| Double Take |

Hijacked Connection    

Why did my neighbor designate me as her Internet goy?

Aidel: I thought we were friends, and friends help each other out.
Nina: I admire your standards, but I’m not sure why I should be paying the price.


“Shiri, that looks great!” She gave me back the rolling pin and I handed her the knife. “Here, cut the dough into triangles, and then you can sprinkle it with the chocolate mixture.”

Shiri pushed a loose hair out of her face. “Never would’ve guessed it’s fun to make rugelach.”

“Sure it is, almost as much fun as eating them, right?”

Shiri hesitated a split second. “Yeah.”

I looked up at her for a fraction of an instant. Was that a shadow? “You gonna help me taste test when the first batch comes out? Make sure it’s good before I let the troops loose?”

Shiri laughed. “Sure. Can’t say no to fresh rugelach. Especially yours.”

The moment was over. Okay, good. I’ve known Shiri for years, she lives right next door, but it’s only recently that she’s started hanging out here. She comes over to help me bake, asking for some help with her Chumash assignments, throwing out the odd question here and there, all casually, but I can tell she comes for something else.

“How’s school going?” I asked, as we transferred the rolled-up pastries to baking sheets and switched the trays with the ones inside the oven.

“Yeah, same old, same old.” Shiri rolled her eyes. “Teachers piling on the homework and Mrs. Stark coming after a bunch of us for wearing nail polish to school. I mean, how did she even know? Are the teachers, like, sneaking around scrutinizing our nails while we take tests or something?”

“You know that teachers have better things to do than look for ways to get their students into trouble,” I remarked, a little drily.

Some teachers, maybe,” Shiri grumbled. “Oh, I don’t mean like you, Mrs. A! I’m just… whatever. There’s this one teacher, she’s totally out to get m— to get girls into trouble. Like, she gets this victorious look when she finds someone doing something wrong. I’ll bet she was the one who told Mrs. Stark about the nail polish.”


Luckily, I didn’t teach in Shiri’s school, so I had no idea who she was talking about. The girl had a chip on her shoulder, that was for sure. If she was opening up to me, I knew I had to handle with care.

The door banged open. My girls were home.


“In the kitchen!”

“Smells amazing!”

Shiri gave my daughters a small smile. When they were younger, they’d been friends of sorts, playing outside together and running around each other’s houses. But they go to different schools, and by now they don’t have much to do with each other anymore.

I knew she wouldn’t hang around much with my girls busy in the kitchen. I packed up a few of the cooling rugelach and handed Shiri the bag.

“Here, enjoy. We’ll talk more, okay?”

I knew we would; Shiri would be back. As a seasoned high school mechaneches, I was used to this; Shiri’s not the only kid on the block who’s found her way over to my house to talk things through. High school politics, seminary applications, even shidduchim coaching — my kitchen table has definitely heard its fair share of secrets.

Shiri was somewhat of a surprise, though, because her family is so different from ours. She’s the oldest of four; her mother, Nina, works in a law firm in the city; father works in real estate. They’re the well-educated, well-dressed type — not the baking rugelach sort of home. But did that matter? Every home has its mailos, and Nina and Asher are wonderful neighbors. The kids are great, too, well-mannered and friendly.

All in all, our block is a very big mix — we have all types, all stripes, and baruch Hashem, we all get along. I’m the unofficial Bubby of the lot — by virtue of age and profession, I guess — but honestly, the young mothers give me plenty, too, help me stay vaguely aware of the trends, make me feel young. And I enjoy schmoozing with all of them, the moms and their daughters alike.

Having neighbors who are tech savvy has other perks. We don’t have a computer in the house, certainly nothing with an Internet connection. If I have to check my email, I sometimes use the office computer at work, and if something really important comes up, I could hop over next door.

And I know that seeing pictures of the eineklach didn’t really qualify as urgent, but when my oldest daughter, Suri, called from Eretz Yisrael to tell me that she’d finally got her pictures off her memory card and emailed them over to me (she goes to one of the Internet offices in Yerushalayim; they keep an Internet-free home like us, and I couldn’t be prouder), I decided to give Nina a quick call.

“Hi, Nina. Really been enjoying your delightful daughter,” I said. She gave a small noise of appreciation.

