The Road Taken| May 23, 2023
Seven readers share a sacrifice they made — and the reward they were granted
Leaving the Door Open
ur daughter’s marriage had gotten off to a rough start.
The young couple was deliriously happy, but we saw warning signs that worried us. There was a subtle tension between them, between them and us, between them and their siblings… Something just didn't look right and we were worried stiff.
We reached out to professionals and rabbanim to get direction, asking how we should be handling this issue and help our couple become more emotionally grounded. But no one could give clear guidance, and the consensus seemed to be that without the couple on board it would be impossible to figure out what was going on.
One winter Friday as I bentshed licht, I felt vaguely disquieted. I realized I’d spoken to all of my children that day, except this one daughter. As Shabbos progressed, my uneasiness intensified. I somehow knew something wasn't right.
She didn’t call Motzaei Shabbos either, and by Sunday afternoon, I was very worried. I hadn’t spoken to my daughter in more than three days, and perhaps more alarmingly, something in our relationship had shifted, and I didn’t feel comfortable just picking up the phone to call her.
Eventually my feelings of alarm won out, and I dialed my daughter’s phone number. No answer. I tried twice, then a third time, and this time I left a short message.
She didn’t call back, but a few hours later, our son-in-law did. But that brief call plunged us into a maelstrom of betrayal, hurt, and sorrow.
“We’re asking you not to try to talk to her or be in contact with us,” he said tersely. In total shock, my husband pressed him for more information, but all he said was that we could reach out to our family’s rav for clarification. And “thank you ahead of time for not bothering us anymore.”
Devastation is too small a word to express what we felt. My world crumbled at that moment. Sleep escaped me that night as I wet my pillow trying to figure out what went wrong, what we did wrong.
A short visit to the rav the next day, and many blurred visits more, told a sorry story of a health condition, emotional instability, and an altered consciousness that somehow led my daughter to blame her father for all that wasn't right in her life.
I listened wide-eyed as the rav recounted the misinformation he was given about my husband’s relationship with my daughter. Somehow, my husband had become the villain in a story we knew nothing about and had no power to change. We pleaded our case, begged for our daughter back, for someone to sort out this mess, but the case was closed.
The hurt consumed us. We were so ashamed, and also so angry. How could children tell complete lies about their parents and get away with it? We'd raised her, provided all her needs, guided her and led her to the chuppah with hearts full of prayer. Was this her gratitude?
It was a dark and miserable winter.
We hoped they would have a change of heart, and while we slowly realized it might never come, we never stopped davening for the nightmare to end.
The greatest test of all was yet to come though. We'd committed to supporting the young couple, and while they didn’t want anything to do with us, that didn’t stop them from sending a message asking for the next payment.
I couldn't believe their audacity. Furious, we went to our rav yet again, asking if we were halachically bound to our commitment.
The rav supported our understanding, that no, we weren't obligated to give them a penny. But, he added, it would be wise to consider the whole picture before cutting them off totally.
Until now, the disconnect in our relationship was one-sided, he explained. We'd remained loving, caring parents, davening for our daughter and her husband, awaiting their return to our family. If we would decide to cut them off financially, he said, we would be furthering the split and make a future reconciliation less probable.
My husband left the decision up to me.
That night I couldn’t sleep again, and I soaked my pillow with tears. But ultimately, I made one of the hardest decisions in my life. I decided that my daughter’s welfare took precedence over my own, and the next day, I wrote the check.
It didn’t take a day, a week, or even a month. But after many months of more tears, patience, and desperate hope, our children have slowly made their way back into the family fold.
Just as the rav said, keeping the disconnect one-sided held the door wide open for their return.
iggling doubt and subtle unease wormed their way into my heart again. Each time the thought that this is wrong, that something about this feels amiss came into my mind, there was a stronger force pushing it away.
It wasn’t as if there were bright warning lights or ringing alarms telling me this relationship wasn’t right or healthy. It was more nuanced than that. There were fleeting out-of-place comments and a niggling, unsettled feeling. It was easier to ignore it.
And that’s just what I did.
I did this even though the rational part of my brain was working overtime telling me this was too much, too fast, and too intense. That voice was trying to protect me.
But I couldn’t listen to it.
