The night before his appointment Asher’s body passed a new shade—dark brown as if his bladder had turned into a cola machine. Lying awake on his dormitory mattress,he looked around at his roommates, all of them asleep. Why wasn’t he? Why was G-d torturing him? Where he’d gone wrong? He tried his best to stay away from girls. He rarely watched movies and never looked at porn. So why him?” G-d please show me what I need to fix and I’ll fix it. But please make me better.”
Towards morning he fell into a deep dreamless sleep and he woke up still feeling tired. In taxi to the hospital he felt so drowsy that he asked the driver to wake him when they arrived.
Dr. Sadeh was hardly the imaged of the distinguished professor of medicine. He wore jeans and a rumpled blue chambray shirt that hung tight over his oversized belly. His white hair was long and uncombed but diplomas on his wall said Hebrew, University, Harvard and Sloan Kettering.
“So,” the doctor tilted toward him, his pince-nez.dropping to the tip of his bulbous nose “You are still passing blood?”
“Then we must do a cystoscopy.”
“A cystoko what?” Asher could scarcely wrap his tongue around the word. He had readier grasp on thousand year old Aramaic phrases.
“A tiny probe inserted inside the organ determine if you have a growth.”
“Well there are many types of growths but we have to rule that out. That’s why I’d like to do this quickly..”
Asher’s heart went into a rapid flutter. “Does it hurt?”
“No, I wouldn’t say. We do it under general.”
“General???” Asher’s heartbeat grew even quicker. Grandpa Fred, his father’s dad died under general during a routine procedure. Asher barely remembered him; Grandpa Fred lived in Minnesota where his Dad had grown up. He always remembered birthdays and every winter he sent each of Tumim children a bright red greeting card emblazoned with the words “season’s greetings.” When Asher asked his father to explain the phrase he said that it was like the greetings for a good week or a good month or a good year .It wasn’t until years later, when Fred died and his father didn’t sit shiva that Asher learned that Grandpa Fred was a goy. That didn’t bother him ; he liked the guy. How could he dislike a grandfather who mailed him a $100 bill twice each year?
“Call the office to schedule it but don’t wait too long.”
Asher paused to think There were still three weeks left to the zeman. It would certainly be easier for him to do this when he wasn’t at yeshiva. . Then no one would notice his absence but if something was growing he didn’t want to take any chances.
“Can I wait three weeks?”
“Yes but not a day more.”
The day after the Hindy Lipsky blowout Molly traveled to Amuka the grave of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Yonatan Ben Uziel who himself left the world without having ever married but intercedes in heaven on behalf of singles.
The trip helped. Right after Molly got home the matchmakers began to calling and sending resumes and now she was turning them away.
“Not now, He’s not available. Let’s revisit this after Shavuot….after Tisha B’Av after Rosh Hashanah” When the phone quieted she googled prostate cancer reading article after article until her eyes were became so full of tears that she couldn’t read anymore.
Asher topped the head of her list of worries but her other kids weren’t far behind.
Just after Purim Molly had met with Rabanit Stark. “The mentoring hasn’t worked out, “I was so hopeful I don’t think we’re serving Bella’s needs.”
Molly looked away not wanting the principle to see her crying. “So what’s next.”
Her mouth was so choked up that she could hardly talk.
“Have you considered Beit Batsheva.”
At Beit Batsheva no one would look askance at nail polish or denim.
“Wouldn’t that push Bella further,” Molly glanced at Bella who sat beside her in her crisp blue school uniform her hair tied into a neat pony tail. She imagined her in a tank top and torn jeans, her arms full of tattoos.
“I hope not. I think they’ll know how to deal with her. Frankly. I don’t think we are helping her here.”
So that was it . Bella got the boot, Rabanit Stark would allow her to finish out the year but in September she’d start at another school.
Elazar’s situation wasn’t much better. His Rosh Yeshiva phoned, no personal meeting but he said that Elazar spent more time away from the study hall more than inside of it. He didn’t offer a solution.
