Synopsis: Gavriella, a young adolescent, has difficulty in
adjusting to the varied demands of growing up, accepting a
new lifestyle as a baalas teshuva and being the victim
of a broken home.
We find her anticipating the monthly visit with her father as
she sits with her tutor, a girl one grade higher.
"Little good it does me understanding Rashi when I don't know
right from wrong," said Gavriella, tightening her grip around
"Gavriella, why now?" Ruth's eyes filled with concern. "Why
now in the middle of asking who Noach's father was?"
"Tomorrow, my father is coming for his monthly visit.
He'll be here at noon. When I go out with him, I never know
if what I'm doing or am about to do is the right thing."
Gavriella rested her head on her knees, as she looked out the
window. "You can't believe how hard it is for me."
At the kosher restaurant the next day, after playing minature
golf, Gavriella and her father sat with their lasagna in
front of them, relaxing.
"I heard a cute joke, Gavy..."
At the end of the joke, Gavriella burst out laughing. It was
really a good one! Some people in the restaurant turned to
stare at her. She forced herself to stop laughing but small
titters kept slipping out. It was so difficult!
"It's good to hear you laugh, Gavy. You've been so quiet
Gavriella shrugged. She found it very irritating whenever her
father called her by the name he had used when she was a
little kid. But she loved him. She really did. Yet the
running in the field business and eating `the right way' just
kept churning within her. Should she say something to him?
Would he understand?
"What does it mean to be a lady?" she asked cautiously.
Her father looked at her for a while. "What do you think it
"Whatever it is, it's hard."
"Well, in my eyes, you're a wonderful young lady! You've
grown so much, it's hard for me to believe that you're only
fourteen years old!"
Gavriella blushed as she fiddled with the flowered blue and
green napkin in front of her on the table.
Her father leaned halfway over the table top. "Are you having
problems in your new school, or something?"
Gavriella felt her cheeks begin to burn. She probably
shouldn't have said anything. If only she could freeze each
questionable moment, run and ask Ruth what she was supposed
to do, and then come back and unfreeze time. She would always
do the right thing then!
"If this religious stuff is too hard for you, you can come
and live with me," her father said. "You know that."
Gavriella looked down. "I know, Dad, and I appreciate it, but
even though being religious is hard for me, still,"
she looked up into his eyes, "in my heart I know that this is
the right way."
"Fine, Gavy. Whatever you want." He signalled for the waiter
to bring the bill. "As long as I don't have to do any of that
She shouldn't have said anything to him. He couldn't
After Gavriella said goodbye to her father, she came into the
house, plopped down cross-legged on the carpet, and picked up
a magazine from the coffee table. Her mother walked in.
"Gavriella, how can you sit like that?"
She looked up quizzically. "My knees are covered!"
"You must learn to be ladylike!"
Gavriella looked down. It was so unclear to her what a lady
was! But one thing was clear -- she'd never be one!
The Kitzur Shulchon Oruch was opened on the desk this
time but Ruth and Gavriella were too busy trying to figure
out life at the moment to work on figuring out
"Last year I went biking for hours with my friends. Last year
I jogged every single morning." Gavriella put her head in her
hands. "I feel like I'm in a cage."
Ruth spoke softly. "You're certainly not in a cage,
Gavriella! This way of life, our way of life, is more
refined, that's all. We're careful what we say; we're careful
what we eat and what we wear. We're careful in everything we
do. Yet we have fun, too! Think of all the melave
malkas we've had, singing half the night. Not to mention
last Rosh Chodesh when we all went ice skating during the
Gavriella nodded. "That was fun."
"Yes, it was!" Ruth said. "So we don't do exciting things
every night, but we do do things -- in a kosher
"Mrs. Gershon," Morah Devora began, "I want you to know that
your daughter is doing quite well academically. But she has
some self-esteem problems."
Mrs. Gershon, a medium-sized woman wearing a pick snood with
a matching grey and pink sweater, sat straight. "I don't have
enough patience for that girl, as much as I love her. I'm so
tired at the end of the day. But regardless, she ought to
realize things on her own."
"Mrs. Gershon," Mora Devora said, leaning forward, "she's
young. She's changing in so many ways -- physically and
spiritually. Let her feel that you're there for her. Let her
know that you're there for her."
"I just feel so depleted," Mrs. Gershon said.
"Does Gavriella help with the housework and the cooking?"
Mrs. Gershon winced. "She's young. Plus she has so much
homework and so many tests. I do everything myself. It's only
the two of us, anyway."
"Gavriella is certainly old enough to clean up the house! You
ought to be coming home from work to a neat home and a meal,
not coming home to MAKE them."
"I don't feel she's competent enough, really."
"Aren't you giving her a double message, then, Mrs. Gershon?
You say she ought to realize things on her own, even without
your guidance, yet she's too young to cut up a few cucumbers
Mrs. Gershon fidgeted in her chair.
