| Second Dance |

Second Dance: Chapter 11

Was this how it happened? Was this the moment that had been denied to her the first time around?


Reuven Stagler had spent decades selling fitness equipment to gyms and health clubs. He knew what was a must-have, what was a stylish add-on, and which machine would remain untouched in the corner. Treadmills were boring, but you could never have too many of them, he would tell clients, and they would be used year after year. As new condominiums rose all over, he saw the wave of in-house health clubs in every building and he found a specialty in creating custom plans based on available space.

It was appropriate, he felt, that his first real decision would concern the Alameda Gardens fitness center.

The words “first official move as president” played in his mind, even though he wasn’t president of anything. He had created a new email address, Alameda.Council@gmail.com, and he set out to write his initial email to the list of addresses the main office had sent him, called “All Residents.”

He deliberated whether or not he was allowed a personal reflection, and decided to go with it. If you’re going to lead, then lead.

Dear Friends,

Some of you may know that I’ve been in the fitness equipment industry for decades, and as a new arrival in our wonderful neighborhood, I have to say that I was very impressed with the fitness center. Top-of-the-line equipment (even if they didn’t order it from me, lol) he actually laughed out loud as he wrote this, pleased with the joke and imagining husbands repeating it to their wives, spacious facilities and ample changing rooms. But asking around informally, I learned that many residents don’t avail themselves of this resource — not because of lack of interest, but because of lack of motivation.

Bolding the words, Reuven felt, was another leaderly move, a way of conveying that he had identified the problem and also had a solution.

To that end, we are considering hiring an instructor to lead a formal men’s fitness class three times each week, creating both the motivation and convenience that seems to be needed. If we can get 25 confirmations, we will move forward, with Hashem’s help.

Thank you,

He considered adding another line to his sign off, something about working together to improve things, maybe, or speaking in one voice, but that was too much. Instead, he just signed his name.

Reuven Stagler, Council Chairman, Alameda Gardens

Shaindy Brucker was not having the easiest day.

Her seminary experience had been at a different time, the early  ’80s. Back then, going to spend a year in Eretz Yisrael meant something, not like today when there are 5,000 girls vying to get into the same four seminaries and you need a 98 average and a million dollars to be considered. Back then, the messages had been strong and sincere, and she and all of her friends had come out of that year in Yerushalayim determined as ever to build a house of Torah, and it started with marrying a talmid chacham.

The teachers had reminded them, again and again, that it was up to them: They had the ability to support, encourage, and inspire the next generation of rabbanim and mechanchim.

One by one, her friends had gotten engaged, one metzuyan after another, the names of these shiny new chassanim disappearing from view for a few years then bursting out, a shteller saying shiur here, as a rav there, the mechaber of a popular sefer or dayan in a new community.

Chaim Brucker was chavrusas with all of them, and he would smile delightedly when he heard news of a new job or yeshivah: “Ah, very good, he was in my chaburah, he’ll be fantastic. No one has the cheshbon of a sugya like him.”

Shaindy, teaching in two schools to support him in kollel, wondered when he would have his chance to be fantastic, when his name would appear in an ad, and her old friends would come out of the woodwork to congratulate her and tell her how perfect her husband would be.

Two voices competed in her head: Rebbetzin Grunhaupt saying, “It’s all the wife, it’s on you to make it happen,” and Rebbetzin Grunhaupt reminding them that, “Wherever he ends up, it’s up to you to encourage and provide good cheer.”

Chaim’s first real job, saying shiur in the nursing home at night, wasn’t much to celebrate, even though the pay was decent. The hashgachah jobs came when the nursing home had been short-staffed before Yom Tov and the manager insisted that Chaim step up and help them through the crisis, overseeing the kitchen. Shaindy had immediately seen where it was headed, but he had already agreed, feeling hakaras hatov to the manager. “It’s not a big deal,” he told her, “the halachos are really very clear and I can learn while I’m on-site.”

He didn’t understand what she did, that no beis medrash would hire a maggid shiur who sidelined as a mashgiach in the nursing home. But it was a done deal, and the money was good, and that became his source of parnassah, even as his lifeblood came from the long hours at the dining room table, swaying over his Gemara, filling pages in his notebook.

The move to Lakewood had brought Shaindy new hope that the slate would be wiped clean, and maybe the job would come — and yet once again, every other man seemed to be landing in a comfortable spot save for Chaim. Nechama Stagler’s husband was the big macher now and Rina Putterman’s husband had given one good speech and he’d suddenly become a baal eitzah to the whole neighborhood. She’d seen him sitting at the round table in his backyard with two different couples over the course of the day.

And Chaim was happily saying how great it was, how Reuven Stagler was perfect for the job and how wise Rabbi Putterman was.

Everyone found their zach, he had told her without irony, the Ribbono shel Olam took care.

Exhausted, she chose Rebbetzin Grunhaupt’s advice to “provide good cheer” instead of asking him, again, what his zach was going to be. She smiled gamely and said how nice it was that in a neighborhood in which everyone was starting over, people still had opportunities to develop themselves. He loved that, of course, and left to shul smiling.

Now she saw him returning, heading up the walk still smiling, two hours later.

She watched him approach and saw that he was animated about something, like he had news to share.

She looked up expectantly as he came in, and he turned to her. “Shaindy, you’re going to be so happy, I have the best news.”

Was this how it happened? Was this the moment that had been denied to her the first time around? Would there be a hachtarah and would her siblings all come? Should she push him to start wearing a frock on Shabbos? Was it a done deal, or was there an election or something else?

She was not being a rebbetzin, no way. They would all call her Shaindy, nothing would change, and she would make sure to invite people into the house, so that they could see that Chaim was just like anyone else, a normal person who sometimes enjoyed playing Scrabble and doing Sudoku.

She got up from the couch, waiting.

“So Reuven Stagler, you know he’s the chairman and all that, he wants the oilam to start using the health club, most of the men here don’t really take advantage of it. So he figured if there are regular classes, it will be a mechayev, part of the schedule. It’s a good idea, no? Anyhow, he asked me if I would sign up, and I thought about what you always say about exercise, and I surprised myself. I said yes.”

He beamed at her and repeated himself. “I said yes, Shaindy.”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 889)

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