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Too many compliments in one sentence. Shraga nods his thanks and waits for the other shoe to drop


There isn’t always a story when a bochur joins the yeshivah halfway through summer zeman. But six years as a rebbi has taught Shraga that there usually is.

“Mordy Weiss,” the boy says shortly, when Shraga goes over to him after shiur to welcome him and ask his name. “I live here. Israel. My family made aliyah years ago.”

There’s something about the way he speaks, listless almost, that makes Shraga’s heart twist. Instinctively, he leans forward, grips the bochur’s hand.

“Shraga Fein. Let me know if you need anything.”

Mordy gives a little nod, surprise flitting across the blank look. His eyes are light, a murky blue-green-gray. Meir, Shraga remembers, had brown eyes.

Why is he thinking of Meir now?

Mordy slouches off, against the tide of bochurim streaming to the yeshivah dining room. Shraga leans on a shtender and watches out of the corner of his eye as the new bochur turns up the stairs and disappears from view.

“Reb Shraga, I see you’ve met our new talmid.”

The boys at Yeshivah Moshe Emes claim that the rosh yeshivah has mastered the art of appearing out of thin air. Shraga thinks of that now as he jumps a little, knocks a pile off notes of the shtender, and hurriedly bends to retrieve them.

“If you have a minute, I have a couple of things to discuss with you,” Rabbi Klein says, crossing the room in rapid strides as he speaks. Shraga follows him, bemused.

“A great zeman, a great start, a groise shkoiyach, Reb Shraga.”

Too many compliments in one sentence. Shraga nods his thanks and waits for the other shoe to drop.

“So it’s gevaldig, the connection you have with the bochurim, we appreciate it, we really do,” Rabbi Klein continues, seating himself behind the mound of seforim and papers that hides his desk from view.  “All of us, the hanhalah, we see it, it’s something special. And you know how it is these days, the boys need a lot of guidance. Yeshivah gedolah, being away from home, these years right before embarking on shidduchim…. You know what I mean.”

“Weiss,” Shraga supplies. He thinks he can see where this is going. So this is why the new bochur with the strange apathy in his eyes has been placed in his shiur instead of Reb Naftali’s, where the bochurim usually begin. There’s some sort of problem, a difficult background story maybe, they want him to connect with the boy.

Rabbi Klein waves his hand. “Yes, yes, but it’s more than that, we’re talking about neshamos here, we have to get it right. And l’maiseh, many of the bochurim choose to confide in you.” As he speaks, he busies himself with some papers, rolling them up like a megillah and snapping a rubber band around the bundle. “There’s a course endorsed by rabbanim — a counseling course. It’s not a degree or anything like that, it’s just, you know how they call it, crisis counseling.”

He flourishes the papers towards Shraga. “I registered you. The yeshivah will be footing the bill, of course.”

Shraga’s mouth falls open. He knows this is a big compliment. And that he’s not being given a choice.

“It starts on Sunday,” the rosh yeshivah adds casually, as if he’s just scheduled a shmuess.

It’s not that Shraga is adamantly opposed to taking the training. It could even be interesting, although he’s never really thought of himself as a counselor. He’s a rebbi, a mentor, a sounding board — and he’s quick to refer others for anything that seems to need more targeted intervention.

Still, the extra knowledge can’t hurt, and he won’t refuse the rosh yeshivah. Rabbi Klein knows that.

He’s halfway out the door when he remembers how the conversation began.

“Oh — Rabbi Klein?”

The rosh yeshivah looks up from his Gemara, as if Shraga has startled him, as if they haven’t just been speaking. “About the new bochur. Weiss. Is there anything I should know?”

For a moment, Rabbi Klein seems to waver, on the verge of saying something. Then he gives a little shake of the head and smiles. “Reb Shraga, you have a special chush with the boys, that’s obvious to everyone. And I believe you can trust your intuition here, as is often the case. But I think that it’s best if you get to know Mordy for yourself.”

  

The group is small: just seven participants and the presenter, whose screen name shows up as Yaakov. There’s a serious-looking older man with a short, neat beard — his screen name reads S. Kramer – and a young Chabad rabbi wearing a hat and a seatbelt, scenery flashing by as his eyes focus away from the camera, presumably on the road ahead.

The others have their cameras off, they’re little black boxes with names that mean nothing to him: Rabbi Michoel Stark. Shimon. Yona Eisner. Yeshivah Toras Eliezer Admin.

