Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Chanukah doesn't go by in my home without a discussion of the Bais Yosef's question.

The Bais Yosef asks, since the untainted flask contained enough oil to burn for one day, nothing miraculous happened on that first day. The miracle was only the following seven days. So why is Chanukah celebrated for eight days?

I sit near my friend at the Bar Mitzvah. Her baby is with her. He always is - it's hard to find someone to stay with him. As always, the conversation revolves around him. His doctors and therapies, his surgeries, his progress, his needs. And her guilt. What she could have done...what she should have done.

She is tired. And sad. And overwhelmed. And so alone. She waited so long for this baby, and she just wants him to be okay. Is that so much to ask?

But he's not okay. And he never will be. There will be progress, hopefully, but he will never be okay. And some days, that is too much for her to bear.

I play with him while we talk. He's so sweet. He looks at me with big, blue eyes, and smiles. He's almost two, but he looks about half that age. And as I listen to her, I hear strength beneath the pain. She tells me that she was told that before a person is born, he is shown his entire life, with all its challenges, and he agrees to it all. She agreed to this challenge. She knew, and she agreed. And, more importantly, he agreed. He agreed to be born with these special needs. And, somehow, that is a comfort to her.

I went to visit my sister and her new baby in the hospital. He is alert and beautiful and so cute. And he's healthy. And I am aware of how much there is to be grateful for. I know that there is so much that can go wrong, and I understand how miraculous it is when everything is right.

Every year, my children offer new answers to the Bais Yosef's question. But my favorite answer is so simple.

We celebrate for eight days to teach us that even natural events take place only because Hashem wants them to. The burning of oil is no less miraculous than would be the burning of water. The first day's lighting is to remind us that even the normal burning of oil is a miracle.
Even natural events are miraculous.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

When Children Die

I was in eighth grade when I discovered that children die. I must have known before, but I didn't really know. It was something that happened somewhere. Not here. Not to anyone I knew.

The girl who sat behind me in class came home one day with a headache, and fell into a coma. She died a few days later. I couldn't accept it. Children don't die. Children shouldn't die.

But they do.

And as I grow older, I become more familiar with death. People die. Children die. They die suddenly. They die because of illnesses or accidents or murder. Sweet, innocent children. And I can't accept it. I can't understand it.

And I cry. I cry for them. I cry for their mothers and fathers. I can't even begin to imagine their agony, but I cry because I share their sadness.

But I can't accept it. And I don't understand it.

My sister's kitchen window overlooks a cemetery. A baby cemetery. So many little gravestones marking tiny graves. I don't look out the window when I'm there. In my mind, looking is some sort of acceptance. And I don't want to accept it.

Last week, I was asked to do a tahara. I rarely decline when I'm called for a tahara. But this time it was for an eight year old little girl. I didn't do it. I couldn't. I couldn't deal with it. Little girls shouldn't die.

I want to understand why this little girl died. Why all those little girls and boys died. I need to understand.

Someone once told me, in Heaven there are no questions. All our questions will be answered when we get there, and we will understand everything that we were not able to understand down here.

But I am not rushing to get there.

I don't understand, but I am not in a rush to understand. For now, I will try to accept that what Hashem does is good.

Even if I can't understand.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Mother's Worry

The phone call shook me up.

My little boy walks home from school. Himself. It was hard for me to let go again after the horrific events of this summer. But he is old enough to do it, he is ready for it, and it's what he wants. So, despite my uneasiness, I understood that this was the right thing.

The woman on the phone introduced herself. She saw my little boy standing on a street corner looking confused and she offered her help. She described where they were, and my heart stopped.

It was a spot so many of us became familiar with as we watched Leiby Kletzky, lost and alone, finally walk off with a monster.

It's a confusing corner. My little boy was ok. He would have figured it out on his own. He was never in any real danger.

But I couldn't stop shaking.

From the moment my first child was born, I promised myself that I'd keep him safe. I'd protect my children forever. I'd shield them from life's harshness.

I can't do that, of course.

But I can worry.

I worry when they leave the house in the morning. I worry about them crossing the streets. I worry when I see cars speeding around a corner. I take a mental count of all my children when I hear a siren or a short stop. I worry if one of them looks pale. I worry about them making friends. I worry about shidduchim.

And then they grow older, and they move out on their own.

And I still worry.

My son and daughter-in-law came for Succos. I love seeing them. I love seeing my son in this new role, and I love seeing how happy they are.

My daughter-in-law was not feeling well one morning, and we had a bit of a scare. She was ok, but I worried for the rest of Yom Tov.

One of Chava's punishments is tzaar gidul banim – the pain of raising children. She will be tired and stressed and overworked. There will be the daily pressures and the inevitable crises.

But it's deeper than that. Her curse is her mother love. She will spend all her days worrying about her children. There is pain in that love.

But along with the pain, there is beauty. It is a unique love.

I realized that I will never stop worrying.

My children will grow up and leave home. There will be new people joining our family. And every new family member is another person to worry about.

And another person to love.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shidduch Tumult

The photos in Hamodia intrigued me, and I scanned them carefully, hoping to see my son. I found the concept of chavrusa tumult fascinating. The photos show thousands of boys milling about outside of the yeshiva, and somehow, by the end of the week, most of those boys are paired up with a chavrusa.

The system is pretty simple. Anyone in need of a chavrusa participates. If Chaim needs a chavrusa, he would talk to several people and describe what he's looking for. Someone he approaches might have a suggestion for him. So if, say, Shimon was suggested, he'd seek him out, they'd talk for a bit, and decide if they are right for each other. If they are, a match is made. If not, Chaim would move on and try again, until he finds the right match.

