| The Places We Call Home   |

8 Moments That Feel Like Home

A celebration of the walls that surround, protect, and define us

Wash with Care

Shira Isenberg


rriving straight from the airport, I turned the key and stepped inside.

I was shocked — my house was clean.

Twelve days earlier, I’d left Memphis for Chicago with just my baby, and I was there, at my mother’s bedside, when she passed away a few days later. My husband and three older kids were at home. Due to severe fog that somehow only impacted air travel between Memphis and Chicago (a Hashgachah pratis story for another time), they were unable to make it to the funeral but would join me in a few days.

Second night of shivah: My parents’ house in Peterson Park was bustling with visitors, and I ignored the buzzing phone in my lap. When it continued to vibrate, I looked down — it was my husband calling repeatedly (our super-secret signal for emergencies). I picked up.

As soon as I heard his voice I knew: Something was horribly wrong.

His father in Israel had collapsed. EMTs were working on him, but it didn’t look good. He was on the other line with his sister in Israel, and I stayed on the phone while my husband tried to piece together what was going on.

I heard my kids in the background. It was only around eight p.m. in Memphis — bedtime.

I motioned my uncle over. His son’s wife was my neighbor’s sister. “Hey, can you call Reuven? Shimon needs someone to watch the kids so he can focus on the phone.” (Yes, those are actually their names.)

My neighbors came right over — and from that moment, everything was taken out of my hands. Let me explain.

I can’t remember how long it was before the EMTs called it, maybe just a few minutes. My father-in-law had passed away. It was sudden and unexpected and omigosh what were we going to do now?

Shimon needed to go to the funeral. Obviously. And he would need to leave almost immediately because, with stopovers and wait times, it would take a good 20 hours or so to get to Israel. But my kids! They were in Memphis. I was in Chicago, about 561 miles north.

Do I go back home? Even if I did, I’d get there — earliest — late morning. And I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to sit shivah with my father and siblings, hear from the people who actually knew my mother. Memphis neighbors were willing to take the kids for the rest of shivah. But I’d already been away for almost a week. I couldn’t leave them like that. And even if I did, I’d have to rush back right after the shivah ended, which I didn’t want to do. This was a huge, well, thing for me. I wanted to be able to process it on my own schedule.

I called Rivki, who lives across the street from me.

“Shira, I’m so sorry about your mom—”

“I know,” I interrupted her. “I need your help.”

I gave her the bad news about my father-in-law, then asked: “Is there any way you could pack up some clothes for my kids?” I told her briefly what they’d need and where to find everything.

In the meantime, my neighbors had gotten my kids to sleep. (Still wondering what magic pill they used to accomplish that!) I’m fuzzy on the rest of the details. Rivki came over. Someone had called Rabbi Males from our shul who also came over. People were in and out of the house, figuring out last-minute tickets for Shimon and for the kids, rides to the airport, babysitting for my kids until they could be taken to the airport, accompanied by Reuven — with an official letter written by a lawyer at some point that night giving him our permission to travel with the kids.

I don’t know who came over to babysit. I don’t know who woke the kids up or picked out their clothes that morning. I don’t know who took them to the airport. I don’t know which airline they flew or the flight times. A relative was commissioned to pick them up in Chicago. Someone treated them to hot chocolate on the way to the shivah house. And then, just like that, around one or two p.m. the next day, Reuven brought them in.

Phew. It’s a strange experience to be so out of control in your own children’s lives. (I guess we always are — it just doesn’t feel that way.)

It was an emotional week in Chicago, in my mother’s house without her. On Sunday, the kids and I flew home, which is when I walked into a clean house. I knew this wasn’t how we left it.

Somehow, in the midst of all the craziness of arranging everything for our family, then getting them out the door, someone had noticed that our house was in complete disarray. And had arranged for a cleaning crew to come in and wash the dishes and vacuum and clean the bathrooms and put everything back, so I wouldn’t come home to a mess.

They couldn’t bring my mother back, but they could still take care of me.

No one copped to sending the cleaning help. I suspect it was the Rebbetzin — who picked us up from the airport — although she wouldn’t admit it. “No, this must be how Shimon left it.”


I don’t know if we’ll be in Memphis forever. You need to hunt down pomegranates in three different stores (if you’re lucky!) before Rosh Hashanah, and your Pesach order’s gotta be in by February. Your kids may talk funny (it’s endearing, promise!) — and be the unwitting subject of Yisroel Besser essays.

No place is perfect. But anywhere that has people who care enough to also call the cleaning lady will always feel like home.

