“Therapy helped me stabilize myself and eventually I started dating but reasonable suggestions were few and far between.”
Starting a new chapter of life when the previous one ended painfully requires superhuman effort and boundless courage.
Four women share how they reached deep within to uncover the emotional resources they needed for remarriage — and the joy they achieved .
Dreaming of the Future
y story begins with a typical Bais Yaakov upbringing and marriage at age 21 to the man of my dreams. I was sure of the path our life would take: My husband would stay in kollel forever; together we’d raise a large brood; I’d support him and be an eishes chayil; and all those seminary ideals would come true.
Well the dream quickly turned into a nightmare as my ben Torah husband turned out to be anything but. Four years and three children later I had a get in hand and it was time to rebuild my life.
Despite the urgings of my parents friends and mentors for years I steadfastly refused to consider shidduchim. Before I could look outward and form a new relationship I needed to know that I was stable inside.
Externally I seemed to be doing fine: My kids were growing up I was successful at work I had lots of friends. But inside I knew I had a long way to go.
There was the loneliness that seared through me at the end of each day. I dreamed regularly of my ex-husband realizing his mistake doing teshuvah and coming back to me. I knew it was ridiculous but the dreams were real and I’d often wake up in the morning shaking only to realize that it had all been a fantasy and he hadn’t returned.
Therapy helped me stabilize myself and eventually I started dating but reasonable suggestions were few and far between. I busied myself with work kids friends. Underneath it all though I felt like a failure. Intellectually I knew my divorce hadn’t been my fault; emotionally it was another story.
Several times my therapist suggested EMDR a treatment I’d heard and read about in various magazine articles. I always brushed her off saying I was “fine.” But I wasn’t. I cried when a bus driver yelled at me and occasionally I flew off the handle with clients. I’d read an article about shalom bayis or go to a shiur where the topic was raised and the guilt would surge through me. If only I had done this or that. If only I could have changed the path my marriage took….
After several years of dating with no end in sight I finally took a deep breath and told my therapist “Okay I’ll try it.”
Letting go of the “I’m fine” facade and agreeing to try something so totally out of my box made me feel weird and shaky. I finished the session off kilter unsure of myself unsure if I’d done the right thing. But that night I had a dream. My ex-husband was there and I was packing up my old home. “I’m leaving ” he said words he’d never actually uttered in real life. “Goodbye.”
EMDR wasn’t a one-time thing; it took almost a year for me to work through all the guilt and pain and baggage from my short failed marriage. But over time I found myself less reactive to the minor inconveniences of life to the reminders of my failure.
And then a shidduch came up that sounded more promising than any suggestion I’d heard before. We met once twice three times.
We met, once, twice, three times. By the end of the month, I knew this was the person I was going to marry.
We’re married now; he’s perfect for me in every way. I know I was only able to embrace the future because of the work I did to heal from my past.
Living Life to the Fullest
uring the last year of Leibel’s life, our lives revolved around doctor appointments, hospital visits, IVs, chavrusas at home when he was too weak to go out. Even as our relationship deepened, the end drew nearer. I held myself together for Leibel. I didn’t want him to leave This World worrying about the wife who would be left very much alone with his passing.
Then he was gone, and I got up from shivah in the four walls that had once been so blessed with his presence, and which now seemed so very empty.
Our marriage had not been blessed with children, but we weren’t lonely as long as we had each other. But now I felt the lack all over again: there were no children calling to ask how I was doing or to share in my grief, no grandchildren’s antics to smile at. Now my days were longer than any 24 hours could be; my sisters and extended family, though supportive, were so very far away.
I alternately cooked meals for one and accepted Shabbos invitations from kind neighbors, all the time struggling to find meaning in my life. I’d been very happily married, but gradually the prospect of spending the rest of my life alone began to haunt me. Could I… should I embark on shidduchim again? I wasn’t old, but I wasn’t young, either. Was there another bashert out there for me?
Taking a deep breath, I davened to Hashem to show me the way. A year had passed since Leibel’s passing, and it was time. I contacted shadchanios, registered on a frum shidduch site, and made sure to look my best. Sometimes it took a week or more to get up the guts to make the phone calls, but I pushed myself, and the names came up — widowed and divorced men in my age range who wanted to start over.
Meanwhile, I attended shiurim and joined a weekly Tehillim group. I befriended the young mothers in my area, becoming a bubby figure in their children’s lives. Whenever I was invited for a Shabbos meal, I’d bring along homemade cake or challah. Still, there was an undercurrent of restlessness.
Before Pesach, I asked my rav if I had an obligation to be happy. “Absolutely,” he said. When I came out of shul on Yom Tov and saw families all around me, I wanted to cry. Quickly, I dug my fingernails into my arm. “Stop,” I told myself. “You have a mitzvah of simchas Yom Tov. You can do it.”
At first, I was afraid I’d never find another husband. Eventually, I began to feel a certain conviction that there was someone out there for me… but where was he? Would I ever find him?
