| Magazine Feature |

Second Chance

Not all missed opportunities are lost forever. Sometimes, we are given the gift of a second chance. 9 stories of renewal & restoration

mishpacha image


hey lost the opportunity of Korban Pesach

because they’d been impure —

But they asked for another chance,

and were granted Pesach sheini

In life, too, not all missed opportunities

are lost forever

Sometimes, we are given the gift

of a second chance

9 stories of renewal & restoration


Let There Be Light

Leora Klinberg

I slept through the seminary part of seminary.

I was drawn to the shadows that live in the corners of the city. You could find me hidden beneath wild trees, wedged between cramped streets, atop cluttered rooftops where the stars shine brightest.

The night was alive, its heartbeat thumping under my feet, and at 18 I didn’t even try to fight the pull, the tentacles of darkness that spun around me, wrenching me down and away, disconnected. As the months passed, I became ever more nocturnal, waking at dusk bright-eyed, ready to begin again.

Dawn would find me huddled in a sweatshirt on my dorm room balcony, the sun’s face blazing downward, causing my cheeks to grow red and warm with shame. I was stunned by the light’s ability to illuminate all my faults. The shadows would cling to me; stuck behind my eyes, they’d pull at my lids slowly and I’d crawl into bed, utterly exhausted by my own duplicity.

I grew up in an open, out-of-town family, but I attended a mainstream Bais Yaakov for high school, which left me with one foot in each camp. I vacillated between two worlds constantly throughout my schooling, living life in a state of turmoil, never quite fitting into either realm. Sometimes it seemed I was one person by day and another by night.

I managed to get myself into a very good seminary, and by the time I left for Eretz Yisrael, I was adept at navigating two very different lives, though the process drained me. Part of me was drawn to the edgy figures in my life, the ones who promised something more exciting than halachah class.

Relationships were formed that were not easy to break, new friendships made, others left behind. The classes I did attend were often inspiring, but I was busy. Too unfocused, too engrossed in other things to concentrate on growth.

There were many moments of darkness that year, but there were also moments in the dark with just the moon and the stars and G-d, where I received flickers of clarity that only the night can bring. Those moments were beacons of truth, pinpoints of joy. Shabbos meals with families who were living a life I couldn’t fathom, yet envied at the same time. Glimpses into the homes of true bnei Torah. Conversations with people I grew to respect for their strength, their lives burning with emes.

But they were just flashes — sparks of fire that didn’t carry enough momentum for me to make lasting changes in my life. I floated through the year until the end, when I looked back and shuddered.

I spent the last days of seminary wallowing in darkness far thicker than that of the night; the regret was impenetrable.

I’m sure many girls miss seminary once they arrive home, but I was devastated. The journal I kept at the time is a terrifying read — the depth of my pain seems to jump off the pages.

I enrolled in a frum college program and kept myself busy, tried to put on a happy face, but remorse hung like a veil before me, separating me from my peers. I hadn’t finished taking in what my seminary year was supposed to give me — I hadn’t even really started. I desperately wanted to walk the streets of Yerushalayim in the light. I wanted a do-over. I cried until February, begging Hashem for an opening, a way to start again.

It was a frigid, snowy afternoon when I sat down at the computer. A decade later I can still see myself, fingers shaking as I typed an e-mail to the principal of my seminary. I explained that I needed to come back. I needed it more than anything else, more than the friendships I’d be leaving, the comforts of America, my family. My soul was in turmoil and this was the only way I’d find peace.

My principal invited me back, on condition that I make a decision about who I was. How I would behave, whom I would associate with.

When I stepped off the plane that September, I felt a joy so powerful I can’t even put it into words. The second time around, as a madrichah, I did it all differently. I woke with the birds, embraced the day, and avoided the dark corners from my past. The decision to return and uproot myself changed the entire trajectory of my life. Who I was and who I wanted to be started to come together; the picture of me was suddenly aligned.

There were challenges. It wasn’t always easy, and there were times when the darkness beckoned and I’d slip backward. But the commitment I had made to my principal, and more importantly, to myself, kept me stable and in check. Friends commented that I had changed, that I radiated peace for the first time in forever. Firmly choosing who I was and what I believed had elevated me, and I was finally standing proud with two feet in the same world.