Under Attack

As told to Shterna Lazaroff

loud boom and my heart skipped a beat.

“Get down!” the bus driver yelled. People had fallen over and baby strollers were rolling away from the abrupt stop, but the noise on the bus couldn’t override the loud banging and shrill screaming from outside.

A rock hit the window right near me.

Hashem, save us!

My cousin dialed her mother back in the States to let her know that our bus was under attack, and if anything happened, let everyone know we loved them.

“What’s happening?” someone screamed to the bus driver.

“The police are on their way,” he yelled back, avoiding the question.

Another series of rocks hit the window. The crowd outside came closer. From my spot on the floor, I couldn’t see what was going on, but it seemed like a group of Arab teens had surrounded our bus and were pummeling it with whatever they could find. Every bang sent shivers down my spine. Was that a stone? A bullet? A bomb that was about to explode?

Meanwhile, the noise outside kept growing. More and more Arabs were joining the crowds.

Smoke filtered through the windows. Were they setting our bus on fire? Throwing gas bombs? My throat felt like it was closing up. We lay on the dirty floor of the bus, davening to survive.

The yelling got louder, and then we heard why. “The police are here!” the driver assured us. I understood what people mean when they say time stopped. It was only a minute or two until the police arrived, but it felt like hours.

The noise outside settled and the driver climbed back into his seat. The police had cleared a path, he told us. We were safe to continue en route to the Kosel.

He drove forward, and slowly, we each picked ourselves up from the floor and slid back into our seats.

We watched the scenes outside the window change. The houses merged into stone walls — the border of our precious Old City. We pulled up outside the Kosel plaza, walked through security.

And then our slow walk turned into a run.

All of us who’d been on that bus raced to the Wall. I put my hands on the cold stones, leaned my head against them, and my heartbeat slowed. I was there, at what’s left of our ancient home, standing next to the last remaining portion of Hashem’s earthly house.

My tears seeped into the cracks, my notes to Hashem, as I was overcome by a feeling of security. I was safe. Like Jews for thousands of years before us who made this very same trip, we were home.


Home Rich Home

Rebecca (Feldbaum) Steier


he apartment was advertised as a spacious, completely furnished two-bedroom with a magnificent view. The address was in exactly the area of Jerusalem where my chassan and I wanted to live, so we went to see it that very day.

Fortunately for us, we were in good physical condition, because the ad failed to mention that the apartment was on the top floor. The staircase was poorly lit and narrow. That should have been the first indication that there would be quite a few other surprises when we got upstairs.

We walked in, and the first thing I remember in my line of vision was the ugliest furniture I’d ever seen — an all-black couch with matching pillows and wood frame.

I was grateful that the bedroom had a built-in closet because there was no space for a dresser or even a nightstand. I was amazed that the twin beds even fit, until I realized they were more like army cots than the beds with comfortable mattresses I was used to.

The second bedroom was filled with the owner’s personal belongings.

The kitchen was fine, although there was no room for a table or chairs. And that magnificent view? You had to look very carefully through a narrow slit between two apartment buildings to see it.

Believe it or not… we rented the apartment on the spot! I think the owner was as shocked as we were over our fast decision. We headed down those stairs giddy with happiness.

My chassan and I come from middle-class families and grew up in modest homes. The idea of living in Israel in such a small apartment had never entered our college-educated minds.

Before we met, we’d lived in different frum communities that welcomed us with open arms. Yes, we were those “older singles” all the magazines have articles about. The families who invited us for Shabbos or Yom Tov meals truly made a profound impression on both of us. What we took from these experiences was not how their home looked, but the warmth and beauty of Yiddishkeit imbued there. And in our idealistic minds, that is what we were striving for in our soon-to-be-married life.

We knew our time in Israel was limited to only a few precious years, so we decided not to dwell on the aesthetics of this apartment, but to concentrate on what would make it livable for us. We put a colorful quilt over that black couch and placed a few beautifully decorated vases with fake flowers around the living room. We purchased a small cot and a luggage stand for the small space we made into the “guest” bedroom.

After we got married, we happily started hosting people right away. One week it was young couples from my husband’s kollel and another week the students from the American seminary I worked for. That gloomy-looking apartment was filled with a lot of singing, joy, and laughter.

When a nonobservant friend from my hometown toured Israel, I asked her to join us for Shabbos, and we had a really nice time. Before she left, she turned to my husband and said, “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but how does it feel to be so poor?”

My husband smiled and said, “I’ve never felt richer in my whole life.”

