Aliza Kleinbaum had a surprising effect on Asher. Until he met her, he knew he’d marry — but spending time with her, listening to her stories, laughing at her jokes made him realize how lovely it would be to have a wife now.
For the first time, he found the dorm with its dirty whitewashed walls, stained foam mattresses sometimes . He liked his newest roommate Shmuelli Refaeli but poor guy, when he peeled off his socks Asher almost puked. He would have spoken up, told the guy to deal with his stink but then Refaeli smeared his feet with some white gook.. Clearly, the poor guy was dealing with it but that only made Asher realize how much he wanted to be married to a wife who would smell like the roses on his mother’s Shabbos table, a wife who would make the beds and hang up curtains and do the laundry and cook real food, muffins and soups and salads, not the greasy chicken and gummy pasta the yeshiva served up.
Still yeshiva life hadn’t lost all of it’s charms. This semester Asher became study partners with Ephraim Klapper. Klapper was an illui, an outstanding genius , probably the smartest guy at Hadar. It was in his DNA; Klapper was Rabbinical royalty descended from the Bach the Taz and the SchaCh, possibly all three but it wasn’t just that; a pedigree could be like an onion, the best part stuck underground but Klapper seemed to embody his ancestors’ spirits. People called him a gilgul a reincarnation.
Klapper also had been born with CP, the result of oxygen deprivation at his premature birth His legs were shriveled up, his thighs like two carrot sticks. He clutched two canes when he walked but he dazzled in his ability to pin point the flaws in Asher’s carefully constructed logical structures..
Asher lived for nightly study session so that one cool fall night when Klapper didn’t show Asher went to look for him. He found Klapper in bed writhing in pain.
“My back. “Klapper rubbed his hand against his sacrum.
“The doctor told me to sit in the sauna. ….”
“Hmm, too bad, “Asher mumbled. “What if I joined you.” He didn’t really want to go but he felt wrong leaving Klapper alone.
In the taxi, Klapper was silent; Asher didn’t attempt conversation, but as soon as they entered the sauna Klapper lightened up; ; the warm dry air draining away his pain.
“You know the last time I was in this hotel was on a date. The girl was wearing sackcloth and ashes and reading the psalms. I guess people don’t think I’m human.
“Wow ,” Asher had never thought about Klapper’s dating situation. He wondered who Klapper dated? Was it only girls with CP but he didn’t ask. Instead Klapper jumped in.
“The girl was so huge that she filled the whole couch and I’m not exagerating.”
Asher grinned. ” Asher flashed back to Aliza Kleinbaum. “The last girl I went out was like that too,”
“Triple digit dress size ?”
“So, you’re like the rest of us, in search of the four mems?”
“You know midot, mishphacha, mammon and mareh”
“Well lets say she had three out of four.”
“Not bad but not enough. Listen,” A smile played on Klapper’s lips. “How about my cousin Elisheva Lefkowitz. I’ll get my sister to set it up.”
“Thanks. ” Asher closed his eyes basking in the warmth of the sauna and Klapper’s kindness.
Asher came home for the weekend carrying a bag of freshly baked chocolate rugelach—Molly’s favorite.
“A peace offering?”.
“Kind of, ” Asher averted her glance. “I’ve got another girl for you to check out.”
“I’m still getting over Aliza Kleinbaum,”. She pulled a rugelach from the bag and tore it apart with her fingers.
“”C’mon Mom,. get out the notebook”. His cheeks dimpled
“Her name is Elisheva Lefkowitz from Beitar ”
“Pretty name. ”
The biblical . Elisheva married Aaron the High Priest; she was Moses’ sister in law; the name implied aristocracy.
“My friend’s sister is the shadchan. She gave me a resume”
Though they were popular in the US shidduch resumes were still very new in Israel and this was Molly’s first encounter with the document. She wrinkled her brow. ” This is so weird. A resume for a wife. What will they think of next. Is there a mission statement? .”
“Mom I hear you but I think you’ll like it. No more scrambling for a pen and paper or risk missing a digit on a phone number. ”
He had a point. Here was Elisheva’s life reduced to one neatly typed page with all the important basics, where she’d gone to school, what she was doing, and details about her family.
