Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Sivan 5766 - June 8, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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











Home and Family

Going Beyond Yourself
by Risa Rotman

The ladies squirmed in their seats as they waited for Batsheva, the group leader, to get started. One or two of the ladies made some small talk while others organized their papers and pens.

Batsheva rushed into the room, her famous smile flashing. She looked like someone had just told her the most wonderful news, but then that's how Batsheva always appeared. Her simple tailored skirt and jacket, immaculate and pressed, coupled with her tall straight posture, gave the affect of regality.

"Ladies, I looked over your papers," Batsheva said approvingly. "You all show great use of imagery and enjoy working on metaphors." All the ladies relaxed in their chairs and beamed. They had come together for a creative writing class. It was a chance to unwind and at the same time, develop potential or dormant writing skills. "Who knows?" some of the ladies hoped, "Maybe it's the start of a new career?" Other ladies were more pragmatic and just wanted to develop their creativity once a week and have an enjoyable outlet.

The women came from a wide stratum of socio-economic backgrounds but they all equally adored their striking teacher, Batsheva, with her dazzling smile.

""Now ladies," Batsheva called out in her joyous tone, "let's get started. I see something common among some of you. Your writing is very expressive of your daily lives, worries and concerns. That is very therapeutic and there is a real place for this, but this is supposed to be a creative writing class. I want to start emphasizing the creative part. Let's use our imaginations."

Batsheva's white teeth sparkled into an even larger smile, if possible, as she encouraged her students. "I want you all to go beyond yourselves. Don't be stuck within the confines of your individual worlds. Let your imagination take flight. Live and write a different life." Batsheva looked like she was soon going to fly off into the sky from all her enthusiasm.

This time the students looked somewhat shocked and surprised. Using metaphors and imagery was fine as long as they could describe what they knew best. "But go beyond yourself?" How do you do that? they wondered.

A few enthusiastic students, with high imagination, listened to the assignment and got down to work right away. A few more ladies thought for a moment or two, hesitated and started to write.

The last group sat bewildered. "Go beyond myself?" Shevy muttered hopelessly, as she absently looked down at her once again rounding waist. She was only twenty-three, the youngest in the group, and already expecting her fourth child. Her two youngest were home in the mornings with her and her big three-year-old bochur came home at one o'clock. The baby, not yet one year old, was super active; pulling himself up and tearing everything around him down. Two-year-old Suri, a real princess, felt she never got enough attention. "Hold me more," she'd beg and what could Shevy do? After all, Shevy reasoned, Suri was still so little, herself. Noses to wipe, diapers to change, toys to tidy up, stories to be read, meals, laundry and more until Shevy felt she was on a merry-go-round whose guardian had left on continuous play.

Shevy's husband knew of Shevy's once passion for writing. In fact she had been head of the school yearbook. When he saw the ad for the writing class at the community center, he urged Shevy to join. "You need some time out," he prodded gently.

Shevy thought about what Batsheva said: 'Going beyond ourselves.' "Is there really life beyond dirty diapers and unwashed bottles?" Shevy closed her eyes tightly and let herself dream. She thought about the sea; waves crashing, white foam over aqua water, a sky so blue and limitless and sand that was soft and white. Shevy pictured a woman with an easel painting and creating. "That's certainly not in the realm of my life," Shevy gave an inward laugh. "to be sitting luxuriously painting on the beach!" She was actually enjoying this. Shevy wrapped a story around her character and setting, focusing on the woman's act of creativity, while negating all her own daily acts of inventiveness.

Shevy forgot about the story she had made up that very afternoon on the spur of the moment to distract two quarreling kids. She also forgot that she had cut an apple to look like a flower in order to feed her finicky three- year- old and how she has developed the best cleaning solution to get off those stubborn chocolate stains. Upon writing about the mythical painter on the beach, Shevy had gone beyond herself but not completely.

Daniela rushed into the class with her typical stressed harassed look. Daniela didn't know when was the last time she had really felt relaxed. "Before the business failed," she'd tell herself. Daniela and her husband had opened a small health food store. Her husband was more behind the scenes, leaving him with time to learn, while Daniela took over the lion's share of the business.

Things had started on a positive note until the large supermarket down the road opened their own health food section. Being so large, the supermarket was able to buy in large quantities, enabling it to purchase at lower costs and keep the prices down for the customers. Daniela just couldn't compete. She didn't want to disturb her husband with the business difficulties, so she carried the burden alone until it was too late.

The couple agreed that it was unlikely that he could have prevented their bankruptcy in any event and now they were constantly trying to keep up with their creditors and bank loans. Daniela took on two jobs but it was a constant economic pressure. When two bills came in, she'd sit and calculate which should be paid first and what would be the consequences. The kids tried not to show their resentment at forgoing what they perceived "everyone else had," but kids will be kids.