My sentiments exactly.


Journey’s End

Devorah Gold


t’s a wet British July night when I get into my car and follow my heart. Since Dad was niftar last month, I’ve been finding myself compelled to go to his places, forcibly stopping myself from going back to the hospital to see if he’s still there, in that little room on the top floor where he spent his last days. He isn’t there, but his story is — baked into the hospital walls, into his cluttered home office, into the hearts of family and friends, and the life I’m lucky enough to lead. So I follow my heart and drive east of London to a little road where Dad began.

What I am looking for? I think, as I follow Waze down the North Circular to a place I haven’t been in years. I can’t remember which number he lived at, I realize bleakly, as I get out of my car on this quiet residential street at 11 p.m. I walk up and down twice, looking carefully at the houses: Was it 28 or 38? There’s no one here to tell me, and modernization has made most of the road unrecognizable. I think it was 38, I say to myself, and the rain and my tears mix together as I stand mutely, looking up at an unassuming brick house that saw so much I didn’t. It’s inhabited by strangers now, the old green garage torn down, a fancy extension in its place. It’s such a different home from the one where I live today — all because of Dad and his journey.

It’s his truth-seeking that everyone mentioned in the hespedim and at the shivah. The truth-seeking that made him turn his life around, from living a secular lifestyle with little relationship to Yiddishkeit, to becoming a navy-hatter (he hated black), and starting to learn.

When his grandmother passed away, he remembered how she used to light Shabbos candles, and started, with my mother, to learn about Shabbos. Once he started, he didn’t stop. Shabbos was followed by kashrus, followed by regular shul-going. He listened to shiurim, and taught himself to write Hebrew script — always a barely legible scrawl, but nonetheless accurate, a tribute to his desire to learn.

Two kids, three, then four. We were one of just a few shomer Shabbos families in the area, and he decided it was time to move. A short stop in Stamford Hill, kid number five, and then the move to Golders Green, the only place I know as home. He became active in kiruv himself, inviting guests from all walks of life and drawing his brother to avodas Hashem, too, often with humor and a touch of mischief sparkling in his blue eyes.

All this flashes in my mind as I stand, hands clenched deep in my coat pockets, eyes watering, looking at the house Dad left behind. The rain starts to get heavier, the wind howls menacingly. It’s time to leave.

Water chucks itself against my windshield as I drive back whence I came; words, phrases, and images hurling themselves at me, too, from all directions. Dad learning Kiddush from a tape, collecting recordings of Rabbi Avigdor Miller and becoming an avid fan, regularly quoting his favorite lines. Dad and his original sh’eilos, asking the rav questions that no one else would ever dream of. Dad, looking for emes, always emes.

And yet, alongside the quest for knowledge and learning, Dad always did things his own way: Our homemade Pesach kitchen was built into a shed in the garden; our succah featured a large disco ball that the neighborhood kids never forgot. He’d excitedly plan our annual Lego menorah, a unique engineering feat proudly lit and displayed as the passersby gawked from outside. A handmade Sefiras Ha’omer counter, a custom-designed Seder plate. Sometimes his ideas were mortifying, always original. And now I’m running low on tissues, gas and energy. Waze says I’m almost there.

As usual, there’s nowhere to park on my cholent pot of a street, and as I squelch my way back up the road from my car, I think of the trip I just took, a tiny taste of Dad’s journey all those years back, when he made choices that would impact generations. Then I take a deep breath as I put my key in the lock, walk in the only front door I’ve ever known, and into a room lined with seforim down every wall.

He might be physically absent, but I’ll eternally thank him for making this home.


A Ride Home

As told to Shterna Lazaroff


could feel my face redden, and my cheeks become hotter, hotter. I looked around the classroom for a place to escape, but there wasn’t a single friendly face staring back.

The teacher had been the one to call me out, and my classmates nodded along. No one came to my defense. I wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go — home was still half a day away. I didn’t think I could make it that long until I would be safely ensconced in my mother’s hug, far away from the horrible place.

I dragged myself through the remaining hours of the school day, then dragged myself to wait for carpool. It wasn’t my mother’s day to drive carpool, which meant I’d be spending the next half hour sitting among the girls I didn’t want to see, making small talk with whichever parent was driving us about how our day went.

It was horrible. Thanks for asking.

We all sat on the steps of school waiting for the right car to pull up.

“My mom drives a blue minivan,” my neighbor reminded me. I kept looking, but there was no blue minivan in the lineup outside school.

I need her to come already. I need to get home.

