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Behind his parents’ back

IT WAS OBVIOUS that my nephew Dovi had an agenda. Why else would he be calling me in the middle of seder? “How are the kids doing?” he asked. “Fine, everyone’s great.” What did he want? I didn’t have to wonder for very long. “So here’s the thing, Uncle Ari—” I shifted the phone to my other ear. “I’m listening.” “Well, it’s sort of a long story. See, this guy from beis midrash we’re all friendly with was getting married on Long Island. He wasn’t having a lot of guys and he really wanted us to come, so—” “Okay,” I broke in. “So you went to a wedding on Long Island. Then what happened?” He laughed stiffly and continued. “Right. Well, actually the wedding itself was great. We totally rocked the place, made a matzav. But then on the way home…” “Are you okay?” I interrupted anxiously. “Oh, yeah. I’m great,” he replied. I let out a sigh of relief. “But the rental car didn’t do so well.” “Oh, Dovi,” I groaned. “Start from the beginning and tell me what happened.” Apparently, the chasan had rented a large SUV for his friends to drive to the wedding. On the way back, an aggressive driver (who according to Dovi was “stone drunk”) drifted into their lane, forcing the SUV to swerve to avoid a collision.

Luckily, the boys’ car didn’t hit another vehicle, but it did smash into the guardrail and sustained a considerable amount of damage. “Baruch Hashem, we’re all okay. It was mamash a nes that no one got hurt!” he said brightly.  “That’s wonderful,” I replied, waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Now tell me, was the vehicle in question properly insured?” “Well, sort of. Basically it was. But the thing is that l’maaseh I wasn’t officially listed as an additional driver when the accident happened.” “Then why in the world were you driving?” I sputtered. I just knew it was going to be something like that. Dovi hemmed and hawed as the details came out. He hadn’t really wanted to drive, but the guy who was supposed to had had a “little too much” to drink at the reception. “I just couldn’t let him get behind the wheel,” he concluded. “I mean, that would have been a real sakanah.” I explained to him that the designated driver shouldn’t have gone near any alcohol that night, and that a second driver should have been named just in case something unanticipated happened. In a final burst of Monday morning quarterbacking, I pointed out that Dovi could have gotten a ride home with someone else and left the car behind at the hall. “Wow, Uncle Ari, you’re brilliant! We should have thought of that.” Despite myself I laughed out loud. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.” “Well, the accident already happened. And really, I was only trying to help out and get everybody home safely.” That was Dovi, all right. He has a heart of gold and would never (intentionally) hurt a fly. He’s always doing favors for people.

Unfortunately, though, he sometimes makes rash, irresponsible decisions in the process. “Do your parents know about what happened?” I asked him. “Umm, that’s the thing. I was thinking that maybe I wouldn’t tell them. I don’t want them to panic.” “I see.” I really did understand. His mother, my sister Chaya Goldy, is a top-notch mother and a lovely woman. Chilled, she’s not. Upon learning about this incident, she might conceivably never allow Dovi to drive again. “How much was the damage?” I sighed.“Oh, Uncle Ari! You’re saving my life! It’s about $2,000. I can’t thank you enough!” “Don’t thank me yet,” I replied coolly. “I did not say that I’m going to help you. I have to think about it. Call me tomorrow morning.” “Okay, great,” he replied, unfazed. “We’ll talk then.” I was about to hang up when Dovi’s voice broke in again. “One more thing, Uncle Ari…” “Don’t worry, I won’t tell your parents,” I finished for him. For the rest of the day I kept rehashing our conversation in my head. My attitude wavered, depending on the moment. The ends do not justify the means. He was not supposed to be driving that car. He should never have gotten behind the wheel. I don’t care what the story was. He acted irresponsibly. My mind wandered back to the last time I’d bailed him out, when he was only 14. I couldn’t remember all the details, but Dovi had been fooling around with a friend in the empty parking lot of a bungalow colony; according his account, the friend had been driving his father’s car when it got stuck in a ditch. Dovi, of course, had wiggled his way out of trouble. He wasn’t the one driving; he’d only stepped in to help a friend out of a tight spot (literally). He would never drive without a license. The end of the story? Dovi had needed about $800 to pay for the scratches. I gave it to him out of the goodness of my heart and never mentioned a word to his parents.

Now, five years later, I found myself in the same predicament. It’s time he learned a lesson once and for all, I decided. He’s old enough to be responsible for his actions. A minute later I changed my mind. I probably should help him. He really did make a safe decision by driving rather than allowing his drunken friend to get behind the wheel. It was also true that I could afford to help him, whereas my sister was struggling financially. She would never accept the money from me. But if she never found out about the accident, I could spare her some grief. When Dovi called the next morning I hit “Ignore”; I still hadn’t decided what to say. Half of me wanted to teach him a lesson. On the other hand, Dovi is one of the sweetest human beings on the planet. So when he called back a second later I picked up and said,“All right, Dovi, I’m going to take care of it. Come by tonight.” My nephew let loose with a barrage of expressions of gratitude but all it did was make me feel like an idiot. I hope I’m not making a mistake, I berated myself. “See you later!” he said before the phone went dead in my palm. Maybe his parents should know about this a little voice said in my head. I ignored it. I stuck the phone back in my jacket pocket. Whatever. It was too late now anyway. I was on my way to Maariv when Dovi caught me in the driveway. Next time, be more careful! I fumed inside. Don’t ever do anything like that again. I was about to give him a good tongue lashing but all I said was, “Glad I could help.” I tried to disregard my uneasiness and almost forgot about the incident until I called to invite Chaya Goldy to my Purim seudah. “Thank you so much for inviting us,” she said. “With Dovi going out of town, things would be rather quiet at home. Your seudah is always so lively; we would absolutely love to attend. But I insist on making something.” “You’ll have to take that up with my wife,” I answered. “Uh, where
is Dovi going?” “To Los Angeles,” she replied. “Really?” I was very surprised. My sister was usually super-uptight when it came to cutting the apron strings. “Well, you know how boys like to go out of town to collect money for their yeshivah. He’s flying there with a few friends. His rosh yeshivah actually helped them plan the trip. They’ll be staying with one of the boys’ relatives. They’re going to rent a car and make the rounds in the local community.’” “Renting a car, you said?” “Yes,” Chaya Goldy replied. “At first I was nervous, but after a bit of convincing on his part I decided to let Dovi go. You know, he’s really turned out to be a very responsible and trustworthy young man. Why, his driving record is virtually perfect!” I cleared my throat and quickly changed the topic. “How about making some spare ribs? They’re your specialty.” “Sure thing. It would be my greatest pleasure!” Chaya Goldy replied. “And maybe an extra dessert, like a chocolate babka.” “You got it,” she said before hanging up, completely oblivious.

A whole Purim I couldn’t stop thinking about Dovi gallivanting around—in a rental car, no less—with his buddies on the West Coast. “Have you heard from Dovi?” I asked anxiously when Chaya Goldy and her family arrived at my house. “Yes. He’s having a great time,” she said breezily as she placed the pans of delicacies (which I had forgotten to mention to my wife) on the counter. Chaya Goldy opened a container of sauce and poured them over the ribs. “He seems to be doing fine.” I hoped and prayed it was true. His mother’s report was meaningless, of course; if anything had gone wrong, Chaya Goldy would be the last person to know about it. I was relieved when Dovi landed safely a few days later. Thankfully, he and his friends were okay. In the meantime, though, I am left to wonder: Did I do the right thing by bailing him out? Do his parents really have to know about everything?

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