Tug of War| April 3, 2023
Why couldn't my daughter ever come to me for Pesach?
Nechami: It’s true we’re not in crisis, but that does mean we can never host our children?
Tzivia: Don’t you realize that without the children we won’t have a semblance of a normal Yom Tov?
It’s been five years and I’m still trying to adjust to this new version of reality.
Okay, I guess to some extent, I have adjusted. I haven’t had a choice. But there are times of year that feel like they’ll always throw me for a loop, all the way back to the beginning, to that whirl of memories and stabbing pain and that sick, sick feeling of things will never be the same.
Of what have you done, and what will I do, and our family, what will be with our family?
It was just after Purim when he left.
I remember I’d been feeling exultant: it had been a great Purim, seamless and organized, and the seudah itself, which had been at my sister Chaya’s, had been lots of fun.
And there, standing in the kitchen, surrounded by cellophane and chocolate and ribbons, the girls busy upstairs, he’d coughed and stammered, and without looking at me, said the words that broke my life apart.
“I can’t do this anymore.” And then some other senseless things, something about years and years and it’s not working.
“It’s not me. I can’t live a lie.”
I’d looked at him stupefied, alternately freezing and then in a flash, boiling and burning, and wondered whether I was hallucinating (was I drunk? Had I accidentally taken something alcoholic at the meal), or wait, maybe he was drunk? But no, he was sober as could be, speaking broken words in a broken voice while I struggled to hold on to my fragmented thoughts. To the fragments of my heart.
I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, watching him as he’d talked some more, offered the two most stupid, most senseless words in the entire dictionary: “I’m sorry.” Like it helped. Like it made a difference that he was sorry as he ripped apart the fabric of our family life with his bare hands.
Something inside me went numb that day, but it was a numbness punctuated by flashes of unbearable pain, sometimes when I expected it least.
knew to expect them Purim time, though.
Have to stay strong for the girls.
They’re not exactly kids anymore; even my youngest, Tova, is already 17. But my daughters were pretty much all teens when it happened — and it hit hard. It’s still hard, every single day.
We’d joined my sister for the seudah, like we usually do, made it through the day, and just when the evening hours became too quiet, too painfully heavy with memories, I saw that my mechuteneste, Faigy’s mother, had sent me pictures of the kids: my granddaughters Huvi and Shira. They must have been at her house for the seudah.
I smiled. It was thoughtful of her to remember to send pictures; Faigy doesn’t have a smartphone, and her mother, Nechami, knows how hard it is for me that they don’t live close by.
It’s hard not to be a little jealous, that’s the truth. Faigy comes from a big, happy family, most of the siblings living close by, and they’re forever going on these cute family vacations and things, mother-daughter spa days, whatever. I kind of wish they’d live closer to our side. But at least I had Pesach to look forward to… and in the meantime, pictures!
I zoomed in and smiled. My granddaughters were legitimately the most adorable little girls in the world, dressed up as fluffy white bunnies with adorable pink-and-white mishloach manos to match.
I felt my shoulders relax as I flicked through the pictures. Thank goodness for Shuey and his family.
The one bright spot in this whole parshah was knowing that Shuey was already married and out of the house, that the scandal wouldn’t touch him like it would the rest of us. His wife Faigy is a doll, a gem of a girl who took everything in stride and was so supportive of him, of our family, despite everything.
After Shuey are my four girls — Adina, Ruchy, Shayna, Tova. When everything fell apart, Adina had been 21 — and single. A father who suddenly abandoned the family and moved to who-knows-where had plummeted her shidduch ratings practically into minus. After four-plus painful years, she had finally met and married her husband, Chaim, but now I have the other girls to worry about.
Still, having Shuey in our lives makes all the difference. He and Faigy live in Lakewood, a few hours’ drive away from us, which is hard, I’ll admit, but they try come for Shabbos every so often, and of course, for Succos and Pesach, to help me make Yom Tov for the family. Without him, I can’t even imagine how we’d have a Yom Tov atmosphere on Succos, a Seder on Pesach….
