Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Tammuz 5760 - July 12, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Home? Or the Central Bus Station?
adapted from a piece by M. Chevroni

"Ima, Shifra'la wants an omlette with salami."

"An omlette with salami? Now? What's got into her head?"

"She says her mother allows her to eat whatever she likes."


"Ima, you're supposed to take Yanky home at seven thirty."


"Yes. His father said. He's not allowed to stay here past that time."


Ima stood, hands folded, looking at the house that had been so clean and polished just two hours before, and tried to remember if this was really Thursday, the day she cleaned the entire house for Shabbos, or still Wednesday.

To judge by appearances, at the large windows with their sticky childprints, the doors, floors, it sure didn't look like it. She bent down to pick up another empty `igloo' casing, gingerly, like a cast off snake skin. "Is this number thirty-two or thirty-three?" At first, she, like other mothers, had thought these do-it-yourself icicles a boon. You bought them so cheap, froze them yourself, and had a cool treat ready for hot children to keep them occupied for a while. But at this rate...

Her house had turned into a central bus station. She was new in the neighborhood and when she had arrived, had thought primarily of one thing: that her children acclimatize quickly and become part of the scene, accepted into its mini-society. That they had plenty of friends and felt at home. She had nightmares of their being rejected and feeling out of place.

Sure enough, they were quickly embraced by the entire neighborhood and even beyond it. Mothers opened their doors wide... and sent their children off with a huge sigh of relief to this new welcoming home, this new haven. Not before they carefully ascertained, to be sure, that everything there was `kosher' in the broad sense, that the games and books were in order, that there was no treife black-box, G-d forbid, that the husband was safely in kollel and the mother a teacher [O.K., this is exaggerating it, a bit] and that the children completely fit the mold, that is, they were unzerer-anash, our type of folk. And they had passed muster.

From the moment they received the general stamp of approval, the mother, Naomi, felt that her name was the last thing she could really call her own. Everything else in her home became public property, a central bus station.

"I go into one room and there is my son sitting with his friend who came home with him straight from cheider. They're playing chess. Clever kids, good boys, really. In another room, a huddle of girls are whispering some very profound secrets. They look familiar from someplace. Oh, I see. Two of them happen to be mine... In the kitchen is a curly-headed little boy seriously concentrating on pouring some sticky syrup into a crumpled plastic cup, and then opening the fridge to see if there's anything interesting in it. Do I know him? Don't think so..." Naomi taps him on the shoulder and he pokes his head out disappointedly. "You don't have ANYthing here!" Naomi apologizes that the grocery delivery is on its way but he fixes her with a critical stare and leaves the kitchen, head aloft. In the bathroom, the last retreat, the hot water is gushing, gushing, in someone's attempt to drown a plastic fish once and for-all.


I am not sure if all the mothers who send their children off to Naomi have thought of the proper rules of behavior which are required in societies so homogeneous and almost kibbutz- close as ours, in our chareidi enclaves. Superfluous to review the wonderful advantages of such communities. The wonderful feeling of living among people who appreciate Shabbos, among neighbors to whom you can send a child to borrow "a package of margarine" and know that what you get will have a proper hechsher. Only one who has lived in a mixed neighborhood can fully appreciate this aspect of live- alike.

Agreed, then, that it is wonderful to live as we do. What, then? The problem, as described in exaggeration previously, exists. What to do? Someone should come along and draw up a family "Bill of Rights". And here are some of the points it should feature:

* Visiting privileges: Not at all times. There should be hours when children are required to stay at home, with their own families. Similarly, a mother should feel free to post a note on her door: no visiting until after four etc.

* An absolute veto on notes such as: "Send ploni home at exactly six... and make sure someone crosses him over." And the like. What if you're not free to leave the house and escort your VIP guest across the street? Should this be the hostess' responsibility?

* A child's self invitation to eat or sleep over should not be something taken for granted. This is not the way to do things.

* A general rule for how long it is acceptible for children to remain at a friend's house. Nothing nailed down to the minute, but each parent should have a general concept of how long a friend is welcome - even if it's your child spending time elsewhere... Not to suddenly remember, hours later, "Where did Shmulik go? He's still there? I haven't seen him all afternoon!"

* Entertaining children should be reciprocal to a certain degree, even if some homes are more hospitable and congenial than others. Why shouldn't the friends of Naomi's children invite THEM to their homes, once in a while? Subject to the same rules, of course.

The above thoughts can be succinctly summed up as follows: while there are certainly some energetic, efficient and hospitable people who are prepared to host others warmly and freqently, it should not be forgotten that even for them, it is not always easy! They, too, are on their feet from morning to evening, busy cleaning after others. And no one, in the long run, likes to be taken advantage of. Everyone has their limits. Which shouldn't be reached.

This is my opinion, at least. You are welcome to disagree - or agree. Comments cheerfully accepted.


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