MEGA EDITION Leah Schapira’s Chicken with Onion Jam, the Best Pesach Drop Cookie and More!
The M OLUMN S By Es atchma ther G k arten er haus The Rebbetzin Speaks By Reb. Feige Twer ski
march 20, 2013 / 9 nissan 5773 Issue 112
L NEW SERIAl
Gir Daddy’s uman e N a By Din
The Heart Remembers
Her new heart held the donor’s memory
Inside the Burqa Cult
I adopted; I was adopted Mothers and their children tell their stories
Food Currents: We’ve been taught hoW to pair Food With Wine. but What about Food With...Food?
Issue 112 march 20, 2013 9 nIssan 5773
Dream Pesach Recipes
victoria goes to
on the upper east side
>>> My 5,000 Children Schulamith Chava Halevy rescues Anusim worldwide >>> Truth or Consequences Our Pesach destination must remain a secret >>> THe Matchmaker Follow the shadchan weekly as she tries to make a shidduch happen >>> Our Days The Nanny arrived at our Pesach seder with a cross >>> WHISK Victoria Dwek goes to Manhattan in search of 100-year-old cookbooks
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It’s a new school year at Bnos Miriam Seminary — new friends, a fresh start, and uncharted territory. But students and staff at this isolated British school are experiencing more excitement than they bargained for, and are forced to come face-to-face with harsh realities as deeply buried secrets are painstakingly uncovered. Popular author Ruthie Pearlman has returned to the literary scene with this spellbinding tale of suspense, determination, and self-discovery.
Other Great Books for Pesach
R' Moshe Sherizen
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9 Nissan 5773 March 20, 2013
Features 38 The Clean Bill
The mysterious experiences of heart transplant patients By Yitta Halberstam Mandelbaum
50 Thicker than Water
What is it really like to adopt a child, or be adopted?
By Esther Grossman
62 My Five Thousand Children The story of Schulamith Chana Halevy and the Secret Jews By Sarah Hershenson
Inside the phenomenon of Jewish cults By Racheli Sofer
Food Currents: We’ve been taught hoW to pair Food With Wine. but What about Food With...Food?
Departments 10 Editorial
Issue 112 march 20, 2013 9 nIssan 5773
By Rechy Frankfurter
2 Hello, Cooks Pesach
By Victoria Dwek Recipes
12 Letters 20 The Rebbetzin Speaks
4 Reader’s Kitchen
6 Fresh and Easy
By Rebbetzin Feige Twerski By Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein
24 Golden Nuggets By Basha Majerczyk
26 Within the Walls
Whisk columnists adapt their all year round favorites for Pesach
By Chaya Silber
30 Fun ’n Frugal
By Miriam Schwartzman
12 Cookbooks on Lexington
32 Truth or Consequences
I went to the Upper East Side to the spot where all cookbooks want to reside.
As told to Peri Berger
82 The Matchmaker
By Victoria Dwek
By Esther Gartenhaus
86 The Narrow Bridge
18 Food Currents
By Peri Berger
By Racheli Sofer
88 Daddy’s Girl
By Dina Neuman
92 Our Days
A Literary Compilation
march 20, 2013
By Leah Schapira
10 Pesach Picks
Onion Jam Chicken, Butternut Squash and Pearl Onions, and more
By Sara Yoheved Rigler
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9 nissan 5773
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Dear Readers, It all began with a phone call. The woman on the phone, Chaya S., seemed very distressed. Her neighbor had joined a group known as the “burqa cult,” and she voiced concern for her and her children. Could Ami write something about this phenomenon, perhaps asking some experts to weigh in on how we might help this woman and others like her?
Editor in Chief Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter
At first I recoiled from the idea. Why shine a spotlight on something that brings us no nachas? But then I thought that if we could actually make a difference, we should.
Senior Editor Rechy Frankfurter
To my delight, the fact that we could was proven to me even before we went to print.
Managing Editors Victoria Dwek Yossi Krausz
My daughter, who lives in Israel, had a preview look at the final article. She called to tell me that while walking in Geula today, she passed two women who were completely veiled. She knew they weren’t Arabs, as their children were obviously Jewish. “Before I read this article I would feel scared and angry whenever I saw women like that. But now I was filled with pity,” she said.
Feature Editor Yitta Halberstam Mandelbaum Coordinating Editor Toby Worch
If the only result were that we could find it in our hearts not to condemn but to try to help these women, dayeinu. But Rabbi Shea Hecht, an expert on cults, gives us practical advice, too.
Copy Editors Basha Majerczyk Dina Schreiber Sarah Shapiro
Speaking of hearts, Yitta Halberstam’s fascinating article on heart transplant recipients taking on the personalities of the donor reminds us that the heart is more than just a pump; it’s the seat of our emotions.
Art Directors Alex Katalkin David Kniazuk
The mind and heart have long played a tug of war on our psyche. We oftentimes know intellectually what it is that we must do, but our hearts won’t allow us—and vice versa, when our emotions lead us in a direction that defies logic.
Food Editors Victoria Dwek Leah Schapira
I once read an article written by a woman who was having a very difficult time letting go when her oldest daughter got married. She complained bitterly to her friend about how resentful she was that her daughter seemed to have forgotten about her, and rarely called or visited. The friend wisely advised her to give her daughter a little space, and that she had seen many young couples go through this stage of living on their own little cloud, which eventually passes. Although the writer’s heart still hurt, she could understand what was going on intellectually. Interestingly, though, when that same friend’s own daughter got married a short time later, the wise friend found herself experiencing the very same emotions!
Executive Account Manager Zack Blumenfeld Executive Sales Directors Surie Katz Hadassa Blaustein Europe Advertising 44 7891 297 866 Advertising Coordinator Malky Friedman
Although we are taught that Hashem created the human being in such a way that the mind has the natural ability to control the heart, it’s not so easy!
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In this issue, Chaya Silber gives us tips on navigating the challenges of multigenerational living under the same roof. Each generation has logical and sound arguments and complaints. But it is precisely in such circumstances that we need to think with our hearts and allow our love for each other to direct our actions and do things “mit hartz.”
P: 718-534-8800 F: 718-484-7731 firstname.lastname@example.org
As Rebbetzin Twerski notes in her inaugural column, it’s all about creating beautiful memories. May we be successful.
Ami Magazine. Published by Mezoogmag LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form without prior written permission from the publisher is prohibited. The publisher reserves the right to edit all articles for clarity, space, and editorial sensitivities. Ami Magazine assumes no responsibility for the content of advertisements in the publication, nor for the contents of books that are referred to or excerpted herein.
march 20, 2013
A wonderful Pesach to all.
9 nissan 5773
חג כשר ושמח designix. 347.482.6783
the cLeAn biLL // Real People on the Quest for Health
The Miracle eye DocTor
He Saves Their Lives
The cure isn’t just physical
In reference to “The Clean Bill,” Issue 110
Dear Editor, I just finished reading the article about “The London Eye Doctor” and want to share my experience. First of all, before the article, your column, “Dear Readers,” has an error. You write: “The treatment will not save their children’s lives; baruch Hashem, that is not at stake.” Well, in my experience, Dr. Siwoff (mentioned in the article) saved my son’s life. By “life,” I don’t mean physical life. The life of a Yid is not measured by physicality. It’s measured by the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. These special prism lenses do a lot more than “treat a vision problem.” A child, especially a boy, who is not keeping up in school, has a tremendous amount of risk. His self-esteem plummets, thereby causing a vicious cycle of misbehavior, general unhappiness in life, etc. If he’s not reading properly, his davening can’t be proper, which affects his spirituality, etc., etc. After many years of not keeping up in cheder, many children give up and land...you know where. When my son’s fifth grade teacher mentioned that we should look into vision therapy, I started doing research. By that time, we had spent thousands of dollars on tutors, which helped not one bit. I begged Hashem to show me the way to help my son. During my research on vision therapy, someone told me that she heard about a Dr. Siwoff, in New Jersey, who prescribes special glasses (they don’t look special), instead of vision therapy. It sounded too good to be true! I did more research and spoke to many people. I found out that there’s a doctor in London who does the same thing. I made many more phone calls. I reached someone who went to BOTH! She reassured me that it pays to go to New Jersey. She was thrilled with him too, just as she was thrilled with Dr. Alexander. We made the decision to stay local (not for financial reasons). Hashem answered my tefillos! My son is doing very well in school this year. But not only did his learning improve drastically; his behavior, his attitudes, and his entire “mehus” changed for the better. I want to thank Mrs. O. for being the shaliach to tell me about Dr. Siwoff. “Megalgelin zechus al yedei zakai.” May she see much nachas from all her children.
They flock to his humble office from all over the world, desperate parents toting their struggling, school-aged children. is he a miracle man, or just a quack?
by Chaya Silber
first heard about the famous “Eye Doctor from Potters Bar” a little over a year ago. my cousin Sari, with whom I was quite friendly, had mentioned she was traveling to London for two days. Since she had no relatives living there, nor any simchos, I was kind of surprised. London, with its foggy skies and drab winter weather, was certainly not high on the list of any aspiring vacationer. When I met her a week later, I casually asked how her trip was. “It was great—and very quick,” Sari said. “We were in London for less than 24 hours.” “Less than a day? What did you go for? A get-rich-quick business deal?” Sari looked pensive. “You wish it. I went with my chanale to that famous eye doctor.” This time it was my turn to say, “huh?” What in the world was she talking about? “You know, the eye doctor that everyone is going to? The one who does prism glasses?” Actually, I didn’t know. What was so special about an eye doctor in London, and why was everyone going there? Since we were both in a rush, the conversation ended there. Barely two months later, shortly before Pesach, my own sisterin-law was in London with her little boy. Now this was big news. my brother’s wife rarely went anywhere, and she certainly wasn’t the type to leave her children during such a hectic season. “She doesn’t have a choice,” my brother explained. “There was no way I could take off from work. The doctor had an emergency cancellation, so we quickly booked a flight. The tickets cost almost a thousand dollars each.” I was speechless. my brother and his wife are the frugal type, not people who spend several thousand dollars on an impromptu trip to London. “You don’t understand,” my brother explained. “Shimmy hasn’t been able to concentrate on his Ivris practice all year. The Rebbe encouraged us to go. he says he’s seen ‘nisim v’niflaos’ that you can’t imagine.” Now I was really intrigued. This mystery doctor was growing more fascinating by the minute. The circuits in my writer’s brain lit up. “Write about the London eye doctor,” I jotted a note to myself. As is often the case with such ideas, it sat and fizzled for a few months while I was busy with other pressing deadlines. But one day in early summer, I heard that my cousin Sari had gone for a follow-up visit with her chanale. As soon as she returned and recovered from her jet lag (though I wonder—can you suffer jet lag after just a two-day overseas trip?), I called her and asked for the details. “What can I tell you?” Sari said. “This doctor is a miracle worker. Or so they claim. I met so many people from Boro Park in his waiting room...it sounded almost like a bungalow colony!”
“What is this doctor’s name? And what did he do?” “There are actually two doctors, Dr. Kobrin and Dr. Alexander. We saw Dr. clyde Alexander. he’s such a nice man, so warm and friendly. We were there for a follow-up, to see how chanale’s eyesight improved since our last visit.” “And did he see any changes?” “he says the changes are not to be believed! It’s as if we would have done six months of intense vision therapy, an hour every single day, with our daughter.” “Do you see any changes?” Sari thought for a moment. “Not really. Between you and me, I think it’s a fad. You know how it is. As parents we’ll do anything to help our children succeed. It’s the herd mentality—‘my friend went to this great doctor, so I’m going too.’ Everyone wants what’s best for their child, and if it involves a trip to London, so be it. In fact, while I was there I met some old friends who live in Golders Green. They couldn’t believe I’d spend the airfare and time to come all the way to London when there are such good doctors in America. Let’s face it—the UK is not known for high-quality medical care.” “You’re right, in theory. But people aren’t just mindless robots. Why would they spend so much time and money on a trip overseas if it didn’t do wonders?” “I’m not sure. If I see drastic changes with chanale, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I think you should do more research.” Sari gave me two more names to call; they were both friends of ours, women who were not the secretive type, and wouldn’t mind discussing their child’s progress with me. But before I got around to making the calls, I went swimming with miri, my longtime pool partner. As we did our laps in the in-ground, Olympic-sized pool, she mentioned that she’d just returned from London. “Don’t tell me you were at the eye doctor!” I said, halting midside-stroke to gape at her. “how did you know?” miri cried. “Did you go there, too?” “Not yet. I’m just in the middle of gathering research for an article,” I admitted. “Okay, so I’ll tell you all about it. You know I’ve been going through a challenging time with my Ari, who just turned seven.” “Of course.” Ari’s struggles, as he lagged behind his classmates in reading, had been frequently analyzed during our laps. “So the last time I spoke to you, Ari was going to a tutor his rebbe recommended, three times a week after school. It cost us almost $100 a week, but Ari hated it. he didn’t like to practice, and would cry that his head hurts, his stomach hurts, whatever. Anything, to get out of going to his tutor.” “Oy.” “Yeah. It hurt my heart to see him this way. he used to love Ivris in Kitah Alef. Now he’s in Kitah Beis, the other boys are reading fluently, and he dreads every day in cheder. I was at my wits’ end.” “What made you decide to travel to London?” “One of my friends—you know Raizy? Anyhow, she went with two of her sons.” 24 ADAR 5773
mARch 6, 2013
All the best, R. T. A. Brooklyn, NY PS—The children who don’t have a huge turnaround from these lenses might have another issue. This is a “visual processing” issue, which is sometimes present along with other processing issues like “auditory processing disorder.” So correcting the visual part will not be enough. There is help for auditory processing also. Thank you for publishing this article. I can be reached via email through Ami.
It Wasn’t Soon Enough Dr. Alexander really helped him In reference to “The Clean Bill,” Issue 110
Dear Editor, I have not even had a chance to read your article about Dr. Alexander in London, but I felt the need to write. My grandson was 14 years old when he went to London to see Dr. Alexander. And now he says that had he seen him earlier, a lot of embarrassment and unpleasant comments would have been avoided. Good luck, Anonymous
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f eb rua ry 27, 2013
Williamsburg Vacuum & Sewing Machine 17 adar 5773
To Bee or Not to Bee
Letter from a Londoner
Can bee venom alleviate HIV?
The latest “buzz” surrounding apitherapy, or “bee therapy,” as described in Issue 40’s “Give Me Your Honey and Your Stings,” where bee products—especially venom—are used to treat numerous conditions, points to a new possibility for treating HIV. Researchers at Washington University recently claimed to have effectively destroyed the HIV virus using a toxin found in bee venom. The breakthrough might lead to a treatment, using the venom, that can kill the virus before it has a chance to spread, and can even be extended to treat other diseases like hepatitis B and C. Bee venom is also being evaluated for use in anti-aging creams and, get this, even pain relief medications—a little sting might be just the thing to take away your pain.
A local writes in In reference to “The Clean Bill,” Issue 110
Dear Editor, I just finished reading the article about Dr. Alexander here in London. The article was well written, even though you didn’t actually speak to any of their London patients—of which there are many! I have neighbors, siblings, nieces and friends who took their kids to Alexander-Kobrin and were helped. Where I live, practically everyone takes her kids to Dr. Alexander, and I’ve heard that they come from all over. My brother in New York actually called me to try to get his kids an appointment at the same time as my daughter’s wedding here in London, so he could combine the two! I haven’t been to their practice, as baruch Hashem none of us required it, but from what I hear, the doctors are real mentshen and their prices are very fair. Doctors in America doing the same things would charge many many times more for their services. Thanks for a great article and a fantastic magazine, which we all enjoy! C. H. London
Master of Menshlichkeit Vouching for Dr. Alexander In reference to “The Clean Bill,” Issue 110
Dear Editor, I am writing in response to the article about the incredible optometrist in Potters Bar, England. After years of trying various methods and programs both locally and abroad, we have finally had the zechus to be on the receiving end of the remarkable service of Dr. Clyde Alexander. Besides being a mumcha in his profession, Dr. Alexander is a mumcha in menshlichkeit as well. With the help of the prism glasses he prescribed, our son is improving tremendously in his learning and in other areas. Baruch Hashem his difficulties are a thing of the past, and we daven for future hatzlachah. For more information, we can be contacted via Ami. Anonymous
f eb rua ry 27, 2013
17 adar 5773
A Second Class Citizen
In the Right Time
In reference to “Q & A With Rabbi Tauber,” Issue 110
In reference to “Our Days,” Issue 110
Dear Editor, I wanted to applaud you for the wonderful interview with Rabbi Tauber. As the mother of an older single, I wish this were required reading for every single girl in shidduchim! My son—a wonderful ben Torah, who devotes time to learning and is a real mentsh—is often considered a “second-class citizen,” just like Rabbi Tauber says, “because he is a businessman.” I can’t tell you how many girls, in their upper 20s and in their 30s, won’t entertain the idea of even meeting my son, simply because he is already working. This is despite the fact that he is a boy who comes with glowing recommendations from his roshei yeshivah and rebbeim. Baruch Hashem, he does not have a shortage of girls to go out with, but I am always stunned when I hear that an older girl won’t go out with a boy who isn’t in fulltime learning. It is true: “Our value system is being misinterpreted.” Girls, you don’t know who are you rejecting! It is time to reevaluate our priorities, and perhaps realize that not everyone was meant to lead a kollel life—and that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
Dear Editor, I really enjoy reading AmiLiving, and especially enjoy the “Our Days” section. I wanted to comment on one of this week’s stories, where the writer describes how her simchah was marred because she had an older sister waiting to get engaged first. I feel so bad for the writer. Why did her parents make her feel as though their simchah was, to quote her: “half-hearted”? Why wasn’t her engagement “full of joy”? Isn’t there something wrong with this scenario? I myself got married after my younger sister, and in no way, shape or form felt unhappy at the time of her wedding. It clearly wasn’t bashert for me to get married yet, but it was the right time for my younger sister. It didn’t really cross my mind, or my parents’, to be upset at all! I clearly remember that at the l’chaim people started to make comments such as “This must be hard for you.…” and I was utterly confused. (People really do speak without thinking!) Throughout my sister’s engagement, people would say, “Oh, mazel tov. I heard your chosson.…” and when I would reply that it was my younger sister who was the kallah, they’d say, “Oh, but aren’t you older?” If you think about it, this is no different than the perception that a chosson must be older than his kallah. The idea that an older sister must get engaged first makes no sense. Maybe if we would get rid of all these timetables and restraints, we could alleviate the shidduch crisis. May everyone who is waiting be zocheh to find his/her bashert—in the right time. S.L.
We need to reevaluate our priorities
S. B. Brooklyn
Ami Magazine 1575 50th St., Brooklyn, NY 11219 Phone: (718) 534-8800 | Fax: (718) 484-7731 email@example.com
f eb rua ry 27, 2013
17 adar 5773
Who says a younger sister can’t get married first?
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Celebrating Our 100th issue
GOOD BYE, PALMASOLA PRISON
Food Currents: How do I Get PerFeCt rICe every tIme?
Flu Epidemic Flu Epidemic
A front line report
renee Muller’s refreshing tu B’shvAt recipes, pAssion fruit sorBet, And More!
Issue 104 january 23, 2013 12 shvat, 5773
january 23, 2013 / 12 shvat 5773 Issue 104
RaBBi moshe DuviD nieDeRman
RaBBi levi shemtov
ISSUE 100 dEcEmbEr 26, 2012 13 tEvES, 5773
12/23/12 8:12 AM
witH REnEE MULLER’S tU B’SHEvAt inSPiREd SALAdS & dESSERt
Fruit at its Best
Seven Species Filo Pastry
1/17/13 6:40 PM
A frontline report
Fun ’n Frugal EvEn THE frugal can givE grEaT gifTs >>> TruTh Or COnsequenCes To proTEcT HEr daugHTEr’s imagE sHE puT HEr lifE in dangEr >>> ParenTing sHould you allow a pHonE if your cHild signs a conTracT wiTH rulEs? Two cHinucH ExpErTs wEigH in >>> Our Days i was singlE wHEn my youngEr broTHEr bEcamE a faTHEr >>> PasTry sChOOl wiTh Paula shOyer working wiTH filo dougH >>> FOOD CurrenTs wHy can’T i makE a pErfEcT poT of ricE?
cook the SeaSonS: the gemS in Shaindy’S Pomegranate Bark
Issue 96 NOVeMBeR 28, 2012 14 KIsLeV, 5773
Funnel Cakes and Fudge
Leah Schapira’S arancini BaLLS & Much More!
Free Are geTTINg A -
The rebbetzin speaks // By Rebbetzin Feige Twerski
Maintaining the Right Perspective What kind of memories do we want our children to have?
t’s ironic that the Yom Tov of Pesach, the holiday that commemorates our nation’s freedom from bondage, conjures up an image in many a woman’s mind not of freedom but of slavery: endless toil, drudgery, and laborintensive, frenzied weeks of preparation. True, there’s an awful lot of work that has to be done: cleaning the house thoroughly, turning over the kitchen, purchasing all the Pesach supplies and ingredients, food preparation for an army, going shopping to outfit the children, etc. Many of us, though, do an extensive spring cleaning under the guise of getting rid of our chametz. Clearly, there is no evidence that the windows, draperies and the tarnish on our silver harbor any vestiges of leavened bread. The halachos of Pesach notwithstanding, many of us are inextricably bound—indeed, held captive—by the memories of our mothers and grandmothers preparing for Yom Tov. The videotape in our minds of how meticulously and exhaustively things were done in the past holds us hostage. There is no question that when all is said and done we enjoy the final product—an immaculate house, closets and cupboards overhauled and organized, and every nook and cranny squeaky clean (for a while, at least). It gives us a sense of victory, of having met the dragon in combat and heroically slain it, and I suspect it’s the prospect of this exultation that sustains us. The elephant in the room, however, is that we cannot afford to lose our perspective during these trying weeks of preparation. We have to make sure that, as someone put it so aptly, our children do not become the “korban Pesach,” sacrificial victims of the pressure and tensions of the season. The way to accomplish this objective is to be mindful that at every moment we are creating the memories that will accompany our children for the rest of their lives. We are, in fact, producing
march 20, 2013
NEW MN COLU
the videotape that will play in their minds when it will be their turn to instill a certain atmosphere in the home in advance of the Yom Tov season. Someone once said that the smaller things in life should not come at the expense of the bigger ones. A clean house and creative, gastronomic delights are wonderful things, but the foremost
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question in our minds should always be, “At what price? Is my focus on the peripheral, extraneous aspects of Yom Tov exacting too great a toll on my family?” We want our children to remember the Yom Tov fondly, to remember a mother who worked hard and, yes, made the children toe the line and contribute their share. But it is imperative that they also
be able to remember that it was done in a spirit of joyful anticipation and with a sense of privilege. (Nobody can be successful at this all the time.) I asked my children (almost fearfully, apprehensive of what their replies would be) what comes to mind when they recall their childhood experiences of Pesach. Fortunately, their memories consisted of things like watching the chametz being sold on Erev Pesach in the presence of a beis din to Captain Tom Thelan, a Milwaukee police officer who was our wonderful neighbor for many years. They remember the chametz burning ritual in the backyard, enjoyed by all the kids in the neighborhood. They remember searching for the chametz accompanied by Tatty’s unique niggun. The delicious Pesach food (especially the gribenes) rated high on their list, as did the gathering together of family and our many interesting guests. The Chol Hamoed trips to the park or zoo (even joined by Tatty, who was usually so busy) were also very special to them. I then asked my children whether the demands made upon them during this season were oppressive. They replied that, while I certainly asked them to do their share, they don’t remember my expectations as being unreasonable. They recalled polishing the silver and Lena, their babysitter, scolding them for not using enough elbow grease. They remember the endless peeling of potatoes and apples. On one occasion during those years, I was not having one of my better days. I was hassled, overtired, and as they say, “overworked and underpaid.” Chametz was still being eaten upstairs on the first floor. Downstairs, my entire Pesach kitchen consisted of makeshift
countertops on my washer and dryer, and a roll-away cart for extra storage. The whole workplace was so tiny that if two people turned around they bumped into each other. I was making 50 pounds of potato kugel, assisted by one of my daughters. At the exact moment I was pouring hot oil into the mixture my friend Leah walked in, and the contents splattered everywhere. We were covered with batter from head to toe. Overtired and giddy from lack of sleep, my daughter and I immediately dissolved into laughter. We couldn’t stop. Later, Leah told me that it became her personal symbol of freedom: the ability to laugh at yourself
for and eradicate our physical chametz, the leavened, puffed-up remnants of bread, we should simultaneously be doing an internal reality check, searching for the emotional/psychological chametz that obstructs our ability to be free and true to who we really are. Doing so will allow us to disabuse ourselves of the need to do everything just right, to never make a mistake, and the compulsion to demand the same of others. Looking back to the more hectic and physically demanding years of my life when my children were young, I am grateful that I didn’t totally “blow it.” I am thankful that my children’s memories
I then asked my children whether the demands made upon them during this season were oppressive. when you mess up, not to demand or expect perfection. In truth, it’s important to be able to roll with the punches and recover your equilibrium during these trying times. As one of my students commented, isn’t this the primary message of the matzah? Matzah, the bread of freedom, is so designated because, in contrast to bread, the dough isn’t allowed to rise. Matzah contains essentially the same ingredients as bread, yet it doesn’t become inflated. It is simple and basic. As such, it represents our letting go of the ego, that which gives us an inflated sense of self. As we search
on the whole are positive ones, because at the end of the day, that’s what really matters. n Rebbetzin Feige Twerski is the mother of eleven children and many grandchildren whose number she refuses to divulge. Alongside her husband, Rabbi Michel Twerski, she serves as Rebbetzin to her community in Milwaukee, and counsels people all over the globe. The Rebbetzin is a popular lecturer, speaking on a wide variety of topics to audiences in America and overseas. She is the author of Ask Rebbetzin Feige, and more recently, of Rebbetzin Feige Responds.