“I have a favor to ask, would you mind if I come over and use your computer for five minutes?” I asked.

“Sure,” Nina said.

The pictures were pure nachas, Moishy and Leah and Chani posing in the park, and sitting together on the speckled tiles inside their dirah, building with Magna-Tiles. I clicked through the photos, savoring their faces. I get so much nachas from my married children, but they live so far. It isn’t easy.

From the den, I could see Nina in the kitchen, scrubbing down the counter. It looked like it was already gleaming to me — I knew she had a housekeeper who came for six hours a day — but to each their own, I guess.

“Nina, want to see?” I called over to her. “My daughter just sent pictures of her kids.”

“Awww,” she said, leaning in to the screen. “Gorgeous. Kein ayin hara. Wow! You must really miss them.”

“Yeah.” I minimized the picture, and the tab changed. Wait, this wasn’t my email—

“Whoops, that’s my work email, hold on.” Nina grabbed the mouse, clicked furiously, and handed it back. “Sorry. I could get in huge trouble for that, there’s a lot of confidential stuff on there. I don’t usually use this computer at all, but my laptop was in for repairs, and I had to send an email earlier…. Here, this is your tab.”


I honestly had no idea about these things, tabs and browsers and whatnot. I just knew how to check my email and make online orders from the few sites my daughters told me about.

Another email came, a confirmation of something I’d ordered a few days ago. That reminded me, Pessi was really growing out of her skirts, and the ones I had stored from the six sisters above her just weren’t in good condition anymore. The prices in the frum local stores are pretty high, so I wanted to try my luck on those miraculous websites from China, where they sell anything you could possibly want for dirt cheap.

Bless my teens. If not for them, I’d never have figured out this ordering online thing, and honestly, it saves so much time and money. Of course, there’s the hassle of doing returns and stuff, but Nina has a printer, and she’s always helped me figure out return labels to get the stuff back on time. In fact, I’d just sent her a cake for Shabbos to thank her for all her help figuring out a bunch of returns and pickups. She let me spend so much time using her den computer, and while I knew no one in their family used it much these days; she’d told me they had other, more portable gadgets — I found it so helpful, and was so grateful I could rely on her when I needed to do something online out of work hours.

I ordered several skirts, then went onto Amazon to do a quick search for some containers that would help me keep my kitchen cabinets in order. I finally hit on the perfect set, added them to the basket, and headed for the checkout.

Wait — there was a card saved already, and it wasn’t my number.

“Nina, am I inside your Amazon account?” I asked.

Nina paused in the act of wiping down the coffee machine. “Did you log out and log in again with your name?”

“Um, no.” I felt a little silly. “I just typed in Amazon, and clicked.”

She came over. “Yeah, you’re on my account, it’s the default. Here, you can sign out, and….”

“Wait, will I lose the stuff in the basket?” I asked. “I’m just not sure I’ll find it again…”

“Oh, never mind.” Nina clicked through to pay, and her phone pinged. “I put it through. It’s paid on my card, so send me a transfer — or the cash, whatever. It’ll come to our address, luckily you don’t live too far away.”

“Oh, that’s amazing, thanks a million,” I said, relieved. I stood up to go. “Wait, do I need to sign out of my emails or anything?”

“I’ll take care of it,” Nina said, and she walked me to the door.

The next few nights were crazy and I was happy I’d taken care of the orders. I had PTA for Pessi, then PTA for my own school, a ton of marking to do, and shidduch phone calls coming in nonstop.

My son, Tuvia, is known as a “top boy,” and while I know every mother will say this, he genuinely is. He’s a great learner, with a geshmake personality and beautiful middos. He’ll make a wonderful husband someday, and we were looking for a girl who was really something special.

We wanted a good girl, tzniyus yet confident, from an excellent family. A good job wouldn’t hurt, either; Tuvia wanted to stay in learning for as long as possible.

Suggestions were coming fast and furious, dozens a day. Sifting through names and résumés was like another full-time job, and I spent complete evenings on the phone, trying to feel out if the girls were really what we were looking for before getting too busy with investigations.

When Mashi Parnes called me about Chava Bruck, I perked up. Chava had been my student in high school, and she was exactly what I was looking for: bright and talented, yet refined and demure, beautiful middos, with a lovely way of talking and holding herself.