I am forever grateful to Hashem for pushing me to write that e-mail, and to my principal for giving me another shot. Six months into the year, I was redt to a boy who wanted all the same things as me, a boy I’d never have merited meeting if I hadn’t begged for a second chance. We are married over a decade now and still living in Yerushalayim, a gift I’m incredibly grateful for.

These days, I relish the morning light as I walk my children to gan, the sun wrapping us in warmth, the darkness of my past just a distant memory.


Drinking in the truth

As told to Riki Goldstein

Medical students have a reputation for heavy drinking. I don’t know the exact stats, but my time in student digs bore out that reputation. I attended one of Britain’s top medical schools for five years, and some nights, especially weekends, it felt like I was the only sober girl in the building.

I loved my studies and I made a few friends among the students, joined the Student Animal Rights group. But most of what went on outside the lecture halls and the library either bored or sickened me.

One Friday evening early in December, during my third year of medical school, I stayed in the faculty building, working late. There was a huge student holiday party that night, but I had no plans to go. I knew I was Jewish, so the holidays weren’t for me, and anyway, I found wild parties repulsive — the late hours, the drunken shouting, shrill laughter, smashed bottles.

When I left the faculty building, it was dark outside; the campus was deserted. A freezing wind tore open my jacket. Then, Lisa, a student I knew vaguely, passed me with a polite nod. She was hurrying somewhere. I pulled down my beret and set off. My room would be warm. I had a supermarket pizza to heat up. It would also be quiet and lonely, but I was used to that. A few minutes later, Andrew, a student in the year below me, passed with another nod, heading in the same direction as Lisa.

The wind seemed to travel up my sleeves. I lowered my head against its bite and looked after Andrew and Lisa. I had seen both at meetings and guest lectures, since they were among the few who preferred the serious side of student life, like me. Maybe they were going to some event or debate? Although it seemed strange for any student society to schedule an event on the same night as a major holiday party, it was possible.

I had nothing better to do. I shifted my pile of books to the other arm and followed them.

Turned out, they were going to the Hillel House. Turned out, there was a really short service and a free hot meal. My grandmother had made matzah ball soup sometimes, but I’d never had such good potato pie.

Andrew — with a kippah on his head, somehow — was at my table, and Lisa sat across from me. Simon Homer, a fourth-year student with brilliant marks, said a few words at the end of the service.

There was singing and the atmosphere was warm. And all the 30-odd students drank — that whole long winter evening! — was one bottle of red wine and one bottle of whiskey.

When the students put on coats and started to leave, they all said Shabbat Shalom. I stayed to check out the notice board. There were Shabbat services the next day, too.

I went to Hillel every week that year, and by the next year, I was keeping kosher. What first attracted me was the company — so many of the Jewish students were studious types like me — but the intellectual proofs about the Bible’s authenticity and what it demands from us made sense to me. My mind accepted the intellectual, Modern Orthodox approach of the rabbi and most of the students.

When I told Andrew I was keeping my first Shabbat, he broke into a huge smile. That Shabbat, walking back from Hillel, he asked me out.

We got engaged right after I received my medical degree. Everything felt right. Both our families were pleased. My own father was interested in the Jewish practices I’d begun to keep and was more knowledgeable than I’d thought. He even observed Yom Kippur with me one year. My loneliness was over, and I had a wonderful, Jewish-observant future ahead with a special person.

I was accepted to a great residency program in another city, while Andrew still had to complete his degree, so our plan was to marry the following summer.

During the winter break, we worked on our wedding plans together. We had chosen Rabbi Mayer, the rabbi of Andrew’s parents’ Orthodox shul, to marry us, and he asked us to step in together for a chat. We sat in that small office for about an hour, speaking about the wedding and marriage. He put us at ease and it was clear that we were all on the same page about setting up a Jewish home.

Then Rabbi Mayer explained that in order to register the marriage at the Beth Din, he needed my parents’ ketubah. Andrew’s parents had been married at that shul, but mine belonged to a different community.

“Sure, I’ll ask them for it,” I said.

So I did.

“Ketubah,” my father said. “Oh, yes, yes. Of course we had one.”

I took the rolled-up paper into the rabbi’s office, and he read it. Then he showed me that it had been written and signed by a Reform rabbi.

“Is that a problem, that it’s not an Orthodox document?” I said.

