B

arry Penner had news, so he cut down on the small talk.

“Okay,” he said for the second time, “listen up, gentlemen.”

Later, he would complain to his wife, Devorah, that he sometimes felt like the other board members came to these meetings to socialize and get out of the office a bit. He’d already cut out the complimentary sushi and iced coffee, but he still had trouble getting down to business. For some reason, Frankel thought his new lawn mower was more interesting than anything on the agenda.

“Yeah, so I took the bull by the horns and I went to visit Hershel myself. I can’t make decisions without facts,” Penner burst out.

It had been an awkward visit, Hershel Levinsky greeting him with genuine excitement, as if he’d come to do bikur cholim. Every one of the Levinsky children — the daughters surrounding their father like a presidential security detail and giving Barry Penner dirty looks — understood why he’d come.

So old Hershel had obliviously described the procedure with spectacular detail. “See this orange?” he said, lifting a fruit from the bowl on the table, “imagine it’s my heart.” And then Hershel went into a step-by-step analysis of the procedure. Penner had endured the lecture, all for the chance to acquire one piece of information.

The men at the meeting had finally quieted down. “So nu, what’d you hear already?” Shaulie Frankel asked. He was still annoyed about the absence of sushi.

“Hershel made it clear that he’s coming to camp, nothing to talk about, the doctors said it’s fine. But then Miriam walked me out with one of the daughters and said it’s not so poshut, not at all. He doesn’t have too much koach and he needs to be monitored. There’s no way he can do the regular stuff — run the meals and davening, plan activities, help the counselors with discipline issues. Even though we don’t expect that much from him”—Penner made a face—“he did fill a certain role. He was the face of the camp to the kids, you know?

I don’t think he can do it.”

“What are the options?” Menachem Holt asked. Holt, Penner realized, was determined not to let this become a conversation about Hershel Levinsky and his value to the camp. This wouldn’t be a debate about Zichron Asher and its budget. “I mean, can we get him an assistant? Maybe a counselor could step up?”

Nachman Levine looked at Penner. “I know, I know, it’s too much money, and we don’t have it. I’ll pay out of my own pocket,” he said pointedly.

“Come on,” Penner said, trying to smile. “We can’t have a 19-year-old as the face of the camp, you know that. When the parents come up on Visiting Day, they expect to be greeted by an adult, someone with a tzurah, someone who allows them to feel comfortable.”

“Okay, what about asking Shia Langsam to pitch in?” suggested Frankel.

Penner raised his eyebrows.

Even Levine backed Penner this time. “Come on, Shaulie, you know what Langsam is good for. He’s great managing the workers, making sure the bunks are standing and the grass is cut, but he has no clue how to work with children or counselors.”

“Okay, so should we hire someone then? It’s a shtickel emergency, no?” Frankel wasn’t giving up.

“Now,” Penner said, spreading his arms wide, smiling beatifically, “how would Hershel feel about that? Besides, we’re not getting someone decent this close to camp. And wait, is Nachman going to pay for that too?” He looked over at Levine. “Because I don’t see extra money in the budget to hire someone real.”