A Starfish in the Supermarket // Making a difference, in miniature

By Sarah Massry

Slouched behind the register was a skinny boy with swarthy skin and brown eyes. He couldn’t have been any older than 17 years old. His ill-fitting jeans were frayed; his washed-out T-shirt was too big on him. His jet black hair wasn’t particularly long or styled, just in need of a good trim. But although he may have looked the part of a typical supermarket cashier, he didn’t exude the same confidence and “chill” of the others working beside him.

Towering over him was a middle-aged man, distinguished and confident, with a long beard. He was the respected rosh yeshivah of a local institution.

The two of them locked eyes, but just for a moment, before the cashier glanced down to check his cell phone. Unperturbed, the rosh yeshivah smiled as he tapped the sullen teenager on his shoulder. “How’s it going?”

The young man lifted his eyes for a second as he mumbled a reply in a thick Israeli accent. Without hesitation, the rosh yeshivah switched over to Hebrew. The two of them talked for several minutes. It turned out that the young man’s name was Shalom*, and he was from Yerushalayim. His parents were Breslover chasidim. His father still lived in Eretz Yisrael but his mother had recently moved to New York, as they were separated and planning to divorce. For now, Shalom was living alone in Monsey.

“I happen to have a yeshivah,” the older man said. “I’d love to have you as a student.”
Shalom looked up in confusion, as up until now he’d assumed that the man was just another customer. “But I don’t even—”

The man smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ll make it work. Take down my number and give me a call later tonight.”

Shalom dutifully punched the numbers into his cell phone.

“By the way, the yeshivah is called Talmud Torah Shomrei Emes*.”

Shalom shrugged; the name was meaningless to him. He was too new to Monsey to recognize it as one of the most prestigious yeshivos in town.

It took several days for Shalom to work up the courage to make the phone call. True to his word, the rosh yeshivah was determined to make it work.

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