“Well, Pat, this is a Reform marriage,” Rabbi Mayer replied slowly. “Not necessarily a problem. But the Beth Din will require you to do a little bit more research. Do you think you can get hold of your mother’s parents’ ketubah?”

I hadn’t known Grandpa and Grandma Hollis, since they’d both died when I was little. “I’ll try,” I said. A little nervously, I raised this question with Dad.

He looked surprised, then he laughed. “Nah, they wouldn’t have had one. Your Grandpa and Grandma Hollis weren’t Jewish.”

The flowered carpet in our den blurred before my eyes. It came closer and started to spin.

Dad noticed my whitened face. “Don’t look so worried, Pat! Your mother converted, so it’s all right. I wouldn’t have married a shiksa, Pat! My father wouldn’t have been pleased.”

I phoned the Rabbi from my bedroom. My stomach felt like it was being squeezed out.

He sounded calm, but noncommittal. “Please bring in your mother’s conversion certificate.”

My mother was downstairs watching her favorite game show as I watched my father riffle through the folders and rolled-up diplomas in the bottom drawer of my parents’ dressing table. He took out something, straightened up, and handed it to me. Then he brushed off the knees of his slacks and rocked a little on the balls of his feet.

I took it gingerly. “Thanks for finding it, Dad.”

He went downstairs, and I unfolded a thick paper. Certificate of Conversion. Jacqueline Hollis. 1st February 1979. It was ornate, with two lions and the Luchot and the words Shema Yisroel trailing around the perimeter. It was signed by a Rabbi Julian Rutford, of Temple Beth Shalom, West London.

I couldn’t answer Andrew’s good night call that night. Instead, I prayed.

In the morning, I drove myself over to Rabbi Mayer’s office, the small room where we had chatted so comfortably just a week before.

I handed him the certificate and saw the disbelief on his face.

We both sat down.

He said, “Pat, this is a Reform conversion certificate.”

I nodded.

“Do you know about the Reform movement? Reform Judaism does not follow halachah. Their conversion doesn’t carry any weight. It doesn’t have the force of halachah behind it. It’s just a nice piece of paper. I’m so, so, sorry.”

I understood. I had seen enough students debate the Hillel and Aish rabbis about Reform Judaism. I knew the Orthodox stance clearly. But more than that, I understood and identified with the Orthodox position. As I had been drawn to Judaism, I had never doubted that we don’t have the power to change G-d’s law. I saw myself as Orthodox. I was an Orthodox Jew. I was.

Except that I wasn’t. I was, in my father’s words, a shiksa.

How could I tell Andrew that it was all over — almost before it had started?

I couldn’t face him, my own shattered dreams.

I raised my eyes to Rabbi Mayer’s concerned face and heard my voice falter as I asked him to call my fiancי and explain what had happened.

He sighed. “Yes.” It was almost a whisper.

I drove home. I felt hurt all over, almost physically bruised. I was a good Jewish girl. I even kept halachah. I recognized G-d and I prayed. How could this happen to me?

What had my parents, in their ignorance, done?

I had lost everything.

The next two weeks were dark, full of bitter disappointment and a cold, cold pain that clutched my chest.

Eventually, the answer was born inside and burst out like a tiny butterfly from within a cocoon. From my darkened bedroom, I called Rabbi Mayer. “Rabbi, it’s Pat. How do the Orthodox do conversions?”

He spoke to the Beth Din on my behalf and came with me to meet the dayanim.

The offices were a lot bigger than Rabbi Mayer’s and a lot more intimidating. There were a lot of probing questions. Behind long beards and bifocals, the three men were compassionate, but very, very firm.

I could not convert tomorrow, nor next week, nor next month.

A week later, after they had checked all my references, the secretary of the Beth Din called me back. The process usually took three years, but due to my background and the commitment I had already shown, the dayanim would tentatively agree that a two-year wait might be sufficient.

I didn’t tell Rabbi Mayer to tell Andrew. I didn’t know if he was waiting to hear.

The two-year wait stretched ahead, but I knew there would be no walking away from the truth I had tasted. I needed to bel where I had found true faith.

I was surprised when Andrew picked me up the next day. Near a canal where we had often walked, he led me to a bench. He had started to wear his kippah a lot recently, not only for shul, and I noticed it was now on his head. “Strange,” I thought, cynically. “A Jewish boy with a kippah, out with a shiksa.”

