Me: Tell me the truth. Do you find this whole support group thing productive in any way?
It took a full hour from when “L’shanah Haba’ah” crashed to an end until the mitzvah tanz began. By that time, Malkie was sprawled over three chairs, fast asleep. Hindy, Zissi, and their cousins were twirling in their gowns in the nearly empty hall.
Pessie sat down between her sister Devoiry and her sister-in-law Fraidy, kicked off her heels, and wriggled her finally free toes.
A tray of chocolate was passed around, but Pessie declined. She gestured at the buffet of hot dishes stationed near the men and marveled. “I don’t know how people can eat cholent at this hour.”
Fraidy chuckled. “The men seem perfectly capable.”
The badchan wound down Zeidy Hartstein’s grammen — “Shreits aleh der zeide fun di kallah, er geit, er geit...” — and all the Hartsteins stood up as their grandfather took Suri’s hands and shuffle-danced in place.
The badchan moved along to the chassan’s grandfather. Nice, hartzig. “I like this badchan,” Devoiry declared. “One-two-three, done. He better not make jokes.”
The mitzvah tanz moved along. True to his promise not to keep up the oilem, the badchan did a “Kol Hane’arim” grammen for the uncles on all sides. With one exception.
…Reb Yochonon Hersko!
My longtime yedid
He’ll take you from Venezuela to Madrid
Trust me, this is bechlal nisht a poshuter Yid
He continued in this vein, the crowd roaring with laughter. Even Pessie chuckled; that was Yochi, the life of the party. She wasn’t happy about the tour, but it was heartwarming to watch how everyone always took to her husband.
But when she watched Yochi wink as he pumped Shabbos gelt into the badchan’s hand, something stirred in her chest.
Something was wrong with Yochi. The smile was there, yes. The right words, too, judging by the way the badchan burst out laughing.
But as he reached out a hand to hold onto the outstretched gartel, Pessie saw something more. Behind the smile, behind the laughter, his eyes were hooded. There was no bounce in his step, no spirit in his heart.
A faint ringing filled her ears, clashing with the lively music. And through the ruckus, it hit her — what Yochi had been trying to tell her, what she hadn’t cared about enough to listen.
It was four weeks to the Succos tour, and he didn’t have a caterer.
In Lancaster, after he’d spent the entire buggy ride on the phone, she’d been too hurt to process what he was telling her. Then they’d come home and dived right into the season’s frenzy. Between school starting, wedding prep, and Yom Tov shopping, she hadn’t had time to see or process anything.
But now, as she watched Yochi dance with his brothers in a tight circle, pretending he was the happiest man on earth, she saw it: The stress was eating him up.
Deena met Leah in front of Huvi’s house. The door was open and voices filtered into the foyer.
“If you want something to get done, give it to a busy person, was written about Huvi Spiegel,” Deena declared. “If anyone were to ask me to host an Acheinu party, it wouldn’t dawn on me to say yes. And I don’t teach five days a week like Huvi does.”
“That’s because the word party to you means a media-worthy event that thousands of followers will analyze and dissect,” Leah said. “Huvi spreads out a tablecloth, buys some cake and chocolate, and v’yikarei shemo b’Yisrael ‘party.’ ”
Deena was about to bite back when Shuli Templer breezed into the house. “Hey, great to see you guys again,” she said. “Gotta thank Huvi for keeping the class together. First the challah bake, now this, she’s incredible.”
“Yup,” Leah agreed.
“Will you do a show for us again, Deena?” Shuli asked.
Deena laughed. “Absolutely not. Everyone gets to party, why should I be the only one working, huh?”
“Lol, good point.”
They entered the dining room. As Leah had predicted, the table was set as simple as simple could get. Amazing Savings paper goods, a platter of fruit, bottles of soda, some bakery cookies. Deena, Leah and Shuli sat down together at one end of the table.
A moment later, someone pulled up a chair next to Deena.
Deena’s fingers went rigid, even as she stretched her lips into a fake smile. What? What is it about this woman that so gets on my nerves?
