Photo Credit: Jewish Press

He stumbled, trying to find the keys to the car. Again he had borrowed the Oldsmobile. He let her in the car first and she leaned over to unlock the door for him. Did she know there were power locks in the car? And still she leaned over. This to Yankel was a good sign. That is, of course, if she was the one.

He paused just for a moment before starting the car, and Leah spoke: “Your friend lent you the car again, I see. Both of you treat us well. Thank you.”


“Of course,” he said. “This is an important meeting. I mean we should be comfortable as we get to know each other.”

The engine started silently and the heat rose without effort, almost by magic, through the car. (The seats themselves were heated. He had figured out how to use it – an amazing feature.) Leah exulted in the rapid warmth.

“I see you appreciate luxury.” Yankel said.

“I do, but I can get by with very little. Our own car is a rattletrap – it runs perfectly, but nothing like this. This is a far cry from our 1972 Dodge Dart, a Model T.”

Yankel chuckled. Once again they were talking about cars. “It’s only natural to like nice things,” Yankel said. “We grew up with very little on account of my parents’ divorce. The money picture with my father was always very murky. He pleaded poverty, but he always seemed to have money. Not for us, though, but for his business, his travels. His favorite line was ‘Don’t worry, I have you well taken care of,’ but when it came to what you needed today, he was forever short.”

“A complicated man,” Leah observed.

Yankel confidently steered this gilded creation of General Motors onto Coney Island Avenue. “How about we get something to eat? May I recommend some really old-style cuisine?” Ordinarily, a young man like Yankel would have very little money to spend, but the economic condition of a yeshiva bochur was a complex matter. Some had rich families while others did odd jobs and managed to put some money away if they were careful. Yankel had a few thousand dollars put aside from tutoring younger boys and a few summers as a camp counselor. If there was a time to spend, Yankel would spend it now on these dates.


“How about Gottlieb’s in Williamsburg?”

“The famous Gottlieb’s? The pastrami! The corned beef! The stuffed cabbage! Wait, is this the place with the famously rude waiters?”

“I don’t know.” He smiled. “We should be so lucky.”

At Gottlieb’s, Yankel ordered a pastrami and a beer. Leah ordered steamed tongue and Dr. Brown’s Cel-ray soda. The conversation, as they say, flowed.

While they waited for their food, he told her a joke. “Oh,” Leah said, listening, opening her mouth a little wider than might be expected and moving her head back.

Yankel gazed now, mildly alarmed. It was clear to him that he was having some kind of effect on her. He could not recall ever having experienced this with a woman before. Most women regarded him from a distance if they regarded him at all, but it was clear even to him that she was deeply interested in everything he had to say. He couldn’t understand why. Did Cupid lurk behind the scenes sending arrows in their direction? Such a goyishe idea, but for the first time he understood why such a myth made sense. How else to make sense of the senselessness of love – the immediate bestowal of high value on another person for no good reason?

And so they continued to talk even after their food came.

“Can I have a sip of your beer?” Leah asked, pointing to the bottle of Heineken on the table.

“Of course.” He poured it against the rim of the glass so as not to create too much foam – a trick he had learned from his father.

“I bet you could tell me something from the Talmud about the beer you are drinking right now,” she said, lifting her mug slightly, taking a sip.

“Well, I can, actually. In truth,” Yankel explained, adjusting the brim of his hat, “Rav Pappa, one of the Talmudic rabbis, would drink the beer of the Gentiles, but only on the doorstep of the saloon, without going inside.”

“Why?” She took another sip.

“Because just as drinking wine leads to marriage – intermarriage, that is – beer does too, but less so. Therefore, it is forbidden only when socializing with Gentiles. Unlike wine, the beverage itself is okay.”

“So drinking wine and beer leads to marriage,” she said, a little buzzed from the beer.


“So we better drink up,” Leah said, raising her glass to him.

Yankel lifted his reflexively (but limply) in return.

Wow, that was forward, Yankel thought. He could feel himself draw back involuntarily.

He was used to people who, like himself, stayed inside their boxes. He liked this forwardness, but still, this was a little wild and he was not sure what or how to respond.

For a moment their conversation stopped and they cast about trying to regain a rhythm as though cold water had been splashed on hot toast, making it soggy. The waiter came over. He spoken in Yiddish-inflected English, but he looked like a mixture of Russian and Japanese with a beard that came down in two distinct directions. He had a winged back and a Fu Manchu mustache and wore a big shluf kappele, a sleeping cap on his head. “Nottink else..?”

Momentarily, Yankel was unable to answer the waiter’s question. Perhaps he should end the date here by saying “check please” or perhaps he should order something else. The waiter stood over them in what seemed mild disapproval. Yankel waved the waiter to the side. “We’re undecided. Come back in a few minutes.”

The waiter left in a mild huff as if he were being asked one more time to bear all of the world’s ambivalence. In the meantime, Yankel tried to make sense of his feelings. It was unbelievable. Leah really liked him. Perhaps she wanted to marry him. Clear as day, there it was! He felt it in his body – the warmth, the blood pumping – and yet, how could this be – and how reckless was this? He hardly knew her and she hardly knew him! He needed time to think.

Many a shidduch and date were ruined by too much talk, too much intimacy, too much knowledge too fast. Yet many a match was also ruined by too much thinking. What should he do? He thought of calling the shadchante Miriam, but that would be too awkward.

He turned to Leah. “Would you like dessert?”

“I don’t know. I can’t think right now because,” looking at her watch, she said, “I have to make a telephone call. I promised my mother…” and she ran off to the pay phone near the restroom.

Yankel became nervous, very nervous at the table by himself. Calling her mother in the middle of the date? Was she telling her mother she had snared her man? Was this a ruse and was she calling someone else? He dug his fingers into his forehead, trying to suppress a groan.

A man can drive himself mad with injurious speculation.

He sat against the large storefront window. The delicatessen steam against the cold glass had built up condensation. The neon orange and purple lights flickered in the letters: deli, pastrami, glatt kosher. He looked around him: plates of steaming meats and soups, French fries.

Did anyone even need this? Society was out of control, he ruminated. One needed to say no.

More good comes from “no” than from “yes.” Such were his thoughts.

Just then Leah returned, smoothing down her skirt.

(To be continued)


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