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Monday, October 10, 2016
It’s impossible to convey what it’s like to marry off a grandchild, especially my first grandchild. However, now that I am an experienced bubby of the bride — after all, we recently celebrated our first grandchild’s chasunah – I’d like to share with you some important points to remember as you celebrate this important milestone.
First of all, forget the mascara. I repeat, no mascara. Actually, come to think about it, it’s probably best not to wear any eye makeup at all. Yes, I know that you want to look stunning, and yes, makeup is important, especially when since most probably the photos will be treasured for generations to come, but still, at the very least, no mascara. Please.
That’s because if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably spend most of the wedding crying buckets. Every time you look at your baby suddenly so grown up and mature (would you believe it? That little chevrah-man is actually walking his daughter, MY precious einekel, to the chuppah) and your granddaughter, a radiant kallah, so grownup and mature, your eyes will inexplicably begin to water. And we all know what that does to the eye makeup. So if you don’t want your face to take on that striking zebra look, or even worse, become like me — whenever I cry my nose turns red, so between the black stripes running down my face and my bulbous red nose, I’d end up duplicating Bozo the clown. I doubt that you want future generations to remember you like that.
Second, remember that you’re the bubby, not the mommy. You are not the one making the chasunah, rather, you are a very important guest at your children’s simchah. So sit back and enjoy it! Yes, you can, and (knowing the type of woman who reads the Binah) you most probably will help your children with the financial aspects, but it’s their responsibility, and not yours. It’s also not your responsibility to take care of all the guests and make sure that everything is running smoothly. Rather, it’s your children’s responsibility to do everything in their power to make sure that that the bubby and zaidy, as very honored guest, are enjoying every moment of their nachas, so enjoy it! Which is exactly what I did. Being together with so many of my children, and dancing together in a huge circle with my daughters, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren, can only be described as a taste of Gan Eden.
Third (and yes, I know this is something we all know, but it’s good to hear it again), don’t forget to thank Hashem for bringing you to this very special day. It’s really a zechus! How many times have we tearfully davened that we be zocheh to see bonim, uv’nei bonim, oskim b’Torah umitzvos? And now, that tefillah is being fulfilled! The chain that began so many years ago, as we stood together with our husbands under the chuppah, has now grown to three links, a chazakah! We have lived to see a dream fulfilled, to watch our children, and our children, continue in the way of the Torah. It’s a matnas chinam, a present from Above.
Fourth, don’t plan anything for the day after, and if at all possible, the day after the day after, and even better, the day after the day after the day after. If you’re chassidish and have a mitzvah tantz, expect to arrive home in the early hours of the morning. And although you’ll be beyond exhausted, chances are that you won’t go to sleep. Rather, you’ll relive every precious moment, laughing and crying at the beautiful memories of that wonderful evening. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably continue reliving the wedding for the next few days. And in the middle of all this, just when life is starting to get back to normal, there’s the big family sheva brachos. Another all-nighter, and the cycle begins anew. But look at the bright side. If you’re reading this article (and not among the under forties taking a sneak preview), chances are that it’s been years since you and your spouse had an animated (and pleasant) discussion at three a.m. Isn’t it great to feel like a newlywed?
When my children were young, I would find myself longing for September first. Yes, I’m a good mother, at least most of the time, and I truly love my children, but there is a limit to how much quality family time I can stand. I need structure, I need privacy, and I need time to just be, which is why I would find myself doing a little jig as the children boarded the school bus for their first day of school – and then running home to nurse a cup of piping hot coffee while savoring the sweet sounds of the refrigerator humming and the dryer working, all noises that, during summer vacation, was drowned out by my boisterous offspring being children.
It’s davka because I need structure and time for myself to be able to do anything (other than kvetch) that I am in awe of those unique, and, for the most part, very accomplished women, who choose to homeschool their
Yael Aldrich is one of who these unique and accomplished women. Mother of four, ranging from age 15 to six, she gave up an excellent career managing and fundraising for Jewish organizations to be able provide her children with a tailor-made education, where, “I can impart our family hashkafah to our children, and assure that they are receiving the type of education that I hoped they would get, one that would have a positive effect on them for the rest of their lives.”
The Aldrich children certainly do receive a high-level, well-rounded education. Their teachers are highly qualified: Yael has a double masters from Brandeis University in Jewish communal service and non-profit management. Rabbi Dr. Daniel Aldrich has two masters degrees and a PhD from Harvard. Rabbi Aldrich’s position as Director of the Security and Resilience graduate program at Northeastern University in Boston as well as his frequent travel all over the world leaves him just a few hours a week to work together with Yael to teach the children.
Their general studies curriculum includes higher mathematics; chemistry; three foreign languages: classical Latin and Japanese; logic; geography; classical literature —a high-level curriculum. Limudei kodesh includes all the traditional subjects. The older boys receive private Gemara lessons with a tutor. The program is a success. “When our oldest graduated homeschool at the end of eighth grade to attend a yeshivah high school,” says Yael, “he was above grade level in both limudei kodesh and limudei chol.”
