It’s easier to be comfortable with your decisions, or even comfortable with the lack of clarity, when you can breathe
o one asks someone living in New York or New Jersey why they live there. But if I could have a dollar for every time we’re asked that question, we’d likely be able to afford living in New York. Not that I’d want to, necessarily. (Sorry.)
When we got married at the end of 2009, we rented an apartment in Far Rockaway near my husband’s yeshivah. It seemed like a nice way to start out; we had several young married friends there, and I could get to school easily enough. A couple years later, though, it didn’t seem so viable. We were looking for a larger place, and all around us we saw people only just making it work: squeezing into small apartments, stretching a lot to afford a small house on the edge of town, dealing with endless traffic and parking woes, managing, or not really managing, to make ends meet. When my husband’s long commute was made longer after Hurricane Sandy washed away the railroad tracks, we were ready to leave. A job offer in Cincinnati came, and my husband took it. We haven’t looked back.
Yes, we miss out on too much. Sometimes I question whether we’re doing the right thing, raising our kids so far from their grandparents. Of course, we drive in for the major simchahs, and it’s fun to be the celebrity siblings visiting and even surprising the family for a brother’s vort or a nephew’s bris. But we miss out on a lot of the smaller get-togethers: the Sunday barbeques and siddur parties and l’chayims and cousins’ weddings where the family gets to hang out, sans kids, and just enjoy each other’s company. We miss out on the chinuch options, and the shul options, and being close to my husband’s yeshivah and rebbeim. We miss out on the gashmiyus, too — the clothing and shoes and grocery stores and a simple fresh pie of pizza.
But we make do. More than make do. We’re thriving, baruch Hashem. So when people ask about moving out of town, about how and why we chose to move 600 miles away, we tell them it’s hard, but life anywhere is hard — and you can learn to make it work.
When you move to a small community out of town, you learn how much time you lose in New York just driving. You learn how nice it is that your husband can eat breakfast and dinner with the family — with a seder before Shacharis and after the kids’ bedtime — instead of leaving the house to daven at the crack of dawn and returning home after the kids are asleep in a state of sheer exhaustion from the 90-minute commute.
You also learn that Sundays can be yard days, and that you can make leaf blowing a family event, and that it’s a big deal to upgrade from the corded machine to the gas-powered one. You learn to appreciate the looks of wonder on your kids’ faces when Abba is on the roof, and you learn to say Tehillim every time he climbs the ladder up there to clean the gutters.
You learn what it means to do chesed shel emes, and you’re humbled. You join the chevra kaddisha and do your first taharah when you’re 30 years old and your 12th when you’re overdue but they need a fourth person for the team and you’re the only option. In a small town, you really can be the only option.
You learn how to make your friends your family, so that when you make a kiddush your friends come to help set up, and when you fall and have a concussion or lose a pregnancy, your friends literally make your tzaar theirs, and when your mother offers to fly in to help you tell her she doesn’t have to rush and it’s being taken care of because it really is.
You learn not to laugh when your son proudly tells you he asked his secular studies teacher how her X-mas was “because it’s her holiday.” You learn not to cry when you miss your best friend’s son’s bar mitzvah, the first one, because you really can’t get away. (Okay, to be honest, you do cry. But it’s still okay.)
You learn to up your game in the kitchen because you can’t just buy takeout. You learn (or you’re married to someone who learns) things like how to make Chinese chicken and smoke a salmon and spatchcock a turkey and grill the perfect burger. You learn that it’s perfectly understandable for the rebbetzin of the shul to call a vegetarian in the kehillah for her turkey recipe because the Orthodox community presents the police/fire department with a full traditional dinner on Thanksgiving Day. You learn, when your family visits for the weekend and you see it with fresh eyes, how beautiful that annual ritual is.
You learn to be creative about the lack of amenities, like no kosher grocery store. You order a case of 24 bags of kosher frozen broccoli because they don’t sell it in the Kroger here, and you order corned beef from in-town because ditto, and you learn, when you make the road trip to New York, how to pack your trunk tightly for the drive back home and then squeeze kids between coolers of meat and cases of Amazing Savings paper goods and butterscotch chips and all the ingredients frum recipe developers assume you have access to.
You learn how to do a lot of driving so you can see your family at every opportunity. You also learn how to maneuver five kids, five carry-ons, and six backpacks plus a diaper bag through the airport, and you learn that when you drive you dream about flying (No driving! More time to spend there! No worries about your son who’s opening Oreos and pasting them to his forehead from sheer boredom eight hours into an eleven-hour drive!) and when you fly you dream about driving (The space! The freedom! The lack of pressure to not make a chillul Hashem!).
You learn how every time you go with your children to visit their great-grandparents you wonder if this is the last time. And what to tell your children when a month after they visit their great-grandmother, she dies. You’ll be surprised by their sobs while a part of you marvels that they feel such a connection to her. You learn to try to function normally when you’re packing school lunches and feeding the baby and taking kids to the dentist as your grandmother is being eulogized and buried, as your brother (when did he get so mature?!) says a hesped, as your mother sits shivah a few states over, and you can’t drive in to be with everyone until closer to Shabbos.
You learn that even if your new doctor is wonderful and attentive and a great diagnostician, he’ll never replace Dr. Hurwitz or Dr. Rhein or whichever frum pediatrician you used to use who has Motzaei Shabbos hours and early calling hours and a Gemara on his desk for between patients.
You learn how to leave awkward yet heartfelt shivah voicemails when your parents’ friends lose their parents and when childhood neighborhood fixtures die. You cringe because you know it would be easier to go in person, and if you still lived in the area, you could just go.
You learn how special it can be to have in-laws and parents and siblings visit, because it’s real quality time — in the same house, on the same schedule, just being together. You learn how hard it is to say goodbye every time they go.
You learn that there are challenges to living out of New York — situations and sh’eilos that don’t come up in-town — but your heart rate slows and you know you can cope because you’ve removed yourself from what felt like a rat race. It’s easier to be comfortable with your decisions, or even comfortable with the lack of clarity, when you can breathe.
Since we moved from Far Rockaway to Cincinnati, the community here has exploded. To clarify, that means we went from about 250 frum families to more than 300 — it’s still a small out-of-town community, not big out-of-town like Cleveland (okay, you can laugh now; sorry, Cleveland). We joke there’s a housing crisis here, because you have to live close enough to one of the Orthodox shuls, and there aren’t many houses available, and what’s available may not be exactly what you had in mind. But the houses we have are so much more feasible.
Yes, young couples are moving, and yes, out-of-town communities are growing. Columbus and Detroit and Montreal and all the other out-of-town communities, they’re real options now. But I don’t know how much the attitude has changed, because when people hear where we live, they still respond the same way they did ten years ago: “Cincinnati…” (Long pause.) “Really?” (Medium pause.) “Why?”
And honestly, that’s okay.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 790)
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