I was in it too deep.
It started off innocently enough. I met Shevy on vacation. We both enjoyed the splendid hotel grounds, the tantalizing meals, and the exciting amenities.
From our very first conversation, I was hooked. I felt as if someone literally took me over. We went from strangers to proverbial best friends overnight. We spent hours in conversation, sitting comfortably in the lobby or outside on the terrace. When we weren’t together, we were texting or talking on the phone.
In hindsight, there were red flags right from the start. There was the way Shevy expected me to answer every text right away, the way she expected exclusive rights to chat to me in the evenings, and even the way she smothered me with compliments.
But I very much enjoyed talking to her, and every time thoughts came into my head that this might not be okay, I resolutely refused to think about it, let alone acknowledge it.
We were both from the same city, though it being a large place, we’d never met before. So even though our vacation only lasted a short time, when we each went home, our relationship continued. We would text, talk, and hang out together for hours.
I was engaged at the time, getting married in a few weeks, and my life was extremely busy. The relationship with Shevy was getting more intense by the day. We spoke, texted, and met up all the time. Deep down I knew something had to change. Yet I felt powerless over the hold Shevy had on me.
It was a mere two weeks before my wedding when I finally mustered the courage to acknowledge what I’d really known all along. I called my mentor, Mrs. Rabinowitz, told her I need to speak to her, and before I knew it, I was sitting in her living room.
With my stomach in knots, and in a trembling voice, I started talking. Before I could change my mind, I told her everything. I spoke and spoke, describing how deeply enmeshed I was with Shevy. Mrs. Rabinowitz looked on, gentle and compassionate, yet in her eyes I saw a steely determination.
After a few minutes, she declared, “You’re not leaving this room without completely and utterly cutting off contact with Shevy.” I was shocked. I thought she would say to step back, put some boundaries in place, but to break off completely? I sat there crying, until she gently yet firmly repeated that in order for my upcoming marriage to flourish and last, I would need to break off contact. She explained that according to what I’d told her, the dynamics in this relationship were very unhealthy, and would definitely impede on my marriage.
We then tentatively drafted a message to Shevy, stating that I’d come to understand that our relationship was unhealthy, and I didn’t want her to contact me again. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. Yet with Mrs. Rabinowitz’s guidance and encouragement, I mustered up the courage and sent it.
The days after were agonizingly difficult. I missed Shevy terribly. It took tremendous resolve and fortitude not to establish contact again. Yet I knew, like countless other Jewish women throughout history, I was investing in my future and in the future generations. Reflecting back, I shudder to think what my life would have looked like had I not had the courage and tenacity to break off from Shevy.
Sometimes Hashem lets you glimpse the wondrous rewards for doing the right thing, and looking into the smiling faces of my beautiful family, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.
Family of Females: that’s what we call our Sunday evening support group. It’s a free venting forum for women who have spent the entire Shabbos and Sunday without a single member of their progeny going to shul or school while watching their husbands saunter off to daven with hands swinging freely at their sides.
We vent with love, really. I wouldn’t exchange my laughing, fighting, singing, kvetching girls for anything.
After we vent about our weekends, we move on to our shopping woes.
Where can I find Puma sneakers cheaply? (Nowhere.) Can fifth graders still wear high-waisted dresses? (Depends on the dress and the kid.) When does it become nebby to match? (Four or more kids.) Does my daughter really need slides and Floafers? (No, she doesn’t. Unless she does, of course.) Can I have all your last year’s summer dresses for my girls? (Sure! If you don’t mind the ketchup and grass stains no amount of Oxi removed.)
It’s not that families with many girls are particularly materialistic and that’s why our lives are all about shopping — or avoiding it. It’s simply a necessity.
The number of shoes alone is staggering: Floafers, loafers, slides, Shabbos shoes, fuzzy slippers, sneakers (Puma this year! Chuck the Adidas) and school shoes. Oh, and boots. And booties.
And shoes only cover the very bottom of your feet. That’s before Shabbos tights and weekday tights, tops and skirts, dresses and shells, Shabbos coats and weekday coats, Shabbos jackets and weekday jackets, accessories and jewelry.
It all has to be bought… and paid for.
Until Shein came around. The new darling for Families of Females.