Yael runs a tight ship. “We’re pretty structured. School starts at around nine a.m., after davening — the boys, in shul, the girls, at home — and breakfast and household chores. Every day I create a schedule of what I plan to accomplish with each child, both in limudei chol and in limudei kodesh. Then, while I work individually with one child, the other two children work on their own. Sometimes Daniel is able to work from home and can then help out with the teaching, but mostly he teaches the children in the mornings before work or after work is over for the day. In addition, we supplement our homeschool program with online classes in such subjects as literature and logic. These classes cost money, so we do our research and are careful to choose the best. But it still comes out a lot less than paying tuition!”
Although Yael’s homeschooling style follows a traditional structured curriculum, the lack of external structures leave her with more opportunity for extracurricular activities, and spontaneity, than in a regular school. So, for example, when the opportunity for a family trip to Israel opened up during the traditional school year, the Aldriches were able to take a break and go. And whereas traditional schools have off for “snow days,” the Aldriches take off for “sun days” to enjoy a spontaneous family outing (after all, when the school is in the home, there’s no problem with staying home for the snow). Yael also believes in making learning fun. The family celebrates lots of siyumim; upon completing a sefer, a parashah, a or whatever. “Of course we serve ice cream. Sometimes we invite the kids’ friends, and other times it’s just us. The main thing is that the kids enjoy themselves while celebrating an accomplishment.”
Yael began homeschooling her children when the family was living in Japan, where her husband was an Abe Fellow studying post-disaster recovery in Japan. Since there was no Jewish day school in Tokyo, they really had no choice but to homeschool. Upon their return to the United States, Rabbi and Mrs. Aldrich realized that they were on to a good thing. “We liked homeschooling our kids, and didn’t need to put them back into a regular school.” They asked their Rav for his advice. He was very positive and told them that they were well prepared, and understand both the advantages and challenges involved.
The Aldriches keep to a traditional school schedule: school starts in September and runs until June, with a two-and-a-half month summer break. “During the summer, my kids go to camp. They have lots of friends in the community, so they have vacation when their friends have vacation, and when my husband has vacation.” But classes do not resume on September 1. Instead, the Aldriches get together with other homeschooling families for a traditional Not Back to School Picnic. “Since everyone’s back at school and the parks are finally empty, it’s become a sort of tradition among the homeschooling community to celebrate the beginning of the official school year by getting together with other families for a day of fun. Last year the picnic was held at a beautiful lake in a State Park. The weather was perfect, and we basically had the whole place to ourselves. There were lots of great activities, and while the parents schmoozed, the kids had a great time wading in the water. It’s a great way to share ideas and provide mutual support.”
Homeschooling also has its challenges. “We spend more time with our children much more than people do, which means that we need a tremendous amount of patience.” Rabbi and Mrs. Aldrich are their children’s only mechanchim. “That means we are solely responsible for our children’s development, and that can be scary at times.”
So how does Yael manage? “I ask a lot of shailos to my Rabbanim, for general guidance, what to teach, how to teach, and how to balance my full-time job as a mother and teacher with taking care of my personal needs. It’s crucial that I don’t overdo it, that I take care not to become a shmatta. So I am particular to carve out time for myself, including going to shiurim, exercise classes and spending time with other adults. After all, with the kids home all day, I’m basically mothering on full burner, so I have to be even more aware of the need to take care of my intellectual, emotional and physical needs. I would say that the first thing that anyone considering homeschooling their children needs to realize is the importance of taking care of oneself.”
Yael runs a group for frum families who are homeschooling their children. “We are about 500 families from all over the world. We discuss curriculum, social issues and hashkafah. In addition, we have webinars, and, for the last seven years, the Torah Home Education conference where the parents attend lectures and network, while the children participate in group activities while meeting other homeschooled children over a long weekend. It’s the one time of the year when we actually get to meet in person, and it provides us with mutual support.”
Homeschooling is a rapidly growing alternative to conventional education. According to the United States Department of Education, in 2012 there were about 1.7 million students being home schooled in the United States, representing about 3.4 percent of the school-aged population. This growth is mirrored in the Orthodox community. In communities such as Baltimore, Miami, LA, and Chicago there are frum Jewish homeschooling communities ranging from a dozen to almost 100 families who have made the choice to keep their children out of the traditional schools and teach them themselves. Although the high cost of tuition certainly plays a part in this trend, according to Yael, homeschooling tends to attract parents who are thoughtful, willing to think out of box and dedicated enough to devote hours of their time to their children’s education.
“Homeschooling is possible. It’s a viable option that can even be fun,” concludes Yael. “Today, there is a tremendous support network available for frum people educating their children at home, so don’t be afraid to try it. You might just find that you like it!”
