J.J Gross
J.J Gross

An authentic Yerushalmi Passover story

Yeruchom Shloimeh Sorkin was on one of his thrice yearly month-long vacations from the yeshivahs where he spent the better part of each day wandering from window to window and from Marlboro to Marlboro. It was the week before Pesach and he had nothing to do. The two oldest boys were profitably engaged in pushing through the crowds of freeloaders stocking up on Pesach foods distributed gratis throughout the haredi neighborhoods thanks to the largesse of American nursing home magnates, diamond dealers and landlords in Brooklyn and Lakewood.

Meilech Shmil and Nutteh Menashe, strapping hulks age 18 ½ and 17 /4 would be bringing home enough burlap sacks of potatoes, onions and root vegetables to last until Rosh Hashanah. They would gather enough fresh and frozen chickens to help the mishpookhe weather the lean weeks of the Sfira, when weddings were not held – weddings and wedding leftovers (not to mention brisses and bris leftovers) being staples of the haredi-yeshivish household diet. Boruch Hashem for the huge freezer that had been paid for by one of Yeruchem Shloimeh’s half dozen ‘Yissocher Zevulun’ partners, naive businessmen in London, Zurich, Montreal, Miami and Sao Paolo who had been promised half of his place in Gan Eden in exchange for supporting him in his full-time Torah studies.

Learning? One cannot claim that he did not learn at all. But being enrolled in three different koilels, and collecting a government stipend from each one (minus the ‘administrative fees’ pocketed by the Roshei Yeshiva) was nearly a full-time job in its own right. Not to mention tapping into the chalukahs (the monthly handout from charities rooted in the European communities from which both donor and recipient are descended, and which are believed to have miraculous powers of healing and success for those who give) of four different Rabbi Meir Baal Haness charities – Poylin, Ziebenbergen, Amerika, and Shoimrei Hachoimois. This he considered legitimate, after all he did have zaydehs or bubbehs from each of the communities these tzedokos represented. And, of course, twice a year he flew to America and Belgium “tzu makhen a schnorr” with an elaborately laminated declaration signed by 18 raboonim attesting to the legitimacy of his non-existent institution. There he would be chauffeured in luxury from door to door by a professional driver who had the secret donor list and knew exactly how much each baleboos would give. The loot would then be split 60/40. Nisht shlekht, all things considered.

Lately Yeruchom Shloimeh, along with many of his chaveirim were also busily engaged in borrowing funds from myriad free loan socieities, and kiting bad checks in order to buy their way into a questionable “sure-fire” real estate deal in Germany which would make them all rich. Or was it in Switzerland? When it came to geography Yeruchom Shloimeh knew very little. But he had bitookhen (faith in the Almighty), and besides the guy who was organizing the whole shmay-dray wore gold cufflinks to koilel every day, and a $400 Habig hat from Austria which was leagues better than the $250 Borsalino Yeruchom Shloimeh wore. Plus this yungerman was married to a girl from Antverpen whose father ostensibly made a fortune in diamonds from Sierra Leone, or was it in Xtacy from Amsterdam? He wasn’t sure. But, as they say “gelt shmekt nisht”, money has no odor. And gold cufflinks speak for themselves.

Anyhow, it was, as we said, the week before Pesach and all of these activities had come to a full stop in order to prepare for the coming yom tov.

Coming home from the 11AM shacharis on Monday morning a week before the Seder, Yeruchom Shloimeh realized he had stepped into bedlam. The house was literally upside down, every bed overturned, every one of his 982 virtually untouched sforim piled on the floors, every piece of furniture pushed hither and yon amidst the frantic efforts of his wife, Devoyreh Bayleh to rid the house of any possible piece of chometz, from a pretzel crumb dropped by one of the three year old twins, to a wad of Badatz certified chewing gum stuck under a table or chair for later use by one of the older ones. And all this madness was taking places even as the five youngest of his nine children were running between Devoyreh Bayleh’s feet, clamoring for something to eat, or drink, or wailing for a diaper change.

It occurred to him that something was not right with this picture. That the entire burden shouldn’t fall on Devoyreh Bayleh’s shoulders alone. Bemeileh all year long she somehow managed to shop, cook, clean and launder for the eleven members of her family even while working as a cashier in a local store and studying toward an associates degree in data processing as a special women’s college that some gedoylim had approved of while others had not. Yeruchom Shloymeh was pretty adroit at rendering himself obtusely oblivious to his wife’s year ’round responsibilities. As with all koilel yungerleit his daily two-hour nap ended conveniently five minutes before Devoyreh Bayleh came home shlepping the groceries, the three youngest children in tow. By the time he returned at night – after finishing the last of his two packs of Marlboros – the apartment would be neat and quiet, the children asleep, a hot supper, courtesy of the prior evening’s chasseneh and few extra touches by his eishes chayil, waiting for him at the head of the dining room table.

But this was different. This was Pesach. And he could see for himself what was going on. Much as he would have preferred to ignore the whole thing, he couldn’t. He had no choice; he had to offer his help. Which, to his credit, he did. He felt very proud of himself.

“You want to help?” Devoyreh Bayleh said, “you can help me by taking a walk”. She was no fool. The last thing she needed was this batlan to whom she was married interfering in her preparations. The children were enough of a nuisance, the last thing she wanted was as another child, one already 39 years old, breaking dishes and telling her how to do things. “Yes, you can really help me by taking a walk.”

Obeying his wife, Yeruchom Shloymeh headed out into the crowded streets of Geulah where pandemonium is always the order of the day. He joined the throngs of other avreichim shuffling aimlessly up and down the streets one hand with a cigarette, the other clutching a cellphone to their ear. What were they all talking about? No one knew for sure. Normally the few words that passersby always seemed to catch were numbers: fiftzig, zibtzig, dreitzig toysend, zekhs hundert, million v’kheitzi. However, now before Pesach taking loans, kiting checks, making dubious investments were not on the agenda. Still it somehow seemed wrong for a haredi young man to be walking the streets without a phone glued to his ear, almost as strange as being on the street without his black hat. Someone had once speculated that the reason why haredi men smoke and talk constantly on the phone is in order to engage in forms of labor that are prohibited on Shabbos. This way when they would make Kiddush Friday evening – declaring the separation between profane and sacred time – there would actually be two things from which they would legitimately be disengaging, something which , however remotely, would echo the six days of creative labor demanded by the Ten Commandments, unlike a life devoted to full-time Torah learning which was not demanded anywhere.

For a full fifteen minutes Yeruchom Shloymeh marched up and down Malkhei Yisroel Street and around Kikar Shabbos. By now he was exhausted, and hungry, and thirsty. It was time for his daily two-hour nap, although he wondered where exactly he might lay his weary bones after so much physical exertion.

Arriving back at the apartment, Devoyreh Bayleh was surprised to see him. “What are you doing back here so soon?” she queried.

“How much help do you expect me to give” he replied.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
Related Topics
Related Posts