June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Kedoshim: The Frozen Prosecutor

Vayikra: 19: 9,10

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not complete your reaping to the corner of your field, and the gleanings of your harvest you shall not take.

You shall not pick the underdeveloped twigs of your vineyard; and the fallen fruit of your vineyard you shall not gather; for the poor and the proselyte shall you leave—I am Hashem your God.

Nicole Halberstam wanted to strangle her husband. Not literally, of course. She loved Ron deeply; he was her soulmate. But if he came home without his overcoat one more time, she was going to wring his neck.

She didn’t understand how he could lose his jacket so many times. Was there a thief in the courthouse? Had he taken leave of his senses?

And it wasn’t like Ron wasn’t an organized person. He was the lead prosecutor for the Bergen County Office of Criminal Justice. A former Editor of Columbia Law Review. An experienced clerk to one of the most respected judges in the US 3rd District Appelate Court.

He was no slouch.

Yet four times this winter he returned from the courthouse in Hackensack completely oblivious to the fact that he was in his shirtsleeves in 20-degree weather. Just last week he walked in without the long parka she had picked out for him from the L.L. Bean catalogue.

“Hi, Honey, I’m home.”

“Hey, Bubbe, how was your day?”

But before he even bent down to kiss her cheek, she could see the frost in his hair.

“Where’s your coat?”


“The parka. Where is it?”

“Oh, right. I must have left it at work.”

But she already knew it was in the wind, so to speak.

“Ron, what am I going to do with you?”

She didn’t enjoy talking to him like he was a 10-year-old, but what else could she do?

“What do you mean? It’s no big deal. I’ll bring it home tomorrow.”

“Uh huh.”

“Relax,” Ron said with a wink and a smile that had won him the trust of many a juror. “I’m sure it’s in the closet in my office.”

But she never saw the coat again. She knew she wouldn’t. And Ron never mentioned it again. It was most peculiar.

The next week, she ordered a new blue pea coat from L.L. Bean. It was a beautiful jacket, and you couldn’t beat the free shipping. She patiently waited four days for it to arrive. When the package came, she cut off the labels and slipped it over Ron’s shoulders before he went to his car on Monday morning.

“What’s this?

“A gift.”

“It’s beautiful, and it fits me perfectly.”

“Yes, I’m an expert at buying you outerwear.”

“You’re such a kidder.”

“Am I?”

“I love you dear.”

“Right back atcha.”

Ron climbed into his Honda Pilot and headed off for the Bergen County Courthouse. This time, Nicole was taking no chances with Ron’s new coat. After he pulled out of the driveway, she raced to her Toyota minivan and took off in pursuit. She stayed back a safe distance so that she would remain undetected in the local traffic. Nicole had seen enough police shows on television to know just the right distance to maintain.

At the courthouse, Nicole stood in the shadows, but watched Ron’s movements as best she could. She was determined to get to the bottom of the case of the disappearing coat, no matter what she learned in the process.

Ron was in court all morning, prosecuting an alleged burglar who was suspected of a series of home break-ins in the Paramus area. At lunchtime, he ate in his office with his staff and then went back to the courtroom. At 4:00 he finished in court, worked in his office until 6:15, and then came home, still in posession of his jacket.

Nicole made sure to be home before he arrived. Dinner was uneventful. They spoke about their days (she told about her supermarket run and some carpools—she felt bad lying, but she was determined to see this to its conclusion). They ate leftovers from shabbat. They read and went to bed.

Tuesday started out pretty much the same as Monday, and Nicole followed Ron to work yet again. She was getting good at the whole car surveillance routine, and found it more than a little suspenseful (not that she wanted to do it every day, mind you). Ron went straight to the courtroom when he got into the courthouse. But on this day, his lunchtime routine was different. It was a brisk day outside, and Ron went out into the Courthouse Green in his new pea coat (the color brought out the blue in his eyes), and sat on a park bench. Nicole hid behind some bushes adjacent to the marble courthouse steps.

Downtown Hackensack was an area that had seen better times. Other than a handful of courthouse employees who had ventured outside to eat lunch on this chilly, overcast Tuesday, the park was mostly peopled by local residents and a few of the homeless. A man sat down next to Ron on the bench and began to chat. They seemed to know each other, though not well. Was he an informant? A former defendant, or witness? Nicole couldn’t decide. Ron pulled his tuna sandwich out a paper bag and spoke as he ate. The other man rubbed his hands together to keep warm and looked downward as he spoke. The two never made eye contact. As Ron moved from the tuna to the strawberry yogurt Nicole had packed, he absent-mindedly pulled his arms from the sleeves of the jacket and draped it over his shoulders. By the time he moved on to his green apple, the jacket was off his shoulders and strewn behind him on the bench. As he tore open his ruffled potato chip bag, the jacket was on the bench beneath him, almost an afterthought. Ron and his bench-mate parted without saying goodbye. Ron walked back toward his office without the pea coat. The man on the bench waited until he was gone, and then looked both ways, as if to make sure the coast was clear. He shed his old down jacket and put on the pea coat. He was gone in moments.

Nicole walked out from behind the bushes and sat on the now vacant park bench, lost in thought. This was a side of her husband, the fierce prosecutor, of which she was simply unaware, a secret he had kept for quite some time, judging from the number of coats that had gone missing over the years. And as she looked around the park, she thought she saw a few overcoats she recognized. Was that man near the Seven-Eleven wearing the leather driving coat she had bought Ron last Chanukah? The boy near the fountain, did he have on the grey ski jacket that Ron had lost before they left for Vermont in December? Nicole couldn’t be certain, but almost everyone in the park looked like they were wearing one of Ron’s coats. It was like an L.L. Bean catalogue on the streets of Hackensack! And truth be told, all the coats had held up well. Two points for the clothing makers from Freeport, Maine.

Nicole tossed up her hands in resignation. She returned to her car and drove home.

That night, Ron Halberstam came home coatless. Nicole looked him up and down and hugged his cold torso warmly.

“So where’s the coat?”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure I left it in the courtroom. I’ll bring it home tomorrow.”

“Fine. And do you know what? I think you could use a nice pair of gloves to go with that jacket. It can get cold out there.”

Ron eyed his wife suspiciously.

Nicole winked with a smile and walked into the kitchen.

By Larry Stiefel

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.


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