I could now buy bracelets, necklaces, hair bows, and clips for the entire family for the price of one overpriced headband in the local store. Then there were the brand-name knockoff shirt dresses and shirts and everything in between. Plus the benefit of free returns and quick shipping.
Of course, we had a good laugh at the short-sleeved velvet summer top, and the stunning linen Shabbos dress with huge sporty lettering on the backside, and the top that stayed dry in the washing machine because it was made of plastic. But no worries… they had an easy return policy.
No more scouring the stores for sales. Now shopping was easy; just a quick, biweekly hop to the kosher computer kiosk down the block. It was easy, fun, and cheap. The cutest booties showed up at my door, complete with Sherpa lining, and the perfect bandana for the Purim costume. The gold bar necklaces and crochet hair clips wowed even my in-the-know neighbors.
I found nice things for myself, too. For a few bucks, I was able to fit in with all the young ones who wore taupe pleated midis, sophisticated blazers, and silk shirts.
The kiosk was loaded every night. I recognized the regulars like me, and we often compared finds. The kiosk provided little taffies, and we’d chew the junk while filling our virtual carts. We rejoiced with every successful purchase and marveled that the same item went for ten times the price in the local shops.
IT wasn’t perfect, though. I was exposed to horrible images. Most of the models were filtered out, but the filter didn’t catch everything — and many, many immodest models still showed.
Shein shopping was the last thing I did before turning in for the night, and I often dreamed about the dresses… and the images.
But, I rationalized… it was filtered. It wasn’t in my home. The mall isn’t the picture of tzniyus, either. The local stores were fashion shows and often made me feel like a have-not. So season after season after season found me scouring the site and guiding newbies on how to search successfully.
Until, smack in the middle of a heavy shopping season, when I had a pile of returns to take care of, and a list of items I still needed, I said, “That’s it.”
It had been a long night of horrible dreams and disgusting pictures. Instead of waking up well-rested and energized, I felt plain horrible and dirty. Paradoxically, my efforts to find tzniyusdig clothing were exposing me to pictures that were the antithesis of tzniyus.
I decided to stop, but only for one month. I couldn’t imagine doing this for longer.
It was right before Purim, and I said goodbye to the perfect booties I’d been planning for my vintage girls. They wore shoes from the endless supply in their closet. I can’t say it didn’t bother me.
I didn’t share this decision with anyone, because I was simply embarrassed. I didn’t want to appear holier than thou, especially since I was known as a Sheinaholic.
Also, if I wouldn’t be able to keep it up, no one would have to know.
My four weeks of abstinence passed, and it was evaluation time. On the one hand, the calendar was moving steadily toward Pesach and summer; on the other hand, I knew I couldn’t just go back.
Then there was the other very prominent change in my life.
Most women don’t go around thinking about their fingers all day. Until they hurt. Then, all you can think about is your fingers. That was my life.
Should I pick that up? Should I hold the baby on the left side or the right? Should I skip the kugel this week because peeling is painful? The pain had become so much part of my life, I had accepted it as the new me.
And even worse were the ruminating thoughts: Why do they hurt? Is it arthritis or MS? My mind would go to the darkest, scariest places as I tried to slowly grip a cup with minimal pain.
I’d been taking Motrin just to get through the day for about six months. Not because I was addicted, but because I was in pain.
And then the pain got worse. It radiated to the wrist and the pinkie finger, further limiting my morning activities.
For a month, I didn’t tell a soul. Because, big deal, it’ll pass. It was from sleeping with the baby in bed at night, I told myself, or maybe residual harm from being malnourished during pregnancy. I started taking supplements for the joints. It only got worse.
Slowly, slowly, I did some research and spoke to my PCP who agreed it was probably rheumatoid arthritis. He offered strong pain meds, which I hesitantly accepted but didn’t plan on using.
I’ve interviewed people with arthritis in the past, and I knew one thing — I couldn’t do arthritis. Not the meds, not the symptoms. I just couldn’t do it. So I didn’t. I just plodded on and tried to banish the dark thoughts.
When the pain got bad enough that Motrin wasn’t doing the job anymore, I started taking the meds the doctor had prescribed. I quietly popped a pill in the morning and went about my day. Until even that wasn’t enough anymore.