Kind of like speed dating.

I'm sure others before me have suggested shidduch tumults. But, of course, that can never happen. We can't have the boys and girls milling about on the streets of Lakewood now, can we?

There's another way to go about this, though. We can have the thousands of boys and thousands of girls in need of shidduchim milling about - separately. And then the parents would be the ones asking the questions, listening to suggestions and talking to any potential matches. Give me five minutes with a boy, and I can tell whether he's a good possibility - or not even in the ballpark.

I'm not sure what would happen when we find one, or even several, good possibilities. Realistically, we can't get the boy and the girl to talk for a few minutes, although I like that idea. We'd probably have to give the names we have to a shadchan and then go the regular route.

So what do we gain? For the boys and their parents, probably not very much. But for the girls, a lot.

Anyone with sons in shidduchim knows how often the phone rings. They know about the lists of girls. They don't need any changes in the system. The system will work for them.

But for anyone with daughters in shidduchim, the experience is usually very different. The phone doesn't ring as often, and when it does, you can't imagine how anyone could have come up with something so wrong. When an appropriate suggestion finally does come up, your daughter becomes a name on someone's list.

And that's the problem.

A shadchan once called me with a name that sounded promising. I asked her to talk to the boy's parents first, and I will do my research if they are interested. They were not. There was some issue they couldn't get past.

Several weeks later, the shadchan called me back. They changed their minds. They're interested now.

I was confused, and wondered about the issue.

Apparently, it was no longer an issue for them. The mother had seen my daughter somewhere and she liked what she saw. My daughter went from being a name on the list - on paper - to being a real, live person. And suddenly, those minor "issues" didn't matter anymore.

And that is why a shidduch tumult seems like such a good idea.

It would be kind of like the cattle sales, where a mother comes to a wedding to check out a girl, only this would be like some mass cattle sale, with hundreds of mothers participating.

Can this actually work? Probably not.

Would I want it to work?

I don't know.

Just a short while ago, I objected to sending a picture of my daughter to a shadchan. I caved on that one. And then I even allowed the cattle sale. Now this?

I guess I'm not desperate enough yet...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Forty Challah Bakers

There are two sides to the segulos debate. There are the firm believers in the effectiveness of segulos, those who believe in their mystical, magical power. And there are those who deny their validity, and will not participate in any segulah events.

I am somewhere in the middle. The sources of many of our commonly practiced segulos are found in seforim and go back hundreds of years. I have no problem with those. But there seems to be new segulos every day, with no known source, and I'm skeptical.

So when a friend called me late Thursday and asked me to join a group of 40 challah bakers, I agreed because she needed that favor from me. But I was worried. I hoped I wasn't ruining anything by not fully believing in what I was going to do.

I'd heard about the 40 challah bakers segulah. Each of the 40 women would make the bracha on the challah in their own homes, usually for the refuah shleima, or some sort of yeshua, for a specific person.

This was a new twist to that segulah. This time, all 40 women would get together in one person's home, bringing their own dough, and taking challah together.

I prepared my dough in the morning, and drove to the address I was given. I parked nearby, and sat in the car for several moments, watching women stream towards the house, lugging huge towel covered bowls of dough. I wasn't quite sure that there was any merit to what I was about to do, but the sight moved me.

We began by lighting candles. The woman who organized this gathering spoke for a few minutes. She spoke about her passion for the mitzvah of challah baking, and how she took that passion to another level. She spoke a little bit about the woman in whose merit we were doing this. She is a young mother battling cancer. She recently had to be put on a respirator, and her prognosis seemed bleak.

We took turns taking challah and reciting the bracha aloud, with everyone answering amen. The first woman broke down halfway through her bracha. Women sobbed openly. Something stirred inside me.

Then we said Tehillim. The entire Tehillim was divided between the 40 women, so that the entire sefer was completed.

I looked around me. I don't know if the number 40 has any meaning, but there is power in numbers - whatever the number is. All these women left their homes on a busy Friday morning - on the hottest day of the year - to daven for a woman most of them do not even know...to beg Hashem to spare her...to plead with Hashem on behalf of the children who still desperately need their mother. The emotion was palpable. I don't know what we were accomplishing. But it was powerful.

I heard the next day that the woman we davened for was taken off the respirator late Friday afternoon.


I don't know. Maybe.

Am I sold? Did I join the ranks of the firm believers?

No. I'm still a skeptic. I still believe in the power of tefillah over the power of segulos. I am still curious about the sources, and wonder where these segulos were 20 years ago.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely. In a heartbeat.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Moving On

I can't sleep. Every time I close my eyes, Leiby is there...walking home by himself, happy and carefree as only a young child can be...and then so scared when he realizes he is lost. I feel his fear, and my heart hurts.

I force myself to think about something else. I don't want my mind to go any further. I don't want to imagine what he must have felt later. I try to think happy thoughts. But everything leads back to the same thing.

And somehow, in my half asleep/ half awake state, that little boy becomes my little boy, and I am jolted awake, my heart pounding, my breath coming in short, shallow gasps.

I close my eyes, and I visualize how "he fought back a little bit", according to the killer's confession. I see him struggling, fighting for his life, and of everything I read, that is what causes me the most anguish, and I am tormented by nightmares. I can't bear to think about that sweet little boy's terror and feeling of helplessness. And I can't sleep.

