Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Intervention

Yankel was nervous. He had no clue why he received a summons to appear in the Rosh Yeshiva’s office that afternoon. It was the start of his second zman since returning from two years in Israel, and he’d been the model bochur ever since he arrived at the yeshiva’s doorstep. He never came late to davening or seder, was respectful toward his shiur rebbe, got along great with his chevrusas and roommates, and even liked the food served in the cafeteria. He couldn’t think of any particular offense he had committed that would warrant a confrontation with the intimidating man who ran the place.

Ignoring the growing sense of uneasiness in his belly, Yankel kissed the mezuzah on the doorframe, walked into the waiting area, and sat down. The secretary, Mrs. Borgerkrantz, a woman in her sixties wearing a youthful looking sheitel that did not match her age, gave him a disinterested look and went back to awkwardly typing at her computer with her index fingers.

Yankel reached into his pocket and fumbled with the now-crumpled paper that his morning seder chevrusa gave him earlier that day. Straightening it as best as he could, he reread the scrawled writing for the umpteenth time, “Yankel Feigelstone, please report to HaRav Gezunterman Shlita’s office at 4 PM.” Yankel loosened his collar a bit, wiped his sweaty forehead with the back of his hand, all the while keeping his eyes fixated on the crinkled sheet of loose-leaf.

After a few minutes, the secretary glanced in Yankel’s direction, sighed tersely, and picked up the phone on her desk. She punched in the Rosh Yeshiva’s code and waited for the connection to go through.

“Yes, HaRav Gezunterman, Shlita?” She warbled in a sweet old-lady voice. “The Feigelstone boy is here for his meeting. All right, I’ll send him right in,” she hung up the phone and snapped her fingers to wake Yankel from his stupor. He lifted his head, a concerned look on his face. “The Rosh Yeshiva will see you now,” she snapped, all niceness drained from her expression. Yankel hopped up from his seat, dropping the note, and quickly stooped to pick it up. He jammed it back into his pocket and hurriedly walked past the secretary’s desk into the nearby office.

“Please, have a seat. And close the door behind you, if you don’t mind.” The Rosh Yeshiva sat in his large, heavily padded, black leather chair. He was angled away from the door, and the seat’s high back blocked Yankel from seeing anything other than Rav Gezunterman’s left hand on the armrest. Yankel quickly complied and anxiously took his place in the only other chair in the room, which was understandably not nearly as nice as the Rosh Yeshiva’s, but still of a higher quality than those found in the beis medrish.

“Do you have any idea why I asked you to see me?” Rav Gezunterman’s deep voice asked, still facing the window.

“I-I-I’m really not s-sure… I thought I had b-been doing pretty good in my learning and-”

“You were seen in town last night…” The leather chair squeaked as it turned around on its swivel base. “With a… girl,” Rav Gezunterman’s intense eyes peered over his thick glasses, which were perched on the end of his large nose.

“I c-can explain that. I’ve already been here for one z-zman, so my f-freezer period is over… isn’t it?” Yankel swallowed timidly. His mouth had gone dry the moment he entered the office, and the action strained his throat.

“Well, yes, that is true,” Rav Gezunterman stared off into space and stroked his long, grey-white beard.

“A-and we were in a public place, n-no yichud issues, a-and we were sitting more than an arm-lengths apart.”

“That’s right, that’s what I was told, but-”

“But what?” Yankel immediately regretted the outburst. “I-I-I’m so s-sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt the Rosh Yeshiva, Shlita…” he trailed off, looked down and twiddled his thumbs.

“From the report I received, it seems like you weren’t having such a great time. Is that true?” Rav Gezunterman leaned forward slightly, pursed his lips and raised a shaggy eyebrow.

“Yes, I mean no… it was only a f-first date a-after all.”

“Look, Yankel, I just wanted to say-”

“I’m sorry I didn’t go through the official yeshiva channels!” Yankel cried out, his voice cracking. He internally scolded himself for interrupting the Rosh Yeshiva for a second time. “But my older sister’s mother-in-law said she knew this g-girl who was s-so aidel and-”

“That’s quite all right,” Rav Gezunterman shook his head slightly and waved his hand backward and forward a few times. “Our boys are redt shidduchim from all kinds of shadchanim. That’s not what I’m worried about.”

