Photo Credit: Jewish Press

All too soon, a mere week later, Yankel’s father hugged him as he got out of his cab.

Although he was just an inch or two taller than Yankel, he carried himself like a very tall man.


Yankel hadn’t seen him in six months. Every time he met his father he looked somewhat different. His forehead had grown more generous (had his hairline receded farther?) and his eyebrows were thicker – they grew like shrubbery. Still, his shpitz bord, his goatee, was more or less the same, gentle like lightly mown grass, and still miraculously dark – he swore he used no dye. His ears were pointed at the top and he did not need eyeglasses except for reading. He was ebullient and buoyant as always.

“Let me get you something to eat,” his father said, and they went to Weiss’s.

Over a plate of smoked whitefish his father said, “I know you are wondering about my announcement. I will tell you: Your father is going to get married again.” He beamed at Yankel, his pale blue eyes blinking as if to dispel dust. “Yes, I met a wonderful woman in Israel and she is willing to share my life with me. Her name is Gila and she lives in Romema. She is positively wonderful and she looks forward to meeting you and your sisters.”

Yankel felt the breath knocked out of him, even as he had been half-expecting this. “I am very happy for you, Abba,” he managed to say as the South African waiter brought perogies to their table.

“I know you are happy for me, and I know how you struggle here,” his father said with a serious look in the eye.

“Struggle?” Yankel nervously eyed the South African waiter who was now setting glasses of water in front of each of them. What was Abba getting at?

“Yes.” His father nodded and took a small bite of his smoked whitefish. “And I would give anything to make life easier for you.” Yankel nodded to himself – sure, sure – as he sliced his perogie down the middle. “I know things have been hard for you since the divorce,” Yankel’s father continued. This came out muffled as his father was still chewing his food. “I think I tried my best, but I left everyone in the lurch. Perhaps such things can’t be avoided, but it couldn’t have been easy.”

Yankel bore down so hard while slicing his perogie that his knife made a clink sound on the bone china. Could Abba actually be apologizing for… everything? He shrugged.

“Here, I brought you something.” His father reached toward his travel bag. This surprised Yankel. Abba wasn’t big in the present department. He removed various items and finally extracted a tallis, a prayer shawl with a silver collar. Yankel didn’t know what to make of the gift. It was a time-honored custom for a bride to buy this item for her groom. Well, his father was not his bride, and nor was Yankel a groom – yet. But surely his father could not have known about Leah all the way from Israel. Impossible. And yet he didn’t put anything past his wily father.

“I know this is not in keeping with custom, but who knows when your time for marriage will be?” His father gazed with hope at him. “Hopefully sooner, but it may be later and I want you to have this tallit,” his father said, pronouncing tallis with a “t,” with Sephardic emphasis, reveling in his Israeli-ness. “I even got it with the dreary black stripes that all the sad Jews in exile like to wear. I want you to have it. “

Yankel supposed he should be glad, but why couldn’t Abba wait as custom dictated until he was actually engaged? It was just like him to break any custom that didn’t fit his whim.

“Well, actually, Abba, I met someone who I think may be for me. It’s still early and I don’t want to talk about it too much yet, but…” He stroked the gleaming silver on the tallis. It did have an Israeli freshness to it.

“Then don’t,” his father said with a flourish of his hand. “Keep it quiet. Surprise us.” He leaned forward, giving Yankel a youthful conspiratorial wink. “This is what I do,” he said, tapping his collarbone. “Don’t announce until it is final. In the meantime I want you to meet my kallah, my new bride. Gila.”

It made the gorge rise in Yankel, the way his father liberally shared his dating advice.

And worse, to hear his father say “kallah.” It felt sometimes that all the people of the world were his father’s playthings. “Where is this lady, this G’veret Gila?” said Yankel.

His father smoothed down a stray hair of his goatee, as if anticipating his bride to show up any second. In fact he said, “She is here now in the U.S. with me. I would like to call her and tell her to come over and meet us here.”

“Here? Right now?” Yankel sat up. His stomach made a disagreeable noise. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that yet.”

“Ready? What’s to be ready? The world is a river of surprises. Don’t swim upstream, I say,” his father threw his arm upward as if tossing daisies. “The moment is now. I am just warning you that you shouldn’t be shocked.” A small smile appeared on his lips. “She is a little on the young side.”

Yankel’s head had been drooping. Suddenly it lifted. “How young?” he asked.

“Well, younger than me.” He pronged another bit of smoked white fish.

“Fifty-five?” Yankel hedged.

“Eh…a little younger than that…” His eyes dropped, evading Yankel’s.

“Fifty?” Yankel frowned.


Yankel said tensely, “She’s not younger than forty, is she?”

His father gave a rabbinic shrug. “I don’t like to discuss ages with precision…”

“Abba! She’s thirty!” Yankel blurted.

“Well, thirty-six or thirty-seven actually, this week!” he finally let out, but with a gusto, as if expecting to hear “Happy Birthday!”

Yankel looked into his plate of food, trying to hide his feelings of turmoil. Different images fired through his brain – his father standing next to his blooming, youthful bride, his father holding a child, his very own, the child of his old age. Yankel could feel his legs shaking, his hands and wrists, and quickly removed them from the table and buried them in his lap. What next would this man do, his father? He forced himself to take a breath, then another. “Calm down,” he told himself. After all, who was he to begrudge his father? Didn’t the rabbis say: A man must have children when he is old as well as young, and a man is after all a man. Even in his sixties he has needs still, if he is healthy that is, but such a young woman! It was like a scandal even though it wasn’t really, Yankel thought, and gloomily picked up eating what remained of his perogie even though it seemed to be upsetting his stomach.

He remembered once meeting a contemporary of his father’s a few years back. This man, Singer, a luggage salesman, had been with his father in the early days of Torah Vodaas, the school his father had attended back in his youth in Williamsburg. “Your father was a vilder chevra mahn,” the man had said. A vilder chevra mahn, a ruffian!

(To be continued)


Previous articleThe First Thing Jewish People Need To Know
Next articleThou Shalt Not Murder