He was looking at the gently flowing water. I thought, Now he’s going to say goodbye, and I steeled myself to bear the words.

“Pat,” he said, “I can wait, and we’ll have another chance. It won’t be an easy time. It’s going to test us to the limit, but I will wait for you to marry me at the Beth Din.”

My tears were a current of mottled joy and heartache.

I moved to London to begin my residency. Work absorbed almost all my waking hours, but I’d promised the rabbis I’d be in touch with them so I could join a community. I did. I went to shul services each week. I spent Shabbos with some lovely families, all warm and welcoming and drinking just small shots of whisky. I learned halachah and Jewish history and thought with a tutor.

Two years later, I walked out of Beth Din a Jewish woman.

Andrew was waiting outside, his face alight, his arms full of balloons. We shared just the tiniest glass of wine, and went straight to order our wedding invitations.


Shared Burden

The first time my daughter’s physical therapist brought up the W word, I was thrown for a loop. Yes, I knew her CP was bad, but still, this was heavy. I did not want to make peace with a wheelchair.

I kept my turmoil strictly under wraps, though. I nodded, keeping a poker expression on my face throughout the conversation. Afterward, I felt heavyhearted, weighed under a burden I had chosen to carry alone.

A few months later, during a meeting to set the next six months’ goals for Aviva, it came up again. Again, I projected stoicism, while feeling anything but inside. This time, though, I was braver.

When the meeting was over, I approached Aviva’s therapist, and dropped my couldn’t-care-less faחade. I told her how hard this discussion had been for me, and received the empathy I so badly needed.

I still felt sad, but I no longer felt alone.

— Chedva Silber


Second Round Friendship

Malkie was moving next door. Next door. Malkie. To me!

I tried to wrap my mind around the fact, but my inner teen was busy making plans to move to Mexico.

My friendship with Malkie had ended in tenth grade, resplendent with the sort of drama that only high schoolers can produce. There were tears, teachers, and mortifyingly enough, some heartfelt poems involved. And I hadn’t spoken to her since.

But, I reminded myself, I was an adult now. I was a mother, had made Pesach twice, and communicated fearlessly in my broken Hebrew. Surely I was brave enough to go over with brownies and welcome her like a mensch.

Two years later, when I hugged her goodbye in front of the van waiting to take her family to the airport for a new beginning far away, I whispered to her through my tears. I don’t remember my exact words, but I know I told her how grateful I was for second chances.

— Ariella Schiller


Making the Grade

One day in the classroom, a bright spark named Chaya marked me her enemy. Teenage apathy was swiftly replaced by constant confrontation and outright rebellion.

I tried talking, reasoning, even threatening, but nothing changed. Tenth-grade Navi became a nightmare; my student had me locked in perpetual battle. Eventually, she stopped coming to class. I didn’t ask why.

New semester, new start. I called Chaya over. She turned her back, but I saw despair in her eyes. “Let’s make this work,” I said.

Could she swallow that? I wasn’t sure. I was the enemy, not to be pardoned. But she came to class and drew cartoons while the class reviewed their notes. How I praised her talent.

Chaya’s still in my class. We smile, laugh, and learn. Sometimes I make mistakes. So does she. But it’s okay — we believe in second chances.

— Ahuva Cohen


Family Ties

As Told to Faigy Peritzman

My dad is a big guy. As a child, he towered above me. But he was a gentle giant. He’d cuddle me and sing me songs and rub his whiskers against me as he crooned, “Daddy will do anything to take care of his little girl. Always.”

Talented, charismatic, and confident, Dad was a bona fide workaholic. I’d be snuggled up in bed, reading under the covers long after Mommy had tucked me in, but I’d never hear Daddy’s car turn into the driveway. Sometimes Mommy would have already woken me up for school before I’d finally hear the garage door rattling its way up, letting Daddy in for a quick shower and shave before hitting the office again.

My two siblings and I always knew we’d go into the family business; family works together, after all. My oldest sister Diane majored in business management and Dad was so proud when he placed her office prominently next to his.

My older brother Rob surprised everyone by becoming slightly fanatic after his Birthright trip. He and Dad had a few rounds about his beard, his insistence on a kippah even outside, and his refusal to eat in the local restaurants. But he, too, went to college and joined the business so all was forgiven. Dad proudly changed his construction company’s name to Jacob, Gold and Sons.

