They had seven bochurim, most of them too tired or unmotivated to look for somewhere more exciting
kiva was sitting at the table, staring glumly at what Rina thought was a nice supper. Maybe it wasn’t her best, but it was decent.
He had apologized, and then apologized again. She knew he would share what was bothering him when he was ready, and it was smarter not to push him.
He finally started to play with the mashed potatoes, then took a forkful and tasted it hesitantly, as if he was considering trying food again after all.
“You know, Rina,” he finally said, “there’s the job and then there’s the real world, and a person likes to think it’s all the same thing, that it’s not just make-believe between nine and five. Know what I mean?”
She had no idea, actually, but she didn’t say that.
“Akiva Putterman, groisse problem solver, he calms people down just by walking into the room, right?”
Okay, she thought she saw where he was going, now.
“And here I am, with World War III raging all around me, and I can’t figure out what to do or how to make things better.”
“Well, people say that Putin’s thing is World War III, so technically this would be World War IV, no?” she tried a joke. Sometimes that worked. He even had a speech on that, “The Smile within Reach” or something like that, about how jokes at the most random times could diffuse tense situations and change the script.
“It’s terrible,” he continued like she hadn’t spoken, which was unlike him. A moment later, though, he realized what she had said and smiled weakly. “Cute. But b’kitzur, it’s very uncomfortable and I’m personally in a rough spot. Chaim makes himself oblivious, but he’s plenty sharp and he sees what’s going on. Reuven barely speaks to him, just enough to be polite, and he can’t even bring himself to look in Heshy’s direction.”
“Why is it your problem, though?” Rina asked. “Why can’t you just stay out of it? If anyone is a diplomat, it’s you.”
She was annoyed by what he was saying. She had friends in Lakewood, something that she didn’t take for granted, and those friends were Shaindy Brucker and Nechama Stagler. This tension threatened to blow it all up. Who needed to relive high school drama when they were close to 50 years out of high school?
Heshy Brucker was at yet another meeting, this time with a rosh yeshivah who did seem eager for help.
He wasn’t young and he wasn’t proud and he pretty much admitted that he had been handed a failing yeshivah by his own father-in-law and challenging teens was never something he had signed up for in the first place.
His name was Rabbi Glatter and he was dark and slim, with a curly black beard and glasses pressed too tightly into his face.
He oozed sincerity as he told Heshy about how the yeshivah had been operating out of one trailer after another since moving to Lakewood, and somehow, new yeshivos ended up in huge new buildings while his yeshivah, which was close to 20 years old, could never seem to make the jump.
He didn’t know what he needed first: a better staff, a fundraiser, or a menahel. “Maybe we just need a better rosh yeshivah,” he joked, but then he said it a second time and Heshy knew that the other man believed this.
They had seven bochurim, most of them too tired or unmotivated to look for somewhere more exciting, and basically operated during first seder and night seder, since the guys worked during the day.
It was the type of job Heshy was looking for, only he would have preferred a real yeshivah with a payroll and committed administration, not an exhausted-looking rosh yeshivah who readily conceded that he was half a year late with the salaries.
“Reb Heshy, aderaba, I would welcome someone with your energy, b’frat that you have such experience. It seems like a matanah for us.”
Heshy’s friend Mendy Rubin had made the connection, and he had told Heshy that Rabbi Glatter’s yeshivah was flourishing. Clearly, that wasn’t the case.
“Can I ask you something? Why do you stay open? Why is it worth the tirchah?” Heshy felt bad asking the question, but it was necessary.
Rabbi Glatter’s eyes lit up then, and Heshy felt a little pang of hope, like some light might just go on now.
“Because we make a difference, l’maiseh. We work with bochurim one at a time, and the ones who go through the yeshivah like it. I put all my kochos into them.” He paused and smiled, this time for real. “Maybe that’s why we have no building takeh, I don’t have much room for anything else.”
“So why don’t you just hire a fundraiser, then?” Heshy asked. “Why would you consider another rebbi?”
Rabbi Glatter pondered the question and Heshy realized at that moment that the rosh yeshivah really had no idea why they were meeting or what they were looking for. He had also been persuaded by Mendy Rubin to have this meeting, and he wasn’t sure why. He had probably thought that Heshy was applying for a fundraising job, and he was adapting mid-conversation. Of course his bochurim liked him.
“Because it’s obvious you were made to be a rebbi, not a fundraiser,” Rabbi Glatter said, and Heshy felt the warmth starting in his chest and rising. He wanted to help this man more than he’d ever wanted to help someone before.
“Yes, I think so too,” Heshy said. “I also feel like it’s what I want to do. I’m just waiting for the right matzav.”
He wanted to talk money then — he had to ask about money. He had promised Gitty that if he didn’t find something within the month, there was no more reason to remain here, in America, and she had shown great forbearance with him. He had to start bringing home a check and figuring out a way to get her out of his parents’ basement, where she walked around like a ghost, barely speaking. Her personality, she liked to tell him, was folded away in the suitcase, and when they had a place of their own, she would be able to open it wide and take it out.
“Reb Shimshon, forgive the question, but what about mamonos, if you’re behind, how can you take on new achrayus?”
Rabbi Glatter was cheerful now. “The Ribbono shel Olam helps, every new person brings his own siyata d’Shmaya and once we add you, once we have Reb Hershy on staff, the doors will open, you’ll see.”
Heshy didn’t like when people called him Hershy, and Rabbi Glatter was clearly the type who would get it wrong. The answer also wasn’t that reassuring and Heshy wasn’t sure what to do. He was running out of options, but a yeshivah he had never seen that was in a rented trailer with less than ten bochurim wasn’t exactly why he’d come to America.
“Okay, I hear that, can I come see the yeshivah in action and then we’ll be mamshich?” Heshy finally asked, and Rabbi Glatter shrugged, back to being tired.
“Yeah, sure, that makes sense I guess,” he said, and Heshy was confused all over again.
He knew he had a calling, he just didn’t know what it was.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 909)
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