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Special Theme Section: Across the Bridge

Family First Contributors

On Pesach, shattered slaves crossed the bridge from bondage to freedom. We also encounter bridges that can expand our world — if we cross them. Thirteen personal accounts

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

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aking the Grade

Chedva Silber

Growing up, I dreamed of being a teacher.

After seminary, I was grateful and excited to land an elementary school limudei kodesh teaching job. Unfortunately, it took only a very short while for me to realize that I was better at delivering stellar model lessons than at discipline in the classroom. It took about four days for me to concede that I had officially lost control of my class.

It was a long year of intense efforts to create interesting lessons, motivational intros, and extracurricular fun, as well as threats and punishments, 1-2-3 Magic-inspired behavioral techniques, and appealing to reason that I had yet to realize preadolescent girls do not possess.

I was devastated, but not shocked, when the school didn’t invite me back for the following year. My self-confidence was shot. If I couldn’t be a successful teacher, who was I? “I’m going to be an assistant in the bakery next year,” I told my friends, my jocular tone masking a boatload of pain. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

What Connects Us

Faigy Schonfeld

She’s 22, from Minnesota, completing her internship as a social worker, a Reform Jew. College, friends, evening job as a hostess at a bar and grill.

I’m from Boro Park, chassidish, a stay-at-home mother of two.

This should be easy.


Only it really was.

I remember the first time I called Leah, my Torah Mate. She was at a country fair — could she call me back later? I remember closing my eyes. It was still warm outside, but there was a nip in the air; it was the second night of Selichos. Round challos lined the bakery shelves like so many crowns, honey dishes were being polished, the energy and rush and solemnity of the last days of the year.

Country fair?

But then the next time we talked, our conversation lasted almost two hours. I told her about all of my siblings, she spoke about her brother. I told her about my kids’ tantrums and my writing and my honey cookies; she filled me in on her dreams for her social work, her old college friends, and how excited she was to start her internship. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Hand in Hand

Yael Schuster

I followed my parents up the timeworn stone steps. I was ten years old, a pampered Brooklyn gal on my first trip to Israel. I glanced over my shoulder at the Batei Brodie courtyard below, then walked through a door and into a different universe.

We’re going to visit old friends, my parents had said. Standing in the doorway, I saw a miniscule kitchen off to one side, a common room with a large table and chairs, and not much else. We were treated like visiting royalty, with warmth and big smiles and graciousness. As the adults schmoozed around the table, I took in the details of the room.

At least a dozen mattresses stood vertically against the walls, and I remember feeling a jolt of shock as it dawned on me that what I thought of as their dining room served as their bedroom as well. A clothesline ran across the center of the ceiling, and each night a sheet hung from it, dividing the space into a “girls’ room” and a “boys’ room”; the parents slept in the kitchen.

That, and a small bathroom, made up the entire apartment. It was a home, I was told, where my mother enjoyed many Shabbos meals as a single girl. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

The Pulse of Life

Miriam Israeli

I’ve been addicted to music since I was a child, and when I was asked to direct a choir for girls ages eight to fourteen, I jumped at the chance to share the source of so much joy. We warm up our voices, sing, do some funny-sounding exercises, and generally have a good time.

Today I received a phone call from the mother of a choir member. “My daughter is so happy in the choir,” she said, gushing with enthusiasm. “Sunday is the highlight of her week. I couldn’t understand what was so enjoyable, but she said you do harmonies and different voices and it’s so much fun.”

I was gratified to hear this. One of my aims is that the girls learn to share my love.

But apparently, it wasn’t just the music.

The mother continued. “What I find most incredible, though,” she continued, “is the achdus of the group.”

“Go on.”

“My daughter is from an English-speaking home, attending a chassidish, Yiddish-speaking school, and part of a Hebrew-speaking choir, with girls from all different schools. Yet she feels so comfortable and accepted. How on earth did you manage to create that kind of atmosphere?”

Ah. Now I understood. It was just the music. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

On Angel’s Wings

Chavi Yellin

I was in the car, en route to an important errand, when my cell phone rang. I glanced at the caller ID, and was surprised to see my doctor’s phone number. I was two weeks deep in a round of infertility treatment and had seen her just that morning. She’d given me precise instructions on how to proceed. What now?


“Hi, it’s Dr. Kendall. I’m sure you’ve seen on TV that a massive hurricane is headed our way. There’s a chance of a power outage in Manhattan, and our office might be closed.”

