"Ima, Shifra'la wants an omlette with salami."
"An omlette with salami? Now? What's got into her head?"
"She says her mother allows her to eat whatever she
"Ima, you're supposed to take Yanky home at seven thirty."
"Yes. His father said. He's not allowed to stay here past
Ima stood, hands folded, looking at the house that had been
so clean and polished just two hours before, and tried to
remember if this was really Thursday, the day she cleaned the
entire house for Shabbos, or still Wednesday.
To judge by appearances, at the large windows with their
sticky childprints, the doors, floors, it sure didn't look
like it. She bent down to pick up another empty `igloo'
casing, gingerly, like a cast off snake skin. "Is this number
thirty-two or thirty-three?" At first, she, like other
mothers, had thought these do-it-yourself icicles a boon. You
bought them so cheap, froze them yourself, and had a cool
treat ready for hot children to keep them occupied for a
while. But at this rate...
Her house had turned into a central bus station. She was new
in the neighborhood and when she had arrived, had thought
primarily of one thing: that her children acclimatize quickly
and become part of the scene, accepted into its mini-society.
That they had plenty of friends and felt at home. She had
nightmares of their being rejected and feeling out of
Sure enough, they were quickly embraced by the entire
neighborhood and even beyond it. Mothers opened their doors
wide... and sent their children off with a huge sigh of
relief to this new welcoming home, this new haven. Not before
they carefully ascertained, to be sure, that everything there
was `kosher' in the broad sense, that the games and books
were in order, that there was no treife black-box, G-d
forbid, that the husband was safely in kollel and the mother
a teacher [O.K., this is exaggerating it, a bit] and that the
children completely fit the mold, that is, they were
unzerer-anash, our type of folk. And they had passed
From the moment they received the general stamp of approval,
the mother, Naomi, felt that her name was the last thing she
could really call her own. Everything else in her home became
public property, a central bus station.
"I go into one room and there is my son sitting with his
friend who came home with him straight from cheider.
They're playing chess. Clever kids, good boys, really. In
another room, a huddle of girls are whispering some very
profound secrets. They look familiar from someplace. Oh, I
see. Two of them happen to be mine... In the kitchen is a
curly-headed little boy seriously concentrating on pouring
some sticky syrup into a crumpled plastic cup, and then
opening the fridge to see if there's anything interesting in
it. Do I know him? Don't think so..." Naomi taps him on the
shoulder and he pokes his head out disappointedly. "You don't
have ANYthing here!" Naomi apologizes that the grocery
delivery is on its way but he fixes her with a critical stare
and leaves the kitchen, head aloft. In the bathroom, the last
retreat, the hot water is gushing, gushing, in someone's
attempt to drown a plastic fish once and for-all.
I am not sure if all the mothers who send their children off
to Naomi have thought of the proper rules of behavior which
are required in societies so homogeneous and almost kibbutz-
close as ours, in our chareidi enclaves. Superfluous
to review the wonderful advantages of such communities. The
wonderful feeling of living among people who appreciate
Shabbos, among neighbors to whom you can send a child to
borrow "a package of margarine" and know that what you get
will have a proper hechsher. Only one who has lived in
a mixed neighborhood can fully appreciate this aspect of live-
Agreed, then, that it is wonderful to live as we do. What,
then? The problem, as described in exaggeration previously,
exists. What to do? Someone should come along and draw up a
family "Bill of Rights". And here are some of the points it
* Visiting privileges: Not at all times. There should be
hours when children are required to stay at home, with their
own families. Similarly, a mother should feel free to post a
note on her door: no visiting until after four etc.
* An absolute veto on notes such as: "Send ploni home at
exactly six... and make sure someone crosses him over." And
the like. What if you're not free to leave the house and
escort your VIP guest across the street? Should this be the
* A child's self invitation to eat or sleep over should not
be something taken for granted. This is not the way to do
* A general rule for how long it is acceptible for children
to remain at a friend's house. Nothing nailed down to the
minute, but each parent should have a general concept of how
long a friend is welcome - even if it's your child spending
time elsewhere... Not to suddenly remember, hours later,
"Where did Shmulik go? He's still there? I haven't seen him
* Entertaining children should be reciprocal to a certain
degree, even if some homes are more hospitable and congenial
than others. Why shouldn't the friends of Naomi's children
invite THEM to their homes, once in a while? Subject to the
same rules, of course.
The above thoughts can be succinctly summed up as follows:
while there are certainly some energetic, efficient and
hospitable people who are prepared to host others warmly and
freqently, it should not be forgotten that even for them, it
is not always easy! They, too, are on their feet from morning
to evening, busy cleaning after others. And no one, in the
long run, likes to be taken advantage of. Everyone has their
limits. Which shouldn't be reached.
This is my opinion, at least. You are welcome to disagree -
or agree. Comments cheerfully accepted.