Jay Jacob was also family. He and Aunt Susie weren’t really relatives but they’d been in my life as long as I could remember. With no children of their own, they enjoyed doting on us.

JJ had gone to college with Dad, both majoring in engineering, neither using the degree they netted. Instead, they became partners, opening a construction company that soon surpassed the dreams they’d hatched in smoky dorm rooms.

Dad and JJ were constant companions, especially at dinner time. Just as we were about to start the first course, the phone would ring. Long before the days of caller ID we’d all chime, “Hello Jay.” Mommy would sigh and watch Dad’s soup grow cold as he and JJ launched into a long discussion about crucial details that couldn’t wait till 7 p.m.

“Doesn’t Jay know I serve promptly at six?” Mom would ask, frustration ripe in her tone. “Can’t this wait until you go back to the office tonight? Which you will, despite promising you weren’t going to work overtime anymore this week.”

“Honey, this is important. And Jay only has our best interests in mind. You know that.”

Looking back, my childhood was idyllic. I was the baby of the family, a full ten years younger than Rob, and a classic JAP: canopied bed, ballet lessons, and family vacations with Jay and Susie to Disneyland, Yosemite, and the Alps.

When I graduated high school, Rob convinced Dad to send me to Israel for a year.

“Why isn’t a summer good enough for her? It was good enough for you and Diane. As soon as Debbie finishes her degree, she’ll join the company. Why waste a whole year?”

But Rob could be pretty insistent in his quiet way and managed to get Dad to agree. I found myself in Michlalah majoring in business, with enough credits to satisfy Dad.

Yerushalayim was a different planet. I wandered the streets fascinated by the families, the lifestyles, the communities so different from my own. I wanted to be part of it. I confided in Rob that I wanted to stay another year. Surprisingly, his voice was curt. “Probably not a good idea. Dad’s waiting for you to get home.”

“You can talk to him, can’t you? I can get credits into my sophomore year without losing out.”

“I’ll do my best, but don’t count on it.”

I hung up knowing Dad wouldn’t say no. He never said no to me.

I left my stuff in my room for shanah bet and flew home for the summer.

When Mom picked me up at the airport, there was no question that our first stop would be the office, not home. I wanted Daddy’s bear hug, wanted his face to light up seeing his girl. Though I was nervous that he was upset with me that I wanted to stay in Israel longer.

“Debbie! You’re back!” Susie’s Opium perfume enveloped me and I breathed a sigh of relief that some things never change. Then Dad’s office door opened and Uncle JJ stepped out. Here was a change. His trim goatee sported more gray than black and while his smile was wide, it didn’t reach his eyes.

“Hey, Debbie! How’s the Zionist?”

“Shhh! Not so loud,” I joked. But my stomach pitched.

Behind him was Dad. I was enveloped in a bear hug, felt his strength, his warmth, the scent of the cigarettes he thought Mom never knew about. I breathed a sigh of contentment. Everything was good. Dad wasn’t mad. I was still his best girl.

But within days I realized something was amiss. Rob and Diane were both working longer hours and Susie and Mom held long conversations that stopped the moment I walked by.

I cornered Rob one afternoon.

“Spill. Something’s serious and it doesn’t have to do with me and Israel.”

“It’s just a minor blip. Nothing major. Enjoy your stay. You’ll be back on El Al before you know it.”

“C’mon Rob. Give it to me straight.”

A sudden thought made me reach out and grab his hand. “Is Uncle JJ sick? Is Dad?”

“You and your imagination, Deb! Relax! It’s just business. That’s all. Things are a bit tight right now.”

Business. I heaved a huge sigh. Business was… just business. My whole life the business was always lurking in the background. It wasn’t something I paid much attention to. When I’d graduate I’d be forced to look it in the face, but now, I gave a huge smile. “Well, that’s none of my business.”

Rob smiled and shifted topics. “So how serious is this Israel fever?” And I segued into an impassioned pitch for making aliyah.

Summer days. Home. Family. Heaven. All too soon it was time to head back to the airport. Dad hugged me tightly. “Come back quickly, my sweetheart. The family’s not the same without you.”

I hugged him back. “It’s only ten months. I’ll be home soon.”