Shabbosim are hard — but Yom Tov without a father in the house is way harder. Shuey takes care of the succah, runs the Sedorim, makes Kiddush…. Sometimes, they’ll go back to Lakewood, to Faigy’s parents, for Shabbos Chol Hamoed, and once they went for the last days of Succos, but it wasn’t easy. Without Shuey, there’s simply no Yom Tov atmosphere in the house, and the difficult reality we deal with every day just slaps us in the face again and again.
And for Pesach, Shuey and Faigy are a lifeline.
Their positivity and good cheer turns our quiet, subdued household into a lively, happening place. Shuey takes care of the kashering, mechiras chometz, any sh’eilos that come up. Faigy joins me in the kitchen, my younger daughters take care of their little nieces, and what could have been a super stressful, painful time gets transformed into a lighter, brighter one.
After Huvi was born, Shuey and Faigy moved in with her parents — but six weeks later, for Succos, they came to us. We took care of the baby, Faigy got to rest, and Shuey was the man in the house.
This year would be a little different, of course, with Adina and her husband joining us for first days. Chaim, my new son-in-law, was pretty quiet and shy, the type who wasn’t comfortable speaking in public and certainly wouldn’t take the lead. But with Shuey around, it would be fine. They got along well, the brothers-in-law, and I was excited for Shuey to have another man around, to share divrei Torah at the meals, go to shul together, all of that.
Sitting on the living room sofa on Motzaei Purim, scrolling through pictures of my granddaughters, I felt cautiously optimistic. Yes, this time of year — with its intense family focus, and with the dreaded memories and associations — was hard.
But maybe we were on the way up, to better times, easier times.
Then Nechami Sternberg — Faigy’s mother — called.
Nechami and I get along well. She’s warm and motherly, and I’ve never gotten the sense that she resents the sticky family situation her daughter inadvertently married into. Like I said, she’s thoughtful, always sending over pictures when the kids are with her. You can see where Faigy got her middos and sweet personality from.
But we don’t speak regularly or anything like that, and I wondered why she’d called. She wanted to ask me a favor, she said.
“It’s about Pesach,” she started, and my heart sank. This couldn’t be good.
“So it’s actually the first time in years that we’re having everyone coming for Pesach… all our other children, I mean,” she said. “And we would really love to have Shuey and Faigy too. I know they live near us, but Yom Tov is different, and this is just such a special opportunity… and Huvi and Shira will meet their cousins, some of them they’ve never met.”
I winced. I couldn’t do this. I just couldn’t.
“I know you have another young couple now,” Nechami said, tentatively, and I just shook my head, wordlessly, even though she couldn’t see. Another couple? Did I have to explain to her that my son-in-law could never run a Seder for his mother-in-law and three single sisters-in-law? He just wasn’t that type.
And who could blame him? What sort of start to married life would it be to have to try lead a meal for his wife’s family — especially with the quiet, timid personality he had?
We needed Shuey. We needed his energy, enthusiasm, his spunk. We needed him to make Yom Tov into Yom Tov. And we needed Faigy, too, her sweet personality, her easygoing nature, the adorable kids… we hadn’t seen them since Adina’s wedding. Three months ago.
My other girls were waiting for it, too. It was all they had to look forward to over Yom Tov. Especially now, with Adina distracted by her new husband.
“Uh — um,” I stuttered.
“I know that… the situation is difficult,” my mechuteneste said delicately. “I just thought, you know, we would really love to have them for once, and this is a real once-in-a-Yovel, you know? With all of them together, I mean. And it would be nice for Faigy, too. She hasn’t spent Yom Tov with her siblings in so long.”
It was a punch in the gut.
“Faigy told you that? That she doesn’t want to come here?” I couldn’t help getting defensive; was my picture-perfect daughter-in-law complaining about me behind my back?
“No, no, of course not,” Nechami said hurriedly, soothingly. “I know she loves coming to you. Don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying… it’s been a few years, and they go to you every Yom Tov, I’m sure she would enjoy spending some time with her own siblings just as a change.”
Enjoy? Maybe, but then what would be with us? And what change? Half her family lives in Lakewood. They see each other all the time.
I didn’t say anything, though. I didn’t want to mortify myself by bursting into tears.
