Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Ellul 5761 - August 29, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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











Home and Family
Shoring Down
A True Story

by Susan Jacobi

Elul is the time for inventory. What have we accumulated? Of what value is it? What about the intangibles? Have we stored up enough of those, the ones that really count?

Esther lay in her narrow hospital bed looking so pathetic, bereft of the many trappings that used to surround her. The few belongings that she had been allowed to bring with her barely filled the small bedside locker, taken up almost completely with the candy and fruit brought by her daughter Elaine and other sporadic visitors, but which lay, uneaten and uninterested in, by the tissues and glass of lukewarm tea.

How she would once have clucked her tongue in pity to see such a sight! Settled comfortably in her spacious house in Whitefield, with its huge garden, its many rooms filled with sofas and armchairs, dining suites and coffee tables, curtains, paintings, chandeliers, ornaments, dinner services and tea services, she had accumulated them all with a sense of satisfaction and achievement, so diligently and enthusiastically over her married life.

Then came the day when her 18-year-old daughter actually took to heart the propaganda of the local Zionist youth movement that she and her friends attended. Caught up in the euphoria following the Six Day War, Elaine came home one evening from a meeting to announce blissfully that she was going off to Israel for an indefinite period to volunteer in a kibbutz.

The almost inevitable sequel came barely two months later: she had decided to get married and settle down in Eretz Yisroel.

Ten years and three Israeli grandchildren later, Esther found herself alone with her husband in her big house, the only interaction with her daughter and grandchildren being wistful gazing at photographs, and rushed long distance calls.

Without warning, Elaine was informed of the fateful decision: leaving beind sixty years of life in England, her mother would sell everything and make aliya to Israel to be with her daughter and grandchildren.

Once over her astonishment, Elaine immediately and correctly summed up the situation. In order for it to be remotely viable for her parents to come and live here, they would have to divest themselves of most of the belongings that, while enhancing their large, six roomed English house and garden, would be quite unsuitable for the envisaged small two-and-a- half roomed Israeli apartment.

Reluctantly, but having little choice in the matter, on Elaine's instructions, Esther and her husband adapted their belongings to the constraints of a shipping container. Sold reluctantly for peanuts, given away or heartbreakingly even thrown out, were the accumulations of forty years of married life. Esther settled down to her new life a bus ride away from Elaine and her children in Holon, with not much more than the dowry of a newly married couple a third their age.

However, in contrast to a young couple, rather than see their belongings steadily grow together with their family, for Esther, the contrary occurred.

After five years of painful, barely successful acclimatization to life in the Israeli suburb, Esther's health started to deteriorate. The bus ride's journey away that she lived from her daughter now became inconveniently and anxiously distant. There was really no question now about the wisdom of the next move -- if Esther and Elaine were to sell their apartments and pool the proceeds, then a large six room house could be built exactly to their specifications, with a tiny but self contained parents' unit consisting of a living room with kitchen area, bedroom and bathroom, with its own front door just for Esther and her husband -- the ideal solution.

As can be guessed, implementation of the plan involved no small amount of further selling, giving away and throwing out - - but by now, Esther had become used to it.

Esther's inexorable advance into old age and infirmity was accompanied by two traumatic occurrences -- her husband's sudden death and a bad business deal by her son-in-law which plunged them deeply into debt, obliging them to sell the house and move to an apartment -- obviously much smaller.

Now that Esther is on her own, does she really need a sitting room with kitchen area and separate bathroom just for herself? Especially since, without house help, the smaller the space, the less there is to clean...

And so, Esther is now allocated a small room -- but at least her own -- in the new apartment. And her belongings? Well, now that she is officially part of Elaine's family, eating from the same table with the same dishes and cutlery, and no longer cooking, all that remains for her to call her own is her bed, bedside table, and closet -- with perhaps a lamp and a picture or two...

The move from that bedroom, via steadily advancing senility, to her narrow hospital bed here in the geriatric ward was a short one.


I look at my aunt with compassion. How futile her life's work of accumulating all her possessions proved to be now! How striking, and how very pathetic, was the stark testimony of her present situation -- that all a person's material possessions and achievements, however many, however diligently and self-sacrificingly accumulated, for no matter how long or how much of one's life, are fleeting and transient; how, by their very nature, they cannot endure the long journey of life until the final destination!


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