She came from a choshuve family, and her sisters — a whole string of them, all of whom had been or were currently my students — were all role models, tzanuah and quietly intelligent, upbeat and friendly and refined.

“I’m interested,” I told Mashi. “Can you send me her résumé, and I’ll make a few calls?”

“I’m emailing it right now,” Mashi said. There was a note of triumph in her voice. “I have a good feeling about this, Aidel. Don’t take too long, okay? I want to give it over to the girl’s side already.”

I went over to Nina’s house right away to print the résumé and got started on the calls. We spoke to references, then reached out to more people who weren’t on the résumé, but knew Chava and her parents well. Everything we heard was positive. The parents — amazing people, pillars of the community, the father a genuine talmid chacham, the mother a true baalas chesed. And Chava’s friends, teachers, and coworkers all sang her praises to the skies.

We said yes.

The Brucks said yes.

Tuvia came home from yeshivah.

The first date went well, then the second.

By the time they reached a fifth date, I couldn’t focus. Was it too premature to go next door and browse a little for cute bridesmaid dresses for the grandchildren?

Nina’s house was a hive of activity when I knocked on the door with Libby, my just-out-of-seminary daughter, asking if she minded if we did a couple things online. It looked like her boys had friends over; it was usually pretty quiet.

“You’re welcome in, but it’s noisy,” she warned me.

“You’re forgetting who you’re talking to,” I laughed. “We’re practically made of noise.”

Libby was in on the secret of course and just as excited as I was. She took the lead this time, scrolling through sites and showing me different ideas. “Of course, it depends on the color scheme, and the kallah would choose that….”

We had fun looking at adorable white frilly dresses and different hairdos. Then I got practical and ordered a new tablecloth and a couple of other things I needed. Time enough to plan a wedding when — if — they got engaged, right?

Libby logged into her email afterward, showing me some links to dresses she’s been debating. She was in shidduchim, too, and she had to look good. After Tuvia got married — im yirtzeh Hashem soon! — I’d get busy looking for the right one for her.

“The green and the blue both look beautiful. Why not order both?” I told her.

She’d need some nice outfits, for dating, for Tuvia’s sheva brachos….

Okay, I needed to stop getting ahead of myself.

From the other room, I could hear Nina’s boys and their friends, involved in some rowdy activity. Another voice floated down the stairs — Shiri’s. She didn’t sound happy.

“But Ma! You’re not listening to me!”

I bit my lip. I couldn’t hear Nina’s reply, and to be honest, I didn’t want to — it wasn’t my business.

But when Shiri burst out crying and stormed off, slamming a door behind her, I made a mental note to give her some extra attention next time she came over.

It couldn’t hurt.

As it turned out, Shiri dropped by just an hour later, looking teary and a little wan. Tuvia was still out on his date and all of us were holding our breaths, so I can’t say I had much headspace — understatement — but I pushed myself. She clearly needed someone to talk to; I would’ve known even without the little scene I’d overheard.

“Wanna help me bake again?” I offered, smiling.

This time, we did chocolate chip cookies. It was quiet downstairs, and after a few minutes of comfortable silence, Shiri began to talk.

I did a lot of listening, breaking in every so often with a question or two, sometimes offering my input, but mostly just hearing her out. She was confused and questioning and unsure. Were her friends the problem, or her family? What did she really want out of life? Why did no one seem to have answers?

I don’t get scared off easily; I’ve taught high school girls for years. For all of the existential angst, Shiri was really a typical teen, going through what I’d watched and guided so many girls through before.

We talked for a while, rolling cookies, and when they were done, we sat over coffee and continued schmoozing. At some point, I noticed the time — wow. It must be a good sign that Tuvia was out for so long, right?

Shiri followed my gaze and looked at the clock. “Whaaat, how did it get so late?” She jumped up and grabbed her sweatshirt. “Thanks a mil, Mrs. A. I need to run.”

“Here — take cookies!” I filled a small container and handed it to her.

She left just as Tuvia pulled into the driveway.

I waited by the door. “How was?”

He smiled. “Great. Really great. Do I smell cookies?”

And then, somehow, we were making a l’chayim. It was late at night, just a few people, family and close friends, but the vort a few days later would be the big event.

I was so excited to introduce Chava to all my friends and relatives. What a gem. We were so blessed.