“I understand there’s a reason why they always come to you,” Nechami continued, seemingly oblivious to the catch in my voice, “but I was wondering if it could work for them to come to us. For half of Yom Tov, not the whole thing,” she added quickly. “We’d just love to have them for the first half. For the Sedorim. After that, some of the others are going to their in-laws, anyway.”
“I’ll think about it,” I stuttered and then disconnected.
couldn’t do it. Couldn’t lose Shuey as well. Couldn’t make a Seder with my newly married daughter, her shy husband, and my other three daughters, sitting miserably at the table with the glaring absence of everything they’d lost.
Was I being melodramatic? Maybe. But Nechami Sternberg — with her perfect family, perfect life, her many married children and her choshuve husband and their gaggle of grandchildren — had no clue, no idea what it meant to us to have Shuey home for Yom Tov.
She had a husband. A status in the community. A whole crew of married children and grandchildren… and she even had Shuey and Faigy, all year round. Yes, I know, it would be nice for her to have everyone together for first days, but didn’t she understand that without Shuey, we would barely have a Seder at all?
I didn’t want to involve Shuey in this whole sticky mess, but I couldn’t get what Nechami had said about Faigy out of my head. Was she really unhappy coming to us?
I called him one morning, timing it for right after seder, when I knew he’d be on his way home and on his own.
“Hi, Ma, excited to see you next week.”
He sounded genuine, and the knot in my chest unraveled slightly.
“Yeah, thanks, us too,” I said, the words sticking in my throat. “I was just… wondering. Would Faigy, y’know, rather stay at home, be with her family for Yom Tov? Is she… happy to come?”
Shuey answered slowly, which meant he was choosing his words carefully. “Look, I know she loves her family, but we know it’s important that we come. It’s not really a question, you know? And we love spending Yom Tov by you, Ma. Don’t feel bad.”
“Are you sure?” I pressed. “It’s important… I don’t want her to resent it.”
He sighed, and the words started coming freely again. At least he was being straight with me. “Look, like I said, Faigy loves her family, and it would be nice to spend more time with the ones who only come for Yom Tov, but it’s really okay. Maybe in a couple of years, you know, when there are more brothers-in-law… maybe when they’re more settled in the family… maybe then, one of them can lead the Sedorim, or we’ll work something else out, you’ll come to us, who knows? But right now, we know where we’re needed.”
It sounded like they’d made the decision themselves — to continue coming to us for Yom Tov, as long as the situation remained the same.
And while I knew that my mechuteneste would be disappointed, all I felt was overwhelming relief that our family would still have a Seder worthy of the name.
If I could tell Nechami one thing, it would be: Without the married children, we simply won’t have a normal Seder. Can’t you see it’s more important for our side to have them for Yom Tov?
The last time we had all our five sons home for the Pesach Sedorim was… well, probably 12 years ago, the year before Laizer got married.
And now — somehow, someway — the stars had aligned, a blue moon was rising in the sky, and they were all — all — going to be joining us for the Sedorim!
It hit me when I sat down to start the Pesach Planning Marathon, beginning with which of the marrieds would be with us for which half of Yom Tov, and as I ran through the conversations and confirmations of the past few weeks, I realized that incredibly enough, all my married sons planned to be by us for first days.
And then Malky would come, of course, she’s only married three months, and Devoiry wanted to come first days as well, and Leah’le, who lived down the block, would definitely join for at least some of the meals, and with Shmuel, my youngest son, home from yeshivah, it would really be everyone — everyone, that is, apart from Faigy.
Faigy lived right nearby — the closest of all our children, actually — but she never came to us for Yom Tov.
I sighed. It was a really sad situation, with Faigy. Well, not with her exactly, baruch Hashem, but with her in-laws.
We’d had no inkling at the time, of course. When Shuey Weiner’s name came up, we’d looked into it carefully, but he and his family had a great reputation. And Shuey is great — a wonderful husband, a real ben Torah, and he and Faigy are clearly bashert.
He had a nice, easygoing family, and we enjoyed planning the chasunah together. Until shortly afterward, out of the blue, Mr. Weiner upped and left.
I don’t like to discuss it, though goodness knows, people have asked me all sorts of questions. But it’s pure lashon hara, and besides, how should I know all the details? Suffice it to say that the parents are divorced and Mr. Weiner doesn’t seem to lead a religious life anymore. Shuey is in touch with him, mostly by phone, but it’s complicated. And sad. Really, really sad.