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Parshas Tzav/Pesach // By Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein
once took a young Russian Jew to shul. Although she was twenty-four, she had never seen or met a rabbi before. When I opened the aron kodesh and showed her the contents, I watched her expression as she gazed at the scrolls through ever widening eyes. Suddenly, I too saw them again for the first time; my familiarity had been stolen from me. That’s when I remembered: sifrei Torah are stunningly beautiful. There is not a more seductive word in any language than “new.” Think of the car you drive and compare it to the next year’s model. Or think of the iPhone that comes out with a slightly bigger screen. New is exciting, interesting and enticing. Old is dull and boring. Parshas Tzav challenges Aharon to be excited about a mitzvah whose appeal might be diminished because people will have to spend money on it. The appeal of any mitzvah is also diminished because we have done it a thousand times. The one thousand and first time becomes automatic—“mitzvas anashim melumadah” (Yeshayahu 29:13). What should be exciting becomes robotic, perfunctory, or in Yiddish, “yotzei zein.” When we sit down at the Pesach seder in a few days, perhaps the dutiful fathers will glance at some Haggadah notes from last year or the year before, ready to repeat the same questions and provide the same answers. All over the world, good and loyal wives will be smiling and nodding, pretending they’ve never heard any of it before. Less loyal teenagers may silently mouth the words verbatim to each other and roll their eyes. But the Haggadah declares, “A person is obligated to see himself as though he is the one going out from Egypt.” With the Haggadah’s invitation to climb inside a time machine, we travel back three and a half thousand years. Instead of comfortable homes, we are standing among ragged and demoralized Jews, watching their expressions as they gaze—through their own ever-widening
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eyes—at miracles: miracles beyond anything the Egyptians could even dream of; each one stunned and shocked them, and stunned and shocked us. We saw something new and we were all blown away by it. We were blown away at the Yam Suf, and this continued all the way toward Har Sinai. It wasn’t easy in Egypt, leaving the old behind. It is not easy in our time either. And that is the challenge that fathers conducting the seder have to grapple with when they paint the picture of yetzias Mitzrayim again: to make the story new, to cause our eyes to widen. Divrei Torah have to be fresh, new and exciting. So does our Yiddishkeit. Old stories and worn explanations will
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not suffice in modern times, where “innovative” and “cutting-edge” are sought-after qualities. To keep us passionate, Torah has to literally “blow us away.” This is something important for throughout the year—that’s why the pasuk specifies “in every generation.” This message of the Haggadah directs us to strive to discover more and more about Torah: a new chiddush, a new sefer, a new shiur—in fact, a new Torah, like we received on Har Sinai. n Rabbi Y. Y. Rubinstein is an author of six books, and an international speaker and Gateways lecturer. He teaches at Machon Basya Rochel in Lawrence, NY.
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golden nuggets // By Basha Majerczyk
The Extra Day
ne evening, as Rabbi Yechezkel Landau of Prague, zt”l, also known as the Noda B’Yehudah, was walking home from shul after Maariv, he came across a little Gentile boy wandering around the Jewish streets. The child was crying; his clothes were tattered and torn, and he was clutching several empty baskets. Moved by the pitiful sight, the rabbi went over and asked him what was wrong. “I am an orphan,” the boy sobbed. “After my mother died my father remarried, but my stepmother is very cruel woman. My father is a baker by trade, and every day my stepmother sends me out to sell the day’s wares. If I don’t sell every single loaf, I’m not allowed to return home. Today I was lucky and sold all of them. But when I checked my pocket to make sure the money was there, I discovered that it was gone! The whole bundle must have fallen out or else I was pickpocketed. I haven’t eaten all day, but if I return home empty-handed I know I’ll be beaten. I don’t know what to do!” The rabbi took pity on the child and brought him home with him. He gave the starving lad a warm meal, and asked him how much money was missing. When the boy replied 30 gulden, the Noda B’Yehudah counted out the exact sum and gave it to him. The child went home greatly relieved and with a full stomach. Many years passed, and the rabbi forgot about the incident. /// It was the night of Shvi’i Shel Pesach. The Noda B’Yehudah was sitting in his study learning, the only person in the house still awake. Suddenly, he heard a muffled knock at the door. When he opened it, a young Gentile walked in. He was clearly nervous. “How can I help you?” the rav asked, alarmed by the late hour. “Rabbi, I see you don’t recognize me,”
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the man whispered, “but many years ago you did me a great favor. You fed me when I was starving and gave me a sum of money. Now I have come to repay you, if only I can. “A terrible plot against your people has just come to my attention. At the instigation of my stepmother, all the non-Jewish bakers in Prague have made a pact to poison the Jews right after your holiday of Passover. Everyone knows that the Jews rush to buy fresh leavened bread immediately after nightfall when your festival is over. By poisoning the dough intended for them, they’ll get rid of the entire community in one fell swoop.” [Note: While the Jews of Prague were careful to eat only pas Yisrael the rest of the year, their rabbanim permitted pas palter on Motzaei Pesach, because it was obviously impossible for a Jew to have prepared the dough ahead of time.] The young man then left, after begging the rabbi not to reveal how he had learned of the plot. /// The next day, an announcement was made that the rav of the community would be addressing the community in the main shul on Acharon Shel Pesach concerning an extremely important matter. Attendance was compulsory. Silence reigned as the sage got up to speak. “My dear people,” he began, “it is a known fact that with each succeeding generation, more of the Torah is forgotten and our minds become weaker. I apologize profusely, but I have just learned that a grave error was made in this year’s calendar. Pesach should have begun a day later, and we are therefore
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obligated to keep one extra day of Pesach this year. It is therefore prohibited to eat any bread tomorrow.” The Jews were astonished. How could the beis din have made such a mistake? Nonetheless, out of reverence and respect for the sage, they obeyed. Pesach was celebrated for nine days that year in Prague. /// The following morning, the city’s nonJewish bakers were rounded up by the police, and the plot to kill the Jews was uncovered after a thorough investigation. It was then that the Jews understood why their rav had added the extra day, thereby saving their entire community from annihilation. Yet no one could figure out how he had learned of the plot. In fact, it wasn’t until the Noda B’Yehudah was on his deathbed that he revealed the secret to his son, Rabbi Shmuel Landau, the author of Shivas Tziyon. “It wasn’t my wisdom that brought the yeshuah,” he said, “but the attribute of rachmanus that was in my heart. It was only because I took pity on a poor child that the entire Jewish community of Prague was saved from certain death.” n
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I’m Not a Pesach Person By Sara Yoheved Rigler
I’m not a Pesach person. Yom Kippur is my day. I love to dress in white like an angel, forget about food and physical concerns, and spend all day in shul in prayer and contemplation. Preparing for Pesach, I am a slave woman, dressed in bleach-spotted work clothes, scrubbing, scouring, and scrutinizing every drawer, shelf, and corner, immersed in the physical world like Yonah imprisoned in the belly of the whale. Preparing for Yom Kippur, the key to teshuvah is in my hands. I do my “life review” and cheshbon hanefesh, ferret out my weaknesses and sins, devise a plan for self-improvement, attend classes, and work on myself like Betzalal forging the keilim for the mishkan. I am in control, a valiant warrior fighting
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my yetzer hara. Victory depends on me, on the strength of my will to return to Hashem. On Pesach, the key to redemption is in Hashem’s hands. I am a scruffy beggar, on the forty-ninth level of spiritual impurity, undeserving, hoping for an unearned gift, with no claim to Hashem’s beneficence except the pedigree of my forefathers, a dusty and dog-eared document that I hold out with soiled hands. I feel uncomfortable being on the dole. I’d rather earn my keep. Pesach is welfare. Hashem—in His greatness, mercy, and love—grants liberation to me, the lowly, unworthy welfare case. On Pesach we read the Song of Songs—the parable of the maidservant married to the King. Not like Esther, who won her royalty by her beauty and her virtues, the King’s bride in the Song of Songs—symbolic of us, the Jewish People—is a fickle commoner: unpolished, unwise, and unworthy of His love. I would rather be the
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King’s Minister, serving Him with my astuteness and my skills. But is that not precisely what chametz is? The inflated sense of myself, my ego swollen with its aptitudes and accomplishments. My sense of self-mastery, of control, of pride of achievement. Is this not the “ferment in the dough,” exactly what needs to be extirpated and obliterated? During Elul, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven” grants my compulsion to control its own fiefdom: teshuvah! As Yom Kippur approaches, I can become as contrite and as holy as I choose. I can become a veritable warrior against my yetzer hara. My drive to triumph, faced with the formidable foe of my own shortcomings, can rally to the fight, can brandish the sword of my strivings, and can trample my transgressions with teshuvah. On Pesach, however, I am helpless and fraught with uncertainty. Even after all my cleaning, have I really
obliterated every crumb of chametz? Only before Pesach is my apartment too big, my possessions too many. Did I miss any corners? Did I check every cranny? Even shopping in the mehadrin supermarket, did I read every ingredient of every item to make sure it contains no kitniyos? And what about the strawberry jam with the hechsher that during the rest of the year is good, but I heard that for Pesach I can’t trust it if it has flavorings from Europe? And when I place my items on the conveyer belt at the cashier, do I really know that the Arab worker two customers before me didn’t leave crumbs from the roll he bought? And when I bring the groceries into my silver-foil-covered kitchen, can I really be sure that the outside of every package has never been contaminated with chametz, on this holiday when you’re over with a molecule? I once learned that the Arizal said that if you don’t eat any chametz on Pesach, you won’t sin all year long. Every year, my every sin testifies to my Pesach failure. On Yom Kippur, I can feel the satisfaction of my sincere, prodigious efforts. On Pesach, no matter how smart, efficient, competent, zealous, and committed I am, 99 percent chametzfree is not good enough. But that’s just the point. Pesach is not about me or my accomplishments. On Pesach, Hashem owns all the verbs: hotzeiti, hitzalti, gaalti, lakachti—I took you out, I saved you, I redeemed you, and I took you for Myself. I am the mere object: the acted upon, the rescued, the beneficiary. Redemption is 100 percent gift, a total
I feel uncomfortable being on the dole. I’d rather earn my keep. pesach is welfare. ego-deflator. The only appropriate response is a humble, “Thank you.” Our sages say that the redemption from Egypt is the prototype for the future redemption. We will not earn the geulah shleimah by our piety, by our prayers, or even by our Torah study. Our vileness—our sinas chinam and loshon hara—can delay the Redemption, but our mitzvot cannot earn it. That’s what the sages meant when they said that the third Beis Hamikdash would descend from Heaven. They didn’t mean that it would come down from the sky like a flying saucer landing on the Temple Mount. They meant that all our merit would not be able to build the Beis Hamikdash. Rather, it will come as a gift from Heaven, unearned and undeserved. On Pesach, I must make myself into an empty vessel to receive Hashem’s gift. I must make myself into matzah— simple and unpretentious. Every square matzah looks like every other matzah: no enhancements, no distinctions, and no mark of individuality. On Pesach, I am the same as every Jewish woman: perfect equality, perfect simplicity, and perfect humility. I’m not a Pesach person, but Pesach is not about me—not about how beautiful a seder table I can set, not about how delicious a seder meal I can cook, and not about how innovative the shtik I can devise to keep the children fascinated.
Pesach is not about me at all. Pesach is about the unlikely, unreasonable, and unconditional love that HaKadosh Boruch Hu had for a motley group of idol-worshipping slaves. As no less than Moshe Rabbeinu explained the Exodus: “Because of Hashem’s love for you and because He kept the vow that He swore to your forefathers, did He take you out with a strong hand and redeem you from the house of slavery.…” (Devarim 7:8). Moshe Rabbeinu mentions as secondary the vow to the forefathers. The first reason for the Exodus was “Hashem’s love for you.” So that’s the Pesach challenge: To receive Hashem’s love, the love I don’t deserve and didn’t win. To be the slave woman, the commoner bride, the welfare case, the rescued, and to have the humility to accept the gift of Redemption. The only appropriate response is a humble, “Thank you.” A new group of The Ladder, Sara Yoheved Rigler’s teleconference workshop for single women, is beginning after Pesach, be”H. For more information, see www.sararigler.com.
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// Morsels of Wisdom, Wit and Practical Advice By Chaya Silber
7 tips 7 tips
for the Pesach Guests for the Pesach Hostess Things to keep in mind on your visit back to Mommy and Tatty
Be Realistic: Coming to Mommy’s hotel for Yom Tov? Cross out the “hotel” part and you’ll be okay.
Be Clear About Your Plans: Let your hostess (or parents) know exactly when you’re planning to arrive, which of your children sleep in a crib, and any special diets or hang-ups.
Respect the Rules of the House: Yes, we know you grew up here, but the rules may have changed. And your parents aren’t 20 anymore.
Communicate Your Wishes Respectfully: If said nicely before any mishaps occur, these rules will be appreciated by all.
Tips for the hostess and the guests:
Not a Free Vacation: You are responsible for your own messes.
Remember to enjoy each other’s company. Try to go somewhere on Chol Hamoed (a local park is excellent), and perhaps have a picnic together. Macaroons and eggs make an excellent dinner menu on the go. The mess and chaos will be gone before you know it, but the memories linger on.
Gratitude, Gratitude, Gratitude: Express your appreciation often, and effusively.
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Spruce Up Your Guest Room: Make sure the room is clean and inviting.
Smile and the World Smiles with You: Be a gracious hostess, even if you’re plotzing.
Send Invitations Ahead of Time: You should have your guest list figured out by Purim.
In Case You Need Help: Ask.
Babysitting Service Not Included: Your children are your pride and joy. They are also your exclusive responsibility.
Don’t be a Martyr: If hosting multiple guests for Pesach is too much, be honest and say so.
Think About Breakfast: Keep the house well-stocked. Breakfast foods (eggs, milk, yogurts) are especially vital.
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Be a Sport (Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff): If you don’t feel that way, just “fake it ’til you make it.”
Keeping your cool no matter who shows up
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Family Dinner: A Misnomer? The importance of quality time
Experts have been talking about the importance of family dinner for years. And it’s not just fluff. According to research, children who regularly eat dinner with their parents are less likely to drink, smoke, or develop eating disorders. Unfortunately, though, in today’s fast-paced life (with different aged children coming home from school at different hours and wanting or needing to eat right away), most families don’t manage a family dinner every night. A UNICEF study found that the United States ranked 23rd out of 25 countries in the percentage of children who eat the main meal of the day with their parents several times a week. Thankfully, we have Shabbos, our Day of Rest, when we can spend quality time with our families. And, of course, there’s Pesach, a family time if there ever was one. Yet experts say quality time is best spent on a daily basis, not just weekly. Perhaps there is another solution. Create small pockets of quality family time during the week. After all, there are only 10 minutes of productive time in any family meal, according to linguistics expert Lyn Fogle. The rest is taken up with “Take your elbows off the table,” and “Pass the salt.” Researchers say you can take that time and place it at other times of the day, reaping the same benefits. Family dinner never happens? How about family breakfasts? If that doesn’t work, plan a family bedtime snack. Now here’s another surprising twist: What you talk about might be more important than what you eat. Research shows parents do two-thirds of the talking around the table, says Fogle. That means they’re not taking full advantage of the shared family time. Some suggestions: Give every child a chance to talk about their day. Even better, ask them to mention one positive thing that happened, or one thing to be grateful for. But don’t brush away their worries or concerns: Airing those is important, too.
Can’t Help Looking Ragged The truth behind under-eye circles
Sleep deprived from all that scrubbing? Dark circles under your eyes? Contrary to popular opinion, there’s no connection between the two. Blue circles under the eyes, say experts, come from oxygenated blood pooled beneath the under-eye skin. The skin around the eyes is thin and almost transparent, so blood shows through. This is more noticeable in the morning: When we’ve been horizontal for a while, fluids accumulate and the veins expand. Blue circles are often genetic, and may get worse with age. “As we get older, we lose subcutaneous fat, which can mask blueness below the surface of the skin,”
says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical dermatology research at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Your options? Topical creams that promise to get rid of the circles. Some contain caffeine, which constricts blood vessels and temporarily boosts circulation. Other treatments contain hyaluronic acid, which plump the area, pushing the skin up and away from the pooled blood. Ultimately, though, these creams will only work for a day or two, before the dark circles will be back. Perhaps you’d be best off accepting them, though a bit more sleep is definitely recommended! 9 nissan 5773
The Arba Kosos on your Tablecloth! Steps for removing wine from delicate linens (Ask a shailah if this can be done during Chol Hamoed, to save the tablecloth. Waiting until after Pesach may be too late.) Blot it Out Blot with a clean cloth to remove as much of the wine stain as possible. During this blotting process, don’t scrub the area. Work from the outside of the stain to the center, to prevent spreading. Wine for Wine Dab the stain with white wine, or seltzer, to further absorb the redness. A Dash of Salt Now pour either salt or baking soda on the stain and let it set. The powder will soak it up. Blood, Lice and Boils Put the piece of fabric with the stain across a large bowl; pour boiling water on top and let it draw out the stain. (Note: This is for washable tablecloths only.) Wash and Wear Once the stain is out, wash the tablecloth in cold water with mild detergent. Air dry and iron (after Yom Tov).
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fun ’n frugal // You’re Richer Than You Think
Establishing Trust It’s not only about the money. By Miriam Schwartzman
hen I was a child, my father taught me a financial lesson that has become a part of me and the way I prefer to raise my children: “It’s not the money. If something is important, I will find the money. And if I feel it is wasteful, I won’t put a dollar towards it.” I clearly remember my parents being hard-pressed when it came to school Shabbatons and graduation trips costing upward of a hundred dollars. They always let me know
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that it was a lot of money. But since they felt it was important, they’d put the sum together somehow. They looked at these extracurricular activities as a teaching experience. It was a double lesson. It taught me to value money, and it taught me that my parents loved me enough to give me what they thought was a great contributor of happiness—or at least to my happiness at that stage in my life, even though it was difficult for them. That was about seventeen years ago, and I still
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remember it profoundly. Another thing I clearly remember is the afikoman. We would count the weeks from Purim until Pesach, and then the days and then the hours. And when our family grew, we’d argue about who would get to steal the afikoman. So my parents instituted the afikoman rule: Girls ask one night and boys the other, regardless of who stole the matzah. And we could ask for something reasonable—something important that we needed, wanted or
could use. It couldn’t be a Game Boy or other electronic toy because my parents felt those stifled brain work. It couldn’t be something overly expensive (obviously!) and it couldn’t be reading material they didn’t approve of or other toys that were not up to the standards we lived by. So every year we compiled lists, just as many imaginative Jewish boys and girls do these days. And then, by process of elimination, we came to choose something. And we always got what we asked for! When I was in fourth grade I didn’t own a single piece of jewelry, not real or fake. So, I asked for a gold bracelet that could be turned into a charm bracelet. And since my parents felt it was fair to ask for this, because it was meaningful and useful, they said yes. The issue wasn’t always the money. If I needed it, Hashem would provide and I would have it. After Yom Tov, they hunted down a wholesaler who would sell them a charm bracelet for less money than retailers charged. And that bracelet grew with me through my childhood and teenage years. Every time I needed to be rewarded, they’d buy me a charm that I would lovingly attach to the links. I remember a few of those occasions clearly. Suffice it to say that my behavior in eighth grade wasn’t stellar. But when my teacher called to say I had improved, my mother bought a little gold telephone charm for me. When I babysat for weeks and managed the house so my mother could be with her elderly parents, she purchased a little gold baby stroller. And so, by the time I got married the bracelet was full of charms and laden with sentimental value. My parents wanted to instill trust in us, a valuable lesson for all: those who live frugally, and for those who don’t. Their mantra was, “If you promise a child something, you never break that promise.” That was something we lived by, and not only on Pesach, but every day of the year. Yet for us kids who didn’t get prizes and toys every minute, this was once a year when we knew we could count on something new, because we knew we could count on our parents’ promise.
I gently broke the news to her that we were not buying a mouse Now my married siblings and I sit around the table at my parents’ seder, and all of us are young, growing families, living on sparse budgets. When I was newly married, and my little brother, who was then three, asked if he can ask my husband for an afikoman gift. My mother told him he could, but it could cost no more than a few dollars. And that’s the rule that remains in place. Even though my children are young, they begin discussing their afikoman gifts on Shushan Purim. And their ideas for the prizes change about every hour. But that’s okay because they are confident: They are absolutely sure that they can rely on their parents to come through, no matter what they choose. (Last week my daughter changed her mind from a doll to a mouse after her teacher told her the story of a mouse that came to search the house for crumbs and found none because the house was Pesachdig. I gently broke the news to her that we were not buying a mouse, but that she could revert to a doll or try something else.) A friend of mine once explained that
her mother buys afikoman gifts before Pesach and hands them out to the children right away. She feels that she gets to choose what she really thinks the kids could use and enjoy, and it fits her budget to the tee. And, it is another tactic to keep the children from falling asleep. They all want their gifts. When I first heard of the idea, I thought it was limiting. What if a child wanted something else? But, after a while, it made more and more sense to me. The children were used to getting prizes and not asking. They were thrilled to have it at the seder, the budget was met, and everyone was happy. A little creativity can come a long way. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how kids are rewarded, as long as the trust is not broken. Parents have a golden opportunity to teach children about love and money at the same time. Don’t just say, “Yes, sure we will get you a new doll,” and then as fast as you say it, forget about it. You’re silently imparting to children that promises don’t count. And that would be a real shame, especially on Pesach, a night of so many promises.
frugal TIP of the day
Decide on an economically sound afikoman plan. Then, announce to your kids a budget, a maximum cost per prize, or that siblings could pool together and buy something bigger. Why should kids fight over something so special? If possible, divide the requests per seder night: Perhaps the younger children ask for afikoman the first night, and the older children ask at the second seder. If that doesn’t work, consider pre-buying toys or prizes, books, puzzles, games or even jewelry if it fits your budget, and giving each kid something special right before or during the seder—telling them it’s their afikoman this year. If you absolutely cannot afford afikoman gifts at all, be upfront about that, too. Tell your children about it; don’t mislead them into believing you will buy them something you cannot afford.
9 nissan 5773
MARCH 20, 2013
truth or consequences
as told to Peri Berger
Everyone was shocked that we were going away by ourselves for yom tov. But we could not reveal the reason.