Asher’s medical crisis had pushed her other worries to the back of her mind, but they were still there. “Oh G-d,”she cried. “Help. Maybe there’s a mitzvah I could do? Show me what you want for me.”
The following morning she saw the notice. It was, printed on the back page of a neighborhood advertising circular wedged between an ad announcing boys swimming classes and an apartment for sale. “Seeking volunteers to drive chemotherapy patients to the hospital.”
“You’ll be an angel of mercy, ferrying these poor pathetic souls to the lifesaving treatments and they’ll share all their woes with you. That will lighten your load,” said Nahum.
He was joking but he had read her mind. That was exactly what she wanted.
Her first passenger was Miriam Attias . A stout grandmotherly woman who wore many gold bangle bracelets a flowered dress and non matching flowered headscarf, Mrs. Attias worked at a tiny grocery store at the end of Molly’s block. Mrs Attias didn’t look sick but then again neither did Asher.
“Hamuda at. You are so sweet. “.
Not only did Mrs. Attias show Molly with blessings, she plied her with home baked date cookies–“she forces me to eat them, I’m getting fat, Molly complained to Nahum but Mrs. Attias was the exception. The other passengers were empty handed and for the most part, silent. They used their travel time for texting, reading psalms, texting , or simply dosing.
It didn’t take long before Molly spilled out Asher’s story to Shulamis Black. .. Asher had sworn to secrecy grabbing her hands and begging her not to reveal anything to anyone but holding it in felt like holding onto dynamite . If she couldn’t release it she’d explode.
“You poor dear, “said her friend and right there, that is in the middle of Rehov Hakablan Shulamis reached out her long arms and hugged Molly. Molly thought it would end at that. Shulamis usually listened without trying to solve her problems but today she offered advice.
Remember my grandson Nachi and his terrible asthma, ….”
Shulamis had at least two dozen grandchildren. Did Shulamis really expect her to remember all of their names.
“My daughter in law took him to a healer. I don’t usually go in for that new age rubbish but this chappie solved the problem for good”
Why hadn’t she thought of that? She knew more about alternative healing than Shulamis Black.
Back at home she told Nahum. He was angry with her.
“You shouldn’t have said anything. Now everyone will know.,” His eyes were dark and unforgiving . “You know these guys are charlatans.”
“Please, “What have we got to lose?”Molly raised her hands begging.
“Well. ” he opened the door “Asher’s grown. Let him decide”
Asher was a lot like Nahum, that is conservative, dismissive of Molly’s beloved health foods and new age ideas but , quite amazingly, Asher agreed. “It can’t hurt to try but we need to do this soon. ,” he said. And Molly scheduled the appointment for the next day..
Dr. Yosef Engel’s practice was located in an antiquated downtown office building where the was so small that two fully grown adults could barely fit inside together. In spite of herself. Molly actually standing close to her oldest son. . For those short moments she felt as if the clock had turned back to the years when Asher had been her only child. That wasn’t out of choice; eight months after Asher was born Molly became pregnant again but she lost that baby and two others after that until the doctors scraped away the shards of undelivered placenta. Yet she cherished the those years when he was her only child. .
There was no receptionist. The doctor left his door left ajar with a sign dangling from the handle telling them to walk in. The waiting room was empty. Asher and Molly sat side on a battered grey IKEA couch each of them caught up in a storm of nerves. Molly pulled out a tehllim and began to recite. Asher just stared at the paintings on the wall, an odd mix of children’s drawings, and poster sized diagrams of the body’s pressure points and energy centers.
“Do you think he’s going to be very weird?” .
Molly smiled. “Probably a bit new agey but—–
Just then Dr. Engel appeared. He wasn’t tall but he was lean, pleasant loooking, his short dark beard speckled with white and he wore a black velvet yarmulke.
“Were you expecting me to wear a turban or a toga?” His voice was velvety almost musical and he had a thick Israeli accent.
Asher and Molly broke into nervous giggles. Dr. Engel led Asher into his examining room. “Lie down,–he pointed to a red leather padded massage table.
“No, not until you say what you’re going to do to me.”
“Nothing happens without your consent. Agreed?” He extended his hand for Asher to shake. It was warm and strong.
