"Good evening, Dr. Levin." Raising his glass of wine, Nim offered the toast, "L'Chaim."
"L'Chaim . . . how are you, Nim? Don't see you often at these Jewish wingdings. I'm surprised at your interest in the Holy Land."
"I'm not religious, Doctor."
"Nor am I, Nim. Never have been. Know my way around a sanitarium a whole lot better than a synagogue." the doctor finished the fig be had been eating and selected another. "But I like the forms and ceremonies, all the ancient history of our people. It isn't religion, you know, that holds Jewish people together. It's a sense of community going back five thousand years. A long, long time. Ever think about that, Nim?"
"Yes, since you ask. I've been thinking quite a lot about it."
The older man regarded him shrewdly. "Troubles you sometimes, does it? Wondering how much of a Jew you can be? Or if you can be one at all without observing all that labyrinthine ritual stuff old Aaron does?"
Nim smiled at the reference to his father-in-law, who, across the room, had maneuvered a newly arrived guest into a comer and was earnestly describing Tu B'Shevat: has its roots in the Talmud . . ."
"Something like that," Nim said.
“Then I'll give you some advice, son: Don't let it worry you worth a damn. Do what I do: Enjoy being a Jew, be proud of all the achievements of our people, but as to the rest-pick and choose. Observe the High Holy Days if you like-personally I take them off and go fishing -but if you don't observe them, that's allowable in my book too."
Nim found himself warming toward the cheerful little doctor and told him, "My grandfather was a rabbi, a sweet old man I remember well. It was my father who broke away from religion."
"And you wonder sometimes if you should go back?"
"In a vague way. Not too seriously."
"In any way-forget itl It's a mental impossibility for someone at your stage-or mine-to become a practicing Jew. Start going to synagogue, you'll find that out in five minutes. What you feel, Nim, is nostalgia, an affection for things in the past. Nothing wrong with it, but that's what it is."
Nim said thoughtfully, "I suppose so."
"Let me tell you something else. People like you and me have the same concern for Judaism that we might have for old friends-an occasional sense of guilt for not having seen them more often, plus emotional attachment. I felt that way when I went with a group to Israel."
"A religious group?"
"Nope. Mostly businessmen, a few other doctors, couple of lawyers." Dr. Levin chuckled. "Hardly any of us took a yarmulke. I didn't. Had to borrow one when I went to the Wall in Jerusalem. Just the same, it was a deeply emotional experience, something I'll never forget. Had a sense of belonging and pride. I felt Jewish then! Always will."
Nim asked, "Do you have children, Doctor?"
The other shook his head. "Never did. My dear wife-she's dead now, bless her memory! . . . she and I both regretted it. One of the few things I do regret."
"We have two children," Nim said. "A girl and a boy."
"Yes, I know. And because of them you started thinking about religion?"
Nim smiled. "You seem to know all the questions as well as answers."
"Heard 'em before, I guess. That, and I've been around a long time. Don't worry about your kids, Nim. Teach them decent human instincts -I'm sure you have. Beyond that, they'll find their own way."
2tlere was an obvious next question. Nim hesitated, then asked it, "Would a bar mitzvah help my son find his way?"
"Won't harm him any, will it? You wouldn't be exposing him to some social disease if you sent him to Hebrew school. Besides, a bar mitzvah's always followed by a damn good party. You meet old friends, eat and drink more than you should, but everybody loves it."
Nim grinned. "That's more sense on the subject than I've beard anywhere else."
Dr. Levin nodded sagely. "Here's some more. Your boy is entitled to make a choice-that's his right, his heritage. Studying for a bar mitzvah gives him that. It's like opening a door; let him decide if he wishes to go through it. Later on, he'll either go Aaron's way, or yours and mine, or maybe somewhere in between. Whichever he chooses, it's not for us to worry."
"I'm grateful to you," Nim said. "You've helped my thinking."
"Glad to. There's no charge."
While they had been talking, the number of guests had increased while the hubbub of other conversations swelled in volume. Nim's cherubic companion glanced around, nodding and smiling; obviously be was acquainted with almost everyone who had come. His eyes stopped at Ruth Goldman, now chatting with another woman; Nim recognized her as a concert pianist who often performed for Israeli causes.
"Your wife looks beautiful tonight," Dr. Levin observed.
"Yes," Nim said, "I told her that as we came in."
The doctor nodded. "She conceals her problem, and her anxiety, well." He stopped, then added, "My anxiety, too."
Nim regarded him, puzzled. "You're speaking of Ruth?"
"Of course." Levin sighed. "Sometimes I wish I didn't have to treat patients I care about as much as I do your wife. I've known her since she was a little girl, Nim. I hope you realize that everything possible is being done. Everything."
"Doctor," Nim said; he had a sudden sense of alarm, a cold contraction in his stomach. "Doctor, I don't have the slightest idea what you are talking about."
"You don't?" Now it was the older man's turn to be startled; an expression of guilty confusion crossed his face. "Ruth hasn't told you?"
"Told me what?"
"My friend," Dr. Levin put a hand on Nim's shoulder, "I just made a mistake. A patient, any patient, is entitled to have confidence respected, to be protected against a gabby doctor. But you're Ruth's husband. I assumed . . ."
Nim protested, "For God's sake, what are we discussing? What's the mystery?"
"I'm sorry. I can't tell you." Dr. Levin shook his head. "You'll have to ask Ruth. When you do, tell her I regret my indiscretion. But tell her also-I think you ought to know."
Still with some embarrassment, and before he could be subjected to more questioning, the doctor moved away.
For Nim, the next two hours were agony. He observed the social rituals, met guests whom he had not already talked with, joined in conversations, and answered questions from a few people who knew his role at GSP & L.
But all of the time his thoughts were on Ruth. What in hell did Levin mean by: "She conceals her problem, and her anxiety, well."? And: "Everything possible is being done. Everything."?
Twice he eased his way through talkative groups to be beside Ruth, only to find that private conversation was impossible. "I want to talk to you," he managed to say once, but that was all. Nim realized he would have to wait until they were on their way home.
At last the party began to wane, the number of guests to thin. The silver tray was piled high with money for more trees in Israel. Aaron and Rachel Neuberger were at the outer doorway, bidding good night as people left.
"Let's go," Nim said to Ruth. She retrieved her wrap from a bedroom and they joined the exodus.
They were almost the last to leave. As a result, the four had a moment of intimacy which had not been possible earlier.
As Ruth kissed her parents, her mother pleaded, "Couldn't you stay a little longer?"
Ruth shook her bead. "It's late, Mother; we're both tired." She added, "Nim has been working very hard."
"If he works so hard," Rachel shot back, "then feed him better!"
Nim grinned. "What I ate tonight will hold me for a week." He held out his hand to his father-in-law. "Before we go, there's something I think you'd like to know. I've decided to enroll Benjy in Hebrew school so he can have a bar mitzvah."
For brief seconds there was a silence. Then Aaron Neuberger raised his hands to the level of his head, palms outward, as if in prayer. "Praise he to the Master of the Universe! We should all live and be well until that glorious day!” Behind the thick-lensed glasses his eyes were wet with tears.
"We'll talk about specifics. Nim began, but failed to finish because both of Ruth's parents, together, bugged him tightly in their arms.
Ruth said nothing. But a few minutes later when they were in the car, and as Nim pulled away, she turned toward him. "That was a beautiful thing you just did, even though it goes against your beliefs. So why?"