And then she was right there — my mother — in her mustard-colored Ford, beeping to let us know to hop in.

I walked to the front door, slumped in the passenger seat and took one look at my mother. I was already home.

The pain was soothed. I wouldn’t need to suffer through another humiliating half hour in the back seat of someone else’s car, squished near the people who hurt me.

I thought about a mefareish we’d recently covered in school. Yosef traveled down to Mitzrayim in a caravan of spices, because Hashem decided that he’d suffered enough. He’d been alienated by his brothers, he was sold into slavery, but he didn’t need to endure more. He didn’t need a rickety ride among foul-smelling people or animals. Instead he traveled accompanied by fragrant aromas and perfumes.

That day was my worst day ever. I didn’t know if or how I’d get through it, but my tzaar quota was filled. I’d paid my dues. I stepped into my mother’s car, and it was all over. I could escape the horrible feelings that had trailed me all day. I could now feel safe and loved.

There was still a half hour of driving to go, but I was already home.


Only Up from Here

As told to Miriam Klein Adelman


48-hour stay in the psychiatric ER happened over 15 years ago, but those harrowing hours are indelibly imprinted on my brain.

How I ended up there is a long story better left untold. Suffice to say, my therapist and her supervisor believed I was in danger of harming myself, and I was carted off to my local hospital’s psychiatric ER.

Immediately after my arrival, my clothes, money, cell phone, and jewelry were taken from me. I was handed scrubs to put on and placed in a small, windowless room containing one cot and one stool. Down the hall, a man was screaming, “I want to die!”

Though I was sure I wasn’t suicidal, I had been finding it increasingly difficult to get through each day, being present for my husband and children, and continuing at my demanding accounting job.

I was brought a kosher meat dinner; as a precautionary measure, I received it sans knife and fork. As it’s impossible to eat meat with a spoon, I left it untouched. I wasn’t hungry, anyway.

All I wanted to do was cry. Here I was, sitting alone in what felt like a prison cell, stripped of everything. I couldn’t even call anyone, because they’d confiscated my phone and the one public phone down the hall was already in use. I just curled up into a ball on my cot and cried.

Per hospital protocol, once admitted to the ER, a 48-hour observation period is mandatory. I spent a miserable night alone, just me and my tears, railing against my therapist for sending me here.

The next day, I was transferred to a step-down ward, which meant I was considered to be less at risk. I was allowed visitors, and my husband and sister-in-law came. (I’d made sure no one told my parents). We didn’t talk much, mainly just discussing my hope that I would be released in time to get home before Shabbos candlelighting the next day.

Later that day, I was handed a fork and knife with my dinner, but I had to eat it in the main room, with the nurses’ supervision. I was permitted to shower, but as another precautionary measure, the hot water automatically turned off every two minutes.

That night I curled up in bed in my “cell” and wept, once again filled with bitterness toward my therapist. And then it hit me: It wasn’t my therapist who’d brought me to this low point — it was what had brought me to see her in the first place. I’d been orphaned at a young age, and emotionally neglected by my adoptive mother. With this realization, it felt as if a dam inside me had burst. My tears increased even more in intensity but now with purposeful direction.

Later that night, I felt an internal shift. I sensed a presence in the room, like my mother was there, sharing my enormous pain. Slowly, the tension within me released; the breach in the dam repaired, the water restored to its calm. I fell asleep.

I was anxious to leave the next morning, and the hospital psychiatrists agreed that I could go home. I walked through the door 40 minutes before Shabbos started.

I took in the beaming faces of my children, who were so happy Mommy was home. I glanced at the peeling paint on the wall that usually made me so stressed; it didn’t register. I looked at the black smudges on the furniture; they were beautiful. And when my baby started to cry, I didn’t feel the familiar knot in my stomach. All I heard were his strong, life-affirming cries.

Never in my life had I felt such palpable relief at being home. The relief of my release had shaken me so profoundly that there was only one way to go from here: up.


The Shul We Call Home

As told to Shterna Lazaroff


rowing up, the community I lived in was small — with only one minyan — and everyone was involved. My mother ran our shul’s sisterhood and the local baseball league. For more than 30 years, my father worked alongside her as the gabbai. “Community” was always synonymous with close-knit. Everyone looked out for each other. We felt like one large mishpachah.

There was no concept of minyan- or rav-hopping. You didn’t like something the rav said at shul that week or wanted a later minyan? It didn’t make a difference. Everyone gathered in the same place.

