| Personal Accounts |

Just for Now

We know it’s only temporary, but for this tiny slice of time, we’re in a different sphere, in Hashem’s embrace. Nine accounts

Closed Doors

Ayelet Stern

Just for now I can sleep.

Just for now I can smile. At my children, at my neighbors, at the mirror.

Just for now I can rest in the knowledge that Hashem has taken us under His Wing and has given us an answer.

It’s been a whirlwind six months. Six months of torture. Six months of feeling every negative feeling a parent can feel.

My daughter isn’t good enough. My daughter isn’t smart enough. My daughter isn’t enough, not enough, not enough. We’re not enough.

Ha. As if she’s not smart enough. She’s smart enough to have been able to hide her learning disability for eight years of elementary school. From her teachers, her parents, her friends. To overcompensate and pull marks in the 80s. Smart enough to be able to run a cookie business every summer, selling custom-designed and professionally decorated cookies.

Smart enough to know that no one wanted to accept her into their elitist high schools.

No, we didn’t apply to the Harvard and Yale equivalents of high schools. We know our daughter is a regular, average, good Bais Yaakov girl, sweet, respectful, tzniyusdig… not at the top of the class, not at the bottom; not the goody-goody but not the chutzpenyak; the typical girl whose favorite part of the day is recess. We applied to three schools and had no doubt she’d get into one.

Until she didn’t. See, we didn’t know about this particular learning issue — no one did. Until the interviews and entrance exams. Then it suddenly surfaced.

Three interviews. Three principals. Three exact same reactions. Who in the world are you sending to us? This girl can’t make it in our high school. Look elsewhere.

We cried. We pleaded. We begged the teachers to vouch for our daughter. We begged the schools to allow her to take another interview. We put her into immediate special tutoring several times a week to get her to the level she needed to begin ninth grade.

“Great,” the schools told us. “Get her up to par, and we’ll be happy to accept her in tenth grade.”

But who would take her now?

By the end of August, we were at our wits’ end. School was beginning in one week, and our daughter had nowhere to go.

“She’s only 14!” I sobbed to my husband, “Now I see, kids don’t leave the system — they’re pushed out of the system!”

“And I understand them,” our rav admitted.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

 

Timeless Tricks

Faigy Peritzman

“Excuse me, do you have the time?” She peered intently at me, her brown eyes eagerly seeking my answer.

I picked up my wooden cane and aimed it at the group of girls who’d accosted me.

“The time? All times are good times with Bais Yaakov!” And we all dissolved into giggles.

Way back in the 90s, airports were still fun places to visit. Couples went there on dates, parents took their kids there to run up and down the long hallways and watch planes land and take off from the observation deck. Security was the responsibility of a single clerk or two who manned the entrances to various wings.

I was straight out of seminary, teaching in an out-of-town high school. Spending a large part of my time in airports across the country, I and three other single teachers decided an airport would be the prime place for an extraordinary scavenger hunt.

The treasure? Us. We, the four teachers, were going to spread out in the airport and the girls would have to find us. The group that found all four would be the winners.

But we weren’t going down easily.

We each picked a disguise and took our costumes seriously.

One of my friends became a custodian, equipped with a dark wig, spritz bottle, and cleaner’s uniform.

Another of us was a stewardess, with a trim blue suit, chic scarf, and a sheitel pulled into a neat chignon. She walked briskly along the gates on her stiletto heels, her (empty) carryon rolling briskly behind her.

Another friend was a businessperson topped with a trim toupee, rimless glasses, a long trench coat, and attaché case.

And I? I was an old lady. Gray, short, curly wig. Cardigan over my stooped shoulders, a cane at my side. I wore thick orthotic stockings over ace bandages wrapped around my ankles. Thick-lensed glasses and a grandma purse on the crook of my arm completed the look.

The four of us piled into the car that would take us to the airport a half hour ahead of our hunters. In the darkened car, we could barely control our hysterics.

“Now remember,” the business associate among us was ever so brisk, “once we get to the airport, it’s straight into persona. No showing who you really are unless you recognize our girls, and then you can disclose the password: “All times are good times with Bais Yaakov!”

With a final round of cheers and hugs, we split up and headed into the bowels of the airport.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

 

The Last Hug 

Shifra Leah Kahn

I can’t sleep.

