Reuven was quiet. He hadn’t asked for the meeting, and he wasn’t going to make it easier for Heshy
Reuven would go out to eat, fine, but he would pick the place, he decided.
He had shown the text to Nechama, sure that she would find it as ludicrous as he did, but she took the opposite view.
She read each word of a text message out loud, like it was a telegram.
Hi Reb Reuven, I was wondering if you could spare a bit of time for me, perhaps we can do dinner? I feel like maybe we should talk — if it doesn’t work, I understand, thx for considering — Heshy
“That is so nice, Reuven, he’s reaching out to you, since maybe it’s awkward…”
“Maybe what’s awkward?” Reuven asked her.
They had never actually discussed his participation at the Leil Shishi, but she knew he had gone, and he knew that she knew that. She also knew he had gone to speak with Rabbi Klarberg on Friday and avoided Heshy since then.Now it was Sunday morning, and Heshy wanted to talk.
About what, Reuven wondered. Did Heshy think that because he had come to one Leil Shishi and been polite about it, he was suddenly part of the cult?
“I’m impressed with him, he realizes your position in this community, and he’s asking for a meeting,” Nechama said, trying a different route.
Reuven grunted and took the phone back.
Sure, he wrote, then deleted it. He didn’t want to look too eager.
He would go, but none of those places in Deal on the water where you met the whole Lakewood and didn’t even spend one second looking out at the ocean. It would be somewhere quiet, and elegant, and boring.
K, he texted back, does Curate work for you? Tomorrow night, around seven?
He was going to write, on me, ofc, but thought the better of it. It was obvious that he was paying. Heshy had no job at all.
For some reason, he wasn’t sure why, Reuven wanted to make a good impression, and he made sure to have a reservation at Curate. He came a bit early, tried to be friendly to the mâitre d’, and he ended up with what he thought was an impressive table, in the far-right corner.
He knew that he didn’t want Heshy facing the room, waving and smiling at every person who came in, so he took the seat facing outward and sat down to wait.
Heshy came in five minutes after seven, looking bashful. He came directly to the table and shook Reuven’s hand warmly.
Reuven was quiet. He hadn’t asked for the meeting, and he wasn’t going to make it easier for Heshy.
They made small talk about the restaurant, the decor and location and general situation of commerce in Lakewood. Reuven waved the menu and encouraged Heshy to order, and on a whim, he ordered a bottle of Covenant wine right away.
The waiter came back with appetizers fairly quickly, and Reuven thanked him. Heshy, of course, had to go a step further, and he turned in his chair.
“That’s pretty amazing,” he said. “How did you guys turn it around so quickly? Very impressive.”
The waiter looked at him uncertainly, as if deciding whether to answer, then leaned in.
“This is the most important thing here, we don’t make people wait,” he said. “My boss tells us this always.”
Heshy clapped him on the shoulder, and the waiter walked away smiling. Reuven didn’t get it. He didn’t get a lot of things.
They ate quietly for a few minutes, and then, when both plates were clear, Reuven began to feel uncomfortable again.
“Okay,” he said, looking directly at Heshy. He didn’t have time to sit around and be mechazek waiters.
“Okay,” Heshy repeated slowly and smiled, as if Reuven had said something passive-aggressive. “You want to know why I asked for this chance to schmooze, I guess?”
Reuven nodded. “I guess.” He could do the imitation thing too.
The main course arrived at that moment, and by mutual consent, they took a break to eat. Reuven was starving. He had taken a glass of wine and wanted a second, but he didn’t think it was wise. He had no idea what Heshy had in store for him.
Heshy clearly had no such compunctions. He poured himself a large glass almost to the top and drained it. He pushed his plate to the side, then cupped his chin on his hands.
“It’s like this,” he told Reuven. “You have a vision for the kehillah, and that’s admirable. You’re a good, conscientious, dedicated shaliach. I know, Reb Reuven, that you find my efforts to try to reach and understand the people, to give them what I think they need, to be a threat to your vision.”
He started to wave, as if to say, “There’s no reason to argue,” to Reuven, but Reuven didn’t argue. He met Heshy’s gaze and said nothing at all.
Heshy was thrown off by this, but he continued. “One of us will win: Either you’ll have a perfect little development with a perfect rav, or I’ll be able to keep doing what I do, giving the people something they cannot and will not get anywhere else, and allowing them not just to exist, to go through the motions, but to really live. But then you won’t be happy.”
Reuven considered pointing out that he didn’t see himself as going through motions, and he felt very alive, but instead, he went with quiet. Let Heshy keep talking. Reuven was holding on to something, a tight little fist of confidence and happiness in his heart.
Heshy was talking, but Reuven was thinking about his conversation with Rabbi Klarberg on Friday morning, after Reuven had explained the situation to him, leaving nothing out.
Rabbi Klarberg had nodded, and Reuven knew that he understood all of it, the type of person, the atmosphere, and the effect.
“He seems very inspiring, this Heshy, right?” Rabbi Klarberg had asked, and Reuven nodded.
“But let me tell you something, Reb Reuven. The ones who inspire don’t tell the people around them what they’re missing, and that if they only had that, they would be happy — that’s discouraging, telling people that they don’t have what it takes to really live. To inspire means to tell people that they have everything they need to be happy, it’s all there, and to let them see that story. This Yid seems like a nice person and a sincere person, but he is breaking people.
“The fact is, you are not in Tzfas. Most people who move to Lakewood in their fifties are not really built to drink and farbreng and start getting in touch with the root of their neshamah, it’s not that realistic, so he’s setting people up to fall hard, not the opposite.”
Rabbi Klarberg hadn’t said if he himself would take the job, but he had explained Heshy to Reuven in a way that made sense.
Reuven thought about the Leil Shishi — Heshy saying, “you end up here, and you’re still feeling that pressure to act normal,” and “Why, rabbosai? Why? When are you going to live…”, and he thought of Rabbi Klarberg’s words. “He’s breaking people.”
Now, as Heshy spoke, Reuven thought about that and he smiled.
“So I have a proposal, I guess, is what I’m saying,” Heshy was saying.
Reuven had missed the last few things Heshy had said and he tuned back in. “Yes?”
“Yes,” Heshy answered. “Assuming the Rabbi Glatter thing works out for me, if he finds the money to hire, I would consider stepping out and leaving the neighborhood so you could do it your way, without anyone too out-of-the-box for your tastes.”
Reuven nodded. “Okay,” he said, since clearly Heshy was about to name his terms.
“If,” Heshy said, stopping to wipe his mouth with his napkin, “if you make my father the rav. Win-win-win, all around.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 921)
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