“She’s Rabbi Shlomo Lefkowitz’s daughter. That’s impressive ” Rabbi Shlomo Lefkowitz was a popular speaker and Molly downloaded his lectures and listened to them in the car. .
“Yeah you see why I’m so excited and my friend Klapper, he really knows me. He’s the one who thought this up. His sister will be the shadchan. ”
“Okay. It looks good. “Molly continued scanning the document but she stopped at Elisheva’s aliya date. “Do you know that she came to Israel at twelve? Is she adjusted?”
Psychologists warned against moving children after they passed toddlerhood. Otherwise they risked growing into cultural misfits, neither fully Israeli or American.
“I didn’t hear anything and it says here that her Mom is a therapist. That probably cancelled out any problems. ”
“Okay.” Molly smiled. “But there are two things I don’t see on here. I can live without them but you and Dad.”
“Oh looks and money”
“Well that’s your job.”
When Asher went out to evening prayers Molly called Klapper’s sister. Elisheva was a slim, blue eyed blonde with a dowry of $100,000. “It’s an inheritance from a grandfather .He won it playing Powerball. She’s a great girl. She washes the floors for one of their neighbors, an old woman who can’t look after herself and she tutors a kid from a broken home . Doesn’t charge a cent. ” charge anything.”
After she finished the call she told Nahum.
He smirked. “Sounds like great material for a eulogy. I bet she’s got a halo,” but when she added the part about the Powerball inheritance he said “Go for it girl. This sounds like one catch.”
“I only made one call. Don’t you think I need to do more research.”
“Well heck Molly. Asher’s best friend suggested this girl. Don’t you think he knows.”
“Yes that does make sense. Asher says he’s the best guy in the yeshiva. That sounds credible enough to me.”
“Let them meet. They’ll see.”
“No more calling? This is too good to be true.”
“See. It doesn’t have to be impossible ” said Nahum and Molly glowed. Was this synchronicity again? Something about this just felt so right but while Molly was trying to call Klappers sister the call waiting signal clicked and Mrs. Rifkind , her father’s neighbor got on the line.
“Your father fell three times in the past three days, thank G-d I was around to help him but he’s black and blue all over. Come,” Mrs. Rifkind’s words felt like ice shot into her veins.
Her hands trembled as if her father’s unsteadiness had entered her. She imagined him falling breaking a rib, a bone, his skull bleeding, injured, in great pain and undiscovered for hours, even days ? Her father needed her. There was no one else, no other sibling ; yet another disadvantage to being an only child and yet , Alas, I agree with Shannon. You really need to hire a copyeditor to fix up the punctuation and the grammar. No one will read this if they see it doesn’t look professional. Asher’s needs were pressing to .
She phoned the shadchan; she set the arrangements in place; How would Nahum do that? .And what about Elazar and Bella? Elazar often disappeared from the yeshiva returning home at odd times and Molly coaxed him to go back. And who would make sure that Bella wasn’t wearing nail polish or lipstick, or staying up late watching chick flicks or worse…
How could she do that if she was 6000 miles away? She had to rescue him; this sentence doesn’t make sense. if she be haunted by her failure forever.
Molly booked herself on the next available flight.
“Are you sure? I don’t know anything about this stuff.” He had the eyes of a Gold child who’d lost his mother at the mall.
Truthfully, she agreed—Nahum accepted Asher’s inane opinions without challenging them. If only she could stay home but then she imagined her father flat on his back,covered with black and blue marks.
All through Shabbos Molly was on pins and needles. It rained on and off and all day the skies were dull and grey. An hour before candle lighting a rabbi phoned asking them to host a brother and sister team who were visiting from Holland. “It’ll probably be their first real Shabbos and I want it to be at your house,” he said. Ordinarily that sort of pitch would have been music to Molly’s ears but this time she refused. “Sorry, We can’t do it now. I don’t have the head for it,” and she didn’t.
She had hardly cooked, sending Bella to the local takeway store for challahs and kugel and fish. There would be only five of them: Elazar was spending Shabbos in his yeshiva.
Other than Molly no one was terribly concerned about Grandpa Max. They made some perfunctory moves. Bella volunteered to join Molly. “I’ll help you. It’ll make everything easier,” but Molly refused . Both Asher and Moshe promised to arrange for prayers to be said at their yeshivas but that was about it. Max was almost a stranger. He rarely visited, never phoned. They didn’t know him well enough to care.