The sloosh and swish of the waves rising and falling on the stony beach, and the dawn stirring of the birds, draws me out of bed to the window. But the darkness is thick, and on the street, no one is moving. For a moment I forget why I’m here in this small hotel in Devon, England.

Then the memories flood in, rending my heart once again. “Your father has gone,” the voice on the other end of the phone informed me that Friday morning, as I was kneading my challah dough.

At first, I had no idea what she was telling me.

“What do you mean gone? I spoke to him yesterday; told him we were coming to visit. We laughed, shared a joke!” I cried out.

But gone was gone, to where none of us could see him ever again. Gone was an ambulance, a final goodbye. Gone was phone calls with words I had to say, but dreaded speaking.

For two weeks we dawdled in the no-man’s land of time, waiting for his body to be released. In England, a sudden death necessitates endless investigation, endless formalities — and his was sudden. One minute he was drinking a cup of tea, the next…

I was shopping, the mundane shopping to keep a household running, when my brother called “They found the cause. It was a heart attack. The funeral’s Thursday.”

And now, here I am, in the little village that he loved, and where our family had spent so many wonderful vacations. We’re waiting to give him a burial unlike that which anyone here has seen, in a little cemetery with its Jewish section, nestled among the hills he loved walking through, his beloved dogs by his side.

My siblings have each trod their own path, some very far away from the one my family and I walk. But my father loved us all for who we were. Explaining the requirements of a Jewish burial was like talking in a foreign language. Fear made them balk at the rituals I said were important. In spite of that, due to the goodness of some very special people who went out of their way to ensure that a Jew had a proper burial, a proper taharah was arranged.

“It’s our custom to stay with the body the night before it is buried,” I tell the funeral home directors, who make not just a room available, but also designate one of their staff to stay all night. We divide the time into slots. Mine is between six and eight in the morning, but at four thirty, I’m awake, and know that the only place I want to be is with my father.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

 

Bright Beginnings

Malky Gross

Dear Organized People,

You intimidate us. It isn’t personal, you understand, but those of us not blessed with orderly natures feel overwhelming despair when faced with a seemingly insurmountable quantity of Things that need to be put away Somewhere.

After my recent move, I should’v’e been thrilled when my uber-efficient mother-in-law offered to help me get settled. And I was, until she started bringing in boxes of Random Miscellany from the garage.

“Let’s unpack the batteries and extension cords,” she said brightly, the way you or I would propose a weekend getaway or a trip to the ice cream store.

Alarm bells rang. I didn’t have a system in place for that yet, and I didn’t know where their designated spot should be.

“That’s fine,” she reassured me when I voiced my concerns. Then she uttered the words that cast a pall over my disorganized soul. “We can put them in the laundry room closet for now.”

“No!” I blurted out, in a tone of voice reserved for toddlers exploring electrical outlets with forks. Did she not remember the MP3 player I’d temporarily set down on the hutch near the door of our old place, still awaiting repairs six years later? Or the magazine clippings that had piled up for months on my desk, waiting for a brighter, more time-filled tomorrow?

Temporary arrangements and I don’t get along. Despite my best intentions, I never find the time to create permanent solutions.

My new house deserved a fresh start, and I found my mission statement in, of all places, the sleep training book I was reading at the time. My baby-training expert assured me that the only path to success was to “begin as you mean to go on.”

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

 

Worth Its Weight

Judy Stalansky

There are three things I avoid in my life: mirrors, cameras, and reality.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Twenty years ago when I gave birth to my third child I was healthy, thin, and in good shape. But after birth, my body went haywire. My heart was beating furiously, I was shaking constantly, had chills, the sweats, insomnia, palpitations.

I ended up in the emergency room where they dismissed my issues as postpartum psychosomatic. “Wait a few days and it’ll go away.”

A few days turned into a few weeks, but my ob-gyn also dismissed my concerns. “Get some more sleep.”

It took several months for my system to level out, and by that time I was fed up with all doctors. I had suffered tremendous trauma being the victim of a hormonal system that was out of control in my body, and nobody could care less.

But at least it was behind me. Or so I thought.

Two years later I was expecting again. And this time I didn’t need any pregnancy test to confirm. Several days into my pregnancy, and my symptoms were back. I couldn’t sleep, eat, my fingers kept tapping, my heart racing.