I pictured myself as an old arthritic kvetch in a wheelchair. I saw myself getting cortisone shots in my fingers. I gave up coffee and chocolate. (For a few hours. Because it’s bad enough to have pain, but pain without a coffee was intolerable.)
That had been my life for the past while. Until now, four weeks after I gave up shopping on Shein.
I realized the pain had gotten less intense. I’d been taking the pain meds less often.
I’m not blind, and I couldn’t ignore the connection between finger pain and my fingers typing. I knew what I wanted to do.
It’s been three months without pain. I haven’t gone on Shein since that morning, and I daven to continue having the strength to continue with my kabbalah.
And now, with the summer season starting, would you believe my kids have (for the most part) what to wear? Minus the slides. Because their shoe shelf is groaning.
No Better Return
finally gotten my little ones off to school, and I was sitting peacefully feeding my newborn when I received a phone call from my manager (I’m a singer). I eagerly picked up.
She’d been working on a booking in Europe that would also allow us to stop in Eretz Yisrael, where a few of my older boys were learning. I was excited to have the opportunity to sing for a wonderful organization, and get a break from my usual routine of morning rush, laundry, dishes and messes… not to mention visiting my boys.
But she didn’t sound like her usual buoyant self, and I braced myself.
She told me the organization didn’t think I was the right choice for their performance. They’d explained that because most female singers are currently on social media, they were concerned I wouldn’t have enough name recognition. They’d gone so far as to name some singers who were more “out there.” These are the singers everyone knows now, my manager concluded apologetically, because they’re putting out videos and have large social media followings.
I hung up the phone, and I actually cried.
I’d made a lot of hard choices recently.
I had to stand firm against well-meaning, determined friends and family who felt strongly about what I needed to do to promote my business. Instead, I was choosing to stick with my values and the direction I’d received from my rav and mentors.
I’d switched from a smartphone to a flip phone.
I’d chosen to stay off Instagram, WhatsApp, and to make sure nobody posted any videos of me singing anywhere on the internet.
And now… this.
I took out my Tehillim and told Hashem, “I know nobody really understands how I feel, or what a sacrifice it is not to use social media and other online platforms, but… Hashem…You do.”
I looked at a picture hanging over the piano, at the smiling faces of my children, and I knew what I wanted.
“Please, please, please, Hashem, infuse the strength I’m using to hold back from using the Internet into my children and help them with that tremendous nisayon.”
We know that our tefillos and choices can affect not just ourselves, not just our children, but anyone, anywhere. Our actions and tefillos can help someone in a different city, even a different generation.
So I davened, and I felt a little better.
But it doesn’t end there.
That afternoon one of my children came home. This particular child had been going through a challenge with smartphone use.
We made some small talk, and then I asked my child to please ask Siri what the weather was supposed to be later that evening.
The response startled me. “Oh, sorry, I can’t.”
I was confused, but tried again. “Can you just check your phone?”
The reply left me stupefied. “I’m sorry, Ma. I can’t check. I removed the Internet from my phone. I have no access to anything that requires any Internet.”
I felt myself go light-headed.
“You did?” I asked incredulously. “When?”
“Right before lunch,” was the incredible reply.
My skin tingled. It was the same minute I had hung up with my manager and whispered my tefillah.
This time I cried from thanks and gratitude.
Out of My Body, into My Soul
was 1989. I was 23 years old and had fast-tracked my career, becoming a division manager at a recruitment agency. On paper I’d “made it” — an executive job, my own apartment, a busy social life. There were just two things missing… any depth to my existence, and my elusive soul mate.
Living “out of town” in England, I’d been in a serious relationship for several years with a non-Jewish man, and we’d split up. In December, at a holiday party with non-Jewish friends, I had this weird out-of-body experience, as if I wasn’t actually there at the party, but looking in, and I said to myself, “You aren’t like them. What on earth are you doing here?” After that, I made the decision that any future partner needed to be Jewish.
But where was I supposed to meet a Jewish man? Someone recommended I attend a Shabbat meal at Hillel House. Little did I know how that simple suggestion would change the trajectory of my life.
