he goes every week.
She hardly stops to think about it. It’s been years.
She takes it week by week. Shabbos by Shabbos.
Each week, there’s a new mix of guests at the table. People her neighbor finds in shul, people who have nowhere else to go.
They find their way to the Brooklyn apartment. Uncle Izzy and Tante Edith, they call them. Her neighbors are an older couple who’ve never had children, but at the Shabbos meals, they become parents to broken souls, collectors from Israel, bochurim who don’t go home for Shabbos because their fathers won’t let them in.
They listen to problems, run-on problems that echo of each other. They offer good words, good food. The house fills with spices and scents and songs. Men learning how to sing again, how to hear the song again.
She’s there, too. She has a family, a home, a meal of her own, but she’s one of the only teens on the block — it’s mostly young families and this older couple who never outgrew their apartment. She went for a meal once, as a kid, when she was nine or ten. Now she’s 19, and she’s hardly missed a Shabbos. One meal at her parents, one meal at her neighbors.
Tante Edith needs her. It’s not because the guests are mainly male, picked up in shul or on the street; indomitable Tante Edith can hold her own, join the discussion, prod it along. She says her own vertlach at the table, weaving a story of spirit and connection to lift them all. But an eclectic table of people can become tiring, soul-wearying, problems being revealed, sometimes breaking out her own pain: It’s not normal at our table. It never will be.
She needs someone at her side. Young and upbeat and uncomplicated. Someone she can whisper to and schmooze with and laugh about a joke she remembered.
And she needs her neighbor. For what she sees in her home, what she learns from a woman who is as strong and firm as a tree. Deeply rooted. Branches of giving; even as she doesn’t bear fruit of her own, others coming to sit in her shade.
Sometimes it’s just the three of them. The odd Shabbos when no one appears, the problems of the world sorted for one day of peace, then there are the Tante’s stories and her own.
It’s only Pesach that she doesn’t go. They don’t “mish,” her family. Every member of a large family comes together to dine, to celebrate Yom Tov, under her father’s auspices. Beautiful, but she can’t help thinking of her neighbor. How it’s going. She’s engaged now, ring on her finger, heart full. It’s also made her more sensitive.
She drops by her neighbors’ house that first day of Yom Tov.
“How was the Seder?” she asks, thinking of the magnificent table she’d sat at, silver, dishes, married siblings bringing their own kids, a chorus of Mah Nishtanahs.
“Well, you know, just like Shabbos. But longer,” she says. “Worse. Everyone with their problems. Oy, Hashem should help them all.”
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 639)