A hurricane? I hadn’t heard about it.…

“Disregard my previous instructions. Just hang tight and ride out the next few days. We’ll call you from the office on Tuesday to direct you further.”

A hurricane. Gulp.

By Monday afternoon, Sandy made landfall. Outside, rain came down in sheets. The winds whipped mercilessly. By Tuesday, the worst was over. New Yorkers emerged shell-shocked from hiding to inspect their damaged homes and salvage their earthly possessions.

My neighborhood was unaffected; work and school were back to normal. But there was no electricity in Lower Manhattan — and that included the infertility clinic. I waited to hear from the medical team, but the phones were down at the clinic, and I had no way to reach them. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Opening the Wallet

C. Schon

The water trickled from the shower head and the bathtub slowly filled with water. But it was a shower I wanted, not a bath. Who would believe the thing I missed most from my youth was the shower? Not that my family had a Jacuzzi back then, but we did have proper drainage so there was the option of taking a proper shower, not only bath-showers.

Night after night, I’d pat myself on the back knowing how proud my teachers would be of me — living the true kollel life. And if it meant no plumber to fix the shower head and bathtub drainage, I’d bath-shower with pride.

A plumber would cost close to 100 dollars. That was almost our budget for the entire month!

I learned that a dollar can stretch far. Like all the way to the mall. Hop onto a bus, travel 40 minutes, ask for a bus transfer, wait for a bus, change buses, and arrive at the mall, hopefully before closing time.

The mall was 18 minutes away from my house by car. But for that, you needed a taxi. And a taxi cost money. And I lived a kollel life. So onto the bus we go.

Vacation? Not for a kollel couple. So what if I worked myself to the bone? (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Between Generations

Barbara Bensoussan

On the toy aisle of a discount store, my eyes were caught by a colorful Fisher Price toy: an old-fashioned telephone, the kind with a base, receiver, and rotary dial. The price was very low, and then I realized why — no toddler today would recognize this as a phone. For today’s kiddies, phones are omnipresent rectangular objects that show images, play music, and let you Skype your grandma 6,000 miles away.

As a child, my grandmother lived in a house with no telephone or indoor plumbing. My mother grew up without television or computers. In the same way, my grandchildren will see me as an ancient relic of the past who remembers corded phones, VCRs, and cassette tapes. Standing in the toy aisle, among the stuffed animals and stacking toys, I realized I’m a memory bridge to an earlier age.

But I’m not just a bridge in the sense that I remember, and actually once used, those antiquated, outdated dinosaurs of technology. I’m the bridge to memories of how different life once was.

Memory: I’m ten years old, playing outside on the suburban lawns with my friends — dodgeball, kickball, tying clover into chains. We hop on our bikes and ride them through a patch of forest to a 7-Eleven to buy penny candy, or to a local creek to look for tadpoles. We can be gone for hours. As long as we show up for dinner, our parents never worry. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Bridge to the Spirit

Miriam Klein Adelman

The thud, thud, thud as my suitcase clunks down each airport step echoes the sound of my heart as it clunks down back to reality. I don’t want to be here, each thud says. I do not want to be back in America.

I want to be in bus-traveling distance to Kever Rochel, Mearas Hamachpeilah, and the Kosel. I want to be back with my married daughter and her family. I want to be with my close friends who nurture my soul.

Most of the time my soul is folded away, hidden in the recesses of my being. But once a year, I get to take it out and look at it and let it fly. Then I return home and once again it is back to the shopping malls, who won the Super Bowl, and whether Esther will have embossed, monogrammed napkins for her bas mitzvah party like her classmates.

Sometimes I think about what might happen if the plane arrived in New York and I simply decided not to get off. I would hide under a seat when the flight attendants check the plane and when the plane boarded for the trip back to Israel, I’d be on it, ready to return. Or if when my son-in-law knocked on my door to inform me that the taxi had arrived to take me to the airport, I’d refuse to go. The plane would take off and leave without me and I’d stay in Eretz Yisrael, always. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Pity Party

Shifra Margolis

When my first wedding anniversary rolled around and people started greeting my stomach before my eyes, I snorted.

They were probably concerned, possibly anxious, definitely curious. Which made sense. If I hadn’t been floating on a shanah rishonah cloud, I may have fretted too. As matters stood, I found their sympathy comical.

By my second anniversary, I still snorted, but with an edge. At that point, when I discovered that loving friends had woken at 5:00 a.m. on Purim morning to complete Tehillim on my behalf, I immediately emailed Shana to share the scoop. Shana snorted along with me. She understood. She was in the same boat.