“I’m going to ask you all to turn on your cameras for the duration of the session,” Yaakov says. Shraga studies him: white shirt, no jacket, piercing gaze behind trendy glasses. He’s the kind of guy it’s hard to put an age to, but he has an air of casual confidence like he’s been in the field a while. Yaakov’s background shows a plain white wall, which makes Shraga uncomfortably aware of the slice of apartment in view of the camera, just behind him.

Cameras flicker on. Some of the men seem older, others could be his own age. One — Yona Eisner — is clean-shaven, bright eyed, and looks like he is barely old enough to be in yeshivah himself, let alone hold a position in one.

“Let’s start with introductions, tell us a little about yourself, where you’re from, and what you hope to gain from our Crisis Counseling course,” Yaakov says, spreading his hands open wide to encompass everyone, and looking as though he’s about to embrace his computer screen.

There’s an awkward silence as everyone waits for someone else to go first.

“Jake! So glad I met you! We missed you Friday night, man!” Chabad-guy suddenly calls. He’s leaning sideways and talking out the open car window. “Whoops — forgot to mute,” he remembers, saluting the Zoom group and shutting off both microphone and video for a moment.

Someone titters. Yaakov steeples his fingers and speaks a little louder than before. “Rabbi Kramer, is it? Would you like to start?”

Names, places, job roles, institutions… most of them are rebbeim in yeshivos, Shraga is relieved to discover, except for Rabbi Kramer, who is director of some summer program, and Mendel the Chabad guy – back on Zoom – who is active in kiruv on several college campuses.

Yaakov shares his screen, and Shraga can no longer see the small box with his own face. It makes him feel vulnerable, somehow, that he can’t see what the others see of him. There must be some way to move things around, but he’s not so tech-savvy. Malky would know, but she’s out for the evening.

“The first thing we have to know, and we’ll keep reminding ourselves of this throughout the sessions, is one word: trust,” Yaakov says, changing slides with a flourish. The word TRUST is emblazoned across the screen, accompanied by a picture of a baby, gazing upwards with wide-eyed serenity.

Trust. Integrity. Confidentiality, safety, listening, validation… Shraga shifts in his seat and stops taking notes. This is crisis counseling? Isn’t it just basic people skills?

He hadn’t signed up for this, isn’t paying a penny for it, and is sitting here because the rosh yeshivah asked him to. It’s part of his job, and he’s always been conscientious. But still, Shraga feels strangely disappointed, restless even. Somehow, in the few days since Rabbi Klein sprung this on him, he’d started to look forward to it.

“…And active listening means not just nodding along and jumping in with a solution, but rather, being able to show the other person that you’ve really internalized what he’s struggling with, by paraphrasing it back to him,” Yaakov is saying.

Shraga’s eyes stray to his Gemara. In full view of the camera, there’s no playing hooky to go over tomorrow’s shiur. But the sessions are two hours long, and somehow only 15 minutes have passed so far.

Why did Rabbi Klein think this was a good idea?

  

“Guests this Shabbos?” Malky asks, pulling up in front of the yeshivah.

Shraga hesitates, disentangling his feet from the straps of her pocketbook to get out of the car. “Not sure yet,” he says finally. “You need to know today?”

“It’s just that I’m doing the grocery run this morning,” she explains, gesturing to the offending pocketbook. “Just makes a difference to the amounts… I usually shop for a crowd, but the last week or two have been quiet. I ended up throwing away some of the produce that went bad.”

“Oh,” Shraga says, slowly. “I — I didn’t think about it yet.”

He wonders how to explain the uncertainty that overcomes him when he thinks about having bochurim over. It’s a new thing, this tentativeness, this wanting to be sure he’s getting it right. Interactions that used to come easily and spontaneously are now conscious efforts to analyze, self-assess, apply the right techniques. Until now, he hadn’t realized there was a right and wrong way to build a close relationship. After all, the end results were the same, weren’t they?

Not necessarily, Yaakov had said last session — the group’s fourth one, how the weeks had passed already! — when Shraga had finally asked the burning question. Because was the end goal to have a relationship — or to actually help effect growth?

Almost a week later, Shraga is still mulling over that one.

“What about that new bochur, Mordy — the one who was a little quiet? He seemed to enjoy it when he came a few weeks ago, I’m sure he’d be happy to come again.”

Mordy. Shraga’s heart skips a beat. Of course they should invite him again, they need to, he needs them. Shraga thinks of the sadness that seems to hover around the boy, the distant look in his eyes. Maybe it’s clinical depression? Or is this course making him see diagnoses everywhere?

