| Family First Serial |

For Granted: Chapter 32    

“I love it, Dini. I absolutely love it. You’re… you’re really on a roll with your ideas”


The setting wasn’t quite as elaborate as the last CT Volunteer Club event, but the ambience was definitely more intimate, Dini decided as she greeted the ladies, who returned her welcome like old friends.

She was hosting once again, but this time, she’d refrained from going the party planner route. The vibe she needed was homey and comfortable, not knock their socks off. Lasagna and homemade muffins, not sushi and cheese boards. (And if her homemade muffins and lasagna were café-bought, did she have to tell?)

Dini stood up to start the program, scanning the room as she did so. Twenty-two women out of the 25 from their launch event had shown up; not bad at all, she thought with a grin.

She cleared her throat, and the room quieted down.

“This is it, girls! Everyone in this room is now officially a member of the CT Volunteers. Who’s excited?” She grinned and waved her fist in the air, feeling like she was color war captain once again. Someone began to clap in response and soon the whole room had erupted in applause.

“Okay, so here’s the plan for today. Rebbetzin Greenblatt will be coming at eleven thirty to inspire us all about the importance of chesed and the proper way to do it.” Dini had come up with the topic herself, and was proud of it.

“Which means,” she continued, “that we have about forty five minutes to do our first Chesed Tzirel project!”

She’d discussed with Ayala their initial project for the volunteers. She’d been almost positive that Ayala would nix her suggestion to prepare care packages for children whose family member was in the hospital. Not only was it a bit of an expansion of what Chesed Tzirel had been doing until now, it was a costly expansion. Toys, snacks, coloring books, and crayons; she’d waited for Ayala’s inevitable question of how much would this cost, and wasn’t this exorbitant, and was Dini so confident she could raise the amounts she’d been recently spending, with the unspoken implication that Dini had no concept of the value of money.

But Ayala had surprised her. Yes, she’d hesitated, and murmured something under her breath about the price tag. But then, in a stronger voice, she’d said, “It’s a nice idea.”

“You like it?” Dini had immediately winced at the insecurity behind her words.

“Yeah, I think it would mean a lot to our families.” Ayala had paused. “You know, I took your advice. When I met with the Schwartzes the other day in the hospital, I decided to ask them what other assistance they feel would be helpful for us to offer. They had a lot of interesting suggestions.”

Dini had been taken aback — and gratified. But she’d played it cool. “I’m happy to hear. What types of things did they mention?”

“Oh, they had a whole list.” Ayala had laughed lightly. “Babysitting. Tutoring and therapy for the kids. Transportation to the hospital. Someone to accompany Mr. Schwartz to appointments when his wife isn’t available.”

Dini had whistled, her heart lifting. Her intuition had been on the mark; there really was a demand to expand their services!

“Of course,” Ayala had hastily added, “there’s no way we can provide all this. And there’s no reason to. There are other organizations that help with therapy, or provide transportation to medical appointments. But this did make me realize that we should be doing a better job getting a sense of a family’s overall needs, and connecting them to the right resources.”

“Yup.” Dini had had a brainstorm. “What if we put together a resource sheet, with a list of all the relevant organizations out there and how to contact them? It could be, like, a sort of welcome package. With our branding on it, of course.”

Ayala had laughed. “Of course. Although… welcome to your medical crisis?” But then she’d said, “I love it, Dini. I absolutely love it. You’re… you’re really on a roll with your ideas.”

“Thanks,” Dini had answered, as her heart soared once more. Ayala was wrong, of course; most of her ideas had come from Shuki. But this — this one had been hers, and it felt good.

In the end, Ayala had approved Dini’s suggestion, and committed to compiling the resource sheet, to distribute along with the care package. Dini loved how professional the graphic designer had made it look, with their new logo on the top.

Dini proudly picked up a sample sheet to show the crowd, as she described the package they’d be assembling today. Last night, her kids had helped her arrange all of the gift items and packaging supplies in the corner of the living room. Now, Dini showed the women a sample package as she explained the project.

“When a parent or sibling is going through a medical crisis, it takes a real toll on the kids. We’re launching a new initiative to send care packages to families, with toys, games, and snacks for the children, to give them some joy during this rough time.”

“Sounds beautiful!” Sarale exclaimed.

Dini flashed her a smile.

“So here’s where you ladies come in. Ayala and I put together a list of about forty families who we felt could benefit from this gift right now. Today we’ll be packaging them — I have all the items here, and also lots of fun wrapping materials. We want to make these as pretty and cheerful as possible.” She held up a sample package that she and Chaviva had had fun putting together last night.

“Then, the next step is to deliver these. Each of you will get the names and addresses of one or two families. When you bring these over, you can take the opportunity to visit with the mom if she’s interested, offer to entertain the kids for a bit, or see if there’s any other way you can be helpful, either at the moment or another day. The idea is that you can develop a relationship with the family, so that the mother will feel comfortable calling on you if she needs some help.”

