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It didn’t appear that way. She had all her usual poise, but she seemed a little ridiculous, like a wide-eyed little animal in that rattletrap Dodge, sitting behind that gigantic steering wheel. Even though Yankel didn’t know much about cars, he had to take notice: this car was primitive! It was a 1972 Dodge Dart with no air conditioning and just an AM radio – basically, a hand blender.

“Yankel, I am sorry.” She looked at him then glanced away. “I didn’t want to disturb you in yeshiva, but I tried to reach you in the morning, and when I didn’t hear back from you I thought you were mad.” She gazed into her lap, her elegant purse in the adjacent seat.


A big truck rolled down the street, and Yankel placed himself flat against the car door. After the truck passed, he moved back again. He could hardly believe his ears. She had been worried enough to come all the way here to find him. He felt a great sense of relief.

“You’re smiling,” Leah said. “Are you happy that I came?”

“Yes, very happy,” he said, grinning foolishly at the sight of her.

She touched her hair self-consciously. “Is there something on my face? Why are you grinning like that?”

He merely smirked.

“Well?” she persisted.

“It’s just that – ” he coughed, “well, there’s something funny about you in that car.” “Funny, as in… strange?”

He shrugged. “Funny, like a big clown riding on a tiny bicycle – your sophistication is contrasted with this very simple, hickish car – like a spoof.”

Leah feigned tossing a coffee cup at him. Yankel was concerned that people should see this kallus rosh, this sweet lightheadedness between them. It wasn’t proper to be standing in front of the yeshiva talking in this way with Leah.

“May I remind you, young lady,” he said with mock seriousness, “that it is not the place for us to…”

“Yes, I get it. Go back to your studies – and thanks for making fun of me, by the way,” she said sarcastically. “But I suppose you’re right. It is a ridiculous car.”

Yankel put both his hands up. “Don’t be mad. You know I’m kidding. Let’s talk later tonight. I’ll come over at eight.”

As he walked into the bais medrash, the smile on his face was so wide and permanent, it seemed the whole world would somehow “know” what he had been up to. But later, when he thought of the “talk” he would have to have with Leah tonight, he sobered up a bit.

What good was this “talking” going to do? The way he saw it, one of them would have to give in – or end it. Leah’s insistence on a plan could torpedo the whole thing. She had to know that. She had to know that one can’t get everything. (Women would yet bring the ruin of the world!) So what good was it to talk? On the contrary, a man of faith talks little and does a lot. His actions always exceeded his words. And yet, there are times one must talk in life. That much he knew, but what to say?

Now at Leah’s house, staring at the old family photos on the wall, he tried to center himself, but every time he looked in Leah’s direction and caught sight of her face, her dark hair, and the way she looked at him, he thought himself liable to agree to anything just to keep it going with her. But one must try anyhow. And so he began: “I know we have taken to each other, but it’s possible that you might want a different life – with a different type of man than me – someone who is a bit more ‘success-driven’ than me.”

He could see her slender throat moving as she swallowed. He had her attention, of that he could be sure. “Leah, it’s not that I want to talk you out of ‘us,’ but for goodness sake, I have to be real. It’s not for me or for us to sell out and pedal falsehoods as an antacid. This is a serious thing.”

Leah put her hand up. “It’s not so great for me to have this conversation here.” She motioned upstairs. “People could overhear.” Instead, Leah suggested they go to one of their old haunts to have tea.

They walked over together in relative silence. All the while Yankel thought of what to say. When they sat down at the small cafe table, he looked at her looking at him again. He squeezed his lemon and began to sip his tea. What words could he offer? Who was he kidding? Could he make money – enough money to please her? His friends, those lucky enough to have family money, made it somehow, when they eventually left Torah study to pursue a living. And even those who didn’t – this one became a school principal, the other one a fundraiser for a yeshiva. Some, like his friend, Moishe, a very tall handsome man, became a pulpit rabbi in a rich community somewhere on Long Island. He had charisma.

What lay ahead for Yankel? A man must imagine the worst and then work from there: The lowest form of occupation in the religious world available to a man like him was a kashrus supervisor at a catering hall, a restaurant, or even a factory. He shuddered to think of himself in the future, a stooped man bent over vats and pots in a foreign food plant, trying to ascertain what ingredients some man from China put in their packaged noodle soup and if they were kosher. Yankel knew such a man who flew all over the world to bubble gum factories in Asia, wonton soup makers in Vietnam or Cambodia or some other such place. He was hobbled and overweight, plagued by sciatica and high blood pressure, forever living with air tickets crumpled in his briefcase, making frantic phone calls to a Lower East Side travel agent – get me a transfer in Kuala Lumpur with a layover in Stockholm.

Yankel set out these thoughts for Leah and watching her face as he spoke, he knew he had to give something more. It wasn’t money. It was something that can be confused with money – sometimes. It was soul.

He set down his cup of tea. “I know what is good enough for me will not be good enough for you – materially – and maybe your father thinks of me as a nice guy but a luftmensch, someone with low expectations who will never put in any sweat into anything, but zayt moichel, forgive me,” his gaze directly met hers, “your father misjudges me.”

Leah’s hand had been hovering near the sugar packets. Now she straightened her back and her mouth opened as if to speak something, but she put her hand over it. Yankel went on but with force – his chest seemed for the first time to converge with the rest of him; he was talking with his whole frame, all of him pushing out, chin forward: “I offer you something, and potentially us – something different – a real Jewish life of learning. I know it speaks to you, otherwise you wouldn’t be with me in the first place. It may seem dry to some people, a lot of people, maybe nearly all the people in the world or almost all: What if a drop of milk falls into your meat stew – who cares? Throw it out, don’t throw it out. But when I go through all of the opinions, kosher, trayf, proofs, postulates, corollaries, I hear G-d speaking to me – not the way you might think, a thundering voice. No, I get a small rush, a vibration, like the first time I met you. It’s almost like a wink from G-d – He is with me, and when He is with me I feel like I have all the money and security in the world.”

Leah’s eyes welled up.

Yankel continued, “Your father is right to press me for a plan, but remember, Leah, your father couldn’t go to yeshiva on account of the war. It’s possible he might even be jealous of what I have and happy for what we might have.” Yankel mimed a motion to take Leah’s hand over the cafe table. “It will be all right. But if it’s not all right, I will work and work till I make it all right – if I have to wash cars, I will make it all right.”

Leah put her hand to her mouth again only this time she spoke. “I have never in my life been moved by such words. My G-d! You are the one for me.”

A rush of electricity, a charging of ions through the air. Yankel closed his eyes. He was soul to soul with this woman. As if from a distance he heard her say, “I – we don’t need to make up any stories for my father, but just the same, even if G-d speaks directly into your ears, we are going to need a plan.”

His eyes opened blearily. There was something unrelenting about this woman. Just when he thought he had her won over, she came back with her point, unconquered. She still wants a plan! Why did it irk Yankel so, her refusal to be subdued, as though a woman must give in! She frightened him a little, but he respected her for it, too. From where did people get such powers?

(To be continued)

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