Some thirty years ago, someone planning to travel to Uman asked my husband to draw a map of Reb Nachman’s gravesite. He drew a map, complete with street names and landmarks, from memory. At that time, travel to Uman, or to anywhere within the Iron Curtain, was an impossible dream. Had anyone told me then that within a few decades I’d be traveling on a luxurious bus to the villages of Berditchev, Mezhibuzh, Breslov, Uman and Hadiatch, where I’d spend the night in Jewish-owned luxury hotels and be served delicious kosher meals, I would have laughed and assumed that that person had a huge imagination.
But I did, and it was amazing.
Traveling to the kivrei tzaddikim is an inward journey of connection and inspiration that will hopefully lead to permanent spiritual growth. I had two excellent guides: Mrs. Yehudis Golshevsky and Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller.
Tuesday morning, Kiev, eleven a.m.
The airport is grey. There’s a pervading sense of sadness and secrecy, remnants of the Iron Curtain. The Ukrainian officials studiously avoid even the slightest hint of eye contact, their stony gaze lacks emotion, and their mouths are set in a perpetual frown. How amazing that the warm Chassidic movement has its roots in this cold country!
We climb into our bus, reminiscent of an old-fashioned hotel, with flowered carpets, plush seats, and even a microwave and hot water urn, and set out to our first stop, Berditchev.
Leaving Kiev, we pass Babi Yar, where 33,771 Jews were murdered. I quietly recite a few kapitlach Tehillim as a zechus for the kedoshim. Sitting in the bus, surrounded by such a wonderful group of frum Jewish women, I am filled with a sense of gratitude for the eternity of Am Yisrael.
While traveling through the Ukraine, our bus becomes a mobile classroom as Yehudis teaches us about the birth of Chassidus and the Rebbes whose gravesites we’ll be visiting. Entering Berditchev, she suggests that after reciting Tehillim at Reb Levi Yitzchak’s kever, we devote a few minutes to emulating his trait of finding the goodness in every Jew by focusing on judging favorably one person against whom we carry resentment.
Before leaving the ohel, we learn some of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak’s Torah, l’iluy nishmaso.
Our group is diverse: Bais Yaakov graduates, women just learning to read Hebrew, great-grandmothers, young girls, and several mother-daughter couples. Yet, standing in the ohel, reciting Tehillim, our differences disappeared. Many of the women are crying, all are visibly moved.
After supper in the local Chabad House, we set out to Mezhibuzh, to the gravesite of the holy Baal Shem Tov. We arrive after midnight. In contrast to the primitive surroundings, our lodgings are on par with a five-star hotel, and even include disposable slippers at the side of each bed!
This is not my first trip to the Baal Shem Tov’s kever. A few years ago, my husband and I came to daven for one of our children who was in need of a yeshuah. We davened at many different kvarim, but it was in Mezhibuzh that the tears came. Although I normally don’t cry easily, I burst into tears husband later told me, is very common. My roommate had a similar experience and said she “davened like I never davened before.”
Wednesday, I wake up at four a.m. to go the ohel. Even at this hour, the ohel is far from empty. I am overwhelmed with a tremendous sense of gratitude. Following the previous trip, our child had a yeshuah. Just one week ago, I danced at our granddaughter’s wedding, the fulfillment of so many tefillos. And so, once again, I feel the wonder of Mezhibuzh and burst into tears of hakaras hatov for all of Hashem’s chasadim.
Later on, I daven Shacharis outside my room. The heady fragrance of clover, the sounds of roosters crowing and cows mooing, the mountains rising in the distance; the beauty mirrors the sense of spirituality inherent at this holy site.
Over a huge “Israeli breakfast,” Yehudis tells us more about the Baal Shem Tov, and the other rabbonim buried with him in the ohel, and then discusses the idea of davening at kivrei tzaddikim in general.
“Why do we daven at the grave of a tzaddik?” she asks. She explains that davening at a grave reminds us of our mortality. That causes us to have humility, enhancing the quality of our tefillah. This is even more so when we have a personal bond to the person whose grave we are davening at, and there is a strong spiritual bond between a tzaddik and any Jew, for a tzaddik devotes his life to the Jewish people. “However,” Yehudis warns us,
“Remember that you are davening to Hashem, not to the tzaddik. Rather, you are asking the tzaddik to be a meilitz yosher for you.”
Inspired, we return to the ohel to daven. Eventually, however, it is time to leave and return to our “hotel on wheels”; destination, the Baal Shem Tov’s shul in Mezhibuzh, a realistic model of the original shul. After reciting the Sefer Shemos Hatzadikim, a list of the tzaddikim starting with Adam Harishon, compiled by Rebbe Nosson of Breslov, Yehudis slowly starts to sing the Baal Shem Tov’s niggun. As our voices intertwine and become stronger, we feel a sense of oneness, of belonging to a sisterhood of women thirsting for spiritual elevation. The mood is mellow. Some of the women start to dance. As more women join in, the mood turns to joyous. Soon we are all singing and dancing together. Ashreinu, mah tov chalkeinu.
The next stop is the spring and mikveh the Baal Shem Tov used to frequent.
We drive along a bumpy country road, the sides of our bus almost touching the picket fences on either side, while the tree branches scrape our windows. There are cows grazing at the side of the road, wells in front of the houses, and old babushkas with sticks in their hands, prodding their geese along. The thatched roofed houses look as though came straight out of the shtetl.
