“So is that why you moved to Lakewood?” Mrs. Brucker asked, and Mrs. Putterman looked at her husband, as if for permission to answer
Ironically, though each of them meant to go greet the other, the residents of 105 Wimbledon Loop and 107 Wimbledon Loop didn’t end up actually saying hello until another new neighbor arrived. At nine-thirty on Tuesday morning, Chaim Brucker and Reuven Stagler came out to watch the movers unload the truck that had pulled up alongside their homes, both of them prodded by their wives to go meet the new neighbor and say shalom aleichem.
The conversation was amiable enough, if short, and it emboldened both Shaindy Brucker and Nechama Stagler to follow suit, standing on the pebbled path between the houses and smiling like old friends, perhaps extra confident because they had both been there “first,” completely moved in and unpacked before whoever the new neighbor was.
Shaindy reacted to hearing that Nechama was from Queens like most people did, by being overly familiar — Oh Queens, of course! — then struggling to find a relevant scrap of information with which to actually make the connection, since she had no siblings, mechutanim, or close friends who lived there.
But they quickly found common ground in their shared fascination with the new neighbors, the way the husband was so clearly in charge, jumping out of his car to direct the movers precisely where the couches should go. He seemed to be the in-control type, wearing an elegant suit, his tie knotted tightly at the neck, as if he was going to a simchah and not mid-move.
Both of them noticed that the new neighbor stopped the movers as they were carrying a full-length mirror down the ramp simply to check his own appearance, frowning, then squaring his shoulders.
Next to their husbands, Akiva Putterman looked young — probably the type who went to the gym, they agreed, and then rearranged their faces into wide smiles as his wife approached.
It was good the conversation had ended. Neither of them were the sort to speak lashon hara and both were sure that in time, they would find out just what fine people the new neighbors were.
Neither Chaim Bruckner not Reuven Stagler were especially clued in on chareidi media and its current superstars, so Akiva Putterman’s name and face didn’t mean that much to them. They were familiar with some of the names on the list of mosdos where he’d worked, both as menahel and consultant, and were duly impressed by his job description.
He helped mosdos get back on track, he explained. Helped mechanchim rediscover the joy and sense of mission in what they did, helped rebbeim and morahs remember why they had chosen this calling. “We’re making chinuch great again,” he said and laughed heartily, punching the air as he said great. Now, he was moving to Lakewood because this was where the action was. No more travel, no more running around, no more living out of his car.
His “Transform Your Shabbos Table” webinar had drawn close to 10,000 viewers the week before, he told them, and then he smiled conspiratorially at both men and said, “Listen, if we’re old fogies, we might as well share what we learned over the years, no?”
“Transform my Shabbos table?” Reuven Stagler shrugged. “Nah, I finally have it under control, the kids are all gone, it’s quiet, it’s quick. No more fighting over who gets to read their parshah sheets or whatever, it’s very nice. Sometimes we just have cholent and then go take a nap, no need for all the upgrades and stuff anymore and it suits me. Not looking for transformation, thank you very much.”
“Have you been here for Shabbos yet?” Chaim asked, eager to know about the shul and schedule. He took a step closer, as if suddenly interested in the conversation.
Reuven had not, he had also moved in the day before, but he did have a neatly folded list of zemanim in his pocket, which he removed and showed the other men.
Chaim scanned the paper appreciatively. The early minyan would make the first zeman Krias Shema. It would all work out here. He didn’t want to go to shul and ask too many questions, because of what he’d heard Shaindy saying. It had made him uncomfortable when he first heard it, and he’d only grown less comfortable with the idea in the time since.
He could have been a rav back in Kensington if he’d been interested; he hadn’t been then, and he wasn’t now. He liked learning Torah and he loved teaching Torah, he’d told her, but that wasn’t the same thing as being a formal rav and belonging to the people.
No, Shaindy insisted, this was different, no one in a development for 55 and over (53, he’d corrected her, and she’d rolled her eyes) had chinuch or shalom bayis questions, none of that stuff — just halachah and talking in learning, he would love it.
No one had offered him the job in Alameda Gardens either, but Shaindy had heard from a friend that the developers were looking for the right rav, and they were in no rush.
Chaim had heard her on the phone one night, telling whomever it was — one of the kids? Her sister? Mrs. Klagsbrun? — that Chaim was meant to be a rav, and here was the perfect opportunity. They would move in, and within a few weeks, it would be obvious to everyone. She said these things with tremendous confidence, and it made him uneasy.
More disconcerting to him was the thought that perhaps she had only selected this development because of the rabbinic vacancy, that the whole move was a ploy to right what Shaindy saw as a historical wrong.
If not for these misgivings, he would have been in shul already, looking for chavrusas and people to speak to in learning, but now he came just to daven, leaving with the end of Kaddish lest it look like he was angling for the job.
He studied the faces of the other men, as if searching for clues that they knew about Shaindy’s plan, but found nothing. Reuven Stagler was in the middle of a workday, he’d just come out to say hello, and Akiva Putterman was in middle of moving in, even though he looked like he was at a chasunah.
It grew quiet, then, and Akiva nodded politely. “Okay, so nice to meet the chevreh, looking forward to getting to know you better,” he said and turned to direct the movers.
The women were still schmoozing, and even as Chaim Brucker wandered back to his house, Reuven thought he should wait for his wife.
He stood there awkwardly, feeling very tired. Lakewood was hotter than Queens.
“Yes, exactly, he’s our oldest son-in-law, right,” Mrs. Putterman was saying, and Nechama was clearly excited. “Oh wow, he’s very famous, right? Like, a very big baal tzedakah?”
Mrs. Putterman looked proud, though Reuven caught something else in her expression too. “Yes, Baruch Hashem, he’s very generous, and we’re very proud of him.”
“So is that why you moved to Lakewood?” Mrs. Brucker asked, and Mrs. Putterman looked at her husband, as if for permission to answer. He was busy showing the mover how to carry a dining room chair and didn’t notice and Reuven shrugged again.
He had a Zoom meeting starting in two minutes, and he needed to get back inside. Alameda Gardens felt nice, he thought, but it seemed like everyone besides him was nervous about something.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 881)
Oops! We could not locate your form.