Nechama suddenly realized where the story was going. Moishy hadn’t retired, he had died
Nechama, unused to being the center of attention, was leaving the health club when she sensed that a woman was staring at her. This went on for a full minute, until Nechama reached the door of her car, where the unfamiliar woman stopped her.
“Sorry, Mrs. Stanger?”
“Yes.” Nechama, post exercise, not really down for a chat, tried to smile pleasantly. “Stagler, it is. Good morning.”
“Um, thank you for letting your husband take that position, we’ve been waiting for someone to come make seder. I’m sure it’s not easy. Anyhow, can we talk for a minute?”
Feeling confident, Nechama nodded politely. “Sure, can we meet at my home in half an hour, I’ll be happy to prepare coffee. Just tell me how you like it.”
It wasn’t the warmest response, but she wasn’t going to let Reuven’s new hobby swallow her life.
Precisely half an hour later — like, to the minute — the unfamiliar woman walked up the path to 105 Wimbledon Loop and Nechama panicked. This was so not her.
Mrs. Aliza Weinhandler had clearly prepared her presentation, but a few minutes in, once she realized that Nechama was a listener, she relaxed and started to speak more informally.
“All the years, me and Moishy were a team, we did everything together. We ran a business together, working in the office all day, then coming home and taking care of the family. People laughed at us — make other friends, they would say — but Moishy always told me they were just jealous. Every night, once the house was quiet we would go walking together, and you know what? We never ran out of things to talk about. I read these magazine articles about young couples today, how they’re bored, how men need their friends and women need theirs, and I want to scream. It’s not true.”
Nechama nodded, unsure what to respond. She and Reuven also went walking, but they both had other friends and that was a nice thing, she thought.
The woman across from her sat very straight, holding a coffee mug but not drinking at all, and Nechama suddenly realized where the story was going. Moishy hadn’t retired, he had died. She knew this with certainty, even before her new friend continued speaking.
“Moving here was, for us, the fulfillment of a dream. Most of the kids were in Lakewood, we had already moved most of the business online, and we were so excited when we came.”
Aliza Weinhandler paused, as if collecting herself. “We came a year and a half ago, one of the first ten families. Our block, Liverpool, was the first to be completed. Anyhow, everyone was busy making new friends, there was this great energy of new beginnings, yadda yadda yadda,” she waved her hands, “but Moishy and me just laughed, we didn’t feel like we were in the competition at all, we had no need for friends.”
She looked down now, her voice faltering. “We had no time for friends.”
She delivered the next part of the story quickly, trying to be as matter-of-fact as possible.
“Three months after we moved here, Moishy had a heart attack, and he was gone within the week. He left me here all alone in our new house.”
She suddenly took a big gulp of coffee, and Nechama grimaced, hoping it wasn’t still hot.
“And there I was, having completely lost the new-friend sweepstakes, and also without Moishy.”
Nechama reached out and squeezed the arm of the other woman, not because she wanted to, but it felt right, like the sort of thing that someone experienced in listening to these types of stories would do.
She still had no idea why this woman was in her house.
“I may be alone,” Aliza went on, “and I may be lonely, but that doesn’t mean that I’m depressed, that I’m just going to mope all day and throw in the towel. I don’t need my kids hovering all around me and calling every ten seconds and sending me smoothies like I’m a seminary girl who had a bad date, you know what I mean?”
Nechama nodded, though she had no clue what she was expected to say.
“So in short, a few weeks ago, I decided that it was time to move on. I know exactly what Moishy would have wanted for me, we even talked about it a few times. But here’s the thing. I’m out of Brooklyn for over a year and don’t really have any people here, obviously. This neighborhood has no rav, which is an issue for someone at my stage.”
Here, Nechama felt like she could jump in. “My husband is working very hard on that, it’s one of his big goals. He gave himself six months to get this done.”
Aliza Weinhandler stood up. “Great, great, six months to get it done, sounds so crisp and impressive, but where does that leave me? There’s no one here who worries about people, get it, Mrs. Stanger?”
Now she was angry, Nechama could see it. “In normal places, people find their grooves. After a few years, you know who has a heart for other people, who cares, who can help. Here it’s all sterile and polite and ‘I love what you did with the garden,’ and hatzlachah. No one cares about anyone else!” Aliza looked directly at Nechama and her eyes were hard. “Let your husband do something real, instead of worrying about speed bumps, let him bring a shadchan in, there are at least three single people here who can use an ally, you know? Let him take care of people.”
She put down her mug with a clatter, and Nechama saw the determination fade as self-doubt — something she recognized well — crept into her visitor’s face.
“Thank you for this,” Nechama said, “thank you, I love what you’re saying. It’s true and it’s important and if there’s something to do, we’re going to do it.” (We’re???)
She walked Aliza to the door, and gave a little wave as her new friend turned to say goodbye.
Then she headed straight to Reuven’s study, but instead of telling him about Aliza Weinhandler, Nechama first asked if he minded if they invited company for Shabbos. He looked at her quizzically, but shrugged. Altogether, he’d become more social in his new role and he accepted that she had gone along with him, although that wasn’t it.
It wasn’t it at all.
But Nechama couldn’t very well say, “We need to start investing in relationships with other people. What if one of us ends up alone, chas v’shalom, al tiftach peh, but what if, and we have no one here to turn to?”
She and Reuven would not be Aliza and Moishy, best friends with no need for anyone else until one of them disappeared.
Shaindy almost laughed at the invitation. Chaim wasn’t the eating out type, and she didn’t even have to ask him to know the answer. She didn’t see him sitting around and making small talk during a Shabbos seudah, complimenting the oyster-steak salad and wondering about Trump running again.
He liked to eat quickly, rest, and go learn.
She even had an easy way out, saying that she had to be there for Heshy and Gitty, but then Nechama Stagler said, “And of course, you’ll bring your children too, that’s all part of it.”
Shaindy paused, about to proudly talk about her husband’s hasmadah, but she had a sudden thought.
A rav had to be worldly, ready and willing to meet people in different settings, on their terms. Chaim was not only a talmid chacham, he was sophisticated.
“Sounds amazing,” she said.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 892)
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