Motzoei Shabbos, I was sitting with my husband, nursing a steaming cup of tea, wondering what in the world I was going to write for my upcoming article. “It’s due in two days. Give me some ideas,” I said to him.
“How about something on how to buy an esrog.”
“Ah, c’mon. That’s not for the ladies.”
“Well, maybe something about the sukkah. Lots of interesting halachos there.”
I rolled my eyes. Obviously he was not getting it. That’s because, well, as they say, men and women are from different planets, and besides, although the article is due in Elul, it will only be published in Cheshvan. By then, even Martians won’t be terribly excited by an article on Sukkos.
But Hashem is very good to me, because Sunday morning I had an interesting conversation with a seminary principal about what it was like to come to Eretz Yisrael in 1971 and that, of course, got me thinking, which, in turn, turned into material for an article.
Life in Eretz Yisrael was so different back then. On a physical plane, it was like going back in time to when my parents were young (and that really was a long time ago!). Yes, refrigerators had recently replaced ice boxes and almost everyone owned a washing machine, but dryers (and disposable diapers) were still unheard of. Two burner gas stoves had only recently replaced the primus, a primitive camp stove, as the standard mode of cooking, and ovens were an almost unheard of luxury; people baked in little round pots call “Wonder Pots.” In 1974, when I became an olah chadashah, the primus was included as part of my aliyah package, together with a sponja stick and shmatta, a straw broom, a metal bed, a straw mattress, a stool, a table and a roll of toilet paper!
The first time I traveled to Yerushalayim I was shocked by the absence of street lights on the narrow two-lane highway connecting the Holy City to the rest of the country. Yerushalayim boasted only one traffic light, on the corner intersection of Yaffo and King George, but it was really only there for show as there were almost no cars on the roads.
A friend of mine once got into a minor traffic accident with another woman driver. When she said to the sergeant at the police station, “The other woman suddenly stopped,” he interrupted her story to let her know that he already knew the other driver’s identity because (I kid you not!) there were only two female drivers in the city!
Physically, Yerushalayim was much smaller. I was friendly with a family that lived in the old (which at that time was the new and only) Kiryat Sanz neighborhood. The eight story apartment blocks sprouted incongruously from surrounding empty hills. At night, when I walked from Rechov Eli Hakohen down the hill to Kiryat Sanz, I would hear foxes at the side of the road (and occasionally, I even caught a glimpse of their eyes!), while from the zoo on the other side of the road (now Minchat Yitzchak) the lions roared (and I quivered inside!). But there were other animals too; it was not uncommon for an Egged bus to stop to allow a flock of sheep to cross the street.
Readymade clothes were expensive and difficult to find. There was but one dress shop in all of Geulah and Meah Shearim; we called it the “hole in the wall.” Seamstresses would make home visits to sew the family wardrobe. The entire family was recruited to help, and of course it was considered a valid excuse for all the girls to remain home from school. Faded outfits were turned inside out and resewn. Old sweaters were unraveled and the wool recycled.
Phones were a very difficult-to-attain luxury, which made life very complicated for us seminary girls hoping to get a taste of the country via Shabbos invitations. Postcards were sent out weeks in advance, and sometimes we’d travel across town to ask if we could come for Shabbos, only to be told to, “I have to ask my husband. Come back tomorrow for an answer.”
But although the country was small and undeveloped, the people I met were giants. They each had their own personal story of mesirus nefesh. They had journeyed to Eretz Yisrael via Auschwitz, or Siberia, or on a camel, or had miraculously managed to catch “the last boat.” They had learned in the great yeshivos, under the Chafetz Chaim or HaRav Elchanan Wasserman, z”l. They had studied in Cracow under Frau Sarah Schenirer. They had lived through exceptional times, and I was jealous of them. After all, I was living such a mundane life.
But looking back, I realize that I had been wrong. These giants had lived in an exceptional era, but I also lived in an exceptional era. And today, we are also living in amazing times. Fifty years from now, we will look back at our nisyanos and marvel how we not only managed, but how we succeeded in growing and becoming greater as a result.
And hopefully, by the time this article goes to print, all of us will be able to look back at Elul, which is when it is being penned, and wonder how we survived without the Urim v’Tumim and the Sanhedrin to guide us.
And even Martians or Plutonians, as well as those of us from Jupiter or Venus, will be able to relate to that.
Debbie Shapiro is a wife, mother, grandmother and longtime Jerusalem resident. Her latest book, “Women Talk,” is a compilation of interviews with great Jewish women. Debbie can be contacted via Binah Magazine. She’d love to hear from you.