| SisterSchmooze |


Join us as we renovate an apartment, work in close quarters, and find out a baby’s name — each elevated by its connection to our mother’s excellent words of wisdom

Ten years ago — it feels like ten days ago — we were sitting shivah for our mother, Rose (Raizel) Stark a”h, in her tiny Har Nof living room. As the crowds flowed through, we heard funny stories, sad stories, stories of horror, survival, rebirth… all interspersed with the colorful expressions she was known for.

At one point, we assigned a husband to grab notepaper and jot those sayings down. By the time shivah was over, the list filled several pages. We then typed it up and continued adding to it over the next few years.

With page after page of what we now call “Babbi-isms,” we’ve alphabetized them, dictionary-style. Under “A” alone, we have 21 entries…

“Ahz G-t vill, sheest a besom — If Hashem wills it, even a broom can shoot” (like buying a lottery ticket while planning a wedding).

“A shif oon a rader — A ship without a rudder” (like any Department of Motor Vehicles).

“Ahz m’shikt a nahr oyf’n mark, freyen zich de roichlim — If you send a fool to the marketplace, all the vendors are gleeful” (like Amazon reeling you in with, “If you like this product, you may also like...”).

Babbi-isms aren’t all in Yiddish. Many are in English, and some are in the other languages she spoke. Some are original quips; some are passed-down sayings. Whatever the language, whatever the source, they still resonate. Why? Because they still apply to our everyday lives. And because they connect us to Mommy herself — her wit, her wisdom, her strong and everlasting presence in our hearts.

Come join us as we renovate an apartment, work together in close quarters, and find out a baby’s name — each activity elevated by its connection to our mother’s excellent words of wisdom.


Miriam takes a closer look at...

Floor Tiles, Mussar, and Me

"Tzu ah naar, vast mir nisht kan halbeh arbit — Don’t show half-finished work to a fool.” It was one of Mommy’s favorite Yiddish epigrams. I kind of understood it: When fools see a work in progress, they don’t realize there’s more to come, and they rush to judge.

But it took a “shiputz” — that’s Hebrew for a home renovation — for me to take that wise Yiddish saying into my life.

Shiputz is a word with many layers of meaning. Tell the neighbors in your building that you’re “doing a shiputz,” and they get an interesting expression on their face, like someone who thought he was getting lemon-mint juice to drink and accidentally guzzled down pickle brine instead.

For those hapless neighbors, a shiputz means noise, dust clouds, parking spaces taken up by dumpsters, workers wandering through the building, water and electricity shutoffs, and occasionally, cement from an apartment above you falling onto your newly washed laundry (happened to me).

For others, shiputz means an opportunity for renewal. Out with the old, the cracked, the stained, the broken; you’re building a fitting nest for one of Hashem’s creations. You. For the most enthusiastic rooters of home improvement, shiputz is self-esteem on steroids, gadlus ha’adam touched with high-gloss paint.

As for me, my five-week shiputz meant a lovely new home, some unanswered questions of hashkafah, and an important mussar lesson.

It started with a bathtub so rusty it was becoming a health hazard. I turned to my son David, who is an experienced professional and honest shiputznik/contractor (shameless plug, but true). If the bathtub is rusty, he explained, the pipes are rusty, too, and have to be replaced. And if the pipes are rusty, the workers have to break — and replace — the floor tiles.

Then it begins: the consultations with the designer, with my family, with friends, and with neighbors.

If you’re doing the bathroom tiles, why not include the kitchen floor? And if you’re putting tiles in the kitchen, it would make sense to do the living room as well. And if you have a new floor in the living room, the walls with their old paint will look shabby. And if, as I was, you’re also preparing your home for your older years, you need a walk-in shower. And if you need a walk-in shower, you need to break some walls.

And, and, and....

My bathtub had morphed into a home makeover.

That makeover included me.

I’d always considered myself a proponent of pashtus. I once visited Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel’s home and was delighted to see his “balatot” (floor tiles) were as cracked as mine. My oven and fridge were comfortably reaching their second decade — well, so were Rebbetzin Kanievsky’s.