“How are you?” Ruthie exclaimed.
Even that simple, innocent question got Deena nervous. I’m good, I’m amazing, what exactly are you waiting to hear?
“Are you like hyper excited about the Succos tour?” Ruthie blabbered. “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. The grandest trip I’ve ever done is Niagara Falls. This is like, huge.”
Smile, smile, smile. And then, to exercise her niceness, Deena murmured, “I’m sure it’s going be beautiful.”
“Ooh, are you going, Ruthie?” Shuli asked. “That Italian alps tour? Wow, that is cool. Succos in Italy — I could totally get used to that.”
Deena kept a smile on her face, remaining quiet as the Succos tour discussion continued. (“Aaron is performing? Are you for real?” And “What, they’re having Rabbi Baumehl, wow. Wow, I would go just to hear him talk. He’s like crazy sharp and funny. Did anyone here try his parenting workshop? Life altering, totally life altering.”)
Then, when the conversation finally shifted to the next topic — how to set your sheitel on your own — Ruthie inched her chair closer to Deena.
“I can’t get over the hashgachah with this whole tour,” she told Deena in a low voice. She glanced around to check that no one was listening. “I’ll tell you the truth, I was kind of dreading spending Yom Tov with my parents. I mean, they’re really nice and everything, but you know, ugh, I hate feeling like this rachmanus.
“I so badly wanted to go away for Yom Tov, but like, what? Go myself? Where what when how? Then I saw your post — total hashgachah. Misery loves company, huh?” She grinned. “I’m so happy about this.”
Misery — company.
Deena squirmed. “That’s… nice.”
“It’s going to be amazing to get wined and dined for a change, no?” She chuckled. “I can definitely use this vacation. And I’m so happy that we’ll be together.”
It was all Deena could do keep the horror off her face. If Ruthie intended to cling to her over Succos… Forget it.
She picked up a napkin and twisted it around her finger.
“I’m sure you can use a nice vacation as well,” Ruthie blithely went on.
There was only so much Deena could endure. “I wouldn’t call it vacation,” she said stiffly. “This is actually a business trip for me. I’m going to be working, right?”
Ruthie’s face reddened. “Uh, right,” she stammered. “Yes, of course.”
She shifted in her seat, fiddled with her necklace. There was an awkward silence. Feeling horrible, Deena picked out some grapes from the fruit platter and put them down on the plate in front of her.
Thankfully, Huvi stood up just then to get the crowd started on the raffles. End torture.
The rest of the evening passed smoothly. Deena even won a raffle — a gift certificate at Rodman’s Décor.
“And if you offer to do a reel with whatever you buy,” Leah murmured in her ear when Deena passed her chair, clutching the envelope, “I bet Rodman’s will triple the gift certificate amount. Congratulations.”
When she returned to her seat, Ruthie abruptly looked away.
You blew it. She was euphoric about the tour, and you burst her bubble.
You hurt her feelings.
Deena cast a swift glance at Ruthie’s profile. “I’m sure we’ll have a nice time,” she said.
Grinding her teeth, Deena slipped the gift certificate into her bag, stood up and quietly left Huvi’s house.
Me: Tell me the truth. Do you find this whole support group thing productive in any way? Is there a point in a bunch of nebach cases huddling together and coddling each other?
sleepaholic: Why are you asking?
me: Because I find it stifling. And even worse than the support part is how they sort of enjoy this nebach status. It’s almost like people who share a struggle feel elite in a certain sense, like they’re part of some privileged, mysterious society reserved for sufferers. Personally, I prefer not to focus on my unfortunate circumstances all day and lead my life as normally as possible. Spending time with other single moms doesn’t make me feel good. It makes me uncomfortable.
sleepaholic: I hear what you’re saying. You have a point.
Deena’s fingers were poised on her keyboard,
me: My question is, if I don’t appreciate being identified as a single mom and so I avoid these kind of “friendships,” does that make me a mean person?
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 770)
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