"What about your neighbors? Have they been helpful?"
Mrs. Gershon looked out the window, her voice strained.
"They've invited us for Shabbos meals several times but I
haven't gone. I mostly sleep on Shabbos. Gavriella has gone
to Ruth's home a lot, though. I was never tired like this
when I worked before I got married. There have been a lot of
transitions. I suppose that makes a difference, and I'm not
as young as I used to be." She shook her head. "I feel bad
for Gavriella. I'm just not the mother I used to be. I rely
on the school and her friends to be her mother, her father,
her family. I just don't have any patience any more."
Mora Devora looked around the small room, wondering how she
could help this woman -- this tiny family. "Maybe Mrs.
Gershon needs counseling?" she thought.
She looked straight at Mrs. Gershon who was, herself, lost in
thought. Under Mrs. Gershon's hazel eyes were dark half-
circles, the look of utter exhaustion was tight in her
cheeks. More Devora thought, "Maybe Mrs. Gershon doesn't need
a counselor. Maybe she needs a good night's sleep and some
pampering." Out loud, she asked, "Have you been to a
Mrs. Gershon looked startled. "What for?"
"Perhaps you're lacking vitamins or certain nutrients. You
should really be checked."
Mrs. Gershon hesitated.
Mora Devora leaned over further, picking up the phone. "I'll
go with you. You're not alone. You're part of a community,
now. Let's make an appointment together."
"What are you doing?" Ruth sat down on the edge of the bed
and looked into Gavriella's expressive, deep brown eyes.
"Grappling," Gavriella looked back with a lopsided smile.
Ruth waited. She'd already learned that Gavriella would
speak. Needed to speak. But only when she was ready.
Finally, Gavriella said, "Why can't I know?" Tears sprang to
her eyes. "It's the not knowing that upsets me so much. If I
didn't realize that running in the field is `wrong' and
eating while standing, and laughing out loud..." Gavriella
felt her throat closing. "If I don't know within myself, then
I'll just keep making mistakes because I don't know.
Life is just made up of making mistakes and grappling. That's
all." She cupped her chin in her hands and looked out the
window. Winter winds were beginning to blow. The leaves on
the trees outside danced wildly, with their red and orange
tints shining in the daylight.
"It comes with time," Ruth said soothingly. "You've made so
many adjustments so far. No one can do everything in one
"I try so hard and I'm always, always, ALWAYS wrong!" The
frustration finally overflowed from Gavriella's eyes in
large, hot tears.
"No, you're not!" Ruth said emphatically. "You're moving
forward. You're learning. You're not `wrong.' You just need
time and everything will fall into place. You'll see."
"Surprised, aren't you?" Mora Devora said.
Mrs. Gershon was looking down at her test results where the
words "Severe iron deficiency" were written across the
"Boruch Hashem, it's an easy thing to correct, Mrs.
"Yes, I suppose you're right. I really am surprised,
"I have another surprise for you."
Mrs. Gershon looked up.
Mora Devora continued, "My cousin needs a receptionist for
the office she runs, which is quite close to your area. I
highly recommended you. You can go for an interview whenever
you like this coming week." Mora Devora wrote the address on
a piece of paper, handed it to Mrs. Gershon, and smiled. "It
would be a lot easier for you having a job closer to home.
"There were notices up this afternoon announcing the opening
of a dancing class in the school," Ruth said, tightly
braiding Gavriella's hair and watching in the mirror for the
Gavriella looked back blankly. "So?"
"I've enrolled both of us. It starts Wednesday at 7 p.m."
But that shrug became a completely different movement at the
dance class! With the music pounding through the air and all
the girls trying to keep pace with the teacher, it was
Gavriella who caught on the fastest, Gavriella who danced
with ease and grace.
"And Mom," she said excitedly after the class, at home, "the
teacher singled me out three times in order to show the other
girls certain dance steps!"
"It really sounds fun, Gavriella," Mrs. Gershon smiled
"It was more than just fun. It was great!"
Her mother bent over the cutting board as she chopped some
carrots. A lot of harshness had gone out of her mother's
voice lately, ever since she started working at the nearby
office. And since she'd begun taking iron supplements, Mrs.
Gershon had a lot more energy.
Then Gavriella noticed: her mother's face was relaxed in a
way that she couldn't remember for a long time. She looked at
her mother closely, thinking, "It sure has been hard on Mom,
what with the divorce and then the two of us becoming
religious, her having to get a full-time job. She probably
also has had a hard time with all of these new things to
learn. I really ought to help more. It's time I stopped being
so wrapped up in myself."
Gavriella reached over to take a peeler and a zucchini. Her
mother looked up and their eyes met. It felt to Gavriella
that at that moment, their hearts met as well.
Gavriella didn't know if she would ever be a `lady,' but she
knew that she was no longer a little girl, either. Things
were changing and sometimes, maybe even always, changes were
for the good.