| Family Diary |

Close to Home: Chapter 7     

Luckily, I wasn’t expecting when I went to meet Dorothy. But from that point onwards, I’d scan living rooms for possible kehunah-issues


Nechama Norman with Batsheva Berman


ur homes reflect who we are — our quirks, our style, the things we love, the ways we relax. I love getting to see so many homes up close. Sometimes though, what I find surprises me.

Dorothy Summers had lived in the same home for over 30 years — and now she was about to sell it.  It was a sunny spring day when I came to see her home. Within minutes, she was telling me about Howard, her husband of nearly fifty years.

Howard had had a number of health issues, which had flared up when Covid was sweeping the globe. Howard didn’t die of Covid, but because the medical system was so overtaxed, Dorothy wasn’t allowed to see him, and the man with whom she’d shared half a century of life had died alone.

“I miss him so much,” Dorothy told me tearfully.

“I can imagine,” I said.

“But he’s here with me,” she added. She led me to her bedroom. In the corner, there was a large earthenware urn. Dorothy pointed it out, and said “He’s right there.”

I swallowed my gasp just in time. My husband is a Kohein, and Kohanim aren’t allowed to be metamei l’meis. Which means no cemeteries, no indoor levayos, and definitely no being under the same roof as someone’s remains.

When the wife of a Kohein is expecting, she needs to take the same precautions. (There are different opinions regarding at what point in the pregnancy this becomes a concern; if this is relevant to you, ask your LOR). Luckily, I wasn’t expecting when I went to meet Dorothy. But from that point onwards, I’d scan living rooms for possible kehunah-issues.

Months later, when I was, baruch Hashem, expecting, I walked into Jennifer Gomez’s home, and was startled to see an earthenware jug, painted in striking shades of teal and gold, displayed prominently on a bookcase.

What to do? Did I need to dash out? I decided to do a quick fact check first.

“That’s a beautiful jug,” I said. “Does it contain someone special to you?”

Jennifer looked at me blankly; then, a moment later, comprehension dawned. “No, no, of course not,” she said. “It’s just something I made in my pottery class.”

“It’s magnificent,” I murmured. The jug was empty, my unborn child was safe, and I could continue our conversation comfortably.

Then there’s the awkward situation of taking clients around an empty home — and discovering a teen playing computer games in the den or the father working in the  study. I check and double check that no one will be home before I arrive, but it doesn’t always help.

So when I walked into the guest room in the Wilsons’ home and saw a lump in the bed, I wondered. Was it a child hiding? A young guest having a nap? We needed to see the room, but I didn’t want the occupant to be startled.

“Hello,” I said, softly.

The lump didn’t stir. I cleared my throat, repeated my hello in a louder voice. Still no response. I stepped a little closer — and discovered that the slumbering person was actually a tangle of linen and pillows over which a blanket had been draped.

Surprise occupants aren’t always human.

Rivky Kleinberg was terrified of dogs. Before I showed her around the Phillips home, I checked on the whereabouts of their pets. Robert Phillips assured me that they’d taken the dogs out of the house. He neglected to mention where they’d taken them to.

We finished seeing the house, and I led Rivky from the kitchen to the spacious garage. I opened the garage door — and three frisky puppies raced toward us. Rivky gave a bloodcurdling scream and leaped onto the counter.

I was trying desperately to herd the barking dogs back into the garage. Luckily, the  ten-year-old Phillips son was home from school, heard the noise, and bounded down the stairs. He corralled the dogs back into the garage while Rivky watched from her perch on the counter.

I now know: proceed with caution and open every door slowly.

Recently, I went to see a home and couldn’t help but notice the two framed daggers on the wall.

“Wow, those daggers are so unusual,” I told Todd and Giulia Sanders. “What’s the story behind them?”

Suddenly, it felt like the air had been sucked out of the room. The couple exchanged glances.

“Did you see the emblem on it? Are you offended?” Todd finally asked.

I moved closer — and spotted a swastika on the handles. I stepped back in shock.

“I’m Jewish myself,” Todd hurried to tell me. “My wife is Italian, and her father fought in World War II in the US Army. He was stationed in Nazi Germany, and he killed two soldiers and took their daggers.”

I stayed silent, digesting it all.

“Do you think I should put them away when you come to show people the house?” he asked sheepishly.

“Most definitely!” I told him.

A few weeks later, my husband and I were at the home of another potential client.  Alex Ciszek was in the Coast Guard, and proudly showed us his collection of guns. My husband mentioned that I’d just been in another home and seen daggers with Nazi swastikas on the handles.

“Oh, I have one too!” Alex said proudly.

And he proceeded to produce a nearly identical knife. I knew his parents had emigrated from Poland. I did not ask for the history of that item.

People treasure all sorts of things.

Margot Castillo had a huge collection of salt and pepper shakers in all shapes and sizes, and from countries around the world. She’d set up an entire room just for the shakers.

Lillian Patel was very attached to her wedding gown. She’d purchased a wooden curio cabinet, removed all the shelves, and placed her gown inside. It stayed in the corner of her bedroom. When a client and I walked in to the dimly lit room, we saw a glass case with an ethereal white….something floating in it. We jumped back in shock, until we realized that it was a gown, not a ghost.

Inside and outside, on the walls and tucked on the shelves, are little pieces of self, until the house is sold and the next owner makes the home his.

to be continued…

*All names and details have been changed

Keyed In

When viewing a home, be respectful. Wear a mask if they request it; take off your shoes if that’s what the seller prefers; and don’t touch their items. Also, many homes have a Ring doorbell, which means the seller can hear you in the house. Don’t make negative comments about their home — it can be hurtful and even jeopardize a sale.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 805)

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