Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Av 5766 - August 9, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

So They Won't Fight
by Bayla Gimmel

Parents often discuss serious matters in front of their young children. It doesn't seem to bother them that they may get into arguments and even raise their voices. The parents' reasoning goes something like this, "Our children will surely realize that their parents love each other and that we are not fighting. It is obvious that we just happen to disagree on this particular subject and want to bring the issue to closure."

Let me tell you a story that took place many years ago, when I was visiting my mother with my then-young children. But first I have to give you some background.

An uncle of mine — my father's favorite brother — passed away in his fifties after a long illness. My parents were very close to his widow and were always looking for a possible shidduch for her. Several years passed without any prospects, but finally they got a really good lead.

The daughter of a neighbor was telling my mother about her widowed father-in-law. He was very lonely and the family was trying to find him a new wife. This man was a lovely person, with a pleasant personality and other good character traits. However, there were a couple of minor problems.

Problem Number One was it could truthfully be said of this gentleman that he never met a pastry that he didn't like, and Problem Number Two was that he was a diabetic. Therefore he was supposed to severely limit his intake of sugar. He had no will power. His late wife had cooked without sugar and managed to find, and get rid of, the goodies he sneaked into the house. Without her, he was very much on his own, ruining his diet and his health.

Everyone, from the older gentleman to his children and friends, felt that the candidate for the position of wife #2 should be aware that in going into the marriage, she would have to take over the position of diet-policeman. The new couple wouldn't be joining friends at any of the many restaurants that catered to the local senior citizens. They would be eating at home and eating a very specific diet. As they say, forewarned is forearmed.

So there he was in shidduchim. As I said, this widower was a nice man and they always got to the part where they were talking seriously. That is when the "cards were laid out on the table." He would tell about his craving for sweets and his need for a watchdog. That is when things came to an abrupt end.

In some modern Israeli circles, there is an expression "zabash," which is an acronym for zeh ba'ayah shelcha, meaning "That's your problem." In the time and place of this story, the ladies to whom this widower told his tale of woe answered, "Fardrei zich dine kop," which means pretty much the same. They were in their sixties and they wanted a new husband, not a new child.

My parents knew that my aunt had lovingly cared for my uncle for many years, devoting all of her time and energy to his needs. Knowing my aunt's giving nature, it seemed she would be just the right person to take care of the diabetic widower — and she was. That is the background. This couple had been married for several years at the time that I took some of my children to Florida to visit my family.

My aunt and her husband (whom we called "uncle" for want of a better term) lived in the same apartment complex as my then- widowed mother and grandmother, and therefore we saw them almost every day. In mid-morning, we would all sit down at my mother's dining table, and my mother and grandmother would put out cake, cookies, a large platter of fresh fruit and hot and cold drinks.

The adults would talk and eat and talk some more. My young children were busy gobbling up the treats and the attention from all of the adults.

My aunt would fix a cup of coffee and a nice plate of melon slices, strawberries and other tasty fruit and place it in front of her husband. He would smile, start to eat what was on his plate and quietly reach for a Danish pastry or a slice of coffeecake. My aunt was always vigilant and I think she had developed radar, a sixth sense or eyes in the back of her head. No matter what else she was doing, she caught the culprit and took the nosh off his plate.

He would argue that it didn't look to him like this particular goodie had a lot of sugar and therefore he could certainly have some. My aunt would counter in the negative and they would go back and forth. Often, she had to express her final word in a raised voice, with a stern look. Uncle would sheepishly go back to the sliced fruit, until the next time he thought she wasn't looking, and so it would go, day after day.

On one of the last days of our visit, I took my little ones down to the small private beach behind my mother's apartment complex, to play in the sand, build sand-castles and collect sea shells. The shells were very pretty and the boys got very interested in them. We washed them off and I gave the boys plastic lunch bags to store their "treasures."

They decided to take some shells home to California (which wasn't exactly lacking in seashells, but what do preschoolers know) and to give some of their shell collection to the relatives before we left. I thought it was a lovely idea.

My two-year-old Yitzy was the one who wanted to prepare the gifts. He carefully laid out the shells that he and his older brother had collected, and then consulted with the four-year- old about the appropriate recipient of certain particularly nice shells. The next morning, the boys presented a bag of shells to my mother and one to my grandmother.

When the guests arrived, the boys were waiting for them with the shells they had selected for them. Yitzy held out two bags of shells and gave one to my aunt and one to her husband. Then, in case they hadn't noticed, he pointed out to both recipients that there was a bag for each of them. "Two bags," said my son very seriously, "so you don't fight!"

To my young son, the adults' stern looks and raised voices were evidence of a fight. When did Yitzy and his two-year- old playmates get into fights? When they both wanted the same toy. Therefore, following this logic, Yitzy had decided that he could stop the couple from fighting by giving them each their own bag of toys.

My aunt's second husband lived for another decade, and my aunt continued to play policeman, but years later, my mother told me something very interesting. Whenever they would start a heated "discussion" about cake, Danish or other nosh, my aunt would think about my two-year-old son's take on the situation and she would see in front of her Yitzy's outstretched hands and the seashells. The words would play back in her mind, "Two bags — so you don't fight."

These words, from the proverbial mouth of a babe, had managed to soften up my aunt's approach to the food "discussions." Maybe they can work the same magic for the marital discussions of the rest of us.


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