Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Tammuz 5763 - July 23, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Ma and the Truant Officer
by Sudy Rosengarten

Synopsis: We find Pa and Ma raising their brood in Toronto, but still very much in spirit in die alte heim. The boys have shaven heads and long payos, the girls have long braids and homemade dresses with long sleeves and high collars. Ma is still hoping to someday actually return to Poland, since this is what she promised the Bobover Rebbe...

Babies were born, the children grew older. Though notices arrived to register the boys in the local public school, they were ignored. "Why put our children into goyishe schools when, any day now, we'll be going back home?" Ma asked. But one year passed and then another, and there were still border clashes in Poland.

One day, a truant officer came to the house. He explained to Ma that as education in Canada was compulsory, both she and Pa could be put in jail for keeping their children at home.

Ma pointed to all the boxes still unpacked, to all the bundles stacked in corners, and using bits of the language that they refused to learn or allow their children to speak, she somehow got the truant officer to understand that it really didn't pay for them to make a fuss when, in any event, they wouldn't remain in Canada much longer.

It never entered Pa or Ma's minds that they might stay and make Canada their permanent home, because every day it become clearer to them both that the New World was not the place for either them or their children; and you didn't have to be a rabbi or a prophet to see why.

The streets were an irresistible magnet. Youngsters gravitated to its glitter and shine. Though fathers went to shul on Shabbos, their children refused to come along. Saturday was the day that boys could earn money doing odd jobs or taking on a newspaper route, to later spend in amusement parks or the movies.

Once the Shabbos had lost its holiness for them, it didn't take long for them to discard the rest of the mitzvos.

Immigrant parents learned to look the other way and resigned themselves to the inevitable. Those who grieved when their children went astray, sought solace in the shul.

Another year passed and then another. The border clashes in Russia-Poland continued. Pa and Ma still couldn't go `home.'

Another truant officer came; this time with a court order to bring the boys to school by force. But by then, there was little resistance. In fact, by then, Ma must have been pretty happy to see them go. The boys were more than she could handle; always sliding down the bannisters, somersaulting down the steps, running around all over the streets.

They were always busy. No sooner did they lost interest in one activity than they thought up another, usually more dangerous, one: climbing the fruit trees to pick the peaches that they sold on the corner of D'Arcy and Spidina streets, three for a nickel, building a wagon on which they ricochetted down steep hills. Even when they played innocent games like batting a ball, heads got split open.

The neighbors would stand by their windows every morning, watching as Ma, with a glass of milk and a roll in her hand, would run after Shimon. "Lumich up, lumich up!" he would cry when she caught him. "Leave me alone. I'll be late to school."

"Lukshin, lukshin," she would wail after catching Meyer and holding him long enough to inspect the tears in the trousers that hadn't been there before. "Whatever they wear, they make into lukshin [noodles]," she'd moan. But as impossible as the boys were, when in the hot summer months Chanale rented a bungalow in the country for her own family, she never failed to take her nephews along.

Itche was the only one who gave Ma any peace. At bedtime, while the others flew around like tornados, he would very systematically fold up all the clothing he intended to wear the next day. After stacking everything in a neat pile, he'd put his shoes on the top and shove the whole neat pile under his bed with a force that sent everything toppling over.

Besides the house and the cooking and sewing all the family's clothing, even socks that she bribed them to wear, Ma continued to sew linings into fur coats, even after Chanale came. [She had been working to save up for her niece's ticket to Toronto.] Now it was to have an extra dollar to give the `collectors' for the many Jewish projects going up in Toronto.

But as hard as life was for Ma, nothing was harder than the boys. She was so helpless and frustrated when it came to them; all she could do was scratch at her face and plead with them not to fight.

Things had to really be bad before Ma complained to Pa, and when she did, he'd grab hold of whoever he could catch and give him a few good punches. Meyer, being the smallest, was usually the one that Pa caught, but after always getting punched in the same place on his side, he tied a piece of tin under his shirt that protected him like a coat of armor. The next time Pa caught him, he could honestly say that hitting Meyer had "hurt me more than it had the child."

"Ma just couldn't keep up with the boys," Pa mused with pity, reminiscing to me, his daughter-in-law, decades later as a resident of the Vizhnitz Old Age Home in Bnei Brak.

"Could you?" I laughed.

Pa was pensive a long time. "It was a different world then," he said, full of wonder. "Fathers were so busy struggling to earn a living that they didn't know what was going on at home. After work, I stayed in shul, studying, praying, creating a bit of die alte heim in the exile that I hated.

"The women understood it as well as the men. It never occurred to Ma to ask me to help. She knew that if I had a spare minute, it belonged to my soul."

[To be continued...]


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