I settled down in Israel like it was my natural habitat. And I tried not to mention to my parents in our phone calls that my skirts were getting longer and my hair shorter.

For their part, Dad and Mom seemed calmer as autumn went by.

“Well, business is booming,” Dad announced one phone call. “We’ve got a new partner.”

“A new partner? Whaddya mean? Did something happen to Uncle JJ?”

“No, JJ’s fine. He never goes away,” Dad laughed. “We just took on a new investor, David Blau. Got some new blood in the office and some cash flow. But your office is waiting for you as soon as you get here.”

“Dad, you know I’m going to finish the year here.”

“Yeah, ignore me. David’s a nice guy but it’s funny having a stranger rather than just family in the office. But don’t you worry about it. Your Dad will always take care of you.”

The next few weeks David peppered a lot of the conversations. He, Dad, and JJ were in constant meetings, supervising sites and plans.

It was a wet afternoon in late November. I was huddled under a quilt trying to study while hail hit the window in the drafty dorm.

Rob’s call came out of the blue.

“Deb, you need to come home.”

“What? What happened?”

“It’s Dad. He’s fine. But—” his voice broke. I gripped the phone hard.

“David. David fired Dad.”

“Fired Dad? Dad can’t get fired. He owns the place!”

“Yeah. Well, apparently he doesn’t anymore. He’s a mess. So’s Mom. You’ve got to get on a plane. This is major.”

“What about Uncle JJ? Is he fired too?”

There was a long pause. “He’s no uncle of ours. Apparently JJ and David worked out a deal together from day one. He gets 50 percent together with David. Jay doesn’t like working in thirds.”

The plane trip home was long. Long enough for me to imagine stalking into JJ and Susie’s living room, stabbing them in the heart as they had stabbed my Dad in the back. Long enough to picture me a heroine, flying home at the time of need to take care of my dad.

But Dad takes care of me.

When I saw Dad, I realized quickly that those days were over. He looked bent, old, defeated.

He sat at the kitchen table while Mom fussed around him. When was the last time I saw Dad in the kitchen in the middle of the morning?

“Just goes to show you,” he said for the tenth time as he stirred his coffee. “Only trust your family… only family.”

I hugged him tightly, and he hugged me back. But the bear in the hug was gone.

That night at supper the whole family was together. And come six o’clock, the phone didn’t ring. We ate our soup in silence.

“So,” Rob broke into the silence. “Dad. Mom. Diane and I submitted our resignations to David today.”

“What? You can’t do that! Blow away all your years invested in the company? This is our family’s company!”

“No, now it’s JJ and David’s and we won’t work with people like that anymore. We know that David forced you to sign a noncompete clause and you can’t work for the next five years.” Dad winced. “But Diane and I didn’t sign anything.”

Diane reached out and took Mom’s hand. “We’re family and family works together. We’ll start again, and it’ll be better than before.”

I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud of my siblings as at that moment. And I also realized at that moment it was time to grow up.

“I’m in too. I don’t know much. But I’m a quick learner.”

I watched Dad’s back straighten. A gleam came back into his eyes. “I’m not worried. My kids know how to take care of their dad. Always.”

It’s been ten years since that wintry night. I never did get back to Israel. But Israel has stayed in me and I married a guy who wanted to learn in yeshivah all day long. Dad’s proud of his son-in-law. Even with the black hat.

And he’s proud of his kids and grandkids too. Diane, Rob, and I know how to work in thirds. And when Dad was able to join us, we happily divided into fourths. We’re proud owners of a small construction company that doesn’t need cash flow from big tycoons. But it supports us plus all the families in my husband’s kollel.

I haven’t seen Uncle JJ or Aunt Susie since that fateful summer. I think about them often. Are they happy with their yachts and their trips abroad? Or do they miss family — the only family they had?

Dad’s still a workaholic. Some things don’t change. But often, when I’m leaving the office I’ll swing by his. “Want to come over for supper? Kids will love to see you. Mom said she’d meet us there.”

And he’ll close down his computer and head out with me. Because some things do change.

He’ll sit at the supper table across from my husband, while Mom helps me serve. And at six o’clock no one notices if the phone rings or not. We’re all too busy with family business.


Second Act

A Motzaei Shabbos out with my daughter Shoshana. We settle in to watch the performance, Harmony, a production created by the women of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway. The evening begins in a swirl of neon-pink tulle. The girls twirl across the stage.