The meal was pleasant, the company was interesting, but what really piqued my interest was the shaliach from Israel who was present and was promoting a work/study program in Israel. The idea was mind-blowing, but realistically, how could I just abandon my job, my apartment, my life, and spend six months in Israel?
From somewhere deep inside the decision was made: I quit my job, rented out my apartment, and shopped for my trip. Two weeks before my scheduled flight, I returned home from work to hear a message from my ex on my answering machine. He wanted to reconnect — and even get engaged.
My body shook from the shock. At the time, I wasn’t on a ruchniyus level to understand that this was a test. I was so confused. Eventually I called him and told him that I was taking a break for a few months and would be in touch when my mind was clearer.
The program in Israel was on a kibbutz, but we were free to travel for Shabbos and chagim. As many young tourists do, I gravitated to Jerusalem, where the age-old question was asked of me: “Are you Jewish?” I ended up at the Heritage House in the Old City of Jerusalem for Rosh Hashanah. Inside, something clicked into place. I returned for many Shabbosim afterwards, learning and absorbing.
A few months later, I sat down at my desk that overlooked the Mediterranean and wrote a long letter to my ex, telling him that it was over. I was sobbing, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
Two weeks later, I met the man who would become my husband. He was on his own journey, and together, baruch Hashem, we’ve created a wonderful family right here in Israel, with children and grandchildren.
When I committed to a Torah life, I had no idea what it entailed — it was totally na’aseh v’nishma. I’m so, so thankful I jumped in.
My heart pounds when I think about how close I was to missing out on all the beauty and richness of a Torah-true family. When my oldest son got married, my friends gathered around me to dance after the chuppah. All I could do was sob — tears of happiness, tears of joy, tears of gratitude.
On Shavuos, when my granddaughters visit, each clutching their beautiful projects from gan or school: the Har Sinai, the flowers, the sefer Torah, I cherish every single one of these crafts and they have pride of place in our home.
Lamb among Wolves
was looking for a summer job to supplement my teaching salary that was paid out over ten months, so when I saw the ad for a day camp director at a shul near me, I sent my résumé and waited for a response.
I didn’t have to wait long. The board made me an offer in record time, but explained that the payment would be split between regular wages and a performance-based bonus at the end of the summer.
I wasn’t worried. I’d been a camp director before and had always done well hiring counselors, creating an exciting schedule of activities, and dealing with parent concerns. I would give it my all and at the end of the summer, the bonus would be mine.
As the camp applications came rolling in, the board worried that the shul’s grounds wouldn’t accommodate our growing number of campers, and they told me to overflow onto the property next door.
The problem was that the neighboring land was private property, and we had no way of reaching the owners to get permission to use the land.
I was at the day camp now every day, overseeing the campus preparation, supply deliveries, and staffing. Added to my list was figuring out how to stagger schedules so that the campers could spend as much time outdoors as possible. With the small grounds and large number of campers, it would take some creativity — not all the bunks could be on the small grounds at once. It was exhausting work, but nothing I couldn’t handle, and I was pumped for opening day.
I knew that the board would be upset that I wasn’t planning to go next door, but I didn’t anticipate their reaction. After consulting one of the shul members, who was a lawyer, they insisted that we could use the property, since it wasn’t fenced in, and people walked on the land all the time. Kids played outside during shul, and they’d been trespassing this land with no issues for years. I knew that — my own kids ran the grass sometimes, but I felt like the camp using it in official capacity was different.
ITwas a very stressful summer. There was constant pressure from the board for me to use the property, complaints from parents about their children’s schedule — we had to rotate outdoor time, and there were some bunks who ended up outside during the midafternoon heat. I tried my best to keep the vibe upbeat and fun while dealing with parents and the board’s sense of reason — and my own judgment.
On the evening after the last day of camp, the board called me in for a meeting. I knew when I walked in that I wouldn’t be getting my bonus, but I wasn’t prepared for the spitfire interrogation that followed.
They opened with, “Did you ever run a red light at 2 a.m.?”
I could see where this was heading. They were mocking my integrity, suggesting that rules don’t apply if there is nobody around to see the transgression. I was a lone lamb surrounded by a pack of wolves.