From across the room, Chaya raised an eyebrow. “You mean from now on we’re gonna be on call whenever these families need anything?”

Dini’s smile didn’t falter. “Nooo, that’s not what I said. No one’s expected to be ‘on call.’ But this is a way for each family to feel they have a personal contact at Chesed Tzirel. Until now, everything’s gone through Ayala and myself.” (Ayala, mostly Ayala.)

“What I’m envisioning is, if a family needs something small, say, dinner one night when they really can’t handle things, or a last-minute babysitter, they’ll call their personal CT volunteer. Maybe you’ll be able to do it yourself — but absolutely no pressure. If not, you call me and I’ll find someone else.”

Penina, sitting next to Sarale, was nodding eagerly. “Oooh, I love it!” But Chaya still looked skeptical.

“Where do these families live? I mean, if they’re local Ramat Eshkol families, fine, but if we’re going to be expected to schlep out to Beitar or something….”

Dini bit back her annoyance. Was she allowed to kick a CT volunteer out of the club? Why was Chaya even here if all she did was throw cold water on everything?

“They’re nearly all local Yerushalayim families,” she said. “We did include a few in other cities, if any of you are able, but we’re not forcing anything.” She took a breath. “This is volunteer. You’re here because you want to help. Because you’re pumped about the idea of making a meaningful difference in someone’s life.” She looked around the room. Twenty-two pairs of eyes were locked onto hers. “If any of you aren’t excited about this, no problem, no judgments, but maybe this group isn’t for you.”

One or two women shifted their eyes away, but no one said anything. Satisfied, Dini grinned.

“Excellent. Let’s start!”

For the next half hour, there was a buzz of chatter, laughter, and activity in Dini’s living room, as the young women gathered around the table or sat cross-legged on the floor and assembled their packages.

“Ugh, I’m so not artistic!” Sarale proclaimed, as Dini walked by. “My family’s going to get the ugliest care package ever!”

Dini said something encouraging as she showed her how to tie a ribbon in the shape of a flower.

“Cool! Can you do that for me, too?” Penina asked.

Zahava, who was carefully drawing a teddy bear on her gift bag, looked up. “I bet you’re the type who, like, does tablescapes for your Shabbos meals.”

Dini raised an eyebrow. Was she saying that as a compliment or a criticism? Or just as a fact, because anyone who comes from wealth certainly spends their hours crafting elaborate tablescapes for their Shabbos table?

“On a regular Shabbos, no way,” she said. “Only when I really want to impress. Like, y’know, when Bibi and Sara come for lunch.” She chuckled at Penina’s gasp and Zahava’s wary stare, as if unsure whether or not Dini was serious.

She winked. Let them wonder.

Sarale stayed to help Dini clean up. Honestly, Dini would have preferred she leave with everyone else; she had exactly 37 minutes until her girls came home, and all she wanted to do right now was veg with a magazine. Besides, Maya would be here in an hour. But somehow, turning down Sarale’s offer with a blithe, “The cleaning lady’s coming soon,” made her feel like a stereotype.

“It was fun, right?” she said, as Sarale carried a stack of serving bowls into the kitchen.

“Amazing! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for!” Sarale put the serving bowls in the sink. “Do you want me to wash these?”

Dini blinked. “Uh, no, they’re disposable.”

Sarale reddened. “Oh. I thought people reuse them anyway. They’re so expensive.”

Feeling bad, Dini quickly said, “A lot of people do. It’s crazy how expensive disposables have become.” She wondered if that sounded sympathetic or tone-deaf. Truthfully, she never actually paid attention to how much such purchases cost. Imagining Ayala smirking at her, she changed the subject.

“How are things going for you in general? Has your adjustment to shanah rishonah life in Israel gotten easier?”

Sarale’s eyes were still trained on the dishes in the sink. “Yes, in certain ways,” she said slowly. “But there are other aspects that are… really hard.” She shot a swift, embarrassed glance at Dini.

“Like what?”

Sarale shrugged. “Money, mostly,” she mumbled. “I never realized how much money you need to live.” Red-faced, she began scrubbing the bowl Dini had just told her to throw out. “It feels like, lately, all my husband and I talk about is money. How much we’re spending, how much he thinks we should be spending….”

Dini sucked in her breath as her heart went out to the girl. Been there, done that, she realized suddenly, even though, in her case, it wasn’t about money.

Did Sarale realize that this wasn’t about money, either?

Carefully, she said, “Shanah rishonah is complicated. It can be really helpful to have a mentor to turn to when you need to talk things out.”

Sarale turned to face Dini, cheeks still red, a hopeful look in her eyes. “That’s, um, what I’m trying to do right now.”


To be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 884)

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