Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Sivan 5759 - June 9, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Dear Diary - Part IV
by R' P. Kantrowitz

Follow us as we rediscover our world through the eyes of the parents of a baal tshuva yeshiva bochur. Laugh some, cry some, shep some nachas from `our Irwin.'

We have survived his Erev Shabbos preparations and are joining him at the Kosel.

Dearest Diary,

So Irwin took us to the "Western Wall" to `daven' or pray Maariv, the evening service. (I always knew it as the Wailing Wall, but Irwin was insistent on his name, calling my name goyish, so I let it go.) I had been there before, years ago, but it was so long ago that I barely remembered it. I was so moved by the experience (that is, when I got over the insult of having to be behind the partition, which I did very quickly, and which Irwin later explained rather nicely, as more the men's problem of keeping their eyes to themselves than the ladies' problem, I accepted his explanation). But, so many people. All davening together, it was just beautiful! The Wall lit up so beautifully with all the notes in the cracks and all those Jews davening so earnestly with all their hearts. It made me want to cry. In fact, it did! Some exuberant bands of young men, which Irwin identified as various yeshiva groups, came dancing and singing down to the Wall.

Our first `extravaganza seuda' was spent with the Roseman family in a gorgeous apartment with a large panoramic window overlooking the Wall. All evening I kept glancing out the window and tears came to my eyes watching all that traffic on the plaza and at the Wall. It made me think of all the Jews who, for generations, had longed to pray there but couldn't.

They sure packed a crowd at that apartment. Irwin explained that they have an `open house' for whoever feels like dropping in. Seemed like half of Jerusalem to me. "Sure," said Mrs. Roseman, "come right in. We'll find a place for you right over... Well, we'll try over... How about... That's also taken. Come in, anyway, and make yourself at home. Even if it means sitting on someone's lap!"

She had such composure and grace in the face of all that stress, like a summer's breeze. I would have been climbing the walls. Her kids, a bevy of all ages, kept on running up to her with different reports about what was needed here or there and she sent them off good naturedly on their errands. Her husband was meanwhile speaking words of Torah and welcoming copious guests and even invited many of them to speak -- also fascinating.

And the food. I never saw so much in all my life and I thought I'd seen a lot. They didn't run out of anything! And dish after dish was just delicious. My hostess admitted that she made everything herself. HOW? I asked, and she sheepishly said she spent quite a bit of time cooking.

That night was one of the best nights' sleep I had in a long time. Irwin, who slept over at the King David with us, went off early the next morning to pray, and returned at ten to wake us up. I turned over, saying, "It's a mitzva, Irwin. You taught me Shabbos menucha." But it didn't work, so off we were to the races. "You're not supposed to run on Shabbos," Irwin noted, and corrected the phrase to "Off to the strolls." First he made kiddush for us and provided some cake so that we wouldn't be too hungry. He's become so thoughtful, my boy!

The second seuda was no less extraordinary. It was quite a hike. Irwin filled us in along the way. "Remember, folks, this is an elderly European rabbi, very learned and distinguished, so let's be careful about what we say."

"You mean I can't do my Tevye impersonation?" Melvin said dryly. "Oh, come on. I thought Shabbos was supposed to be fun." Classic Melvin.

My stereotypes about their tottering around a small apartment filled with Jewish aromas from my childhood, mumbling Yiddish, were correct -- and yet, utterly wrong! These were real, live Jewish people and amazingly `with it' whatever that means. They seemed to know what was going on in the modern world. And if that was hard for me to believe, you should have seen Melvin! The Rebbetzin treated him like they were newlyweds - when she was not plying us with more chicken, kugel, tzimmes. I almost started to cry a few times, and Irwin must have seen it coming because he kept sweeping in for the preemptive strike, whispering. "Please, Mom, not HERE!"

Melvin started coming out of his stupor towards the end of the meal. Not to imply that he didn't eat plenty. He began asking questions, chuckling at the Rabbi's jokes and smiling more. At first it looked like he was fighting it; you know, catching himself in the act of smiling and grimacing instead. Gradually, he just let himself go and seemed to really enjoy himself. I've rarely heard him laugh out loud so heartily.

Of course Melvin was cool about how he felt about the meal, afterwards. It would be silly to have expected otherwise. Oops, slipped again. Irwin has been after me not to speak in a derogatory manner about Melvin, or anyone for that matter. He calls it loshon horo. I remember the word by thinking of `horror,' or the `evil tongue,' which he says is tantamount to murder. But I think my stereotypes, and Melvin's as well, were deeply shaken. They were carefully nurtured by a society that cannot bear the thought that an ultra-orthodox Jew is either `with it' or a good person. It made me think of that song from "South Pacific" -- "You have to be taught to hate and kill; you have to be carefully taught."

The third meal was the real winner. Irwin had thoughtfully arranged for a room for our Shabbos nap while he learned with the Rabbi. Love that Shabbos menucha! Then Irwin took us down the street to another family with a youngish Rabbi, very American! He kept on spouting batting averages of famous baseball players. But that's not what impressed us. It was the way the family interrelated. They said they were `blessed' with 12 children, and certainly felt that way, unless they were just good actors, but I think it was genuine. The kids were beautiful: some cute, some adorable, most well behaved with a few exceptions, but much better than your average American rascal. Most highly intelligent and all plain nice kids. Their 3-year-old Chani, a little Shirley Temple, stood up on her chair and sang the sweetest songs. And all doted over 1-year-old Yanki, crawling everywhere. They were a joy to be with and I promised to keep in touch.

I'm simply pooped now, and tomorrow, our last day, forecasts to be interesting. Fasten your seatbelts! Irwin wants us to visit his yeshiva, and Melvin to attend some classes. Watch out, rabbis! Or watch out Melvin, maybe?

Then there's the question of Irwin, whom we came to save. Melvin has a plane ticket for him... Oh, well, time will tell. Better get some rest before the grand finale.

All my love,



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