At the start of the second half, following the intermission, we’re confused by the emcee’s cryptic announcement. “We look forward to this second half, and remember, Harmony is a community event of achdus.”

The curtains open. The cast from the neon-pink opening act is there again. They repeat their routine. Shoshana and I look at each other. Huh?

Fellow audience members around us murmur their confusion. It’s too early for an encore. It’s only minutes after the intermission. An awkward energy hovers.

After the finale, I run to congratulate my nieces, performers in various dances, but I corner just one. Yocheved clarifies the mystery. Apparently travel circumstances delayed one of the 78 little entertainers, causing her to miss the initial performance. Seeing her devastation, the director instructs her 77 sensitive co-dancers. They roar into action, quickly don their costumes, and perform again.

And the background song they danced to? Mordechai Shapiro’s “B’yachad.”

— Chaia Frishman


A Mother Like That

I always knew that becoming a mother would give me the chance to be the mom I wished I had. I’d never serve leftovers, never force my kids to clean their rooms or vacuum the steps or dry the dishes. I’d offer chocolate milk every morning and allow soda at whim. I’d always remember what it’s like to be a child, dependent on people who think health and kindness are crucial to growth. As a mother, I’d never forget that some problems are too big, and when shared, require only ice cream. And I’d be proof that mothers are above feelings — they cannot be hurt by the things their children do or say.

Now I serve leftovers every Sunday. I demand clean rooms and a clean floor and a clean kitchen, and ask my children for their help around the house. I serve healthy foods, never buy soda, and make brushing teeth mandatory. As a mother, I know that most problems are solvable if you try hard, that ice cream is often a cop-out for the inner work required to maintain relationships. Now I know that mothers love their children and want their happiness, but more: they want their good, and often the right way is the hard way. And I know that mothers are people, too.

Now I think that when He made me a mother, Hashem was giving me a second chance to be a daughter.

— Adina Lover


Back and Forth

Cindy Scarr

Princess Latke/Chicken-foot/Sweet pea/Mzzz Cindy F/Cutie pie/Fairest Jelly Bean/Madame Blueberry Blintze/Queen of the Early Birds/McChicken/Beagley-beagle/Ms. Baby-girl-Pinya-squeaker-French-rabbit.

Those are just some of the always cute, always imaginative, always loving nicknames given to me by my Aunt Suen.

My Aunt Suen died recently. My father’s younger, and only, sister. An aunt I really, really loved, and who really, really loved me.

An aunt I hadn’t spoken to in seven years.

Once upon a time, I visited New York once a year to see my grandmother. My aunt always came in for those trips. As much as it was my time to visit with my nonagenarian grandmother, it was also my time to visit with “Suen,” the nickname I’d given my aunt as a small child.

All year, I looked forward to those ten days with Aunt Suen and my grandmother. Until my grandmother died.

I flew in for the funeral, and Suen, my father, and I spent the next day sorting through Grandma’s jewelry, talking about Grandma, who’d made it very clear: “My jewelry goes to Susan and Cindy.” This was our only chance to go through it together, discuss the pieces, many bought for her by Suen, talk about what Grandma had liked, what we liked, what we’d like to gift others with as remembrances.

The next day I flew back to Israel. Suen returned to Wisconsin.

And we never spoke again.

We weren’t completely out of touch. About five years ago, after much ado on her part, and much cajoling on my father’s, Suen consented to get e-mail. I rejoiced. Now we could really be in touch often. But we weren’t.

Although she’d acquiesced, my fragile, artistic aunt did not like e-mail the way I did. And so it mostly went untouched. There were infrequent messages — like uneven small bursts from a nearly exhausted flame — and after each one, I’d answer immediately and beg her: Don’t go! Stay on e-mail!

And five years ago, I needed family medical records. I’m smiling now, sort of, at the thought that at least that was an impetus for her to write.

Subject: Suen’s medical license up for review

Date: July 16, 2013

Dearest McChicken — Please let me know if you need any info. I specialize, you know, in strongly held subjective opinions, parading as fact.

Just a reminder that I, like my Aunt Nettie, am a proud member of A. A. D. (also a doctor). If I can be of assistance in any way, especially in the area of medical advice, please let me know. I am self-editing my vast knowledge & opinions, because, as I remarked to your dad, you are a smart cookie in a land of smart Jewish doctors.