I hadn’t always made such a big deal about having our married kids come stay with us for Pesach, there would be no story to tell here. I’m one of those mothers who wants to have all her children and grandchildren around for the entire yom tov and will do just about anything to make it happen. I love the noise, I tolerate the mess, and I hire lots of cleaning help. Everyone has a great time. We hire a minibus and take them all on great Chol Hamoed trips. The food is fantastic, and best of all, my children see each other often and remain close. That’s really important. Even my mechutanim know that we are not mevater on Pesach, and because we support the children, they are kind enough to give us our way on this issue. So when we dropped the bomb—oh, this was about six years ago—that Tatty and Mommy were going away for Pesach, I thought the roof would blow off the house. My phone was literally ringing non-stop. I’d hang up and it would start to ring again while my hand was still on the receiver. All I had to do was tell the oldest three and word spread quickly, not only to my children, but even to our siblings. The insanity was not without reason. First of all, I only gave them the news two weeks before Pesach, so everyone really had to scramble. We support all our learning sons and sons-in-law in kollel, and we had given everyone a nice extra envelope for Pesach, even when they were planning to spend it with us. So we sent everyone more money, because we felt very bad about the inconvenience. The second reason—that my husband refused to allow me to tell anyone, and in fact I’m lucky that he told me—was that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. It was a slow-growing type, and it had come on so slowly that we didn’t notice anything until “the water was already up to our necks.” Time was of the essence. Yitzchak needed treatment right away, and
the best place to go for the treatment was, of all places, the Texas Medical Center in Houston. Now I ask you, what is a frum family supposed to do for Pesach in Texas? (I’ll tell you the answer, but I want to keep the timeline of the story in order, so just sit tight.) We had no time to plan anything, so I just ran around packing boxes with every kasher l’Pesach item I could get my hands on. I was planning to ship everything down and I couldn’t ask anyone for help, because they would wonder why I was going to all this trouble. I had already told them we were going to a Pesach hotel because Tatty had been working very hard and needed to relax. I was surprised when the kids did not laugh in my face, because I had always said how much I disliked the idea of going away, and as long as I had the strength, I’d make Pesach at home, thank you very much. I guess it’s a testimony to the chinuch we gave them, because not one of our kids challenged me to explain the contradiction. But they were not quiet or shy about showing their disappointment and asking over and over for us to change our minds or at least take them all along. What really upset them was our telling them that our destination was going to remain a secret. Our supposed reason: we wanted complete privacy. My heart kept breaking over and over, because the last thing I wanted was to be separated from my children and grandchildren during the yom tov. But my hands were tied, because it’s my husband who shares my neshamah, not them, and my first obligation is to him. I didn’t want to upset him any more than he already was by begging him to let me tell someone, anyone. Yitzchak kept saying he’d help me with the packing. But of course, he couldn’t. He could barely walk, and by the time we got to Houston, he actually could not walk at all, and had to be taken from the plane by 9 nissan 5773
march 20, 2013
truth or consequences
We were all traumatized by the experience, but I didn’t realize that until much later. stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. Anyway, the kids were going crazy with their calls, but I kept quiet and did what I had to do. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. My husband is the take-charge type, while I’m the youngest sibling in my family, and I’m used to being the follower, not the leader. But this time I was all on my own. Or so I thought! I have to take a minute here and say a word about the Houston Bikur Cholim. If I hadn’t been so concerned about my husband, I’d have followed them around and taken notes. They did everything but the surgery! They also understood and were very cooperative about our need to stay incognito. Some of our kids could not accept our leaving, and one daughter-in-law was cold to me for about two years after the whole incident. She was so angry at having to make Pesach at the last minute that she couldn’t bring herself to forgive me, and our relationship is strained until this day. A few others were just trying to figure it all out. Why this year? Which hotel? Tatty always works hard. What’s different now? A hundred questions for which I only had one answer: “Because.”
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They were totally baffled, and there was nothing I could do to make it easier for them. It was the first time I ever really had to push their needs aside completely and without explanation. We were all traumatized by the experience, but I didn’t realize that until much later. All I wanted was for Yitzchak to get better. Pesach went by in a haze of pre-op, surgery, post-op intensive care, and trying to care for all of Yitzchak’s needs. I basically survived on matzah and borsht for the entire eight days. Bikur Cholim brought fresh hot food every day, but I could barely choke it down. My entire being was focused on my husband. He is normally such a larger-thanlife and charismatic person, that seeing him totally incapacitated was a devastating experience. Because we didn’t want the kids to know where we were, we asked them to call us only on our cell phones. We refused to reveal our location, only further angering, upsetting and confusing them. They called many times a day, and sometimes it was hard to talk and I had to ignore their calls or speak only briefly. Every time they asked for Yitzchak, I had to make up an excuse and pray that they didn’t put their heads together and realize that not one of them had spoken to him the whole time we were away. By the time we were scheduled to come back, Yitzchak was nowhere near ready to leave. He’d contracted a nasty infection in the ICU, and along with a slow recuperation and other complications, he was almost in as bad a shape as when we’d arrived. In his lucid moments, I begged him to let me tell the children, but he refused. So I called each of them and told them that we were having such an amazing time that we decided to extend our vacation. Never, I told them, in our entire married life had Tatty and Mommy gone anywhere except to visit our parents, and only now were we discovering what we’d been missing. I said we were going on a special tour with people our age, and we were very excited about it. Although they were hurt and angry, b’chasdei Hashem this time they accepted what I was saying at face value, although
I can’t imagine why. I guess it was a gift from Hashem. You don’t get through every nisayon in the world so easily—but sometimes you just get handed a freebie. So on our “tour,” there were more tests, loads of antibiotics, another mini-surgery, and finally we were done and ready to return home. It was so ironic, because we were both thin and pale—Yitzchak from his surgery and treatments, and me from all the worry and stress. We looked like the two least likely people to have been on vacation, and we actually considered going to a hotel for a few days to fatten ourselves up, but we simply had no more strength. We were so grateful my husband had been given a clean bill of health that all we wanted to do was go back to our daily lives, while thanking Hashem every single second. The kids wondered why we were so vague about the details of our “vacation,” and one or two of them pestered us mercilessly for details, but after awhile the whole thing died down. Yitzchak was healthy, our lives were back on track, and I was hoping to put the whole thing behind me. But then, the following Nissan, calls started coming in, asking us if we were sure that we were going to stay home this year. “Of course,” I’d say to each one in turn. “What’s the question?” “Well,” my daughter said, “you and Tatty had such a great time last year, we figured you’d want to go again.” “And miss out on Pesach with my grandchildren? Never!” “But Ma, you gave us a whole song and dance about how much you enjoyed yourself on your Pesach honeymoon.” If only she knew! But I had spoken to Yitzchak and found out that the gag
order was never going to be lifted. He didn’t want the image they all had of him as an invincible provider to be the least bit tarnished. He wanted our sons and sons-in-law to learn without any worries whatsoever, and he knew that if they found out he had been ill, one by one they’d drop out and start looking for work. He was not ready for that to happen, and insisted I maintain the charade until 120. Every day, up until Pesach itself, I spent hours on the phone reassuring my children that we would be there for them once again, and hopefully always. Little did I know that the trauma would rear its ugly head every single year. I laughed at my daughter’s name for our terrifying hospital stay, but in a way, it was a honeymoon for us, even if it was an untraditional one. It made us realize how very fortunate we were to have each other, and to feel grateful for every single day that we spent together. Yes, our relationship with our children became strained as a result of our secrecy, but I’ve made my peace with it, for the most part. Sometimes I remember the pressure of having to go through such a crisis alone, and I wonder if Yitzchak realizes how he’s put me in an impossible position. I don’t mention it to him, because he was fighting his own battle for survival at the time, but I have a feeling that, one of these days, the price I paid for keeping his secret is going to dawn on him. Or maybe it won’t. Either way, I have no regrets. I’m the only person I know who gets to have her cake and eat it too— on Pesach. n Names and some details have been change to protect privacy.
the clean bill // Real People on the Quest for Health
The Mysterious Experiences of Heart Transplant Patients
REMEMBER? by Yitta halberstam mandelbaum 9 nissan 5773
march 20, 2013
the clean bill // Real People on the Quest for Health
the heart merely a mechanical pump, or could it possibly be the seat of the soul? Claire Sylvia, a traditional Jewish woman from an Orthodox home, never had cause to contemplate that question before, even though she was philosophically bent, an avid spiritual seeker, and had faced a life-threatening illness for years. When confronted with the more imminent prospect of one’s mortality, people tend to pay attention to the bigger questions. But though Claire had suffered from a rare lung disease for decades and consequently had confronted the weightier issues that many of us tend to skirt, she never thought to ask: where exactly do consciousness and memory reside? Do they flow through every cell of our bodies, are they secreted somewhere in between the amygdala and the hippocampus of our brains, or do they basically inhabit the heart? She probably would never have even thought to inquire, if she hadn’t had a heart-lung transplant herself at the age of 50, a traumatic operation that left her reeling. Claire’s brush with death (pathologists who examined her old set of lungs later told her that she had about a month left) and her sudden reprieve from the edge of the abyss shook her to the core. “It’s post-operative depression,” doctors reassured her when she told them that she felt decidedly “different” upon awakening from the anesthesia. “It’s very common among heart surgery and transplant patients.” But it was something more than garden-variety depression that she was experiencing, Claire insisted. “It’s like a complete identity crisis,” she tried to explain. “Big, major parts of me have been taken away and replaced with somebody else’s. Who is this else? I have always known who I am, but who am I now?” Claire could not shake off the feeling that a different rhythm now pulsated through her being. Friends, family members and the medical personnel who monitored her closely “pooh-poohed” her anxieties. “You’re the same person that you always were,” they shushed her. But on the third day after the operation, even their jaws dropped in astonishment, when they watched Claire clown with the reporters who had converged upon Yale-New Haven Hospital to interview her (As the medical center’s first heartlung transplant patient in 1988, she had generated a lot of media attention) and blurt out answers that didn’t jive with the woman they knew. “Now that you’ve had this miracle,” one of the reporters asked
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Claire, “what do you want more than anything else?” “Actually,” she said, “I’m dying for a beer.” The intimates surrounding her bedside exchanged startled looks, but it was Claire who was the most surprised of all. She hated beer. She never touched the stuff. From where had this flippant response come, one that was, in actuality, an utter lie? But it didn’t seem like a falsehood right now, she mused, because she was suddenly seized with an absolute craving for the brew, an unquenchable thirst that would drive her wild if it were not slaked. And when the obliging reporters brought her the alcoholic drink, she tossed it down her throat like a pro, as if she had been doing this her entire life. But she hadn’t. And how could she have been so shockingly irreverent? she castigated herself, deeply ashamed. She had just been reborn, given a new lease on life, and all she could say was that she wanted a beer? How superficial was that? What was wrong with her? This isn’t the old me speaking, she worried. Where did Claire Sylvia go? Later that night, as she tossed restively in the hospital bed, a bizarre suggestion intruded upon Claire’s thoughts. What if my donor liked beer? she wondered sleepily. The notion—and its implication—were too onerous to bear, so she instantly banished them from her mind. Such an imagination, she scolded herself. Maybe all the medications you’re taking are affecting your taste buds; it’s as simple as that. But it wasn’t simple at all. In fact, the entire aftermath of the heart-lung transplant—during her hospital stay and later at home—was muddled, complex, confusing and downright strange. Rather than revert back to type as the days flew by, Claire found herself becoming increasingly alienated from her former self, speaking and behaving in ways that felt utterly foreign to her basic nature. Even her friends and family grudgingly agreed that she was “different.” But along with their pronouncements came confident assurances that everything was due to the emotional stress of the operation, the medications that she was taking, and the physical toll taken on her body. Their comforting words— though well-intentioned—sounded hollow to Claire, because the heart transplant patient knew with utter certainty that something was off. “All these explanations don’t account for my sudden obsession with chicken nuggets,” she protested to her daughter one day. (She couldn’t stop eating them since she had returned home. Strange thing was, Claire had always been very health-conscious and had mostly avoided animal protein until now.) “Or why I suddenly put green peppers into everything. I never ate green peppers before. I always made sure to pluck them out from salads
Bone Marrow Transplants Also Have Ramifications Although both scientific studies and “anecdotal literature” do not report any personality changes affecting bone marrow recipients, few people outside the cancer community are aware that the transplants may have far-reaching physical consequences for leukemia survivors in shidduchim. According to geneticists, a bone marrow transplant can potentially change the patient into a medically induced chimera—a person who carries two separate sets of DNA. (This medical phenomenon is known to naturally occur when fraternal twin embryos fuse in utero.) When a patient receives a bone marrow transplant, the donor tissue cells will always have different DNA from that of the recipient, unless the donor and recipient are identical twins. Since bone marrow contains blood stem cells responsible for making our blood and continuously replenishing its supply, survivors of leukemia no longer have their own DNA in their blood, but rather the DNA of their donor. And though blood transfusions can temporarily change the DNA in our cells, the effect of bone marrow transplants is permanent. How does this ultimately affect bone marrow recipients in shidduchim? Currently, Dor Yeshorim’s tests for compatibility are strictly based on blood samples alone. This protocol works perfectly well for the thousands of young men and women in shidduchim who, thank G–d, never experienced any childhood illness requiring a bone marrow transplant. But for leukemia survivors, the DNA test on a blood sample will result in false positives and negatives, since it is the bone marrow donor’s blood that is being tested, not theirs. To obtain accurate DNA typing for shidduch purposes,
bone marrow recipients should advise Dor Yeshorim of their medical history, and ask that testing be done through different means. DNA can also be accurately determined by collecting minuscule amounts of the subject’s hair, bone, skin tissue or saliva. An alternative method often employed by the police is the “cheek swab.” A striking example of the dramatic physical transformations that can occur after a bone marrow transplant is recounted in a recent issue of the New York Times. After decades of advocacy for breast cancer patients, Dr. Susan Love, the renowned surgeon and author, ironically became a cancer patient herself last spring when she was suddenly diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. After undergoing a bone marrow transplant (the donor was her younger sister), Dr. Love—despite her own extensive knowledge of various cancer treatments and protocols—found herself surprised by the extent to which her body’s
chemistry became altered. “The transplant was quite an amazing thing,” she told the Times. “My blood type changed from O positive to B positive, the same type as my sister. I also inherited my sister’s immune system, and my life-long allergy to nickel has suddenly disappeared. I can wear cheap jewelry now,” she joked. Beyond shidduchim in the frum community, on a more global scale, changes caused by bone marrow transplants have tremendous implications for forensic science and criminal investigations. For example, what would happen if a bone marrow recipient was arrested for a crime that he committed, and his DNA profile was subsequently entered into a database for law enforcement officials? Could his donor not possibly be charged with a future crime because he was an exact DNA match? An unlikely scenario? Consider this case, which was reported by the Alaska State Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage: DNA collected at the scene of a horrific assault in Anchorage matched a blood sample from a notorious criminal in the database. But on the date of the attack, this felon was already in jail! The police were utterly confounded, until dogged detective work uncovered a second individual whose DNA profile was an exact replica of the prisoner’s. Turns out that the two men were brothers, and the man in jail had received a bone marrow transplant from his sibling years before. Their blood DNA was the same. But the cheek swab that police ultimately performed on the second man was different from his brother’s and matched the DNA taken from the crime scene. So now both brothers were in jail together, apparently sharing much more than just bad blood!
9 nissan 5773
march 20, 2013
the clean bill // Real People on the Quest for Health
I was served in restaurants. Suddenly I have an absolute yen for them—all the time. And I also have acquired a surprising new hankering for sweets, especially chocolate. What’s with that?” But more unsettling to Claire than her sudden changes in food preferences was her newly-minted personality style. An aristocratic, feminine, gentle woman before the transplant, she now found herself more outspoken than ever before, brash, blunt, increasingly aggressive. Her energy level—once calm and even-keeled—accelerated to a frenzied and restless pace. She was constantly on the prowl now for new experiences, new activities, action. And people commented on the different way she walked, too. “Like a lumbering football player,” friends teased. Equally interesting, while her social circle had always been comprised of peers from her own age group, Claire now suddenly felt drawn to people who were considerably younger. She uneasily approached her daughter one day, “I know this
sounds weird, but do you think it might be possible that the donor’s heart is affecting me?” “If you had a brain transplant,” her daughter joked, “that might be conceivable. But the heart is nothing more than a pump, Ma. An incredibly important pump, but only a pump...a monotonous, mandatory machine. Where are you going with this anyway; do you actually believe that traces of the donor’s life cling to his organs?” Claire didn’t know what to think, so she tried to suppress the uneasiness that was rising up in her. Then, five months after the operation, she started having a series of dreams that were at once eerie and comforting. The dreams always featured the same young man named Tim Leighton, who appeared to be a good friend. The dreams were vivid and recurred often. Although they were always pleasant dreams and emitted “positive energy,” their frequency haunted her. Finally, Claire couldn’t take it
References to Pharoah’s Hardened Heart Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of G–d.’ And Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he listened not to them, as Hashem had said.” (Shemos 8:15) Wild Animals — “And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.” (Shemos 8:28) Pestilence — “And Pharaoh sent, and, behold, there was not one of the cattle of the people of Israel dead. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.” (Shemos 9:7)
Blood — “And the magicians of Egypt did likewise with their enchantments, and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, nor did he listen to them, as Hashem had said. And Pharaoh turned and went to his house, nor did he set his heart to this.” (Shemos 7:2223) Frogs — “But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and listened not to them, as Hashem had said.” (Shemos 8:11) Lice — “Then the magicians said to
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After the first five plagues, we note a subtle yet essential shift in language. Boils — “And Hashem hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he listened not to them, as Hashem had spoken to Moses.” (Shemos 9:12) Hail — “And Pharaoh sent, and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘I have sinned this time; Hashem is righteous, and I and my people are wicked...’ And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders had ceased, he sinned yet
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more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants. And the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, nor would he let the people of Israel go, as Hashem had spoken by Moses.” (Shemos 9:27, 34-35) “And Hashem said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these my signs before him.’” (Shemos 10:1) Locusts — “But Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the People of Israel go.” (Shemos 10:20) Darkness — “But Hashem hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go.” (Shemos 10:27) Death of Firstborn — “’And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them, and I will be honored over Pharaoh, and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am Hashem.’ And they did so. And it was told the king of Egypt that the people fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants was turned against the people, and they said, ‘Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?’” (Shemos 14:4-5)
Even when Man forgets, his heart remembers. Every experience is engraved upon it, a testament to the lives we have led and the people we have become. anymore and made an appointment to see Gail Eddy, coordinator of the heartlung transplant unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital. “Gail,” she pleaded when they met, “I know this information is confidential; you’re not allowed to tell me about my donor. But I keep on having dreams about a young man named Tim Leighton. I feel like I’m going crazy. Can you help me out here and just tell me if there is any truth to the dreams I’m having? Is my donor’s name Tim?” “Claire,” Gail said gently. “You know I would love to help you. But we observe a strict code of confidentiality, an ironclad rule that the donor’s identity can never be revealed to the recipient, and vice-versa. It’s not psychologically healthy. Trust me.” “So you can’t tell me anything?” Claire begged. “I can’t discuss this with you. Please, Claire, let it go. Even if you would succeed in tracking down the family, you would just be opening a can of worms.” “What do you mean?” Claire asked. “You can never predict how the donor’s family will respond. People have all kinds of unexpected reactions. If you’re curious about the donor, that’s only natural. But please, please let it go.” Claire promised Gail she would back off. But when the dreams continued unabated, Claire found herself unable to keep her pledge. She approached a nurse with whom she had become particularly close during her stay at Yale-New Haven.
“All I can tell you is that your donor was an 18-year-old boy from Maine who died in a motorcycle accident,” the nurse whispered. Perhaps she felt she was helping allay Claire’s anxieties by breaching the confidentiality code. Perhaps she thought the scant information she had given Claire was inconsequential, mere breadcrumbs bearing little import. How could that young, naïve nurse ever imagine that Claire would tenaciously follow that trail of breadcrumbs until it would eventually lead to the home of her donor? In the pre-Internet era, Claire relied on library archives. She scoured the obituary pages of all the Maine newspapers in the Boston Public Library, looking for death notices corresponding to the date of her surgery. And there it was...the information she had sought for so long. “Timothy LaSalle, 18, of 29 Chestnut Street, died Friday at a Bangor hospital from injuries received in a motorcycle accident in Milford.” Claire felt a sudden weakness overcome her and she collapsed into a chair. Apparently, she had dreamed her donor’s first name correctly, although she had gotten his last name wrong. That’s it, she thought, that’s him. But strangely enough, she didn’t feel as jubilant as she thought she would. What she felt was anxiety and fear. So what am I going to do now? She made an appointment to see Gail Eddy, the transplant coordinator at Yale-New Haven, and over dinner, she
the clean bill // Real People on the Quest for Health
confessed her “insubordination.” Gail sighed. “Claire, when you called me the other day about your recurring dreams, I was really spooked. But I just couldn’t confirm the donor’s name; you know we are not allowed to release that information.” “Gail, I’m trying to figure out how I knew Tim’s name. Let me ask you something. Do you think his name might have been spoken by one of the doctors during the surgery, and that
somehow it reached me in my unconscious state? Is that how I could have known his name?” “I was wondering the same thing,” replied Gail. “It’s the only possible way I could explain it. But the doctors never mention the donor’s name; actually, they themselves aren’t even aware of it. Besides, your transplant was my first time in surgery with Dr. Baldwin, and I remember it clearly. It was so quiet in there you could hear a pin drop. That’s the way Dr. Baldwin works; not a
Heart References in Tanach 1 Shmuel 16:7 — “But Hashem said to Shmuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. Hashem does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but Hashem looks at the heart.’” 1 Melachim 11:4 — “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to Hashem his G–d, as the heart of David his father had been.” 1 Melachim 15:3 — “He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to Hashem his G–d, as the heart of David his forefather had been.” 1 Divrei Hayamim 29:17 — “I know, my G–d, that You test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly Your people who are here have given to You.” Iyov 38:36 — “Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind?” Tehillim 19:8 — “The precepts of Hashem are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of Hashem are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” Tehillim 24:4 — “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.” Tehillim 44:20-22 — “If we had forgotten the name of our G–d or spread out our hands to a foreign god, would not G–d have
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discovered it, since He knows the secrets of the heart?” Tehillim 51:10 — “Create in me a pure heart, O G–d, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Tehillim 73:1 — “Surely G–d is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” Mishlei 10:20 — “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value.” Mishlei 12:23 — “A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly.” Mishlei 13:12 — “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Mishlei 14:13 — “Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief.” Mishlei 14:33 — “Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning and even among fools she lets herself be known.” Mishlei 15:28 — “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.” Mishlei 15:30 — “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.” Mishlei 16:1 — “To man belong the plans of the heart, but from Hashem comes the reply of the tongue.” Mishlei 17:3 — “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but Hashem tests the heart.” Mishlei 18:15 — “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of
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the wise seek it out.” Mishlei 20:9 — “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin?’” Mishlei 21:2 — “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but Hashem weighs the heart.” Mishlei 22:11 — “He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the King for his friend.” Mishlei 22:15 — “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” Mishlei 24:12 — “If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who guards your life know it? Will He not repay each person according to what he has done?” Mishlei 27:9 — “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.” Koheles 7:7 — “Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.” Koheles 10:2 — “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.” Yirmiyahu 17:9 — “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Yirmiyahu 17:10 — “I, Hashem, search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”
word is spoken in his operating room. So the answer is: I have no idea how you came to know your donor’s name.” For several weeks after this conversation, Claire took no action, giving herself breathing space, giving all the possible options time to percolate. Gail had tried to convince Claire to make peace with the basic information she had, and to try to squelch her curiosity about her donor. But Claire desperately needed to understand the source of the various seismic shifts that had upended her life since the transplant, and she felt most of the answers resided with the LaSalles. One day, she sat down and wrote them a letter: “Dear Mr. & Mrs. LaSalle: With the passing of another year, I write to thank you for the gift you have given me. No words can properly express my gratitude. This has been a very productive year for me: I’ve been working on a book about heart transplants, overseeing the performance of a new dance I have choreographed, watching my daughter enjoy her first year of college, and just thoroughly enjoying the simple, ordinary things of every day, something I no longer take for granted. I have also begun a support group for people who are already recipients or candidates for transplants. The authorities did not give me your name or address. The knowledge came to me in another way, and I have taken the liberty of writing to you personally. If you do not wish to respond, I understand. If, however, you would like to communicate, you can reach me at ________________. Gratefully yours, Claire Sylvia
Two weeks later, Claire pulled into the driveway of the LaSalle home in Milford, a picture-postcard town of freshly mowed lawns and large clapboard houses. Her eagerness to meet the LaSalles was
clearly not reciprocated, she immediately discerned. Tim’s parents, and his five sisters and two brothers, were polite but formal, reserved and somewhat cold. Claire suddenly grasped the full meaning of the chasm that yawned between them. Of course it’s different for them than it is for me, she instantly understood. I am here to meet the people who granted me new life; they, on the other hand, are meeting the woman who benefited from their son’s death. I am a clear reminder of everything they’ve experienced. Claire had been so determent on trying to uncover any possible links between her donor and her changed personality, that she had completely overlooked the pain that this encounter could potentially cause the LaSalles, just as Gail Eddy had warned. But she was already sitting on their couch, accepting a cup of tea, chatting about the weather. It was too late to retreat now. After they tiptoed around each other for a while, Claire finally plunged in. “Please...tell me about Tim,” she entreated. “He had a tremendous amount of energy,” his sister said. “He held down three jobs. He was very restless.” “He had more energy than any of my other kids,” his mother agreed. “That’s why he loved motorcycles.” So that’s why I became so driven, incessantly craving activity, Claire thought. “Was he a beer drinker?” she asked casually. The family members nodded vigorously. “Did he like green peppers?” “Are you kidding?” one of his sisters exclaimed. “He loved them! He would fry them up with everything.” “But what he really loved more than anything else,” another sister interjected, “was chicken nuggets.” Suddenly everyone in the room became quiet, as an aura of palpable sadness descended upon them en-masse. Finally, Tim’s brother broke the uneasy silence and explained. “After Tim’s accident,” he said, “we had to remove a container of chicken nuggets from under
the clean bill // Real People on the Quest for Health
Everyone wanted to meet the woman who carried their relative’s heart and lungs inside her. his jacket . He was carrying them when he died.” Before long, the living room was teeming with the LaSalle’s relatives—aunts, uncles and cousins. Everyone wanted to meet the woman who carried Tim’s heart and lungs inside her. One of Tim’s sisters sat down next to Claire and asked for permission to touch her. “I was very close to Tim and we didn’t have a chance to say goodbye,” she said, as they embraced. Tim’s grandmother arrived and hugged Claire with tears in her eyes. “It’s wonderful that you came,” she said. “You’re part of the family now.” Tears pricked Claire’s eyes, for these were the words she had been yearning to hear all along. “My goodness, where are my manners?” Tim’s mother jumped up from the living room couch and headed to the kitchen. “Let’s get something to eat. I made a cake just for you, Claire.” She returned to the living room bearing a sheet cake decorated with a single word: WELCOME.
