| Family First Serial |

Half Note: Episode 10   

Shira wanted to ask how much, but knew she couldn’t. How much did it cost to live; how much money was giving her peace of mind. She had no clue


“What does my Creator want for me in the situation? That’s where energy should be spent.”

—Gedale Fenster, Coach Menachem, Episode #97


This was new, and Shira actually liked it.

Danielle’s apartment was small — cozy would be a better word. The three couples and their kids were seated on folding chairs, and the tablecloth was probably covering a folding table. It was all totally fine. It was nice to be out with people for a Shabbos day seudah, making friends. The kids were playing raucously in one of the bedrooms while the adults ate.

“Can you pass the challah?” Tzippy asked.

Shira smiled and passed the ceramic tray. She didn’t really know Tzippy yet.

“Did you end up baking challah?” Danielle asked Tzippy.

Tzippy laughed, and waved a hand. “I got lazy, I didn’t have patience to knead by hand. I had a challah roll in my freezer from three weeks ago when you sent me Friday night seudah stuff when we first moved, and I figured I’d eat proper challah here.”

Wait, Danielle sent Tzippy Shabbos? And the way Tzippy was talking it seemed Danielle knew exactly what Tzippy’s plans were. Shira felt very out of the loop. She groped for a new topic.

“So you’re starting a babysitting group?” she asked. She hoped her voice sounded curious.

Tzippy looked at her and smiled. She seemed so much calmer since the last time Shira had seen her; at the welcome barbecue, she’d been all anxious about money.

“Not really. I’m babysitting three kids in their home, and bringing my baby along too. Two of the kids are twins and have some medical issues, and I’m a nurse, so the mother is willing to pay more than usual so she’ll feel secure.”

Shira wanted to ask how much, but knew she couldn’t. How much did it cost to live; how much money was giving her peace of mind. She had no clue.

“So this is perfect.”

Tzippy smiled deeply. “Yes, Danielle was the shadchan for this.”

Shira nodded, but found herself biting her lip. It seemed like everyone had a life without her. Her daled amos in Chicago were so small. Everyone else seemed to be figuring it out, getting to know other people while she felt like she was cloistered in her in-laws’ house. Why?

She looked over at Ephraim. He was thick in a conversation about law something, Shira couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

“What are you doing with your Racheli?” Danielle asked.

“Morah Devorah,” Shira replied.

Danielle’s eyes went buggy. “How’d you get her in? She’s backed up with siblings and only takes the immediate neighborhood.”

Shira tried mumbling. “Ephraim was in yeshivah with her son. They’re old friends, so he called her the second we knew we were coming to Chicago.”

Danielle looked skeptical, and Shira shrugged. She hadn’t known until this moment that it was hard to get in. Had Morah Devorah made room for them? Did she owe her in-laws any favors?

Was she expecting better Chanukah bonuses? Shira loved being generous, but hated when it was expected.

“It must be so nice coming to Chicago and have half your life already set up.” Tzippy sounded wistful.

Shira wasn’t sure what to say. “I guess so. I mean, it doesn’t feel like it, but compared to what you have to figure out, I have it way easier.”

Danielle clucked empathically, and started stacking the plates. Shira and Tzippy got up to help.

There wasn’t room for all three of them in the kitchen, and Tzippy passed the platter she brought to Shira.

“What are you dealing with?” Danielle asked while she scraped cholent off a plate and into the garbage.

Shira sucked on her teeth. What was she dealing with? She just felt alone, unmoored, unsupported, but these weren’t real problems. Jobs and child care, those were pressing concerns.

“Y’know, transitions are hard, that’s all. Figuring out a new place, routine.” Her apartment in Yerushalayim flashed before her eyes. The pinch of tears followed. “Missing the old…”

“Yeah, totally hear that.” Danielle seemed to only be listening with half an ear at this point, she was trying to salvage what she could of the dip that had spilled all over the counter when she was transferring it back to the container.

Shira gave up.

Dessert was chocolate chip cookies with a scoop of homemade ice cream and drizzle of chocolate syrup. Underwhelming but adequate, that seemed to be the credo of out-of-town, which was nice, Shira decided.

“So I told the TSA guy that I wasn’t taking my tichel off, and he made me go to a private room to get checked.” Tzippy was sharing her flight to Chicago story. “And I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ This is taking no racial profiling to an extreme.”

The women laughed and Danielle took a turn sharing how her double stroller’s wheel fell off just after she checked in.  Shira offered her Uber-who-had-avoid-tolls-on-while-she-was-late-for-a-flight story.

The seudah wound down and Danielle put popcorn and nuts on the table for the men, while the women shifted to the couch. Shira was just getting settled when Ephraim stood up and stretched.

“This has been a wonderful seudah,” he said, “but I need a bed, I’m exhausted.” He jutted his chin to the door. The men nodded, they seemed to get it.

Shira did not. He had to be kidding. She was just starting to feel comfortable and enjoy herself, make friends, connect. How could he do that to her? Deep breaths, Shira, deep breaths.


elp yourself, get comfortable.” Eva said graciously.

Clarissa had put out a nice brunch spread in the dining room, assorted salads and breads, smoked fish, cheese and crackers, fruit juice, coffee, cold brew. Something for everyone. Eva wanted these people to be happy and comfortable.

She watched the group of eight women fix plates, chat, look around the room with a little wonder. It’s not too much, Eva reminded herself. It’s not ostentatious, you didn’t obsess over it, you just gave guidelines and this is what Clarissa did. Don’t overthink it. It had been years since their finances had changed, but she still grappled with how she spent her money.

“La la la la la la la,” one woman, Sharon, started singing scales. A former opera singer, Eva remembered. “The acoustics in this room are magnificent!”

Eva blushed and gestured vaguely to the cathedral ceilings and vaulting beams.

“Imagine a string quartet in this room,” Debra said to two other women, both violinists.

The women settled at the table, eating and chatting, and after a bit Eva stood up to address the women.

“I really appreciate you all taking time to come here this morning. I know Sundays can be precious days. Debra shared my vision with you, but I wanted to take a minute to articulate it myself, as well as talk practically about what our next steps may be.”

She looked around. The women were listening. It was a nice change from Miriam’s antagonism.

“I don’t have to tell any of you what music can do for the mind and the soul. For children, it builds character and perseverance, it encourages better synapse connections neurologically. Music regulates moods as well as taps into our essence and gives us an opportunity to express our deepest selves, and even if you’re just listening, to see yourself reflected in the music.”

The women were nodding. Good.

“While we know this as elementary, our larger community doesn’t fully appreciate the reality. The type of music instruction that could reveal this to them is often out of reach. Our goal is to provide our community’s children with quality musical instruction that’s both affordable and convenient. Until the community appreciates what music is, we need to make it as frictionless as possible.”

Eva started enumerating her idea to coordinate with schools, and to have a concert. The women lit up at the mention of a concert.

“Where will it be?”

“When will it be?”

“Did you plan the program yet?”

The questions tumbled out, one interrupting the next. The smooth whoosh of the front door closing jolted Eva for a moment, thought the other women didn’t hear it. Eva looked up, Shira entered with the two kids. Her daughter-in-law’s eyes were wide, the kids clung to her. Was she tired? Where was Ephraim?

Eva smiled at Shira, who smiled weakly in return. The women turned and looked.

“Everyone, this is my daughter-in-law Shira. Debra is teaching her Racheli the cello.”

There was a collective “aaawww” at the mention of Racheli and the cello. Shira gave everyone a weak wave. Only after Shira was in the next room with her kids did Eva realize what everyone was clearly wondering: Why hadn’t her daughter-in-law been invited to this brunch?

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 806)

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