We each have our own private quests, those goals we tried — or keep trying — to achieve. As we struggle and strive, the process becomes its own destination
Project Coordinator: Rachel Bachrach | Digital Artwork: Meital Ashkenazi
When my father taught me to drive, he told me, “Driving is one of those things in life where your first mistake may be your last.”
No pressure or anything.
I remember the first time he brought me to the highway. I felt like I was inside a blender. All those cars whooshing past was dizzying and overwhelming. I left the experience nauseated and shaken. Maybe the combination of driving and highways just wasn’t my thing.
Years later, when the shadchan apologized that my date (who later became my husband) was having trouble renting a car, I was overjoyed. People marveled at my flexibility and admired my willingness to take public transit on our dates. Me, I was just relieved to not have to be in a car on a New York City street.
But the night we got engaged, he rented one. And we sideswiped a bus on the way down Ocean Parkway, hitting another car in the process. We got engaged while waiting for the police to file a report. (Yes, really.)
As a young kollel couple living in the heart of Flatbush, we were fine without a car. We had the Q and B trains in our backyard (to the extent that there was a yard), we didn’t want to pay for gas and insurance, parking was a nightmare, and who wants to sit in traffic? No, thanks.
We tried the driving thing again two years later when we borrowed a car to move from Brooklyn to Queens. I’m not sure why I agreed to drive. We got into a bad accident, totaling the car when I made an illegal left turn onto Main Street in Queens. After a traumatic night in the hospital, everyone, including my six-week-old baby girl who was in the back seat, was deemed completely fine. The owner of the car was understandably angry, and I was devastated. And resolute — never would I drive in NYC again.
For the next three years, we remained a car-free family. I took mass transit for my commute to Manhattan. My husband dragged our double stroller through heavy snow to drop off our kids at school, and we steered our Snap ‘n Go frame to Aron’s Kissena Farms every time we needed to shop. The rules were simple: if it didn’t fit in the stroller basket, we didn’t buy it.
But as our family grew, so did our need for a car. It was becoming too much to run home from the bus stop in torrential downpours, to walk to the pediatrician in bitter cold, and to scrounge for rides to and from weddings.
Maybe what I needed was a driving instructor. Or therapy? I didn’t want to stay in this rut, but I wasn’t sure about my next step.
Someone recommended Rotem Berenholtz. They gave me his number, but I couldn’t bring myself to make the call.
Fifteen months later, I was three months pregnant with my third child, exhausted and fed up from all the schlepping, and I was at the end of my rope. Still, as I dialed the number and the phone rang, my hands were trembling.
Rotem had a friendly American-Israeli accent. He asked if I was available the following evening. My heart was pounding; I had been praying that he wouldn’t answer or at least not be available for the next decade. But he assured me that making the call was the first and most difficult step, and now I needed to continue the process. He said he’d be at my apartment at 7:45 pm the next night.
At 7:45, like a soldier heading to war, I bid a somber goodbye to my husband and walked out to the car, wondering if I’d ever return home.
Rotem was as pleasant and friendly in person as he was over the phone. I made no secret of how petrified I was, but he just kept reminding me that we’d take it slow. And we did start out slow — we drove around some quiet Kew Gardens Hills neighborhoods, and my anxiety eased a bit. But next thing I knew, I was on the entrance ramp merging into traffic on the Grand Central Parkway West. I was doing it! Heart racing, we drove on the highway for a few minutes, then exited and drove around downtown Flushing. I looked up at Citi Field and was amazed at myself — I drove here! In New York City!
But having me drive on the highway wasn’t enough for Rotem. Once we were back in Kew Gardens Hills, he directed me to the exact spot on Main Street where we had gotten into the accident years before. He made me drive past it no fewer than five times. That was hard — but each time I went past, I felt just a bit more confident.
A bit over an hour after we started, we were back in front of my apartment (and I wondered whether I should bentsh gomel).
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you or your driving skills,” Rotem informed me. “You just need to get a car and drive.”
I felt an enormous sense of relief. I had done it — and it really wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be!
After my husband (who had never once made me feel bad about my driving issues) took his own driving lesson (at my insistence), Rotem connected us with his friend who had a car dealership. A week later, we were the proud (if disbelieving) owners of a Toyota Camry. It took time until I was driving with confidence, but at least I was willing to get in the car and try.
This all happened almost five years ago. The Camry is no longer with us, and our kids barely remember what it was like to not have a car. But whenever I look back at our six years as a car-less couple, I am reminded that there are actually two keys to the car — the one that starts the ignition, and the willingness to persevere.
Ahuva Holzer lovingly and confidently drives her four wonderful children around their city of Cincinnati, Ohio. She works in the Learning Center at Cincinnati Hebrew Day School.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 839)
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