| Second Dance |

Second Dance: Chapter 28

“It’s like you’re running your own little show within this kehillah, is what I’m trying to say, I guess”


It was one thing and then the other, but Akiva Putterman and Reuven Stagler finally found a time that worked for both of them to go meet with Heshy Brucker.

They couldn’t do it when his parents were home, of course — that would lead to too many questions.

On Tuesday morning, Shaindy Brucker told Nechama that she and Chaim had to be menachem avel a cousin in Far Rockaway that night, so Reuven arranged the meeting.

“The president himself? Coming to me?” Heshy asked in such a pleased, respectful voice that Reuven felt bad about the whole thing. Don’t get emotional, he told himself, just do what you have to.

He had ended up having a hard day at work, and didn’t really have time to prepare himself for this conversation. He knew what he wanted, but he wasn’t sure how to explain it.

Heshy insisted that he would come to them, and they all met at Putterman’s house, which Reuven thought might be a bit less threatening than his own. He didn’t want Heshy to feel like he’d been called to the principal’s office.

Reuven wasn’t great at small talk, but Akiva Putterman was an all-star, commenting on the tulip trees that were starting to bloom and made him feel like he was in Florida. Yes, Reuven agreed, the landscaping company was excellent, but they were not cheap and at some point, the committee would have to decide whether or not to renew the contract.

Heshy jumped in here, mentioning that the landscaping people had left a huge mess on Dublin and they didn’t seem to have any plans to clean it up. He went walking there every day and it ruined the mood, imagine what it was like for people who lived there!

Akiva coughed, indicating that the small talk period was over, and he looked pointedly at Reuven.

“So it’s like this,” Reuven said just as Heshy helped himself to a generous piece of cake. “As you see, even from this little discussion, what I’m trying to do here is not easy, everything in this neighborhood is my problem. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to try to help out, I’m not as busy as I used to be and I enjoy solving problems. But I need support from the people…”

His voice trailed off and he felt a pang of frustration at having used the term “the people,” which made him sound so high and mighty.

“Yes, of course,” Heshy said soothingly, and again, Reuven had a distinct sense of being at a disadvantage with this much younger man.

“Thank you,” Reuven finally said. “And this leads me to the topic I wanted to discuss with you. You understand, of course, that a community needs a certain degree of cohesiveness to succeed, there has to be a general flow of trust and respect all around. It’s imperative.”

Heshy nodded like an obedient schoolboy.

“The thing is, Reb Heshy, until we have a rav, it’s a challenge to keep it that way, because the shul is just a place where we daven, sort of, and trust me — I’m working overtime on finding a rav, but it’s proving harder than I ever imagined to find someone who would work for us.”

Heshy winced involuntarily. His mother, he knew, was doing everything in her power short of hanging up campaign signs on the block announcing his father’s candidacy. If Reuven Stagler could look him in the eye and tell him how the search was proving fruitless, it meant that his father wasn’t even a backup plan.

“Okay,” he nodded, genuinely uncertain what the other man wanted.

“So it’s just that, I feel like maybe we can be working together more?” Reuven Stagler looked at Akiva Putterman for help, but Rabbi Putterman appeared to be fixated on a becher in the breakfront. “It’s like you’re running your own little show within this kehillah, is what I’m trying to say, I guess,” Reuven said.

Now Heshy Brucker was baffled. “My own little show?”

“You know, like an alternative reality to the regular shul. The people gravitate to you, I saw that little chaburah in your house a few weeks ago, I don’t know what it’s about, but I just feel like we don’t want little cliques here, you know what I mean?”

Heshy held his gaze. “I don’t, Reb Reuven, I really don’t.”

It was uncomfortably silent then, and Akiva Putterman, usually so smooth and eloquent, was no help at all. Reuven was on his own here.

He tried again. “It’s like there are competing agendas here. We just want a calm shul, no drama, and there are some people who act like they’re children, and I just happened to notice that they seem to always be hanging around you, maybe you quietly encourage them? Because you’re so nice and tolerant?”

Reuven had wanted to use the word “immature” about those people, but he had pulled back so as not to offend Heshy. He also felt that this last compliment might mitigate some of what he was saying, but he was wrong. He could see that he had hurt Heshy.

Heshy tilted his head toward the window, as if he heard his baby crying from two houses down.

“Look, Reb Reuven, I want to say something, and I hope you’ll realize with how much respect I am saying it.”

Reuven was irritated that Akiva Putterman had just been completely absolved, as if he wasn’t even there.

“People need to connect with other people to feel good, to feel happy,” Heshy went on. “Shul is not just about a good baal korei and finishing precisely at ten forty and the heating working well. It’s about real life and what people are looking for. It’s about letting them dictate what they need and trying to provide it, not the opposite.”

Reuven was trying to look disdainful, as if he considered Heshy’s words silly, but he found that he could not.

“Trust me, Reb Reuven, I did not come here, into my parents’ basement, with any ideas of how things should be run,” Heshy said. “I was just looking for a warm, clean place for my family while I figure out what to do next.

“Free,” Heshy added, “also free helps,” and Reuven was a little annoyed, because he had been thinking that very word and Heshy just calmly, comfortably admitting it, stole a certain joy.

“But you look around here”—Heshy was serious again—“and you see that everyone is a little jittery, they want something but they themselves don’t know what it is. Everyone here gave up one thing and traded it for another, so it’s not enough to just have a bland, quiet, safe little life where everything is just perfect, the maintenance guy shows up three minutes after you call and the parking spots are a foot wider than you need. That’s not real life. It’s not what anyone wants.”

Heshy was growing passionate, and his voice rose slightly.

“So I tried to listen to them, to hear what they were really saying, so that maybe I could be helpful in some way. The first Leil Shishi we made — that little get-together on Thursday night you mentioned — wasn’t really planned, it just sort of happened, and then the next one was already expected and new people came, I didn’t invite them.”

Reuven was startled. He hadn’t known about more than the one he had seen.

“And when you hear their stories, Reb Reuven, everything looks different.”

Reuven paused. He didn’t want to ask it, but he couldn’t hold back.

“What stories? What do they say?” he asked.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 906)

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