He would go to Boca, he decided. To anywhere, really. He wouldn’t stick around to see Heshy Brucker win
This was the third meeting in Rabbi Klarberg’s daughter’s house, and the first time that Rabbi Klarberg wasn’t wearing a jacket. Reuven thought that this was a good sign, an indicator that the rav was more relaxed than in the past.
That was a good thing, and the timing could not have been better.
Nechama had asked Reuven if he thought that maybe they had made a mistake, and perhaps they should cut their losses, flip the house, and join Moish and Helen in Boca. He had laughed the first few times she brought it up, but last night was the first time he had actually thought about what she was saying in a serious way.
Nechama had come home from the women’s shiur with the news that Akiva Putterman had quoted Heshy Brucker in the lecture. Later, Nechama explained that — as per Rina — Rabbi Putterman had only done it to be mechazek Shaindy Brucker, but still, it made Reuven Stagler bristle.
He was trying to build one sort of kehillah and Heshy was working against him. Putterman quoting Heshy, by name, was a blow. Reuven realized what it meant: The neighborhood was slipping away from him.
Lonner, over on Galway, had put up a tent for some parlor meeting, and Reuven had gotten reports that Heshy had hosted his Leil Shishi there the night after the tzedakah event. Now, it was almost a full week later, and the tent was still standing. This made Reuven wonder if they were planning more such events, maybe a little break-off minyan or something.
If that happened, he would go to Boca, he decided. To anywhere, really. He wouldn’t stick around to see Heshy Brucker win.
Rabbi Klarberg was his hope, and he listened intently as the rav started speaking.
It turned out that Rabbi Klarberg’s kallah thought differently than he did about the job, and he came to this meeting a bit more serious about the offer than in the past.
He wasn’t the type to play games, he told Reuven.
“Look, I’m not here to negotiate, I told you I didn’t think this was the time for me to take on a new kehillah. But Chaya — that’s my kallah”—he said this easily, without smiling awkwardly or stammering—“she feels that it’s davka a good thing, you know.”
Reuven didn’t know, and he wasn’t sure if he was meant to nod as if he did, or ask for an explanation. If this man was a rav, Reuven reasoned, than he probably knew how to express an idea, even a complicated one, in a way that made sense.
“I’m not sure I do,” Reuven said. “Can I ask the rav to explain?”
Rabbi Klarberg looked startled for a moment, then smiled. “Ah, okay. Sure.”
He loosened his tie a bit. “A second marriage is very scary, of course, and there are those who believe that it takes every ounce of energy and concentration to make it work, that either of us being distracted is a problem. We both have to be all in, with not much else going on. Others feel farkert, that it’s a better segulah for both parties to have other stuff going on — it makes it easier. Let it evolve naturally. Trust the marriage itself to flourish, don’t overstress it.”
And then, almost as if forgetting Reuven was even there, Rabbi Klarberg continued speaking softly, looking past Reuven.
“Thirty years I’m giving people advice, all kinds of eitzos, including more than one zivug sheini. I just said words and felt all empathetic, but what did I know? Nothing, mamush nothing. I feel like I have to call those people and apologize for throwing intelligent-sounding words at them when words are meaningless.”
Then, Rabbi Klarberg smiled brightly again, as if he had merely been musing about the weather, and looked back at Reuven. “Anyhow, you didn’t come for that, I was just saying that my kallah feels that being busy is good for me and good for us, and that if I throw myself into something outside the house, the house itself will be that much stronger. That’s the story, b’kitzur, so if you’re still interested, I’m feeling more inclined to consider your offer — to hear more, to understand more, see if this is a fit.”
Reuven felt his heart leap. He knew that this was an ungenerous thought, and that a person shouldn’t be motivated by desire to win, but still, he couldn’t help imagining Rabbi Klarberg making his way up the aisle to the front of the shul.
This was a rav: gray-bearded, intelligent looking, something serious in the slump of his shoulders and the way he listened to people speak, encouraging just in the way he opened his eyes — not like Heshy with his fake-Yerushalmi look and overly eager smile and repeated nodding, as if a 23-year old could understand you, your history, and your issues even if you didn’t say another word.
Rabbi Klarberg wouldn’t even have to say anything to make people understand that Heshy Brucker and all his little kuzmzites were a joke. It would be no contest.
Maybe, Reuven thought, they would do something with Rabbi Klarberg on Thursday nights, at the same time as Heshy’s gatherings. And once in a while, around Purim, they could even have music. Real music, not weird instruments and weird songs you had to sing in weird accents.
People who were 53 years old and over should act that way, not like they were 18-year-old bochurim, Reuven thought, and there was something about Rabbi Klarberg that made it obvious that he would know how to remind the good people of Alameda Gardens of their ages.
“So let’s meet again in a week,” Rabbi Klarberg said. “I would love a clear sense of exactly what the schedule entails, what the expectations are, and of course, the challenges and the goals. Then I should be able to formulate a clear answer, okay?”
Reuven nodded happily.
Rabbi Klarberg would finish a derashah and people would murmur appreciatively, then turn to Reuven and say, “We can never thank you enough, you got this right, Reb Reuven. The whole community is uplifted.”
He had been doing some reading on leadership, trying to isolate the qualities that would mark the perfect rav and leader for his community, and all the experts agreed that in this day and age, vulnerability was a sign of strength, not the opposite. It was cool to be real and honest.
The easy, casual, comfortable way that Rabbi Klarberg had shared Chaya’s perspective and his own limitations in understanding other people had made Reuven more eager than he’d ever been.
And he knew, with firm conviction, that this wasn’t just about shutting Heshy Brucker down, but about what was best for Alameda Gardens and its leaderless kehillah.
Reuven briefly considered sharing this thought with Rabbi Klarberg, but decided it would look too gushy.
Instead, he shook the Rav’s hand warmly and said, “We can’t wait. It’s really something to look forward to.”
He walked out with renewed energy. Boca was really too bland for him, he decided.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 916)
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