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.