I get up and go to my little boy's room. I kiss him gently, careful not to wake him. And I'm grateful that he's safe in his bed.

I think about Leiby's mother. How is a mother supposed to go on after this? How can she cope with the pain? How will life ever return to normal?

I can't sleep. I am afraid to close my eyes. I am sad.

And yet...this morning I smiled.

I don't remember what it was that made me smile. But it bothered me. How can I smile? How was I able to forget for that moment...and smile?

And I know that I will smile again tomorrow. Laugh, even. All of us will. The pain will dull...the memories will fade. Time heals. Life will go on. That is the way of the world.

And I'm sad.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I woke my little boy up this morning, and I had to tell him the news.

How do you tell a child something like this? How do you explain it? How do you even understand it?

My son walked out of the same camp building on Monday, at the same time as Leiby. Maybe he even walked in the same direction. My son came home. Someone else's little boy did not.

I'm a mother. I can't possibly feel the indescribable pain his parents must be suffering. But I can't stop crying. He's our child. We're one family, and their pain is our pain.

I want an explanation. I need to understand. Why, Hashem...why?

Perhaps there is a reason. Maybe I'm just too spiritually weak to understand. Maybe I don't want to understand. Maybe I don't want to hear that there can be something positive in this kind of horror - that I am merely seeing things from my small perspective, and I am unaware of a larger picture, of why this might be necessary.

I drove my son to camp this morning. As I will do every morning for the rest of the summer. I don't know if I'm doing the right thing. He's old enough to walk. He's ready for that little bit of independence. I don't want to hover. I want to raise a secure child. I want to prepare him for adulthood, and keeping him tied to me is probably not the best way to achieve that. But I'm going to be selfish now. I'm scared. It could have been him. It could have been anyone.

I just have to believe that ultimately what Hashem does is good. Even if my small mind can't comprehend it. 

So I wait. I wait for the day, some day in the future, when my questions will be answered. When my human mind will understand and appreciate. And meanwhile...I struggle.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

If Only

I met her for the first time shortly after I got married. She was old - late eighties or early nineties - and she suffered from senility. But she had a wonderful sense of humor and she was smart, and I liked her a lot.

She'd ask me my name every time I saw her, as though we were being introduced for the first time. And she'd make the same comment and give me the same compliment every time. She seemed so happy when I had my first child. She asked me his name and how much he weighed. She held him and rocked him and sang to him. And then she asked me his name again, and how much he weighed. And then again a few minutes later.

She couldn't remember what happened yesterday. But she remembered what happened seventy years ago.

I heard about Yankel almost as soon as I met her. And every time I visited her. It was just bits and pieces each time and it was hard to make out the complete story. Yankel was the man she could have - or should have - married. I don't know why she didn't. I don't know if she spent her life regretting her decision. Her family seemed embarrassed by it and were reluctant to fill in the details. But I was drawn to the romance  and so saddened by the longing in her voice.

She married someone else - the person she'd ultimately spend the next seventy years with. They raised a large family, and, at least from her family's point of view, she had a good and happy life.

But at the end of her life, she never forgot Yankel.

Years later, I remember this woman. And I remember Yankel. And what saddens me most is the regret...how she lived the last years of her life regretting what could have been.

Sometimes I find myself doing the same thing. I look back at my life - at things that happened, things I've been through - and I wish I could relive it. I wish I could go back and do things differently. I wish I knew then what I know today. I could have saved myself so much heartache...so much pain.

But I don't want to be a ninety year old woman, looking back at my life with regrets.

I couldn't have done things differently. Everything happened the way it was meant to. The decisions I made and all that I've been through contributed to the person I became. My life experience is a part of me. A part of who I am.

And I don't regret that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Moonlight is gone. And my heart is aching.

I'm not a big fan of animals. I can tolerate them - at the zoo or on a leash, but I don't find them cute or cuddly. My kids always knew not to bring home so much as a goldfish, and other than some passing phases, they mostly accepted that and inherited my distrust of anything on four legs.

Well...except for my little boy. He plays by different rules. And he loves animals.

A couple of months ago, he brought home a goldfish. I went on my well rehearsed rant about how this is a people house, and only humans live here...and how we don't have the right equipment or the know-how and it'll die and then what are we going to do with it.

And then I let it stay - to my other kids' surprise and my little boy's delight.

It lived for about a week. And when it died, I felt sad. For my little boy, mostly. But also for the loss of something that became a part of my home.

Two weeks later, I was introduced to Moonlight. My little boy was walking home from school, when he passed a grocery. Apparently, a mama cat living in the store, had some kitties, and the grocer was giving them away. My little boy happily carried one home, never stopping to wonder about what his mother might think.

While I am somewhat prepared to deal with the occasional carnival goldfish, nothing in my parenting experience prepared me for this.

My little boy cried and pleaded.

"I need to take care of her." He looked up at me through tear filled eyes. "She doesn't have a mother!"

I watched my little boy as he held her protectively against him, and I let her stay.

We settled her comfortably in the back yard, in a house my little boy built with his friends. He spent every spare minute out there with Moonlight, feeding her, holding her, playing with her, and I privately hoped she'd wander off one day soon and join some family of stray cats somewhere.

I'm not sure how or when it happened, but at some point, Moonlight began to occupy some space in my heart and mind. Just a tiny space, at first. I'd drive down the block at night, and worry about her wandering into the street and getting hurt. I'd hear a kitten crying, and wonder if it's Moonlight, and hope she's okay. I'd see her curled up in the driveway, under the wheels of a car, and I'd call my little boy to come and put her somewhere safe.

