Editor’s Letter: Issue 735

Had this arrived as a submission, I probably would have rejected it

She seemed to have it all. My seminary classmate was bright, popular, pretty. She was always surrounded by a bevy of friends, chatting and laughing, light and carefree. Her family was well-known and prominent; doors opened easily for her.

Through the three years of seminary, I watched this from afar — our social circles didn’t overlap. Until the last semester. Then, we were thrown together while working on a project.

Up close, she was different. I discovered a pensive, serious side. Slowly, other things emerged. She shared difficulties she was experiencing, strained relationships within her perfect-looking family. Behind the easy laugh lurked so much pain.

I don’t know why it surprised me — I knew everyone had their pekel — but the revelation that the girl I would have labeled “has the smoothest life” was struggling with several formidable challenges left me shaken.


I feel a little hypocritical sharing this story. Because had this arrived as a submission, I probably would have rejected it. I know that because this storyline arrives as a submission nearly every week. While it’s often part of a personal essay, it shows up more frequently in frum fiction.

Countless fiction stories I’ve received have the same basic storyline: Protagonist has friend/neighbor/sister-in-law who seems to have the perfect life. Perfect has a happy marriage, nachas-only children, a stunning home, multiple talents, and, of course, she’s always dressed to the nines, her makeup flawless, and every sheitel hair in place. Our more casual protagonist, whose home is messy, and whose kids misbehave, feels inept and inferior around Perfect, and tries to avoid her, since she’ll never measure up.

And then comes the moment of truth. Some event brings the two women together, they have a heart-to-heart, Casual admits to Perfect how she feels around her. And to her utter shock, Perfect turns the tables. She tells Casual how she’s always been jealous of her — of her relaxed attitude, welcoming home, happy children. Both women realize that things are not always as they appear and they each have what to be proud of. Cue the violins.

I reject these stories because the storyline is tired and cliché. But ironically, though we may roll our eyes at these plots, we still fall into Casual’s line of thinking again and again. This week, Sarah Chana Radcliffe’s powerful Family Reflections reminds us of the crucial truth: You may be struggling alone, but you aren’t alone in the experience of struggle.

Preparing for Yom Tov, particularly one as labor-intensive as Pesach, tends to intensify whatever complicated dynamics we may be dealing with, both in our nuclear family and the extended one. It’s hard not to focus on the friend who’ll be hosted for the entire Yom Tov while you’re the one doing the hosting, on your coworker’s helpful children, your cousin’s endless cleaning help, and the neighbor who has her Seder table set three days before bedikas chometz (I really did have such a neighbor — our house was still flowing bleach while her fully set table was wrapped in three plastic tablecloths).

It’s very possible that they do have things easier on some level. But we’re only seeing a piece of the picture. Rather than wonder what challenges are lurking beneath the glossy surface of their lives, let’s do the reverse: Try to notice the blessings they see in ours, at the strengths we have that they wish were theirs.

Only between the covers of a book is life in This World ever perfect. But if we can focus on all that’s good, we just may hear the faint strains of a soaring violin.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 735)

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