This meeting with Reuven Stagler was his idea, and his brother was there under protest. It was his show, and he would lead it
The younger Lauer brother was not happy.
He was the one more inclined to attend business seminars and conferences, where he took notes and asked questions of the presenters. He checked LinkedIn daily and posted whenever he felt he had wisdom to share. He believed that reputation was the single biggest asset a company has, and that a stain on that reputation could be a blow to the overall health of what appeared to be a successful firm.
The rumors of politics in Alameda Gardens concerned him tremendously, and he wanted to nip the unrest in the bud. His brother waved it off, patiently explaining that politics is part of life, and every shul and every neighborhood had its stuff, but he didn’t agree. This wasn’t the usual slow chazzan/fast chazzan stuff, this was like someone had drawn a line through the middle of the development and created two teams.
They were just three months away from launching the ads for Alameda Creek, and he wanted the development sold out by the time the second round of ads went to print, a large “sold out” banner blocking the middle of the page, another clean win for the Lauer family. Nobody did second-stage living better.
The way things stood, the noise filtering out of Alameda Gardens threatened to affect that plan, and even if his older brother didn’t see it, the trouble was clear to him. (Not that he would mention it, but he had also been first to realize that Uncle Mendy’s second marriage was a bad idea, and his brother had waved away his concerns at the time. Look how that had worked out.)
This meeting with Reuven Stagler was his idea, and his brother was there under protest.
It was his show, and he would lead it.
“Look, we were so excited when you agreed to serve as chairman of the neighborhood council,” he told Reuven. “You seem to be a capable, bright guy.”
Reuven nodded impatiently, a get-to-the-point type of expression on his face.
“And to be honest, we’re quite grateful, everything is running smoothly, no issues, I’m sure that’s due in great part to you.”
Reuven nodded again, but he appeared to be grimacing.
The younger Lauer brother faltered. The older one usually ran meetings, but he clearly had no interest in helping this one along.
“Wait.” The younger brother held up his hand. “I insist you drink something, Reb Reuven, tell me how you like your coffee, or at least a water or soda?”
Reuven shook his head, his impatience showing.
“Okay, okay, I didn’t ask you to come here to make your life harder,” the Lauer brother said, deciding to change tactics and just be direct, “just to figure out if there’s a better way we can be doing things. You know, I’m particularly concerned about rumors coming out of the neighborhood about politics and infighting. That’s a dangerous sort of reputation to have.”
It was quiet, so he qualified his statement. “We’re concerned, my brother and I,” he said, waving at his brother, who looked more concerned about a button that seemed ready to pop off his shirt at that moment than about any fights in Alameda Gardens.
Reuven spoke slowly. “With all due respect, I didn’t ask for this kibbud,” he said icily, “and it’s not exactly like I have anything from it. I try my best to do what I can to help the neighborhood in which I live, but if you have someone better, or someone more interested in the job, aderaba, I’m more than ready to hand it over.
“It’s only been agmas nefesh, to be honest,” Reuven added.
It was obvious to him, as he spoke — and he wondered if the Lauer brothers could hear it as clearly — that he was not telling the truth. The position had brought him agmas nefesh — that part was true — but he was very much not ready to give it over to anyone else. He enjoyed doing things his way, and the maintenance people, the groundskeepers, the security guy, all of them, seemed to like Reuven, too. He was organized, he was efficient, and he was fair.
He also liked the feeling of walking through the neighborhood like a “somebody,” after years in Queens when the somebodies were always too busy for him, even though he had a thing or two to offer that made sense.
In his mind, he knew that he was made for this job and he didn’t want to let go. The whole Heshy Brucker thing was the only annoying part, and it was that story that would ruin everything.
“Chas v’shalom, no one wants that, we’re extremely makir tov to you for what you’ve done and everyone likes working with you. The backend is going smoothly. The question is, what we can do about the rumors?”
The older Lauer brother lost his button, and he excused himself to deal with the minor emergency, looking relieved.
Reuven reasoned that he had nothing to lose. “Maybe,” he said, “just maybe, consider spending some money. I know you didn’t make as much on the development as you could have, that housing prices shot up after we signed and all that, but l’maiseh you did okay, and you have more developments planned, so swallow and move on. Investing in a rav would solve everything, not just some of the problems — it would make everything right, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
“But you have your principles,” he went on, “your oh-so-important principles, and you never pay for the shul upkeep, you just provide the building, I heard this a million times, and I’m glad it worked for you in Cypress, and I’m glad it worked for you in Maple Ridge, but guess what? It ain’t working here!”
As Reuven’s voice rose, the older Lauer brother wandered back in, more out of curiosity than anything else.
The younger brother saw this as a challenge, clearly, and his tone matched Reuven’s.
“I’m not scared to use the word money, that’s fine, and we can make it work, if you feel like it’s necessary in this case. It’s true that we didn’t invest in rabbanim in Cypress or Maple Run”—he made the small correction with a note of triumph in his voice, as if exposing that Reuven wasn’t as well thought-out as he considered himself—“and it’s also true that every situation has its own Shulchan Aruch and we can decide to do things differently here.”
Empowered, perhaps by the way his older brother was looking at him with what appeared to be wonder, he stood up.
“Money,” he said disdainfully, as if Reuven was trying to shake him down, “money, no worries, how much will it take?”
Reuven was determined to maintain his dignity. “I think that for 50K we could get this done. The actual salary will come from the residents, and I would use the extra money as sort of a signing bonus and for moving costs.”
“Okay, then I’ll tell you what, Reb Reuven”—the Lauer brother was smiling, as if this was no big deal—“you’ll have $50,000 for costs associated with the rav, and even though you are in an unpaid position — we never paid anyone to be association chairman — we are very grateful to you and I would throw in another $50,000 for you, personally. I see it as part of the process of getting where we need to get to.”
The older brother looked confused. Later, the younger brother would share corporate wisdom involved in his decision, and later, Reuven would bristle when he told Nechama about these people who thought they could pay their way out of any issue.
Sometimes, he said, money wasn’t enough.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 918)
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