The worry was for Moonlight, too, but it was mostly for my little boy. He loved his kitten. And I loved how it brought out a sweet, gentle, nurturing side of him.

Moonlight lived in our yard for about a month. And then she disappeared.

We combed the neighborhood, looking for her. I knocked on doors. I talked to anyone who might have some information. We suspect that the crazy cat lady at the corner took her. But there's no way to verify it, and it's unlikely that she'd return her.

So Moonlight is gone now. And my little boy is heartbroken.

A tiny part of me is relieved. But most of me is mourning along with my little boy. I don't like cats, but I love my little boy. And his heart is broken.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bursting With Pride

My anonymity is very important to me, and I go to great lengths to protect it. My real life friends do not know I have a blog, and my blog friends know me only as Mystery Woman.

So when something significant happens in my life, something that may give some clues to my identity, I won't share it here, or I'll wait some time before I do.

But...I'm bursting.

And I can trust you, O Internet, not to make any connections between the real me and the blogger me, right?

So...please allow me to share a personal moment here.

My little girl is valedictorian!

I am so very proud.

It is an acknowledgment of her efforts and accomplishments, her middos and her maturity, and a recognition of the sweet, good-hearted human being she is.

And it's just another reminder of how my life as a mother is an answered prayer...a dream come true, and one of the greatest pleasures that exists.

This is what it must feel like to kvell.

I am blessed.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Unity In Diversity

I am raising my children in Boro Park - a community that evokes strong feelings in many people. It's a neighborhood that is touted as the epitome of chessed, and maligned for its rudeness and unfriendliness.

There are great benefits to living where we do. My children are growing up surrounded by people whose homes are similar to ours, who dress the way we do, and who share our values.

But there are also drawbacks. Living all your life with people who are just like you puts you at risk of developing an intolerance of people's differences, of contrasting and judging.

It's not what I wanted for my children. I wanted them to learn to see past the clothing. To notice each person's special value. To appreciate the differences. And I was determined to teach them.

It wasn't quite as easy as I thought it would be. They were used to seeing everyone wearing identical yarmulkas and similar clothing, and anyone who dared to be different was suspect. Stripes on a man's shirt set him apart. He was less frum. And I wanted them to understand the misconception.

Some of my kids were able to grasp it pretty quickly. Others took a bit longer.

My daughter was in high school, when we went to the mall one evening to shop for shoes. A man was sitting at the side, waiting, while his wife tried on one pair of shoes after another. He was dressed in a colored polo and a suede yarmulka, an open sefer on his lap, learning while he waited for his wife.

Here was a lesson to be taught, and I grabbed the opportunity.

"Look," I whispered to my daughter, "look at that man. Does it make any difference that he isn't wearing a black hat and a white shirt?"

My daughter was impressed. She understood my point. But she didn't quite get it. In her mind, this was a rare exception.

It wasn't until a little while later that she was finally able to really appreciate what I'd been trying so hard to get her to see. She switched to a different camp that summer - a camp that attracted girls from a variety of backgrounds and communities. Her close friends, from different states, were just as frum as she was. Maybe more so. And meeting their parents on visiting day, looking decidedy un-Boro Park, was incredibly eye-opening.

Recently, an Ami Magazine article about Brisk featured a picture of the Brisker Rav with two sons. In the picture, one of his sons, R' Dovid Soloveitchik, is wearing a light gray suit and matching gray fedora, a common enough mode of dress at the time the photo was taken.

"It used to be that one could wear a light gray hat and still be considered choshuv, I guess," my daughter said. "When did that change? And why?

Why, indeed.

The giving of the Torah took place in the month of Sivan—the third month. In fact, the figure three is a constant motif in everything connected with the giving of the Torah.

Why the number three? Surely the Torah was intended to be unique and to reveal the oneness of Hashem. The number one is what we would have expected.

The giving of the Torah in the third month teaches us that Torah values diversity and individuality.

The purpose of the giving of the Torah was indeed unity. But true unity is when a person recognizes the One in the many.

When he perceives unity in the midst of diversity.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Letting Go

It was a beautiful Chol Hamoed morning, which was quickly turning into afternoon, as we spent hours on the phone deciding how to spend our day. We were in our late teens, getting ready to take our first tentative steps into the real world - too grown up for rides and amusement parks, but not quite ready to give them up. We finally settled on a trip to Astroland, where we'd hold on to our childhood for just a little bit longer.

The park was crowded and the lines were long as I waited for my turn on the water flume. I watched a family climb into a boat, and I smiled in anticipation as I saw the boat begin its plunge, its occupants screaming in delight, their arms waving in the air.

And then I watched in horror as the boat suddenly flipped over, spilling all who were in it into the water and onto the tracks. I watched in a haze as they stood up, blood running down their faces. All around me, people were screaming and running to help, while I stood frozen, numb, unable to move.

I never talked about what I saw. I couldn't. I just wanted to bury it somewhere deep inside me and never think about it again. And I was successful - during the day. At night, the images haunted me, robbing me of my sleep. Every time I'd close my eyes, the scene would replay itself in slow motion. For weeks - maybe months - I was afraid of going to sleep. Afraid of the flashbacks and the nightmares.

And I promised  myself that when I'd have children, I wouldn't allow them on these rides. I'd protect them.

Years passed. I got married and had children. And I didn't keep my promise.

My little boy's day camp sent a DVD of last summer along with the camp application. He happily relived the excitement of camp as he watched the video. He showed me the carnival and the magic show and the trips. He was thrilled every time he caught sight of himself. And then he showed me the major trip.