Now, after spending three hours looking at tiles, deciding which I liked, realizing the next day that I really didn’t like them, and spending another two hours until I’d found the tiles that spoke to my soul... was I turning my back on my deeply held principles? Was the yetzer hara giggling fiendishly as I insisted on rose-gold accessories for the tub and sink?

Or... was I simply following the credo of the Talmud, which tells us (Berachos 57b), “Three things broaden a person’s mind: a beautiful home, a beautiful wife, and beautiful clothes.” I thought of the many Yerushalmi homes I’d visited, with their ornate seforim shranks and immaculately painted walls, and my friends and relatives who constantly opened their beautifully designed homes to visitors. Maybe a nice home wasn’t a sign of materialism gone mad. Perhaps it was a way to create a lovely and welcoming — and very Jewish — shelter from the outside world.

Years of mussar vaadim had taught me to look very carefully at my motivations. Could it be that my emphasis on pashtus was less a sign of piety than a manifestation of ego, a way of feeling holier than others who had fancy couches and wallpaper?

My final conclusion on the questions raised by the shiputz? I don’t have one. Except, perhaps, for this: In my hashkafos, my worldview, I’m still very much a work in progress.

The “halbeh arbit” is me. And you don’t show a “halbeh arbit” to a fool.


Emmy Leah moves…

From Seven to Seventy and Back

My mother a"h said it often: “Azoy vi di ziben, azoy vi di zibetsik — as you were when you were seven, that’s how you’ll be when you’re seventy.”

Rochester, 1980s, I’m far from 70 years old. Pamela, my non-Jewish neighbor, found the frum family next door — us — endlessly fascinating. She admired our weekly Shabbos dinners, was curious about why I generally wore hats and occasionally showed up wearing a wig. She was in awe seeing me cleaning my refrigerator once a year with toothpicks and Q-tips.

She thought we were exotic — and never having had a close non-Jewish friend, I found things about her eye-opening as well. Especially when we talked about having kids.

Baruch Hashem, I was expecting child number four, she her first. She told me she thinks that two children is enough for her. Why? She could only afford a three-bedroom house. Every child, she said, needed her own bedroom and desk to become a successful individual.

A statement that brought me back to…

Brooklyn, 1970s, I’m some years past seven. Like Pamela, my parents could only afford a three-bedroom house. (Actually, they could barely afford that, but that’s for another Schmooze). Parents in one room, Marcia in another — and twin sister Miriam and I sharing a bedroom so small we had to take out the attached-to-the-floor radiator to fit in two beds.

Our own room? Two separate desks? Impossible!

But… why would we even want that?

We did homework sitting together at the dining room table, and we loved it. Working a few steps away from the kitchen, there were no worries about cookie crumbs in our room if we nibbled as we wrote. Better still — we could work together. Not cheating, exactly, but if we had identical math homework, we’d do the calculations separately and check that we got identical answers. If not — we’d both do the problem again, together this time, to see where one of us had messed up. Not a bad learning strategy, actually.

Way more fun than math — English! Writing our compositions and searching for words, we didn’t need a thesaurus: We’d throw words at each other until the right ones emerged. We’d exchange ideas as we wrote, discuss stories we had to read, try to figure out what the teacher wanted in more obscure assignments.

But mostly, as we worked — we schmoozed. And laughed. Did we laugh because we enjoyed our homework? Doubt it, but we probably enjoyed our homework more because we could schmooze and laugh. And eat cookies.

Working together, at the dining room table.

And like Mommy said, the way we were at seven (or so), we still are at (getting closer to) 70. Which brings us to…

Beit Shemesh, 2023, I’m not yet 70, but working on it. Recently, for five weeks, Miriam lived with me as her Yerushalayim apartment got its make-over. Baruch Hashem our empty-nest home has plenty of bedrooms and lots of available desks. So where did we both work?

At the dining room table, of course.

Enough room for two laptops and a power strip to plug them both in. No math homework now (who says life doesn’t improve when you get older?) but lots of writing.

With loads of synonyms available at the push of a keyboard button, there’s no need for a thesaurus anymore, but still nothing beats throwing ideas at each other, looking for the perfect word. I became Miriam’s market-research focus group as she chose between two possible book ads. She became my pedagogical advisor as I decided which story to prepare for my class.