The next few days were a whirlwind, dry cleaning and bracelets and fielding what seemed like 1,000 mazel tov calls.

The biggest thing on my mind were the vort flowers; I wanted to get something really gorgeous for Chava, and everyone was recommending Fleurs by Tilly, some new florist who was apparently doing “all the simchahs” these days.

Tilly was happy to oblige, and offered to email me pictures of her standard kallah bouquets so I could choose.

“Of course we can customize, change colors, add or take away elements, but I always think it’s best to have something to build off,” she said.

“Sure, no problem,” I said.

It was already evening when I got to pop over next door to check the email. Tilly’s options were really special, and her pricing was… gulp. Well, special, too, I guess you could call it. But this was a special simchah, and if all the girls were getting elaborate arrangements like these, why should our kallah get any less?

“Nina, what do you think of these options?” I asked.

Nina came over. “They all look beautiful,” she said. “Is this for the kallah?”

“Yes! Our vort is on Wednesday, you’ll make it?”

“Of course.” She gave a small smile. “Shiri wouldn’t miss it for anything. She really… admires you, you know.”

Shiri wouldn’t miss it?

What about her?

I shrugged. She probably didn’t mean it that way.

“Shiri’s great,” I said. “Looking forward to seeing you both there!”

And then it was the night of the vort.

The hall was bursting with friends, family, my colleagues and students, former students, friends of the Brucks’, friends of Chava….

I stood near Esther Bruck, greeting the many guests, introducing my family members to my new mechuteneste and getting to know the Brucks’ large extended mishpachah.

“Nina! So glad you made it.” I leaned in to give my neighbor a warm hug, and then tapped Esther on the arm. “This is Nina, my amazing neighbor. She’s the one who saves the day anytime we need help on the computer, or anything like that. Any orders, even the flowers today, it’s all thanks to Nina.”

Esther Bruck gave a small smile. “Wow, that’s so lovely,” she murmured. “I think I spoke to you on the phone, didn’t I?”

Oooh… the Brucks must have called our neighbors for information. There was something about the look on her face, though….

“Lovely to meet you,” Esther said, and turned away to the next well-wisher.

I looked over at Nina, but she had already melted into the crowd.

The next time I called her, she didn’t answer the phone.

Or the next.

At some point, I decided to simply knock on the door — we were trying to book flights home for the married children to come for the wedding, and someone had tipped us off that there were very cheap flights available on a certain website — but Nina didn’t answer the door.

Instead, Shiri opened it, with a message that it wasn’t a great time to come.

“But I was going to ask you, are you doing baking tonight by any chance? Happy to help,” she said, with a grin.

Happy to help. Clearly, she wanted to talk.

“Sure thing,” I said, but I was distracted.

And bewildered.

What on earth has happened to upset Nina?

And why wouldn’t she just be up-front about it?

If I could tell Nina one thing, it would be: I thought we were friends — and friends help each other out. Why the out-of-the-blue cold shoulder?




I looked up from my phone, where I was finally catching up on the family chat — it tended to explode right around lunchtime, but I barely took a break during work hours.

My neighbor, Aidel Arons, was standing in the doorway of the kitchen. She’d come over to use our family computer to do “a couple of things” and I knew from experience that she would be around for half an hour at least. And while initially it hadn’t really bothered me — we barely used the family computer these days, the kids preferred doing their schoolwork or shopping on Asher’s laptop or my tablet — I still felt like I should stick around while Aidel was there. I could never be sure what was open on the computer, or if she’d need help navigating the web. So I was hanging around in the kitchen, reminding myself that this was a chesed, and come on, not that difficult, while Aidel checked her emails and tried to shop on AliExpress.

“I’m just not sure what happened here…” Aidel said. She pointed at the computer, her face creased in confusion. “I was about to pay for an order, and then it just disappeared….”

I hovered over the icons at the bottom of the screen. “Here. You switched tabs. You were on Amazon?”

“Oh! Yes! Thanks a million. I’m so bad at these things.”

Aidel went back to her shopping and I scrolled forward to the end of the chat, bored. I really wanted to go upstairs, start getting ready for bed….

“Know if you’ll need much longer?”

“No, no, I’m all done here. Thanks so much, Nina. Wouldn’t manage without you!”