Asher was in especially high spirits harmonizing with Nahum and Moshe at the table and then joining his father in the studyto review the weekly Torah reading but the others were restless. As soon as they finished the bensching both Bella and Moshe moved toward the door to leave.
“Can’t you stay home. I’ll play a game with you. “said Molly. She hating for the kids to go out on Friday night when all the the neighborhood riffraff were outside.
“But it’s so early and I arranged to meet a friend,” said Bella. Though the skies were as dark as they’d be at midnight it was only seven.
“Who are you meeting?”
“Naama Davis,” Naama Davis was Bella’s latest friend. Molly took an instant dislike to the girl , a skinny blonde whose skirts were too short and tight.
“She’s my best friend, Mom..” Bella reached for the door handle.
Just then Nahum called out . “Tell her she needs to be home by ten.”
“You see, Daddy said it was okay,” said Bella as waved goodbye. .
And then right after that Moshe announced that he leaving to, to meet a friend to learn. , arguably for a more elevated reason. ; he said he was meeting a friend to learn.
“Can’t you have him come here” said Molly.
“Mom you sound so angry. We could but it’s Shabbos and I can’t call him and we already made up ” and once again Nahum called out. ” Tell him to be back by ten.”
“Nahum, your undermining me.” Molly’s voice was full of anguish.
“Honey, they’re not little kids. You can’t look em up in the house. They need space. Trust them a little bit. Go to sleep . You look exhausted.”
Instead of going to sleep Molly sat in the living room pouring over, the biography of a woman who simultaneously cared for her infirm elderly parents two dozen orphans and a flock of sheep never taking a vacation, spending an extra penny or uttering one bad word. “I can’t stand this,” she told Nahum.
“I thought you liked those books.”
“I do but this one is dragging me down.”
“So put it away and go to bed.”
“But I can’t rest until Moshe and Bella come back.”
“Oh here comes someone.” The door opened and Moshe walked in together with Elazar.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at yeshiva?” Molly asked.
“The food there is garbage. I need to eat.” Elazar lifted the lid of the crock pot and spooned out a bowl of what had been intended as tomorrows chulent. ”
Just then Bella appeared with Naama Davis and a cackle of giggling girls . “Can we have some too . Is that okay? , ” she asked Molly.
“Then what will we for lunch? Quails, Manna from heaven?”
“Mom. You told us to bring friends home, Have some faith” said Bella.
“Okay but don’t complain if it’s cereal for lunch and eleven thirty everyone goes home.”
Early the next morning Molly opened the lid to the crock pot. “There is hardly one bowl left. What is with these kids. I never heard of Friday night chulent.”
“It may be halachically problematic,” said Nahum. “I’ve got to go.” He grabbed his tallis and went off to shul leaving Molly alone in the kitchen feeling terrible. Shulamis Black would have never agreed to a Friday night chulent eat-a-thon. She would have firmly, quietly shooed those girls out, dispatched Elazar to his yeshiva. Why can’t I do that? What is wrong with me? No wonder the kids have no boundaries, no respect for me or for the religion. It’s all my fault. She filled a cup with hot water adding the coffee second as per the Shabbos rules. “Oh G-d, I’m trying to get this right. Help me please….”
At morning services she punctuated her prayers with supplications for her children, and of course her father. Personal requests were usually forbidden on Shabbos the idea being that thinking of one’s troubles will detract from the joy of the day but this was life and death, not only her father but her kids, for Bella and Elazar spiritual disconnection and eventual spiritual death which in Molly’s mind was even worse than physical death and for her father the actual specter of the angel of death hovering over him. The one person she didn’t consider was Asher. Right now at least, he seemed to be taken care of, This next girl sounded promising–she was trying not to get too excited but deep in her heart she had a good feeling.
Musical Chairs is a novel about a Jerusalem American BT family’s struggle to find a bride for their FFB yeshiva bochur son.
You can read
Chapter 1 here,
Chapter 2a here,
Chapter 2b here,
Chapter 3a here,
Chapter 3b here
Chapter 3c here
Chapter 3d here
Chapter 3e here
Chapter 3f here