I feel sorry for Shuey and Faigy — this was a shock to all of them, even the children themselves — but I feel worst for Shuey’s mother, Tzivia. She was left a single parent, with all that shame and embarrassment at being the center of a “scandal.”
When the news got out, she actually called me to let me know before I heard it from others — which I thought was extremely thoughtful and considerate. I’d ordered her something small for Shabbos then, just to say “thinking of you,” but that was about it.
Well, except for one thing that I’ve been giving her every single Yom Tov without fail.
get it. Shuey’s the oldest, and the only son. Without him, there’s no man in the house, no one to lead the Sedorim, no one to build a succah or buy arba minim. He feels a responsibility toward his mother and his sisters, which is beautiful.
Still, I sometimes wondered… what about us?
The next time Faigy dropped by with the kids, I figured I’d bring up the subject.
“So, when are you going to Shuey’s mother for Pesach?” I asked.
Her face clouded a little. “Oh, probably right after Rosh Chodesh. You know how it goes.” She yawned. “I’m exhausted. I’m working overtime now so I can take off the whole two weeks before Pesach. The kids don’t have their playgroups when we’re there, so I can’t count on getting my hours in like that.”
“That’s tough,” I said sympathetically. “Are you… excited to go?”
“Excited? I mean, it’s the regular, we do this every year,” Faigy said, shrugging. “I mean, it’s always nice. My mother-in-law loves having us, and it’s fun with my sisters-in-law….” She stopped there, but I waited for more.
And then she sighed and blurted out, “It’s just… hard, you know? When we go back, Shuey is so busy. He literally does everything. The heavy cleaning, the turning over, the ordering matzos and wine, the Seder plate… it’s like we do the whole exhausting drive and everything, but we don’t even get to relax when we arrive because Shuey’s practically making Yom Tov.”
She coughs and stops abruptly. “Ma, forget it, I feel so bad I said that. My mother-in-law is amazing, and she literally doesn’t let me lift a finger with the cooking and cleaning. My sisters-in-law are so helpful with the kids. It’s just… you know. Gets hard sometimes.”
I was sure it did. And there was so much more that she wasn’t saying. Please, this was a young married couple with two little kids, they should be able to turn up a day or two before Yom Tov and relax. Instead, Faigy was taking care of the kids for two weeks — okay, with lots of pairs of hands to help out, but still — and Shuey was busy being “the man of the house.”
It just wasn’t fair to them.
I paused, unsure if I should offer my two cents. Should I say something, offer advice? Try to persuade her to stay home for Pesach instead? But how could I encourage her to abandon her mother-in-law?
“Who’s coming here for Seder?” Faigy asked suddenly.
I bit my lip. “Um… everyone,” I said, quietly.
Faigy’s eyebrows rose. “What, even Yossi and Laizer? They’re both flying in?”
“Yeah. Isn’t it amazing? Both of them decided to do it this year, they didn’t even know the other one was coming. Shame they didn’t book the same flight.”
I knew I was babbling, but I didn’t know what to say. Poor Faigy.
Faigy went quiet for a long minute, playing with a couch cushion. “Oh,” she said, finally. “I… wow. Such a shame we can’t be here. It’ll be such a special experience.”
“Yes… it will.” I chose my words carefully. “I was actually just thinking… maybe there is a way to make it work this year? Even if just for the first days? You could still help your mother in-law prepare for Yom Tov, and everything….”
“No, it’s for the Seder that they need us most,” Faigy said. She threw down the cushion, looking despondent. “Ugh, whatever, we’ll have to just do it. We keep reminding ourselves that it won’t be forever. When my sisters-in-law are all married, my mother-in-law will probably start coming to one of us for Yom Tov.” She sighed deeply. “It’s just a few years. We can handle it.”
Maybe, I thought. But maybe you shouldn’t have to.
spoke to Yaakov, my husband, first.
“I know she’s divorced. I know she’s going through a hard time. But it’s really not easy for Faigy,” I said. “Do you think I should be encouraging her to stay home just this once? Just to give her a break, and a chance to enjoy Yom Tov with her family? It would be so nice for her… but it will be so hard for Shuey’s mother.”
