“Nu, Bubby, come on, shtell hock,” he said, and she looked at him primly, as if she had no idea what he meant
ubby liked to hock. The children didn’t know it, because they themselves didn’t have much appetite for it — they were busy enough with their own lives and didn’t find other people’s little intrigues and dramas that interesting.
But Brachi’s oldest son, Leizer, knew this about his grandmother, and he knew just how to play it.
It was Motzaei Shabbos, and the family was gathered for Chaim’s birthday party. Chaim hadn’t been much interested in the celebration, and Shaindy had been sort of let down by the reaction of her children when she called to tell them about it. She’d expected them to be more excited about it. Shabbos was over early, and she would make her own homemade pizza, a family favorite! When did they ever get together? And wasn’t Chaim worth celebrating?
She had moved to Lakewood for this very reason, and she was determined to do it. To be like every other couple in this neighborhood, who seemed to have children and eineklach coming and going at all hours.
Chaim deserved his moment in the sun too, she decided, and went ahead making plans.
They had come, after all, but Nussi’s wife, Pessy, couldn’t make it because she wasn’t feeling well, and Brachi’s husband, Moishe Dovid, was saying a chaburah and could only come late, and Ezriel was there, but he looked like he would rather be having a root canal at the dentist.
So Leizer, who was 17 years old and full of life, was there to save her night while the men spoke in learning. He came noisily into the kitchen and busied himself clearing off the counter, which wasn’t super helpful because all he did was move dirty dishes from one place to another, but still, she was grateful for the company.
“Nu, Bubby, come on, shtell hock,” he said, and she looked at him primly, as if she had no idea what he meant.
He took the last few green beans off the platter and shoved them into his mouth, as if he were in yeshivah and they were short on food, and said, “Come on, what’s the matzav with Uncle Heshy and the old guys here? The oilam in yeshivah says there’s politics.”
She froze and turned around to fully face him. She hoped none of the girls would come in now.
“The oilam in yeshivah says what?”
Leizer knew he had her. “My second-seder chavrusa has an uncle here, and Granitzky, who sits next to me during breakfast, has grandparents here too. The oilam’s saying that it’s maaajor action around here. Bnei Brak kav.”
“Tell me, tell me, tell me,” she said, sounding way more eager than she’d have liked to.
Of course Brachi came in at that second, all eager to help, as if she’d been doing this all night. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of her mother and son huddled together.
Shaindy smiled brightly. “Hi, sweetie, I could use another set of hands here,” she said and started to arrange the main course on the large tray.
Chaim made a speech and everyone came in to listen. Shaindy sat perched on the edge of her chair so that it was clear that she was the caterer, party planner, and wait staff, with little help from others. She couldn’t afford to sit.
Chaim said a beautiful devar Torah — a little too long, Shaindy thought, but okay, everyone seemed to enjoy. He spoke glowingly about his eishes chayil, who had given him the same gift of menuchas hanefesh in this new home as she had back in Brooklyn, and she made sure to receive the compliment graciously.
Let her daughters learn how it’s done.
He thanked all the children, but added a special note for Heshy: “Not only my youngest, but my chavrusa.”
“Pssshhh, I didn’t know that,” Nussi said. “When do you learn?”
“We learn early in the morning,” Chaim said, “before the first minyan. It’s very geshmak then, the mind is clear.”
Heshy turned to beam at his wife. “It’s Gitty’s zechus, she lets me out then,” he said, and she looked genuinely pleased.
Shaindy couldn’t help but feel a stab of disappointment. It wasn’t her zechus? This wasn’t her house? And let’s be honest, Gitty didn’t exactly keep the baby quiet in the morning, and that meant that she lost sleep as well.
Okay, she didn’t mind sharing the zechusim, but couldn’t anyone have told her about this chavrusashaft? She made sure to smile, as if she had known about it.
“Isn’t it special?” she murmured to Brachi. “It’s so nice for Tatty. He loves it.”
It wasn’t until everyone was clearing out that she caught Leizer again. Moishe Dovid and Brachi had already said their goodbyes and they were waiting in the car while Leizer had stayed to help her put away the folding table.
“What were you saying before?” she asked him as they walked down to the storage room.
“Nothing, just the oilam says that Uncle Heshy is pravving rebbe here, that the oilam comes to him with all their middle-aged sh’eilos. Like he has kabbalas kahal, shtelling deios all day.”
She was genuinely confused. “Uncle Heshy? Is a rebbe?”
“Not a rebbe, but you know, there’s no rav here, so they come with their zachen to him. He does a Leil Shishi every week—”
“Not every week,” she protested, glad to be on firmer territory. She knew that it was officially once a month, because it happened in her kitchen and she did most of the cleaning up.
“Whatever, he sits with them and they love him. And another guy, the president or whatever, he’s more of a Queens kav, and he’s not soivel the whole thing, he wants a normal rav and he doesn’t like what Heshy is doing.”
“Is he getting another rav?” she asked, sounding panicked again.
Brachi was back. “Ma? Leiz? You have to come, tzaddik, you have Shacharis at 7:15 tomorrow, it’s late, let’s go,” she called down the stairs.
“I don’t know,” Leizer looked at Shaindy and shrugged. “It’s not kluhr, I think he’s looking shtark though. And that he thinks that once he has a rav, he’ll shut down the whole Heshy zach.”
“And what did you mean when you said he does kabbalah?” Shaindy asked urgently. Her daughter was still at the top of steps, peering down.
Leizer laughed. “No, not kabbalah, I meant like kabbalas kahal, you know, like he takes people in, like a rebbe. People come talk to him after the late Minchah, they hang around and wait their turn, I think. The oilam says he’s busy.”
So there was more she didn’t know. She wondered if Chaim was even aware of this, and which men came to talk to Heshy. What did they ask him, she wondered? Did he ever tell them things about her and Chaim?
She imagined him sitting back in a chair in the quiet room off of the shul, leaning back on a wooden chair, his listening face on. Yes, he would be saying, I know it’s a confusing time, my parents are going through the same thing, not really sure what’s next, what they’re meant to be doing…
Brachi had come all the way down the stairs now. “Leizer, come on, Tatty is waiting. Ma, it was an amazing party, I don’t know how you do it…”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 912)
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