One thing is for sure — this is a bochur who needs a relationship, a boy who needs help all the more urgently because he won’t reach out for it. Would Yaakov advise inviting him again or a different approach? A private talk? A forthright question, a gentle confrontation?

The options are giving him a headache, and something vague, uneasy, and deeply painful quivers inside him. He thinks of Meir, of the last time he saw his younger brother. The look in his eyes, long before Shraga had the wisdom or experience to recognize the deep agony of hopelessness.

Mordy’s eyes hold something of that look, too.

Maybe it doesn’t matter how you do it. Maybe you just have to do something, anything, before it’s too late.

The images tumble over each other: Mordy in shiur; Meir sitting on the sofa of their shanah rishonah apartment. He used to come over often, at least once a month for a Shabbos meal, during the week to chat and do laundry. And then he didn’t come, and Shraga hadn’t really registered the change; he was busy, adjusting to marriage and Israeli bureaucracy and his and Malky’s secret, special news; Meir was a yeshivah bochur, he was busy too… he didn’t even think too much of it when Meir ignored a few of his calls.

And by the time he’d finally, belatedly, awoken to the fact that something was really wrong… it was too late.


He needs to breathe.

That was then. This is now. It’s different. You’ll help Mordy; you’ll figure it out.

Malky is waiting expectantly. It takes a monumental effort to pull himself out of the memories, find words to answer.

“Yes, okay, maybe, that’s a good idea,” Shraga says, aware that he’s starting to sound more confusing than his four-year-old daughter. “You know what? I’ll check with Mordy today, maybe a couple of other guys, and let you know.”

“His family lives here in Israel, right?” Malky asks thoughtfully. “So maybe he’ll go home to them… Why does he stay in the dorm for Shabbos, anyway?”

Shraga recalls the bits and pieces of Mordy’s life story that he’s painstakingly pieced together: Mordy’s stormy relationship with his father (“He did nothing wrong and everything wrong,” Mordy insisted), his carefree, everything’s-wonderful mother (also Mordy’s description), his high-achieving siblings and his low sense of self-worth (the last was not Mordy’s description, but still true).

He can’t share any of this. “Not everyone travels every Shabbos,” he tells Malky finally.

Malky gives a small smile. “It’s okay. I know these things are private.”

Trust. The cornerstone of every relationship.

Trust — and questioning. Listening, really listening. Yaakov keeps going back to those, as he’d said he would.

“What about you, do you want me to invite bochurim for this Friday night?” he asks Malky suddenly.

“Me?” She looks flattered to be asked. “I mean, it’s always been a part of your job.” She thinks a minute. “I like it, I guess. It’s nice to host, and they make meals a lot of fun. Although it’s also a lot of work, a lot cooking, and the boys often come last minute, so it gets a little rushed… but I’m used to it. I didn’t really think we had a choice, and it is nice to have a meal just us and the kids every once in a while, but we really do that on Shabbos day, most of the time, so…”

He starts nodding along, then thinks better of it.

“So you’re saying that there’re advantages and disadvantages to having bochurim for the Shabbos meals,” Shraga answers carefully, trying to remember all the details of what Malky just said. Apparently, there is real power in paraphrasing. “On the one hand, you like to have guests, because, um, it’s fun? And it’s my job. And we’re used to it. But on the other hand, it’s a lot of work…” he trails off, feeling uncomfortable. She’d said more, but it’s hard to summarize it in two sentences, and besides, wasn’t it a little strange to just repeat back what she said? He’s never done that before, and it never seemed to be a problem.

Malky waits for a long moment, as if she’s expecting him to say something else.

“Yeah,” she says finally, looking puzzled. “Uh, yeah. That’s what I said.”

“I hear you,” Shraga says, after an extended silence doesn’t bring any more revelations. “I hear you.”

  

Mordy isn’t at night seder. It’s the third time this week.

Shraga frowns, then calls over an older bochur. He’d decided to skip inviting guests for Shabbos until he’d thought things through a little more, but it’s definitely time to check in how Mordy is doing.

“Do me a favor, Nachi, go check the dorm. You know Mordy Weiss, he’s pretty new here? Tell him I sent you, I wanted to check he’s okay.”

He’s deep in the throes of a long Tosafos when the bochur returns. “He’s not there.”

It takes Shraga a moment to remember who he means. Mordy. Not there… not there?

