Synopsis: The author is trying to head off a
negative relationship of her married daughter by
sharing an analogy from her own life. Sharon was a
neighbor over twenty years back, in small town America,
whom she misguidedly adulated and emulated, but whose
jaded ideas had begun to change her healthy attitudes
to life, family, duties. This relationship is nipped
off by Providence, but the rude awakening is yet to
When I was on good terms with my husband, I
reminisced silently, not wanting to put any strange
ideas into my daughter's head, I almost felt like I
was betraying Sharon. What a bizarre way to think! I
figured that by listening to her complain, I'd be
grateful that my family wasn't as difficult as hers,
but it didn't work out that way. It's kind of like
playing with quicksand -- you get dragged down.
"I felt Sharon needed me," I told my daughter
Rena. "She'd tell me how she'd never manage without me.
I was doing a chessed, alright, when I helped her
with the housework or did her dishes, but it was at the
expense of my family. I was always there for her, even
if she called when I was in the middle of a bedtime
story or was serving dinner! On the infrequent
occasions when something came up that I felt I had to
talk with her about, either she wasn't home or it was
impossible to get through because her teenagers were
monopolizing the phone. I learned to wait patiently
until she'd call or drop by."
"I sort of had something like that with Irit a few
times," Rena murmured. "But if you realized what was
happening with Sharon, why did you stick with her?"
I sighed. "Back then, I wasn't so smart." Rena laughed,
and we started turning back towards home. "First of
all, we were friends. We got along so well together.
She was one of the few frum women whose house we
could eat in. And don't forget, there was no
eiruv. Unless she came over to visit, I could be
stuck inside all Shabbos without seeing a soul. I guess
I was also afraid that if I wouldn't help her out,
Hashem would give me her kind of troubles so I'd see
what it was like, myself, instead of vicariously,
through her. I also reasoned that this way, I'd get a
preview of what teenagers were like and learn what not
"Anyway, Boruch Hashem, we made aliya and you children
grew up in a totally different environment than hers. I
never had to worry about you being sloppy teenagers --
you were a bunch of immaculate Israelis and I was the
lax one, the casual American!"
Rena laughed again, then grew thoughtful. "So what does
that mean? That we shouldn't do chessed?" she
"Rena, come on. You remember how we'd send over meals
to sick neighbors and visit elderly women regularly,
right?" She nodded. "What you probably didn't
notice was that although I might send a cake or meal
over to a negative person, one who grumbled too much or
spoke against others, I tried not to visit. I couldn't
risk being dragged down, again. You know who could have
handled Irit? Your older sister Faigy. She'd have
organized Irit's home and life without taking Irit's
problems into her own house. But you and I aren't like
that and can't do that. Sure, we can help out friends
who are temporarily going through a stage of the blues,
but someone who always complains and can't cope
should be going to a Rov or a professional. There are
psychologists, marriage counselors or even homemaking
"Nowadays, it's a lot more acceptable, and when someone
takes the time to arrange an appointment to meet with a
Rov or pays money to see a professional, she's more
committed to work on her problems instead of just
grumbling about them."
"What happened in the end with you and Sharon? How did
you cool off or break off?" Rena asked with interest.
"After we'd been friends for around three years, her in-
laws offered to help them move back to the big city.
Sharon jumped at the chance to get out of `the sticks,'
but I was devastated. Now it sounds so silly, but the
for first two weeks after she left, I tried not to set
foot outside at all, just in case she'd call.
"She never did call, though... I missed her so much,
and all day long I alternated between remembering the
conversations and experiences we'd shared and wondering
how I'd manage without her and how, or if, she was
managing without me..."
My thoughts went back three decades to a few months
after Sharon had moved. I was in a cab taking the
children to a doctor's appointment. Ever since Sharon
had left, with her car, I hardly went on errands
outside the neighborhood unless I really had to and
could afford the carfare.
The driver sported the largest Afro hairdo I'd ever
seen and a large gold hoop earring, and at every stop
for a red light, he'd take another gulp of beer. A
scary character. Forget about getting to the doctor's
appointment early, late or on time -- so long as I'd
get there at all! The disco music on the radio faded
away and then I heard a familiar voice. It was full of
drama, full of life, full of energy and excitement. It
Even at the time, I was too numb to register if I was
hearing a talk show, a radio script, advertising or the
news. All I knew was that it was Sharon. Suddenly I
noticed the cab wasn't moving. The driver had pulled
over to the side of the road in front of a lot.
"You ain't in no rush, lady, yeah?"
"Uh-h-h," I stammered.
He made a hushing sound and turned his attention back
to the radio. We listened as Sharon's voice rose and
fell like stormy ocean waves. I was still in shock and
didn't register the words, but I could hear that she
was happy. I'd gotten to know her well enough that in
just hearing the cadences of her voice I got the
message that she was managing fine and enjoying her new
Ten more minutes passed, then the disco music came back
on. The driver gave a contented sigh and started up the
"She's some lady, ain't she?" he exclaimed and flashed
a smile. "Ev'ry time she come on, Ah just pull over an'
I nodded. "She was my friend."
His eyes jerked to the rear mirror. "Yeah? Wha' she
look like? Lemme guess -- big dark eyes, yeah?" I
nodded. "An' Ah bet she got lots of long black hair."
"That's right. But it's a wig."
"A WIG? Wha' she got a wig fo'?"
"Because she's a religious Jew."
He stared incredulously at me in the mirror for a
moment, then chuckled. "Naaa... Religiss Jews dey
don't talk like dat." I shrugged.
A few minutes later we were at the doctor's office.
"Fo' dollar," the driver announced.
"I think I owe you more," I said hesitantly. "It's
usually around eight."
He chuckled again. "Now dat's de way religiss
Jews talk. Dey don't cheat ya. Ah charges ya half-price
'cuz Ah made ya wait so's Ah could hear de radio."
I paid, and helped the children out of the car. As we
waited our turn in the office, I thought about Sharon
entertaining beer-guzzling scuzzy cab drivers and how
"religious Jews don't talk like that." I had to admit
that I felt not a little bitter that after being
friends with her for three years, I obviously hadn't
rubbed off on her at all. I could just picture her
being the only frum woman in the whole radio
station. Part of her salary probably went for a
housekeeper, since she considered cleaning her own home
`beneath' her. Any influence had been one-way. I felt
that I had sacrificed my family for her and it was all
for nothing. Worse than that, we had all lost out. I
was furious. But not at Sharon -- at myself. For not
getting my priorities straight.
After that `ear opener,' I stopped moping about Sharon
and tried to snap back to the way I had been three
years before. "It wasn't so easy to be the wholesome,
idealistic kollel wife I had been at first," I said to
Rena, "but to my surprise, resuming Tehillim and having
kavona in davening came the quickest.
Getting satisfaction out of housework again was next,
although for years I'd still occasionally hear in my
mind some of Sharon's juicy derisive lines. She had
kind of given up on her own children and would often
say, `It just doesn't pay to do anything for kids.' I
found that it took time and effort to get her attitudes
out of my system and to be able to savor my babies,
revel with the toddlers, and marvel with you children."
We were almost home, so I turned the topic of
conversation to Rena's life and got the update on how
everything was going on, and was reassured to hear that
aside from the job hunt not turning up anything
suitable, all was well.
On motzoei Shabbos, right before Rena and Yaakov
Dovid left, I gave Rena a hug and whispered in her ear,
"Seek out inspiring people. Surround yourself with
shteiging, striving friends."
(If this story helps anyone, I'll share the merit with
you, Sharon. Isn't that what friends are for?)