"The people around here aren’t the 9:15-minyan kav, if you know what I mean”
It was late on Thursday night, and Shaindy wanted only to close the lights in her clean kitchen and go to sleep, but Heshy was just getting started. He’d been humming to himself all evening long, so she knew he had some sort of exciting plan in his head, and now, as he started unpacking containers on her freshly scrubbed counter, she looked on curiously.
“Hesh what’s up, did you buy some cholent? I know that the young people like that on Thursday night, though Tatty always thought that it’s more kavod Shabbos to wait.”
He smiled at her politely. “I’m making herring, actually,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been doing lately, and I promised the chevreh I would do it this Shabbos for kiddush.”
Which chevreh? Which kiddush? Herring? Why couldn’t he buy herring?
“Oh?” she tried to keep her voice interested, but not too interested, like Chaim did.
Suddenly her kitchen did not smell good. She hoped he knew what he was doing.
He looked down as he worked, very busy, but he kept talking. “Last Shabbos, I went to daven at the minyan, you know the old man at the corner of Dalton, and it turns out he’s a very special person. He actually used to be a rav of a shul, once upon a time, in Chicago I think, or maybe Cleveland. His mind is very sharp, but he’s pretty weak. Anyhow, we were schmoozing after davening, and he told me how much the minyan means to him. It’s all he has, once a week when he gets to still be a rav, you know?”
He looked up, now, and Shaindy didn’t see the mess, the fish innards that he was putting into the wrong bin — you can’t recycle fish innards, she thought — or the bottom of the container making a large circular stain on the counter. She saw only her son’s face, open and kind and caring, and she felt proud.
“That’s very special of you, Heshy.”
He waved his free hand and then lifted her one and only Wusthof sharp knife high above his head, as if were a magic wand.
“But the problem is it’s hard to get a steady minyan going. The people around here,” he looked out the window and grimaced, “the people around here aren’t the 9:15-minyan kav, if you know what I mean.”
She ignored the jab, feeling only pleasure at being taken into his confidence this way, like when he was young and he would come home from school shaking and she would hug him and listen as he railed about being misunderstood and tell her that really, he had rachmanus on the rebbi, he would be okay but the rebbi lived in a bubble.
Once, when he was drunk on Purim, he got a look on his face like there was something he wanted to say, and he kept trying to talk, but he’d been too drunk to articulate it. Chaim was sitting surrounded by the other boys, deep in conversation about whether the two minim for mishloach manos had to be sent together, and Heshy was standing behind them. Only Shaindy could see how badly he wanted to say something and that the words kept escaping him.
She’d walked up to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “What,” she urged, “tell me, tell me.”
He had looked her so gratefully then, happiness and relief flooding his features, and even though he was wearing a Sephardic chacham costume with a severe high black turban, he looked like a little child at that moment. Finally, he’d spoken and said, “You always tried to understand, Ma,” and then he’d slid to the side and hit the wall, falling down. She had wanted to ask him what he meant, what was it that she understood, but she didn’t get to. By the time she moved him to the couch, he was fast asleep.
Now she just smiled, encouraging him to go on.
“B’kitzur, I schmoozed with some people and they all said that they maybe would come join,” he said. “So I chapped that if I make a good kiddush, that would make it more geshmak for them. I texted a few people that we’re having a big kiddush this week, and this way, I know it will be nice for Rabbi Pretter, he speaks a bit before Krias HaTorah and I can’t wait to see his face when there’s a whole oilem there. His kids set up 15 chairs, but I’m expecting at least 30 people, maybe more. It will be awesome if they have to go borrow more chairs. He’ll feel great.”
She wasn’t sure what felt great about not being prepared and then having to rely on neighbors for chairs — she knew what happened in those cases: You ended up using dining room chairs and they got scratched. But she wasn’t here to say deios, just to listen.
“I’m taking this kiddush very seriously. My friend Moti, he’s real Meah Shearim for like 11 generations, gave me this herring recipe and I added some of my own stuff, it will knock everyone’s socks off. I used to have this guest in Yerushalayim, he’d been in culinary school before leaving France, and he gave me some eitzos. Fresh dill is a great trick, also lots of peppercorns. We pour in a bit of sherry. It’s something…”
Heshy took out another knife and started to slice purple onions, and she wanted to tell him that it was the wrong knife. She was doing well and didn’t want to ruin it, but using a dull knife wasn’t smart.
He misunderstood her silence. “Ma, don’t worry, you can go to sleep, the kitchen will be spotless when you wake up, nothing to worry about.”
She wanted so badly to sit down at her kitchen table and listen to her son talk, now, to hear about the kiddush he was planning for the lonely old rabbi. But the moment seemed to have passed.
She hovered there uncertainly for a moment.
“What other foods will you serve?” she asked, trying to draw out the moment.
She could see by his face that she’d asked good. “So it’s like this, Leon, he’s my friend who was in culinary school, told me that the frum oilem has it wrong, crackers are good with herring, but the best thing would be dark rye bread. But then you have to wash, which people might not do, so I’m not sure. I’m thinking of persuading the oilem to wash, it will be worth it, no?”
“I think they sell rye crackers, Heshy, which would be almost the same thing, and that would solve the issue,” she said triumphantly. See, she could hold her own.
He shook his head. “Yah, but that’s not at all authentic. If I’m going to do it, I should do it right, no?”
Ah, Mr. Authentic was back. Her kitchen smelled like a fish factory, and there were some fish bones on the floor, near the garbage. She’d tried, but now she felt exhausted.
“I hear you Hesh, I’m wiped, going up to sleep, okay?”
He nodded, completely engaged in his herring prep, it appeared, but she could see the little knot of frustration in the slope of his back. He’d been looking for something, and he hadn’t gotten it.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 893)
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