With all of the courage I could muster, I stood up and exclaimed, “I always knew that I may be asked to compromise my values if I worked in the secular world, but I never thought that would be the case in a frum organization. Good evening, gentlemen.”
And then I walked right out of the meeting and never looked back.
I’d been teaching for a while at that point and really wanted to try my hand at being a principal. Rather than making an impact on only a single class, I could have a positive impact on an entire school. My “lucky” break came a short while later when I was offered a position as an assistant principal in a school nearby.
Only I knew that it wasn’t luck, it was Heavenly payback for staying true to my beliefs in the face of opposition. I got my bonus after all.
Raising Mommy’s Baby
Netanel is my parents’ eighth child. But having a child with Down syndrome meant they became first-time parents all over again.
My parents were in their forties when he was born, and all of us siblings knew that one day we’d be the ones to take over his care.
We just didn’t realize how soon that would be.
Shortly after my first child was born, my mother was diagnosed with a rare degenerative condition. My mother, who was one of the most strong-willed people I’ve ever known, and who had marshalled all her dedication and strength to raise Netanel, slowly started losing her abilities to do many basic tasks. The situation at home with Netanel was becoming untenable.
My older sister and I were both living in Israel. We both were busy raising young, growing families, but that didn’t stop my sister from deciding she wanted to bring Netanel to Israel. I was hesitant initially, but ultimately, I told her I was 100 percent on board.
When my parents came to Israel for Netanel’s bar mitzvah, we spoke candidly to my father and then to my mother. Netanel was my mother’s baby; she loved him more than life itself. But in the single most incredible sacrifice a mother could make, she agreed to let us take over his care.
That first year was filled with tension, intense emotions, and more ups and downs than a rollercoaster. We needed to be awarded legal custody of Netanel so he could make Aliyah and start school, but it was an uphill battle.
Starting from August, I homeschooled Netanel for eight months, while my sister took him every Shabbos and also dealt with the complex legal process.
After a grueling court hearing in February the next year and then another emergency hearing the next day, we were finally granted temporary custody. The court victory, which was unprecedented in Israeli legal history, largely came to fruition because of my mother. Everyone involved could see how wrenching this was for her, and yet she never wavered in her commitment that this was what was best for him.
By the time my parents came for Pesach my mother was already fully confined to a wheelchair. Netanel was set to start school the day after Isru Chag, and my mother escorted her baby to his first day of school in Israel in her wheelchair.
When my parents came again the following Succos, my mother was gratified to see how well Netanel was adjusting to his new school and his new life. Our community had welcomed him with open arms, and he had lots of loving nieces and nephews.
Then Covid hit and turned life upside down. My mother cried daily, not knowing when she would see Netanel next. We all wished we could reassure her, but we were in the dark. Still, she took great comfort in knowing that my sister and I were sharing Netanel’s care and helping each other through all of the Covid testing and isolation.
By July of 2020 my mother’s condition had deteriorated and the prognosis wasn’t good. Through immense siyata d’Shmaya, I had the opportunity to take my baby, whom my mother hadn’t met yet, and visit her, in what would turn out to be the last time.
At the end of our visit, on my way out the door to the airport, she broke down sobbing. She thanked my sister and me, our husbands, and our children for giving her the biggest brachah she could have asked for by giving Netanel a future when she couldn’t. A few weeks later, she returned her neshamah to Hashem.
Mommy, it’s been almost five years since you sent Netanel to live with us. He’s now 18 years old and at the threshold of many big life changes; he’ll probably be moving into his own apartment soon.
I can’t say it’s been an easy journey. But seeing the lively, curious young man he’s become, bilingual, confident, and polite (well, most of the time), fills me with gratification. I’ll forever be grateful that my big sister took the first step and continues to shoulder a majority of the responsibility.
And we’ve gained so much along the way. When I look at your grandchildren, my children and my nieces and nephews, I see how they respect and support their uncle with love. They’ve been given the tools to face the world with resilience and compassion.
No, the road hasn’t been smooth at all, and we’ve had to create a path where none was there before, but knowing that this is the road you wanted Netanel to take, and that you left This World at peace with what would become of him, has made it all worthwhile.
Written l’illui nishmas Chava bas Rav Yitzchak Mordechai.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 844)
Oops! We could not locate your form.