“Th-then what’s wrong?” Yankel cringed, as though waiting to be struck.

“You,” the Rosh Yeshiva stated, as a matter-of-factly.

“M-me?!” Yankel’s voice jumped another pitch.


“What’s wr-wrong with me!?” Yankel felt his heart leap to his throat, blocking the airway.

“You’ve simply got no skills!” Rav Gezunterman threw both hands in the air. “How do you expect to get married acting like a nebbach case?” He thundered.

“W-with all due respect, I’m not sure what the Rosh Yeshiva means,” Yankel squirmed uneasily.

“What I mean is that you need to work on how you present yourself. No one’s going to be impressed with you if you don’t go out there trying to ‘wow’ them!”

“Um… can the Rosh Yeshiva please elaborate a little more? I-I’m still unclear.”

“I’ll give you an example. My sources say you were sitting slumped over when you were talking to the girl. That’s totally wrong – totally wrong! You need to have proper posture,” Rav Gezunterman straightened his back into the padded leather of his chair. “Remember, this isn’t your chevrusa, she could be your wife!”

Yankel’s face flushed pink, and he made a feeble attempt to make his spine erect. After a few painful seconds of straining, he slumped back down with a sigh.

“Also, your clothes were terrible, who let you out of the dorms looking like that? We’re going to have to put you in touch with one of your better dressed friends who can lend you a nice suit.”

“…What’s wrong with my suit?”

“Do you seriously expect me to believe that was your Shabbes suit? With all the creases and that seam on the ankle that is coming undone?”

“It was… my Shabbes suit…” Yankel answered weakly.

“And that hat of yours, pshhh!” Rav Gezunterman seemed to ignore Yankel’s response. “With the crunched up top and warped brim! Did you sit on it or something?”

Yankel’s stomach dropped, remembering the feeling of horror that coursed through his scrawny body upon realizing he had forgotten his hat on his seat when he went to knock on his date’s door. That horror intensified a thousand times over when he absentmindedly forgot that he forgot the hat, reentered the car and sat down.

“And don’t forget your tzitzis, they’re all yellowed and knotted up! Do you think girls will be impressed if you keep those things un-tucked? Not to mention the one tzitzis that you keep hanging out of the back of your waistband that looks like a lost piece of toilet paper!”

Yankel mournfully looked down at the well-worn, pitiful looking tzitzis cradled his hand.

“Back when I was dating,” Rav Gezunterman puffed out his chest, sliding a thumb under each suspender. “There were times where the only article of clothing of mine that I wore on a date was my underpants.” He tilted his head and whispered behind an upraised hand, “And sometimes I even borrowed those, too!”

Yankel’s face twisted in a look of revulsion.

“And you’ve got to hold the door for her, yes, yes,” Rav Gezunterman nodded his wizened head knowingly.

“But rebbe said in shiur that it isn’t tzniyus to hold the do-”

“Look, I know those halachos too, you don’t need to quote me your shiur rebbe. Seriously though, girls these days are looking for gentlemen. You’ve gotta be, what d’ya call it? Gallant.” He drew out the last syllable and spread both hands in a half arc on either side of his face.

Yankel failed to muster a reply and wished he had a pen and paper to start taking notes.

Rav Gezunterman broke the uncomfortable silence. “So, tell me, Yankel, was she attractive?”

“I… I guess so.”

“Well, was she pretty?” The Rosh Yeshiva pressed.

“Um, I, uh…”

“Was she gorgeous?”

“I-I really wouldn’t know, to tell the truth.”

“And why not?” Rav Gezunterman let the question hang.

Yankel shrugged and stared into his lap.

“That’s precisely why!” Rav Gezunterman slammed his fist on the desk in front of him, causing Yankel to jump in his seat. “You weren’t even looking at her! How can you determine if this aidel maidel is pretty enough for you if you don’t even know what she looks like? Granted,” the Rosh Yeshiva leaned back in his chair and methodically rocked up and down on its base, “you shouldn’t be ogling her like a piece of fleisch. That doesn’t befit a ben Toirah.”