It was true — she wouldn’t manage without me. Or rather, without my free Internet services.

It was just… well, when it started, she’d come over once or twice a month, just to check an email or place an urgent order. But by now it had turned into a weekly ritual, and sometimes even a few times in one week.

The Arons family were wonderful, and wonderful neighbors. I admired their values and thought it was a very special thing that they were able to live without Internet connectivity in their home. But the ease with which we’d become the local Internet café just bothered me.

I tried not to let it get to me. I didn’t want to be that person who denigrates others for holding a higher standard, for upping the level of kedushah in their home. But I couldn’t help but feel a little… used, sometimes.

Like, yes, I was annoyed when I started getting emails from some random teaching resources website. There were multiple emails a day, all coming under different names, offering courses and classes and freebies and just clogging my inbox with junk mail.

At first, I couldn’t figure out why — until I realized that Aidel had placed some order for teaching supplies the day before and left my address as the autofilled response.

Most likely, my email address had been part of the autofill, too. And now I was getting spammed by the company. Joy.

It wasn’t a big deal to unsubscribe, and I did, but I couldn’t help but feel the creeping resentment again.

My daughter, Shiri, was a typical teen, sleeping in till who-knows-when on Shabbos and Sundays, talking on the phone with her friends half the night. And all with that touch-me-not attitude, like Heaven forfend actually talking to her mother about anything.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when she came in one evening and actually smiled at me, holding up a bag of freshly baked rugelach.

“I was helping Mrs. Arons bake, and she gave me a bunch to take home,” she said, shrugging.

Oh, wow.

Well, I was more than happy for her to hang out at the Arons house. Definitely no bad influences to be had over there, ha ha.

“So nice of you to help her out with the baking,” I said, hoping to hear more.

Shiri waved a hand. “Eh, she doesn’t need my help, I just like hanging out there, it’s so chilled, you know?”

Chilled was an interesting word to use. But I also knew I wouldn’t get much more out of Shiri if I pushed.

“Sounds great, glad you enjoyed,” I said, opting for pareve.

“Yeah. She’s amazing. Like a real rebbetzin type of person, you know what I mean?” Shiri said, actually gushing a little. “And their house is so… like, it’s incredible that someone can live in 2024 with not a single smartphone or even computer or whatever. Like, she does banking and stuff over the phone, can you imagine?”

Or over here, I wanted to say, sardonically. I’d had to help Aidel more than once to log into and verify her bank account on our computer — and then log out for her afterward, since she didn’t realize she had to and left the whole thing open on my screen.

“I don’t think I could ever live like that, but it’s cool to see,” Shiri continued.

I made a noncommittal noise. I did respect Aidel, I really did. And perishus was a special thing. But sometimes I couldn’t help but feel like it was a little… hypocritical. Very nice to keep your home all clean and pure, but then you come and spend hours at other people’s homes, to borrow their treife devices?

I didn’t say a word to Shiri, though. I wouldn’t. But inside, I wondered.

And then came the shidduch call, from a woman who sounded so much like Aidel herself it was almost comical.

“Would it be okay for me to talk to you for a few minutes, to hear some shidduch information about the family? Of course, it’s all 100 percent l’toeles,” the woman, who introduced herself as Esther Bruck, asked me sweetly.

“Sure, they’re our neighbors, and wonderful people. Really special,” I said, launching into the accolades.

I was somewhere between Rabbi Arons’s hasmadah and the children’s beautiful middos, clearly a product of the way their parents brought them up, when Mrs. Bruck cut in.

“Yes, yes, that’s all beautiful, I appreciate hearing it. I have one more question, it’s actually about….” She coughed and lowered her voice a little, like she wanted to confide in me. “I’ll tell you the truth, we’re a family that’s very, very careful about kedushah. We don’t allow any devices in the house, not even ones with a filter, not even for a short time — it’s just something we’re very makpid about. You know, it’s about preserving the kedushah of the home, of the future generations…. So I wanted to know, where are they holding with that sort of thing? I know they’re makpid, too, but I just wanted to check….”

Maybe it wasn’t nice of me, but I just wanted to gag at the whole speech about preserving kedushah. Did this woman also sit by her neighbor or sister or friend and use their devices while blabbering to the world about her perfect high-standard home?