Opening myself up to rejection was so painful. Sometimes I said no, sometimes my date did. Then a close friend called and asked if I was willing to meet a man close to ten years older than me. Refoel’s wife had passed away after dementia made its slow and cruel advance. Though they’d been married for over 50 years, Refoel was still young at heart and eager to share his remaining years with a new partner.
We talked for hours. I didn’t want our first or second dates to end. By the third, I was ready to get engaged, and so was he.
The loneliness of widowhood is now but a memory. Refoel is so very different from Leibel, but he’s just what I need in this stage of life, and we both couldn’t be happier. Not only that, but Refoel has a number of children and grandchildren, who have eagerly welcomed a new bubby into their lives.
Today my life revolves around my husband’s schedule, and the cooking and baking I do is for us and our family. No longer do I fall asleep at night wondering what tomorrow will bring; I wake up to the sun shining through the windows of my new home, reminding me of the blessings Hashem has granted me.
Hopeful, Not Desperate
itting at a friend’s Shabbos table, I watched my daughter play with my friend’s children. Tears came to my eyes. “What’s wrong?” my friend asked gently.
“I’m afraid I’ll never have another child,” I admitted.
I was a 38-year-old baalas teshuvah with a two-year-old daughter. My ex-husband had left us when my daughter was only six months old. I badly wanted to get remarried, but I was also scared. What if I made another mistake and married someone who couldn’t stick to his commitments? What if I was dumped again, after getting my hopes so high?
My parents couldn’t understand why I had thrown away a good career to move to Israel and get married. Now the marriage was over, but I couldn’t move back to the US, because of the custody arrangement: My daughter’s father wouldn’t allow us to move.
The therapist I’d started seeing after my divorce encouraged me to be independent, to realize that I could survive without a guy in my life. So when I started dating a year after the divorce, my goal was to be objective, not desperate for a new relationship.
Meanwhile, the money I’d been living on during the first two years after the divorce had run out. I started a graphic design program and took a second job, working mornings while my daughter was in gan and evenings after she went to sleep. Every moment was full, but I told Hashem that if He’d send someone my way, I’d carve out the time to date.
One day, my rebbetzin called. “Batya, I met this guy and I have a really good feeling about him. He’s here temporarily from the US, but I think you should go out with him.”
I agreed. Shimon and I met twice before he returned to the States. He impressed me as a real mensch, especially when someone tried to steal my purse on our first date and he managed to prevent the theft. But after those two dates, he told my rebbetzin that he didn’t think the shidduch would work.
I didn’t let myself feel too disappointed — after all, I was working on becoming independent. Since Shimon had impressed me so much, I wondered if I had any friends in the US that I could set him up with. I asked my rebbetzin if it was okay for me to e-mail him with my suggestions. She said it was fine, and I wrote to him.
Shimon thanked me for my efforts, but wrote that he preferred not to date women over a certain age. I didn’t want to give up on the idea so quickly, though. I asked if we could Skype so I could get a feel for how committed he was to his age requirement. I’d never made a shidduch before; I just felt like this was something worth pursuing.
On Skype, Shimon confirmed his age requirements; he’d been married previously but didn’t have children, and it was important to him to marry a woman of childbearing age. “Okay,” I said, thinking that was the end of that.
But it wasn’t, because Shimon had rethought the distance between us and asked if we could Skype-date. We dated over the computer for two months, and then he returned to Israel so we could get engaged.
Fortunately, Shimon was able to transfer his work to Israel, and my daughter Yaella is thrilled to have a new abba. I’ve quit both my jobs as I settle into my new marriage, anticipating the birth of our first child together.
I don’t know why Hashem arranged for Shimon and I to meet just when my life became so busy with work and job training, but I do know that expanding beyond my comfort zone — allowing myself to hope for the impossible but not be devastated if it didn’t occur — got me to the place where I am today.
Rewriting the Script
o understand my story, you’ve got to know me and where I come from. I’ve always been an outgoing, energetic, positive person, hosting guests, running Nshei events — not the type to let life pass me by. My husband and I became frum together, moved to Israel, and had four little girls one after another. Our lives revolved around the day-to-day details of homework, playdates, and Torah classes.
And then everything went into a tailspin with my husband’s diagnosis. I spent a year in and out of the hospital, making medical decisions, davening for a yeshuah… and then facing the reality that my husband, the father of my little children, had been called Upstairs for a higher purpose, a purpose we could not begin to fathom.
My community rallied around me, sending meals and providing endless emotional support. As I recovered from the shock and grief, I thought, I cannot be a young widow — this is so not me. This can’t be my story.
The year of treatments and tension had left me depleted. But I knew I didn’t want to get stuck in a place of sorrow and loneliness; I wanted to put my life back together — and I wanted it to include a loving husband. My feelings were bolstered when I met another woman who’d been widowed young and remarried only after her children were grown. “Don’t wait to get married,” she told me. “Do it now. Be happy, don’t be lonely.”