When you experience a challenge in life, fellow sufferers become your best friends. You speak the same language and naturally connect. Shana and I hit it off.

Shana was fun and colorful, a creative spirit with endless energy. She also had a wacky sense of humor. We joked a lot, and the central theme of our jokes was our “miserable plight” and the huge rachmanus that we were.

We sighed theatrically at the prayers for fingerprints on our windows. And we played innocent pranks, like daring each other to appear publicly in loose-fitting clothing. If you open your eyes, society is funny. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)


One Life for Another

Esther Teichtal

All sightseers lead to the bridge.

If you follow throngs of tourists through the cobblestoned streets of Prague, you can’t miss this landmark. Sooty sandstone arches span the Vltava River, and a balustrade of ornate Baroque statues lord over the milling crowds that cross it daily.

Built to replace the old Judith bridge that collapsed in a flood, the cornerstone for this bridge was laid by King Charles IV on the 9th of July, 1357, at precisely 5:31 a.m., forming a curious palindrome in time. The precise alignment of celestial signs, his royal astronomers predicted, would bring lasting fortune to the structure. And yet, born in superstition, Charles Bridge is dogged by legend, many of which have several versions to their telling, and none of which sound fortunate in the slightest.

One legend surrounds its inauguration. The first person to cross the bridge — so went the curse — would pay with his life. When he got wind of this, the monarch found himself in a conundrum. As ruler of the realm, he alone must be the first to inaugurate the bridge. And yet, he wanted his reign to last longer than the time it took him to cross it…. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Bridge to the Future

Riki Goldstein

It was the beginning of 1947, and the world they knew was gone forever.

In the chilly train station, a European couple huddled, refugees passing through London, like multitudes before them.

The station clock chimed overhead, and they glanced up at a vast, leaded domed roof. Around them, a sea of Londoners ebbed and flowed, nattily-dressed businessmen hurried to work, porters and shoeshine boys hollered in Cockney slang. The newcomers understood not a word of the foreign language, and their apprehension grew.

HaRav Yonason Steif zt”l, the dayan of pre-war Budapest, and his rebbetzin were on their way to the United States, after harrowing Holocaust experiences in Hungary and a precarious escape to Switzerland on the Kastner train.

Their arrival did not go unnoticed; someone was waiting. A slight man with a small goatee, Mr. Moshe Dovid Weissmandl approached, addressing the Rav in a heimish Yiddish. He bent to kiss the Rav’s hand, in a traditional Hungarian show of respect, and invited the couple to spend Shabbos in his home in Stamford Hill. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

Who We Are

Leiba Mozes

This past Friday my husband brought me home the last free lunch.

Fridays, before he left, the bakery guys always gave my husband — the Rabbi — a day-old bag of goodies. So that was my Friday lunch for a year and a half — that’s how long he was a mashgiach in a large kosher supermarket.

Before that, he spent a year as night manager of a popular Jewish store. And before that, he learned — until his six-year stint in kollel came to an abrupt end (extra points for those of you who remember my Family First diary serial Rerouting).

Both my husband’s jobs came from networking and mazel: He happened to be in the right place at the right time. They weren’t jobs with many requirements — honesty, responsibility, and an easy smile — all of which my husband has in spades. And while he worked these jobs, we could delude ourselves. This working thing, it’s temporary, we told ourselves. It’s just until we can figure out how he can get back to learning full-time. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

The View from the Other Side

As told to Rivka Streicher

They lived next door. Her name was Amy and she looked Oriental. He was Dave, David Baum. Couldn’t sound more Jewish if he tried. Not that he was trying. He’d married out, after growing up completely secular in Canadian suburbia with a Holocaust survivor father whose experiences had broken his faith.

But they ended up alongside us, sharing walls and a driveway with a chassidish family. We’d talk sometimes. He was intrigued by our lifestyle: the kids, the extended family, the holidays. Occasionally I’d show up at their door with a pot of chicken soup. That always went well, steaming Jewish penicillin helping thaw a lifetime of disillusionment.

It was a relationship of nine years across the fence, always cordial, yet never close.

Then one day I met Amy, dazed, distraught. “Dave’s sick,” she said. “Cancer, advanced stage. They’re not giving him much time.”

We went to visit him in the hospital. He wanted to hear, wanted to know, wanted to get it right in death, if not in life. I brought more chicken soup, we spoke about G-d and a better world. Amy looked on helplessly, a young woman in her thirties with a terminally ill husband. 

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 586)

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