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Gilded Cage

Blimi Rabinowitz

What was it about this woman that unnerved him? Was it her pride in her job? Her unfamiliarity with the obvious? The hunger to do, to accomplish, outside of her home?

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

Luzer Brandwein looked carefully at the sign. Mishpachas Spira, it said, gold on wood. There was nothing wrong with it, but also nothing special. Somehow he’d expected The Ilui’s door to have an aura to it. 

It only took one knock, then Pinchas was hugging him, ushering him inside. He stole a quick glance at the living room. Proper upholstered couches, dark dining room set, cream-colored tapestry tablecloth. The off-white color, maybe it was a little off? The Ruv always had white. He filed away the detail to consider later and followed Pinchas to the study. 

The study wasn’t too big, but then again this apartment was only temporary. Pinchas was just starting his climb. Bigger and better things were waiting. 

“Pinchas, Pinchas, such a zchis to see you!” he said, after making a brachah. The rugelach were good, but the confectioner’s sugar on top was unnecessary. The Rebbetzin had never done that. “How are things?” 

Pinchas smiled, and Luzer drank in the light that brightened his gray-green eyes, the way his chiseled face softened. “Chasdei Hashem, things are good. I’m sending my next sefer to the printer in a week or two. You’ll get a copy.” 

“And the family?” 

“Chasdei Hashem.” 

“Good, good.” Luzer traced his finger back and forth through the shower of confectioner’s sugar on the desk. “It’s always good to see you shteiging. It gives me nachas too, you know. But that’s not the reason I came all the way to Montreal.” 

“Avada.” A tilt of the inquisitive face. 

“So it’s like this.” Luzer met the steady eyes. “We never gave a date to it, we always just said the time would eventually come for you to move back to the Tatte and the Kiryeh. You, your rebbetzin, your shver, we all knew it. Of course we didn’t know what would happen last summer.” 

Pinchas swallowed but held his gaze. 

“Now without the Rebbetzin — what a loss, what a tragedy…everyone feels it. You walk in the streets, you get regards from the vieber schil....It’s a hole, you know? So I was talking with the Ruv, and I did some looking around, and it seems to me that you would be very comfortable in the apartment I found you. And the Ruv spoke to the beis din, and they’re very excited to have another dayan there, it’s a big load for the two of them already. And I think the children will be very happy by us, the cheder is growing and there’s a big class already your Naftuli’s age. I didn’t make any official announcement yet, but I hear people talking, you know? Everyone’s getting excited.” Luzer stopped, realizing that he was the only one speaking and that Pinchas hadn’t budged. 

“So…” he looked for a napkin. The last thing he needed was confectioner’s sugar on his good shoes. “So.” 

“So you’re saying,” Pinchas rescued him, passing him a pale pink napkin. Why not white? What was wrong with white? “You’re saying you think it’s time for us to move to the Kiryeh.” 

Luzer nodded. 

“I hear.” A pause. “Look Reb Luzer, for me it’s going home. Even though home without the Mamme isn’t the same. But maybe you’ll talk to my rebbetzin a little? Give her some details? For her this was always in the future, not tomorrow. She’ll be a little surprised, she’ll need some information.” 

Luzer nodded.

Photo: Shutterstock

A few minutes later, Pinchas stepped back in with Devoiry. Luzer moved his chair as far back as he could so things would be comfortable. Pinchas had clued her in already, he could see. “Shalom aleichem rebbetzin.” He nodded in the general direction of the desk. She couldn’t see it, but in his mind “rebbetzin” was lower case. Not like Rebbetzin Sur’ka, the tzaddeikes, may she be poiel in himmel on their behalf. 

“Thank you, Reb Luzer, Devoiry and I really appreciate all the work you’ve done already,” Pinchas said. “Maybe you could just help fill in some details.” 

“My pleasure.” Luzer straightened up. Details were his thing. He started with a description of the apartment — size, layout, nice kitchen, lots of counter space, a double oven. A good building, a chashuv building. Close to shul, even closer to the beis din. The cheder, Naftuli’s soon-to-be rebbi. A star, mammesh. One of the best around. The shopping. The grocery wasn’t like it used to be back when Pinchas was growing up, Mechel had built it up into a real store now, with deliveries and a butcher department. And the people. The kehillah was a real nachas. So many young couples were coming back, putting down roots, finding their place there with the Ruv. It was everything they’d dreamed of. 

“And what about a job?” Devoiry asked. Her voice sounded high, stretched thin. 

“Hmm?” Luzer looked directly at her now, confused. 

“A job. For me. I teach seventh grade here. And I run the extracurricular program, I’m in charge of the school journal and the Rosh Chodesh activities. And I do some workshops for the teachers, about four or five times a year. Enrichment, methodology, new techniques. Is there anything like that for me in Monsey?” 

“Ah,” Luzer said. He took a breath. Then another. “Aha. I hear. A job.” 

Silence carpeted the space between them. 

“Listen, rebbetzin,” he managed. “I hear you. Right now, I wasn’t thinking in that direction, you know? I was thinking, k’nain horah, a chashuve husband, a busy household, all the children k’nain horah…and without the Rebbetzin in the Kiryeh, there are other things, other jobs, the schil, the functions, eppis, you’ll see when you come — you’ll be busier than you imagine.” 

“I hear.” Did she? 

Pinchas nodded and half-smiled at her. The conversation was over. She would sense it, Luzer had known she was a smart one long before he’d ever met her. 

“Thank you again.” She stood up. “We’re very grateful for everything. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to make all these arrangements. I imagine you’ll need to speak to Pinchas a little more, so I’ll wish you a safe trip back. Can I pack up some tzeidah l’derech for you?” You could tell she was well-brought up, that he had to admit. 

Half an hour later, as Pinchas gently closed the door, Luzer looked again at the simple sign, gold on wood. What was it about this woman that unnerved him? Was it her pride in her job? Her unfamiliarity with the obvious? The hunger to do, to accomplish, outside of her home? 

Whoever married Pinchas Spira should have understood that just being the Ruv’s daughter-in-law, The Ilui’s wife, was enough of an identity.

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