Photo Credit: Jewish Press

In the morning Yankel had his hands full. His father, for the first time ever, showed up in yeshiva, unannounced, of course. Yankel had been studying in the bais medrash and someone came to tell him: “There’s a man outside who says he’s your father.”

What could my father want that he should come to visit me here? Yankel wondered. His mind raced through a series of possible tragedies – something with his mother, his sister, other relatives possibly – but he quickly discounted them. He had just spoken with his mother and his sister last night and they were both fine. If anything had happened to anybody else his father would not deem it important enough for him to make a personal appearance. A frozenness overtook his mind – he couldn’t really think or feel at all – even as his body sped down the stairs to greet the man. He wouldn’t put it past his father to show up on a whim, completely disregarding anybody’s social conventions except his own. Certainly, he regarded the yeshiva as a philistine universe – unworthy, whose norms were far beneath any serious reckoning on his part.


At the bottom of the long staircase stood his father in an electric-blue shirt, dappled in the strong winter sunlight that came through the side windows. His pink smooth cheeks reminded him of a healthy pig’s, but at the same time – from where he did not know – he felt a rush of love for the man. “Abba!” They embraced. “What brings you here?” He almost mumbled an apology, a regret about how he had walked out on Gila. But for his father, any reflection or grudge-bearing or memory of slights oppressed him. The main thing was to be on to the very next pleasure.

Yankel’s father held on to his son’s hand for a brief moment. “I was passing by and I was seized by the urge to see this place. I hadn’t planned on disturbing you, but I was recognized by one of your yeshiva bochur friends who insisted on fetching you.”

“Well, good of you to come, Dad,” Yankel said with somewhat less than a full heart. “Now that you’re here, let me show you around.”

He walked a few steps ahead of the older man and thought: Oy, did he have to wear that loud shirt? Nevertheless, a bit haltingly, Yankel began to throw himself into the role of earnest tour guide. “Let me show you the library of old books near the washing station and then the dining room.”

The library was locked so Yankel took him to the hand-washing station adjacent to the dining hall. It was mid-morning and a few stragglers were having cornflakes and milk in plastic bowls on the long tables. One young bochur was meticulously peeling a hard-boiled egg.

His father gazed at them, his hands clasped behind his back, with an air of a visiting dignitary, a politician perhaps, a congressman or senator – aloof even though he was kin. “I guess these guys must have had a late night on the town,” the older man said, lifting his thick brows with the slightest touch of derision.

Much as it pained Yankel to admit, he knew his dad was not far off from the truth. There seemed to be in every yeshiva a percentage that was just “out of it” – young men who were trying and failing to match their inner world to the outer world of the yeshiva. Yankel knew of one young man in the dorm who never managed to make it to classes at all! He lived in a universe of his own – never waking up before eleven in the morning – and all he had every day to eat until night was a black-and-white cookie and a can of Diet Pepsi. Occasionally, he would show up for supper and then meander back to the dorm with an obscure book on Jewish thought on whose margins he scribbled notes. Such a young man was always studying but never progressing. No, his father was not wrong about this aspect of yeshiva: It was, for some, a haven for losers, for people with no prospects or who were asleep in some way. For a moment he could see how there was a humiliating passivity to all, at least by his father’s lights. No wonder getting his father to pay the yeshiva tuition had been like pulling a plow on rocky soil.

He led his dad past the vending machines and the bank of payphones to the entranceway of the great study hall. It was a magnificently large room – the size of the playing field of a coliseum – a sea of black and white and a low but deafening roar of testosterone subjugated, yoked to the study of Talmud. Yankel’s father stood in the doorway, watching, silent. The sheen on his cheeks, that natural ebullient glow, faded a little. He seemed overwhelmed by something – a wave. He didn’t stand so high; he leaned in even as he tried to regain his footing.

“Yankel,” he asked, his hand moving somewhat tentatively over his still dark goatee, “what are they studying?”

Yankel cocked his ear to the crowd. “They are discussing what happens if you find a piece of gold somewhere. Can you transmit ownership to your friend by just thinking: ‘I want this to be for him’?”

Upon hearing this the older man perked up. “Mego d’zakhi…” His blue eyes seemed to reflect the bright light of the bais medrash. Yankel’s father had remembered the relevant passage in the Talmud from his own long-ago days of yeshiva study, and his pink pig cheeks glowed again with self-satisfaction. As he walked out of the room, he clopped his forehead. The complete phrase had come to him: “Mego d’zakhi l’nafshe, zakhi nami l’khavrei!” If he can get the gold for himself then he can get it for his friend, too. His father clapped his hands together softly, so pleased he was with himself.

Yankel was impressed with his father’s prodigious recall, but he also couldn’t help thinking: Would Abba get the gold for him, his own son, when the time came for his wedding? Although who knew if that would even be, Yankel thought with a pang of gloom in his chest.

Yankel’s father abruptly and somewhat ceremoniously looked at his watch. “My goodness. It’s later than I thought. I have to get going.” He patted down his goatee, his expression already fixed on his next appointment. “Thank you, my son, for a wonderful experience.”

Yankel walked his father out to the street. Just as they were about to part ways, the older man said above the Coney Island Avenue traffic, “Maybe now you will come to meet Gila – she is my future, you know.”

Good grief, Yankel thought. Just like his father to think of his future. Yankel shrugged. “A gezunt oif dayn kop, Tatteh.” You should live and be well.

With that he decided to detour back to his dorm room to get a drink, feeling the need to settle himself after his father’s impromptu visit. What could Abba be up to, he wondered. Maybe that is what he had in mind all along – getting him to visit Gila. He was both crafty and crude in his self-interest. Or maybe Yankel was judging him too harshly.

Someone knocked on his door, his buddy, Reuven. “There’s a young woman outside the building in a car,” he jerked his thumb streetward, “and she says she wants to talk to you.”

Yankel stared, stupefied. Could that be Leah? What did she want? As he hurried down the stairs, he didn’t feel like his usual self. A little bit not all right in his stomach – like he was flying downwind on a roller coaster – what with his father and now Leah. Was it possible that she regretted what she had said the night before? Or perhaps she was regretting the whole relationship and it was over. Such a thing wouldn’t have been a surprise to Yankel. Life had taught him to expect reversals – and mostly the negative kind.

He flung open the building door. He looked here, there, and his gaze fell on a purple Dodge in the street. He saw her looking straight ahead, her dark curtain of hair nearly obscuring her face. He felt his blood rush in excitement as he went up to the car. Catching sight of him, she rolled down the window.

“What a shock!” he said, putting both hands on the window ledge. In fact, he felt stupid with shock. Yankel had never in his life been as surprised as he was at that moment.

He hunched low so their heads nearly met. The cars were whizzing by. Had she changed her mind? Had she been panicked into submitting?

(To be continued)

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