Yankel nodded in silent agreement.

“But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give her a look over from the neck down at all…” the Rosh Yeshiva made a tsk sound with his teeth. “That’s important, too… to a degree.” He put both hands flat on the desk. “I’ll give you a mashul. A man needs to eat food, right? But, he can’t spend his entire life eating bland food. Sure, he’ll get nutrition or some such, but he needs some flavor, some spices that are pleasing to his taste buds, you know.”

Yankel failed to see where Rav Gezunterman was going with this mashul.

“So too,” he began the nimshal, “Some guys like zaftig girls, and others... not so much. But you shouldn’t place all the emphasis on that, no, no, no,” the Rosh Yeshiva shook his head back and forth and narrowed his gaze on Yankel. “A Shayna punim is definitely more important,” he jabbed an index finger into the air.

Yankel guessed that was a good point.

“And let’s not forget your car! What is that thing you’ve been driving anyway?”

Yankel absentmindedly scratched the back of his head and looked toward the ceiling. “It’s my mother’s twelve passenger van… I’ve got eight brothers and sisters, and Totti takes the bus to work.”

“Well that won’t do! Not anymore, it won’t. We’re going to get you a nice car to take on dates… You can even borrow my car.”

“The 1984 Buick?” Yankel inquired, puzzled.

“Eh… on second thought, how about Rabbi Krumfry’s car? He’s a cool dude,” Rabbi Gezunterman said the last two words with cartoonish emphasis, trying to bridge the generational gap in a way that Yankel didn’t quite appreciate.

“Um… Rabbi Krumfry rides a motorcycle.”

“Oh,” Rabbi Gezunterman’s eyebrows scrunched together, clearly caught off guard. “I forgot about that.”

“A-and anyway, I don’t think my mom would let me r-ride a motorcycle, especially since that time-”

“Scratch that then,” Rav Gezunterman stroked his beard thoughtfully for a moment. “I’ve got it!” He reached over to his phone and pressed the intercom button. “Mrs. Borgerkrantz?”

“Yes, Rav Gezunterman, Shlita?”

“Call in that Five Towns boy, you know, what’s-his-face. Tell him his driving privileges are revoked for the foreseeable future…”

“But what about the-” Mrs. Borgerkrantz began.

Rav Gezunterman let go of the intercom button and raised the receiver to his ear so Yankel wouldn’t hear what the secretary was saying. Despite these efforts, the boy could still detect the muffled, cranky voice through the wall.

“Look, it doesn’t mean a thing to me if he has special permission from his mommy,” he wrapped the spiraled phone cord around a finger. “He could have a note from the President of the United States for all I care… and besides, he’s been slacking off on Shacharis attendance anyway, so you can blame it on that.” He hung up the phone with a clatter and turned back to Yankel. “See, now wasn’t that easy?”

“I-I g-guess so,” Yankel stammered.

“Of course it was!” He exclaimed and clapped his hands once. “I am the Rosh Yeshiva, after all!”

“W-whatever you say, Rav Gezunterman, Shlita.”

“Back to business,” the Rosh Yeshiva became serious again. “You need to learn talk about some shtusim, y’know everyday stuff that interests people.”

“But rebbe said that was b-bittul Toirah.”

“Look, are you going to listen to your rebbe, who’s been married for all of 3 years and has just one kid with another on the way,” Rav Gezunterman held his hands out like a scale. “Or me,” he gestured with a much higher raised hand, “When I’ve been married for forty years, have ten children and twenty four and a half grandchildren,” he dropped the other hand below the desk. “Hmmm?”

Yankel wondered what the half meant.

“Thankfully, this is easy to fix,” the Rosh Yeshiva spun on his chair and opened a filing cabinet. Reaching in, he lifted out a small pile of magazines. “The girls don’t want to hear about the Rav Chaim you learned in shiur, they want to hear about stuff like this.” He plopped the magazines one-by-one onto the desktop. Yankel saw a Reader’s Digest, a Newsweek, and a shopping catalog from Bass Pro Shop. All were several months old.

