While Joe didn’t stay up all night staring at the sky as Rabbi Tzvi had cautioned him, he did remain sitting on the bungalow’s front step with his chin resting between his knees for an interminable amount of time, thinking about Sharon. He remembered the first time he began to feel that she was more than just a nice girl being nice to him. It was the beginning of Winter Break and Sharon had invited him to her house in Cedarhurst because he had a final that Friday morning and the dorms had emptied out and he wouldn’t have gotten to Potomac in time for Shabbos. It began to snow that night and they had gone out to the bench on the covered patio of her parents’ house to watch the light flakes fall through the streetlights. They were overdressed in coats and scarves and hooded sweatshirts and he remembered looking over at Sharon and felt a warm sensation in his chest rising up. He knew that they weren’t on the same paths in their religiousness, but she was such a great friend, and her cheeks were so rosy from all her bundles… She caught him staring, and not wanting her to think anything, he fabricated being spaced out. Joe never went any further with his “feelings” for Sharon, not even mentioning them to anyone.
But what were those feelings? He couldn’t dismiss them anymore, as Rabbi Tzvi’s question hung in front of him. Was that the only reason he didn’t let go of Sharon as easily as the other girls he knew? Was he keeping her around for a chance to condense those feelings into something else? It seemed so wrong, but then why did they become so close his first years at NYU?
Joe lifted his eyes and looked out on the lawn in front of Rabbi Tzvi’s bungalow, the stillness of the night exacerbated by the buzzing of crickets. He made his way inside. He changed into his pajamas in the bathroom, skipping to brush his teeth, and fell into the cot, too frustrated to look for any linens or pillows.
Shabbos day passed faster than he wanted it to. Davening in the morning began closer to 9:20 AM, the ba’al koreh was slow and the kiddush afterwards was drawn out as its sponsor told long-winded stories about his mother in memory of her yartzeit. The meal was nice but hurried. Joe attempted to rest in the afternoon, and by the time he finally fell asleep and woke up, there was only one hour before minchah. He learned with Rabbi Tzvi until it was time for shalosh seudos, which was only a short hour before ma’ariv and the conclusion of his Shabbos away.
As promised, Joe was directed immediately after havdalah to the parking lot where his ride was preparing to depart. Joe thanked Mrs. Aaronson for her hospitality and with his bag on his shoulder, he walked with Rabbi Tzvi to the gate.
“Did you think over what we talked about?” Rabbi Tzvi asked him in a grave voice.
“Yeah,” Joe lied. “Let’s go forward.”
Rabbi Tzvi glanced at Joe for an extended moment and then looked down. “So, I’ll get in touch with Mrs. Rosenzweig, maybe tonight, just to see what her side is saying, and I’ll get back to you afterwards. I could use an excuse to drive in.”
“We aren’t planning anything yet,” Joe reminded him.
“Correct. Perhaps you’ll need a shoulder to cry on if it doesn’t work out, but from where you are holding some decision should be made this week. I’ll be davening for you.”
Joe took a heightened breath. “Thank you. For everything, really.”
“With pleasure,” the Rabbi said with a wink. “This is just the beginning, you know. The fun begins after the engagement, but things really begin after the chupah, and then they really begin…”
They had reached the gate and saw only one car with its headlights on and a young girl standing by the passenger side, talking on a cellular phone. Rabbi Tzvi immediately addressed her. “Mazal tov,” he said enthusiastically. She nodded in thanks and pointed to her phone.
“Yes, Ima,” she said into the phone. “Yes, Ima.”
From behind the open trunk emerged a tall young-looking man, clean-shaven with conservative glasses and a whiff of Old Spice. “Gut voch, Rabbi Aaronson,” he said.
“Gut voch, Gershon,” the rabbi returned. They shook hands. “How was Shabbos with the kallah?”
“I think that she’s warming up to my family.” He extended his hand to Joe. “You must be Yosef.”
“That’s right,” Joe said as Gershon crushed his hand.
“And on time. Thank you for helping us out like this.”
“I should thank you,” Joe corrected him.
“We’ll see if you thank me when I make you stay awake,” Gershon said with a smile. “I’ll put your bag in the trunk and you can get into the passenger seat.”
“Don’t you want your kallah to sit there?” Joe asked.
He looked at him as if Joe had said something in Greek. “No, she’d prefer the back seat.” Then Gershon bent down and lugged a rolling suitcase into the trunk.
Joe took the opportunity to extend his hand towards the Rabbi. “Thank you again, rabbi.”
“I’m glad we were able to give you some respite. I see that you needed it.”
“That’s what it looks like,” Joe said with a smile.
