Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Tammuz 5766 - July 5, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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











Home and Family

"Something Strong Encompasses Me and Holds Me"
a story by S. Bat Sofer

We sat on a bench in Metzudah Park in Tzfas. The sun was leaning towards the west, casting long shadows, dancing all the way to the Kinneret that we saw reflected from where we sat. It had only been a week ago that I had met Limor. We're neighbors for two weeks of vacation in a wide courtyard in the Old City of Tzfas.

As soon as I met Limor, I felt that I'd have a neighbor after my own heart. When we were unloading the luggage from the car, their van stopped and Limor peeked out from the window, checking to see if they had arrived at the right address. She projected understanding and sensitivity. Her family looked easy-going, smooth, 'one of us.' Only when she introduced herself by her first name did I suspect that her childhood had been different from mine.

A cool wind blew in with the evening. Mothers rushed their children home and suddenly Limor revealed to me sides of her personality that were hitherto unknown.

"Merav, home! Inon, Yifat, it's late! Sharon, NOW! I don't want to have to call you again! Shachar, how many times am I going to have to call you?" Limor called loudly and with forced firmness, the antithesis of her regular gentle voice. Hers and others blended in a night of voices cast into the void of the playground and echoed in the air which accompanied the sun as it journeyed west.

The playground emptied out. Even the hold-outs and less disciplined ones left the arena. "What the yelling didn't accomplish, the darkness made up for," Limor sighed. She smiled. "I still know how to 'put on an act," she grinned. "You know, this takes me back to the familiar scene that I just showed you," Limor said and something very painful was interlaced with her words.

"Care to tell me about it?" I asked. Limor didn't answer, she just continued and this time, without the acting, just presenting the simple truth.

"Just me," she began to tell me while we looked askance at our children as they played in the park like old friends. "Only I remained there, on a stone at the end of the playground, waiting for someone to call me to come home; waiting for the sound of my mother's angry voice, 'Limor, come on up already!!!' But the call wouldn't come.

"Every evening I waited on the rock for Ima to call me home but the melody of these words never reached my ears. I longed for Ima to notice that I wasn't at home, but it didn't happen. Only when I felt pangs of hunger, only then would I go home, throwing an angry greeting into the emptiness of the house, which would answer me with a likewise empty echo. No one waited for me. No one cared that I was late.

"In the afternoon, when I returned home from school, Ima had still not woken up. Lunch was certainly not waiting and I would take whatever was at hand. If I didn't find food at home, the street welcomed me, hungry.

"At night, when Abba came home after a hard day's work and found nothing waiting for him, he vented his anger on me and my older brother. When I turned 11, Ima left the house. I didn't even have what to dream of, what to be disappointed about. Sometimes in the evening, when my friends were called to come home, they would be jealous of me: 'I wish we were free like you.' When I had no strength left to cry over these words, I started believing in them." Limor looked at me, trying to see if I was strong enough for her to continue. When she felt that I was still with her and the children were still playing, she continued:

"By 15, I had had it. I left home. No one asked me where I was going, when I was coming back. One rainy day, I took my bag and announced I was leaving. I was headed nowhere and I landed in an immigrant hostel. I meshed with them beautifully. The confusion, the lack of belonging, the disconnectedness was common to all of us. It was only hard for me on weekends. Everyone had a home they went back to once every two weeks, once a month. I didn't even call home once in three months."

"Limor, you coped with unusual difficulties," I told her warmly.

"I coped?" asked Limor bemused. "That's what I had." Limor took a breath and continued. "When I turned 18 I started doing all kinds of things. I lived with a false sense of freedom. I wasn't responsible to anyone. No one was interested in me. I traveled the length and breadth of the country. My friends were jealous of me for my illusory freedom. Everyone had a family, responsibilities, even minimal ones, habits, limitations but I did whatever I felt like. I thought, at last I had found peace, a compensation for my difficult childhood.

"One day, the pleasure was gone. I succeeded at my job and my bank account grew but I didn't enjoy it at all. Even though I was successful, it didn't give me anything. I tried to help myself. I started spending money. I bought nice clothes. Everyone said I looked wonderful but I felt terrible. I took a vacation to get some air and ended up feeling more choked. I didn't know what to do. The emptiness, the desolation pursued me like a threatening shadow. I had nowhere to run. I felt something hollow escorting me, sucking me in and not letting me "live", not letting me enjoy life.

"I went to a psychologist. I could afford it. The psychologist whose reputation preceded her pronounced her sentence after a few meetings. She said that I had to be conscious of what was happening to me. The lack in my childhood created a gap in my soul. She clearly stated that this hole could never be filled. This hole would follow me everywhere. She even added confidently, 'It's important that you know this, that you be aware of it. When you are, you'll be able to deal with it better.'

"I left that meeting broken and exhausted. When I returned to my apartment that evening, depressed, detached, displaced, an invitation was waiting in my mailbox from Merav, a childhood friend of mine. It was an invitation to her wedding.

"The design of the invitation was unusual. It was reserved, kind of more conservative than what I was used to. It exhuded a different type of air. Merav was always creative. I figured she had retained her uniqueness, always springing a surprise.

"When I arrived at her wedding, I saw just how "creative" she was. She had done teshuvoh! I was stunned. I hadn't considered this. Amazing that Merav would become a "black fanatic"?! This further confused me.

"Merav, even in her happiness, registered my confusion. Two weeks after the wedding, she got in touch with me. We talked. She felt my anguish and suggested I come to her mother-in- law's for Pesach. She and her husband were planning to be there for the first day. She'd ask her mother- in-law. I promised her an answer. We both said yes.

"Two days before Pesach, she called to give me instructions. She explained to me how to get to her mother-in-law's, what to wear, what not to talk about, how to behave, what to do, what not to do. I got dizzy. How could I possibly follow those directions? But something inside me wouldn't let me back out.

"The next day Merav called again. She wanted to check if I had got it. She also felt the need to explain to me what we'd be eating, what we wouldn't be eating, when we'd be eating, when we would wait to eat even if we were hungry. I felt I was being taken to prison but some force wouldn't let me remove the handcuffs.

"My encounter with Pesach dumbfounded me. I couldn't understand how people could accept so many restrictions upon themselves. But the encounter also moved me, it took me to a place I hadn't known. The beauty, the atmosphere, the Seder, sitting so long, this `onus,' was all pleasant to me. It was wonderful. It was like a melody that beckoned to me.

"I suddenly felt something encompassing me, holding me, guarding me, protecting me. For the first time in my life, something filled me. The entire evening I didn't feel that void Renana had talked about "that would always be with me," in her words. I felt full, protected. I stayed with them for three days.

"After Pesach, I made an appointment with Renana. I walked in straight and tall. Before she opened her mouth, I asked her: 'Did you ever spend Pesach with religious people?'

"`No.' No hesitation. `Well, then, you can't treat me!' I told Renana, the know-it-all, confidently. I placed the fee for an hour session on the table and left. From there, the road was long and hard. But the void was gone. And now, I'm here!"


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