Mima Leah comes to visit, and Mirish and Mattel face off over some disposable pans. Rabbi and Mrs. Asoulin return.
* * *
Mima Leah attempted to bombard the Asoulins with questions, but found the language barrier simply too daunting. After a short stay, Rena rose once again to walk Mrs. Asoulin to the door and thank her for visiting, only this time, Mrs. Asoulin placed a hand on Rena’s arm.
“Rena,” she said. “You will forgive me for overstepping my boundaries, but I, we, Aron and I, we have arranged for you to meet Aron’s brother.”
“Meet his brother?” said Rena. “Why? Is it something to do with the house?”
Rabbi and Mrs. Asoulin were uncertain how to proceed. “To meet him for marriage purposes,” said Rabbi Asoulin gently.
Rena turned bright red. “Oh, thank you, but no. I’ll be returning home shortly, and I couldn’t possibly think about marriage now. My heart and my mind are with my father and my mother.”
Mrs. Asoulin’s face was serious. “Rena, you must always be thinking about marriage. Nothing will bring more pleasure to your parents, your mother in This World and your father in the Next World, than for you to be married and to begin raising a family.”
“I understand,” said Rena. “But not now…”
“I don’t accept,” said Mrs. Asoulin. “And we have already arranged it. Yedidiah would be devastated if you didn’t go through with it.”
“What? I don’t even know him. I know nothing about him!” Rena cried.
“You know us,” said Mrs. Asoulin. “Look at me, Rena. You know us. Yedidiah is a yirei Shamayim, a ben Torah and a renowned talmid chacham. What more do you need?”
“Does he speak English?” Rena was being sarcastic, but the Asoulins did not pick up on the nuance.
“Of course, he speaks perfectly,” said Rabbi Asoulin.
“We will speak again after the shivah. It will be good Rena. Trust me,” said Mrs. Asoulin, and before Rena could say another word, she was gone.
Rena turned back to face a cotillion of eyes looking at her curiously. “What was that all about?” said Mrs. Barkoff.
“A shidduch, what else?” said Rena, trying to brush it off. “I don’t know whether to be flattered or furious. Sometimes I feel like I’m public property. I should wear a sign that says Keep Off the Grass. They went ahead and arranged for me to meet Rabbi Asoulin’s brother, Yedidiah.”
“Wait a minute,” Mima Leah interjected. “Did you say Harav Yedidiah Asoulin?”
“No, I said Yedidiah Asoulin.” said Rena.
But Mima Leah was already clearly impressed. She lowered her eyelashes and clucked her tongue twice. Then she shook her head back and forth. “Do not turn them down,” she said firmly.
“Why not?” said Rena. “They’re probably exaggerating — he’s probably the tzedakah collector or something, and they just call him a talmid chacham.”
“Rena, shaaah,” Mima Leah hissed. “You don’t even know what you’re saying. He’s one of those hidden tzaddikim, but those who know, know.”
“Know what?” said Rena, clearly frustrated with Mima Leah’s penchant for innuendo.
“I think Mima Leah is trying to say it might be worth looking into,” her mother interjected softly.
“No,” said Rena. “I won’t even listen to it. He’ll want to live here, and I want to stay with you.”
“If that’s the case, then I will move here,” said Mrs. Barkoff.
Everyone turned to stare at her now, after her astounding statement. “You would do that for me, Ma?” said Rena.
“In a heartbeat,” her mother replied. “In half a heartbeat.”
“Wow,” said Mattel. “You wouldn’t move to California for me. I’ve asked you a hundred times.”
“Quiet, you,” said Suri. Mirish rolled her eyes.
“Well,” said Rena, rubbing both her hands together nervously, reminiscent of her father’s signature gesture. “That certainly changes things, doesn’t it? But I’d still say no. I don’t want to leave my job. I couldn’t live here.” But even as she was saying the words, she was already thinking otherwise. She realized she could easily live in Eretz Yisrael. Even though she’d barely left the small and temporary apartment, she was somehow still managing to feel the special pull of the land.
“We’ll speak to the Asoulins after the shivah,” said Mrs. Barkoff.
“They told me, when I said I couldn’t think about marrying now so soon after Tatty’s petirah, that it would be the best nachas I could give him.”
“It’s true,” said Mrs. Barkoff, laying a hand across her eldest daughter’s shoulders. “We loved you completely, and thought you were perfect exactly as you are, but we always knew how much more you could become once you had your own family. Tatty was looking forward to seeing that, and he never gave up hoping for you.”
“I know,” said Rena. She wasn’t an emotional type, her nursing training having taught her well to keep a tight rein on her feelings, but she had to work hard to avoid unleashing the blubbering sobs that waited at the back of her throat for her to drop her guard. “Thank you, Ma.”
Mima Leah clucked her tongue again. “Good. Very good.”
* * *
“You were a little strong,” said Rabbi Asoulin, half amused and half horrified at his wife’s approach. “No?”
“You have to be strong when it comes to these things,” said Mrs. Asoulin. “The yetzer hara is much stronger. The last thing he wants is for a shidduch to be completed, especially one as special as this.”
“But during shivah?” he asked.
“Especially so. Imagine the zechus it will bring for the father.”
“You still surprise me,” Rabbi Asoulin said. “After all these years.”
Mrs. Asoulin smiled to herself. Then, she said, “Tell me again what Yedidiah said.”
“What he always says. ‘Does she have yiras Shamayim? Does she do chessed? Is she tzanua?’ With such simple requests, you’d think he’d have found a wife already.”
“Those are not simple requests,” said Mrs. Asoulin. “But I think Rena Barkoff will suit him nicely. We shall see.”
To be continued …