We arrive at a modern building, housing a mikveh fed by the waters of the Baal Shem Tov’s spring, which many claim to be a segulah for refuah. Although Yehudis points out that the greatest segulah is tefillah, the women line up at the faucets to fill plastic bottles with the clean spring water. Outside, nestled in the lush valley, there is a well built over the spring, with an attached bucket for drawing the water. I manage to bring up one bucket and fill my bottle before several locals arrive, requesting money for the service, and spilling the remaining water on the ground.
Next stop, the grave of Reb Nosson, in Breslov.
Reb Nosson, Rebbe Nachman’s primary disciple, and leader of the chassidus after Rebbe Nachman’s death, was the quintessential chassid, completely devoted to his Rebbe and to spreading his Rebbe’s teachings. He recorded the Rebbe’s lessons, devoted himself to their publication and composed the Likutei Halachos, a monumental work explaining the entire Torah based on the foundations of the Reb Nachman’s teachings.
Reb Nosson’s kever is located in the Jewish cemetery, on top of a steep hill overlooking the Bug River. As we climb the stairs leading to the kever, a group of Ukrainian peasants pass us on their way back to the village of Breslov. Much to my surprise, they reverently enter the ohel to recite a short prayer.
From Breslov, we set off to Uman. We break out in song. Some of the women go up to the mike to tell us what impelled them to make this journey. Some stories make us laugh so hard that we cry, while with others, we silently wipe away our tears.
It is close to midnight by the time our bus pulls up to the Uman Inn, where a delicious meal awaits us. Between the homemade bread and the dessert bar, my attempts to stick to a diet are forgotten. And I had thought this was a ruchniyusdig journey!
The moment the meal’s over, I rush to the tziyun. It is customary upon entering the Rebbe’s tziyun to give money to tzedakah, recite the Tikkun Klali, ten specific chapters of Tehillim, confess ones sins to Hashem and sincerely resolve not to repeat them. Rebbe Nachman promised that, “I will do everything in my power to save him [the one who does this] and cleanse him. I will go to any lengths for this person. I will pull him out of gehinnom by his peyos!”
Thursday morning, over breakfast, Yehudis speaks to us about what it means to made “viduy devarim.” As she prepares us spiritually, the kitchen staff asks if we would like to perform the mitzvah of hafrashas challa. Of course the answer is “Yes.” After a short introduction to the mitzvah, four women are chosen to make the brachos on separate batches of dough.
All of us are anxious to put what we learned that morning into practice. I spend the day reciting Tehillim at the tziyun and resting from the journey. In the afternoon, most of the women join Yehudis on a walk through the city. Afterwards, some women explore the enormous Uman marketplace, where you can find anything from cows to geese to meat to shoes to furniture, while others walked down to the river.
At supper that night, Yehudis delivers a very practical shiur on how to concentrate during davening: it’s impossible to think two thoughts at the same time (Likutei Maharan I 233; II 50). Although the idea is simple, it takes serious work to put it into practice and banish thoughts not pertaining to our prayers. Later in the evening, we enjoy a kumsitz by candlelight, replete with singing, sharing inspirational personal stories, and dancing. What a special end to a very extraordinary day!
Friday morning, Rebbetzin Heller joins our group. Her shiur on tefillah contains a very important message: we don’t always get what we want, but we become WHOM we want. Hashem doesn’t always give us what we ask for, but it is within our power to become the person that we want to become, spiritually.
Friday is spent exploring Sofia Park, davening at the tziyun, and preparing for Shabbos. Before leaving to the park, Yehudis teaches us about Hisbodedus, speaking to Hashem in our own words, and suggests that we use out time at the park to put these concepts into practice.
Shabbos: Shir Hashirim in unison, singing and dancing our way through Kabalas Shabbos, Kiddush, zemiros, shiurim on the parashah, Tehillim at the tziyun. Shabbos was literally “me’ein olam haba.” As the women reveal more of their inner selves, we become a close-knit family. But soon our experience will come to an end. After a joyful melavah malkah, we sing and dance the American contingent off as they leave to the airport. Over the next few hours, more groups leave until finally only a dozen women, including myself, remain. I am exhilarated, yet exhausted. Davening in Uman is hard work!
Sunday morning. Our small group sets out to the kever of the Baal Hatanya in Hadiatch, northeast of Kiev, a seven hour drive from Uman. Traveling through the Ukraine, we pass miles and miles of fields filled with bright yellow sunflowers. Then the terrain grows more rugged with many rivers and lakes against a background of forested mountains. I stare out the bus window, watching the scenery fly by, when my eyes suddenly fill with tears. My grandfather grew up in region. He would blink back the tears as he described the beautiful countryside.
