How, Shaindy wondered, had this woman from Queens already marched into conversations and made friends
“There should be a rule book for this place,” Shaindy Brucker told her husband as they lingered over lunch, a custom she insisted on now that she was “retired” and had time to enjoy life.
Chaim laughed. “Nu, Shaindy, you always wanted to write a book, maybe this is the time?”
It wasn’t a bad joke, considering, but it irked her because it missed the point of what she was saying. Her comment had been about Alameda and he was making it about her, like she needed a project, when really, it was the neighborhood that needed help.
It was Wednesday afternoon, and she was still deliberating whether or not to invite children for Shabbos. There was a playground in middle of the development, but she had no little kids to justify her being there, and so far, her only friends (if you could call them that) in the neighborhood were her two neighbors, just as new as she was. Lots of the women here went walking every morning: It seemed to be a religion, with many lone walkers, the type who sent off vibes that they didn’t want partners, or even a good morning nod thank-you-very-much.
She would find her place soon enough. There was a Sunday shiur she’d seen advertised and she would make sure to go, and she had heard women talking about the big kiddush on Shabbos.
But she couldn’t wait till Shabbos to invite her children and wasn’t that what people here did? During the week, it was fairly quiet, but wasn’t the point of being in Lakewood — of the four bedrooms downstairs and extra bathroom and play area — specifically to invite the children?
She felt guilty thinking about which kids to invite, because really, she should have chosen the ones who would most appreciate a break, but she had a cheshbon and it was important too. In the long run, she reasoned, it would benefit all of them.
Shaindy Brucker was not a woman prone to second-guessing herself, and a moment later she was dialing Brachi. “We would love to have you and Moshe Dovid for Shabbos…”
In the old days, waiting for the school bus was a reason to linger outside and shmooze with other mothers, but there were no school buses in Alameda Gardens. So Shaindy waited until she saw Nechama Stagler outside, then pretended to go check if the mail had come.
“Are you inviting married children for Shabbos?” Nechama asked straight up and Shaindy found herself admiring the frankness of the question. Probably in Queens people just spoke their mind.
“I did, yah, is that a mistake?”
“No, the opposite, I was chatting with some women on Canterbury last night and they said everyone invites kids for Shabbos, and it’s all leibedig here,” Nechama said.
How, Shaindy wondered, had this woman from Queens already marched into conversations and made friends.
On a whim, Shaindy suddenly said, “Let’s go say hello to the new neighbor, Rina Putterman, she hasn’t come out since yesterday, okay?”
Nechama nodded happily and inspired, Shaindy said, “Should we ask her if she wants to go walking?”
The first time they knocked, no one answered.
In the kitchen of 109 Wimbledon Loop, Akiva Putterman, founder of Transform Chinuch Seminars©, was having a heated discussion with his wife.
Just like her neighbors, Rina Putterman was wondering about Shabbos and which kids to invite. She knew the right answer, but also that Akiva would resist. They had no favorites, but it was obvious that Shea and Hindy should be their first guests. It was only right.
“Rina.” Akiva was gesturing, like he was in the middle of a lecture. “Rina, we never had favorites or preferences, we always went in order of age, and Shloimy is the oldest, I don’t care who helped us or whatever.”
Or whatever. Shea hadn’t helped, he had straight up bought them this house.
The old house in Monsey had been mortgaged then double mortgaged and then, when it was clear that they were in crisis, Rina had gone behind her husband’s back to ask their son-in-law for advice. If wherever they went, people were telling her about Shea Melberg and his success, why shouldn’t she also share in it?
He had been the one to connect Akiva with the marketer, Ben with the huge smile and sunglasses and sometimes beard / sometimes not, Ben who spoke in hashtags. He had been the one to gently ease Akiva out of the classroom and into consultancy, assuring him that it was the only ticket to financial stability in the chinuch world. It hadn’t gone that smoothly, though, and with each chasunah, the debt continued to grow.
Ben the marketing genius said that things take time. Akiva got a new wardrobe and a column in a weekly newspaper. Transform© had mildly succeeded, but then Ben decided that outside of Lakewood, it wouldn’t work. The future of chinuch was there, and he felt that it was worth making the leap.
Rina had been thrilled, since nearly all the kids were in Lakewood, but Akiva had a harder time with it. Then, two months later Hindy had called, reading a script that had clearly been written by Shea with input from Ben the marketer. Alameda Gardens was perfect, they were lucky to have gotten the house, Shea was close to the developer so he had called in a favor and just like that, they were moving.
Shea had his people working with the old house to sell it and clear up the debt, and the new one was all ready: Could they be out of Monsey by summer? It was imperative, the marketer said, that Akiva be settled in and ready well before the new school year.
The marketing team would make sure the Lakewood schools knew all about the superstar coming their way, but the Puttermans had to show up.
So here they were, in a sparkling new house in a neighborhood in which they were likely the youngest people (Akiva was fifty-one and Rina only forty-nine, they had a daughter in seminary in Eretz Yisrael and their youngest, 17-year-old Shragie, in yeshivah) trying to figure out the next step.
“Akiva,” Rina said, “it’s not about favorites chas v’shalom. All the kids know that Shea and Hindy were involved with the move, and no one will have any ta’anos if we recognize that by inviting them. We have room here, baruch Hashem, and I can invite another family, or even two if you want, but I can’t ignore what they’ve meant to us.”
She had almost said “done for us,” which would have been bad.
She might as well have said it though, because a moment later she managed to say the wrong thing.
Trying to prove her point about the other kids, she said, “And by the way, Shea helps them too, Nochum’s car died this week, just like that, and Hindy said that they happened to have an old minivan lying around that they didn’t really use much and she had it sent over. Chavie told me the story, she never asked, she was randomly shmoozing with Hindy and mentioned it and next thing she knew, poof, a new van in their driveway, like winning a raffle.”
She had thought Akiva would be pleased at this story, but she saw the way his eyes opened wide that he was hurt by it. Not only couldn’t he help his own son, he had to rely on his son-in-law.
“Okay, I leave it to you, Rina, you know best.” He waved his hands. “Whatever you decide.”
He looked tired, and she sighed heavily before standing up to open the door, where someone was knocking.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 882)
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