I know right then and there that there would not be anyone else in this world who would give me that special blessing on Friday nights
e never forgot. Not once.
It’s Friday night, and I’m sitting around the table with the family that’s hosting me for the meal. I’m becoming frum. I’m 13 years old. I look around me and feel part of something special. The family has many children, but each child is like the only one.
The father, Rabbi Fendel, sings the customary songs to start off the night — “Shalom Aleichem,” “Eishes Chayil” — and then blesses his many children, first his oldest and continuing until he gets to his youngest. This takes a while, but he takes his time, focusing on each child like he or she is the only one in his life.
His hands and voice shake a bit; he is not a young man. He has accomplished a lot in his life; writing numerous books about Jewish history and the Jewish holidays. Giving heartfelt shiurim. Teaching Torah in Chofetz Chaim Yeshivah. His life encompasses everything an ehrliche Yid aspires to.
He finishes blessing his youngest child, but he doesn’t stop there. Ever. He holds his hands above my head and gives me the same special blessing that my father could never give me. For the next 20 years of my life — first as a girl, then a young woman — he blesses me. He blesses me at my badeken, the same way he’d bless his own child. As life goes on, my husband and I join his Shabbos meals often. He blesses me, and now my children as well.
I lead a quiet life. After becoming frum and getting married, I focus on raising my children, working, and performing the duties of a frum married woman. Life is not a piece of cake and the challenges of living in a frum community and raising my children often eclipse my goal: to reach for the light that I saw at the Fendel Shabbos table.
I’m often surrounded by negativity, politics, and not-so-happy endings. After years of struggling to fit in, to follow the path I started that somehow seems like it can never be followed, my heart has turned to ice. There are too many roadblocks, too many turned backs and closed doors. In this fast-paced world, it seems like being frum turned into getting the most gorgeous sheitel and wearing the trendiest dresses.
When Rabbi Fendel z”l passes away, I feel like I lost my father. I know right then and there that there would not be anyone else in this world who would give me that special blessing on Friday nights. There would not be anyone else who would show as much love for a fellow Jew, for a child not his own. My world grows darker that day and I cry for the vanished light that left this world a darker place.
I try to carry on. I walk through life with my head high and brush off the sensation of not completely belonging in the life that I had chosen. My heart grows cold. It has to — to handle all the rejections I’m facing. The life I pictured when I was 13 is not the life I got. For a while it seems like no one really cares. Like we are invisible. I’m living on a small island that I created for myself and my family. Everybody around me has an island, too, and there’s too much water in between to make the type of connections I made as a teenager.
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 581)