| Second Dance |

Second Dance: Chapter 7   

Left unsaid was that he, Heshy Brucker, would be the one to provide everyone that they needed



The conversation went worse than Chaim had expected.

Gitty had always been a challenge for Shaindy, and the language was the least of it. When Heshy had called to tell them that he wanted to live in Eretz Yisrael forever — when you find your place, you just find you place, he laughed, and here he knew that he was home — Shaindy had been relieved.

She loved Heshy fiercely, of course, but she had never really gotten him — his big peyos and thick beard one day, close trim and cool haircut the next, the guitar lessons and chassidus-is-the-root-of-my-soul stage, and then the kannai phase, when he had censored their succah decorations and removed gedolim whose ideology he had trouble with.

Chaim found his youngest son entertaining. Learning was hard for Heshy, and the boy clearly didn’t have zitzfleish, so what should he do? Baruch Hashem, he was erlich and had wonderful middos.

Chaim enjoyed his son’s imagination, even if it sometimes got in the way. One day, Heshy had decided that Chaim’s study was messy and he rearranged all the seforim based on the historical period in which they had been written.

Heshy had been very proud, and presented the finished product to a surprised Chaim with a lecture about the holistic experience of learning Torah, feeling the authenticity of the chain from Har Sinai. Chaim had been irritated then, because he wanted the Ohr Somayach and Reb Chaim near the Rambam, and for him that was holistic, whatever that meant.

Authenticity became Heshy’s word, then, and when he left to go learn in Eretz Yisrael, he wanted to do it authentically, he informed them.

He wasn’t going to the Mir to speak English and eat meals at American couples who served oyster steaks from America, or to Brisk to try to speak Yiddish as if he’d been born in Kovno and feel compelled to learn how to walk, square his shoulders, and nod his head like a Brisker. That, he said, was worse than staying American, because it was even less authentic.

Okay, then, Shaindy said, her voice sounding panicky, what was he thinking of?

If Eitz Chaim was still around, Heshy said, that would have been his choice, but since it wasn’t, he wanted to go to Yeshivah Meah Shearim.

Shaindy hadn’t heard of it, which was a good thing, because then she couldn’t be embarrassed by it. A chassidus would have been hard for her — they were litvish people!— and a place like Tzfas would have made it impossible, but this had a nice ring to it.

For a few blessed days, even Shaindy was into “authentic,” telling Chaim how nice it was that Heshy found a yeshivah that felt right for him. She was already envisioning this as the end of the story, but of course it wasn’t the end: with Heshy it never was.

Chaim didn’t have the money or time to fly to Eretz Yisrael to check on his son, but it seemed like Heshy was doing well there, finding chavrusas to learn with. A few months in, Heshy told his father that, engrossed as he was in the sugyas of Yevamos, there were so many lost American bochurim roaming the streets of the holy city, so on Thursday nights he had started to lead a chaburah for them.

Okay, Chaim said, and as he had so many times over the years, he shrugged.

Chaim’s son-in-law, Avromi, who lived in Eretz Yisrael, reported that Heshy seemed to have found his place, hanging with the Yerushalmis by day and the American kids by night. Chaim asked Heshy about it, and very seriously, his 21-year-old son told him that each one helped him understand the other: the hardened Yerushalmis could use a little temimus and the Americans needed that solidity in their Yiddishkeit.

Left unsaid was that he, Heshy Brucker, would be the one to provide everyone that they needed.

Along the way, Heshy discovered the power of art and signed up for a painting course. After six weeks, he felt that it was a waste of time, and since he’d already grasped the basics, he would be teaching art to his talmidim as well.

Then he had an exercise phase, and he called his father rhapsodizing about the inherent value of Pilates and how the body was the mashal and life was the nimshal. Chaim remembered pleading with Heshy, back in the bungalow colony days, to play more ball, and Heshy insisting that it was just too exhausting. Now it had become the point of existence.

And then came the shidduch.

Heshy’s good friend Segal, who made the best Yerushalmi kugel in the city, thought Heshy was perfect for his sister-in-law, and Heshy felt ready to settle down. He knew that he wanted to stay in Eretz Yisrael and also that he wanted not an American-Israeli or a European-Israeli or even, as he made clear, an Israeli-Israeli: He wanted authentic.

The Veisfish family was certainly authentic, one grandfather a battim-macher and the other one a sofer, nine generations in the holy city. Shaya Veisfish, Gitty’s father, was a mashgiach, but it was only later that Chaim learned that the hashgachah job was in a matzah bakery and it lasted a third of the year at most, so the money for the dirah, or even basic help, never really arrived after the first month.

Heshy kept busy with his American bochurim — some of the yeshivos even hired him officially to learn with boys — and he scraped by, but the one-and-a-half room apartment added on illegally to a building in Beis Yisrael, authentic as it was, was cramped. Also cold and leaky.

And then one Thursday night, the chaburah partied a little too hard and the neighbors said enough with the strange American, and Heshy and Gitty moved to a basement in Musrara that was even more authentic and less comfortable.

After they had the baby, they moved into Gitty’s parents’ house, but by that time, the novelty had worn off and Heshy spent more and more time with his talmidim.

At first, Chaim heard Heshy rumbling about coming to America and working with bochurim full-time and he reasoned that once Heshy and Gitty had a normal apartment, the idea would follow so many others and disappear like a wisp of breath on a cold day.

But it had come up a second and third time and now — how bashert! — they had really moved to Lakewood, which is exactly where Heshy wanted to be, and Chaim and Shaindy actually had the room to host his little family and of course it would only be temporary, until they settled down. If you don’t try to succeed, then you’ll never know how successful you might have been, right?

So now Chaim sat at the kitchen table — kitchen nook, Shaindy called it, like the guy from the sales office had taught her — trying to decipher the look on his wife’s face.

She wasn’t worried about the extra work, and she wasn’t upset that her son was giving up on his dream. She wasn’t stressed about what he would do in Lakewood or how he was going to support his family. She wasn’t apprehensive about sharing space with a daughter-in-law with whom she could barely communicate.

It was something else and after a moment, Chaim realized what it was.

Shaindy was worried that Heshy would make their family look bad, and that would get in the way of her plan. Her big plan….

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 885)

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