Not willing to suffer for nine months, I went to an endocrinologist. Finally someone at least acknowledged something was wrong.

“Your hormones are going wild,” he told me. “It’s rare that we see this during pregnancy, it’s more common postpartum. But don’t worry, it’ll all go away after birth.”

What about now? Relax. Get some sleep.

Again I was dismissed. But I couldn’t relax and I couldn’t sleep and I wasn’t going to be brushed off by the medical field again. I went from one specialist to another, one field of medicine to the next, but most just encouraged me to wait it out, to relax.

A friend of mine finally sent me to a female neuropsychiatrist who took my situation seriously. “This really is a case for an endocrinologist,” she said. “But since he’s not helping you, I’ll do my best.” She prescribed several medications that were safe for pregnancy, and finally, after a few months, I felt like I was part of the living again.

My baby was born, and with the help of the medications, my body stayed stable postpartum.

I was thrilled. Finally I had my body and my life back under control.

I tried occasionally to get off the medications, but each time, the symptoms would start again, so I resigned myself to better life through chemistry. I had no choice.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

 

One Year & Eternity

Chani Muller

Our stay in Eretz Yisrael was supposed to be temporary. Three years maximum. And when we first came, boy did we live like we were only here for a short while.

Our apartment was unfurnished, and it took us time to get our bearings, which meant we slept on borrowed mattresses on the floor; we used a borrowed electric burner instead of a stove for longer than I care to remember; and one particularly memorable evening, we used the garbage can as a table.

In my mind, living in Eretz Yisrael meant roughing it. So for six months what could’ve been a quick meal of pita pizza or baked ziti became a laborious ordeal that entailed taking my little cheese grater and trying to eke out enough cheese by hand. I’ve never understood the allure of hand-grated potato kugel, and I most assuredly did not see the merits of hand-grated cheese topping my pita pizza, except that I could say I’d really spent time on supper.

When we returned to the States for Pesach after an interminably long six months, I was shocked to hear a friend of mine, a real-deal Lakewood kollel wife, mentioning that she keeps convenience foods like hot dogs and French fries in her freezer for busy days. Suddenly, my Israeli-pioneer resolutions came crashing down. If she can splurge on convenience foods, I thought, I can buy grated cheese!

The next six months went much better. We had long since bought beds and a stove, and I had my store-bought shredded cheese to really smooth out the rough edges of life.

We had a child, then another, I landed a new job I loved, and we began to see that you can live in Israel for real, not just as a newlywed fling. A toddler to run after in the park helped me feel part of the wonderful community I live in, and living far from our parents led us to meet lots of extended family we wouldn’tve have gotten to know otherwise. We toured in the summer, went on whirlwind one-day kevarim trips when various crises hit, and felt very lucky to be living in the Land so many people only dream of visiting.

Still, like so many Americans, we were “here for now.” We figured, Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For now we were happy, and if that would change, we could reconsider.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

 

A Bubby’s Love 

Miri Altman

I drop my suitcases, and even though I’m an overweight mom of five, I’m running, running, to my Bubby’s house.

I knock on the door, and there she is. We’re hugging each other, then schmoozing and laughing, both our eyes alight with love and enjoyment.

This. This is what I traveled for. This is why I left my kids with my husband for a week. I have a Bubby. I know I’m fortunate (at my age!), and we enjoy each other’s company so much.

But my Inner Child still exists, the child who was rejected and ignored by her.

I still don’t know understand why, but when I was growing up, my Bubby didn’t like me.

Don’t tell me that every grandmother loves her grandchildren. It’s simply not true. As a kid, I knew with every fiber of my being that Bubby didn’t like me or my siblings. She didn’t hide it. Just like she didn’t hide the fact that she loved our cousins.

At family events, our Morris cousins would line up to kiss Bubby, but when it came to us, she’d turn her head and say, “I have a cold, no more kisses.”

We’d sleep at Bubby’s house when the grown-ups were at a wedding. My siblings and I were banished to the guest room, while the Morris cousins were welcomed to the inner sanctuary of Bubby’s bedroom, off-limits to me and my siblings.

Bubby went to the Morrises’ for Shabbos lunch every week, but told us repeatedly she already had plans, even if we invited her weeks in advance.

