Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

26 Iyar 5762 - May 8, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
by Shifra Bergman

Part II

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 come.

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 to do.

"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 asked skeptically.

"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 consultants...

"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 was Sharon.

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 life.

Ten more minutes passed, then the disco music came back on. The driver gave a contented sigh and started up the motor again.

"She's some lady, ain't she?" he exclaimed and flashed a smile. "Ev'ry time she come on, Ah just pull over an' listen."

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?)


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