So where is he?

There’s no one to ask; Mordy mostly hangs around alone, although he gets along with everyone well enough and Shraga has the sense that he could be pretty popular if he wasn’t clouded by something unknown.

Tomorrow, Shraga thinks to himself as he walks home later that night. Tomorrow, I’ll find time, we’ll have a conversation.

He turns to take a shortcut through one of the ubiquitous playgrounds that every Jerusalem street seems to boast. Colorful swings, monkey bars, and tunnel slides loom shadows in the darkness. He almost misses the figure hunched over on a swing, left arm wrapped around the rusty chain.


For a wild moment he thinks he must be imagining it; just because he’s thinking of the bochur doesn’t mean he has to see him in every teenager sitting alone in a park at night, but he draws closer, and it is Mordy, and suddenly it makes perfect sense.

Where else would he be, if not alone, somewhere in the darkness?

Mordy jumps slightly when he approaches, then, recognizing Shraga, sinks back down into the swing, avoiding eye contact.

“Mordy, I’m so happy I met you here, I was looking for you earlier,” Shraga says warmly. He wants to wing this conversation, but he’s feeling strangely unfocused. Isn’t this precisely why Rabbi Klein signed him up for the course? To be able to handle difficult conversations professionally, to guide boys with more skill?

Motivational interviewing, here we go.

Shraga perches on a tire swing, the nearest one to Mordy, feeling ill at ease. The setting seems all wrong for such a conversation. He thinks briefly of Yaakov, of the easy confidence with which he’d described how to set up a “growth-oriented conversation,” and he wonders what the group would think if they could see him now, struggling to remember the four stages of the interviewing technique in the middle of a dark, deserted playground.

“So,” he says, clearing his throat. “So…”

A couple passes by. The man pushes a stroller; the wife glances back curiously as they pass. Shraga looks down at himself self-consciously; the two of them must look pretty strange, struggling for words as they swing in the darkness.

He pulls himself together, takes a breath. “You’re having… a hard time, it seems,” he says, then he kicks himself. That could hardly be called an objective statement. Neutral, Shraga. Stick to the facts.

“I noticed you missed night seder a few times this week,” he says, carefully. “Want to tell me what happened?”

Mordy’s heel grinds a stray wrapper into the ground. His eyes look straight ahead. Shraga could be invisible, or not there at all, for all the response he’s receiving. Maybe he wasn’t direct enough. Or maybe he was too direct?

Everything is suddenly terribly complicated.

What if he abandons technique, just says it straight? Mordy, I’m worried about you. Are you okay? A month ago, he would’ve done that in a heartbeat. Now, he hesitates just a minute too long for it to sound natural.

The swing moves back and forward in the darkness, rhythmically. Shraga has a crazy vision of them passing the entire night in this way, conversation at a stalemate.

“It doesn’t matter,” Mordy says suddenly. His voice is low, but it carries on the breeze. “It doesn’t matter, okay?”

What doesn’t matter, Shraga wants to ask. Night seder? Whatever it was that happened? Everything, life?

Affirmation. Build him up. “Your attendance in general is great,” he says. “So I was surprised at what happened this week. It’s not like you to miss seder so many times. I… we’re concerned about you.”

For a split second, he feels pride in how the words flowed out, so smooth and seamless, but then Mordy turns to him, full in the face for the first time all evening, and Shraga is stunned at the raw anger in his eyes.

“Concerned, yeah, right.” He spits out the words. “As if you’re all concerned about me. About what I feel. It’s about missing seder and yeshivah rules, right? Right?”

Shraga’s eyes open wide. He can’t think how to answer, what to say, but it doesn’t matter: Mordy hasn’t finished.

“You sound like… you sound like my father, you know that? Everything is all logical and scientific and by the books for him. He could be reading out one of those parenting columns from the magazines, or forget it, he could be writing them. It’s all about how do you feel and we’re so concerned, and I hear how you’re feeling and we need to talk about this, I understand how you feel…” Mordy snorts, and the fight leaves him, so it’s just a broken boy slumped on a swing. “‘I understand you.’ Right, totally.”

Shraga looks up at the inky Jerusalem sky. “Maybe your father means it. Maybe he wants what’s best for you,” he suggests.

Mordy’s legs stop pumping. He skids the swing to a halt and stumbles to his feet on the soft, rubber earth.

“Whose side are you on, anyway?” he snarls into the darkness, and then he turns on his heel and disappears.

