The Portrait| February 14, 2023
Despite his desire to hang it in his living room, Avromi's pleas fell on deaf ears
“I will not allow that picture to hang in my home.”
This decree was heard for years from the mouth of Baila Kleinbaum.*
The picture under review did not depict a place or person one would consider objectional. Rather, it was a painting of Beryl Kleinbaum, her husband’s great-grandfather, who passed away in 1968.
Reb Beryl’s children had commissioned an artist to paint an oil painting of their father, and they presented it to him on his 80th birthday. The painting originally hung in Beryl’s home. After he was niftar, it made its way from father to son to grandson and was now in the possession of his great-grandson Avromi.
Avromi received the painting years ago. Yet despite his desire to hang it in his living room, his pleas fell on deaf ears.
What was so controversial about the portrait? After all, Reb Beryl was a great baal tzedakah, learned Chok L’Yisrael daily, never missed a minyan, and raised his children b’derech haTorah.
So why was Baila so adamant in her refusal?
“He has no yarmulke. We can’t hang a picture of a Yid without a yarmulke, even if it’s your zeidy,” Baila declared.
“Of course he’s wearing a yarmulke!” Avromi protested. “Zeidy had black hair, and because the top of the painting is dark, you cannot see it clearly. My zeidy always wore a yarmulke. It’s true that back in the ’50s, he didn’t wear it in the office. However, he would never have allowed a portrait of himself without a yarmulke.”
“I cannot allow it to hang in my house. It will hurt the children’s shidduch prospects,” Baila retorted.
Avromi, not wanting to destabilize what was (aside from this issue) a wonderful marriage, resigned himself to having Zeidy’s picture relegated to the garage.
Years went by, and Avromi and Baila’s children found fine shidduchim. Yet Baila remained steadfast in her refusal to hang the painting.
One day, Malki, the Kleinbaum’s five-year-old granddaughter, came running to her grandmother in tears.
“It was an accident, I didn’t do it on purpose. I promise,” Malki cried.
“Sheifeleh, don’t worry, Bubby isn’t upset with you. What happened?”
Malki could not get the words out fast enough. “We were playing near that picture of the old man. Then Moishy decided to see if he could lift it. I grabbed his hand, and the picture fell on the corner of the chair, and it got a hole! It was an accident!”
Baila jumped from her chair and bounded down the steps to the garage. There was the portrait of Reb Beryl with a hole in the canvas.
Baila was beside herself. She had to somehow fix it before Avromi found out. She remembered her friend Faigy telling her that her husband had someone who restores old art pieces; maybe he could help?
After a quick phone call, Baila carefully loaded the painting in her car and delivered it to the art restoration studio, where the owner told her it could be fixed in two weeks.
During those two weeks, Baila said extra Tehillim so her husband wouldn’t find out. The two weeks passed uneventfully, and Baila was relieved when she got the phone call that the painting was ready.
The restorer brought out the portrait and unwrapped it. As he worked, he casually mentioned, “These old oil paintings are all from homes saturated with cigarette smoke. I call it second-hand-smoking-schmutz. Everyone smoked back then. I cleaned it up for you. Look, you can now see his yarmulke very clearly.”
But Baila didn’t hear one word of what the man was saying.
She stood there in awe, staring at Reb Beryl.
It may take years or decades. Ultimately, however, the Master Painter always ensures that His masterpieces get the recognition they deserve.—
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 949)
Oops! We could not locate your form.