“I think it depends,” Yaakov said. “If they can manage it, then it’s a big mitzvah. I don’t think we should encourage them to take a break just for the principle of the matter. L’maiseh, Shuey’s mother is in a difficult situation. If they can do it, and it isn’t too much for them, then…” He spread his hands out in a gesture of why not?
“But are they managing?” I told him about my conversation with Faigy. “I think it’s just getting too much for them.”
“If they’re old enough to get married…” Yaakov said.
I knew his opinion, and I agreed with him — for the most part. He felt married children should be left to decide things for themselves. But here, Faigy had kind of reached out for help.
“Well, what about… you know, us?” I asked, a little petulantly. “What about the fact that they’re our children, too, and we’d love to have them for a Yom Tov. It’s been what, five years, since they came to us last on Pesach? I think it’s just natural to ask for a change. Especially this year — when’s the next time we’ll have everyone together?”
“B’ezras Hashem, next year, in Yerushalayim,” Yaakov said, all seriousness. “But if that’s what it’s about — if this is so important to you, the whole family together, etc., I think you should speak to the mechuteneste directly. Don’t pressure Shuey and Faigy to have to choose between us.”
I nodded; that made sense.
“Who knows?” Yaakov added. “Maybe she’ll realize it’ll be okay without Shuey. She made a chasunah recently, no? So maybe it won’t be so bad if they come to us, just for first days. It can’t hurt to ask.”
But it could.
It could hurt to ask when the response is a complete, blanket, refusal.
Okay, she didn’t frame it like that. Of course not; like I said, I got along well with Tzivia.
But she didn’t give the wholehearted consent I’d been hoping for. Or even some gratitude that for the past five years — five years! — we hadn’t said a word about the children going to her for Yom Tov, Succos after Pesach after Succos after Pesach. We’d hosted Shuey and Faigy for a Shabbos here and there, maybe a day or two of Chol Hamoed if we got lucky. We hadn’t asked for a thing.
And now Shuey’s mother was acting as if she had every right to the couple, and I was doing something wrong just by asking.
“I need to think about it,” she kept saying.
Think about it? About whether she’d allow them to come to us?
I’ll admit it, I was angry. For years they’ve gone to her. And I have the decency to call her directly and not pressure the children behind her back. And Faigy wants to come to us; can’t she think of them for a change? For that matter, I’m sure Shuey could do with a break, too. Who wants to run his mother’s Seder every year? It’s not pleasant. Why not give him a chance to be part of a large, exciting Seder for a change?
I held back from saying anything. I knew that Tzivia was going through a lot, and I didn’t want to hurt her more.
But I hoped that she would think about it and do something. Because I didn’t know how long I’d be able to hold back from saying something to my daughter. And letting her know that despite the fact that everyone in Shuey’s family seems to rely on him, they really could make a choice to do something different.
Tzivia didn’t call me back.
After a few days, I realized she probably wouldn’t.
She was so scared to lose her son’s presence that she was probably just going to lie low and hope I’d forget what I’d asked.
But I didn’t forget. I was only getting more frustrated.
Yes, her life was challenging. Yes, I felt very, very sorry for her. But we also wanted to have our children and grandchildren for Yom Tov sometimes. And she was putting them under pressure, making them take on roles that were just too much for them. It wasn’t fair.
If we spoke to Shuey and Faigy, and pushed them to stay home for first days, they’d probably go and ask a rav what to do. I felt like we had a good chance of “winning” that way; I was sure a rav would tell them they’re allowed to take a break from being “on duty,” go where they’d enjoy Yom Tov most, that kibbud av v’eim includes the side of the family that’s not struggling with a major difficulty.
But we didn’t do that sort of thing, we wouldn’t stoop to these kinds of tactics.
I just kept thinking about the years and years that we watched them go to Shuey’s mother without saying a word.
We weren’t asking for much. One Yom Tov. One half of Yom Tov. Why couldn’t she just look past her suffering to realize that other people had needs and desires, too?
If I could tell Tzivia one thing, it would be: Baruch Hashem, we’re not in crisis… but why does that mean we never get to have our children for Yom Tov?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 956)
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