Chaim didn’t even look up this time. Maybe, Shaindy thought with a little stab of satisfaction, he was also at the end of his rope
Friday night, during the seudah, Heshy Brucker began making fun of the davening at the Alameda Gardens Ashkenaz shul. “It’s like everyone there was already chazzan or gabbai or candy man in another shul, and now they’re retired, so the whole thing is just about function,” he said.
Chaim nodded politely, the tip of his beard just a millimeter from the top of the chrein.
Shaindy was in middle of clearing the fish course when her son said this, so she couldn’t protest, but really, it wasn’t that fair. People could come to shul simply to daven, she thought, not everything has to be a circus. People can just quietly do their thing.
Her daughter-in-law Gitty had taken to following her back and forth as she served and cleared, and it took all of Shaindy’s concentration to make that work, to manage another set of hands that was not just completely unnecessary, but also unfamiliar with the entire kitchen setup.
This, Shaindy decided, was a nisayon, and let it not be said that she was a wimp. Instead of arguing with Heshy, she turned to smile beatifically at Gitty and thank her for carrying out the small glass tray of croutons as she, Shaindy, managed four steaming bowls of soup.
After the seudah, Heshy started to ponder his davening options. There were the Alameda Gardens Ashkenaz and Sephard minyanim, one at eight o’clock and the other at eight thirty, but they didn’t “speak” to him.
“Tatty, you know what I mean,” he explained. “You heard Lecha Dodi tonight, it was like a computer choosing from a pre-programmed playlist, everyone singing at exactly the same pitch while looking into their sefarim. I mean, come on…”
Chaim was learning Seforno, one of the highlights of his week, and he kept one finger on the place as he looked up to say, “I thought it was very nice, but different kehillos have different styles, I guess.”
“That’s exactly my point,” Heshy said. “They have a style, any style, but this is davka not a style at all.”
Chaim didn’t even look up this time. Maybe, Shaindy thought with a little stab of satisfaction, he was also at the end of his rope. This would be their nisayon together, he would privately admit how hard he found it, and then they would learn a sefer together about coping. Eventually, Heshy would move out and she would tell her other children, without too much detail of course, about how she and Tatty had resolved to get through it together.
Heshy said he was going for a walk, and when he came back fifteen minutes later, he had several other minyan options he’d found out about. There was a hashkamah minyan on York (hashkamah, ha, Shaindy thought, her son hadn’t come out of his room before nine o’clock all week), a Syrian minyan in someone’s basement, and just outside the neighborhood, at the corner of Dalton, there was a minyan for an older man who couldn’t leave the house.
Instinctively, Shaindy knew that her son would choose the old man minyan, the inherent chesed in it appealing to him, and smiled to herself a moment later when he announced that he would probably go help out that minyan. “I hope it’s okay, Ta, that I’m not davening with you?” he asked, and without a trace of irony Chaim assured him that it was fine.
It was really just fine. Shaindy looked closely, trying to see the sign in her husband’s face, and she thought she caught it.
“I’m just getting the hang of taking thirty years of chinuch lectures and adapting them to old people, and now the chinuch world suddenly wants me,” Akiva Putterman said, but Rina could see that he was pleased.
It had been a good week, and earlier that evening when she bentshed licht, she’d added words of thanks for the fact that her husband seemed to have found a message that resonated within their new neighborhood. Now he was telling her about two new schools that wanted him to come in and do teacher enrichment seminars, his favorite type of work, and her heart soared at the enthusiasm in his voice.
It had started slow, but interest was building.
Akiva had to contend not just with competition, but also with paranoia about why people wanted his services. Recently, in a moment of truth, he’d blurted out that being Shea Helberg’s shver made him doubt what people really wanted. One over-eager menahel had invited Akiva to observe in the school for a week, and Akiva had been intrigued. “Observe? To what end? To present at the end of it, you mean? To write a report?”
“No,” the menahel had said, “no need to present, we’re just very proud of what we built here and we want people like you to see it firsthand. You’re very connected and all that, we need ambassadors like you.”
Akiva had caught something in his tone and told Rina about it later. “Rina, ambassadors? Does he need me to make a good report to the board of ed? To Torah Umesorah? Does the school need an ambassador to Dubai, Rina? No, of course not, they need me to be impressed so that maybe I can get through to oh-so-busy Shea Helberg and mention that when he’s pouring money out of that endless supply all across Klal Yisrael, they want their share. That’s what this is about. It’s obvious to me, and I find it disgusting.”
He had been embarrassed at his own outrage, but he didn’t take the words back, and she knew that he now viewed every potential client with suspicion. It was as if in the memo that circulated between the mosdos, the scouting report read something like, Akiva Putterman: mildly entertaining, no major chinuch insights, but pretty good, relatively inspirational, good presentations, also, he’s FIL of Shea Helberg, worth considering just for that alone.
It was just the two of them this Shabbos, and they lingered over dessert, enjoying the peace and optimism that had spread itself like a blanket over this strange new house, this perfect house with no defects or oddities, this perfect house waiting to happen.
He played around with the cranberry biscotti, then took a bite and looked at her appreciatively. “Good stuff, new recipe?”
“Yah, I got it from one of my new friends. New friends, new recipe.” She shrugged and smiled shyly.
He stood up, suddenly, and launched into a mock lecture. “Mrs. Rina Putterman, nearly fifty years old, expected to start a new life, in a new town.”
He paced up and down the room, and then punched the air for drama, enjoying his own joke. “Not only a new life, but new recipes too… and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the real secret. Not finding freshness in the areas in which you have to, but in the areas in which you want to. Not just the house, the friends, the job, but the dessert recipes! Be like Mrs. Putterman.”
He sat back down, feeling good, and got back to the biscotti. Rina laughed lightly, but inwardly, she promised herself she would invite kids to come every single Shabbos she was able. Too much quiet wasn’t a good thing for her husband.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 891)
Oops! We could not locate your form.