It was that line that effectively ended the conversation, the menahel using Heshy’s own words to checkmate him
he room was heavy with the sort of quiet that follows an argument in which there are no victors. Both sides had spoken their piece and let it all out. There was nothing left to say.
Heshy Brucker stood up and smiled. Might as well be gracious, even in loss, he thought.
“Thank you for making time to see me. I know you’re busy, and I appreciate it.”
The menahel’s face colored and Heshy felt a stab of satisfaction at the small win.
“No, no, chas v’shalom, Rabbi Brucker, I davka gained a lot from hearing your approach. Aderaba. I thank you.”
There, the menahel was back to being proud of himself; a little bit of politeness was enough to restore camaraderie in the room. Heshy felt like the menahel was a moment away from coming around the desk to hug him and remind him that even though he didn’t think Heshy had much to offer as a member of the staff, they always needed tutors — oh, they didn’t call them tutors, they called them private rebbeim, of course — and he could fill out an application if he wanted to. The pay was very decent.
Heshy figured it was best to think of this attempt as his hishtadlus. It had taken him long enough to decide what he wanted to do, and Mishkan Gershon seemed like the yeshivah most aligned with his talents. He had spent enough time doing research — schmoozing with teenage boys around Lakewood — to get the sense that it was a fit for him, and when he had breezily walked into the office of the menahel, he was sure that he would be welcomed.
He was a proven connector, he’d explained, with several years of real work with bochurim under his belt. But the menahel had looked bored, then annoyed, as Heshy had gone on for too long about what was wrong in the system. Nobody, he realized a moment too late, wanted to hear what they were doing wrong. He should have come in and complimented the work that Mishkan was doing and then offered his services: He knew exactly what he brought to the table. He didn’t want to become rosh yeshivah or even say shiur, but he did want to be able to be a real guy on staff, there to listen — really listen — and help the boys themselves understand what they were saying.
Replaying the conversation in his mind, Heshy realized when he’d made his biggest mistake. It was when he said, “Listen, with all due respect, you were probably a metzuyan in yeshivah, and most of your rebbeim was probably metzuyanim too. Let’s be honest. How can someone who never faced that struggle relate to the boys? I, on the other hand, experienced it just like they are. I had to fight so hard just to sit in one place, and I always felt like the rebbis were talking to someone else, not me.”
The menahel had pounced. “I hear what you’re saying, but we davka hold the opposite. It’s always been one of our core beliefs that a person who has success in one area will continue to be successful in other areas. ‘Success breeds success,’ we like to say.”
The menahel had paused to admire the phrase, as if he had just invented it himself. “A talmid who tasted hatzlachah in the shiur room,” he went on, “is more likely to be able to give it over with hatzlachah, basically.”
It was that line that effectively ended the conversation, the menahel using Heshy’s own words to checkmate him.
Now, exactly as Heshy had expected, the menahel came around the table for an awkward embrace and said, “But please stay in touch with us, you clearly are a yungerman with tremendous insight and I’m sure you will make a big difference, in the right time.”
“And in the right place,” Heshy added evenly, walking out of the office with the hollow victory of at least having gotten in the last word.
Gitty wanted to go back to Yerushalayim. It was close to three months since they had arrived in Lakewood and she couldn’t do it anymore, she said. She’d had enough of the father-in-law’s absent-minded greetings and the mother-in-law’s overeager tolerance and the clean, cold whiteness of the whole neighborhood.
She missed her city, plain and simple.
Heshy listened to his wife. He knew he could easily win the argument by explaining why they had left. They simply had nowhere to live and a family, even a small family, needs a roof over their heads. The reason they had nowhere to live was because her dear father, Shaya Veissfish, had promised support and not delivered and, even with the money they both brought in there, there wasn’t enough for rent in Yerushalayim.
Gitty had been the one to suggest Lakewood, just as a way of catching their breath, a chance to make decisions without feeling the constant pressure. Heshy had jumped at it, not because he wanted to leave Eretz Yisrael, but because he wanted to show his father-in-law that this was for real, to force Shaya Veissfish to realize that he had to make good on his commitment.
But rather than dismay, his father-in-law had reacted with relief, thrilled that they would be someone else’s problem. And probably, Heshy thought but did not say to Gitty, also happy that he would have somewhere to stay in America if he wanted to come “visit.”
But when a wife is hurt, Heshy knew — and he counseled others in this area as well — she doesn’t want to hear reason or logic. So Heshy nodded sympathetically now, telling her that he knew that it wasn’t easy, that his mother could sometimes be a bit overbearing even if she didn’t mean to, and that he took her happiness very seriously.
Of course they could go back if that’s what she wanted, he also missed Yerushalayim something fierce, but he wanted to make sure that it made sense. He had one or two more ideas, he said, and if none of them panned out and he didn’t have a way out of his parents’ house within two months, he promised they would go back to Yerushalayim and figure it out there.
He could see that he had said the right thing, and Gitty — easygoing, contented Gitty — nodded happily and went to get the baby.
Two months. He knew what he wanted to do, but it didn’t look like any yeshivos were that eager to have him on staff, and without an income, he couldn’t even start looking for an apartment. He had no car, which meant he had to borrow his parents’ car several times a day, and they had no savings to speak of.
Heshy laughed to himself, remembering how romantic this life had once sounded: winging it, getting through the month, living in the moment, and all that stuff. Now, sitting on a bland gray couch in the basement of his parents’ home, surrounded by boxes his mother hadn’t yet unpacked, he thought that maybe some of that romance had faded a bit.
Then he stood up, suddenly feeling energized, and decided that this would be his moment. The future was calling, and he would be there to greet it.
He paused to kiss the baby, then told Gitty he would be back in an hour as he headed for the steps.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 904)
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