ear Rebbetzin and Role Model,
Really, “rebbetzin” is the wrong title for you, although your husband is a rabbi. When I first entered your home, it wasn’t your status that made such a strong impression on me, but rather the way you were so true to yourself, so unapologetic, so comfortable in your own skin. Your ease meant that everyone around you automatically relaxed, too.
Growing up, I developed a hyper-awareness of subtext, to compensate for the poor and unclear communication patterns of my family — but your home was a place of no pretenses. Your children were open and curious, cheerful and busy, with the same lightness about them that you had.
Oh, I thought, this is what a home is meant to feel like. I had longed for a home my whole life, but I’d never actually seen it lived in all its messy joy.
I spent as many Shabbosim as I could at your house. Then, when my oldest was a baby, you moved overseas and we lost touch. I’ve thought about you nearly every day since then.
I’d love to tell you what I don’t remember about Shabbos in your family — the ultimately irrelevant details that can so easily take over the headspace of a mother and hostess. I don’t remember if your challahs were homemade or store-bought. I actually don’t remember anything we ate at all. I can’t recall how clean, or less than clean, the house was.
I remember nothing about the children’s outfits or hair accessories. I have no recollection of the fights or misbehavior that your kids must surely have engaged in. Ditto for their table manners (or lack thereof).
I don’t remember if your husband had a particularly melodious voice. I have no memory of any of the divrei Torah shared at the table.
In contrast, here are some of the vivid memories that have remained: I remember the deference and respect with which your oldest son corrected your husband when something he had learned in yeshivah contradicted your family’s custom — and the grace and satisfaction with which your husband accepted your son’s statement.
I remember your six-year-old excitedly running over to tell you a joke, and the way you smiled and chuckled and repeated the punch line back to him. And then, when he’d run off again, satisfied and pleased, you told me, “Do you know how many times I’ve heard that joke already? All his brothers told it when they were his age.”
I remember the Shabbos morning when you tried repeatedly to wake your son for davening, and the lighthearted, good-humored way you told him, “I know. It’s hard. If I were 11 years old, I also wouldn’t want to get up to go to shul.”
I remember the palpable warmth, affection, and mutual respect that characterized your relationship with your husband.
I remember watching with astonishment as your preteen son clamored insistently for his turn to hold the baby.
I remember when your two-year-old was accidentally given milchigs a few minutes after she’d eaten fleishigs. Your husband (a halachah rabbi) approached her with a twinkle in his eye, patted her head fondly, and asked with a smile, “Was it yummy, Racheli?”
The atmosphere you created in your home — of gratitude, joy, humility, emotional sensitivity — resulted in much more than lasting memories. It provided a detailed, living model of a healthy family, and it has come to inform and guide the way I run my own household today.
Somehow, miraculously, I’m paying it forward. I’m the inspiration now to a new generation of girls.
A recent Shabbos guest, watching my normal Friday night multitasking, suddenly exclaimed, “I want to be you!” All the credit for that comment goes to you.
Thank you, more than I can say, for building the foundation of my home.
Your Grateful Student
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 674)