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“Chocolate,” she announced. “Tim’s favorite.” “He was just crazy for chocolate,” Tim’s sister said.
urprisingly, Claire Sylvia’s dramatic story is not unique. Although the vast majority of heart transplant patients rarely report undergoing any personality changes whatsoever, Claire’s experience is shared by approximately 6% of heart transplant patients, according to Dr. Benjamin Bunzel of the Department of Surgery at the University Hospital in Vienna. Most doctors scoff at claims that heart transplant patients and their donors become linked in some inexplicable way, and dismiss these stories as mere “anecdotal evidence,” but Dr. Bunzel has made serious attempts to investigate this phenomenon. In a recent study of heart transplant patients, Dr. Bunzel found that 79% reported no changes post-operatively, while 15% did acknowledge profound changes, which they attributed solely to the trauma of the operation itself. The remaining 6% strongly believed their newfound reactions to situations, changed food preferences, and different personality styles had to stem from the trace memories of their donors. For them, there was no other plausible explanation. Skeptics try to explain these assertions with any one of the following theories: ❤ The heart is a vital organ and a new heart can breathe new power into the body to palpably change the personality. ❤ Immunosuppressant drugs that are administered during organ transplantations can have far-reaching side effects, some of which may include personality changes.
❤ The extra-strong dosages of anesthesia required to keep
heart transplant patients sedated during the long surgery can cause a condition called “anesthesia delirium,” at which time the patient loses touch with reality, experiencing both hallucinations and fantasies. ❤ The fear and anxiety engendered by living with a lifethreatening disease for so many years may have dampened the patient’s core personality, which is resurrected after the threat is removed. Studies have shown that more than one in five people with heart failure are clinically depressed. Successful transplant recipients can expect to live for a decade or more (depending on their age and overall health) and this knowledge may very well banish their depression. ❤ The renewed appreciation for life following a brush with death can heighten the patient’s senses, cause him to engage in more self-reflection, and make him more positive, active and optimistic. ❤ Better blood flow to the brain can also improve cognition. It’s not that the new heart comes with a new personality; it’s that having a functional heart can improve your outlook. “We’ve never found any evidence to substantiate claims that heart transplants can change you into being somewhat more like your donor,” says Dr. Heather Ross, medical director of the Heart Transplant Program at the Peter Munk Cardiac Center in Toronto. “It certainly is life-impacting surgery and in that respect, can change your outlook, change how you see the world, but it certainly doesn’t make you suddenly like red shoes.” Physicians and scientists who share Dr. Ross’s perspective predominate, with most medical practitioners brushing aside the validity of first-person narratives like Claire Sylvia’s as pure hokum. But are these stories purely the fabrications or hallucinations of unhinged and over-imaginative minds? How do medical practitioners explain the accounts published in both academic journals and consumer magazines alike over the last 25 years that seem to lend some credence to Claire Sylvia’s claims? Consider, for example, the bizarre case of Sonny Graham. Graham was a happily married, 69-year-old Georgian man who suddenly committed suicide one day, having exhibited no warning signs of depression or sadness in the days leading up to the tragedy. The case would not have intrigued the media had it not been for the startling fact that Sonny had received a transplanted heart from a man who had also shot himself, under identical circumstances. In fact, at the time of his suicide, Sonny was married to his donor’s wife! (After his transplant, Sonny had tracked down the donor’s wife to thank her and they instantly felt as if they had known each other forever. Eventually, they wed.) So, was the double suicide merely a coincidence? Or is it the heart—not the brain—that stores our memories and drives our emotions? And can the heart’s memories somehow be transferred—at least partially—
An Aspirin for Your Skin
Latest H and Reseealth News Around tharch from e World
Melanoma succumbs to a common pill People are familiar with the use of aspirin to prevent heart attacks and strokes. But its power to stave off cancer is less well known. In recent years, researchers have found that rates of colorectal and esophageal cancer go down when subjects use aspirin. Now they’ve proven that melanoma, skin cancer, is also put at bay by the little pills. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine at Palo Alto examined data collected as part of the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. They focused on Caucasian women, who are in the greatest danger from melanoma. By examining the records of 59,806 women, which included medication, nutrition and physical activity, they found that all women who took aspirin had a 21 percent lower rate of melanoma than those who didn’t. If they took it for five years or more, they had a 30 percent lower rate. Aspirin isn’t entirely benign. It can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and has been linked to the development of age-related macular degeneration. But it’s still a powerful tool for patients to consider, with their doctors, to protect themselves from a scourge of the skin.
Something in the Smell Hope for the city-bound
Can’t get outside? It’s worthwhile to get a sniff of the outdoors anyway. Research has shown that getting out into nature reduces the body’s stress reactions, with an observed drop in stress hormones and increased immunity. Some studies have shown that looking at pictures of the great outdoors can also have a similar effect. But Dr. Qing Li, an immunologist at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, has been testing a different sense for the past eight years. Li kept subjects inside hotel rooms for extended periods. Some had cypress aromatherapy supplied in the room; some did not. Li found that the subjects who smelled the smell of the outdoors experienced the healthful effects of a walk in the woods, with a strong drop in stress hormones and increased immunity. Li, along with a number of other researchers, believes that the phytoncides, the oils and aerosols emitted by trees and plants, are responsible for much of the effect. So when you’re trapped in the house or office, spray those phytoncides and feel the stress just melt away.
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the clean bill // Real People on the Quest for Health
Professor Schwartz and other likeminded researchers don’t believe that experiences like Claire Sylvia’s are “supernatural” in origin.
to the person in whom it is transplanted? Professor Gary Schwartz and his team of researchers at the University of Arizona have documented more than 70 cases similar to Claire Sylvia’s, cases that they simply cannot chalk up to random happenstance. In each one of these eerie cases, the transplant patients assumed many of the personality traits or food preferences of their donors. “If these changes were the result of drugs, or stress, or coincidence,” asserts Dr. Schwartz, “none of those would predict the specific patterns of information that would match the donor.” One of the most intriguing cases uncovered by Dr. Schwartz and his team involved an 18-year-old poet and musician killed in a car crash. A year after he died, his parents found a tape of a song he had written entitled, “Danny, My Heart is Yours.” After his death, his parents donated his organs, and their son’s heart was transplanted into a teenage girl named...Danielle. When they, too, breached the confidentiality agreement of the hospital and tracked down their son’s recipient, they brought the tape with them. As they started to play the music, they were stunned when Danielle began to sing along. Despite the fact that she had never heard the song before, she knew every single word. Although most members of the media thoroughly reject the notion that a heart transplant recipient can actually take on some of the donor’s characteristics, and would surely dismiss the above story as “hogwash,” they are conversant enough with the “anecdotal evidence” to reference it in their journalism. When former Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, received a heart transplant in 2012, various pundits joked about how
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the new organ might affect his famously chilly personality. “Dick Cheney receives new, hopefully more empathetic heart,” read one headline. “Maybe now he’ll become a Democrat,” suggested the Los Angeles Times. “Can a heart transplant actually lead to a change of heart?” quipped a media blogger. “Can it change a hawk into a dove?” Professor Schwartz and other like-minded researchers don’t believe that experiences like Claire Sylvia’s are “supernatural” in origin. They advance no mystical or spiritual explanations, but instead proffer their own scientific theories of the phenomenon, a hypothesis that they call “cellular memory.” This theory proposes that since every cell in the body contains a complete set of genetic material, transplant patients inherit DNA from their donors determining, in part, how a person behaves, thinks and even eats. “There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that cellular memory even exists,” counters Dr. Tracy Stevens, medical director of the cardiac transplant program at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. But Dr. Paul Pearsall, an eminent neuropsychologist (listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Medicine and Science and cited by The Oxford Biographical Society as being one of the most influential scientists of the twentieth century), author of 18 best-selling books, and recipient of numerous awards for his pioneering work on the brain, heart and immune system, believed otherwise. Prior to his death in 2007, Dr. Pearsall was viewed as the trailblazer responsible for initiating the ground-breaking research on heart transplant recipients and memory transference, with his work leading to the formation of the Cleveland Clinic’s
Heart/Brain Institute. Dr. Pearsall subscribed to the same “cellular memory” theories as Professor Schwartz of the University of Arizona, and co-authored several papers with him that appeared in various academic journals. Dr. Pearsall’s 1999 book, The Heart’s Code: Tapping the Wisdom and Power of Your Heart, was described by reviewers as a “fascinating synthesis of ancient wisdom, modern medicine, scientific research and personal experiences that proves that the human heart, not the brain, holds the secrets that link body, mind and spirit.” In this book, Dr. Pearsall assigned a new name to the concept of “cellular memory,” dubbing it “energy cardiology.” But despite its new moniker, the theory he espoused in his book was the same as before: namely that “the heart thinks, remembers, communicates with other hearts, helps regulate immunity, and contains stored information that pulses through the body. The heart is more than a pump; it conducts the cellular symphony that is the very essence of our being.”
If all these things are true, then the question must be begged: Why is it that only 6% of heart transplant recipients report personality changes, and not a far greater number? Pearsall identified 18 distinguishing traits among the people whom he deemed “cardio-sensitives.” Memory transference seemed primarily confined to women who had good emotional IQ, were environmentally sensitive, loved animals and music, were creative types, and generally more inclined to “go with the flow” rather than dominate. “These traits,” Dr. Pearsall stated in his above-cited book, “are similar to the characteristics of those subjects who are easily hypnotized.” One of the strangest cases reported by Dr. Pearsall in his book was of an eight-year-old transplant patient who received the heart of a 10-year-old girl who had been murdered. After receiving the heart transplant, the eight-year-old (also a girl) began having recurring nightmares about the horrific event, almost as if she were an eyewitness to all the gruesome details herself. Her frantic mother took her to a psychiatrist who determined after several sessions that the girl did indeed seem
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the clean bill // Real People on the Quest for Health
In every single instance, we read that Hashem is hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Not his head, nor his brain, nor his mind, nor any other euphemism we may use to describe mental processes.
to be “reliving” a trauma that was not her own. Together, they called the police and provided detectives with the girl’s specific information about the date, time and place of the murder, a description of the perpetrator and the exact clothes he wore, and the last words uttered by his victim as she entreated him to spare her. Although the police initially scoffed, they followed the leads supplied by the transplant patient, and eventually caught and convicted her donor’s murderer. Before the age of reason most cultures believed that it was in the heart, not the brain, where the soul or consciousness resided. In a piece she wrote in 1997, Claire Sylvia posited the following: “Even today, in our enlightened, scientific era, we still refer to the heart when we discuss our feelings and our values. When love dies, or death strikes, we speak of being brokenhearted. We ‘take heart’ and ‘lose heart’ all the time. When we want to be demonstrative, we wear our heart on our sleeve; when a person is insensitive, we say he is heartless. Pure heart...aching heart...soft heart...valiant heart...noble heart...tender heart...understanding heart...the list goes on. “Could there possibly be some literal truth to these expressions? Even the most conservative cardiologist will acknowledge that the health and functioning of the heart are affected by certain emotional realities, including loneliness, depression and alienation. And while it is commonly accepted that the mind and body are deeply connected, we don’t have nearly as many images or phrases pertaining to, say, the liver, the pancreas or even the brain.” How should progressive, open-minded, intelligent people read Claire Sylvia’s story? Baffling, mysterious and utterly compelling, is it the product of lunacy, paranormal proclivities, or simply a charlatan’s crude bid for attention? Is it possible that Claire Sylvia’s story is something significantly more than any of these things, perhaps the contemporary corroboration of ancient truths now buried under the avalanche of modern scientific facts? In the story of yetzias Mitzrayim (the exodus of the Jews from Egypt) chronicled in the parshiyos of Va’eira and Bo, we encounter multiple allusions to the “hardening of Pharaoh’s heart,” alternately by his own hand or yad Hashem. Most commentators
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famously wrestle with these passages because of the pronounced change of language that dramatically occurs during the course of the Ten Plagues: Before each one of the first five plagues is unleashed upon the Egyptians, we read that Pharaoh has hardened his own heart; but as the last five plagues hammer his people, we read that it is G–d who hardens it for him. Many scholars who have written extensively on this subject struggle mightily with these passages because they raise the perplexing issue of Pharaoh’s bechirah (free will). If G-d hardened his heart for him, depriving him of independent choice, then why did Pharaoh deserve to be punished? This is the basic conundrum confounding scholars—both of yesteryear and today—and the one to which they devote their utmost attention. But in the light of Claire Sylvia’s story and other similar accounts, there is an aspect here that has been vastly overlooked and it is this: In every single instance, we read that Hashem is hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Not his head, nor his brain, nor his mind, nor any other euphemism we may use to describe mental processes. None of those words arise, not even once, in any of the pesukim. It is only the heart that is mentioned, over and over again. In fact, when we peruse the entire collected works of Tanach (see sidebar 2), we have to be struck by the glaring absence of any reference to the mind whatsoever, in contradistinction to the ubiquitous presence of the heart. So perhaps we err, after all, in assuming that the heart is just a pump, and perhaps Claire Sylvia’s story is not so far-fetched, after all. Perhaps we knew this once, but we may need to resurrect the knowledge we somehow misplaced. Science can bring us to places to which we may never have gone, but it can also lead us from places from which we should have never strayed. Even when Man forgets, his heart remembers. Every experience is engraved upon it, a testament to the lives we have led and the people we have become. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly,” author Antoine St. Exupery (l’havdil) once said. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” n
Thicker Water than
What is it really like to adopt a childâ€”or to be adopted? An exclusive, no-holdsbarred interview with adoptive parents and their children
By Esther Grossman
the day my friend told me she was adopted. We were in her bedroom talking about our families. She was an only child, and I was extremely envious of her. I proceeded to tell her how lucky she was to not have any brothers or sisters because they could be a real pain. She responded quite candidly, “I don’t have any brothers and sisters because I’m adopted.” I remember my immediate reaction was, “Oh, come on, Rochelle. You’re not adopted. You look just like your father.” (She really did.) I had never met an adopted person before. “I am adopted,” she insisted. “No, you’re not. Stop lying,” I countered in typical eightyear-old fashion. “If you don’t believe me, I’ll go ask my father. He’ll tell you,” she offered. I have never been one who backs down easily. “Okay, go ask him,” I said, calling her bluff. My friend ran out of the room and yelled down from the top of the stairs, “DADDY!” Now, at this point I totally believed her, and I was embarrassed that her father would think I had suspected her of lying. “Rochelle! I believe you!” I whispered to her, to no avail, as her father approached the foot of the banister. “Yes, Rochelle?” he called up. “Isn’t it true that I’m adopted?” “Yes, Rochelle. It’s true. You are adopted,” her father said in a pleasant tone of voice. In retrospect, I believe that knowing Rochelle and being exposed to her family ended up helping me in two ways. First, she was a really good friend. She had a fun, warmhearted personality that was quite captivating. Her parents were
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also amazing people, who made everyone feel welcome in their home. Our friendship is one of my fondest childhood memories. My relationship with Rochelle also helped prepare me for my future, although I didn’t know it at the time. Sometimes, Hashem sends the refuah (cure) before the makkah (plague). Being friends with her introduced me to a family that was raising an only child—which is my situation right now, many years later. Whenever I worry about my eight-year-old daughter turning into a stereotypical, spoiled only child, I think of Rochelle—and her parents. Somehow, they managed to raise their daughter to be a well-adjusted, terrific human being, even though she may have felt different from other children not only because she was adopted but because she had no siblings. With Rochelle and her parents in mind, I thought that in order to broaden my perspective it would be interesting to interview several other families that had been created through adoption. How did their individual stories differ? How did they tell their children that they were adopted? How did they deal with the possibility that their children might be interested in meeting their birth parents? Also, from the children’s perspective, how did being adopted affect their lives? Join me as I share the discoveries I made on this fascinating journey. While we all know that it takes a special person to adopt a child, after conducting these interviews I can also begin to understand why Hashem made these specific people parents, and how it helped mold each of their children into the exceptional individuals they are today. I am truly humbled by their inspirational stories, and thank all of the participants for sharing their lives with me.
THE PARENTS and the children Rena’s Story
My husband and I were not yet frum when we adopted our son. We knew even before we got married that we wanted to have children, which wasn’t too conventional in the secular world at the time. People didn’t usually think of having kids right away, but for us it was important. After a few years, when we didn’t get pregnant even with treatments, we realized we just wanted to be parents and didn’t care how it happened. We decided to look into adoption. We were part of a support group for infertile couples. Some of the other members were interested in adopting, so we all networked. We weren’t religious yet, but we were very interested in Yiddishkeit. During this time we became close to a baal teshuvah couple, who ended up guiding us through the process since we didn’t know all the halachos pertaining to adoption. They took us to an Orthodox rabbi to discuss whether we should adopt a Jewish child or a non-Jewish one. The rav understood us right away and his psak was very clear. He felt it was easier to adopt a non-Jewish child, because there were no issues with mamzeirus. However, I should point out that after we became religious we met other people—specifically, couples who had always been frum—who had been instructed differently. This opened my eyes for the first time to the beauty of halachah and the importance of getting a personal psak from a rav. This is something I feel strongly that everyone should do for every decision in life. We ultimately found our son through someone in our network. This woman had heard about a young college student who was due to give birth. Our contact suggested we speak with a certain attorney who specialized in adoption. We were officially told in August that we would be able to adopt this baby, who was due to be born in mid-September. It was instant parenthood, and we were only “expecting” for a month. To us, it was important to have a healthy baby. We very much wanted the parents to be not only physically healthy but emotionally healthy as well. It meant something to us to know that the birth parents had decided together that the mother was too young to have kids. Interestingly, the birth mother was adopted and knew what it was like to be adopted and raised in a good family. I should also note that the birth mother was Asian. At the time, we didn’t think through the fact that our son, an interracial child, would be raised by two white parents. We weren’t frum,
and it wasn’t an issue. But as we became more and more observant, it bothered him when he was teased about the way he looked; he was extremely sensitive to people making comments about his features such as, “Oh, you have slanty eyes.” Again, even though my husband and I weren’t religious at that time, it was important to us (especially since we were raising a non-Jewish child) that he be considered 100% Jewish. We wanted his conversion recognized as kosher, and that’s really what pushed us further into Yiddishkeit. The Orthodox rabbi we met with explained to us that converting a non-Jewish baby would not be instantaneous; it’s a process. The baby, if a boy, would need a bris, immersion in a mikvah, and would have to learn Torah in a frum school. Plus, we would also have to be
Even though my husband and I weren’t religious at that time, it was important to us that he be considered 100% Jewish. shomer mitzvos! Then, at the age of 13 our son would formally have to decide whether or not he wanted to remain Jewish. Only then would the conversion be finalized with another immersion. My husband and I were adamant that our son not have any questions later on about being a Jew. We had heard horror stories of children not having kosher conversions and finding out later in life that they were really not Jewish or possibly mamzeirim. So we wanted to do what was best for the child. It was difficult to find a mohel willing to perform the bris, as everyone could see that our son obviously wasn’t Jewish and we weren’t Orthodox. In the end, we chose a mohel I had known since childhood. Rabbi S. was the only Orthodox mohel in my area; he had been the “family mohel” for many years. We also learned from our rabbi that there’s a halachah that you have to tell a child that he’s adopted by a certain age. We were advised to do it between the ages of three to five, and for sure before his bar mitzvah. This was over 30 years ago, when there wasn’t much out there in the Orthodox or even secular world in 9 nissan 5 7 7 3
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terms of resources about adoption. Friends of ours introduced us to a children’s book called Why Was I Adopted?, by Carole Livingston, that explains the concept of adoption in a beautiful and subtle way. To me, it’s clear that adopting is what made me and my husband frum. It says in Pirkei Avos, “Aseih lecha rav” (Acquire a rav for yourself ). Everyone needs a rav who knows you and your situation. This came up time and time again. I cannot adequately stress how fundamental it was for us to find the right rav we could relate to in order to discuss our issues. It was also very helpful to know other families who had adopted children. We felt we needed a support group for certain things that come up, such as how to tell the child he’s adopted or issues related to yichud. Yichud and not touching after a certain age was a very big challenge for me. I learned that there are different piskei halachah out there and it’s important to speak to a rav and get your own psak.
My son was never (and still isn’t) interested in finding his birth mother. At this stage in my life, if he were interested in finding her it wouldn’t be a problem for me. If he had asked me when he was younger, I doubt that I would have stood in his way. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been easy, but I also know it would have been totally my issue to deal with. I caution people to stop and think before plunging into adoption. Sometimes, adoption may not be the best solution. You have to look at the big picture, considering all the details and how you’re going to feel throughout the process. I would suggest you find a rav who understands your circumstances as well as all the halachos. Having a support group also helped us tremendously. For us, adoption was definitely the best choice. I’m grateful we adopted and that we had the opportunity to parent this way. And I’m forever grateful to Hashem for giving us the right support and guiding us to the amazing child with whom we were blessed.
Rosie’s Story I adopted both of my children over 45 years ago. Things were a little different back then both in the world of adoption and the world in general. For example, there were no computers or Internet, which today is an invaluable resource for people looking to adopt. My husband and I were childless for many years. Fertility treatments were not as advanced as they are now, and after 12 years of going to doctors we realized that we were getting older, and if we wanted to have kids we’d have to pursue other avenues. We ended up adopting both children at birth. Our son was adopted first; both his parents were Jewish. We adopted our daughter a couple of years later, and her parents weren’t Jewish. We ended up being pulled into a long court battle for our daughter when the birth mother changed her mind after a month and wanted the child back. But the judge ultimately ruled in our favor, since he felt that a 16-year-old mother without parental support would not be able to care for the child as we could. Words cannot express how thankful we were to have won. Looking back, I realize that my husband and I made a few mistakes. In those days, people weren’t as open about things as they are now. We thought we were protecting our kids by not telling them at a younger age that they were adopted. But now I realize that we were protecting ourselves rather than them. We didn’t want to admit we weren’t their birth parents out of fear they would reject us. We learned the hard way it was the wrong thing to do.
Since we live in a close-knit Jewish community, everyone knew we had adopted. Sure, no one spoke to us openly about it, but word spread fast when we suddenly had two babies in our house to care for. We were naïve to think that the other children in the neighborhood wouldn’t find out about it (or never mention it to our kids). One day, when my son was around 11, he got into a fight at school with another boy and the child said to him, “Well, at least I’m not adopted like you.” My son didn’t
Sure, no one spoke to us openly about it, but word spread fast when we suddenly had two babies.
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know what the word meant, but he understood it had a negative connotation. He ended up having a talk with my daughter and they approached me to ask what the word meant. I was unprepared for the question, and it hurt me deeply that some kid had been the one to share this critical information in such a hurtful manner. Again, times have changed and the whole world is now more open about these kinds of things. But if there are any parents contemplating not telling their children, they should really reconsider after hearing my story. My children were never really interested in finding their
birth parents, and I have to admit I’m glad. I do know it would have hurt me tremendously. Maybe they can sense that, and they’ve never actually shared their true feelings on the subject. But I can’t deny that it would have been extremely difficult. I know my daughter really struggled during her teens with the fact that she was converted. She always felt selfconscious about her looks and insisted that she didn’t look Jewish. My daughter and I both have are redheads, so to people who didn’t know our situation we looked alike. However, for a time my
daughter felt really insecure, thinking that everyone who met her could instantly tell she wasn’t born Jewish and that she was adopted. I think this was partly due to the traumatic way she found out about the adoption. The biggest joy my husband and I have had in life was raising our children. I wouldn’t say that parenthood didn’t bring us more stresses and challenges, but it was all worth it. We would never change our decision for a moment. No matter how much we gave our children, it cannot compare to how much they gave us in return.