The Rabbi patted him on the shoulder forcefully. “I’ll let this one slide.”
The trunk door slammed, and they heard Gershon call, “Chana, are you ready?”
Joe got into the car and adjusted himself in the seat. Chana also got into the car, her ear still attached to her phone, relieving Joe of having to introduce himself. When Gershon got in the car Joe waved goodbye to Rabbi Tzvi, who waved back and went back through the gate.
“That’s a special man there,” Gershon said, pointing to Rabbi Tzvi. “You have a big privilege knowing him.”
“Very much so,” Joe agreed. Gershon reached over Joe’s lap and opened the glove compartment, extracting a pair of CDs from inside before closing it. He put one of the CDs into the car stereo and started the car. Unfamiliar orchestral music started, transitioning into wedding music with a male singer that Joe didn’t recognize. “He’s going to sing at our wedding,” Gershon remarked.
“Is he well-known?” Joe asked.
“Not really. This is his demo.”
The car backed up onto the road and as they slowly drove past the colony Joe took one last look at it. It was a simple semi-circle of small bungalows situated around a lawn, but Joe felt it was more than just that. There was a familiarity created from the closeness of the families and the shared Jewish life. After ten seconds they were slowly gaining speed as the lights ended and only the high beams guided them through the forest on both sides of the road.
“You know Rabbi Tzvi from here?” he asked his ride.
“This is his first year on colony,” Gershon replied, lowering the music. “His bungalow actually belongs to his in-laws.”
“Yes, I heard.”
“He was in yeshiva with one of my brothers. He came to our vort.”
“When is your wedding?”
“Less than a month,” he said, exhaling heavily.
Joe sympathized with him. “Wow,” he said with an excited face.
Gershon nodded. “Yeah, that’s why we’re rushing back. Chana has a whole day of appointments and tons of things that need to be done before the Three Weeks.”
“I thought that we only minimize business during the Nine Days.”
“You’re right, but if it’ll make Chana feel calmer knowing that she’s prepared, then I won’t argue. Chana, are you with us?”
“Yes,” she said from the back seat. “I can’t hear what you’re talking about.”
“That’s OK. We’re just getting acquainted. This is Yosef— what’s your last name?”
“Charnoff,” Joe answered.
“Are you related to the Charnoffs from Avenue L?” Chana inquired.
He shrugged. “Probably not.”
“Oh.” The sounds of her cell phone keys filled the silence that followed.
“How did you end up in Flatbush?” Gershon asked.
“I am in grad school at NYU and wanted to be in a more religious neighborhood than the Village, so I rent a basement.”
“Where?” Chana asked. Joe told them. “That’s a nice neighborhood. Are you planning on staying there?”
“I don’t know,” Joe said sadly. “My roommate moved out and my landlords are allowing me to stay and only pay my share, but I don’t know for how long.”
“We’re looking for a basement,” Chana said. “Maybe we’ll check it out when we drop you off.”
“Let’s see how awake we’ll be when we get to Brooklyn,” Gershon told her. “And besides, I don’t think that Yosef would want us moving in on his personal space.”
Joe was astonished. “Your wedding is in a month and you don’t have a place to live?”
Gershon took a deep breath. “Hashem is sending us on a goose chase of sorts, but it’ll be sorted out.”
With nothing to add, Joe opted not to respond and so for a few minutes they listened silently to the big-band wedding music. Joe recognized a tune he knew and wondered what it was doing on a Jewish wedding album but didn’t say anything. They passed by “The Four Corners” and when he remembered how he hung up on Sharon, his stomach churned. He couldn’t believe how quickly everything had come about. A week ago, he spent an entire Shabbos with her, and now he had to tell her that he would never speak with her ever again? He couldn’t just give up the shidduch; he had never felt this way about a girl who apparently wanted to go out with him. If they kept going, he’d have to end it with Sharon, blunt and final. But how could he just throw four years out the window? Sharon wasn’t just going to accept it, but if it had to be done…
However upbeat the music was, it wasn’t making him feel any bit uplifted. He leaned his forehead on the window and watched the forest pass by, an occasional house or two breaking the monotony. They slowed down at a traffic light and Gershon shook him lightly.
“Don’t fall asleep on us,” Gershon requested. “We need your presence until we at least get on the highway. You’re saving us from yichud and where there are no other cars around, we can’t be alone.”
“I wasn’t sleeping,” Joe told them, leaning back in his seat. “I was just trying to spot deer.”
“There are deer in these woods?” Gershon asked.
“Probably,” he replied blankly.
Gershon hummed. “I’ve never seen one.”
“I’ve lived in the suburbs all my life,” Joe explained. “I’ve seen plenty.”