  

Today, Yaakov told them, leaning in toward the screen with a big smile, they would be leading the session. It’s been three months, including a break for summer vacation, it’s time to wrap up, share what they’ve learned from the course.

“A personal example or experience,” Yaakov clarifies. “Something that’s changed because of the skills you’re now putting into practice or a new way of handling situations. Let’s hear it.”

“I’ll start,” Sholom Kramer offers, and he launches into a speech that must have been prepared in advance.

Shraga lets his mind wander. A personal example… he could talk about Mordy, maybe. How he’d tried the motivational interviewing, how he’d followed the first steps to try open a dialogue that would effect “real change.” Then he frowns, because the uncomfortable truth is that it hadn’t really worked at all. The zeman ended, a new one began, and nothing’s changed.

Maybe he should share the story anyway. Get some advice? Find out where he’d gone wrong? Or maybe it was right, maybe that was how real change started, with uncomfortable confrontations that eventually segued into deep realization and spurred growth?

That doesn’t jibe for him. Shraga frowns, then remembers the camera and hastily rearranges his features into what he hopes is a pleasant, professional, neutral expression.

Yona’s speaking now, halting, like the story is hard to share.

“So I was in yeshivah, I was a dorm counselor that year, but I wasn’t much older that the bochurim,” he says. “There were a lot of bochurim, you know, with stories, wanting to open up… I used to get a lot of that. And one thing that sticks out in my mind as we do this course is, I wish I would have known all this before.”

Heads are nodding in the small boxes across the screen. Shraga nods too; he thinks of his brother and the sharp taste of regret floods him all over again.

I wish I would have known all this, too.

“…he was just sad, all the time, we didn’t realize there was something seriously wrong,” Yona says. “By the time we realized it was serious, the threats were serious, he’d — things had gone too far. I was the one — I was supposed to accompany him to an appointment with a psychiatrist, the rosh yeshivah scheduled it. It… we didn’t realize how serious it was, we scheduled it for the next morning.” Yona swallows. He looks even younger than usual, eyes wide and beseeching for reassurance. “But he ended his life that night.”

Yona’s face pinches, and his voice, coming through the line, sounds hoarse. “I just keep thinking about it, that had I taken the course, had one of the rebbeim known the signs… it might not have happened. Meir might still be alive.”

Shraga’s heart is racing, roaring, galloping in his chest. He presses a hand to his shirt, feels the wild strum of his pulse. Meir. They are talking about Meir. They were there… Yona was there. And he admits that they could’ve known, they should have known.

One day too late. They could have saved his brother.

Yaakov speaks, breaking into his thoughts. “Thank you for sharing that with us, Yona,” he says, slowly, thoughtfully. “I think we all appreciate what that story means to you, how far the emotion goes.” His tone changes. “But I want to say one thing, before we talk about this any further, and that is about the feelings you, at least, are still carrying around with you.”

He takes a breath, slowly exhales, as if he’s weighing his words more carefully than ever.

“It’s important — in chinuch, in therapy, always — to accept our limitations,” Yaakov continues. “To know who we are and to know who we are not. And how there are things that are totally beyond our control.” He leans forward again, so his face looms large on the screen. “The situation you are talking about, the tragedy of a death by suicide, it can’t be pinpointed or blamed on any one person, one lost opportunity. Yes, when we are educated, we know what to avoid, when to raise the alarm, how to best seek the guidance we need. But we can never control the outcome, and when there is deep psychological sickness or terrible pain, there is no place to judge the victim — or ourselves.”

Silence spreads across the screen. Some people nod. Yona looks somber.

Thoughts war in Shraga’s mind. They could have saved him. They couldn’t have. They did their best. So did you. You couldn’t have known. If you could have, you would have.

His head is exploding, he presses a hand on his eyes, and little fireworks pop in the darkness behind his eyelids.

“Reb Shraga?”

He can’t think. He can’t speak. Not about Mordy, not about anyone. Not now.

Somewhere, vaguely, the thought occurs to him that he needs to rethink… a lot of things.

“Reb Shraga, do you have something to share?” Yaakov asks again.

Shraga’s screen face looks startled, pale in the harsh light above his head. “I — I’ll pass,” he stutters. The words trip out, awkward, and before Yaakov can press him further, he says, “I need to leave for today,” and closes the laptop without bothering to exit the meeting.

  

The music is pumping, thumping, it spills out of the open doorway and onto the smooth creamy cobblestones outside. He’s late; Rabbi Klein’s finished speaking already.

