The Way Home

Nine writers recount their search for chometz — and what they found


hen I circled my husband seven times under the chuppah, I never envisioned that the circles of seven would spiral out from there: We moved seven times in the first seven years of our marriage.

The moves spanned countries, states, cities, and residence types. I became a reluctant moving expert with a keen eye for quality, grade-A cardboard boxes.

It was hard to plant roots in a location when you knew you had one foot out the door. The constant globe-trotting was made possible through the “traveling light” the early years of marriage allow: We were in the type of limbo caused by the pursuit of various educational degrees while squeezing in stints in kollel in Eretz Yisrael.

I began to feel the emotional burn of so many wonderful budding friendships started-then-stunted by my endless moves. These “single-serving friendships” couldn’t fill me up. My usually effervescent personality wilted a bit, and loneliness, coupled with a craving for stability, set in.

On the heels of our sixth move, my husband ended up in a rabbinic position at a shul that wasn’t within walking distance of the condo we then called home. The solution? We converted two dusty classrooms on the top floor of the shul into our makeshift “Shabbos apartment” (without a private bathroom, kitchen, or air conditioning) and slept there every Shabbos for the nearly three years we led the kehillah.

When I was expecting our third child, it quickly became clear that we needed to search for a house, a place we could stay in long enough to see dust bunnies accumulate in the corners.

For that entire year, the search was on. We set our sights on a newly up-for-rent inherited architectural anomaly, sure the family wanted to unload it quickly, but were proven wrong.

We went, brimming with hope, to a short-sale, cookie-cutter-style home perfect for our needs, and on the same block as our shul to boot — only to find it teeming with interested buyers. This led to an unusual “submit your highest bid” one-time-only runoff by the bank, but despite offering tens of thousands over the asking price, we were outbid by a longshot.

We tried going the more traditional route and submitted regular bids through agents, but the lackluster houses we wanted wouldn’t budge on the asking price, even when they were completely overpriced and barely contained the items on our “needs list,” let alone anything on our “wants list.”

Finally, I got an inside scoop on a woman who was looking to sell her house quickly without an agent. Thinking this would be the deal of the century, we met with her and viewed the house, which much to our delight not only met all our needs, but even had many of our wants: a sizable backyard, a fourth bedroom, and an attached garage.

As I approached my ninth month, we happily agreed on a price, and I began to fantasize about giving all my “grade-A” boxes to the box gemach. Then a sizable snag burst my fantasy bubble. The inspection report revealed several major concerns including the trifecta of terms you never want to hear in relation to your new house: mold, foundations problems, and plumbing issues.

We were out delivering shalach manos when I got the call that the deal had officially fallen through. I remember trying to hold back tears, resigning myself to someday catering a lavish Shabbos sheva brachos for our children out of my mini-fridge in those makeshift shul classrooms.

The next day, remembering that Hashem’s salvation can turn the tides in an instant, I began again from square one. I found a short-sale listed on the outskirts of the community and told our real estate agent that he was to put a bid on that, and we’d wrap this whole drama up. After all, I was in my ninth month and not interested in taking a newborn with us to our makeshift shul penthouse.

Those next few days everyone tried to dissuade me. The short-sale was in a quasi-dangerous location, and I wasn’t thinking things through clearly. As I pondered why the bank was taking so long getting back to us, I checked the real estate listings one more time and noticed there was a property “just listed.”

Bolstered by a year of combing the market, I was able to assess that it was an incredible deal given how much land it was on. I called my real estate agent, and we headed over there.

It didn’t really matter to me what the house itself looked like inside as I waddled up its steps, but I do remember some particularly hideous features such as lime green wallpaper, peeling red vinyl tiles, and some long, brown-plugged monstrosity in the den that my husband later told me he was sure was a foghorn.

“It’s perfect!” I told the agent. “I’ll take it.”

He coaxed me aside and said, “Beth, this house isn’t for you. It has almost nothing on your ‘want list’!”

“Forget the lists,” I told him. “I have a vision for it. I’m willing to put in the work, and at this price we’re able to. It’s got great bones and great land and I’m sick of waiting for the perfect ready-made house in our price range to show up. I’d rather get this fixer upper and make it our own.”

I then proceeded to call my husband and gush, “This is the one!” and he rushed over from work expecting to see a beautiful home. He too pulled me aside and questioned, “After all our travels and all our moves, this is the house you want?”

When I told him we were going morph this house into what we dreamed of by taking it step-by-step and planning it ourselves, he smiled and sighed. “This is love,” he said, “buying a house you don’t want, but trusting your wife’s vision for it. You followed me into the unknown time and again, so now I’ll follow you.”

Something else I never realized in all of my house-hunting was that when you buy a house, you’re really acquiring a block as well, a community of neighbors who may or may not fit your needs, jive with your values, and help you through life’s deep challenges.

On that day I never thought to look into the neighbors as we made our rash decision, but Hashem had my back here as well. He led me to a block where I was destined to meet women who became like sisters to me, a buffet of friendship replacing the single-servings of those first seven years of wandering.

We negotiated the price that afternoon and signed the contract the day before I went into labor. Our daughter’s first birthday was the first party we threw in the fixed-up fixer-upper after the addition, construction, and foghorn removal, and boy was it a sight to be seen!

Nine years later, I still walk around our house thinking how blessed I am that all those other houses fell through, that Hashem guided our search to “the one” that was waiting out there for us.

It took me two months to unpack all the boxes, but when I did, my husband and I went together on our triumphant trip to the box gemach. It never felt so good to recycle.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 789)

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