My older boys are more cautious, but my little boy is fearless. There is no ride big enough or wild enough to scare him. He'd try anything. Until now, I naively believed that the height requirements would keep him from riding all but the tamest of rides. Apparently, he'd grown past those requirements a while ago. I was uneasy as he showed me the rides he'd been on and told me about the new amusement park they'd be going to this summer, with even bigger and better rides.  But I put aside my anxiety and smiled as I shared his excitement.

I made a promise to myself many years ago, but it is a promise that would be unfair to my children. I may be uncomfortable with some of the things they do, but I can't let my fears deprive them of a normal childhood.

Sometimes letting go takes more strength than holding on.

I can't always protect them. I need to let go...to let them fly....and let Hashem take over.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Ultimate Matchmaker

As the baby of the family, my little boy is not always very responsible. He's carefree and doesn't worry about details. He is not taken very seriously by his older siblings and is immature in some ways.

But he's smart and sophisticated. He has an incredibly mature sense of humor and a keen understanding of some adult issues.

His faith is so pure and innocent, I can only dream of having that level of emunah. He's taught me some profound lessons, and I sometimes wonder who is raising whom.

My little boy comes home every Friday with a 'question of the week'. It's a voluntary assignment, and anyone who has the correct answer on Sunday is entered into a raffle. The rebbe gives the boys some sources, tells them which seforim to use and where to look for the answer. But, even with that, the questions are difficult, and usually only a few boys will have the answer on Sunday.

My son refuses any offers of assistance. He wants to do this himself. He sits at the table surrounded by seforim, squinting through his glasses, searching for the answer. Sometimes he finds it easily, and sometimes he struggles with it for a long time, but the satisfaction and pride he feels in his achievement makes it all worthwhile.

Every week, my little boy comes to school on Sunday with the answer, and every week he is entered in the raffle, but his name is never drawn. I worry that he will become discouraged - that he will lose his motivation. But he doesn't seem bothered by it, and I wonder about that.

This week, the question was exceptionally difficult, and it took him the better part of the afternoon to find the answer. That Sunday there were only two boys with the correct answer. Only two boys to be entered in the raffle that was going to be drawn the next day.

I was apprehensive. He was not.

"A raffle for just two boys?" I asked, concerned. "But...that's not really fair, is it?"

"Sure it's fair." He seemed surprised by my question. "Whoever wins...it's min hashamayim. It's not really any different than when there are twenty boys in the raffle. It's all min hashamayim."

Having a child in shidduchim consumes an enormous amount of time and energy. As parents, we network, we talk to shadchanim, we follow up on suggestions, we call references. And we worry, of course.

And then, every once in a while, we are reminded that we are not in control.

My daughter's friend was called as a reference. She was asked a question about my daughter, and not being quite sure of the answer, she made some assumptions, and she got it all wrong. I was upset. What if she ruined my daughter's chances at this shidduch because of her inaccurate response? What if they decide against it based on that erroneous information?

I thought about calling the next person on the reference list and making sure she knows the answer so that she can clear it up if she is called. I thought about calling a mutual acquaintance and having her repair whatever damage may have been done. I thought about asking the shadchan to clear up the misinformation.

And then I let it go.

It's all min hashamayim.

When it sometimes seems difficult or frustrating, when the phone doesn't ring as often we'd like, when we're being portrayed all wrong...it's min hashamayim. All of it.

We can do our hishtadlus. We can daven. But when all is said and done, the ultimate goal is beyond our ability to reach on our own. We are not in charge. It is a wish which only Hashem can grant.

It's min hashamayim.

May the ultimate Matchmaker grant our wishes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Last Kindness

I'm already in bed when the call comes. I'm needed for a taharah. It's been a long day. I'm tired. But I get up, get dressed and join the two other women at the funeral home.

Erev Sukkos. The decorations are up. The food is ready. There is still a lot to do, but everything is proceeding on schedule. It is well past noon when I get the call. The funeral home, this time, is some distance away, and I know that I will be out of the house for two or three hours. I hesitate for a fraction of a second. And then I go.

It's the night of Tisha B'av. There is a levaya scheduled for the morning, and the taharah needs to be done before then. I realize that my day will be starting a lot earlier than I would have liked. But I don't even hesitate. It seems fitting, somehow, to begin the day with this.

I'm the type of person who feels faint at the sight of blood. I look away when my kids get their shots or have blood drawn. I'm squeamish. I don't deal well with unpleasant smells or sights. And death scares me. So I am hard-pressed to come up with an explanation for why I decided that this was something I could do. But I do know why I continue to do it. Why, despite my responsibilities to my family, a full time job, and my very busy schedule, I rarely decline an opportunity to perform a taharah.

There are some obvious benefits, of course. It has made me appreciate life so very much more. I can no longer take life, good health and the absence of physical suffering for granted. I am reminded of what it means to be alive and of what really matters when we are no longer. I have been taught that the limited time we have in this world is really all we have to do what must be done. To prepare for what really matters and what really counts.

And sometimes there are unexpected lessons.

I am not usually available during working hours, so I was not present at Thursday morning's taharah. Later that day, chevra kaddisha members were frantically summoned to an emergency taharah. I've rushed to taharahs before that had to be completed quickly in time for the levaya. They were urgent, but they didn't qualify as emergencies, and I wondered about what was causing this panic.

I heard the story later.

The morning taharah was being sent for burial to Israel. The family was going along, and the levaya was scheduled for Friday morning. The women who performed that taharah placed the body in a special box, and it was taken to the airport for the Thursday evening flight.