“I had Mrs. Borgerkrantz go through these and cut out anything that was pritzusdik, so it’s okay to read them.”

Yankel picked up the Newsweek and opened it to find large chunks missing from most of the pages.

“I think there’s an interesting article about the price of tea in China on page 56.”

Eagerly flipping through the dissected pages, Yankel was dismayed to find that there wasn’t a page 56.

“Also, if you’re going to give her some divrei Toirah, which I highly recommend, you’ve got to keep it light, no heavy mussar stuff. It turns girls off,” Rav Gezunterman chewed his lower lip. “Try something like Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, I think we’ve got a copy of one of his seforim in the beis medrish somewhere.”

“But Rebbe said we shouldn’t learn Rav Hirsch…”

“Why? ‘Cuz he’s too ‘modern’ or something?” Rav Gezunterman waggled a hand aimlessly. “Feh, I say. Girls eat that stuff up like there’s no tomorrow.”

The Rosh Yeshiva got up from his seat and started walking toward the door. Yankel sprang to his feet and joined him. Unexpectedly, Rav Gezunterman put a friendly arm around Yankel’s shoulder.

“We’ll get you back on the track to the chupa soon enough, Yankel. You just got to trust me,” he stopped walking and glanced down at Yankel’s face. “You do trust me, right?”

“O-of course, Rav Gezunterman, Shlita!” Something green caught Yankel’s eye. He looked over to Rav Gezunterman’s hand hanging off his shoulder. In between his middle and ring fingers he held a fifty dollar bill. Rav Gezunterman deftly slipped it into Yankel’s shirt pocket and gave it a light pat.

“Uh… what’s the money for?”

“Shaliach mitzvah money.”

“But I’m not going to Israel anytime soon,” Yankel protested, reaching into his pocket to remove the money. Rav Gezuntermnn lightly batted Yankel’s hand away.

“True, but your case warrants some tzedoka. Take her to a pizza joint, not a lounge. Make sure you get her something a little more than a glass of tap water. You can put whatever’s left in tzedoka. Or, if you’re lucky, save it for a second date,” Rav Gezunterman turned his head and offered a cheesy wink.

“Ooookay,” Yankel left the money where it was. He hoped he didn’t forget it was there and ruin it in the wash. Rav Gezunterman opened the door and let his arm fall back to his side.

“Be sure to tell me how things go, I want regular updates! And don’t forget, I’m always here if you ever need to schmooze again.”

“I a-appreciate the Rosh Yeshiva Shlita’s advice and time… I’ll try my best.”

“No, no. You’ll do your best, none of this I’m gonna try business. It’ll all work out, you’ll be fine,” Rav Gezunterman smiled and gave a double thumbs-up. Yankel mustered the courage to offer his own thumbs up in return and quickly fled the office as fast as his feet would carry him.

“Nice boy, that one,” Rav Gezunterman gave a satisfactory nod toward Mrs. Borgerkrantz. The sudden foreign-language cries of the yeshiva’s janitor enticed the Rosh Yeshiva to peer down the hallway. He watched as Yankel tripped over the janitor’s “wet floor” sign and slammed into a wall face first.

“Not too bright, though.”


  1. Great story! Very entertaining to read.

    Favorite line- "Not to mention the one tzitzis that you keep hanging out of the back of your waistband that looks like a lost piece of toilet paper!" :)

    Definitely agree with the overall message. One point though: While it's important to be presentable, how far do you take that? Different things are important to different people. Maybe she doesn't care what car he drives and maybe she'd prefer to hear the the Rav Chaim he learned in shiur.

    If he's not the type to drive a fancy car, then maybe he's looking for the type of girl who likes the fact that he drives a van and doesn't feel the need to try and impress her. Why should he discuss things he's not interested in, only mentioning "light" divrei torah if he is a more intellectual person?

