“It’s for you.” My husband handed me the phone.
I quickly finished the conversation I was having on my cellphone (ah, the joys of technology!) and turned my attention to the incoming call.
“Hello,” I began.
“I see that you you’ve tried calling me several times today,” said a male voice.
“Oh,” I gushed, “You must be the madrich l’boxing (boxing instructor). I’m so happy that you called me back. You’re one person that I really want to speak with. You can’t imagine how hard I’ve been trying to get a hold of you!”
“How can I help you?” he asked.
“I desperately need a madrich l’boxing.”
I can envision your confusion. Why in the world would an official senior citizen who is the midst of marrying off her grandchildren and who appears to be somewhat normal be desperately searching for a boxing instructor? No, I have not taken up boxing in my old age (although you never know…). But I do run an organization for people with Parkinson's. We are in process of expanding our rehabilitation program, and since boxing is an excellent exercise for people with Parkinson's, we want to offer our men’s groups boxing classes designed specifically for their needs.
“Okay,” he responded slowly. “So how can I help you?”
“We desperately need a madrich l’boxing for our Parkinson's rehabilitation program. We’re expanding the program and want to include a Boxing for Parkinson's class.”
“Boxing for Parkinson's?” I could hear the confusion in his voice. “Why do you need boxing for Parkinson's?”
“Don’t you know that boxing is excellent for Parkinson's? I thought you were a madrich l’boxing?”
“Yes I am, but…”
“And you never learned how boxing can help people with Parkinson's?”
“Did you learn to be a madrich l’boxing?”
“Uh.. um, why, yes, of course.”
“But you never learned about boxing for Parkinson's?”
“No….not really. Mah hakesher?” (What’s the connection)?
“Have you ever heard of Parkinson's?” I decided to get down to the basics.
“Why yes, of course,” I could hear the question in his voice.
Do you know what Parkinson's is?”
“Yes, but mah hakesher?”
“So as a madrich l’boxing who has learned about Parkinson's, I’m sure you realize that boxing is good for Parkinson's. Boxing improves reaction time, balance, coordination, exactness, all that stuff.”
Now it was my turned to be confused. After all, I had been told that this madrich l’boxing was an expert in his field, with lots of experience in working with the disabled. The conversation was becoming “curiouser and curiouser…”
In frustration I said, “I don’t understand. You’re a madrich l’boxing,” and at this point, although “boxing” is the word most commonly used to describe this particular form of martial art, I decided to add the less-used Hebrew word to emphasize my point (although I really had no idea what my point was, other than pure frustration). So I added, “a madrich l’igruf.”
Silence. Then, “Oh, excuse me. I must have the wrong number.”
Now, any normal intelligent person would have said, “Oh,” and quickly hang up the phone before getting into more trouble. But me being me, I blurted out, “Wait a moment. Maybe this is not a mistake. Who are you?”
“I’m the madrich l’bochrim at Ponovezh Yeshivah.”
When I said “boxing,” he heard “bochrim,” and when he said “bochrim,” I heard “boxing.”
Then I did something really, really dumb. Instead of saying, “Oh, you’re right. You definitely have the wrong number,” I said “Oh, this is not a wrong number. You must be looking for my grandson.”
My grandson, who had been with us for bein hazmanim, had been accepted into Ponovezh for his third year of yeshivah. As a new bachur, he was concerned about finding a suitable chavrusa and now, come to think about it, he had spent quite a bit of time making phone calls this morning.
The moment the words flew out of my mouth, I wished I could take them back. But alas, it was too late.
“Who’s your grandson?” I could almost hear his unspoken question, And which boy in our yeshivah would have a grandmother interested in boxing?
“Yechiel Stern.” (a pseudonym)
“Yechiel Stern?” He sounded surprised. After all, Yechiel's other grandmother is the scion of a well-known Yerushalmi family. The type that makes kugels and cookies and sews clothes for the grandchildren. Certainly not the type that would be excited to find a boxing instructor.
It was a strange conversation. Eventually he realized that I was not the other grandmother, and that I was also not a secret fan of martial arts. He also told me to tell my grandson not to worry, that his chavrusos were all arranged for the coming zman.
I hung up the phone and went to the other room to share the story with my husband. “Do you think,” I asked, only half in jest, “that they would throw a bachur out of yeshivah because of his grandmother?”
This story will probably go down in our family annals as a classic Bubby Blunder. And the truth is, although there’s a lot we can learn from it – the importance of communicating clearly, of not making assumptions, of being dan l’kaf zechus, of thinking before blurting– I don’t want to make this article into a lengthy mussar shmuess. I just want to share it with you because even bubbies (or perhaps I should say, especially bubbies) need to have a good laugh sometimes.
It’s healthy. Just like boxing.
Post Script: I eventually found a boxing instructor. Zev is a champion boxer with a heart of gold. Gentle and firm. After the first session, Rex, a foreign worker who assists one of the men in the group, came over to me. “Debbie,” he said, “about the Wednesday boxing group…”
Rex was blushing.
"Well, uhm, ah…”
It took a few more seconds until he finally blurted out, “In the Philippines, I was a champion boxer. And because of Eliyahu (the man he helps) I learned all about boxing and Parkinson. Can I also work with the group?”
So now we have two boxing instructors!