When I married, the community I moved to was nothing like what I’d always known. If you didn’t appreciate what the rav said one week, you switched shuls. If you knew you’d get an answer you didn’t like, you’d find another rav to ask instead. If the Shacharis times didn’t work for you, you found another shul. It felt so fragmented. Davening was in one place, friends in another, and our rav was in a third. We didn’t have one central shul with a steady flow of people we could consider our community.

Every once in a while, I’d bring it up with my husband and ask, “Can we look for another shul?” Could we find a place that didn’t just serve our basic needs, but felt like home?

If I had extra maaser money, I wanted a shul of our own to give it to. If I had extra time, I wanted a local place where I could help out. If I had a question, I wanted a dedicated rav we could speak to.

“I want a place where people don’t just show up for kiddush. I want a shul where we’re part of it. Where our kids help set up the chairs. Where the candy man knows them all by name. Where the rav is there to guide and lead.”

My husband heard my concerns, and we started going to another shul a little further out, but so much warmer. We started to feel at home.

Then, a few months after we joined, my husband went to Minchah and never came home. While waiting for the minyan to start, he collapsed — and so did my entire world.

But as the pieces fell apart, there was one community holding it together for us, one community that rallied behind us.

When I came home from the levayah with my little children, someone in the community had already prepared the eggs and bagels we needed to eat. They’d also moved all the furniture already and set the home up for shivah.

When my sister-in-law came to the funeral with an infant, someone in the community walked over, offered to take the child, and held the baby for her the entire time.

When my kids didn’t like any of the food at the shivah, there was someone to ask, “What do you want?” and then run out to buy whatever they requested.

During that haze of bleak days right after he passed away, I remember feeling like I’d collapsed — and I remember that feeling of support, the way the community swooped in to pick me back up. They arranged dinners, gift cards to local stores, a crowdfunding campaign, babysitters.

Someone created a group for errands. If I ever needed something, she posted it on the group. If both my kids need a parent at the same time — and it’s not possible to be in two places, I ask her, “Can you find a ride for my daughter?” And within an hour, she’ll have one.

I don’t think anyone even had a thought, “Oh, we should help.” It was instinct. We’re a community and we’re there for each other. The rav is the driving force behind everything because he feels an achrayus to the community as a whole in a way that nobody else does. It’s because of him that my kids were — and are — taken care of, and it’s because of him that I don’t have to worry about their futures.

I’m a solo mother now, but I’m not alone. My husband isn’t around to see it himself, but our family has found what I always wanted. We have a community standing with, behind, and for us. We have a support system, a place to feel comfortable, and a shul we call home.


At Home in the World

Yemima Weiss




On the streets of Israel, in the school hallways and the parks and the schoolyard, it’s up there among the most popular insults. And it’s worse, worse than all the insults I grew up with, the stray bullets of “loser” and “nerd” and “nebach.” Autist. You’re not welcome. You don’t have a place here. Reject.

So when Gavriel looks up at me, with his huge, unblinking gray eyes, after a long and lonely Shabbos afternoon, and he tells me he’ll never find friends, he’ll never be good at anything, because if he messes up and explains, “It’s because I have ASD and certain things are hard,” they’ll just call him autist. They’ll never talk to him again. They won’t let him join in the game. They’ll never give him another chance. All this he says while the words are sucked out of my chest, replaced by a silent howl of anger and anguish.

I hold both his hands with just the right degree of firmness, so he’ll feel regulated and protected, and I try to find the words.

Remember the interview we saw, I tell him. A 13-year-old had been interviewed about living with autism. They sent an interviewer and a cameraperson, and they edited it and put a lot of work into it. Because people want to understand what it’s like to live with autism. They’re interested in the ways in which we’re all different from each other.

Oh, there’s more to say. There’s the whole ASD-is-a-superpower talk: Greta Thunberg and Elon Musk and Temple Grandin, Alan Turing, maybe even Einstein — the standard stuff that everyone’s heard. (I’m still waiting for the day when someone will come out and point at certain communal leaders and say, their ASD was their secret strength… They must be there. Please, come forward, for the sake of all our children.) But superpower or not is not the point, and he knows that, and I know that.

The point is that he feels he has no place in the world.

For Gavriel, this is the world:

The sun is too bright and noises are too loud and there are too many people and too many looks on people’s faces that are confusing and too many words that don’t make sense and too many scary things out there like fires and terrorists and burglars and car crashes that may take away my parents — Ima, when I die will you come lie down with me in my kever so I’m not alone — and too many things I think that I understand but turns out that I don’t after all and people even laugh at me for that though it’s not funny at all at all at all.

