In Flight| January 13, 2021
"You thought that just because you’re old enough to get married, you have children? Whoever said you’re capable?"
The only thing I hate more than airplanes is flying in one — the stale air, the crumbs on my lap under my toddler, the constant whining of bored tykes, the cramped muscles. But family overseas means I need to overcome my aviation aversion if I want to occasionally see my relatives. Rosh Chodesh Iyar found me at JFK’s El Al counter, surrounded by shtreimel and sheitel boxes, Bloom’s potato chips, and Amazing Savings sticker projects.
I boarded, and found myself seated near a small group of secular Israelis returning from a tour of The Big Apple. I stowed my belongings in the overhead compartment, then, gritting my teeth, tried to arrange myself in the cramped seat.
A half hour into the chaotic flight, one of the tourists, a secular woman, around 50 years old, suddenly planted herself in the middle of the aisle. She leaned forward, two rows over, where a baby hadn’t stopped screeching since takeoff.
“Mah zeh?” she exploded, whipping her bleached hair from her face. “Don’t you know how to take care of kids?” she bellowed. “Whoever gave you permission to have kids? You thought that just because you’re old enough to get married, you have children? Whoever said you’re capable? Well, let me tell you, you’re not.”
The poor mother, pale face framed by a snood, tried to ignore her. She continued shushing and rocking the wailing child. All around, spectators were staring, horrified at the older woman’s outburst, but she wasn’t done.
“Nu, tagidi! Tell me. You really think you can do this mother thing? You’ll go and have babies each year till you have 20 kids. Poor, poor kids.” She gave a dramatically loud sigh. “Nebach.
“Look at the child, barely breathing! Lift him a little, give him some air! Give the child to your husband, he’ll know better than you.”
The sweet lady, near tears, mutely handed the baby to her husband. Instantly, the child calmed down, triggering the secular lady further.
“See?” She looked directly at me, seeking approval. “People think that they just have a license to bring babies into the world.”
“Everybody is able to take care of their kids. Hashem gives each mother the knowledge to care for her baby,” I mumbled, while others offered various other platitudes.
She carried on with her rant.
Finally, a middle-aged man sporting a short white beard stood up, and addressed her, “Du redst Yiddish?”
The stale flight air went stiff.
“Yah, ich ken Yiddish,” she replied, her demeanor screaming turmoil.
It was suddenly glaringly obvious that this woman was a lost Jewish soul. I wondered how this gentleman had guessed the backstory. Red in the face, the woman sat down across the aisle from the man and asked in heimish Yiddish, “Why are you asking?”
A conversation ensued. They debated Jewish code of values, having many children versus having one or two. They segued into similar topics, their voices low but audible. She listened to him politely, then argued his points vehemently. He tried to impress upon her just a tad of the chashivus, the awesome zechus of bearing Jewish children.
She remained mostly unconvinced. “They slow you down, they make you poor, they make you unsuccessful at your career, they don’t listen to you, and end up rebelling and moving away.”
He countered that, described the nachas when they grow older as the children move on and bring grandchildren.
She shared photos of her two kids, aged 30 and 32, and one canine. He glanced momentarily at her screen and said, “Ze’ir shein.”
Then she looked at him expectantly, and he showed his family photos to the woman. Sitting just 15 inches away, I couldn’t help but steal a glance at his phone screen. A big family at a simchah smiled up from the screen. A chassan and kallah in the center. Married couples and a row of grandkids in frilly gowns or tiny tuxedos. Then, painfully incongruous, a girl sitting right near the kallah, the kallah’s arm loosely draped on the girl’s shoulder. Naked shoulder. Her arms were unconcealed, wild tattoos in plain view.
“And who is this shiksah?” she called loudly.
“Shiksah?!” His voice was bold. Confident. “This is no shiksah. This is a precious Jewish girl, my darling neshamalah, my daughter Sarala!” His voice broke for a moment, but he collected himself. “Mein teiyere zisse tuchterel Sarala!”
Wordlessly, the woman returned the phone to the man in the short white beard.
She was silent for the rest of the flight. Around her, kids screamed, threw pretzels, and launched foam rockets. She was silent, placated.
Did she, in some small way, feel her own wounds heal by the power of his acceptance?
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 726)
Oops! We could not locate your form.