Dina’s Story (Rosie’s daughter)
I grew up in a very loving home, and I have a close relationship with my parents and brother. I am forever grateful to my parents for adopting me, as after I learned the story of my adoption, I don’t think life with my birth mother would have been pleasant. I definitely see the hashgachah pratis in my being adopted and becoming Jewish. As a kid I remember sometimes wondering what would have happened had my birth mother won the court case. Yet I ultimately came to the conclusion that I would never want to change my life to find out! I do admit that finding out I was adopted the way I did was very painful. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. My parents never foresaw it happening like that. They’re also just naturally reserved. Looking back as an adult, I understand that they were vulnerable, afraid of rejection. Subconsciously, I always felt that I didn’t look Jewish enough. My red hair, fair skin and green eyes were a rarity in our circles and didn’t allow me to blend in as I always wanted to, especially during my adolescent years. I came to terms with my features later in life, but as a child I just wanted to fit in and not stand out. There was a time in my teens when I really wanted to meet my birth mother, but I knew it would never happen. I knew my parents would have been so hurt that I never mentioned it. Now, as an adult, I’m not really interested in having a relationship with my birth parents, but I’d really like to find out about the family medical history. Whenever I go to new doctor and have to fill out a form, a lot of the sections are left blank. It would be helpful to know if there are medical conditions I should be screened for. It’s little things like this that contribute to a feeling of unease, like I don’t really know everything about myself. There’s information I can’t share with my children. But I must say that being adopted has really made me think about Yiddishkeit and what Hashem really wants from me. I’m not Jewish just because my adoptive parents are. I know where I come from and I chose to have this connection with Hashem. I am so grateful to Him for finding me my parents. I’ve been blessed with the most caring parents possible, who loved me and my brother unconditionally. We never felt that we were anything less than their children. I can’t begin to thank them for taking me into their lives.
Sarah’s Story All three of our children are adopted. The oldest and youngest have spina bifida, a birth defect. Our first adoption was Yitzy. Yitzy was almost five when we brought him home. Our second child, another son, was born in South America. By the time the paperwork was done and we got him he was three months old. Our third child, our only girl, came to us as a foster child right from the hospital. Because of her medical problems, she was already five weeks old. My husband and I were in complete agreement about being totally open and honest about the adoptions and what we knew about the birth parents. The children were shown pictures of us at the airport, at the hospital, etc. We’d say, “See, this is when we met you. Here is our first visit.” We had friends who had adopted children and friends who were themselves adopted, and all of them felt very strongly that the kids should learn about their adoption from us. We felt the same way. We also felt that if we didn’t tell our children, someone else inevitably would. We wouldn’t want our children to think they’d been lied to by their parents. One friend told me how she explained it to her daughter, and I thought it was so beautiful and perfect that we used the same explanation: There were once two women. One woman wanted to be a mommy and take care of a baby, but she couldn’t have a baby. The other woman had a baby, but couldn’t take care of it. Hashem found them and made a shidduch, so both women were happy because the baby was going to get a good home. Yitzy, our oldest, was born Jewish. The other two children were converted as soon as the rabbis allowed. My husband and I have always believed that Hashem knew which children we would have and that each has a Jewish neshamah. We’ve shared that with our children. When our second child was approaching bar mitzvah and was asked by our rabbi if he understood that he had a choice, that he did not have to be Jewish, he looked at him as if he were crazy and said, “Of course I’m Jewish, and will stay that way.” The circumstances of each adoption were different. My husband and I started on our adoption journey on the last night of Chanukah many years ago. We were stuffing envelopes for a mass mailing to Hillel rabbis and other Jewish groups on college campuses across the country, asking if anyone knew of a pregnant girl who wanted to give up her baby. (This was before the Internet, and our infertility support group suggested it as a good idea.) Then a friend of ours from New York called us with a question: Were we interested in adopting an older child with a physical disability? We talked it over. We weren’t sure, but were
going to New York anyway, so we figured we had nothing to lose. Our second child came from an agency in South America that I believe is now out of business. My mother-in-law had gone to a bris where most of the families there had adopted children from this agency, and she gave us its name. The local Jewish agencies had taken us off their lists when we adopted Yitzy, but baruch Hashem, this one allowed us to stay on and put us on “hold” when we asked for a little time to let Yitzy adjust and settle in. They understood completely, and when we called them back they put us right back into our slot. After adopting the two boys, my husband and I became foster parents. Aside from the foster parenting, I also became president of the local chapter of the Spina Bifida Association of America, which is for parents of children and adults with the condition. One day I received a phone call asking if the organization provided foster care. I replied that the organization did not, but
“When someone tells me that my son is handsome or my daughter is beautiful, I can agree wholeheartedly. Since there’s no genetic link, I don’t have to feign humility.”
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we did. That’s how our daughter came into our lives. I don’t feel that their being adopted has affected our relationship, except that a biological parent of a child with a disability sometimes feels guilty even if there was nothing he or she could have done. Also, when someone tells me that my son is handsome or my daughter is beautiful, I can agree wholeheartedly. Since there’s no genetic link, I don’t have to feign humility. All three children were told as much as we knew about their parents. Given Yitzy’s background and history, we knew that he and his biological family would eventually meet, and they did. (They are wonderful people. His siblings and their families have become close friends.) People have asked me how I feel about Yitzy meeting his birth family and developing a close relationship with them, and I can truthfully answer that I think there can never be too much love given to a child. Parents hope to share their child with mechutanim someday, right? As long as
THE CHILDRENS ROOM you’re not being rejected by your child (which we weren’t), then you should let them meet. Our second son showed some interest while he was at yeshivah, and asked if we’d be hurt if he pursued it. We told him we wouldn’t be hurt, but he called a few days later to say he had changed his mind. Our daughter has never wanted to try to get in touch with her biological mother. Given the fact that two out of my three children have spina bifida, I think their physical handicaps affected everyone more than their being adopted. Both boys are married and have wonderful wives and families, baruch Hashem. I can truthfully say that being adopted made no difference whatsoever in their shidduchim. We are just now beginning to think of looking for a shidduch for our daughter. My husband and I struggled with infertility for almost ten years before we adopted Yitzy. We wanted to be parents. That was the bottom line. It’s been over 30 years since we adopted him, but it still feels like yesterday when he asked us, after we had driven a single block towards Fort Hamilton Parkway and still had 400 miles to go, whether we were almost home. My husband and I just laughed and said no. I truly believe
that the neshamos of my children are the neshamos of the children I was meant to have. So when I talk about families and grandparents, I really feel it is their family history. No DNA, true, but Hashem gave us these children. Two of my close friends are adopted, and as much as they loved their parents, they did feel biologically apart. Both told me that it wasn’t until they gave birth that they truly felt connected to another human being for the first time. I have always believed that parents are custodians. Children are not possessions. They do not “belong” to us. Maybe because of this I don’t think I would feel any differently about a biological child. We have to see each child as an individual with his own unique personality and abilities. Don’t try to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Our job is to nurture and guide. You have to have realistic expectations of your child whether he or she is biological or adopted. Even if you were a straight “A” student, your child may not be. As long as each kid tries his hardest and does his best—that’s all you can ask for. Not everyone can be a doctor or a rabbi. The world needs auto mechanics and plumbers, too.
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Yitzy’s Story (Sarah’s Son)
I was adopted at the age of five. My adoptive parents told me they would be my “new Mommy and Tatty.” At first I didn’t understand. I already had a Mommy and Tatty, so how could these people be my parents? You might be wondering now why I would have needed to be adopted. I was born with spina bifida, and the hole in my spine was very high up. This means that I am a paraplegic in a wheelchair. My physical problems would be overwhelming for any parents, but for my birth parents it was even worse because there were seven kids above me. They ended up getting a psak from their rav to put me in a home and not raise me as their son. Therefore, until the age of five I knew I had parents who didn’t want me. My birth mother did send letters through the home to my adoptive parents. My adoptive parents were very encouraging, telling me that I could always contact them if I wanted to. But I had no interest in finding them; I felt that if they gave me up once
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PARENTING then I would probably only be more hurt by contacting them. I was afraid of further rejection. When I was 20, my biological brother ended up finding me. I was living alone at the time, and I remember my neighbor coming over to tell me that he had gotten a call from my brother. I didn’t think anything strange about it, and assumed he meant my brother who’s also adopted. Then he explained that it was my biological brother and he was interested in meeting me. Well, once he already found me, I didn’t want to say no. The truth is I was always curious but was afraid of rejection. It turned out that this brother was number three in the family, and that my birth parents had 15 children in all, including me. I was ultimately reunited with everyone and we have a very good connection. I even moved closer so I could maintain our relationship. I go to most of their family simchas. My shidduch even came about through a sheva brachos I made for my newfound nephew. My relationship with my birth parents is good, but we’ve never discussed the details of my adoption because I know it’s too painful for them. All the information I have was obtained from other people rather than from them directly. It would be fine with me if they bought it up, but I know they don’t want to talk about it or focus on the past. My father calls me almost every day, and we’ve built up a strong relationship.
“Until the age of five I knew I had parents who didn’t want me.” I don’t blame my birth parents at all for giving me up, as I know they were listening to their rav and it was the hardest decision for them to make. I can’t say, though, that I totally agree with their rav’s psak and that I am not angry with him. My adoptive parents have been truly supportive and positive about everything. They always wanted me to have a relationship with my birth parents. I feel like I have three families: my adoptive parents, my in-laws and my birth parents. I couldn’t have dreamed of a better ending. My only advice to people looking to adopt is to make sure the adopted child never feels as if he is being treated differently, and to always discuss the circumstances of the adoption. An adopted child needs to know the details in order to come to terms with being adopted. Otherwise, he’ll spend his entire life wondering about it and will always have an unsettled feeling. I am very thankful to my adopted parents for being entirely open with me.
Rivka’s Story Growing up, I always knew I was adopted. My Mom told me that she and my Dad explained the adoption to me from the time I was a baby, referring to it as “my story” and “our family’s story,” which explains my feeling of always knowing. I also remember when my brother was adopted, when I was three and a half. (We have different birth parents.) Since this was a natural part of my life, I didn’t have a “reaction moment” or a feeling that my parents had hidden something, or that there was even a time before “not knowing.”
felt loved and cared for, and that there are also several extended family members who are adopted, so it always seemed normal. (Aside from my brother, a few first and second cousins and my grandmother are also adopted.) I am still interested in finding my birth parents and potentially having a relationship, but more out of curiosity than anything else. I feel pretty set in terms of family, so I don’t have a burning desire to fill a void or to feel like I belong by finding them. But it would be interesting to know who they are and what they’re like. I did try once, and it was actually one of the few major fights I had with my parents about my adoption. The issue wasn’t that they weren’t being supportive; it was more the difficulty of gaining access to the files, because the laws then (I was adopted in 1982) were mostly set up to protect the birth mother. (My parents are both lawyers who work in the area of adoption, and they explained this to me.) I ended up taking out a lot of my frustration with the system on my parents. Since then, however, I haven’t really pursued it, mostly because I’m living in Israel now, and as I mentioned earlier, I don’t feel a pressing need. I also think there’s a part of me that’s a little afraid of opening that door and hitting a brick wall, whereas right now the potential for finding them still exists. I know my parents would be supportive if I chose to do it. My
“I don’t feel any different from children raised by their biological parents.” Participating in this interview has really made me think about stuff, like how you’re supposed to tell a child he’s adopted and how sensitive and difficult it might be. It has also led me to the conclusion that my parents went about it in exactly the right way. There was no surprise or change in the way I related to my family or to myself. I’m sure it also helped that I always
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brother actually did find his birth parents and my parents were really supportive of him. They invited my brother’s birth mom to our house soon after he found her and I also got the chance to meet her. As an adoptee, I don’t feel any different from children raised by their biological parents. I believe every family has its unique relationships. I know plenty of blood-related siblings who are very distant and feel they have nothing in common, and siblings who are adopted who are very close. We’ve had times of tension (my brother in particular has faced some difficult challenges, partly connected to his adoption) and it’s sometimes hard to be in touch because I live an ocean away. But the way I see it, my brother is my brother. Always was, and always will be. I’ve never had any problem telling people that I’m adopted. I do look somewhat like my parents (especially my dad), so nobody would necessarily know. Maybe there’s something compelling about the fact that I get to decide who knows and when. But in general it’s just been something I’ve always been open about. I do believe that the rights of adoptees should be more at the forefront of adoption legislation, which, thank G-d, is something that has been happening in recent years. My brother and I had the same indignant reaction about a proposed new law in our state whereby the birth parents could receive photos and updates from the adoptive parents until the children turn 18—without the
children ever knowing about their birth parents. Our rights are also important! I also think it’s important to stress that every adoptee’s experience is unique, and that every family has its own story. For me, it was a positive experience, and I am very thankful to my birth parents for making the choice that I should be raised in a stable and loving family. I am thankful to my parents for being that loving and stable family, and I am thankful to Hashem because I believe it was hashgachah pratis that I grew up in the family I did and as a result, am living the life of a religious Jew in Israel. My advice to parents is to tell your kids from an early age and in a natural way. Be open to talking about their adoption whenever they need to, and supportive if and when they want to find out where they come from. Let them know they are always your children no matter what, and be sure you can make that commitment before deciding to adopt. For people who have been adopted, I would say that you can either focus on the fact that you were “abandoned” by your birth parents, or the fact that you were chosen and desired by your adoptive ones. I think the second option makes much more sense. n Interviewing these remarkable parents and their children was an incredible experience. They taught me that though life doesn't always go exactly as planned, it can be lived to the fullest. Thank you so much for sharing your stories.
Schulamith Chava Halevy and the Secret Jews • By Sarah Hershenson •
t is not often that someone comes to Israel for reasons of pure love and devotion, to assist family and come closer to Judaism, only to find herself in prison, expecting to be deported for having stayed in the country beyond her tourist visa’s limits; moreover, while in prison, deprived of the right to observe Rosh Hashanah. Such was the case for Flor Valderama, a member of the approximately 500-member community of secret Jews in Peru called the Bnai Moshe. They are descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity during the Inquisition, and, for the past 50 years, they have been studying and practicing Jewish ritual in order to fully return to Judaism. The person who was instrumental in getting her out of jail, arranging to have her visa extended and putting her on the way to a full and recognized conversion was Dr. Schulamith Chava Halevy, a researcher at the Hebrew University Hispania Judaica research center. Halevy’s area of expertise is Anusim, the descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted to Christianity, and she acts as their advocate. Flor’s extended family, numbering 70 people, received
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instruction and was converted to Judaism in Peru by a delegation of rabbis from Israel. They came to Israel in 1993 and 1994, settling in the religious community of Beit El in the Judean Hills. Although Flor wanted to convert, her husband had no interest in formally becoming a Jew. The rabbis decided not to convert her because they thought that doing so would put their family of five children at risk. Flor stayed in Peru, running a small bed and breakfast in Trujillo, which catered mostly to Israeli backpackers. Her parents and the rest of her family moved to Israel. Flor and her husband later separated, freeing her up to follow through with her intentions to convert. In 2011, Flor’s father in Israel had a stroke and Flor decided to come and care for him. In addition, she came to care for her disabled mother and a brother who was crippled from polio since childhood. In late summer 2012, while Flor was walking on the street with her sister, a policeman asked to see her passport and visa, which had expired. Although Flor had come to Israel intending to help her family, not to find employment, she had not acted on starting a formal conversion and it seemed certain that Flor would be deported
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After many meetings with the family to ascertain the validity of their story, Dr. Halevy went to the Interior Ministry. from the country. Then the unexpected occurred. On Simchas Torah, Flor’s family visited Tel Aviv and attended services in the same shul that Dr. Halevy did. Dr. Halevy overheard a conversation in Spanish taking place behind her and she turned to welcome the guests. A conversation followed, during which Flor’s sister burst into tears and told Dr. Halevy of her sister’s plight. After many meetings with the family to ascertain the validity of their story, Dr. Halevy went to the Interior Ministry. “I spoke to an official at the Ministry who listened carefully to Flor’s story,” Dr. Halevy says. The official “contacted Flor’s lawyer, and soon she was released. I am sure that we had help from Above.” A few weeks later, Dr. Halevy waited patiently for our interview at a café in the beautiful Aviv mall in Ramat Aviv, as previously arranged. She wore exactly what she said would identify her: a long green skirt, beret and eyeglasses whose frames were a remarkable shade of mint green with white wingtips. The skirt and hat identified her as a woman who dresses modestly. The glasses, I soon realized, were an introduction to an individual whose personality is quite memorable. Dr. Halevy is a quiet individualist who speaks softly and precisely. She earned her doctorate in Jewish studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In addition to her research on the Anusim, she is a published poet. Her eyes, which are deeply set and heavily lidded, radiate sensitivity. Married to Dr. Nachum Dershowitz, Chairman of the Computer Sciences Department at Tel Aviv University, they have a son and married daughter living in the Jerusalem area. As she changed the ring of her portable phone to a quieter buzz, she received a phone call. “Aha,” Dr. Halevy answered the caller with excitement and then continued the conversation in fluent Spanish. Upon completion of the call, she turned to me and said, “That was one of my 5,000 children.” Now it was the time for me to open my eyes in amazement as she began her story about her personal connections with the plight and bravery of the Anusim. From the 1300s on, the rulers of Spain and Portugal allied with the Catholic Church to enforce an Inquisition upon their citizens so that their countries would be free of what they termed heretics—meaning Jews, Muslims, and anyone else the Church did not approve of. From 1478, the Church could use force to convert Jews to Christianity. As many as 100,000 Jews converted to save their own lives and their families’ lives. The plan of many was to live quietly, assuming a double identity: Outwardly, they would be practicing Christians, while secretly performing Jewish
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rituals. The Church watched these new converts carefully. If these secret Jews were caught Judaizing (that is, performing Jewish rituals), they were burned at the stake. Information about their practices either came from greedy people, who knew that the Church would divide the wealth and property of those secret Jews who were caught, or from individuals or extended family members who were tortured until they confessed. “The lives of the Anusim, or in translation, ‘The Coerced Ones,’ were and are, until this day, full of fear,” says Dr. Halevy. “Fear is ingrained, one could truthfully say, in the genes of these people. The persecution of Jews in Spain started in 1391, shaping the personalities of the Anusim through fear and apprehension. The Inquisition, which lasted over 400 years and was abolished formally in 1808, followed the Anusim living within Spain and even to the countries to which they later fled. The descendants of Anusim are still looking over their shoulders in order to safeguard their lives and those of family and community.” As Dr. Halevy recounts the length and severity of the Inquisition, one can imagine the horrors of this period. In 1391, the Spanish peasants rebelled, leading to a rampage and the slaughter of tens of thousands of Jews. Such rampages continued during the next 100 years. In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella gave the Jews of Spain an ultimatum: “Get out, convert faithfully to Catholicism, or die.” The Kol Nidrei prayer cancelling vows, which had been incorporated into the Yom Kippur liturgy some centuries before, is said to have gained its special significance at this time. Thousands left their wealth and property according to the dictates of the Inquisition and fled penniless to countries in North Africa, Turkey, the provinces that eventually became Italy, and the Balkans. Those who decided to remain in Spain and in Portugal had to convert to Catholicism. They were known as “New Christians,” Conversos, Maranos or Anusim. However, the Inquisition was not through with them. It scrutinized these new converts carefully, because insincerity and Judaism practiced clandestinely would undermine the Church’s efforts. Records show that more women than men died at the stake because maids would disclose that their mistresses would light candles on Friday night in a closed room, or that the family would not eat pork. The officials of the Inquisition would climb up the high towers of the cities and note which houses had smoke coming out of their chimneys on Friday night and which did not. They would then burst in on the family and find the men quietly playing cards as a ploy, with all symbols of Shabbos carefully hidden. If they were still suspicious, the family was
interrogated. “These people knew that they and their descendants would always be the New Christians— never the Old Christians,” notes Dr. Halevy. “It is documented that many of the New Christians abandoned their hope to live quietly, and undertook the challenge to board ships for An auto-da-fe in Madrid territories in the New World. “They fled to Peru, Brazil, Mexico, the vast realm of Spanish and Portuguese island colonies, and into the American Southwest. Nevertheless, the Inquisition sent its tentacles after them—to discover whether or not these new converts were keeping their new faith. As of the [mid-]1800s, if Anusim in Mexico were caught Judaizing, they were burned.” After living in fear and apprehension for centuries, the Jewish practices of the Anusim became more family customs and traditions, and even superstitions. For example, lighting candles and placing them in or near a window developed into a portent of bad luck. Being Jewish was not a topic in casual conversation. “Secrecy became an important factor in transmitting the information that Judaism was the roots of the family,” Dr. Halevy explains. “A young girl was usually entrusted with the role to carry on the faith. She would first hear of her new position through an unusual yet widely practiced system. This young girl, chosen to be the next matriarch, would ‘overhear’ her elders, seemingly ignoring her presence completely; they would speak about their customs, traditions and even roots.” Only at a later date would the “official” confession or indoctrination come from a grandmother or older aunt: “You are a Jew,” she would be told, “and our true roots are in Judaism.” She would then receive further instructions. “This is an amazing sign of preservation, not only of the traditions but also of the clandestine strategy by which the Anusim handed down their faith from generation to generation,” Dr. Halevy explains. The year 1992—500 years since Columbus sailed, and five centuries since the Expulsion of Jews from Spain—kindled great interest in the Anusim communities and stories of their origin. Until then, their Jewish roots were hidden family memories shaped by the apprehension of what the larger world would
think. “I believe,” Dr. Halevy says, “that the mindset of younger generations of Anusim, that are interested and longing to return to their Jewish roots, appears in the Anusim communities of today. I realized this fact in the 1990s while I was living in Chicago and lecturing at the Spertus Jewish College. My husband was on sabbatical and teaching at the University of Illinois in Urbana. I gave a lecture on secret Jews at Spertus College and expected only a few to attend. “I could not believe the turnout,” she remembers. “The hall was filled with people who looked Spanish and clung to every word I said.” They had many questions for me and I discovered that they were members of a large Mexican clan of Jewish extraction living in Chicago with their own clubs and cemeteries. They told me that every year they contributed money anonymously to a synagogue in Mexico. Outwardly they were Christians—but inwardly, Jews.” Dr. Halevy gets phone calls and requests for meetings almost daily from people who want to find confirmation for what they had heard from their elders about their heritage. They also want to find out about the “peculiar,” non-Catholic things that their family does because they do not know where these customs come from—but they have a feeling that it is of Judaic origin. “In many cases, they are right on target,” says Dr. Halevy. “I am always amazed at how strong a yearning these people have for G-d and for the religion that was taken away from them by force, by torture and by the stake.” Dr. Halevy begins her conversation with people who believe that they are descendants of Anusim by asking questions that she knows will reveal Jewish markers: • Who are your oldest living relatives? • How open are they and how much do they know about having Jewish family ties? • What about family heritage, particularly as it relates to recipes and special meals? • When during the week and year were they eaten? • Do your relatives light candles before or during the meal? Where are the candles placed?
Your Reflection in My Mirror by Schulamith Chava Halevy As toward a stranger I was destined to wed Tentatively I approached— Hope and trepidation. I prayed that as in ancient legends Perhaps we knew each other in a different life. For long parted souls look not into the future, But the past.
And all the distances and walls That five hundred years apart have built. We whirled by new landscapes Of lives we might have lived, People whom we might have been. We wept by one another’s sorrows, Gathered flowers in one another’s childhood fields.
Our eyes met and immediately we knew; How could we forget! Six hundred years ago we basked together In the Spanish golden sun. We sang the same romances, shared our wine. In the splendor of Granada How peacefully we sailed upon the dream Of harmony and cultures shared, Of human paradise.
When it came time for me to go, I discovered that you Had polished my spirit into A brilliant gem And from each of its myriad facets You shine To the farthest reaches of my Ancestral memory.