I went on a diet and worked on looking good again, mostly for my own self-esteem. Then I started contacting shadchanim. But although I left many messages, none of them called me back. As soon as they heard that I was a 36-year-old widow with four daughters, they didn’t want anything to do with me.
“But I’m put together and accomplished,” I begged. Still, it seemed no one wanted to take on raising someone else’s daughters.
I’d spent a lot of time over the past year working on my emunah and strengthening my connection to Hashem. Now I wondered, What kind of life do I want for myself? Once, I had been a pampered princess, with all my needs attended to. Now I had to do everything myself. But I knew I still had it in me to give to a husband, and I didn’t want to give up my dreams of a happy, fulfilling future.
So I davened. Night after night I turned to Hashem, crying, begging, and pleading with Him to send me a husband who would be the right fit for my family.
My mother, visiting my home in Yerushalayim, found a guy on Frumster who seemed appropriate. Tzvi was learning in Rabbi Shalom Arush’s yeshivah, Chut Shel Chessed, just a few blocks away from me. He was 34, had never been married, and came from a similar background. My mother e-mailed him, and he wrote back. Although he was looking for a younger girl, he agreed to meet me.
Things looked promising, but after two dates Tzvi was hesitant about continuing. “I’m not such a tzaddik,” he told me apologetically. “I don’t think I could take on someone else’s kids like that.”
I’m trained in marketing, so it was easy for me to find an approach that would be appealing, not intimidating. “Let’s just go out and have a good time, and see if we can be friends.” In other words, no commitments. A little unconventional in the frum world, I know, but he agreed.
Conversation came easily. We’d grown up in similar homes and our worldviews were very compatible. As we continued to date, I made sure we spent a lot of time with my daughters, seeing if he could become a father figure. I waited to see if he’d run the other way when they got cranky on Friday night. But he didn’t. He actually enjoyed himself.
He began to realize that instead of starting from scratch, he could start out with a built-in family. At our vort three weeks later, he told people, “I’m getting five and Jenn’s getting one. It’s not even fair to her!”
We’ve been married over four years now, baruch Hashem, and I feel incredibly blessed to have Tzvi in my life. Together, we have a boy after our four girls, followed by another two little girls. I call them the glue that sticks our relationship together.
Once again, my life revolves around homework, playdates, and Torah classes… albeit in a different script than I imagined originally. Tzvi and I are committed to respecting each other and to raising all of our children together. Although I’m no longer active in the Nshei, I do speak publicly about my experiences, as I feel that my life is an example of how Hashem has a hidden plan for everyone, and our job is to stay positive and listen to His messages.
Having made it to the other side, I tell people going through all different challenges that yes, there’s always hope for the future.
Finding the Courage
For a widowed or divorced woman, remarriage can be a dream come true — but it can be hard to find the courage to embrace that dream. One of the biggest challenges a divorcיe may face is learning how to trust again, says Monsey-based life coach Chaya Leah Ehrlich, who works with many divorced and remarried women. “In order to remarry, you need to trust another person enough to share, to open yourself up, to be vulnerable,” she explains.
This trust may have to be directed inwardly, as well: “Do I trust myself to make the right decision? That I can give to a new husband and all that it entails? That I deserve to be taken care of? “These are the questions many women are asking themselves subconsciously.”
Mrs. Ehrlich differentiates between divorce and widowhood, noting that a widow generally hasn’t had her trust in others shaken the way a divorcיe has. Still, a divorced woman, she says, can overcome her fear of rejection or failure by attempting to understand what went wrong, healing from the past, and starting to believe in herself again.
This isn’t to say that she’s to blame for the past. “If the only thing you did ‘wrong’ was choose a problematic person to marry, that issue itself needs to be addressed,” says Rachel Rose, a family and individual therapist in private practice in Yerushalayim. “The more work you’ve done on yourself before dating a second time, the better your chances of creating the kind of marriage in which you can grow and thrive. If you sweep issues under the rug, it’s easy to trip over them when you remarry.”
In an effort to escape the overwhelming loneliness of widowhood, some widowed women may rush into a new marriage too quickly. “Make sure you know who you are and what you need, and don’t just jump into a relationship with someone who doesn’t fit,” advises Mrs. Rose. “It’s very hard to make time for yourself after the loss of a spouse, either through divorce or marriage, simply because of all the physical demands, children, work, or household-related. Learning how to take care of yourself before you add more balls to the juggling act is crucial.
“The best anchor in a second marriage is the emotional health of both parties, and a commitment to work through issues as they come up,” she says. “Taking the time to heal and to learn new relationship skills creates the confidence you need to succeed. And never forget to daven for siyata d’Shmaya.”
Avigail Rosenberg is the editor of Healing from the Break: Stories, Inspiration, and Guidance for Anyone Touched by Divorce (Menucha Publishers). She can be contacted through Mishpacha.
(Originally featured in Family First Issue 565)