I am sure that when my grandfather left the Ukraine for the “golden medinah” both my great-grandfather, who was the shochet in Nezhin, and my great-grandmother cried bitter tears as they davened that their descendants remain frum Jews. And now, here I am, perhaps driving through the same village where they lived, matriarch of generations of Torah-observant, G-d fearing Jews. My great-grandparents are with me, shepping nachas from my family, and I am overwhelmed with a deep sense of hakaras hatov as I thank them for their tefillos.
The Baal Hatanya’s kever is located at the bottom of a steep hill, surrounded by a forest of majestic, tall trees that seems to come straight out of a picture book. In the background, there is a slow-moving river. The Baal Hatanya’s niggun, the Four Babas, traditionally played at Chabad weddings, echoes through the forest from loudspeakers placed among the trees. After davening at the ohel, we stand thee, speechless, drinking in the beauty, still under the spell of our heartfelt prayers at the kever until it is time to leave for the airport.
As I sit at my computer, reminiscing, the scenery and places have already start to fade from my memory, yet the emotions, and kabalos remain clear and vivid. Traveling to the Kivrei Tzaddikim is a journey of the soul, hopefully one that will continue to leave its impact for years to come.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.
When I was a kid, I used to sing this song and wonder: which type of friends are compared to silver? And which are like gold? And what’s the difference between them? (I’m not kidding. I really was a funny kid.) Although today I still don’t know the answer to this all-important question, I do know that there is something very special about childhood friends. They were there with you when you were becoming you, when you were all potential without any real accomplishments; when you were choosing the dreams that would eventually guide your decisions and form the basis of your life. They know who you really are, the real you, without all your layers of sophistication and accomplishments.
Which brings me back to the day my laptop crashed. I use it to stay in touch with friends (both old and new) via email. I need it to write my articles, and I use it to teach creative writing to women throughout the world. So when the technician informed me that he couldn’t fix it from afar and that I need to bring it to him in the morning so that he could work on it after Kollel, I turned around my entire schedule, placed my computer in its carryon bag and raced to the nearby light rail station.
Before leaving, my husband asked me when I expect to return home. I assured him that I’d be back within the hour.
I boarded the train and confidently placed my electronic pass on the ticket reader. But instead of a soothing bleep, there was a screeching alarm sound, and the light blinked red instead of green.
The card was empty, and since I didn’t want to end up in jail (that’s another story. But yes, believe it or not, because of a mistake involving two shekel eighty agurot — approximately $0.60! — I almost ended up facing the tribunal!), I had no choice but to get off the train at the next stop.
Within ten minutes I was speeding through the streets of Yerushalayim on my way to the technician’s house in Beit Hakerem, assuming that I’d be home in time to make lunch and hang up the load of laundry that was in the wash cycle when I left.
Somewhere on Rechov Yaffo, between City Hall and City Center, I noticed a familiar looking woman seated across the aisle from me. Enormous sunglasses hid most of her face, so it took a few moments until I was positive. The woman looked up, and instantaneously we both jumped up (well, actually, she jumped up. I struggled to my feet) and ran into each other’s arms. It was Corinne, my across the street neighbor when I was growing up.
Corinne and I were best friends. Her parents were both Holocaust survivors. Her mother had spent the war years in Auschwitz; her father, in Siberia. They had come to San Francisco straight from the DP camps and worked hard to create a beautiful Jewish family. They were wonderful, giving people; I have fond memories of Shabbos afternoon, sitting in their kitchen, slowly decimating the apple crumb cake (made from scratch, something unheard of in my parents’ modern American home!), or snuggling under the warm quilts (or as Corinne’s mother called them, perenehs, which even had their own special covers!) Sometimes, they even let me stand behind the counter of their tiny corner grocery store to wait on customers and operate the cash register; I felt so incredibly grown up!
If I had the flu, Corinne’s mother, who knew that both my parents worked and that I was at home alone, would appear at our front door bearing a full hot lunch, replete with a delicious thick soup (homemade, not from a can!), chicken with potatoes and some vegetable, topped off with made-from-scratch compote. She would sit at my bedside, keeping me company while I ate, pretending that she had nothing else to do, although she was probably one of the busiest women I ever met. Before returning to her own family, she’d surreptitiously leave a plate of homemade cake for me in the kitchen, in case I’d get hungry later on. (She was an expert in finding ways to give. The few times that she came to visit me in Yerushalayim, she'd phone a few hours after she left to tell me to take a look inside the vase on the bookshelf, or under the sofa pillow, and when I did, I’d find a nice sum of money hidden away.)
When I’d come to visit (which was several times a day), she’d insist that I “have a taste” of her delicious food, and if I didn’t, she’d run after me, laughing as she literally stuffed a homemade goody into my mouth. I’d try to resist, claiming to be on a diet, but it was impossible. Her food was irresistible!
I loved Corinne, and I loved her parents, and I even loved her siblings, even though one of them would chase me around the basement with chicken feet, squeezing the tendon to make the toes move up and down in a very frightening way (Corinne’s mother koshered her own meat), causing me to scream in fright!