Please let me know how you are doing. You’re often in my thoughts (just turn on the mindreading app).

Love you, love you, love you,

Auntie Suen


I replied immediately:

Dearest of aunties, hello!

Pretty silly… we’re obviously both thinking of each other often, and yet we don’t talk or write. Let’s not let that continue!

I love this line: “I specialize, you know, in strongly held subjective opinions, parading as fact.”

Thanks for the great laugh!

Do you still have the same phone number, by the way?

And I’m glad you’re on e-mail. I thought you’d gone off….

Much love and a big hug,

Your favorite niece!


She didn’t answer. I didn’t call.

Choice phrases of Suen’s came to me at random moments. Things like: Apply moisturizer for windburn from life’s rapid peaks & valleys.

Even if your attitude aura dips into the wet mulch range, you still deserve a gold star.

You reside in my heart & my brain, love-waves & brain-waves aimed.


I thought of her. Often.

She thought of me. Often.

But we didn’t talk.

On April 15, 2014, nine months later, I received this e-mail:

Hi sweetie-pie Cindy,

Racing the sun — wishing you and yours a very good Passover.

Love, Suen


I quickly replied:

YOU’RE BACK ON GMAIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Auntie… do you still have the same phone number? We need to talk, too!

Love, your favorite niece 😉


But I still didn’t call.


October 20, 2014

Dear Ms. Latke—

Hi honey… thinking of you, bench pressing & flipping pancakes.

I’m in a blur, task to task, still falling behind. Time spent collapsed in a heap not helping.

Anyhoo, missing hearing from you.

With love from the Suen


I wrote back:

Suen, I love your emails!

Why are you in a blur and why are you collapsed in a heap!? Neither sounds good. Tell all.

Please stand by, don’t touch that dial, and keep those cards and letters coming!

And I was serious…tell me what’s going on with you. Inquiring minds (and favorite nieces) want to know.

Love you, dearest of aunties!


No reply.


June 18, 2015

Suen, I’ll be in Boston Oct 18-26… wanna come see your niece and nephews and great-nephews?


No reply.


December 20, 2015

Dear Mzzz Cindy F.—

Why, I remember the day you were born.

Happy Birthday, sweet pea.



I’m so happy to hear from you!

Do you have the same phone number still?

We’re way overdue for a long chat.


No answer.


Dec 31, 2017

I’m sorry I missed your birthday. I remembered, but was burnt out.

Luff from Suen & Sick Kitty


Know what’s super super cool, dearest of aunties? And kind of haunting?

Today (tonight, and tomorrow) is my Hebrew birthday, my real one…. so you didn’t miss it at all. Your timing is impeccable!

I love you, Suen!


February 7, 2018

Dear Cindy, we learned tonight that Suen had a major aneurysm and death is imminent.


February 10, 2018

Dear Family and Friends,

I expect that most of you know that my sister Susan had a brain aneurysm and died peacefully on Thursday, February 8, 2018.


I thought about calling her. I thought about it a lot. But I never made that call.

I spent the few days following Suen’s death in a haze and maze of guilt and regret. When I got the news about the aneurysm, I davened. I asked others to daven. I gave tzedakah. I did everything then that I was supposed to do. But what was wrong with me that I hadn’t picked up that phone? A phone call I’d thought about probably once a week for seven years? I didn’t know how I was ever going to forgive myself.

And then I realized: I can’t go back. But I can do something going forward.

I can make different choices about others in my life. I can do my best to make sure that when others in my life leave this world, I’m not left with regret.

I have a great-aunt, the last of my great-aunts and great-uncles, the last of a generation. She lives in Netanya. I think about her a lot, sometimes call, almost never visit. The trip takes almost eight hours, door to door. She’s always overjoyed to hear from me, and thrilled to see me, and I always feel guilty for not calling or visiting more often, especially as Netanya is a lot closer than Wisconsin.

There’s no second chance with Suen. If I do finally pick up that phone, no one will ever answer.

But I can go forward. Second chances are everywhere.

Two days after Suen’s death, I picked up the phone.

“Is this my favorite Aunt Ethel? How would you like a visit from your favorite great-niece?”


(Originally Featured in Family First, Issue 589)

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