Asher climbed onto the table.
“So tell me about yourself.” “Do you like what you are doing? As you happy.”.
Was he happy? When the senior students in the Bais Medrash accepted his ideas, he glowed with pride. But lately he barely kept with his regular study partners.
“It’s okay. I like it enough.”
“Sometimes our bodies speak when we can’t.”
Asher lifted his head and sat upright on the table.
“Where did you learn this? I mean did you go to medical school?
Dr. Engel laughed softly. “You yeshiva boys are all the same. I spent two years at Medical school and then I traveled to China where my mind opened to other kinds of medicine.
“Tell me how much do you sleep.
“I get up at six thirty and I learn till about midnight.”
“You drink coffee?”
“Trying to cut down.”
Dr. Engel nodded.
Once upon a time Asher had played the guitar devoting hours to mastering new chords but for the past few months he hadn’t gone near it. Not that anyone from the yeshiva told him not to. It was his own decision. Playing the guitar didn’t seem as important as studying.
“Make some time for yourself.” Dr, Engel cupped his hands against the base of Asher’s scull. Asher didn’t usually like being touched but this was different. Dr. Engel’s hands felt good, warm and gentle at the same time. .
“Close your eyes,” and immediately Asher drifted into a sweet sleep.
At hour later Dr. Engel tapped on his shoulder. “Get up. It’s time to go now.’
On the elevator ride down Molly asked about the treatment. .
“I have bad news for you. ”
Huh. Molly looked at her son oddly.
“Mom, you just paid NIS 200 for me to have a nap.”
That same day, Asher’s flow ran pale yellow without the slightest tinge of red. He could hardly keep himself from yelping and jumping up and down with joy but he didn’t quite trust what he had just seen. But one bloodless day was followed by another until an entire week went by . For the first time in months, Asher slept well and concentrated on his studies. Though he was more than halfway through Dr. Sadeh’s three week long window he pushed the cystoscopy to the deepest corners of his mind and he even, for a few brief moments, entertained thoughts of about dating.
Then during the final week of the semester, he noticed a tiny red dot. It was so small that he could have overlooked it but he didn’t. The problem had gone on hiatus. It hadn’t fully gone away. The fact that it did stop gave him hope–maybe he wasn’t doomed after all, but he still needed to check this out. The Torah was quite clear about health matters-a Jew was required to heed the advice to doctors. That was a mitzvah. Besides, wouldn’t be able to date with a clear conscience until he got to the bottom of this.
On the last night of the zeman Rav Benzi gathered all the older guys together the air in his tiny office thick with sweat and nerves.
“Most of you have dates lined up and I know what you are looking for , pardon my slang. “A haticha, Size 2 right ….Or even better,” he went on. size zero in the latest Paris fashions. Without that oy va voy. ” the rabbi’s high pitched voice trailed off as if he were yodeling.
“I even heard of one fellow who refused to date a wonderful Bas Yisroel because she was ever so slightly G-d forbid” he pulled on his beard for emphasis.. “….. plump. Gevalt!!! Is this how we’re going to build generations of Jews!” Now the rabbi lifted his arms into the air. “Give a girl a chance. Not just one meeting.! You can’t know so quickly. You don’t know how they look upon this in heaven.”
How could Rav Benzi have known about plump Aliza Kleinman homely Elisheva Lefkowitz and that long forgotten girl in the turquoise gown whom he “met” on the computer screen?
Asher opened his notebook and penned a resolution. The next time, if there were to be a next time he’d meet the girl twice, that is unless she had three eyes, a tail or looked like Godzilla.
Musical Chairs is a novel about a Jerusalem American BT family’s struggle to find a bride for their FFB yeshiva bochur son.
You can read
Chapter 1 here,
Chapter 2a here,
Chapter 2b here,
Chapter 3a here,
Chapter 3b here
Chapter 3c here
Chapter 3d here
Chapter 3e here
Chapter 3f here
Chapter 4a here
Chapter 4b here
Chapter 4c here
Chapter 4d here
Chapter 5 here
Chapter 6 here