He’s never come late to the yeshivah’s Simchas Beis Hashoeivah before, but then again, he’s never stood so long by the tie rack in the corner of his room, staring at the shiny swathes of fabric without seeing them and wondering whether doing the kazatzka in the center of the circle of dancers would be undignified.

Undignified? You’ve never thought so before.

But before… before, he hadn’t known. About boundaries, about systems, about the processes of connection and change. The science behind human emotion. Now he has to rethink everything.


We have to accept who we’re not. And also, who we are, Yaakov’s voice echoes. It sounded so wise and so true, but what did it even mean?

Inside, the beis medrash is a swirling mass of people, heat, movement. Not all the bochurim have stayed for Yom Tov, but those who did have brought friends and family members. Reb Nachum and Reb Naftali, the other maggidei shiur, are locked in a tight dance in the middle, oblivious to the outer circle that had quickly formed around them.

His eyes search the crowd without him being consciously aware of what he’s looking for, of who he’s looking for, until he sees him: Mordy, standing off to one side, discomfort stamped on his features.

Shraga hesitates, then he walks over to his talmid. Slowly, thoughtfully. Maybe it isn’t the science that Mordy needs. Maybe that’s what the problem has been all along.

“Gut Moed, Mordy.”

The boy’s eyes widen and then dart away to his left.

“So this is your maggid shiur, Mordechai?” a familiar voice asks, and a man takes one step forward toward Shraga: a man with a round face, dark beard, a smattering of premature grey in his hair. He is wearing a suit and tie, but the eyes behind the trendy frames are light and piercing and the voice unmistakable — Yaakov, the psychologist, the poised presenter, the expert; Mordy’s father.

For a moment he is too stunned to respond, and recognition blinks on in Yaakov’s eyes, too. Mordy doesn’t look at either of them. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah. Um, and this is my father.”

And I almost spoke about his son on the last session. I almost shared what Mordy told me, in confidence, about his father. I almost destroyed him. Them. Their relationship.

Yaakov is watching him with interest, as if he is rapidly scrolling through everything Shraga has shared during the course. Shraga takes a deep breath, focuses, and smiles.

“Mordy’s a great guy,” he says.

“Yes, yes,” Yaakov says, glancing at his son as Mordy’s eyes shutter.

“Ahh, Reb Yaakov, what a privilege!” The Rosh Yeshivah himself materializes in front of them. “Step into my office for a minute? I have a couple of things to consult you about.”

“For you, Reb Gedalya, I’d do almost anything, but it’s Chol Hamoed, let’s speak after,” Yaakov says, as he and the Rosh Yeshivah engage in an extended handshake. “Besides, I’m not here on business tonight. I’m here as a father.” He smiles at Mordy, who blinks and looks away, then he speaks directly to Shraga. “Sometimes, we just need to be who we are, huh?”

And suddenly, everything falls into place before Shraga’s eyes: how everything is so much more nuanced and complex than the words people use, how Yaakov is a psychological expert but also just a father trying desperately to reach his son, how Mordy might seem lost and broken but he’s here, and his father cares enough to be here too.

“Lechu, lechu, Hashem hamamluchuh,” someone sings into the microphone. The boys, his boys, are dancing around him, and the rhythm pounds in sync with his heartbeat, fast in the sudden understanding.

It’s not about remaking himself. That’s not what anyone needs.

The cornerstone of every relationship is trust.

How could he build trust on words that don’t come from within himself?

He puts a hand on Mordy’s shoulder, feels the muscles stiffen slightly, then relax. The words come spontaneously; they’re not planned or premeditated or reconsidered. He just knows what to do, deeper than the knowledge of the six most effective counseling techniques or the three stages of therapeutic conversation.

“Come,” he offers, and a wholeness flows through him, all the way to his outstretched fingertips. “What are we waiting for? Let’s dance.”

He knows in his gut that this is right, and as Mordy meets his eye and gives a small, grudging smile, he reaches out with his other hand and grasps Yaakov’s cool palm.

The music reaches a crescendo. Shraga throws himself into the sound, the song, the dance, letting his eyes close and the music, the joy, the genuine wholeness wash over him. From the crack between his eyelids, he sees Mordy and his father hesitate for a moment. Yaakov takes an uncertain step toward his son. Mordy is still, his hand limp.

And then the two reach out, gingerly grasp hands, and close the circle.  

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 878)

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