We schmoozed. We laughed. We ate cookies. Our work got done.

And we laughed some more.

And speaking of laughing…

San Diego, 1990s. Pamela and I kept up for a few years after she left for San Diego, and we left for Eretz Yisrael.

Pamela tried to stick with her carefully planned family of two parents and two kids — but Hashem apparently had other ideas.

Yes, her house had three bedrooms — but two girls shared a room.


When I heard the news, I called and shared with her another well-known Yiddish phrase my mother and countless others have quoted:

“Der mentsch tracht, un G-t lacht — A man plans, and G-d laughs!”


Marcia hopes to respond…

As Long as She’s Not Named after Me

Our mother prided herself on her snappy comebacks. Like when she was elderly and people would ask what she did to keep busy.

“I have a very important job,” she’d answer. “I spend my day taking care of a 90-year-old lady.”

My personal favorite was a gem she shared at a local neighborhood pool, when she announced she had a new great-grandchild. Someone asked her if she knew what they were going to name the baby.

“I don’t care,” she responded without blinking. “As long as she’s not named after me.”

When my daughter Leah, who was living in Israel, was expecting her first child, it wasn’t idle curiosity that motivated me to nudge about finding out the baby’s gender — it was a question of saving a fortune in air fares. But Leah was adamant: She didn’t want to know.

“Could the ultrasound technician maybe just tell us and not you?” No dice.

By the way, the baby was a girl. Named Raizel.

Two years later, early in Leah’s second pregnancy, my husband, Shlomo Zalmen, was about to have serious surgery. At that point, she asked the ultrasound tech to write on a piece of paper whether it was a girl or a boy. She kept it folded, in her pocket, until her father was niftar.

At my husband’s kevurah in Israel, Leah whispered in my ear, “Mommy, it’s a boy.”

Six months later, my youngest grandson was born… Shlomo Zalmen.

Three years later..mazel tov, it’s a boy! The start of a new generation: my grandson’s wife, Tova, has just had a baby! I chuckle at the thought of my son Avi as a grandfather. Wasn’t he just born last month? And, even crazier, my sweet “baby” grandson Shmuel — a father?

And — hardest of all to believe — me… a great-grandmother? Wait, didn’t I just finish high school?

Then, unbidden, another train of thought: What will they name him?

Baruch Hashem, this new child is blessed with three living great-grandfathers, ad 120. But, sadly, the fourth is missing — my husband, Shlomo Zalmen a”h.

Don’t go there, I tell myself. It’s not your call. It’s up to his parents’ ruach hakodesh. And besides, in most families, first rights to a child’s name usually go to the mother’s side.

I set aside these thoughts and immediately book a flight to New York for Tuesday night. The bris is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday morning. I just plan to stay overnight — I wouldn’t want to steal any thunder from my son and daughter-in-law who are first-time grandparents. I book a return ticket for Wednesday afternoon.

But Hashem has other plans — called bilirubin. The mohel wants to postpone the bris — for who knows how many days!

At airport check-in, I switch my return ticket (for a slightly exorbitant change fee) to Sunday evening. Hopefully, I won’t have to switch again.

The delay turns out to be a brachah in disguise. I get to spend several extra days, including a beautiful Shabbos, with my family. I even get a chance to hold the baby several times. On the other hand, the delay also prolongs my suspense about the name. Several sleepless nights pass until the bris. Finally, over Shabbos, the mohel gives the green light.

On Sunday morning, I hold my breath and cling to my two daughters while my son, the new zeidy, is given the kavod of naming his new grandson. And the name is… Shlomo Zalmen!

Mommy was zocheh to live till the age of 93. In the ten years since she’s been gone, there’ve been many Raizels, Roses, and Shoshanas born in the family — including two of my own granddaughters.

I pray that I’ll have the zechus for arichas yamim like my mother, and I’m grateful to have moved on to this next stage in life. I can only daven that Hashem will allow me to hold many more great-grandchildren in my arms.

And if anyone ever asks me about the name of any future greats before the naming… guess what my answer will be.


l'iluy nishmas Raizel bas Reb Yisrael Moshe and Malka on her tenth yahrzeit this week


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 843)

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