The El Al security people opened the box and as they passed the metal detector wand over the body, a pacemaker caused it to beep. The family was puzzled. Their mother had no pacemaker.

After some investigation, the mistake was discovered. There was, indeed, a pacemaker. But this was not the body that was supposed to be flown to Israel.

It was a terrible embarrassment to the chevra kaddisha, and a tremendous inconvenience to the family. The emergency taharah was done as quickly as possible, but they missed the flight. The family flew with the body after Shabbos, and the levaya was postponed to Sunday.

But the story could have had a tragic ending. In the best case scenario, the switch would have been discovered when the second taharah was done - probably after the levaya and the burial. In the worst case, the mistake would never have been discovered.

I don't know why this had to happen. I don't know why the family was meant to go through this aggravation. But I do know that there was a plan. The pacemaker did its job while the woman was alive. And it still had a purpose to serve after she died.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Show Me Your Hand

I'm a coward.

I didn't look at the Itamar massacre pictures.

I understand that the family wanted to make these pictures public...wanted the world to see. And maybe I owe it to them and to the victims and to everyone else who risks their lives to live where they do, to look at the pictures. To understand the brutality and mourn along with them.

But I can't bring myself to do it.

I am heartbroken just hearing about it. I am so deeply shaken by the images in my mind. The three month old baby, stabbed in the heart, his hands curled into tiny fists. The twelve year old little girl, coming home to this horror. The trauma she will live with for the rest of her life. The parents and the innocent children, their throats slashed. The pain and grief of the surviving children.

Aren't we the wrong audience for these disturbing images? Shouldn't these pictures be seen by those who trust that there is some sort of heaven for the decapitation of a baby? For those who believe in sacrificing an innocent child to cure all the world's ills? For those who imagine that the slaughter of a tiny baby is a fitting punishment for...for anything?

When I was in school, we learned about what the world will be like when Moshiach comes, and what will happen before his arrival. We were taught about a climactic battle instigated by Gog and Magog, and even as a young child, that terrified me. Today, I understand that there is so much about this battle that we don't know. We do not know whether this battle will be a physical or spiritual battle, or even whether it has already occurred or not. But when something horrific happens...something I can't fathom...the old fears resurface. If these are the birthpangs of Moshiach, am I ready for him? Will I ever be?

Help me to make sense of this. Help me with my utter lack of understanding.

The hamantasch symbolizes the nature of the Purim miracle. The outside is just plain dough. The true flavor is concealed inside.

Our lives are the same. Sometimes it seems as though there is no system in place...no direction to this cold and harsh universe. Things happen that seem haphazard and random. But this is not true. There is a system. But it is hidden. Below the surface, there is a Hand and a Heart that directs the universe.

We do not get to see this Hand often. Purim is one day when it was shown...when we glimpsed what lies beyond the outer shell. Purim reminds us that nothing is random.

May we see open miracles...the Hand and the Heart...very soon.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Separation Anxiety

My big girl looks up as I am leaving the house.

"You're wearing those shoes?"

I am. Obviously.

"You can't wear those," she tells me.

I look down at the offending shoes. They're nice. Really. But they're flat. Not the kind of flats I'd wear every day to work. They're dressy. And I'm pretty sure she never objected when I wore them to a Bar Mitzvah or a Shabbos kiddush.

"You can't wear flats to a wedding." She's adamant.

"But this isn't a fancy wedding," I explain. "And it's late. And I'm cold. And tired. I don't feel like wearing heels."

She's not convinced.

"Besides," I add, "I'm an old lady."

"Yeah," she says, "but no one knows that."

I change my shoes.

I wonder...what do people do when they are not blessed with daughters? What did I do before my daughter was old enough? Who else can be trusted to give an honest answer to, "Do I look fat in this"?

And, suddenly, a terrifying thought crosses my mind. What will I do when my daughter gets married? How will I be trusted with the daunting task of choosing my own clothes? How will I make difficult decisions like what color lipstick to wear or when it's ok to wear boots? Am I doomed to a life of nerdy sweaters and unsuitable footwear?

I'm not ready for my daughter to get married, I realize. I'm not ready for her to leave home!

Something must be done, and I am resolved to do it. I will be independent. I will learn to part with my live-in fashion consultant, and I will allow my daughter to marry.

I drive to the mall, putting my thoughts into action. I stride confidently from store to store. And then I see it. I try it on, scrutinize my reflection in the mirror, and I buy it. All by myself.

I pull the sweater out of the bag when I get home, and proudly show it to my daughter.

She doesn't like it. I can tell.

But it's ok. This will take some time, I know. I just need more practice. Soon...soon...I can let her date.

I wore the sweater to work last week, and when I got home, my daughter gave me the once-over.

"I like your sweater." She seemed completely oblivious to my bewilderment. "Do you think I can borrow it?"

"But you didn't like it when I bought it!" Could it be that I'd misinterpreted her reaction?

"Oh, I changed my mind," she said lightly.

Yes! I can do this! I can select my own clothes, and they will not be nerdy. I can determine when black tights season begins and ends. I can decide which dress is appropriate for any occasion. And maybe, after careful deliberation, I can figure out which shoes to wear. Myself.

And...my daughter can get married now. I am ready!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Child, My Teacher

"Hit him back," I tell my little boy. "If he fights with you, just hit him back."

It's all wrong. It's not what I'm supposed to be telling him. It's not what the parenting books say. But someone is picking fights with him, and I know he won't stop as long as my little boy allows it. As long as he doesn't do anything to defend himself.

