| SisterSchmooze |

Shhh! It’s a Secret….

We Sisters, like everybody else, have our own little secrets

Why do people keep secrets? Maybe there’s something you did you’re not proud of. Perhaps something happened to you that you haven’t wholly come to terms with. Occasionally, there’s the secret someone else confided in you. Or it simply might be an idea, thought, or emotion you’re just not ready to share.

Whatever the reason, when you’re ready to reveal the secret, who are you most likely to share it with? Your mother, your spouse, your sibling, your best friend? Or maybe the secret is out, and you’re ready to tell it to the world?

We Sisters, like everybody else, have our own little secrets. And after writing our SisterSchmooze column for many years, we’ve come to feel like our readers in Family First are family.

So join us as we share our secrets. But — shhh — remember to keep our secrets to yourselves….


Shhh! Marcia confesses that…

I Got Kicked Out of First Grade


Yes it’s true. It all started back in the mid-’50s when there were few, if any, affordable Jewish preschools. I’d been an adored only-child for five years when my parents, struggling financially and new at American-style parenting, decided to send me straight to first grade in Bais Yaakov— without ever sending me to preschool… and right after presenting me with twin baby sisters! It didn’t help that I was one of the youngest in the class.

Of course, I spent the first few weeks of school with my head on the desk, crying. Finally, the teachers called my parents: “This is not working.”

After being kicked out, I entered kindergarten at PS 121. Loved it. Lots of toys, kids playing, barely any structure. At year’s end, they took us on a tour of first grade. By then, I was excited to move on within this fun place.

One day that summer, my father came home and announced excitedly: “Guess where you’re going for first grade? Back to Bais Yaakov!”

Well, that did not go over well. To this day, I remember the tantrum I threw. I locked myself into the bathroom and screamed like a banshee. When my parents’ friend, Mr. H, came to visit, they must have been mortified. Does he think child abuse is going on here? they probably wondered.

My father was a quiet man. He was surrounded by strong-minded, talkative women who could twist him around their little pinkies. But that day, he stood his ground.

“No,” he declared. “You’re going to Bais Yaakov. And that’s it.”

The rest is history. I did well in Bais Yaakov, even managing to eventually skip a grade — so that lost year was not really lost. Instead, I gained… oh so much. Very few hiccups along the way, except for the time…

… when I got kicked out of sixth grade for a day.

Yes, it’s true. I got along well with all my teachers throughout my Bais Yaakov years, with one exception: Mrs. P, our sixth-grade English teacher. Maybe it was her practice of calling us by our last names — something we all thought was reserved for boys. One girl in the class, whose last name was Elefant, was always getting into trouble. Mrs. P would send her to what became known as “Elefant’s Corner.”

But many a time, she ordered, “Stark! Get into Elefant’s Corner.”

One Sunday (we used to have half-day English classes on Sundays), I committed some foible — I don’t remember exactly what — that irked her to the point where she demoted me to the fifth grade for the morning.

Was I mortified. I spent that Sunday morning with former classmates from my pre-skipped days. The only saving grace was that they had a sub. Instead of teaching a real lesson, she taught us a tongue-twisting spelling mnemonic that I remember to this day:

Whether the weather is cold, or whether the weather is hot, we’ll weather the weather — whatever the weather — whether we like it or not.

But wait. It gets even worse. Mrs. P sent a note for one of my parents to sign. It stated that they knew I’d been sent down to the fifth grade for the morning. Bad enough to be humiliated in front of all my friends. But my parents? Who thought I was perfect? I couldn’t do it.

Instead, I stopped at my father’s butcher shop on my way home from the bus stop. I knew I could fool Daddy into doing anything I wanted. So I took the note, covered everything except the signature line, and said, “Daddy, I just want to see how your signature looks.”

And… he did it! I never did tell my parents about that ignominious day of being demoted from sixth grade to fifth. My secret — till this day.

Shame on me.

So, Mommy and Daddy, I’m sure you’re up in Shamayim reading about all this — although you probably know everything by now. I just want to say I’m really sorry for not telling you what happened. And Mrs. P, I’m really sorry for whatever I did that made you so angry with me. Maybe shaming is not an acceptable punishment these days, but still… I’m sure you were a very good teacher.


Shhh! Miriam admits that…

I Got a Speeding Ticket Once

Not impressed? After all, you’re probably thinking, everybody, but everybody, gets caught once in a while, going 85 in a 70 mph area or zipping at 45 on a quiet local street at 1 a.m. (“How was I supposed to know that the guy in the unmarked car was a cop?”).

Yup, all — or at least most — of us have driven too fast and occasionally gotten caught.

But that’s not what happened to me. The ticket the unsmiling cop handed me was…  for going too slow.


There were Extenuating Circumstances. Lots of them.

EC #1: I didn’t know how to drive. I had taken nine 45-minute lessons. Like most survivors’ children, our parents had no car, so I never got a chance to practice. Do the math: I had been behind a steering wheel for a grand total of 6.75 hours. For the test, I carefully followed the instructions given by Warren, our miracle-working driving teacher:  Dress nicely, smile at the examiner, and request a test in Sheepshead Bay, where the streets are wide, traffic is nonexistent, and there’s enough room to park a 60-seater bus. The miracle happened, and there I was, with a shining new driver’s license and very little knowledge of all things automotive. (“The brake is on the left. The brake is on the left…”)

EC #2: My future father-in-law and future mother-in-law were (yikes!) in the car with me, enough to set the most confident driver a-tremble. It was Dad’s car I was driving. He’d suggested that his future daughter-in-law should learn to drive on highways. We’d have so much fun, he said, as I drove all of us to visit the son/chassan learning in Ner Israel. Yeah, right.