A kind and caring relative, worried about Daniela's welfare, had signed her up for the writing course, even paying the nominal fee. "I don't have time for this," Daniela protested. "I've got too much stress and pressure keeping up with the bills to think about writing," she insisted.

"That's exactly why you need this," the relative combated. "Your whole life is one big pressure cooker. Outside of taking a long, deserved bubble bath, I can't think of any other way for you to unwind."

Daniela eyed her relative with a look of cynical suspicion. In the end she agreed to try it. In school, Daniela had won awards for her short stories and essays. Her English teachers were very disappointed when she refused to pursue her talent professionally. While sitting in the class, Daniela actually did feel as if some of the pressure was dissipating but ironically she found herself writing about people in financial straits; the homeless or families who worry about getting their electricity cut off. She could describe the pain and worry down to the last detail. Even Daniela had to admit that it didn't take much of her imagination.

"Go beyond myself?" Daniela questioned mockingly. "Going beyond debts, overdrafts and gemachim? Trying to explain to the kids why we are pushing off buying sandals another month and deciding if I should pay the grocery bill this week or save the money in case there would be an urgent repair bill? Is there still a world beyond such decisions?"

Daniela came out of her reverie and looked around the room as if she were seeing it and the other woman for the very first time. Some of the women were well-dressed. They wore expensive wigs and their clothes had a carefree look.

"Hmmm . . . " Daniela contemplated, "Where would life have taken me had the store been a big success?" Daniela began to imagine a wealthy woman moving around in her sumptuous living room. She was setting up for a charity tea. Daniela's flair for words allowed her to describe in flourishing detail the room, its furnishings, and the refreshments. Daniela saw her protagonist greet her guests with tremendous warmth, making sure each one felt comfortable. Once all the ladies were attended to, the well-to-do woman would make her pitch in favor of this commendable project. She'd ably convince her guests of the worthiness of her cause. Daniela did an outstanding job describing the scene.

After a half-hour of furious writing, Daniela sat back, pen twirling, in a semi-trance. There, she had certainly gone beyond herself. What could be farther from her own reality than a wealthy philanthropist who could graciously convince other affluent woman to help those in need?

Daniela was right in that she was in no position to help others financially, but she forgot about her own acts of chesed. She was the first to look after a friend's child and would grab the heavy packages out her elderly neighbor's hand whenever they met. While Daniela aptly described a lifestyle that was not hers, she also connected unknowingly to her own inner natural generosity.

Shaina's life was perfect, maybe too perfect. Her husband was a diligent learner and the young couple was able to live in comfort with no financial worries, as both their wealthy families supported them generously. Shaina had her parents and most of her married siblings and even sibling-in-laws in walking distance. Shaina's children were healthy, intelligent, and of sweet disposition. Shaina wasn't callous. She knew that there were people who carried tremendous burdens. She just couldn't relate to it intimately. Her essays and stories usually consisted of young brides making wedding plans or of similar nature.

Shaina scrunched up her forehead and thought. She tried to imagine a life that was foreign from her own precious existence. Shaina thought about pain — both physical and emotional. "What would it be like to be alone in the hospital in pain and worrying about what life would bring?" Shaina contemplated. She began to feel that pain and anxiety. With pen in hand, Shaina slowly began to write, warming up to her setting and subject matter. Within time, Shaina was that forlorn suffering woman. Shaina had truly gone beyond herself. For once she sincerely contemplated a life so unfamiliar from her own.

Throughout the writing period, ladies would call over to Batsheva to discuss their writing ideas or thoughts. She'd joyously walk over to each one; guiding this one, suggesting an appropriate word to that one and all throughout, that glowing smile remained on her face.

Finally, the session was over. The ladies handed in their work. They wrote down their assignments, said their goodbyes and left. Batsheva looked to make sure that no one was left, turned off the lights and began her short walk home. She considered her comments to some of the women, hoping she had advised them well. Batsheva took note how tonight's exercise caused some of her students to look more alive and respond to their writing in a totally new way — maybe even their very own lives.

Batsheva knocked lightly on her front door before turning the key. Only then, when she opened the door and was hit with the almost predictable gloomy dimness of her home, did Batsheva's famous smile turn downwards. From her bedroom, she could hear her husband's "welcoming" moan. Wedged in his depression, as a result of the tragic loss of his beloved firstborn and only son in a terrorist attack, Batsheva's husband was no longer the vibrant positive man of once.

Batsheva called out a weak hello as she surveyed her dreary home. Tzippi, the only unmarried child, had decided it would be better to dorm than to come home daily to such a depressing existence. Batsheva couldn't blame her precious daughter, although she did miss her greatly.

"Going beyond yourself," Batsheva thought to herself, "if anyone really knows what it means."


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