"I don't fight," he says.

"You're not fighting. He is. You're just defending yourself. Just kick him when he comes near you. Just to keep him away."

It's sounding all wrong. The parenting experts would be horrified.

"I can't kick him," he says quietly. "I'm afraid I'm going to hurt him."

"But...but...he's hurting you!"

"I can't," he says again. "I can't hurt people."

I look at him, as though seeing him for the first time.

I can't hurt people....

I hug him. And I am ashamed of myself.

There are moments when a seemingly insignificant incident reveals a profound insight about a person's character. This is one of those moments.

I learned who my little boy is. I learned something about his deepest self. I learned that not only do I love him, but I admire and respect him. I learned that there is so much he can teach me. I learned that he is not only my child, but also my teacher.

My little boy is growing up. Today he is a child with a sensitive soul. A child who can't hurt people. A child I am so proud of. With Hashem's help, he will grow to be a sensitive adult. An adult who will not hurt people. An adult I will be proud to know.

Do it your way, my little boy. I am honored to be your mother.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Daughter, the Cow

A shadchan is on the phone. He has some basic questions, and I answer them all. I'm feeling good. This is a well known shadchan, and he sought me out. As he should. My daughter is a great girl, and he's lucky to have her on his list. He wants her resume, and I promise to email it to him as soon as I'm off the phone.

Then he asks for a picture.

"A picture?" I ask, naively. "What for?"

"Some people ask for one."

That's pretty standard, apparently. At least according to him. But...a picture? What does a picture tell you? She's a human being, and one would think that should make it different than a cattle sale. There's so much more to her than what the picture would show. It just doesn't feel right to me. And I tell him that.

"I have nothing to hide," I say. "My daughter is beautiful, and anyone you ask about her would say that. It just seems so degrading. If someone insists on a picture, let me know, and maybe I'll send one then. But I'd like to know who's asking."

He understands. I don't send the picture.

And I never hear from him again.

It is now a year later, and a shadchan is on the phone.

"Does your daughter have any weddings coming up soon?"

I'm not sure. I'd need to check with her. And I'm wondering why a shadchan would want to know that.

"Remember I suggested a name a while ago?"

I do remember. It had sounded like a good idea, but I learned a lot in the last year. I'm smarter now. I want the boys' parents to do their research first, and if it sounds good to them, I'll look into it. I told that to the shadchan then, and when several weeks passed without hearing from her, I assumed it went where so many other shidduch suggestions go.

But she's on the phone now...so maybe not. I allow myself to hope for a minute.

"They're still dragging their feet," she tells me. "I want them to take a look at her at a wedding or something. I think that might help."

Take a look at her...

If the picture idea sounded bad to me, this should be sounding even worse. Take a look at her... Like an appraisal. Or an evaluation. This is sounding more and more like a cattle sale. 

I hate it.

But...I learned a lot in the last year.

I ask my daughter about upcoming weddings. She seems to be running out to weddings and all the time. I'm sure there's something.

There isn't. Not for the next month.

"There must be something! What about a vort?"


"Chinese auction?" I'm sounding desperate.

I call the shadchan back. I tell her about the wedding coming up in a month, but I promise to call her if anything comes up sooner than that.

So the mother of this boy will be joining the other women who stand around the edges of the room, watching the single girls dance. They will analyze and assess and inspect, and then make a judgment. If a girl strikes their fancy, they will find out who she is. It will be no different than any other wedding, really. Just another cattle sale.

I hereby invite all of you out there to this wedding next month - no formal invitation necessary. Come take a look at the single girls. My daughter is the pretty one in the black dress. It's elegant and stylish, but not too trendy. Completely tzniusdik, but not nerdy. I can show you some pictures, so you recognize her. Just come and look at her. Please.

I learned a lot in the last year.

Friday, February 11, 2011


"They went without me."

My little girl looks so confused. And so, so hurt.

Things would work themselves out, I know. She'd be ok. But right now she is in so much pain, and it breaks my heart.

I also know that this will not be the last time she feels hurt. There will be more pain in her life. I want so much to protect her. I want so much to erase the anguish I see in her eyes. I want her to never feel the hurt she's feeling now. But there isn't much I can do. I can listen to her and hold her, but I can't take it away.

She'll get through it. She'll heal. Her heart will be scarred, but she'll emerge stronger than before.

There is a knock at the door. A woman stands there. She is going from house to house, and she's asking for money. I'm not sure how it happens, but before I know it, she's sitting at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee, unburdening her heart. I listen to her tales of abusive husband, troubled kids and poverty, and my heart breaks. There isn't much I can do to help her. But when she leaves, her steps seem lighter. And my heart is heavier.

I am waiting on line at the pharmacy today. A woman behind me comments on the price of cigarettes.

"I quit in 1973," she says. "Cigarettes were 65 cents a pack back then."

I make some polite sounds.

"I quit cold turkey," she continues. "It was hard. I cried a lot."

And then she starts to talk. She talks about some of her troubles...some of the things she's been through. The pain...the misery...the sorrow...the heartache.

I listen, and then I leave the store. And I take some of her pain with me.

So much pain. So much suffering. It's everywhere. It almost seems as though no one is immune.

And every time I listen to it, some of it remains with me.

I know there is a reason for it. I know there is a purpose. I know as well as anyone else how pain makes us grow...how it strengthens us...how it makes us better people. I know all that.

But I can't take it anymore.

It's enough already.

