Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Av 5760 - August 16, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Song of Ascent - Part II
An Interview with an American Immigrant

As `Amerikaners', we lived without family to invite over or be invited to, but we were the natural address for every drop- in that arrived to the country and was slightly connected to family or acquaintances from back home. This is how I came to host a Seder with thirteen people for the two days of Yom Tov -- three weeks after having given birth. I understood that this was my challenge in life as an immigrant.

So that's how you saw yourself. How did the community see you, new and without family or friends?

When I arrived at my first apartment in Bnei Brak, I remembered the stories of my friends who were newly landed in small communities and were welcomed there with flowers, cakes and good wishes. I also anticipated this kind of reception, but nothing happened. Months passed before the neighbors noticed that there was a new tenant in the building and began to say hello. In the shul which I attended every Shabbos, there is a large women's section, but none of the women ever came up to me, and I didn't merit even one "Gut Shabbos." I don't want to place any blame, and it is clear that this behavior was omissive and certainly not malicious. It was unintentional, caused by a lack of awareness. The local people have obligations to large families and a wide group of friends, and they just didn't pay attention.

I anxiously awaited Simchas Torah. This was, after all, my husband's Torah, for which I was dedicating everything. I went up excitedly to the women's section, but I couldn't see anything due to the crowding; all the first rows were taken up by girls and women. Whoever isn't used to [goodnatured] pushing couldn't even get close. I left the shul with tears in my eyes and went home all-alone. I felt hurt. No one missed me, and had certainly not kept a place for me in my new shul, in this big community where I wanted so much to belong.

A year and a half passed and we moved to a new apartment. The memory of the `reception' I got in the previous place was still fresh. This time, I told myself, you have to understand `them' also. They're busy over their heads, and most important, perhaps they want to meet you and get to know you, but they don't know how to do it. Lower your expectations and transfer them to yourself -- you be first; you take initiative. That's what I did.

We came the day after Yom Kippur and the next day I took the baby that I, b'H, already had, and knocked at every apartment. With each door that opened, I introduced myself to the tenants; "My name is so and so. I live on this floor, and if you need anything, you can come to me . . ." We got to know each other pretty quickly this way. I began saying, "Shabbat Shalom" to each woman who entered or left the shul, even though I didn't know her. Two years later (!) a woman approached me once on the street and asked, "Tell me, from where do you know me? You have been saying "Shalom" to me for the past two years. Where do we know each other from?"

I answered, "I see you in shul every Shabbos!" The wonder continued to be heard in her voice, "Where do you live, anyway? And what's your name?"

I learned from her how differently we think. From that year on, I resolved as best I possibly could to be first to approach any new woman who arrives at our neighborhood. I knock on her door and sometimes bring something along, but sometimes only myself. I suggest she come to me if she needs anything. Now I already have something substantial to offer: babysitting by one of my older girls or anything that a new- old neighbor needs.

Now, even at simchas, when I notice a woman sitting alone, I immediately include her in the conversation. I, who have tasted loneliness, understand those who are outside the circle; I feel for them in my heart. I don't want them to suffer the way I did.

Learning the Language

The language was another obstacle that interfered with our absorption. I say it was our problem and include my husband in this. In spite of the fact that he had learned a number of years in the country, he didn't know how to correctly produce a simple sentence in Hebrew. Yeshiva is like a closed- in greenhouse; he had studied together with chutznikim only and also conversed with them after learning. But when we got married and he came up against the outside world, he discovered that in a store, for example, he could hardly convey what he wanted. He decided to learn the language. By himself, of course. Today he studies in Hebrew and teaches in Hebrew. And by the Shabbos table, when he wants to give over a complicated interpretation, he switches over to Hebrew to make sure that the children will understand it fully.

Even though I passed the Israeli matriculation (Bagrut) exam in Hebrew with a mark of 98%, I felt that the language doesn't flow easily enough for me. For everyday speech, I was perfectly fine, but beyond that, I was missing the appropriate tools. I decided to give up teaching, at which I had been successful and which I had enjoyed very much back `home', because my language was not on par with what was expected of a teacher, and because I was not familiar enough with the mentality of the Israeli student. I went through different jobs, all of which were involved with other countries, and enjoyed my advantage of fluency in English. As time went by, I advanced in Hebrew, and today, I read comfortably in Hebrew and even find myself thinking in Hebrew.

To be continued...


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