Now, Corinne was on the way to the Central Bus Station to catch a bus back to her home in Netanya. The previous day she had come to Yerushalayim to visit her daughter, and decided at the last minute to stay for the night, which is why she ended up on that train, rather than the one she usually takes. And I had to get off of my train to refill my electronic pass, which is why I ended up on a later train.
So although neither of us were supposed to be there, we were. And since we are both retired and no longer have to rush to get to work on time, we got off the train and found a nice coffee shop where we could sit and schmooze.
Several hours later, I realized one thing: although I don’t know which type of friend is gold, and which is silver, I do know that friendship is very, very precious. And I also learned that sometimes it pays to be in the wrong place, at the right time.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
As I make my way up Rechov Solovetchik, a small alleyway bordering the famous Zichron Meir shteibelach, I am transported back in time to the Yerushalayim of old, where the very cobblestones are permeated with kedusha; a city without pizza shops or ice cream parlors, or telephones (let along cellphones!) or even tape recorders; when there was only one women’s dress shop in all of Geula; a city populated by anshei maaleh, where simplicity was viewed as a virtue and limud Torah and avodas Hashem the ultimate profession.
After double-checking that I have the right address, I climb the worn stone steps leading to a large, spotless courtyard. Rebbetzin Greenwald comes out to greet me. Dressed in a simple skirt and blouse, topped with an old fashioned flowered tichel, she is the embodiment of simplicity and modesty, yet I can sense a strong undercurrent of inner strength. I realize that this is a woman I can learn from.
BINAH: Could you tell us about your roots?
“I grew up in a home where both parents were constantly searching for ways to help the klal. From an early age we learned that that when we notice something that needs to be done, it’s our responsibility to ahead and do it - and Hashem will help. My parents came from homes of askanim. My mother, Miriam Adler, a”h, was from the famous Pappenheim family. Her brother, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, shlita, founded the well-known girls’ home, Bayis Lepletos, and is one of the leaders of the Eidah Chareidis. My father, Rav Moshe Adler, ztz”l was the son of Rav Yosef Adler, ztz”l, the Turda Rav. We grew up understanding that it was our tafkid to be moser nefesh to help Klal Yisrael.
“When my father, Rav Moshe Adler, ztz”l was fourteen, he left his home in Turda, Romania, prior to what appeared to be the imminent Nazi takeover of the city. As the end of the War he joined the Satmer Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum ztz”l on his journey to Eretz Yisrael. Since my father had no legal papers, he spent most of his time in transit hiding beneath the Rebbe’s bed. In Eretz Yisrael, he succeeded in escaping the British detention camp for illegal immigrants, and made his way to Yerushalayim.
“Interesting enough, although the city of Turda suffered terribly during the holocaust– there was almost no food, and of course the Jews were in constant fear of an imminent Nazi invasion, the city never came under Nazi rule. My grandfather, Rav Yosef Adler, ztz”l continued to serve the community throughout the war years. My grandparents’ home was a haven for refugees, including the Skulener Rebbe, Rav Eliezer Zushia Portugal, ztz”l. My grandparents arranged his shidduch with another refugee, also staying in their home, and then made their chasunah. Of course my grandfather was the mesader kedushin. After the war, my grandparents left Turda and moved to Yerushalayim.
“Alone in Eretz Yisrael, my father, Rabbi Moshe Adler, learned in the Dishinsky Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. The Rebbe, Rav Yosef Tzvi Dishinsky, the Maharitz, insisted that the young teenager join his household and he treated my father as his own son.
“During this time, my father became close to Rav Aharon of Belz, ztz”l, and eventually became a Belzer Chassid. Throughout his lifetime, although people referred to my father as the ‘Turda Rav,” my father, who despised kavod, viewed himself as nothing more than a Belzer Chassid.
“My maternal grandparents hailed from Germany. After my grandfather, Rabbi Gavriel Pappenheim, ztz”l, was taken to Dachau, my grandmother Chana Pappenheim nee Goldshmidt a”h sent the four older children, my mother, her two sisters, and my uncle, Rav Shlomo Pappenheim on a kindertransport to London, where they spent the war years in a non-orthodox institution. Meanwhile, together with the two youngest children, she managed to escape to Eretz Yisrael.
My grandfather survived the war. My grandmother first heard about it when another survivor told her about a very special Jew in Dachau who put aside part of his bread each day so that he would have lechem mishneh on Shabbos, and then commented that a Jew that has such mesirus nefesh for a mitzvah could only be a Pappenheim, and that therefore he must be her husband. The war left Rav Gavriel weak and sick and he died a few years later.
“My maternal grandparents were not satisfied with the girls’ chinuch in Eretz Yisrael, so they arranged private tutors for my mother and her sisters. One of these tutors was Rebbetzin Yaakovson, who had taught the survivors in Sweden. Eventually my grandmother, together with another askan, opened Jerusalem’s Bnos Yerushalayim.
“My maternal grandmother was involved in so many things, helped so many people, and established so many institutions that she literally changed the face of Yerushalayim. Someone once asked her if she enjoyed doing these things. She responded, “I enjoy doing what needs to be done. So if something needs to be done, I will make sure to like it.” She was an incredible woman, with lofty ideals, yet practical and down to earth.
