Monday, July 26, 2010


I'd seen the ads. I probably shook my head and thought, This will never take off. Crazy...

I was wrong.

I spent Shabbos in an ultra chassidish neighborhood. It was very hot and humid, and I was sitting outside, seeking some respite from the frigid air inside, and watching people walk by - the men in their shtreimels, bekeshes and knickers, the women in dark suits and sensible shoes, some with hats over their wigs, but most with heads completely swathed.

A woman passed, wheeling a double stroller, several children clinging to the handlebar. She was wearing a coat. I blinked, unsure if my eyes were playing tricks. No, it was definitely a coat. Odd, I thought. Maybe she didn't feel like getting dressed, and figured it would be easier to just throw a coat over her robe. Odd...

I saw it again a few minutes later. And then again. And my brain finally registered a connection between what I was seeing and the ads I saw months ago.

These were summer coats. An oxymoron, seemingly.

The purpose, according to the ad, was tznius. Women walking to Shul on Shabbos, or to a wedding, dressed in clothing that might attract the attention of men. Ideally, those clothing should be covered by something simple and loose. In the winter, this is not an issue. In the summer, it is. Hence, "summer" coats.

I couldn't understand it when I saw the ad, and I understood it even less now, in the 98° heat. Whose idea was this? I wanted to know. Was it a man who decided to add another restriction, or a woman who wanted to take tznius to another level? Is this what tznius really means? After all, there's nothing attracting about whatever they were wearing under their coats. Black suits, mostly. And not very form fitting, I assumed.

My boys came out of the house then, on their way to Shul, in their bekeshes and hats. Not very different than the summer coats, really. But, somehow, this didn't bother me in the same way. Maybe because I am used to this. Maybe because this is something that's been done for generations. Maybe because wherever I am in frumkeit is "normal", while anything more is fanatic and anything less is "modern". Surely, there are plenty of people who are aghast at the sight of a fur hat in the summer, or even just stockings and long sleeves.

Maybe I was just seeing this all wrong.

Maybe these women were taking the concept of tznius further than I ever could. In their way, they are keeping private what should be kept private, thus enhancing the special intimacy between husband and wife. It's their way of maintaining respect for the body. Beautiful, really.

Another coat clad woman walked by, interrupting my thoughts. My daughter, sitting with me, seemed upset.

"There's nothing feminine about her," she said. "Long, shapeless coat concealing any hint of a figure, no hair...just a face. With no makeup.

"Is this what Hashem wants?"

I had no answer. I don't know the answer.

Is it? 

Monday, July 19, 2010


Ever notice how kids count their age in quarter years?

Three and a quarter, three and a half, three and three quarters. Every quarter year older is cause for celebration. It's like they don't have much age to speak of, so they'll say anything that makes it more impressive.

By the time they reach their teens, they're no longer counting in fractions. But a week after their fifteenth birthday, they're almost 16. And then almost 17.

We parents do it, too. Worse. We count in months. Until a year, it's all we have. But we keep going.

"How old is your son?"

"Thirty two months."

Then we have to wait while the person we're talking to does the math in his head. If he cares.

At some point, we start counting in decades.

"How old are you?"

"I'm in my thirties."

And then people stop asking. We keep having birthdays, only they're not so much fun anymore.

I don't look forward to birthdays. At each birthday, I start counting..tallying. Having a new number that I suddenly "am" gets me looking at other numbers. And the math is never good.

New age: 29

Number of years left: 40? Maybe 50?

Number of productive years left? Years that I can make a difference to this world...change this world in some way: Umm....20?


A relative of mine lives near a cemetery. I look out over her fence, and read the gravestones.


Just a blip on the radar.

Who was she? Does anyone know she existed? She was born...she lived a full life, presumably...she loved...she had children, maybe. And then she was gone.

Does anyone remember us when we're gone? Our children do. Maybe our grandchildren. But after that...two hundred years later....does our existence matter to anyone? Will anyone know we lived? Will anyone care?

Celebrating a birthday means celebrating your life, its importance and its impact on the world around you. It means believing that you can make a profound difference and impact on our world. No person alive, no person who has ever lived, no person who shall ever live, can fulfill your specific role.

Pass the birthday cake, please.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Till Death Do Us Part

"My daughter is back home," she told me, her voice surprisingly strong. "She's going to get divorced.

I stared at her, stunned.

I hadn't seen her daughter very much since she'd gotten married almost a year ago. She was a very young bride...sweet, soft spoken and innocent.

She stood beside her mother now, her expression hard to read. But she seemed more mature...older...her innocence gone.

"Baruch Hashem. We're so happy. It's bitter and sweet. We're sad because she had to go through all this pain, but we're happy that she got out now."

Her daughter nodded in agreement.

And then it all came out. The months of abuse - physical, sexual and emotional. How she didn't tell anyone, hoping she could fix it herself. The people she approached for help, who did not understand the severity of the situation. How she finally left him, and called her parents.

