Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Tammuz 5765 - July 27, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

Touches of Beauty

by Bayla Gimmel

Two well-stocked vans came into my neighborhood last week to deliver craft supplies to the nursery schools. After all of the local nursery teachers had filled their orders, the drivers allowed some of the neighborhood women to make purchases as well.

A popular item was sidewalk chalk, a type of colorful chalk that comes in a variety of rich hues and can be used on brick or concrete sidewalks to draw hopscotch grids and other designs.

After school, some girls got to work and created a beautiful design on the sidewalk in front of our building. They carefully covered each brick with a thick layer of chalk, coloring adjacent bricks in contrasting colors. By the time the young artists had to stop coloring and go home for supper, the mosaic was quite large and very lovely.

As they left, the girls took a last look at their work and smiled in satisfaction. Did they expect the mosaic to last? Of course not. They had had sidewalk chalk last year and the year before and they knew what to expect. The path in front of our house gets a lot of foot traffic. By the next morning, much of the chalk would be worn away and by the day after that the mosaic would be little more than a memory.

But that did not deter the girls from working hard on their project and putting all of their creative energy into it. Realistic women of all ages do not expect many of the things we do to last very long at all.

Preparing for a meal can take hours. If we are cooking for a simcha, it can take days. Either way, we bring the food to the table and a few minutes later it is gone.

The dishes and pots and pans all seem to be programmed to get out of the cupboard, briefly reside on the table or stove, and then migrate to the sink. When we are "doing" the dishes, we don't for a minute think they will stay done.

We go to the local grocery almost every day and bring home bags of food to stock the refrigerator and pantry. Then a few hours later, we open the door and find (as Old Mother Hubbard) that the cupboard is bare.

We can wash and wax the floor beautifully until it positively glows. But the glow will fade in a big hurry as soon as the children come running in from school or from the sandbox in the playground.

We can launder every dress, shirt and tablecloth in the house and stand at the ironing board all morning. Then, with satisfaction, we take all of the beautiful clean garments to their places in the closets. But we know that after Shabbos, every one of these items will be back in the hamper (if not kicked under a bed) and it will be time to start all over.

We bathe the baby, diaper her, dress her from head to toe in a beautiful outfit, headband and booties to match. Then we bring her into the dining room. Fifteen minutes later (if we are lucky), one of the older children says, "Mommy, I want to bentch and Sorale smells. Can you please change her?" Again, time to start over.

In fact, even the youngest of the beneficiaries of our efforts can sense that aspect of constantly "starting over." On a recent visit to their house, I was reading my youngest grandchildren some stories. After the third story, I stood up to get ready to go out to the bus stop, but my one-and-a-half- year-old grandson Simcha called out, "More!"

During the 1980s, at the height of the so-called Women's Movement, there was a popular plaque that was sold in gift stores across America. There is an old saying that "A woman's work is never done." The plaque was a cynical elaboration on that saying, which expressed the sentiments of the feminists. It read, "A woman's work is never done, paid for, valued or appreciated."

The young girls in my building could have added the following addendum to the plaque, "But who cares! If we want to create something that will add a touch of beauty or give some fleeting pleasure to someone in this world, why not?"

Often, it is the woman herself who derives the most pleasure from her efforts. Yes, she realizes, she can serve a bowl of fresh apples for dessert, but she is the one who wants to take the time and effort to make applesauce or bake an apple pie or cobbler.

I like to knit a baby blanket for each of my grandchildren and for the new babies of close friends. I fit in the time to knit a row or two whenever I have a few spare minutes. It can be while I am waiting in the dentist's office or while traveling on an intercity bus. On the local bus, it takes the whole ride just to finish my Tehillim, but other bus rides can be quite lengthy, with plenty of time for all of my daily Tehillim and knitting as well.

I could delude myself into believing the blurb they put into the advertisements for baby blanket patterns about knitting a family heirloom that will be enjoyed by generations to come. However, I know that when my grandchildren drag their blankets all over the house, and sometimes take them outside as well — or if they chew on a corner of the blanket while drifting off to sleep — I will be lucky if the blanket lasts until the young owner outgrows his crib. In some cases, I have been called upon to add patches to the patches!

I don't expect a thank you for any of the baby blankets. If the recipient was old enough to express his thanks verbally, it would mean I didn't finish the blanket in time. But I get a feeling of satisfaction when I see a baby snoozing peacefully under a blanket that I finally finished knitting for him or her.

There is one area of "woman's work" that is indeed never done, and often not appreciated, but it is both long-lasting and crucial to generations to come. And that is the training that we give to the children we are privileged to raise and the ones we are privileged to teach.

We mothers and teachers can impress upon our girls — the next generation of Jewish women — the importance of adding little touches of beauty and joy to the world around us. We can tell them, "Girls, whether it is a platter of chocolate- dipped meringue cookies, a centerpiece made of sculptured fruits, a colorful salad for the Shabbos table or an elaborate craft project for the kiddie camp that you are running in the lobby of your apartment building, do your important woman's work with pride."

The satisfaction of a job well done can last far longer than any of the "achievements" of the feminist movement.

[And then, again, don't OVERDO it.]


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