Then the storm hit. Stunned and confused we ran And as we fled Our hands tore apart And torrential waves Of people and events Swept over us. We lost one another Five hundred years ago. We took another step, My feet still unsure, The sands so soft and wet still From the ebbing tide. How dare I look? I could not know what’s left to recognize In the wreckage And how to make the leap Across half a millennium. But even as our frames held on to solid ground We could hear the flutter of our souls, Never minding time or place. They embraced in a flight of fantasy. Soaring high above the anger and the fears
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When it came time for me to go, I did not know yet to thank you enough For the many new lives, All the joy and the pain Your courageous voyage gave me, To hold me till we meet again. Nineteen ninety-three Five hundred and one years. Where are you now? What new stations did you cross In your lonely pilgrimage? And did you mend your heart —I recall the ripping sound, when it overfilled Above the graveyard. Did it heal soft and large, with room enough for me That I may always walk with you? (I could not hear your answer when I called). Five hundred years and one, how is your strength? Do you walk always with your soul And do you travel in your conscious hours or your sleep? For stay, we know, our spirits will no more. Five hundred and one years. Do you still look for my reflection in your mirror?
they sweep into the center of the room in order not to sweep their “luck” out the door. “The Anusim have no access to the past,” Dr. Halevy points out. “Their history is not written down, and some of their stories are now somewhere between fact and fantasy.” Dr. Halevy then asks these possible descendants of Anusim how they met their spouses. Until this last generation there were few if any intermarriages among Anusim. The families arranged interfamily marriages between cousins or distant relatives. This practice, called “endogamy,” helped keep intermarriage at a nil. There is a beautiful custom among some Anusim that the prospective groom comes to propose to the young woman bearing a basket of unleavened bread they call matzah. “Today, many of them want to know ‘why’ and are now questioning their customs,” Dr. Halevy says. “Many of them tell me, ‘We have no past—the facts have been erased.’” These people have told her of countless traumas. “Many Anusim sincerely want to belong to Judaism. Others are happy to retain their Jewish customs and continue with their affiliation to the Church. Still others, like Flor, have spouses who object to their conversion to Judaism.” Dr. Halevy is thankful that she knows about her past. She was born in Switzerland and her mother came from a Swiss Jewish family that traces its roots to Spain. Her father’s family, also Jews from Spain, took a different route. Following thirty years of wandering after the Expulsion, they came to Eretz Yisrael and settled in Tzfat. Ladino was the language spoken in their home. Dr. Halevy’s Aunt Clara made a special impression upon her. “She represented the line of Jews who came from Spain and who were very proud of their traditions. My grandmother and a cousin of mine made a genuine effort to transmit these customs to the next generation, and I view myself lucky to have received them. “I have always imagined myself in the shoes of other people and would think about the lives of my ancestors in Seville,
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• Do your relatives eat only sweet things at certain special meals? • Do they have a special meal in the spring in which they eat bitter herbs and vegetables? • Do you have a fast day in the fall (i.e., Yom Kippur)? The day is observed as a private fast. However, there is documentation about hidden synagogues in Spain holding services, and taking breaks during which men go outside and play cards, a custom used to confuse the authorities. • What about funerals? • What did your relatives do with the deceased’s body? • How are the dead washed and dressed—in white shrouds? • What is written on the tombstones? • Were the family graves in a separate section of the cemetery? • Were there any Christian symbols on the tombstone? Was there a six-point star or a six-point flower? • Did relatives leave small stones on the grave when they visited the cemetery? If they have these Jewish funeral and burial customs, their Jewish origins are virtually guaranteed because these are the last Jewish customs that people relinquish. • What do your relatives do with their nail clippings? • Do your relatives eat pork? • Do they mix meat and cheese (a dominant factor in Mexican and Spanish cooking)? • How did your relatives slaughter their meat? Was it with a special knife used and checked beforehand on the fingernail of the slaughterer? • Was the meat hung upside down to let the blood run out? • Was the meat salted? • Are your relatives familiar with the ceremony of brit milah (circumcision)? • Are the boy babies in the family circumcised? • How do they sweep their floors? It is an old custom of Jews from Spain to sweep towards the center of the room in respect for the mezuzah on the doorpost. The reason for this last custom has now slipped into the area of superstition as some Anusim now say that
Toledo and Granada. I can imagine myself as anyone living at any time in history because I have a past, and I find the past of others fascinating.” “I remember vividly my childhood in Lucerne, Switzerland, and also making aliyah with my family to Israel at the age of five. We settled in the village of Poriah Illit near Lake Kinneret. The residents were from all over the world, and I found that I had an affinity for learning languages. From the South Africans I picked up Afrikaans, a language that developed from seventeenthcentury Dutch, in addition to Finnish, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese and even Aramaic.” Dr. Halevy thinks that her childhood experiences helped mold her personality to one of compassion and openness. “Latinos are drawn to me—each with their own story. Not only am I sure that Hashem sends me these people with their stories, but also that it is my mission to be an advocate for them. I pray that my assistance will not bring me to error and will always lead me to the correct path.” In order to do so, Dr. Halevy follows a meticulous path of research and following halachah. In her research for her thesis, she went to a region in northern Mexico known as Nuevo Leon, an area believed to be the home of many Anusim. This is the area around the modern city of Monterrey that was given as a land grant during the Inquisition by the King of Spain to the New Christian, Luis de Carvajal. Carvajal and his family members settled the land; however, he was later accused of Judaizing, was arrested, and died in prison awaiting his sentence; his family was cruelly burned at the stake. Dr. Halevy writes that she arrived in this area as part of a movie documentary project on Anusim, and it was there that she became more familiar with the unique history of the locality. She says that she found a region whose nervous residents suffered from fear of being found out as Jews. The records and archives of the region were more or less sealed to visiting researchers. It took many months of patience and understanding before the residents would open up. Dr. Halevy speaks about a woman named Monica who shared some of the stories of her background. “Monica’s mother, from the Trevino clan, was constantly told as a child that, although they had come from Spain, they were not Spanish but rather Jews,” she says. “Nevertheless, Monica’s mother had many Christian symbols in her home. On the other hand, Monica’s father was never told by his parents that he was a Jew, but was raised with Jewish customs in the home. He remembered that on Easter, they did not slaughter a goat, as was the prevalent custom, but rather a lamb. “The mother of a friend of Monica related that she was instructed to say to herself as she left church, ‘I pray only to the Father and that [their supposed savior] was a prophet,’” Dr. Halevy relates. “In addition, she recognized the word Adonai but could not remember where she had heard it from. Her nineyear-old granddaughter, who overheard the conversation, piped up and said, ‘It means All-Powerful G-d,’ but could not or would not say from where she had learned that.” This dual personality poses many problems for the Anusim. Dr. Halevy thinks the reason is that Latino society is so socially
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oriented, and many persons who suspect that they are Anusim are fearful of “announcing to their larger world that they are Jews for fear of being distanced from friends and relatives.” “The Orthodox rabbinate has not yet taken a firm position on the fate of Anusim,” Dr. Halevy explains, “and whether or not it is necessary for them to undergo full conversion. However, several important rabbis have written letters stating the authenticity of their Jewish bloodlines.” She posts copies of the letters she received from Rav Aaron Soloveitchik, z”l, and Rav Mordechai Eliahu, z”l, in Hebrew and English, on her website. Also found there are other articles, poems and research topics. The subject of Anusim and its implications is becoming an exciting area of research in Jewish studies. This year, the Yad BenZvi Institute in Jerusalem and the Institute for Marrano-Anusim Studies at Casa Shalom, at the Netanya Academic College, held two important conferences about Anusim and the Inquisition. Among the many reference books that are available on the subject of Anusim are two immensely readable and enjoyable selections: Terra Incognita, by Libi Astaire, and The Mezuzah in the Madonna’s Foot, by Trudi Alexy. At the conference at the Yad Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem about the Inquisition and secret Jews, Dr. Halevy spoke about “Crypto-Jewish Strategy in the Artistic Creation of the Conversos (the Anusim).” In one section of her presentation, Dr. Halevy positioned the brightly colored art and nichos (objects of Latin American folk art, made from mixed media and traditionally combining elements from Roman Catholicism, mestizo spirituality and popular culture) of Anita Rodriguez, a contemporary artist from Taos, New Mexico (USA), on the large screen and pointed out what looked like a painting influenced by Christian symbols, has, upon closer examination, many poignant references to Judaism. Rodriguez includes in many of her paintings symbols of the duality in the lives of the Anusim “Painting these nichos has been a journey into the psyches of not only hidden Jews, but all those who must reconcile an inner reality in conflict with the outer world,” Rodriguez says. “They led me into the paradox of [the fact that] those whose intended exclusion ended in universal inclusion—the Anusim—are imbedded in almost every country. And the experience expressed by these little nichos with doors, of multiple parallel lives, mirrors the diversity of our modern world.” Dr. Halevy has written a widely known and quoted poem about the Anusim, “Your Reflection in My Mirror,” (p. 66) which describes the journey, the odyssey and the longing of the secret Jews during the last 500 years. “I believe in their future, and that their longing to return is another part of a prophetic vision coming into realization,” Dr. Halevy says. “My hope is that just as there is now a plan for absorbing the Jewish communities of Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union, there will be a plan for the Anusim.” Over 5,000 people, whom Dr. Halevy calls her “children,” have shared their stories and belief in their Jewish roots. Each one is important to her, for they are part of the Jewish mosaic. n
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By Racheli Sofer
The true danger of these cults is the extent to which their members are willing to obey their leaders.
couple of weeks ago we received an interesting phone call here at the Ami offices, from Beit Shemesh in Eretz Yisrael. Chaya S. related that she was concerned about her neighbors, a group of friends and their children, and particularly worried about the woman living upstairs from her. Chaya thought it was important that Ami investigate the group they belong to and in the process, provide some guidance for people like her who might find themselves in similar situations. Chaya referred to her neighbors’ group as a “cult,” echoing the secular press in Israel that has dubbed them “the burqa cult.” This is not the first time AmiLiving has explored a group of this nature. In Issue 19, an earlier Pesach edition, Peri Berger met with several women who had all donned chadors in what they explained was their quest to observe a supremely high level of tzniyus. The group’s motives
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certainly seemed pure, even though their actions—and the public’s reaction to them—were extreme. But were they really a “cult,” with all the negative connotations the word implies? Back in the 1970s a “cult” suggested a dangerous group of people-turnedmindless-robots who lived life in a stupor, ready to follow their leader off the edge of a cliff. In November 1978, the world watched in horror as the bloated bodies of 909 cult members (over 200 of them children) were discovered in a remote jungle compound in Jonestown, Guyana. The entire group had committed mass suicide by drinking poisoned Kool-Aid at the behest of their paranoid leader, Jim Jones. Another mass suicide occurred in 1997 in California, when the members of the “Heaven’s Gate” cult believed they could reach an alien spacecraft by killing themselves. AmiLiving turned to Rabbi Shea Hecht, a noted expert on cults, for his thoughts and insights into the subject. Rabbi Hecht, chairman of the Crown Heights-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education (NCFJE), has spent decades working to
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rescue and deprogram Jewish youth who have become involved in cults such as the Unification Church (Moonies), Messianic Jews and Scientologists. As of the writing of this article, Rabbi Hecht is three weeks away from reprinting a revised edition of his 1985 book, Confessions of a Jewish Cultbuster, updated to reflect the status of cults today. We related Chaya’s experiences to Rabbi Hecht so he could give us his analysis of the true nature of such groups and their goals. His initial reaction to Chaya’s description of her neighbor’s activities was alarm, as she depicted a situation in which the woman’s children are being deprived of normal socialization and education as well as medical care. “The children are the innocent victims,” Chaya had told us. “They’re locked inside and desperate for company. If anyone smiles at one of the kids, they lap it up hungrily. The girls used to go to school but the woman took them out, and it doesn’t seem as if they ever leave the house anymore. Rabbanim are speaking out against the group. They are completely isolated and withdrawn from society. We wonder if the children will
ever be able to lead normal lives.” Chaya related her first experience with this group and how they attempted to draw her in: “When I made first aliyah and moved to Beit Shemesh, I was approached by a neighbor who was wearing an oversized skirt, a shawl over her shoulders down to her waist and a shawl on her head. Then two other women came to my door, one who spoke English and one who spoke Hebrew and Yiddish (they were clearly covering all their bases) who said they wanted to explain to me that women are precious, and proceeded to try to convince me to dress in a certain way, more covered up. ‘It’s better to be noticed as a garbage bag no one is attracted to, than not to be noticed [as a regular tzniyus Jewish woman]. I’d rather look like an Arab,’ the English speaker told me. When my husband approached with a camera the women fled. Other neighbors who had witnessed the entire scene said that these women had also approached them on previous occasions, actively recruiting women to wear shawls. Interestingly, they tailored their message to each individual woman they spoke to. ‘You don’t need to discuss this with your husband,’ they claimed. ‘Tzniyus is a woman’s decision.’ The women in the group are super-charming, warm and welcoming. I couldn’t believe how charismatic their rebbetzin is. They kept offering me CDs to listen to and literature to read. “I’ve been here for three years, and I can see how the group keeps getting more and more extreme. Whereas at first my neighbor wore only a shawl, now her entire face is covered. Her daughters are also totally covered up, her baby boys wear huge yarmulkes, and the other boys wear
a cap. Now many of the women are even wearing a cone on top of their heads with the shawl draped over it, so the shape of the head isn’t seen.” Chaya told me that the group appears to be growing, even though the Eidah Hachareidis has come out against them. Since the Eidah’s proclamation they have ceased actively recruiting. Nonetheless, the group eagerly welcomes any woman who seeks to join them in their pursuit of what they say is tzniyus in its highest form. AmiLiving spoke to Rabbi Samuel
When asked, they will respond that they don’t need a rav, as they already know what the halachah is. They also believe that rabbanim are ‘messed up’ and have a personal bias against their ways. They decide on their own what is tzniyus, what is muttar and what is assur. They distort explicit halachos, and their actions have destroyed households.” Rabbi Pappenheim went on to tell me about specific cases that “shook the entire community. There was one case of a 15-year-old boy whose mother was a
“Everyone in the neighborhood used to attend their meetings: all the other frum women, including two rebbetzins. That’s why it didn’t even occur to me that it was problematic.” Pappenheim, noted spokesperson for the Eidah Hachareidis, who clarified the organization’s response to the group in Beit Shemesh. “The issue is well-known,” he declared, “and the Badatz has voiced its view on it numerous times in the past. Several times, in clear public declarations, the Badatz issued a clear stance against the ‘kat hashaulim—cult of the shawls.’ They do not listen to any rav; they have created for themselves a new derech and don’t listen to what anyone has to say.
member of this cult. She married him off and it was apparently not a good match. Suddenly he was found to be married to another woman: no official get, no proper kiddushin. Who ever heard of such a thing, people deciding for themselves what they want to do in these matters? “Then there was a recent case in which a young child in one of these cult households died. The Badatz came out with a directive that if anyone sees any of these children who are ill and not being
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“The plan to get women to dress like that comes from meanness and a bad, hateful spirit.”
taken care of, they should be taken to a doctor and the parents reported.” “Hasn’t anyone tried to speak to these women and tell them that they are wrong, and that they’re not following halachah?” I asked him. “They will tell you that you are the sitra achra,” he answered. “They will say that you are the one who isn’t acting properly. Remember, they aren’t sending their kids to Talmud Torah and many of them are in dire financial straits. The women never leave the house and the situation for the children is deplorable.” What about the husbands? “The husbands usually fall into one of three categories. Either they agree with what their wives are doing, or they just can’t fight them, or they try and fight them and there is great marital strife. Also, the men aren’t part of an organized group like the women are—it’s the women who run this group. These women actually come from normal homes.” I asked Pappenheim if he knew of anyone who was involved in the cult and got out of it. “Yes,” he responded. “It
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happened to the son of a close friend of mine. After he was married he discovered that his wife was a member. He went to the rabbanim and was advised to first try and reason with her; only if he failed should he get out of the marriage. Well, he’s now divorced and the father of a young child. Baruch Hashem, he went to court and won custody. Once the courts heard that the wife is a member of the cult they granted the father custody. “I just want you to know,” he concluded, “that there is currently a joint effort between the rabbanim, the police department and social workers to help save women and children from this cult. There are many social workers in Beit Shemesh working literally 24/7 to save lives. This cult is an extreme expression of a sort of misguided feminism, and with Hashem’s help its membership will diminish quickly.” One Israeli newscaster set out to learn more about the burqa cult firsthand. Two years ago she infiltrated the group, going undercover—literally—donning a burqa to blend in and gain access to
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their meetings and an exclusive audience with the leader. The entire experience was documented via a hidden camera. The journalist was allowed entry after she put on a shawl and recited the “Shehecheyanu” blessing over her new form of concealment. The entire group is heard to answer Amen. After welcoming their new member, the leader of the group— who actually comes across as quite personable—proceeds to applaud the women’s stringencies and exhorts them to do more. Almost comically she boasts of wearing layer upon layer of garments, head coverings and socks—the principle being that the more clothes a woman wears, the better she is able to conceal the “diamond” inside. She even instructs them how to bathe without removing their clothing. “This is how women used to dress years ago,” she tells them, quoting various sayings of chazal about how women who are extremely modest are zocheh to have sons who are tzaddikim. “They had no shalom bayis problems, no chinuch issues and there was no illness.” The women lap it all up; she is clearly preaching to the converted. The reporter was also invited to accompany some group members to Kever Rochel, where she watched them spread their message and hand out pamphlets, encouraging women there to dress like them. “It wasn’t easy for me,” the newscaster later reflected on her experience, “but I wanted to tell this story.
I believe that taking things to such an extreme is dangerous.” *** This isn’t the first Jewish so-called cult in Israel headed by a charming leader trying to ensnare frum women for a supposed higher cause. Chana Jenny Weisberg, founder and director of Jewishmom.com, told me about her experience ten years ago with the local branch of a group called Megirot (“Drawers”) in Nachlaot, Jerusalem. Drawers was founded by Sylvia Dahari, a mother of six from Gush Katif who lost her husband in a tragic terrorist attack, and supposedly sought to help women achieve new levels of growth and spirituality. Not unlike the “kat hashaulim,” the Drawers groups made headlines when they were also deemed a “cult” and shunned by rabbanim. Chana Jenny described to me what it was like to attend their meetings. “Every week a group of women would get together, and one participant would bring in a drawer from her house—yup, an actual drawer! It could be a silverware drawer or any other drawer in her home. The trained facilitator would then help her go through its contents and say, ‘This drawer is a reflection of me.’ If there was something in the drawer that didn’t belong there, like a yo-yo in the sock drawer, the woman was instructed to repeat, ‘This drawer is a mess. I’m a mess too.…’ The woman would clean her drawer and then proclaim, ‘I am worthy! I am a daughter of the King!’” Chana Jenny told me there was an entire ritual based around this drawer-
cleaning known as “seer seer” (literally “pot by pot”). “We were told that we should cook only one thing at a time so as to really focus on what we were doing, and to ignore our children while cooking or cleaning. ‘Ima is focusing right now,’ we were supposed to tell them.” Members of the group were expected to clean out a drawer in this manner every single day, under the tutelage of more advanced students. “It was supposed to be very spiritual,” she said.
needed, though, was serious help for her depression. “It didn’t seem sinister to me at the time,” she says. But the real problem was that “they were warped because they didn’t have daas Torah. The Baal Shem Tov does speak about this concept, that if you see a flaw in another person it’s because you yourself have that flaw. This Drawers group took that idea and perverted it to an extreme.” Chana Jenny told me that before the
A member of a cult can suddenly have a feeling of doubt or disgust, or his inner compass will tell him something is wrong. Chaya S. should just be nice to her neighbor. According to Chana Jenny, the group leaders were very controlling. “I remember one woman from the neighborhood who was clearly going through postpartum depression and looked terrible. The facilitator told her, ‘Your problem is that you are telling yourself the wrong messages.’ What the woman really
rabbanim spoke out against the group “because of its leadership style” there were two branches in her community. “Baruch Hashem, I wasn’t so into it,” she said. “But everyone used to attend: all the other frum women, including two rebbetzins. That’s why it didn’t even occur to me that it was problematic.”
Cult leaders have narcissism as their central motivation, and a narcissist is hateful.
Chana Jenny’s experience underscores the idea that anyone can get sucked into a cult. In fact, this is one of the main messages conveyed in Rabbi Hecht’s book. Rabbi Hecht confirmed that he was familiar with the cult in Chaya S.’s community, against which the Eidah Hachareidis spoke out so vociferously. He told me that after our initial conversation, he spent hours doing research on them in order to prepare for our interview, so he could present us with an educated response. “It is one thousand percent an actual cult,” he says passionately. “Its leaders tell people to follow them blindly, not unlike other cult leaders like Sun Young Moon who say to their followers, ‘I am your brain—I do your thinking for you,’ or Scientology leaders who say, ‘I am your heart and do your feeling for you.’ Once a cult does the thinking for you, it’s the ultimate mind control.” Rabbi Hecht went on to clarify the distinctive characteristics of a cult. “Aside from telling cult members how to think, leaders enforce certain clothing rules, change followers’ names, and isolate them from their families and other people.”
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According to Chaya, her upstairs neighbors are extremely isolated. “Isolation is a very important component of any cult,” he concurred, a tactic being employed by the cult in Beit Shemesh. “Their motivation is power…like many other Jewish cults I have dealt with, they control people and tell them exactly what they can and cannot do.” Rabbi Hecht explained that many cult leaders control their members through money, forcing them to hand over their savings or collect money on their behalf. In Confessions of a Cultbuster, Rabbi Hecht writes that the Moonies in particular are notorious for sending followers into the streets to sell flowers, collecting millions of dollars that go directly into its leaders’ personal coffers. (By the time of Sun Myung Moon’s death several months ago, the Unification Church had grown into a multibillion-dollar empire. The Church is now believed to be headed by his wife and sons.) “This cult in Beit Shemesh was also collecting money at one point,” he said. “This group has cult tendencies, as well as motivation. It has the requisite corruption—by which I mean the abuse that has been publicized in the media—as well as the control and meanness.”
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Pointing to the Jamestown horror, Rabbi Hecht clearly believes that the true danger of these cults is the extent to which members are willing to obey their leaders. “Just as in the Jim Jones case—where 900 people drank cyanide and killed themselves—if a Jewish cult leader were to tell his followers, ‘So-andso is Amalek, and we must go out and shoot them,’ they would do so without hesitation.” In another classic example, Rabbi Hecht told me that the well-known Hare Krishna cult, which gained prominence in the ’60s and ’70s and was touted as being peaceful and loving, was found to have an ashram packed with guns and ammunition! “This group in Beit Shemesh is driven by ego. Cult leaders have narcissism as their central motivation, and a narcissist is hateful. A cult leader captures and controls out of fear and hate, not out of love. In fact, many of these cults are terribly cruel and beat people.” When I asked Rabbi Hecht what we as a community can do when we encounter people like this, he replied, “I truly believe that you have to be open and loving. In my experience of dealing with hundreds of families, I have found that even people who are involved in cults experience rare moments of question and doubt. At that point, if there’s someone living nearby who says to that person, ‘Come to my house: I’ll protect you and take care of you,’ you can actually save her life. “Cults brainwash people and take away free choice. The best way to get someone out is to de-brainwash, to deprogram him. So if someone tells me that his child is in the Moonies, you don’t talk
philosophy. You need to break through the bubble around him to get him out. Of course, there have been some kids who left cults on their own. A member of a cult can suddenly have a feeling of doubt or disgust, or his inner compass will tell him something is wrong. Chaya S. should just be nice to her neighbor and have patience. She may come along one day and say something. She has to understand that these people are robots. Sitting and talking philosophy with them is a waste of time.” But wouldn’t this approach put Chaya S. herself at risk of being “charmed”? “No. If someone lives in Beit Shemesh, she can certainly anchor herself to be strong, friendly and open. It’s not as if these cults have a compelling philosophy of life that will win you over. The few women who left the group reported things like, ‘We were hurting, there was loss in our family, there was a break-up, there was divorce.…’ They did typical cult proselytizing. The tzniyus aspect on its own would be a weak sell. They were picking up people when they were weak by playing on their emotions and ‘bombing’ them with love. First they show them love; only later do they hit them with restrictions when they are already brainwashed.” I asked Rabbi Hecht what someone should do if their sister or daughter is in a cult. “You need professionals to break them away from it. It’s a common tactic for cults to convince their followers that if they leave the cult they will be doomed.” In Rabbi Hecht’s experience, the age group most at risk is young people between the ages of 15 and 25.