And the stories... So many much pain. It was as though, after so many months of being silent, the floodgates were open, and she couldn't stop talking.

There were tears in my eyes as I listened. Tears for her...but also for her mother, who only just discovered how much her daughter suffered in the past year. And she wasn't there to help her. I don't begin to fathom that anguish. I can't imagine the guilt she must be feeling.

"It was meant to be," she said. "This is the person I was meant to marry. Hashem meant for me to endure this year of misery. I don't understand it now, but I have no questions."

I was awed by her faith. I marveled at her ability to see this experience as feel so much misery, yet remain so strong.

"The Rebbe was so excited about this shidduch," her mother continued, referring to the Rebbe of the chassidic group to which they and the family of the chosson belong.

"We knew this was right," she said sadly. "We had no doubts."

I searched her face, looking for some sign of uncertainty. I wondered how they reconciled what, to me, seemed so inconsistent.

For a moment, my belief in Rebbes was shaken. But their trust never wavered.

"Hashem temporarily clouded his vision. This had to happen. It was bashert."

I wanted to hear more. I needed to hear that there were signs that they ignored, obvious things they overlooked, some way they could have known before....anything to assure me that this could never happen to me...that somehow I am in control.

There was nothing. There was no way to know. And no one is immune.

I had a long talk with my daughter that night.

I'm not sure what the lesson is here...not even sure there is a lesson. But I want her to be more aware. I want her to know that sometimes people are not as they appear. I want her to be able to recognize evil. I want her to understand that sometimes we need help....that there are things we cannot deal with on our own.

And I want her to know...always...that I'm here when she needs me.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer's Empty Nest

I have a confession to make.

My kids are away at camp, and I'm enjoying their absence.

The days before their departure were a flurry of, labeling, packing duffel bags, arranging logistics and watching their confidence and delight as they headed off.

And then they were gone, and the world was suddenly very, very quiet. A nice quiet. The relieved quiet of a job well done.

Summer's empty nest.

When my little boy was four years old, I sent him to day camp for the first time.

And I cried.

My brain knew that this was the best place for him to be at this stage of his life. But my heart felt that he was so young and vulnerable...that he still needed his home and the pampering that only a mother can give.

My brain understood that he would be reaching towards independence in a warm environment...that I must let go so he can develop fully. But my heart insisted that I can, and should, be a full part of that development.

My stomach was tied up in a knot of anxiety.

My baby was moving into the next huge phase of his life....without me.

I've come a long way since then.

Make no mistake. I'm crazy about my kids. I love having them around. I love the noise and the laughter...their contagious joy and love of life.

And I love sending them away.

I don't have that pit-of-the-stomach sadness that they're off for good, and I know I'm not ready for that.

I do, however, love the temporary break. I'm thrilled at not having to pick up after them, keep tabs on them and nag them to make their beds or put away their clothes. I'm looking forward to the slower pace...less laundry...less cooking...more time. For me.

I can take my time getting home from work. I can catch up with old friends. I can read the paper or do my nails. I can go for long walks or read some books.

Or I can just do nothing.

I will enjoy my summer with a more relaxed attitude and carefree mindset.

And I'll be ready for them when they come back home.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

When There Are No Words

The birthday party is winding down. My big girl is opening the gifts, and then the mothers will be arriving to take their little girls home.

I had carefully coached her in advance on proper gift receiving etiquette, and she is doing great, dutifully stopping between each one to say thank you.

She picks up a brightly wrapped box. A little girl bounces excitedly in her seat, her pink hair ribbon matching the rhythm, and I assume she is the giver of this gift.

My big girl tears the paper, and I hold my breath.

It is a game we already own.

I look at her intently, willing her to read my mind.

"Say thank you. Just...say...thank you..."

"We already have this game," she says, in obvious disappointment.

The little girl looks crestfallen, her pink ribbon drooping.

My big girl looks up and catches my eye. A look of comprehension dawns on her little face.

She smiles brightly.

"The one we have is missing some pieces. I'm so happy we have a new one now.

I exhale. The pink ribbon perks up, the little girl beams. My big girl looks pleased. I am relieved. And proud.

My big girl is learning about saying thank you...not just as an automatic response. She is beginning to understand the emotion behind the sentiment.

. . .

Sometimes saying "thank you" just doesn't seem to cut it. Sometimes someone does something so...big, so....overwhelming...that the simple words that are available are not adequate.

How can I just say those overused words, when I need them to carry the deepest meaning, yet they sound just the same as when they are tossed out frivolously by anyone?

How do I express sincere gratitude when I do not know any words that adequately convey those emotions?

Sometimes there are no words to express the gratefulness I feel in my heart.

But words are necessary.

So I am left with a heartfelt "Thank you".

It's not enough, but it's all I have.

Thank you.