My parents were very particular about our chinuch. Everything was al pi taharas hakodesh, with the strictest levels of kedusha. But at the same time we were encouraged to expand our horizons, to learn about the world around us. Years later, I did the same thing when I was the mashgiach ruchani in Chinuch Yerushalayim, a girls’ school affiliated with the Eidah Chareidis. So, for example, before I took the girls to visit a small museum about the Jews of Yemen, I first arranged with the administration that they remove those displays not appropriate for our girls, that we have the museum to ourselves, and that our teachers guide the girls.
“Growing up, I was very, very close with my grandfather, the Turda Rav. In those days people had very little material things – I had two dresses – and there were no telephones or technology to distract us. Since there was really nothing to do in Yerushalayim, we stayed home and spent a lot of time talking about Yiddishkeit. My grandfather loved to tell me stories about mesirus nefesh, and a Jew’s tafkid in this world. I attribute this time I spent with him, together with the chinuch I received in my parents’ home, to my present kochos hanefesh.
“After my chasunah, I worked at Bayis Lepletos. One day a woman walked in with what appeared to be an infant, but in reality was a three year old child, and told us that she wanted to place her in our Home. The child, Toby, had spent the first one and a half years of her life in the hospital, without any stimulation or love. She was developmentally delayed, and so severely malnourished that her kidneys did not functioning properly and she was lacking teeth and hair! It was obvious to everyone that it would take a huge amount of time, and effort (and lots of love!) to get her to the level that she could enter Bayis Lepletos.
“I decided to take on this project. I assumed it would only be temporary, but it didn’t take long for Toby to become an integral part of my family. Both my husband and I invested a tremendous amount of time, effort and money into her care, and as a result I grew to love her and could not imagine living without her.
“Although Toby continued to have many challenges – she has borderline intelligence, and does things very slowly – she attended a regular school (in those days special education for chareidim did not exist in Israel) and was part of the crowd. And then the miracle happened. After twelve years of marriage, when Toby was twelve years old, Hashem blessed us with a son.
“Toby married at age twenty-nine. It was obvious that the young couple would need a constant support and supervision, which we are able to provide. Despite their limitations, they are very happy and living a normal life. They have three children, all boys, and all with special needs. My husband and I are raising them, with my daughter’s help.
“The two oldest boys had severe communication problems and did not speak a word until after they were five years old. In addition to communication problems, the oldest is also developmentally delayed. But although the two boys appeared to be lacking intelligence, the experts diagnosed the oldest as having normal intelligence, while the youngest is a genius.
“When the two older boys were eight and six, we wanted them to have a cheder education, but no cheder would accept them. Even the special education schools would not accept them; they told us they were severely retarded and that it would be a waste of time to try to teach them! So I realized that I had no choice but to open a special cheder for intelligent children with developmental delays and learning disabilities. The truth is that Hashem had been preparing me for this tafkid. During the forty years that I was the mashgiach ruchani at Chinuch Yerushalayim Girls’ School to be able to help those girls with serious challenges I studied child psychology, special education and didactic testing privately with some of the top professionals in the field.
“People told me I had no idea what I was doing. After all, I don’t have a formal degree, nor am I an official non-profit organization with worldwide connections. But my parents had instilled in me that if I see something that needs to be done, I should do it.
Before acting on my decision, I brought the two older children to Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter, shlita for a bracha and eitzah. Rav Shechter was adamant that I do not place the children in any of the suggested frameworks. He told me that the younger boy will become a gadol b’Yisrael, and that I must do everything in my power to provide him with the proper chinuch al pi taharas hakodesh. He also told me that if I open a cheder for children like my grandsons, it will be a success and a yeshua for Klal Yisrael.
“Tzon Yaakov Cheder opened its doors ten days later with a total of two students: my grandsons. Within three months, these two “severely retarded boys" were reading beautifully, and ready to start learning Chumash. As more children joined the cheder, we divided the children into two classes.
“The following year, prior to Rosh Hashanah, I brought the Tzon Yaakov students to Rav Shechter for a bracha. Since the Rav does not see women during the month of Tishrei, I waited outside while the boys went in with their Rebbe. But Rav Shechter requested that I be asked to join them. As I entered, he said, “Ashreichem, ashreichem, scharchem l’olam haba ein l’sha’er.”
“Today, three years later, Tzon Yaakov is thriving, and several of our boys have graduated to a regular, mainstream cheder. All of these children were children that no one wanted; children that were considered “uneducable.”
“Shortly after opening Tzon Yaakov, I realized that the students needed to learn how to interact with more “normal” children. In addition, many children in the Eidah Chareidis community were in need of therapy or educational enrichment, but there were no options available al pi taharas hakodesh. So I opened an afternoon program for cheder boys with learning disabilities. The kids eat a hot lunch, have supervised play, and then work privately with special education specialists, paramedical professionals, and a kriyah rebbe. Once a week, all twenty four children pile into a minivan to travel to farm near Petach Tikva for therapeutic horseback riding!