Rabbi Hecht has worked for years “as the agent of parents, physically grabbing their child off the street and taking him to a safe house for an involuntary deprogramming,” which is the most successful way of getting a person out of a cult. “How have cults changed since the ’70s and ’80s, when your book first came out?” I ask. Rabbi Hecht tells me that the Internet has changed things drastically. “Nowadays, you can be exposed to all this meshugas in your living room without anyone knowing that you’re hanging around bad people doing bad things. If you type ‘devil worship’ into an Internet search box, you’ll find thousands of websites.” “You mention in your book that a disproportionate number of Jews join cults. Are we just more susceptible? Why?” “I’m not really an expert on cults,” he answers. “I’m an expert on Jews who join cults. In the olden days, most cults attracted American kids who were into gashmiyus over their heads. A spiritual cult would come along and sell them some spirituality, and they bought into it. That’s because the subconscious of every Jew is spiritual. At the time, everyone had a bubby who said things like, ‘baruch Hashem or G-t vet helfen.…’ The basic nekudah of G-d and knowing G-d is very real. It’s also because we excel in whatever we do, particularly spiritual endeavors.” Rabbi Hecht explained that the phenomenon of a Jewish cult stems from the following idea: “The Torah is meant to be studied with a teacher. Moshe Rabbeinu was our consummate teacher, and one of the tenets of Judaism is that we should give ourselves over to a teacher
to learn. It says in Pirkei Avos that the fear of a teacher should be like the fear of Heaven. It’s also true that for many people, particularly the weaker ones, it’s a lot easier not to have to make any decisions. I believe that if you took 100 women in this burqa group and subjected them to a psychological evaluation, the majority would have an excessive number of issues. These are people who were not functioning well even before they became cult members. They were looking for something to latch on to because they couldn’t deal with the day-to-day decisions of life.” In his experience, many cults deliberately try to attract people with such weaknesses. “Jewish cults used to find people who weren’t into their Yiddishkeit and attract them to Yiddishkeit,” he says, using the example of the famous cult whose leader, was “looking for chasidish rebels. Instead of going off the derech, he provided them with an alternative: Let’s be rebels who are more frum!” This was also the case with the cult in Tel Aviv, which also attracted people who bucked the system. When I question him about it, Rabbi Hecht explains that this is in keeping with the fact that many people who join these cults are baalei teshuvah. “Baalei teshuvah are by definition rebelling. Sometimes they rebel against the world, which is a good thing, but if they take this rebellion and turn it toward their own kind and say things like, ‘Now I’m going to be even more frum and wear ten dresses,’ that’s a rebellion that’s really destructive. “When the rabbanim spoke out against the burqa cult and said that wearing extra clothing is like walking around undressed, it was a very good analogy. It has nothing
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“A mother once called me for help in getting her daughter out of a Jewish cult. I called other rabbanim, and they were afraid of the leader.”
to do with tzniyus. You’re not helping the cause of tzniyus—which does need to be strengthened, as standards have fallen. But being extreme is counterproductive.” “Why is this cult so fixated on tzniyus?” I asked him. “To get everyone’s attention,” he replies. “The plan to get women to dress like that comes from meanness and a bad, hateful spirit. The cult leader is stealing the women’s personhood in order to have full control over them. They steal their personhood under the guise of tzniyus. By not allowing them to look pretty in their own eyes, nothing will look pretty in their eyes. It is a plan of destruction.” Rabbi Hecht emphasizes that it is not the followers in these cults who are evil. In fact, he says that some of the youngsters he has deprogrammed are among the nicest people he has ever met. “I would have let them marry my children.” But, he underscores, the cult leaders are “evil in their spirit and their goal. They aren’t looking out for their followers’ best interests. It’s only about control.” I ask him about the difference between a cult and a religion. “Religion is a power. They are hiding
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behind G-d. If the purpose was really tzniyus they could have designed a tichel that doesn’t look like a burqa; they could have created something more Jewish and more respectful. They use a burqa to be ‘in your face’ and create attention. To me, this demonstrates that these people are wrong and sick, because if you’re so worried about tzniyus there are many ways to rectify the situation. You can wear a tichel of some sort. But you aren’t allowed to dress like the goyim: Bechukas hagoy lo seileichu. If you’re so frum, burqa lady, how come you’re wearing something that millions of other women wear to identify themselves with another religion? How frum and holy can you possibly be? Once you are more religious than G-d, it’s a problem. “A mother once called me for help in getting her daughter out of a Jewish cult. I called other rabbanim, and they were afraid of the leader.” He also told me that he had once saved someone from a Jewish cult who had been told by his ‘rav’ that when he went shopping for vegetables, “He should buy only squishy tomatoes because he wasn’t worthy of eating nonrotten ones.” “The motivation of a suicide bomber is
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hopelessness,” he explains. By stripping a person of hope, the person’s life becomes worthless and he will do whatever the leader says. This is what the cult leaders are doing. “It’s one thing if you know what you’re signing up for, like a soldier who obeys his superiors, or a football player like Alan Veingrad, who once said that if his coach had told him to run into a brick wall he would have done it. But he knew what he was getting into. There was a reason! “Most cults aren’t honest about what you’re signing up for. They don’t tell you that you will be cut off from your family and friends. A religion has a sign in front. We don’t lie and train people to go against their very essence. You can choose how much you want to be involved; it’s decided by the individual, not the cult leader.” Bottom line? “Anyone could be at risk. If anyone thinks he’s immune, it’s because he doesn’t really understand the meaning of brainwashing. Brainwashing is subtly communicated. It’s a whole system that can and has, unfortunately, been perpetrated on the masses throughout history.”
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Several months ago (Issue 93), Ami conducted an interview with Shimon and Yisrael Lichtenstein, two brothers who have taken it upon themselves to alleviate the shidduch crisis. The sheer volume of emails, letters, phone calls and faxes we received in its aftermath was eyeopening, and made us even more aware that the subject is of great consequence even to those who haven’t been directly affected. We are therefore inaugurating our own contribution to help alleviate this crisis. Each week AmiLiving will provide our readers with a helpful list of shidduch resources, including contact information for shadchanim and listings of shidduch meetings. Plus, you’ll join us behind the scenes as we explore the world of illusions and delusions, fears and fantasies, obstacles and pitfalls, rejections and introspection, and plots and intrigue, as we tackle a real, live, honest-togoodness…shidduch in the works!
thematchmaker every encounter gets a shadchan’s wheels turning Chapter 1 sunday night, at a wedding Something made me stop in my tracks at the sight of her. She looked sooo familiar, those bright, dark eyes, that sweet face. “What’s your name?!” I shouted above the din. The girl (about 18 or 19 years old, I surmised) stopped short, a bright smile lighting up her face—and now she looked even more familiar, but I still couldn’t put my finger on where I knew her from. “My name is Chedvah Fried!” she said shyly. “Oh, of course. Of course! You’re Shoshana’s daughter! Your mother is my friend from way back when. I remember you as a little girl when your family used to live in New York, before you moved out to Los Angeles. Wait a minute—you came in especially for this wedding?” “Not really. The kallah is my good friend from camp, but no, I didn’t make a special trip; I’m actually living here now. I’m working in Manhattan and boarding with relatives.” “Oh, I get it. Shidduchim are easier in the big city, huh?”
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She smiled demurely. “What do you do?” I asked her. “I’m a receptionist for a community organization.” “Oh! That’s so nice!” I haven’t heard that one in a while; I like that she’s unpretentious. Let me see…Who could she be good for? I’m having an attack of shadchanitis! I must find her someone! Let’s go for the jugular: “So tell me, what kind of boy are you looking for? She smiles sweetly, charm suffusing her face. “I’d like a learning boy, for a few years, you know… Could be a Litvishe learner, chasidish geshtimt.” Oh my, those words ring a bell. Someone just used those same words in the same tone of voice to me just recently. Now, who was it? I rack my brain. I think it was that nice lady I met at that simchah last week, the one who pointed out her son to me: “He wants to learn for a few years, you know? He’s learning in a Litvishe yeshivah, but chasidish geshtimt!” she had
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said. monday The next day I track down Chedvah’s relatives in Brooklyn and check her out a little more. She seems to be a nice, average girl. I get her resume. I’m already reaching into the kitchen cabinet and pulling out the tattered Lakewood Directory. I have someone in mind. “Hi, Mrs. Druck, how’re you doing? I hope all is well.” I make some small talk and get right to the point. “Let me tell you something…” I lower my voice conspiratorially. “I think I have just the right girl for him!” Mrs. Druck is quick to respond. “Oh, I’m so happy you called me. I’m listening!” “Okay. Have you ever heard of a wonderful family named Fried? The father has quite a few brothers, and I know that some of them live in Lakewood…” I hear some loud whispering in the background and some muffled sounds in my ear. I pause.
“Ahem, sorry. My husband just came into the room so I ran it by him. He thinks it’s a gr—” Again, whispers and muffles, someone saying “Shhh!” into the handset. “So sorry, my husband was just saying something to me. What I mean is that my husband is very excite— Umm, he thinks it’s a fantas—a very nice idea! We’d be very happy to meet—I mean to look into her!” (Some coughing in the background. Another “Shhh!”) So I told her all I knew, all the way back from the good old days until now. “The family seems very compatible,” she says excitedly. “And you know about my son’s levush, an up-hat and a rekel?” “Yes, yes, of course,” I respond. “That’s what they’re looking for, a Litvishchasidish blend. All right, great! I’ll fax the references to you. You do your homework, and please get back to me ASAP!” (Then I give her my shadchan shpiel: “She’s such a terrific girl; I have dozens of boys lined up for her. So, you know, it would be a pity to keep anyone waiting unnecessarily… Blah, blah, blah.) Later that night I feel very upbeat. There is something sooo comfortable about this shidduch suggestion; it just seems right, a really good fit. I smile, recalling the background “conversation” that was going on during that phone call. Someone sounded really enthusiastic about this idea! It felt so gratifying to be on target. tuesday There’s a quick message on my answering machine. A deep voice, polite and confident: “This is Mr. Druck. My
wife and I are making some calls and asking around. So far, so good. We’ll be b’kesher!” Whoa, I’m impressed. No shtick. A pleasure! wednesday I’m teaching kallahs tonight and we end pretty late. I stop off at the grocery and finally get home close to midnight. Time to check my missed calls. Ah, here we are! “Hi, it’s Pesha Druck. How are you? Okay, so my husband feels we did all our
Whew! Baruch Hashem! Great! They said YES! This girl actually got a YES, and she doesn’t even know it yet! preliminary research and it sounds good. We would like to proceed with the shidduch. If they meet and if it’s nogei’a, we can do more intensive probing later. Tizki l’mitzvos! Please get back to me at 732-111–0000. Thanks! Bye.” [Note: “Nogei’a,” a major word in the shidduch lexicon, is most often used in a negative context, as in, “It’s not nogei’a!” Mrs. Druck’s usage, indicating a positive connotation, occurs less frequently.] Whew! Baruch Hashem! Great! They said YES! This girl actually got a YES,
and she doesn’t even know it yet! They’re really such wonderful people, the Drucks. I always liked them. I guess I have to call the girl’s side now, but as usual, it’s too late. I’ll put it on my to-do list for first thing in the morning. Oh, wait a minute—they’re in LA, three hours behind us! It’s only 9:00 o’clock there. I love LA shidduchim because I can call them till at least 1:00 a.m. our time. A boy said YES! How can you withhold such information for even a second? I think I’ll listen to that message one more time, just to make sure I heard it correctly. “[W]e did all our preliminary research and it sounds good! We would like to proceed with the shidduch. If they meet and if it’s nogei’a, we can do more intensive probing later.” Hmmm…What do they mean by “preliminary research”? My heart sinks. Maybe I got excited too quickly. Maybe they want the girl’s side to also do “preliminary research” and then they’ll both do more intensive research… But no, she clearly said they want to proceed with the shidduch. But maybe that’s not what she means.… It’s quiet in the house and I can hear myself mumbling. I’m sweating, even though it’s really pretty chilly. Let me hear that message once more: “If they meet and if it’s nogei’a, we can do more intensive probing later.” All right, it’s much clearer now. I’m sure of it. It sounds like they’re ready to meet! I dial LA.
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shidduchresources *We present you with a sampling of individual as well as organizational shadchanim. We certainly hope to keep adding names, BS”D, as we move along! (’Didn’t want to overwhelm you all at once!)
*All listings deal with Orthodox clientele; since each individual’s standards and affiliations vary, obviously not every listing can be suitable for everyone.
*This is a joint communal effort and WE NEED TO HEAR FROM YOU! Shadchanim and activists: We can list your appropriate services, shidduch meetings and pertinent activities!
general shidduchim binyan adei ad 718.256.7525 orthodox union’s singles program 212.613.8300 / firstname.lastname@example.org national council of young israel department of shidduch program212.929.1525 ext. 150; email@example.com yosef baruch & miryam schechter 845.517.4200 / 9am-3pm & 9pmmidnight; firstname.lastname@example.org chaya cohen 215.473.6238 / 8-10am & 8-10pm mrs. brana malka schnitzler 845.425.7520. 845.371.3181/ 8-11pm email@example.com
linda markowitz & thelma rhode 718.253.3721; firstname.lastname@example.org temima gross 410.358.7017 email@example.com mrs. chava most 732.377.5484, 10am1pm, 8-11pm firstname.lastname@example.org chaya levy 718.969.1947 email@example.com yosef baruch & miryam schecter 845.517.4200 / 9am-3pm, 9pmmidnight, firstname.lastname@example.org chaya cohen 215.473.6238 / 8-10am, 8-10pm mesos dodim 718.708.1299 mrs. brana malka shnitzler 845.425.7520, 845.371.3181 / 8-11pm email@example.com
firstname.lastname@example.org ohel’s simcha program / sarah kahan 718.686.3262
medical issues / physically challenged sos tasis 212.894.8220, 212.894.2020 / 10am-4pm est special shidduchim / yossie or shterna bronstein 305.672.4825; info@ specialshidduchim.com boneh bayis 718.438.1639 dr. elka pinson / chabad dr.elkapinson@ gmail.com
mental health / emotional issues shoshana benoliel732.859.5416 soshana goldman 718.983.9187 temima gross 410.358.7017, email@example.com mrs. brana malka shnitzler 845.425.7520, 845.371.3181 / 8-11pm
specializing in shidduchim involving: genetic, fertility, and chronic problems; divorce, adoption, geirim! mrs. chava most f 732.377.5484; firstname.lastname@example.org seeking girls for quality, frum, working (non-degreed) chasidish boys! 845.425.7520 resource for previously married men and women! also singles willing to marry previously married men and women!! mrs. bayla stein belle960@gmail. com public announcements shidduch meeting if you would like to be notified about future meetings of the east 18th monthly evening shidduch meeting, brooklyn, ny please send your e-mail address to: email@example.com
still on the grapevine • • • • • not yet off the press • • • • • not yet confirmed, permitted to share, no responsibility, please! kol rachel has two hot shidduch projects almost ready to launch, bs”d! 1) a fabulous shidduchim shabbaton before shavous for shadchanim and singles! 2) an amazing weekly sunday evening program for seminar girls and beyond, in flatbush. Phenomenal speakers, dynamic original program (and some shadchanim cruising, if you’re interested) we’ll try to get you all the details as soon as available!! • • • volunteers and assistants needed for many shidduch-related projects in many capacities! please call or email AMI. we welcome your letters, comments and shidduch questions, as well as helpul ideas, advice and tips on...shidduchim! contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone 718.534.8800 or fax 718.484.7731
march 20, 2013
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Chapter thirty-nine Last week: Despite the awkwardness of the situation, Shuli is asked by her ex-mother-in-law to manage the business while Shraga convalesces
A Little Problem
Shraga and Shuli Levine were a young couple with several children, trying to build a life together. But faster than they could have imagined, their marriage started to unravel. It all started when Shraga was forced to sell their home to pay his debts, and did so without telling Shuli about it. Shuli was terribly upset when they moved into a dingy apartment. Her parents offered Shraga money for a down payment on a new house, but he refused. The story opens in the therapist’s office, where they agree to try a three-month reconciliation. Unfortunately, their efforts fail. Shuli becomes even more alienated, and on a whim picks up the children and moves back into her parents’ home, with their strong encouragement. After they separate, Shuli’s addiction to spending comes to
don’t think my mother has left my side even once since the accident. Sometimes, when I look at her, I can hardly recognize the woman who raised me. She seems to be shrinking into herself, like one of those exotic flowers that fold themselves up at night. I don’t remember the last time I paid such close attention to her, and that alone is pretty sad.
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light, and Shraga gives her an ultimatum: Either get help, or our marriage is really over. They each call the other’s bluff, and before they realize it, find themselves standing in beis din, divorcing. S huli has a difficult time adjusting, but Shraga does well. He rebuilds his business, becomes very successful financially, and is soon engaged to be married. Shuli is infuriated when Shraga takes the children to meet his intended without her permission. She hauls him into court, threatening to revoke his visitation rights, but on his way to the hearing he is involved in a near-fatal car accident while talking on his cell phone. As a result, he is in danger of losing his leg, and is suffering some memory loss.
If I loved and respected my mother before, I am totally in awe of her now. The way she slowly unfurled the news to me about my leg was masterful. It made me understand, for the first time in my life, the mishnah in Pirkei Avos that says, “I have found nothing better for the body than silence.” I guess I always just glossed over the first part, “All my life I have been raised among
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the wise.” It made realize that the two go hand in hand, because a big part of wisdom is knowing when to talk and when to be quiet. That is something you have to learn from someone older and wiser. It’s not an intuitive, inborn thing. My mother sat by my side patiently and let me discover the truth on my own, at my own pace, so the shock wouldn’t kill me. After the incident with the
bag, when I went a little nuts and they had to knock me out, I didn’t wake up for two whole days! And when I came to, I had no recollection of what had happened. The woman sitting at my bedside continued to be a mystery to me. Again, my mother sat by my side and let me work it out. I was getting very annoyed that Shuli hadn’t shown up yet, and asked my mother a few times where she was. Each time I did, my mother would look at the unidentified woman with a very worried expression on her face, then look back at me and mumble something about Shuli being busy with the children and she’d probably be here soon. Then she would deftly change the subject. After it happened a few times, I suddenly broke out in a cold sweat. Could it be, I wondered, that Shuli had also been involved in the accident? Had she died and they were too afraid to tell me? Had the children also been in the car? All of a sudden my mother’s silence seemed very ominous and filled with secrets. I knew that Shuli was never that busy with the children that she couldn’t find time to do whatever it was she wanted to do. Something terrible must have happened to her. I was sure of it. I wanted to ask my mother what was going on, but for some reason I couldn’t articulate the question. I was also hesitant to speak in front of the mystery woman. I didn’t know who she was, but she seemed vaguely threatening. Since I hadn’t been saying very much at all it wasn’t yet noticeable (or so I thought) that I hadn’t spoken
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to her at all. Now I had to get her to leave the room so I could speak to my mother privately. I had overheard my mother calling her Sara Leah and that was good to know, because now I knew she wasn’t one of my sisters. I thought maybe she was a private nurse, but she wasn’t doing too many nurse-type things. And besides, why would my parents hire a nurse when I was in the ICU? It was so confusing. I didn’t know what to call this Sara Leah because as far as I could tell she was wearing a sheitel, and that meant she was married. I also couldn’t figure out how to indicate to my mother that I wanted to speak to her alone. Then Hashem intervened, and Sara Leah’s phone started ringing so loudly that it startled me physically and violently, sending a spasm through my body that was so painful I thought I was going to black out. Seeing my reaction, she jumped up and ran out of the room. “Ma, I need to talk to you,” I whispered. “I’m here, zisseh. Talk,” she said simply. “Can you, uh, make sure no one comes in while we’re talking?” I said. She understood me and nodded her head quietly. When Sara Leah returned, my mother stood up and said a few words to her quietly. Sara Leah nodded and smiled, then turned and walked back down the hallway. “What did you tell her?” I croaked. “I sent her on some errands,” said Ma. “People like to feel useful.” “I have so many questions,” I said, tears starting to run down my cheeks. “I know.”
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“I don’t even know where to begin.” “I know,” she repeated. “Take your time. We’re in no rush here.” I took a deep breath. “My leg. Is it…?” My mother nodded, careful to keep her expression perfectly neutral. “We don’t know yet what the final prognosis will be.” I nodded, trying to absorb what she had said, but it was like trying to swallow a whole sandwich at once, without chewing. I debated whether or not to continue, and then decided to just get it all over with at once. “Ma, where’s Shuli? Why isn’t she coming to visit me? Was she with me in the car? Is she…you know, and you’re just not telling me?” “Chas veshalom! She’s fine. She wasn’t with you in the car.” Later, when I thought about this strange conversation, I couldn’t believe how calm my mother was. It must have been killing her. “And the kids? They’re okay?” “Yes, of course. They’re fine. Oh, you poor baby, to be thinking these things. I should have told you right away, but it’s hard to figure out exactly what you remember and what you don’t.” “So where is she?” I asked. “Where is who?” said my mother. “Shuli! Why isn’t she coming to the hospital? What kind of wife doesn’t visit her husband after he nearly dies in a car accident?” My mother’s face blanched. “Okaaay,” she said, exhaling deeply. “Shragi, we’ve got a little problem here.” n To be continued....
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akey’s voice used to be as light and sweet as cotton candy. But lately it was a nerve-jangling combination of strident and know-it-all. And it wasn’t because there was a problem with the phone line. Actually, Tova was beginning to wish that there was a problem with the phone line, so that Lakey would stop talking. “It’s not so hard,” she was saying. “It’s not so difficult. Daddy doesn’t ask for so much. He really doesn’t. But Shmuel has to start picking up on his signals. Tammy, stop that! Henny, go to your room!” Lakey’s voice rose higher in pitch than Tova thought humanly possible. “That was my favorite ear,” Tova said. She lifted the receiver and rubbed gently at the offended lobe. “Kids. You’ll see. But stay on topic. How can you seriously be considering not coming for Mommy’s yahrtzeit? Do you want to kill him? It’s like you want to kill him.” “No one is killing anyone,” Tova said. Never mind the urge to reach through the phone lines and strangle her baby sister. “And thanks for letting me get a word in, because I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. Who said anything about not coming for Mommy’s yahrtzeit? I wasn’t saying we’re not coming, I was just—” “Okay, so great!” Lakey’s voice softened immediately. “So fine. It’s because Daddy said…okay, never mind what he said. Something you said made him think that you weren’t coming. So fine. So can you
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make dessert? Daddy’s new housekeeper never makes dessert...if you don’t mind.” “I already made dessert. I organized the menu with Mrs. Horowitz two weeks ago.” “Who is Mrs. Horowitz?” “You’re kidding, right?” “No, who is she?” “The new housekeeper?” “Whatever. No nuts or anything, okay? Henny is worse than ever.” “No nuts.” Tova was still massaging her temples when Shmuel knocked softly on the front door. She heard the key turn in the lock, and used the 30 seconds she had until he found her in the kitchen to take deep, cleansing breaths. “Hi.” She smiled up at him as he walked in, and got up to turn off the stove. He smiled back and peered over her shoulder into the pot. “Smells good. Baby is sleeping?” Tova nodded. “He should be getting up soon, though. Let’s have dinner now, while we both have hands to eat with.” “That sounds a bit too wild and crazy for us, eating with both hands free. Are you sure you remember how?” “I’m pretty sure it’ll all come back to me,” Tova said, reaching for the ladle. As soon as her fingers touched metal, a wail was heard from the bedroom. “...or not.” Shmuel sighed but his eagerness gave him away. “I’ll get him!” he said, and scrambled to suit action to words. “Well, look who’s up!” he crowed as he came back into the kitchen 30 seconds later, a
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blinking, rosy-cheeked three-month-old in his arms. “It’s the Yitz-man!” Tova smiled, but there was a tightness around her lips and eyes when she said, “Avraham Yitzchak.” “But Avraham Yitzchak is longer than he is. He needs a nickname until he grows into it.” “Then Avraham. Avi?” “I like Yitz. What’s wrong with Yitz?” Tova turned to the pot and slowly and methodically ladled the stew into the two waiting bowls. She took the garlic bread out of the oven and began placing the pieces onto a plate. “Nothing is wrong with Yitz,” she finally said. “But Avraham was my grandfather’s name.” “You never even knew him.” Tova plunked the plate of garlic bread on the table next to the salad. “My father did.” “Ah.” “Do you want me to take the baby?” “I’m good.” They washed in silence and sat down to eat. Tova crumpled a piece of garlic bread into a neat little pyramid of crumbs before bursting out, “Can you just do it? Please? Can you just call him Avraham?” “If this is about your father, I call him Avraham whenever we visit.” Tova stared at him, incredulous. “No you don’t. No you do not. You want to, maybe. You try to. But you don’t. And then it’s just one more thing, one more thing that.…” To stop herself, Tova put a spoonful of stew into her mouth. She chewed it slowly.
Tova is torn between her father and husband. Will she be forced to make a choice?
