Sruli warmed the atmosphere, and conversations were almost pleasant.
On Shemini Atzeres after kiddush, Rikki, quiet-faced, watched her father whispering the farewell tefillah to the succah, gazing into his machzor, head on his hand. As her mother looked up from her Tehillim and smiled gently, he stood and turned to the cream-draped wall. Leaning against it, the feathery ends of his glossy shtreimel brushing the crushed-velvet cloth, he pressed his lips to it passionately. For a full minute, he stood silent, eyes tightly closed, face resting against the cloth.
Rikki dropped her eyes and stared at the tablecloth. Hands in her lap, she sat for a long time.
After Yom Tov, Rikki avoided home as much as possible. At night, she crammed her life into boxes. Once, catching her father alone, she tried to talk to him. He was quiet while she spoke. Then he said, “Rikki, yichus is very important in our family. Keeping the chain. How do you think I feel when I watch you take the two halves of a chain that’s been in our family for generations and break them apart with your bare hands?”
On her last night as a single woman, Rikki lifted her wedding gown off its cushioned hanger, climbed into it and slipped the layers of gauze over her head. She trod the stairs lithely to her parents’ room, knocked, and pushed the door open. Her father was standing in front of his open closet, his back to her, holding a shirt.
She stepped in and walked swiftly toward him, her gown swishing on the carpet. As she reached him, he turned, and his eyes widened. Rikki stretched her arm wordlessly and tightened her fingers around his elbow. Then, unexpectedly, she bent over and erupted into a storm of weeping. Her father did not move, leaving his arm in her grasp, and when she raised her head, she saw that his eyes were wet.
“Tatty,” she sobbed. “I just wanted… I just…”
Silently, her father waited until Rikki’s weeping eased. When she stopped heaving, he gently disengaged his arm. He stood still, looking down, the shirt dangling from his fingers. Then he lifted his free hand and placed it on her head.
ikki sat in the white garlanded throne, nodding and smiling at the faces swimming around her. Above the chatter, she could hear the pianist’s tinkling chuppah melodies, and the haunting strains of the violinist. Estee was bent over her, securing her veil.
“Are you all right?” she murmured through a mouthful of pins.
Rikki breathed deeply. “Very.”
There was sudden movement in the crowd, a sweeping apart, and she saw Shlomo, tall, serious, flanked by his father on his right and Motti on his left, moving steadily toward her between two flaming candles.
He was coming. The intensity of the thought gripped her and she found herself unable to look into his face. The feeling was too private, too powerful, to let it be shared by the crush of staring people. She looked instead at Motti’s high shtreimel approaching, its ends feathery. Her eyes blurred and then it was not Motti under the glossy shtreimel, but the image of her father, his face pressed into the crushed-velvet drapes of the succah.
A stream of mournful, tender notes crept from under the violinist’s bow. Rikki’s tears swelled until they became a curtain — why wasn’t he here…? Here! Here! — and it seemed to her that the poignant crying wasn’t coming from the violin, but from her soul.
But as Shlomo reached her, the violin’s notes quivered and changed.
Kah Ribbon olam ve’olmaya… ant hu malka melech, melech malchaya...
Who had chosen that song…?
Oy, Tatte zisse, melech...
Someone had asked the violinist...
Oy, Tatte zisse...
Rikki blinked the tears away and gazed up at her chassan’s face now directly above hers.
She saw his eyes smiling, smiling before he placed the badeken cloth over her head.
(Originally featured in Calligraphy, Issue 607)
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