“I’m presently working on establishing a special kindergarten for my youngest grandson, who is five years old. He has low muscle tone, and as a result is unable to walk and has great difficulty eating. It’s a tremendous amount of work to get it started, but since there’s a real need for it, I am sure that with Hashem’s help, it will succeed.
Binah: When do you sleep?
“Sleep? Older people don’t need much sleep! I usually finish everything after midnight, and then I get up before five am to clean the cheder and wash the floors. After that, I get my grandchildren ready for school. It takes me over an hour just to give my youngest grandson his breakfast, which is finely ground and fed through a bottle! While the youngest sleeps, I cook lunch for my family, as well as the children in the afternoon program. Afternoons and most evenings are devoted to private clients.
“Many children with developmental delays are really intelligent, but lack the ability to express themselves. They understand that they are different and need lots of encouragement. Children, all children, have so much within themselves, so much potential. It is our responsibility to believe in them and do everything in our power to enable them to reach it. And that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
I love having my children for Shabbos. I really do. The grandchildren are so adorable, and I have such nachas watching my babies raising their own. All week long it’s just Zaidy and me; it’s so quiet, and I miss the noise and balagan.
After Shabbos, when the boys’ peyos are perfectly curled, faces washed and the babies fed and diapered, I (finally) walk to the bus stop, and although I gaily wave goodbye as the bus pulls away, I feel a tug of sadness at their leaving. Then I return home, prepare a mug of hot tea, and savor the quiet.
When my husband walks into the living room half an hour later, I’m still sitting on the sofa, staring into nothingness. “Whew,” I say. “That was some Shabbos. I’m exhausted.” The truth is, there’s really no reason for me to be so tired. I had a long Shabbos nap, and the grandchildren helped me serve and clear the table.
But I’m no longer used to the noise. And the balagan.
It’s such a paradox. I love spending time with my family. It’s really my greatest joy in life. But at the same time, it leaves me drained and exhausted. And watching how beautifully my children manage with their growing families, I wonder how they do it.
I think one of the most difficult challenges facing both parents and their adult children is to accept that things aren’t the way they used to be. I can’t imagine how I ever spent my days wiping sticky chairs, putting away mountains of toys, preparing massive pots of food, and (sigh) throwing away half-eaten sandwiches and barely touched plates of that delicious soup that cost me so much time and energy (let alone money) to prepare. Today, those enormous pots, once used on a daily basis, are regulated to the far end of the closet to be pulled out for special occasions, and instead of buying fruits and vegetables by the carton, I purchase individual units, carefully perusing each tomato and cucumber for flaws.
Time marches on.
Having an empty nest means just that – the nest is empty. On a daily basis, it’s just me and my husband living in a small two-bedroom apartment. I make two pieces of chicken for lunch; after all, there’s no need for a third.
But my kids remember a mother cooking in bulk, who didn’t bat an eyelash at unexpected company. After all, there’s no real difference if you cook for twelve or fifteen, but now that it’s just the two of us, adding another three portions is a real game changer. I don’t keep a lot of extra food in the house (especially the goodies — I’m afraid that you-know-who will eat them in the middle of the night), so if company’s coming for Shabbos, or any other time of the week, for that matter, it means an additional foray to the grocery store.
According to my editors, this column is dedicated to the needs of the more “mature” woman, but I would imagine that there are some younger women reading this as well (and if there aren’t, may I suggest that any older women reading this causally leave her copy of the Binah on the coffee table, open to this page). So, for the sake of promoting peace and understanding between the generations, I hereby would like to make a few suggestions (in other words, lay down the law) to the younger crowd.
Remember, your shvigger did not tell you this, so continue to adore her, and hopefully she’ll reciprocate in kind, especially after you’ve learned the following rules:
1. If you want to come for Shabbos, please let me know before Wednesday morning. That’s when I do my shopping; before the pre-Shabbos rush, when the stores are still fairly empty. Of course if there’s a real emergency, you’re always welcome, but please, for your sake and mine, try to avoid emergencies!
2. If you’re bringing something, let me know beforehand. I love eggplant salad, but four different types is a bit much! Had I known, I would have made something else instead, or even better, not made a salad at all!
3. Let me know if anyone in your family has special dietary requirements. Bli ayin hara, there are a lot of grandchildren, and I can’t keep track of everyone’s allergies or personal quirks. So please remind me that Shmuelik can’t eat (or refuses to eat) challah sprinkled with sesame seeds, and that Channie can only drink boiled water.
4. Take care of your children! I love children, especially my grandchildren. I really do. But I also need my Shabbos nap, and (I know this might sound crazy, but it’s the truth) throwing balls in the living room (especially when my good china is out) tends to make me nervous.
5. I love it when, right after Shabbos is over, I take the grandchildren to the park and you surprise me by cleaning up the house! No, this is not a rule, but if you do this, you’ll get brownie points for good behavior.
6. Last but not least, please remember to go home! I love it when you come, and I love it when you go.