“One more thing that what? Oh, I get it. Did you just speak to Lakey? You sound like you just spoke to Lakey.” Shmuel asked the question between steady mouthfuls of stew. “How exactly do I sound after I speak to Lakey?” “Like this.” “Like.…” Tova let out her breath in a gust and said shortly, “I need to feed the baby.” Shmuel looked down at the contented baby nestled in his arms in puzzlement. “He’s hungry? He seems—” “He’s hungry.” Shmuel handed the baby to her, who gurgled contentedly. Shimon touched his cheek. “Mommy’s going to feed you, Yitz-Bits.” At hearing that, in spite of Tova’s best intentions, she said, “Can you just do it? Can you just do it for me? Can we have one weekend at my father’s house where I don’t feel like the worst daughter in the world?” “You’re being silly, Tova. I’m sorry, but you are.” “I’m being silly? It’s silly now, to want to make my father happy? Why is it—” Shmuel’s quiet voice cut through Tova’s tirade. “It’s silly because you’re an amazing daughter.” I know. It’s not me; it’s you, Tova thought. Why can’t you see that? Things used to be so simple before Shmuel, when it was just her and she could afford to give her all to her family. How was it that the two most important men in her life—her husband and father—made her feel as though she was being stretched like a rubber band, stretched until she couldn’t stretch anymore? And then there was Lakey chiming in with her two cents, as if the
whole thing was really simple—as if she had all the answers in the world. Who was she angry at, exactly? She gave a sigh and a half-smile. She shook her head. “I’m sorry.” Shmuel jumped on her apology. “It’s okay. The stew is great. You’re great. Everything is great. Great?” Tova smiled. She couldn’t help it. “Great.” She sat back down. “I thought you were going to feed the
the driver’s seat. The phone rang just as Tova hefted the bag up from where it was sitting on the couch, and at first, she debated just letting it ring. She had not left work until two o’clock, and they were running late. One glance at the caller ID and she changed her mind. “Lakey, is it about something that I need to bring from my house? Because if not, we’re on our way out, and I’ll call
They both knew that it was a temporary reprieve at best as they sat back down to a now lukewarm dinner baby?” Shmuel asked. Tova flushed. “On second thought, I don’t think he’s really hungry.” Shmuel stretched out his arms for the little boy. “So gimme, gimme.” They both knew that it was a temporary reprieve at best as they sat back down to a now lukewarm dinner, even as the conversation took an abruptly lighthearted turn on Shmuel’s cue. They both knew— as they talked about work, about yeshivah, and about whether or not a three-month old could be teething—that they hadn’t touched the tip of the iceberg; that this was far, far from over. As they loaded up the car the following Friday, the day of her mother’s yahrtzeit, Tova quickly ran through her mental checklist and came up one item short. “I’m just going to run in and get the diaper bag,” she said, as Shmuel slid into
you back on my cell. Lakey? Lay, what’s wrong? Are you crying?” Two minutes later, Tova ran toward the car, the diaper bag hanging limply from her fingers. She pulled open the passenger side door and sat down, her face drained of color. Shmuel took one look at her and asked, “What happened?” Tova’s tongue felt like it was too big for her mouth when she said, “We need to go to Daddy.” “We are going—” “No. Not to his house. To the hospital.” Her fingers rubbed the diaper bag strap over and over again and she stared straight through the windshield, seeing nothing. “To the hospital. Daddy had a heart attack.” n
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To be continued.... |
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days An Extra Level of Sanctity The warning sign had been posted. And my little boy knew exactly what it meant. As told to Miriam Israeli
hat does it mean to be a kohen today? Having the first aliyah in shul? Officiating at a Pidyon Haben? Getting up to say Birkas Kohanim? My son Chaim is a kohen. He is also a little boy with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic illness. It’s not life-threatening and with G-d’s help he will outgrow it, but it does involve periodic medical checkups and hospital stays. The staff of Jerusalem’s Shaarei Zedek Hospital is well acquainted with Chaim; everyone has a smile for my cute little boy. There is, however, an added element to Chaim’s hospital visits because he is a kohen. Due to the prohibition against kohanim becoming tamei l’meis, a kohen cannot be under the same roof as a dead body. Since he was three years old, Chaim knew that every time we went to the hospital we had to check for a warning sign that said “Azharah Lakohanim” (“Beware Kohanim”). As a religious hospital, Shaarei Zedek is careful to avoid
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causing kohanim to unwittingly transgress. And while Chaim may not have fully understood the halachic ramifications, he always knew that if a shelet (sign) was posted, he had to stay outside in the special booth designated for this purpose, waiting to enter. We sometimes had to wait as long as two hours, but he knew it was a mitzvah. Whenever we arrived at the hospital he would ask me, “Yesh shelet?” If the answer was yes, we would settle down for a wait. Since summer is the prevailing season here in Israel, Chaim and I would alternate between sitting in the stifling booth and braving the fierce Jerusalem sun. When Chaim was six years old he experienced a bad flare-up. It began the same as every other flare-up of his arthritis, with a little pain and discomfort, but this time the doctors couldn’t get him into remission. Months passed, and Chaim became progressively sicker and weaker. The pain was unbearable. Even morphine provided only moderate relief. By that time Chaim had stopped eating
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almost completely. My husband and I were beside ourselves with worry. We called all kinds of specialists, begging them to suggest a new medication or treatment—anything to help our son. But even the experts were at a loss. The days passed in a haze of worry and panic. When would the crisis end? It never occurred to us to consider how it was going to end. One day, I thought that Chaim’s lips looked bluish. I chalked it up to my imagination. But by the next day the cyanotic tinge was quite apparent. The pediatrician’s clinic is only a five-minute walk from our house, but Chaim was too weak to make it on foot. I had been wheeling him around in a stroller, but now he was in too much pain. I called a taxi. The pediatrician sent us straight to the hospital. That’s what I had expected, so I had packed an overnight bag. As nervous as I was, I also felt relieved. Finally, someone would do something, and my son’s pain would end. When we reached Shaarei Zedek, the first thing I noticed was an abandoned
wheelchair at the entrance. As I was six months pregnant at the time, carrying Chaim in my arms was not so easy, so the wheelchair was a welcome sight. Chaim, however, had eyes only for the sign posted prominently near the door. “Yesh shelet!” he warned me as I wheeled him purposefully forward. I waved away his protests. “It’s okay. We’re allowed to go in.” “It’s not an aveirah?” Tears stung my eyes. “No, tzaddik’l, it’s a mitzvah. It’s called pikuach nefesh.” Chaim’s small, tense frame relaxed. Chaim was admitted to the children’s ward and administered oxygen, but several hours later the pulmonologist determined that he was no longer able to breathe on his own. They needed to put him on a ventilator. “Ima, tenashki oto; tevarchi oto— Mother, go ahead and kiss him; give him a brachah,” the physician presiding over the intubation procedure told me as he prepped Chaim for the procedure. Obediently I approached my little boy and kissed his forehead, and with his face close to mine whispered gently, “You
“It’s not an aveirah?” he asked. “No, tzaddik’l, it’s a mitzvah,” I answered. “It’s called pikuach nefesh.” should live and be well till 120.” Chaim, already succumbing to the anesthesia, murmured a weak “Amen” and closed his eyes. Later, I would be forever grateful to the compassionate doctor who sensed what I could not—that this might be a final goodbye—who had given me this memory as a gift. Chaim was transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). I put everything on hold to spend my days at his side, going home to sleep only because the nurses urged me to preserve my strength “for when Chaim comes home.” One night, however, I awoke from a deep sleep with a start. I had distinctly heard Chaim calling me urgently: “Mommy,
Mommy!” Over the years I had become accustomed to Chaim crying out in pain in the middle of the night, asking for a drink or for help in going to the bathroom. This time, though, I must have imagined it. Chaim was in the hospital, hooked up to a ventilator. I looked at the clock on my night table and saw it was 5:00 a.m. I picked up the phone and dialed the PICU’s number. “Hello, this is Chaim’s mother. Is everything okay?” There was a slight hesitation at the other end. “This is the attending physician. Everything is fine. Chaim is stable…now.” Another pause. “What made you decide
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days Later, I would be forever grateful to the compassionate doctor who sensed what I could not, and given me this memory as a gift. to call at just this moment?” The doctor’s tone had a certain strange quality to it. I was embarrassed to tell him I’d heard my son calling me, and mumbled something about having been up anyway. Only later did I discover that right before my call Chaim had stopped breathing; they had almost lost him. “We’ve transferred him to a highfrequency ventilator,” the attending physician informed me when she arrived later that morning. “Is this called being on life support?” I asked. “Maximum life support,” was the grim reply. As the days passed, Chaim’s condition deteriorated quickly. His liver and kidney functions were impaired, and he
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experienced severe internal hemorrhaging. I spent every day in the hospital. My husband came every night to take me home, and—if there was no sign posted— to be with Chaim. We spent Shabbos in the proximity of Shaarei Zedek, and on Friday night my husband sang zemiros softly near Chaim’s bed. One night, two weeks after Chaim was hospitalized, I was in the PICU when my cellphone rang. It was my husband. “Yesh shelet,” he told me. “They just posted it. It will take a while. Come down whenever you’re ready to leave.” I kissed Chaim goodnight. I patted his small form, motionless except for the exertions of the ventilator, and headed downstairs. We had just arrived home when the
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phone rang. It was the PICU. “Your son’s condition is worse. We want you to come back to the hospital.” Worse? I thought. How could he be worse? Things were already as bad as possible. I called a taxi while my husband broke the news to the children that we were going right back. They didn’t understand. “But you just came home!” We groped for an excuse, unwilling to tell them the truth. “We, uh, have to go back to sign some papers.” The ride to the hospital was spent in silence. My thoughts raced. This could mean only one thing, the one horrific possibility I had been pushing to the back of my mind, to the bottom of my consciousness, because it was too huge, too incomprehensible to face.
When we got to the hospital the warning sign for kohanim was still posted at the entrance. “I’ll wait here,” my husband said. “You go find out what’s happening and call me right away.” I entered the hospital feeling as if I were in a trance, separated from the rest of humanity by an invisible barrier, propelling myself forward to a future I couldn’t escape. I was numb, detached— but if I allowed myself to feel for even a second I knew I’d collapse. Better to just move forward, into the elevator, up to the eighth floor and down the hallway. As I pushed open the door to my son’s room my self-imposed detachment disappeared immediately. “Is he alive?” I cried out desperately. The look on the attending physician’s face horrified me. There was no doubt what it conveyed. Till today, I am unable to recall exactly what happened next. I vaguely remember feeling embarrassed at such a public loss of control, solicitous nurses pushing me gently into a chair, offering me tea. My first coherent thought was, How will I tell the kids? It was only several minutes later that I suddenly reminded myself of my husband, waiting downstairs. How could I have forgotten about him? With shaking hands I dialed his number and heard the special ring that signifies call waiting. I waited, certain that he would pick up as soon as he saw my number. But he didn’t answer. I tried again. And again. Who could he be talking to? And why wasn’t he picking up? I was faintly irritated, marveling that I was even
capable of feeling annoyance. A few minutes later he called me back. “Tuvia.…” My voice faltered, everything forgotten except for the immense tragedy we would have to face together. “Tuvia…” the tears started falling again. “Baruch dayan ha’emes.” “I’m coming upstairs,” he said, and hung up. Minutes later he was there, ashen-faced and stunned. A little old man in Yerushalmi garb materialized out of nowhere. “I’m from the Chevrah Kaddisha,” he said. “We’ll take care of everything. There’s a car downstairs with a driver. Go home to your kids. They need you.” We obeyed him like automatons. I wondered how they knew so quickly. We hardly spoke on the way home. What is there to say? Then suddenly I remembered something. “Who were you talking to when I called you before? And why didn’t you answer?” “I’m sorry,” he said. “You probably couldn’t imagine why I wasn’t picking up.” I nodded. “You know that in the case of immediate family a kohen is allowed to be tamei l’meis, right?” he said. “So it would have been okay for me to come in for Chaim. But there was a shelet posted before we came. Not much time had passed, and I wasn’t sure if that first niftar was still there. I called the rav beit hacholim (hospital chaplain) to ask what the halachah is, whether or not I was allowed to enter just in case the other meis was still there. I wanted to be sure.…” he finished, with tears in his eyes. So what does it mean to be a kohen nowadays? n
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days The Nanny Diaries: Pesach Edition Divine Providence was with us at our seder…literally By Danielle Sarah Storch
re you sure we need one?” The words slipped out of my mouth on that sunny erev Pesach morning as my husband and I arrived at our cozy Virginia Beach Pesach hotel with our very excited five- and seven-year-olds. Pesach was our annual family vacation time, and this Pesach was no different. “I don’t see how you’re going to enjoy the seder this year without a nanny,” my husband said, in a very serious voice. My mind turned back to the uncomfortable memories of last year. Following his grand performance of the Mah Nishtanah, our four-year-old son Yosef announced he was “bored” and promptly dashed out of his seat to explore the hotel. I, Mommy-in-charge, scrambled after him, begging, bribing and threatening until he came back to the table. The seder went downhill from there. Confined to his seat, the bored and restless Yosef spent the rest of Maggid torturing his sister Shulamis. She shrieked, I tried to break it up, and my husband raced through the Haggadah. It seemed there was no way to enjoy the seder with kids. Was a nanny the answer? This year our
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hotel offered professional babysitters—but they weren’t Jewish. Honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable having a complete stranger at my seder table. And giving over my precious job as a Jewish mother to hired help just didn’t seem right. But last year’s seder was excruciating.… My mind raced. Maybe this was a good solution for our family? Maybe this would be our answer for an enjoyable Pesach? But on the other hand…maybe it was more of a mitzvah to miss most of the seder and raise my children? My husband offered a compromise. “She’ll bring them back and forth; they can leave the table and play when they become bored, and come back when they’re ready. C’mon, I want you to be at the seder with me, enjoying yourself.” I took a deep breath. “Okay, we’ll do it.” I sighed, imagining everything that could go wrong. “She’d better be a good one.” After lighting candles on the first night of Pesach, the kids and I returned to our room. I had to retrieve pillows, grape juice, Kiddush cups, Haggadahs the kids made in school and Lego. This year I was planning on cramming in as much of the seder as possible into the fifteen minutes that Yosef and Shulamis would be alert and behaving. The rest—well, the nanny
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would take care of that. As I packed up the Pesach paraphernalia, there was a knock at the door. The nanny! I imagined a senior grandmotherly type of woman with a stern look on her face. I gulped as I opened the door to face a short, blonde, thirty-something-year-old woman proudly displaying a silver cross necklace. “Hi, I’m Providence.” She said with an outstretched hand. I shook it tentatively, while my stomach did somersaults. I eyed the silver necklace suspiciously. Would our new mother’s helper make an attempt at indoctrinating our children? I let Providence into our room, while I finished gathering our seder items. There was another knock on the door, and my husband entered. He and Providence exchanged greetings, and we were off to the seder. Everything went as planned. Providence sat quietly watching us from her seat by the wall. She had had the good sense to hide her necklace. Yosef and Shulamis stood on their chairs for Mah Nishtanah and shortly afterward, they began to kvetch. Providence stepped closer to the table and invited Yosef to sit on the floor and play a game with the Pesach cards
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Would our new mother’s helper make an attempt at indoctrinating our children? we had brought along. Our daughter sat a little while longer, then joined Providence and Yosef. They returned to the table for the ten plagues and again for the delicious meal. All in all, the seder was really a pleasant experience for all of us. The second night of Pesach almost mimicked the first. I got the children dressed, I wore my fancy new taffeta skirt, and as I was gathering the seder belongings, there was the familiar knock on the door. The nanny was here—with the same cross necklace and big smile. “Providence!” The children ran to greet her. They parked themselves next to her on the couch while I continued to pack
up. Shulamis, who had always been curious by nature, started bombarding her with questions. “Where are you from? What do you do?” Providence lived in the Virginia Beach area where she grew up. In short, she was a proud Catholic who loved children. She was a teacher of children with special needs, and every Sunday led school programs at her church. “Why do you have such a funny name?” Shulamis asked. I cringed, reminding myself to teach her about tact later. Providence was unperturbed. “My grandmother gave it to me,” she said,
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My mind turned back to the uncomfortable memories of last year
looking down at my daughter. “She wanted a Hebrew name that meant prophet, so she figured Providence was close enough.” From the other side of the room, I almost dropped the pillows in shock. “Why would your grandmother want you to have a Hebrew name?” I called out, trying to sound casual. Talk about tact. Providence smiled at me and said, “Well, she was Jewish.” At this point, my husband had entered the room adjusting his tie. “Was it your grandmother on your mother’s side or your father’s?” To which Providence calmly answered, “My mother’s mother.” By now our daughter figured what we were getting at. “Mommy, is Providence Jewish?” My husband and I looked at each other and I let out a big, “Wow, this is incredible!” Providence shrugged. She seemed more interested in getting the children out the door on time for the seder. I continued in my excitement, “Providence, according to Jewish law, if your maternal grandmother was Jewish, you’re as Jewish as we are.” Providence tilted her head and looked at me quizzically. “Okay.” My husband chimed in. “And please, children, you know what this means.
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Since she is Jewish, we can’t have Providence do anything we can’t. So no hinting to her that we need a light tuned on or anything.” Providence look confused, “I’m here for y’all, so I’ll do whatever you want!” “She doesn’t really get it, does she?” I whispered to my husband as he reached for his kittel. “We’ll have to show her a real seder!” He whispered back. I turned to the nanny. “Providence, you’re going to join us tonight at the table. We’ll give you a Haggadah and you can have the Pesach experience with us.” That night, as we proudly marched to our hotel table, I felt a special siyata dishmaya having our special Pesach guest. Hashem had chosen our family to host a person very far from her Jewish roots. We poured Providence the four cups of wine, fed her matzah, and let her read parts of Maggid in English. We even had her talk to the hotel’s rabbi, so he could explain parts of the Haggadah. “This is the first Passover I’ve ever celebrated,” she remarked. As for the children—they didn’t complain once. Yosef helped Providence follow along in the Haggadah, and Shulamis made sure to teach her all
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the songs. When we bid our nanny farewell that evening, we invited her to stay in the hotel with our program for the rest of Pesach. “We’ll take care of the cost,” we explained—we didn’t want her to travel on Yom Tov. She felt honored by our offer, but looked at us strangely. Yet after thanking us profusely, she refused. We didn’t want to push too much, and figured we’d be in touch after Pesach. A week later my husband tried contacting the babysitting service to get Providence’s number, but we never got through, and unfortunately lost contact with her. This year, as Pesach time arrives, I can’t help but think about our nanny. I wonder if she has made her way back to Judaism. Perhaps someone will run into her and continue where we left off. Perhaps Providence will be able to leave her Catholic lifestyle and join her Jewish brothers and sisters once again. n
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days Between a Pinkie and a Baby Finger How I almost didn’t survive my first Pesach as a married man By Rati Berger
hanah rishonah is a time when a married couple first learns to live peacefully together, learning how to overcome idiosyncrasies, in order to build a house that works smoothly and cleanly. I’m kidding, of course. In that year, you actually have to start all the fights that you’ll be having for the next umpteen years, and each spouse has to learn the other one’s idiosyncrasies so that he or she has something to criticize. That was my experience, at least. But compared to how I did at getting along with my in-laws that year, my relationship with my wife seemed like utter ease. And it all came back to Pesach. Not everything about Pesach, actually: It was the spilling of wine by the makkos, baby fingers, and a porpoise that really started the year off with a bang. Up front, let me just say that my in-laws are the best in the world. I’ve borrowed their car more times than I can count, I’ve eaten everything in their refrigerator on more than one occasion (except for the borscht, actually), and they’ve let me put four chairs together in the living room on
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a hot Shabbos afternoon and sleep on top of them, on those weeks when my wife has said, “I need to get some sleep this Shabbos. You’ll have to stay out and watch the kids.” The kids did just fine on their own, let me tell you. (Except for that one time with the flood.) Anyway, they’re great in-laws. But nonetheless, there are still some annoying things about them. And that first Pesach really seemed to have an overflow of these things. We were scheduled to go to my wife’s parents’ home for the first days and Chol Hamoed, and then head to my parents for the last days. I dutifully did the few preparations that we needed. (We hadn’t yet entered that stage in our life when
Pesach cleaning becomes a psychological symptom.) I cleaned the car. I got the matzos I wanted, though I couldn’t get a space in the chaburah. (Bothering someone for days helps only a certain amount, it turns out.) I went and bought wine for the arba kosos. I entered the wine store thinking about getting the no-added-sugar, nonmevushal, low-alcohol wine that seemed like the best halachically and physically. Somehow the sight of all that wine (or was it because of the fumes from open bottles?) seemed to inspire something in me, and I ended up walking out with a no-added-sugar, non-mevushal, highalcohol bottle. As I would later find out during the seder, it was also a dry wine. Okay, I’m no
For the spilling of wine by the makkos, MY FAMILY ALWAYS DRIPPED THE WINE OUT WITH THEIR PINKIES. What was wrong with that?
9 nissan 5773
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WOMEN’S CONFERENCE aficionado when it comes to selecting wine. (Yes, I’ve learned that reading the label helps. Or asking the person who is selling it to you, “Is this dry or sweet?”) Unfortunately, I’m also no aficionado when it comes to drinking wines, and my idea of the ideal bottle is something that tastes very similar to soda pop. But more about that later. I sold the chametz. I got the haggadahs together. I bought new toothbrushes. (Yes, I was actually proud of myself for being so responsible. Again, I was young.) The day of bedikas chametz, I went out and bought some extra romaine for the seder, just in case my in-laws didn’t have enough for the shiur I wanted. When I think about later trips to my in-laws Erev Pesach, with children caterwauling and bags and packages piled up in the car, I realize that the first year we had it very easy. (The time that we realized, while we were driving on the highway, that one of the little kids had taken along not-kasherl’Pesach candies from some closed drawer, and we had the kids throw them out the window of the moving car because it was after the zman, and it turned out the car next to us was a state trooper.... Well, I’d rather forget about that time.) We arrived there, just the two of us, and got settled in. It was pretty hot in the house, because all of the burners were on, and I was getting annoyed. “It’s going to be hot,” I said. I had hardly eaten anything that day. Eventually they gave us some boiled potatoes to eat and I managed to be cordial through Minchah, Maariv, and the walk back home. It was still a little hot. Most of the burners were still on, after all. I went and found my wine. (Most other years, this was when I would remember that I had forgotten my kittel and would have to borrow one from my shver. But I had the minhag not to wear one the first year, so that wasn’t yet an embarrassing part of my life yet.) Did they have a corkscrew? My in-laws are teetotalers most of the year, and the wine they buy has a screw top. Luckily,
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days it turned out that they actually had a corkscrew for Pesach, tucked into one of the boxes they pull out every year. Had it not been Pesach, I would have had to use the smash-the-cork-into-the-bottle method, which works well on Purim, but isn’t really Pesach style. Blech. What was wrong with this wine? “What’s wrong with this wine?” my wife asked. “Is this dry wine?” We poured the second cup, but my wife took her father’s no-added-sugar, non-mevushal, low-alcohol sweet wine for it. I sat sullenly in my chair, feeling hot. Actually, hot and flushed; the alcohol was pretty strong for me, after all I hadn’t eaten much. We went through Maggid slowly, with my wife’s little brother piping up with divrei Torah that seemed designed to inflict maximum damage on our patience. Well, at least on mine. Then we came to “Dam va’eish v’simros ashan,” where you need to spill out some wine. My little brother-in-law stuck his pinkie finger in his cup, to drip some out. “We don’t do it that way,” my fatherin-law said. “We tip our glasses and spill it out.” “But this is how my rebbe said to do it.” “That’s not how our family does it.” I was suddenly outraged. (Did I mention that I don’t hold my liquor well?) My family always dripped it out with their pinkies. What was wrong with dripping it out with our pinkies? “My family uses our pinkies,” I told my wife, as she started tipping her cup, in a tone that meant “and you will too.” She had already spilled three drops,
march 20, 2013
I sold the chametz. I got the haggadahs together. I bought new toothbrushes. (Yes, I was actually proud of myself for being so responsible. Again, I was young.) though. I quickly did my dripping, a little quickly and a little clumsily. My pinkie was hitting cup, not wine. Why did it seem like there were two cups? I boggled at it but managed to right the cup (and all its phantoms that the wine was producing) before it spilled. We were up to the makkos, then. “This is the best way to spill the wine,” I said, loudly, as I dripped wine from my glass, staining the tablecloth nicely. My wife tried to follow suit, then wiped her finger off, as conspicuously as possible. (Or maybe not. I may have been noticing things too closely by that time.) The rest of the seder went well. I mean that relatively, of course. Had I not run to
9 nissan 5773
the bathroom to be sick in the middle of Dayeinu, I probably wouldn’t have been able to have the rest of the kosos. So that was good. But I was still in a bad mood after the whole dripping thing. And without getting into the details, my mood didn’t improve the next day when I got into a fight with my brother-in-law about whether the Pesach cookies are properly called “lady fingers” or “baby fingers.” (“It says baby fingers right on the box!” “They just write that—” and so on.) And then when we went on the Chol Hamoed trip and the porpoise splashed me and everyone laughed.… Well, we stayed home for Sukkos that year. n