It’s more than this isolated conversation and this one time when I seek an answer. It’s the answers that I have to give myself, day after day, when I send Gavriel out into the world with this invisible disability and pray that he’ll be met not with rejection and humiliation and a slow, internal shattering, but with acceptance and support and understanding and appreciation for everything he is and everything he can be.

I pray that he can be at home in the world.

A wheelchair, a service dog, slanted eyes, all serve as cues: we know what to do, we get in touch with kindness and compassion.

But what about the child who holds your stare for too long?

Or can’t look you in the eye?

Or doesn’t respond immediately to your words?

Or suddenly begins to lose it and can’t explain why?

Or who flaps his hands in an unfamiliar place — it’s slight and subtle, not enough that you can identify it as someone under stress who is trying to soothe themselves — but enough for the onlooker to register, strange, and take a step back.

Or when a child belly laughs at something you didn’t mean to be a joke but two little creases of confusion appear on his forehead in response to your humor.

Or who starts to walk in a circle, around and around and around and around and around until you don’t know if it is your child who is spinning or your head or the world or life itself, for everything looks peculiar; edges blur and boundaries are erased and you feel nauseous with the strangeness of it all.

Or who calls you a liar because circumstances changed, a plan changed, and so what you originally said you would do or not do had to change.

Or who is quiet, quiet, quiet all day while the world seems to attack them in a thousand ways and then turns to you at bedtime and says, but I want to die. This world is not a good place for me.

And you are just starting to understand him, and feel like the world, this cruel, cruel world is not a great place for me, either — when there are pockets of home.

Sheva brachos of a dear friend, and Gavriel wants to play the chuppah niggun on his recorder. He stands up, and, trembling, lifts the recorder to his lips. Forty people, who have chatted and whispered and checked their phones and fidgeted and scraped back their cheers and gestured to each other all the way through the derashos, are suddenly quiet and still. Gavriel begins to play. Silence. Every single face turned to him. Every single face willing him forward. Encouraging him with their smiles and their eyes. He plays each note carefully, continuing to the end and then replaying the final phrase. And they burst out into applause. He blinks and smiles uncertainly, and I brush away tears. We are not just among friends. We are among people who understand and care and who in their quiet attentiveness make space for him to show his talents. I brush away tears.

And then, a few months later, an envelope arrives in the mail. The envelope shows the logo of Sulam, the organization for children with autism who run the school, Ohalei Yaakov, that Gavriel attends. I open it up.

The cream card is embossed with gold writing: Sisu v’simchu b’simchas haTorah.

A silver crown. It’s an invitation to a hachnassas sefer Torah. For the children of Sulam.

For our children. Who deserve their own sefer Torah.

Unusually for a hachnassas sefer Torah, this one takes place in the middle of the morning. It’s a cold day, the middle of winter, but the sun shines brightly down and the silver crown blinds us with its light. The band plays. The preschool children are given white polystyrene strips to hold in lieu of candles. The music calls out; fathers sing and dance, women clap and wipe away their tears and clutch each other’s hands, for we know what this means. We know. We have watched our children on the outskirts. These are our children for whom a hachnassas sefer Torah is too loud, crowded, frightening. We have taken them outside to watch a passing procession and have clapped our hands over their ears and held them close to calm them. These are our children for whom going to shul can be a challenge too big. These are our children who, in a million ways, are shown that they don’t belong.

But now they do. And the sight brings every single one of us to tears.

They have been prepared for this. They have rehearsed it. They understand the timetable and they know which music will play and at what volume and if it is too loud, they know that they can move to the outermost circle, where it is quieter, or ask for help.

Gavriel came home a few days earlier, bursting with the news: he had written a letter in the sefer Torah. The sofer had held his hand and told him where to fill in the ink. It was his, this sefer Torah. He had written a letter. In due course, he would be getting an aliyah in the school minyan. And he was ready to dance with it and welcome it into his place, the school that was also a home.

And as the chuppah moved slowly toward the school, every single child, young man, bochur, has a chance to cradle the sefer Torah in his arms. Some step to the right and to the left, give a little hop. Some just stand and smile, unbelieving that they are here, a sefer Torah in their arms. The photographer catches each and every one of them, in his moment. At home in the world.

Gavriel’s teacher calls him over, and with eyes glowing and face alight, he opens his arms to receive the sefer Torah.

His teachers surround him. My husband and I look on. His arms are full and his heart is full and he dances, radiant.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 862)

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