“Where are you from?” he asked.
He shook his head. “No, a small suburb outside of DC.”
“I think Chana has cousins that live near DC. Chana?” Gershon glanced around. “She’s out.”
“She’s asleep?” Joe looked back to see her curled up against the door. “How could she fall asleep with the music?”
“The speakers weren’t tuned to play in the back. Besides, she had a tiring Shabbos.”
“Really? I felt like there were hours of free time.”
“She was put in a bedroom with a baby who Chana said woke up several times during the night, and then she was dragged to the kiddush this morning. Our meal was long and then she graciously took my two-year old niece and nephew to the playground to let my sister-in-law sleep, only to find her room again occupied when she came afterwards with the mother trying to soothe the teething baby.”
“Wow. How long have you known her?”
He thought about it. “We started dating before Purim, our engagement was before Pesach…four months or so? Why?”
“I find it—I’m amazed at how you’re walking into marriage, just like that.”
“I guess,” he said after a short pause. “I mean, what’s the problem?”
“It’s no problem. It’s just… You have no qualms about dropping everything and devoting your life to a stranger…”
Gershon smiled awkwardly. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
“No, I’m just…I’m trying to figure out what I’m not seeing. Like, what made you decide that she was the one?”
“The one? I mean, we met a few times and I enjoyed meeting her and after a few weeks they said that she was ready for an engagement, and so…” He finished his sentence with a shrug.
“You didn’t feel coerced?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, you didn’t feel as if you couldn’t say no when you found out she was expecting an engagement?”
“No, it’s not like that. I could’ve said no, but I didn’t want to.”
Joe heard in Gershon’s tone that he needed to explain himself. “I’m only asking because…well, I guess I can tell you. I’m involved in a shidduch that looks like it’s going…it’s going well.”
“Really?” Gershon exclaimed. “That’s great to hear.”
Immediately he realized what he had just articulated and was amazed at not becoming apprehensive. Confidently, he said, “Yeah, it is.”
“I see that we’re not just shlepping back anybody, we’re assisting in hachnassas kallah.”
Joe held up his hands. “Well, we’ll see about that.”
“What’s wrong? You said that it’s going well. You wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true.”
“Correct, but…until it happens—”
“Right. No eyin hora.”
“Not entirely. There are…other things…”
“Well, you should sort them out, because you don’t want to lead her on.”
“No, it’s not her. She’s really amazing—”
“So, what’s the problem?”
He certainly won’t understand. “It’s just me. Being able to jump into a new life. I can’t get over the fact that I’ve only known her for two weeks.”
“How many dates have you been on
“Five, but we met three times in the last week.”
Gershon reached over and placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “So, don’t feel rushed. Take how much time you need. Are you going out tomorrow?”
“All day,” Joe said matter-of-factly.
Gershon slowed down as they approached a traffic light. He turned to Joe. “Then before you go out, decide what you want to see that will help you make your decision. After the date, go over and see if you found your answers.”
“I know that already, but—”
“And even if you didn’t,” Gershon interrupted, “Ask yourself if those things that you’re looking for are things that can be answered with another date. Don’t expect more of her than she’s capable of.”
Joe thought for a minute. “I might have to think about this for a while.”
“Go ahead. We’re just getting on the highway.”
“Where are we?” a sleepy voice asked from the back while stretching.
“Nowhere near Woodbury Commons,” Gershon answered.
“Can we stop?” she asked with a stretch. “They have a great Lenox outlet.”
“They’re probably closed by now, but we should wait for the registry gifts anyway. Besides, Yosef wants to get back…” Gershon looked over at Joe as if asking permission to share the news with Chana. Joe mouthed to him, in so many words, in the negative. “He wants to get back to Brooklyn before Pizza Time closes.”
“I don’t think they’re open Saturday nights in the summer,” Chana said.
“Whatever’s open,” Joe conceded.
Just then, Joe felt his phone vibrating. He pulled it out of his pocket and saw Sharon’s name on the Caller ID. With a heavy sigh, he rejected the call.
“You can take it if you want,” Gershon assured him. “You don’t have to entertain us.”
“No, it’s not that…” Joe started. Then he thought that he already shared one secret of his. “How much longer ‘till Brooklyn?” he then asked.
“We can stop in Monsey if you’re hungry,” Gershon told him.
“No, I can wait. But how long?”
“At least two hours, if we get through Manhattan easily.”
“Do you mind if I make a call?”
“I just told you that you could.”
What are Joe’s real doubts? What stores did Gershon and Chana register at? Does Pizza Time open on Saturday nights in the summer? Find out more at www.nathanwolff.com and while there order your copy of Outdated NOW!