My phone rang, its shrill tone reverberating through the quiet house. I opened one sleepy eye. It was 1:10 a.m. A phone call at this hour could mean only onr thing.
“Mazel tov, Reb Tzvi!” Shragi’s voice was ebullient despite the hour. “Adina just had a baby girl!”
“Mazel tov!” I cried, coughing to hide a surprising surge of emotion. “That’s wonderful! But Leah’s already asleep. I’ll let her know as soon as she gets up.”
“Oh,” said Shragi, sounding disappointed. “I wanted to be the one to tell her, but I guess it’ll have to wait.”
In fact, however, my wife, Leah, was already up. She had heard me talking and grabbed the phone, shrieking with excitement. “Mazel tov! How is Adina feeling? How big was the baby?”
We were overjoyed to share this special moment with Shragi, a young man we had befriended and who had suffered greatly in life.
Technically, Shragi’s little girl wasn’t our biological grandchild, but we shared an emotional bond with her father that our own children found difficult to understand.
In truth, the nachas and sense of accomplishment weren’t really mine; the credit really belonged to my wife. If it hadn’t been for her wisdom and kindness, Shragi’s story might have had a very different ending.
Shragi came into our lives by accident, although of course, nothing is really an accident. At the time, our youngest son was away in yeshivah, and our other children were already married. My wife and I were enjoying this phase of our lives, working less, traveling a bit and enjoying our grandchildren. We relished the peace and quiet that had finally descended on our home—that is, until Shabbos. If one of our married children didn’t come over, we invited local bachurim who were looking for a place to enjoy a hearty meal and good company.
Many of the boys we hosted were students from Yeshivah Ahavas Chesed, which was located just down the road. A lot of the bachurim were from out of town, which made traveling home for Shabbos impractical. We loved to have them over, as they were exceptionally polite and personable. They appreciated my wife’s cooking and the ambiance around our table.
We had first met Shragi a few weeks into the zman several years earlier. He was a big guy, broad-shouldered and somewhat clumsy, but there was an endearing quality about him. Shragi ate and sang with gusto, expressing his opinions loudly and frequently.
We knew very little about him, only that his parents were divorced, his mother was emotionally unwell, and he’d lived with a relative for several years. It was an uncle who had enrolled him in yeshivah. Shragi was trying his best, but he didn’t handle structure and discipline very well.
“As soon as I can, I want to go into construction,” he used to tell me. “I have lots of energy, and I love to work with my hands. I’m sure I won’t have a problem finding something to do.”
I encouraged Shragi to concentrate on what he was doing right now: being the best yeshivah bachur that he could. “Successful people don’t quit,” I reminded him, “even when the going gets tough.”
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” he responded tongue in cheek. Then he threw his head back and laughed at his own joke.
We didn’t know what to make of Shragi. He was a little socially awkward; he always had a ready quip, but he couldn’t seem to make any friends. The other chevrah were wary of him because he was different, too outspoken.
Having Shragi as a guest was like hosting a roomful of people. He was a ball of energy and talked nonstop. He chewed with his mouth open, cracked corny jokes and didn’t seem to care what others thought about him, but we could tell that he was a sensitive boy. Whenever he ate over, he would bring a single rose with some baby’s breath. It was all he could afford, but he wanted to show his appreciation.