My parents urged us to always show respect. “You say gut Shabbos, Bubby. You always offer her a kiss. Whether she wants it is up to her.”

Meanwhile, the Morrises never had to try — they had Bubby’s unfailing love and devotion.

Kids often just accept things as they are, even if they’re intrinsically unfair. That’s just how it was.

Time moved on, and we kids grew up. We married and had kids of our own. Some of us even moved away, but we always made sure to keep up the contact….

And then a funny thing happened.

All those years of wishing her good Shabbos, of telephoning in from overseas, paid off.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)


Little for Now 

Riki Goldstein

We strolled toward the playground, spring flowers fragrant in the air, blossoms carpeting the grass.

I’d brought just two of my girls along, not wanting to overwhelm the reunion with too much kiddie paraphernalia. After all, Melanie is a career woman with a PhD, and a lecturer. We’d been Partners in Torah as singles, and right now I wanted to be a fellow accomplished adult, not in Mommy mode.

Melanie had brought her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, leaving her older son behind. She wore her usual boots and jeans, I wore my usual wig and skirt. We caught up on each other’s lives while rambling along the muddy paths of a beautiful park.

Melanie’s son Joseph was going into first grade, like my oldest. She’d chosen an exclusive, non-Jewish school for him. He’d been to a Jewish kindergarten though; she was happy he’d picked up so much about the chagim and knew songs like “Mah Tovu.”

She was still teaching linguistics, lecturing on film, and writing a column on film for two Jewish cultural magazines. I filled her in on my work, my writing projects, and my music column in Mishpacha.

Somehow, though, our conversation was less adult than I’d expected.

Melanie’s diaper bag was bigger than mine. At one point, she cheerfully reached in, pulled out a portable potty, and crouched down patiently while her daughter used it.

She explored the park together with her. Were those slugs? Of course we can pet that nice doggie — just ask the owner. And here are the hand wipes. Why are all these logs cut down? What happened to the trees that they became stumps? Can we take off shoes and socks and paddle in that stream?

Melanie chatted to me about the mom-and-baby activities she does together with her little one: nursery rhyme readings at the library, petting zoos and farms and storytelling. For her Joseph, age six, she was into children’s book clubs, aquariums, interactive science museums, children’s concerts, and character-themed parties.

Her kid-scheduled life overwhelmed me. I imagined her children’s room, stocked with children’s furniture, books, toy kitchen and dollhouses, surely a tent and a tunnel for imaginary play.

I watched my girls skipping ahead of us.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)


A Single Night

Shoshana Neumann

I hold the cup of steaming Earl Gray, watching the gently unfurling wisps of steam.

My grandmother smooths the lacy embroidered tablecloth and her green eyes take on that faraway look. Wherever she is now, it’s definitely not at 22 Riverside Drive, Golders Green, London.

“Did I ever tell you about the time I refused to go into the bomb shelter?”

Stoke Newington, London, 1940s

The Nazis are blitzing through Britain with lightning speed. Night after night the Luftwaffe turn drizzly gray London streets into blazing infernos. The dreaded whine of the air-raid siren becomes an all-too familiar sound.

The Gayers are just another family among the multitudes of sleeping Londoners who learn to leap out of bed and race to the bomb shelters as if the devil is after them (which, in a way, he is.)

They squeeze into the little tin Anderson shelter dugout at the bottom of the garden, along with their gentile neighbors. Nights are spent huddled together in the airless hut, surrounded by the sound of thuds and wails. Nobody sleeps.

Chana’s eyes are almost closing as she slowly says Krias Shema, trying not to skip over the words. It had been sheer torture managing her secretarial work while almost collapsing from fatigue. She desperately needed a good night’s sleep. In her own bed. Just for one night.

Within seconds she’s asleep, breathing evenly.

Until the shrillness of the siren pierces through her dreams.

Chana’s almost drunk with exhaustion. There’s no way she can handle another night squashed into the stifling shelter. She turns over and buries her head into the pillow. The sirens wail on, alerting London to the impending danger.

Mendel Gayer runs hastily through the rooms making sure his family is heading to safety.

Is that lump in the bed Chana?

“Chanale,” his voice is urgent.

“CHANALE!”

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 663)

 

 

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