Mrs. Barkoff agrees to meet Yedidye.
* * *
Ever since he was a child, people commented about Yedidye’s eyes. “Talking Eyes,” his mother called them, but since he wore thick glasses, they weren’t noticeable unless you were looking directly into them. And since Yedidye kept his head down most of the time, even that was difficult.
So when he knocked and was greeted by Suri, all Mrs. Barkoff could see was a slight young man, somewhere in his thirties, in an old-fashioned but cleaned and pressed suit. His eyes were well hidden. Short dark peyos jutted out from beneath his hat like twin corkscrews. His shoes were worn but freshly polished.
Accustomed to meeting only with the fathers of prospective wives, he was at a loss as to how to approach Mrs. Barkoff. Never in his life had he sat across from a woman who was not his mother, his sister, or a shidduch. But he needn’t have worried. Suri had it all under control.
“Mommy, I would like to introduce you to Yedidye Asoulin. Yedidye, this is my mother, Mrs. Barkoff.”
“It’s my pleasure to meet you,” said Yedidye, lifting his eyes slightly.
“It’s nice to meet you too, Yedidye,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “We’ve heard so much about you. Come, sit down, have some tea.”
Yedidye approached the set table and waited while Suri poured out the hot water for her mother, and then politely declined any refreshments.
“Mrs. Barkoff, if you will permit me,” said Yedidye. “I would like to offer my deepest empathy on the passing of your husband, alav hashalom. From what I have heard of him, he was a wonderful man.”
“He was,” said Mrs. Barkoff. “A wonderful husband, a wonderful father. I still can’t believe he is gone.”
Yedidye nodded his head solemnly, and lowered his eyes. “I can’t even imagine your pain.”
“Thank you,” she replied. “It’s been such a quiet shivah period. He had such a larger-than-life personality, so it feels like something is missing.”
“We comforted each other, Ma,” said Suri, still standing off to the side of Yedidye’s chair. “We tried to, anyway. Maybe we didn’t do such a good job. What was really missing was Tatty.”
“You did a remarkable job, Suri. I don’t know what I would have done without you girls. Who would have thought we would end up spending the entire shivah here in Eretz Yisrael? It seems like Hashem sent the storm to Florida just so you and Suri could meet.”
Yedidye smiled warmly. “That is the way a Jew is supposed to think. Bishvili nivra ha’olam — the world was created for me. But I would much rather have found another way to meet Suri, one that did not involve so much pain.”
“Thank you, Yedidye. Tell me, do you live nearby?”
“Yes. I live next to the Bukharian Shuk, about a 15-minute walk from here.”
“Ah, so you live near your brother?” asked Mrs. Barkoff.
“Yes. We are 12 boys altogether, and three sisters. Some of us live here and some are in France.”
“How interesting. And your parents also live in France?”
“Yes,” said Yedidye, “but we are trying to bring them here. They want to come, but there are still unmarried children and they don’t want to uproot them. I think once everyone is settled they will come.”
“Are you the oldest child?” asked Mrs. Barkoff.
“Yes. I am the bechor.”
A small silence settled between them as they stopped to sip their tea. Yedidye’s acknowledgment as the oldest in the family unraveled a whole chain of unspoken assumptions — questions that would be awkward to ask and even harder to answer.
Mrs. Barkoff tried to imagine what her husband would do in this situation, and she realized that he would never be having this conversation in front of Suri. But sending her out of the room would be embarrassing and might perhaps diminish her standing in Yedidye’s eyes, so Mrs. Barkoff could not do it.
But he would do anything and everything to protect his family, and although he would have been able to find the exact wording to make his inquiries as inoffensive as possible, nothing would have stopped him from getting the information he needed in order to make the right decision.
In her mind, they had already failed Suri once. To do so again was unthinkable. And with Rena’s negative assessment ringing in her ears, she realized she was just going to have to gird herself and get down to business.
“The bechor? How nice. Can I assume that you came here to learn in yeshivah and then stayed on?”
“Something like that.” Yedidye’s reply was too vague to be satisfying.
“Something like what?” said Mrs. Barkoff.
Yedidye shifted in his seat, but only slightly. “It would be best, I think,” he said kindly, “in the absence of Rabbi Barkoff, alav hashalom, that we speak frankly with each other and be spared the burden of misunderstanding.
“I’m sure you want to ask me why I am almost 37 years old and still unmarried. And the truth is, I have no answer for you. It is not for lack of trying. I am searching for three things in a wife: yirat Shamayim, chessed, and tzniut. That is all.”
Mrs. Barkoff nodded, listening, and was unprepared for the burst of rage that threatened to explode from inside of her. She could feel her face reddening, but managed to control her words. After a few deep breaths, she finally said what was on her mind.
“That is all? Are you certain? And you couldn’t find those things in my daughter Rena? Do you understand the pain of rejecting one sister and choosing the other? You claim to be looking for very exalted qualities in a potential wife, but do you possess those qualities yourself? Would you even know them if you saw them?”
To be continued…