No more. Please.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


I am in the hospital awaiting the birth of my firstborn. The pain is intense. No one prepared me for this. I knew there would be pain, but I didn't really know. How could I know? How could I even imagine this agony?

My baby is not yet ready to be born. I am told to walk around for about an hour. I walk a few feet, stopping every few minutes as a spasm of pain rips through my body, and I collapse into the nearest chair. An hour… I can't bear an hour of this.

"I want to go home." The words come out in a choked sob.

My husband looks concerned.

"Home?" He seems confused. "Do you want to have the baby at home?"

"No." My voice is hoarse. I have no strength to explain. "I changed my mind. I just wanna go home. I changed my mind about this. Just take me home, please."

We stay. It's a boy. A beautiful, healthy boy. We name him after my grandfather – the first great grandson named after him.

Recently, my husband and I are honored with kvatter. The baby is my nephew. I hold him close, and look into his eyes. He looks back at me, his gaze calm and steady. He is beautiful. I give him a quick kiss and hand him to my husband.

His name is announced. He is named after my grandfather, another great grandchild joining the many who now bear his name.

A relative of mine passed away last week. He was a good person. And too young to die. I listen to his wife and daughters talk about him. There is so much to say…so many stories…so much good…so many lives he's touched. I blink away my tears. I have so many questions. He was so young.

I look at his daughters, and I know that they will name children after him, and their children will name children after him. They will be proud and honored to carry his name. His memory will endure.

I did two taharas one night this week. The first one is difficult and we are shorthanded. It takes longer than usual. When we are done, I am tired. But I feel good. We prepare for the second. I ask for the Jewish name. No one knows it. There is no family to ask.

I am sad. Sad for this woman who lived 98 years, but died alone. Sad that she left no one…no one to sit shivah for her, no one to remember her, no one to eternalize her memory, no one to carry her name.

And suddenly, it is very important to me that I make my mark on this world, somehow…that I touch lives…that I make my children proud to perpetuate my name. That I am remembered.

I have a lot of work ahead of me, and I have no idea how much time I have to achieve that goal.

But I am ready to start.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Supply and Demand

"Leah's parents are getting really desperate," my daughter tells me.

Desperate? Leah is my daughter's age - definitely not old enough to be "desperate".

"Why?" I ask.

"Because everyone is saying no to them."

Leah is a great girl, I know. Her father is a rebbe in a small yeshiva, so they don't have a lot of money. But he works hard, taking on extra tutoring jobs at night, and they are willing to support their daughter. And that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Apparently not.

"Her grandparents are divorced."

Grandparents?? How does that affect who she is...what kind of wife or mother she'll be? No one would turn her down for that.

But they would. And they do.

Binah Magazine published a supplement several weeks ago, titled Seamstress of Souls, Legacy of Bais Yaakov. It was a tribute to Sarah Schenirer. In it, there is an interview with Rebbetzin Kirzner, daughter of Rebbetzin Vichna Kaplan, and principal of Bais Yaakov High School in Brooklyn.

The interviewer asks about the accomplishments of Bais Yaakov in America. She answers proudly. She talks about the feedback she gets from Bais Yaakov graduates years later....about how they credit Bais Yaakov for the direction they took when building their families.

And then she says:

"Nowadays, shadchanim blame Bais Yaakov for making it difficult for a boy who is working to find a shidduch! An increasing number of graduates move to Lakewood or Eretz Yisroel and opt for a long-term kollel life."

She seems incredulous. Someone actually blames Bais Yaakov for this tremendous accomplishment!

It's beautiful, really. Sarah Schenirer's vision has become a reality...Bais Yaakov students all over keeping the mesorah alive.

But I am going to join those shadchanim. And I'm going to take it a step further.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Bais Yaakov girls graduate every year and enter the world of shidduchim. Learning boys are very much in demand. And in a competitive market, prices are determined by supply and demand.

And the price is high.

If your father doesn't earn a lot of money...if you use plastic dishes...if your grandparents are divorced, you don't stand a chance.

But unlike the law of supply and demand, where the higher the price of a good, the less people will demand that good, learning boys remain as much in demand as ever.

And the price keeps rising.

I am becoming increasingly frustrated with this system. I'm so tired of it.

But I'm going to keep going along with it...giving in to it.

Because I raised a Bais Yaakov girl.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On My Blogiversary

I'm pleased to report that my blog is one year old today!

Taking the time to share my thoughts and feelings taught me a lot about myself and about blogging. I'd like to reflect on some of the things I've learned this year.

I learned to write when I feel inspired and not to wonder about whether or not people will like it. Sometimes I'll pour my heart into a post, and it falls flat. And then I'll write an ordinary post, and it explodes. It amazes me which posts take off and which ones don't.

I learned that the only foolproof way to keep from being discovered is to never blog at all. So, since I was unmasked, I blog under the assumption that I'll be discovered one day.

I learned that people connect with people, not just with words. I prefer to be anonymous, but when I write, I do allow the real me to come through. Sometimes more than I'm completely comfortable with…but all real.

I learned that writing can ease emotional pain. The world doesn't stop for my grief. But I like the idea that I can have a little corner to myself where I can write what is in my heart.

I learned that bloggers are a community. We are here for each other. I know that there are some people I can always count on to let me know that someone out there is reading and appreciating my blog. It's what motivates me to continue sharing my joys, my worries and my hopes.

I value every person who takes time out of their day to stop by my blog. And I am grateful to those of you who take the extra moment to leave a comment. It is because of you that I'm still here.