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Below please find an original short story that I hope soon will appear in the pages of Horizon Magazine. Please read it in conjunction with an earlier story Tefilin and Teacher that you will find by clicking here. Tefilin and Teacher will be published by The Jewish Press sometime after Passover of this year.
Shabbos Mincha with Reb Isser
Reb Isser knew intuitively something was wrong.
Truth be told. I didn’t know what to do. My marriage was in jeopardy. My children felt
conflicted. I wanted to become more Jewishly observant. My wife and children did not. Our
family had suffered a near meltdown on Erev Pesach over kashrus in our home. Whatever
shalom bayis still remained was crumbling fast.
I hurried to shul Shabbos afternoon to greet Reb Isser at the front door. “He’ll know what
to do,” I reassured myself. In the two years since I had first wandered into his minyan, he
became my mentor, confidant and proxy zayde.
I began helping Reb Isser prepare shalosh seudos every Shabbos afternoon.
We draped the folding tables with white plastic table cloths, set out twenty-five
place settings and served as much tuna fish, chopped fish balls, herring, cake and
soda pop as we could find left over from the morning Kiddush. The minyan would file
down the narrow stairwell after mincha, line up around the kitchen island to wash and make
“ha motsi” over the challah buns we had placed in a wicker basket to the left of the sink.
“Nu, Mr. Busch. What’s on your mind?” Reb Isser finally inquired as I had hoped he
would. I guess he noticed how preoccupied I must have appeared.
“Well … uh, trouble at home, Reb Isser. My wife … you know,” I responded, searching for
the right words but hopeful I would not have to explain too much.“No, I don’t know. You want to
tell me?”“My wife is very unhappy with me.” I hesitated to continue.
“Go on,” Reb Isser encouraged me, as if he had some familiarity with this problem.
“I spend too much time in shul, she thinks. By the time I get home Saturday night, now with
spring and summer, it's too late"
"Too late for what?” he asked.
“She wants to go out in the early evening, you know, a movie, maybe something to
eat.” Reb Isser reflected for several “interminable” moments. Waiting nervously, I hoped his
would be a sympathetic decision.
“Mr. Busch,” Reb Isser spoke softly. He removed a single photograph from his shirt pocket.
For someone as forthright as Reb Isser usually was, he seemed reluctant to speak.
“I’ve shown this picture to no one in fifty years since I came to America,” he confessed,
handing it to me.
“Reb Isser, you don’t have …”
“Mr. Busch,” he gently interrupted, “Yes, I do.” I was afraid I knew where he was going with
this. I fell silent.
“This was Rivkale, aleah hashalom,” he said, pointing to a pretty, slight woman with
delicate features. Her hair was put up in a bun, her long flowery dress seemed very
appropriate attire for what appeared to be a family picnic. “And these,” he continued, his
forefinger trembling, “are mein kinderlach …” He blinked repeatedly, trying to hold
back the tears.
“Reb Isser, please don’t,” I pled. He handed me a tissue.
“Forgive me, Mr. Busch, but you need to hear this. This is Yossele,” he pointed to the older of
his two children, a boy who looked to be about six years old. “I used to curl his peyos around
this finger,” he recalled, holding up the same forefinger with which he had pointed to Yossele
in the picture. “And this, this …” he began to sob. “This is … is Chavaleh ...” whose shoulder
length red hair her mother specially fashioned into ringlets for this picnic, Reb Isser tearily
recalled. “Do you see this spot?” he asked me, pointing to the hem of Chavaleh’s white dress. I
nodded. “It’s a grass stain. She fell running in the park that day.”
I couldn’t look any more. I turned aside and began nervously dividing up the herring
among several paper plates.
“Mr. Busch,” he patted my hand. I released the fork. “My wife felt I was working too much.
She told me many times that our sholem bayis was much more valuble than the few extra
zlotys I was bringing home. I was a druggist, you know. In those days, you had to
make up the prescriptions by hand, took a lot of time so I stayed after hours. Did I tell
you that story?” I nodded again.
“But did I listen to her? No, I was young, a pisher, like you,” he smiled ever so
faintly, handing me another tissue.“Thank you.”
“The Germans came to our village. The men they rounded up. The women and
children ... they took away, gone. We never saw them again. Mr.Busch, I never saw them
again! Understand?” I handed him back the picture which he returned to his pocket.“Go home
to your wife and children.” He could not have said it more plainly.
From the stairway, a voice beckoned. “Reb Isser? … Ashrei!” We hurried back upstairs.
I had some hard choices to make. I began thinking about how I could become more
observant, even if only incrementally, but without putting my family at risk. Fairly certain I
knew what the right path was and where it led, I did as Reb Isser had advised. Though I was
worried that I might be coming home too late, I realized The One Above sends molochim
into our lives when we need guidance to make the right decision. This was one of those
instances. Reb Isser taught me there is a makom for every man. For the now, mine would be
at home where I needed to repair the foundation of my family’s sholem bayis. By so doing,
my children would have the opportunity to learn the invaluable lesson of which the Germans
had denied Yossele and Chavaleh.
Alan D. Busch
mincha-the afternoon prayer
reb-yiddish expression of respect shown an older man
erev Pesach-the eve of Passover
Kashrus-kosher dietary laws
kiddush-meal served with grape juice or wine after the morning prayer
shalom bayis-peace at home
shalosh seudos-the third Sabbath meal eaten after the afternoon prayer
minyan-prayer quorem of ten adult men
ha motsi-blessing over bread
aleah ha shalom-may she rest in peace
pisher-yiddish slang, young boy
Ashrei-the first word of the afternoon prayer