  2. This was a great story- it had me laughing uproariously in my lab, with no one knowing why. Hysterical.

  3. Shades, yet another amazing story with your impeccible writing skills.
    I agree with nmf was hilarious!
    My favorite part: "“Look, are you going to listen to your rebbe, who’s been married for all of 3 years and has just one kid with another on the way,” Rav Gezunterman held his hands out like a scale. “Or me,” he gestured with a much higher raised hand, “When I’ve been married for forty years, have ten children and twenty four and a half grandchildren,” he dropped the other hand below the desk. “Hmmm?”

    Because usually most cases would be the opposite scenario. The younger rebbe is more easily relatable...
    but perhaps with our modern day fanaticism, it's better to ask the older folk.

  4. Wow! This is a brilliant story. I was laughing the whole time.

    I loved the "there wasn't a a page 56". Actually, I loved all of it! And I liked the writing style too, it was very smooth.

    Can't wait for your next one:)

  5. First off, I'm glad everyone enjoyed the story! I almost didn't post it, because there were some sections I thought fell very flat. I then decided to do a revision of those parts, and was bitten by the creative bug which kept me working until I was satisfied that the story flowed smoothly. That's also the reason why it was posted so late, once I get inspired by the muse, I can't just stop and go to sleep :)

    SternGrad - you make very valid points, but I'm not trying to convey that at all here. True, Rav Gezunterman says some things that are worthwhile, but the overall caricature is one of satire/stereotype bordering on the absurd. Even the well-meaning points are conveyed through humor.

    In the sector of the Orthodox world portrayed here, I doubt that girl want to hear about the Rav Chaim the guy learned in shiur - particularly on a first date!

    The car thing is also part of not making him a total schlump and nebach case. I could understand that it'd be really nerdy, though maybe acceptable to drive his mother's mini-van on a date - but a twelve passenger van is a little much, isn't it?

    Lastly, I never implied Yankel was the intellectual type, the lighter fare IS very typical (and highly recommended according to every rebbe I've ever heard speak about dating) of a first date. I think the that perhaps only of girl in GPATS at Stern would really appreciate a Rav Chaim on a first date.

    Just to throw this out there: did anyone notice the name of the motorcycle riding rabbi?

  6. :-D I laughed out loud. Thanks for yet another hit. I can't recall any point where you seemed to be trying too hard, so you were wrong about that. Yankel did stammer a bit much, though.

    Do people actually use "shlita" when they're addressing someone?

  7. Bad4 - I wasn't trying too hard, there were simply one or two sections, notably the sitting on the hat memory, that were worded in an incredibly awkward fashion. I rewrote how he sat on the hat at least 5 times.

    If I did try too hard on anything, it was attempting to hit every single point I could think of to make Yankel as pathetic as possible. I DID forget shaving, now that I think about it. But it's sefirah, so I guess it wasn't on my mind when I put this together.

    I guess the argument could be made that there was too much stammering - but Yankel is a pretty nervous little guy. If normal people get a little scared and stutter in front of Rosh Yeshiva, kal v'chomer by Yankel.

    I've seen/heard people refer to big rabbis as "Shlita" in their presence/when addressing/introducing them like that. It clearly is very over-the-top and uneccesary, so I really wanted to use it.

  8. I have to agree that a 12 person van is a little much. The humor was appreciated.

    What's the story with the motorcyle Rabbi?

  9. It's really just the name, which is an amalgamation of "Krum" and "Fry" (or Frei, whatever), as in "not religious" - and he's a rabbi that rides a motorcycle, which isn't so "Frum" in the Jewish world the story takes place in.

    I'm kind of sad no one got that... I thought it was hilarious when it popped into my mind.

  10. "“I a-appreciate the Rosh Yeshiva Shlita’s advice and time… I’ll try my best.”

    “No, no. You’ll do your best, none of this I’m gonna try business. It’ll all work out, you’ll be fine,” Rav Gezunterman smiled and gave a double thumbs-up."

    Yoda would be proud:

    And see:

    About Shidduchim, too!


Comments are welcome, and greatly encouraged! I certainly want to foster open discussion, so if you have something to say about anything I've written, don't hesitate! I also greatly enjoy comments/critiques of my stories. But please, no spam.