EC #3: It was my first time ever driving on a highway. A lot faster than Sheepshead Bay streets. There was road construction in Maryland. I knew lots about ice cream cones but zero about traffic cones. Lanes were closed, markings nonexistent. Luckily, there was little traffic on the highway, no one behind me, so I could Really. Slow. Down. until I’d figured this out.

And it was when I Really. Slowed. Down. that I was chased by a car with a red light flashing, siren wailing.

Which brings me to EC #4: I was driving through southern-drawl-country — with New York plates. Little know oddity: Maryland was a Union state with strong Confederate ties. In those days, a mere 110 years after the Civil War, memories were still very fresh among Maryland State Troopers (State Troopers have verrrry long memories…).  And their memories of the Federals, particularly New York Federals, were not pleasant. When they saw those dark blue numbers on an orange background and the words “New York” on the bottom, they didn’t see a license plate. They saw a target.


“Too slow?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” (No one had ever called me “ma’am” before; there are very few “ma’ams” in Brooklyn.) “Y’all was goin’ 40. Minimum’s 45.”

I tried smiling winningly. I tried explaining. I tried yelling. All it got me was an invitation to spend the next 36 hours waiting in the courthouse, where I could tell it to the judge.

I took the ticket and drove away. Slowly.


As part of his business, my father-in-law was in contact with law firms all over the country. When he got back to the office he made a couple of phone calls to a Baltimore attorney. The ticket was rescinded, the trooper received a reprimand.

When the ticket was written and we were on our way again, my in-laws, who’d supported me throughout the argument, assured me it wasn’t my fault. I was so embarrassed, I never mentioned my “secret ticket” to anyone. And, aside for telling me that he’d taken care of it, neither of my in-laws ever spoke about the episode again.

I learned something important that day, and it wasn’t about highway driving. It was about in-laws. These almost-strangers whom I’d soon be calling Mom and Dad were people I could count on. People I could trust.

People I could love.


Dedicated affectionately to Aharon Yosef HaKohen and Breindel Reizel Zakon, a”h.


Shhh! Emmy Leah keeps…

A Secret from Marcia

This is a story about two dry cleaner’s, three chasanahs, one wedding gown, a glass of water, a secret revealed and a secret unexplained, and two happy endings…

Lots to cover, so let’s get started.


Lag B’omer, 20-plus years ago. I take my kids straight from the medurah to the airport (what fun—watching bonfires dotting the country as you take off!) to Marcia’s daughter Miri’s wedding in Maryland.

Miri is a gorgeous kallah. At the chuppah, my teenage daughter Malka whispers to me, “Ima, I want to get married in that dress.”

I’m not thinking about my teenager’s wedding. I’m certainly not thinking about the challenge of getting a wedding gown from the US to Israel. I nod and say those famous parental words: We’ll see.

Some years later. Now I’m traveling to Marcia’s son Nachum’s wedding — and Malka is about to announce her engagement. She reminds me of “We’ll see,” pointing out the perfect timing: I can bring Miri’s wedding gown back from the simchah.

I ask Marcia, and she agrees. But I have to be SUPER CAREFUL. Marcia wants her other daughter, Leah, then six years old, to get married in the same dress. I promise to get it back to her in perfect shape.

Which brings us to dry cleaner number one. I plan to bring the dress to the dry cleaner’s, have it professionally wrapped, and send it as a piece of luggage.

My mother a”h, traveling with us, nixes the idea.

“Don’t worry. I’ll put it in my hand luggage. This way it can’t get lost.”

Hand luggage? A wedding gown, mounds of silk and lace, a train that sweeps half the aisle, in hand luggage?

My mother worked at the ritziest bridal store in New York. In five minutes, she has the dress folded and fit perfectly into her rollie. Voilà! Marcia can’t come to the wedding, just days before Pesach, but she rejoices in her niece getting married in her dream dress.

And now… the wedding. A tearful badeken. A beautiful chuppah under the Yerushalayim sky. Joyous dancing with the kallah, with relatives, with friends…

The last moments of the first round of dancing. Malka walks over and asks, “Ima, how much do you love me?”

“I love you more than the heavens and the earth…. What’s wrong?”

The hall has a special feature. During the dancing, unexpectedly, the ceiling opens and mounds of confetti fall down on the dancers.

Confetti. Red confetti.

Just as confetti rained down on the kallah, someone gave her a glass of water, someone else jostled her hand—and there’s the wedding dress, with a flaming red stain from the waist to the floor.

My face turns as white as the dress. But it’s Malka’s wedding. Thinking fast, I show her how to take a fold of the dress to cover the stain, and send her back to enjoy the dancing.

And I think to myself: Will Marcia ever forgive me?


The morning after. First thing — race to the dry cleaner’s. It’s days before Pesach, their busiest season.  I beg, I plead… just take out the stain. Everything else can wait

Happy ending number one: The stain comes out! The dress, pristine white, now hangs in my closet.

And all I have to do is tell Marcia the story…. only I find I can’t.

Why do I keep the incident a secret? Because once the stain came out, it didn’t matter? Or maybe there’s some repressed memory here — did I ever spill ink on Marcia’s homework and I don’t remember? Or am I suffering from PTSD: post-traumatic-stain-disorder?

I still don’t know. What I do know is that years later, I finally confess. Marcia is visiting, and I suggest she take the dress home. Leah is growing up, and b’ezras Hashem she’ll need it soon. I tell her The Secret Story of the Stain.

And here’s happy ending number two: Not only did Marcia think the story was funny — she told me that since Miri and Leah have different coloring and builds, Leah wouldn’t use the dress after all!

Still, Marcia takes back the dress. She lends it to a number of kallahs. After many uses, she retires it: It got a stain she can’t remove.

Stains don’t always come out. But it seems like for Sisters, secrets always do….


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 756)

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