“They don’t have any Internet in the house,” I said bluntly. “But do they use it at all? Of course. Like everyone does.”

And then, somehow, I ended the conversation and hung up the phone.

I felt guilty about it afterward.

I shouldn’t have let my feelings come out on a shidduch call, of all things.

I comforted myself that I’d only told the truth, they don’t have Internet in the home and they do use it — plenty, if the browsing sessions in my den were anything to go by.

I just hoped… I just hoped that what I’d said hadn’t torpedoed a shidduch for the Arons boy. He hadn’t done anything wrong.

When Shiri mentioned in passing that Tuvia Arons was home from yeshivah and dating, I breathed a sigh of relief. So I hadn’t ruined anything, after all.

I resolved to be nicer next time Aidel came over to use the computer, but the resolve didn’t last that long.

Tuvia did get engaged. I had the heads-up from the sudden surge of wedding-related ads popping up on my browser. Clearly, someone had been running a lot of searches for gowns or hairdos.

Aidel came knocking on the door the night after the engagement became official, breathless and pink-cheeked.

“Nina! I’m sorry to barge in, I just have an email from the florist that I really need to look at. Choosing the kallah flowers for the vort, how fun is that? Would you mind if I look it up here?”

I was tempted to say no. What would she do if I didn’t give her free rein to my Internet? Knock by the Goldbergs two doors down? Go to a family member?

But of course, I didn’t refuse. I just waved a hand to the den.

If I was emanating any negative vibes, Aidel didn’t pick up on them. She chattered happily about the chassan and kallah and the lovely mechutanim and how blessed she felt, and how she hoped things would go as smoothly for Libby, who was next.

“And your Shiri, of course. What a great girl! I love schmoozing to her.”

“Shiri has a while to go,” I said drily.

“Oh, but the time flies, you’ll see…” Aidel clicked busily. “Nina, come see the flower options, what do you think?”

I shrugged. “They all look beautiful,” I said.

Can we just get this done quickly?

I went to the vort, of course I did. We were the next-door neighbors after all.

But when Aidel actually introduced me to her new mechuteneste as her Internet goy — well, not exactly in those words, but close enough — I’d had enough.

“We’re also good, frum Jews,” I told Asher later, fury tingeing my words. “Almost everyone these days has Internet, I mean, even our rav answers emails. From his house! Very nice to be all holy and go the extra mile and not have it at all, but don’t come and patronize me — especially when I’m the one facilitating your whole Internet-free life!”

“I’m sure she didn’t mean it like that,” Asher says. “I mean, it sounds really upsetting and all that, but you know… they’re nice people. I’m sure she’s really grateful that you lend them the computer. Didn’t she send over that crumb cake the other week? As a thank-you for all our help? I’m sure it was just an innocent comment, that’s all.”

“Well, it sure didn’t sound innocent,” I said plaintively.

Asher glanced at the open doorway. “I hear you. I think we should… discuss this another time, okay?”

He was right; I didn’t want the kids hearing this either. After all, we wanted to model respect for others, especially those who were keeping higher standards. And I was grateful that Shiri considered Aidel Arons a role model; it sure was better than many alternatives.

But I was still upset. And very, very hurt.

The next time she called, I just didn’t answer. There was no rule that I always had to be available, right?

What if she needs something urgent? a little voice whispered.

Well, she’ll have to figure it out! She doesn’t want Internet in the house, so there’s a price. You can’t always have your cake and eat it, too.

When Aidel knocked on the door one evening, I asked Shiri to tell her I wasn’t available, on the pretext of work, and quickly logged into my work account while hibernating in my bedroom so it wasn’t even a lie.

“Ma? She wants to know when’s a good time?”

“Not tonight,” I called back.

I know I’ll go back to letting her come by. Probably tomorrow. After all, I want to stretch myself and help someone who wants to keep their home pure. But I’m hurt feeling overused, and then on top of all that, I feel patronized, too.

And I don’t think I need to be a 24/6 open-house Internet café, either.

Want to use my Internet? Come when it works for me. Oh, and would it hurt to keep it to an absolute minimum?

If I could tell Aidel one thing, it would be: A favor is one thing, but an ongoing barrage of Internet-related favors and inbox bombardment is just too much. It’s nice that you want to keep an influence-free home, but why is it at my expense? 


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 999)

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