Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Adar 5766 - March 15, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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











Home and Family

In Costume
a Purim story by N. Beer

Who says that a person does what he wants?

Who determined that one only does what one is obligated to do?

Sometimes, perhaps even often, you do things, or make decisions, because you have to, because `everyone' is doing it, and simply, quite simply, because you have no alternative . . .

This perfectly describes Shulamis' decision.

Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Shulamis, or against her decision. I just wanted to say that underlying the resolution to join that particular group (we won't even call it a `support group'), was no particular need, no particular problem or domestic difficulty. No pressing thoughts, no vacillations. It all stemmed from one single source: at some time, you just `had to' join some kind of group because, simply, everyone did. It was the thing to do, whether you needed it or not. That was the only reason . . .


Shulamis was in her early thirties, a young, very successful woman, an accomplished accountant who did not neglect her home, either. She spent her mornings in her luxurious and well attended office, to return home later in the afternoon where she recouped her strength and functioned as an exemplary baalebusta, you know, the kind that is never caught unprepared.

Everything was always perfectly in place: orderly, fastidiously so, spic and span, gleaming and shining, as if just freshly polished, buffed, scrubbed. Never did one find a speck of dust, G-d forbid, on any of the dozens of china nicknacks that beautified a perfectly tasteful house. Embroidered bedspreads with matching curtains and lampshades in the children's room created an ambience of princeliness, to say nothing of the salon (not `living' room, oh, no), with its heavy brocade upholstery and dark mahogany pieces. The kitchen was a magazine showpiece, always exactly reflecting the original glossy designed brochure. This was Shulamis' private domain where she ruled supreme.

Her six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter were always dressed at the height of junior fashion and Shulamis took great pride in her Lord and Lady Fauntleroys. Little Royalty, she called them in her mind, as she laid before them the latest game or activity book to keep them occupied while she ran off to do what had to be done, be it connected to her work, for she was a most devoted employee, or even within the home, as a nonpareil housewife.

Everything running smooth as clockwork, she would tell herself again and again, giving herself an invisible pat on the back, very smug and satisfied with her overall performance and achievement. True, I work myself to the bone, she admitted, but the results speak for themselves, in every way, on all fronts: the house, my work, the children, and even I, myself, don't look the worse for wear, if I do say so myself . . .


So all in all, Shulamis' signing up for the new Self Awareness and Child Education group was really most surprising — to outsiders, as well as to Shulamis herself. What was this perennially busy woman doing there?

What need, indeed, did Shulamis, so organized, self structured, whose children were so well mannered, have for such a self-improvement class which was wholly devoted to finding solutions to problems? What problems did she have? Everything was so perfect by her, so efficient, proficient, rounded out and faultless?

Shulamis, herself, couldn't explain it, either, beyond the fact that at some point, every woman attended such a self awareness group. And if she didn't, she must be missing out on something, and she certainly had to prove to herself that she wasn't . . .

During the first few meetings, she enjoyed listening to the moderator, who had interesting things to say, in general, even though Shulamis thought that the other participants were a rung below her in several ways. They were simpler, uncomplex housewives and mothers, on a lower social level, too. Women whose homes were the absolute center of their lives. They raised all kinds of problems encountered in their daily, rather colorless lives, expecting the speaker, or the participating audience, to help them solve them.

Shulamis felt that these problems didn't even touch her. She was on a different plane and even the chinuch problems suited those simplistic homes, she thought. She entertained the thought of quitting altogether from lack of compatibility. Yes, she would leave right after Pesach, she decided. Except that . . .


It was in the beginning of Adar. The moderator had wound up a talk dealing with self awareness, rather than with education. Feeling smug and self satisfied, but tired, as well, her thoughts began wandering, until the lecturer made an announcement about a certain experimental game which the audience was asked to undertake at home with their children.

"Would you like to really get to know yourselves, to see what you are really like?" she challenged. "Well, then, here is a very simple but unique experiment, in the pre-Purim spirit of these days. I suggest that each of the participants here choose one of her young daughters, a three- or four-year-old, and have her impersonate you, the mother. Dress her up as a Mommy, but not only for one day. For an entire week! Inform her tomorrow that she is going to become an Ima every day, from the time she comes home from gan until she goes to sleep. She will have to dress up like you and act like you. I am sure she won't mind. And you will have a great deal to gain from this experiment. I guarantee that you will all be in for many surprises, which we will discuss at our next gathering."


Shulamis deliberated whether to accept the idea or reject it. On the one hand, it sounded really cute and should appeal to her four-year-old Michali. But on second thought, she, herself, did not quite relish the idea. Michali would surely want an old sheitel, high heels, a special dress, and it would all involve many changes in the household, which she hated in her so-structured life. Probably the other women who were not as organized as she would not mind the changes. But by such a perfectionist as herself, she admitted, it would represent a sacrifice. But after giving the idea some more thought, Shulamis decided to make that sacrifice for the sake of the experiment and see what Michali would make of the idea.

She told her daughter about the plan the next morning. Michali was very enthusiastic. "I'll have beautiful outfits like yours?" she said with shining eyes. "And I will go off to work from the morning until the afternoon? Oh, but what about the Queen Esther costume you bought for me? I won't get to wear it?"

"Don't worry. You'll wear that on Purim, Michali, but until Purim, you will act like me. As soon as you come home from gan, you will get dressed up as Mommy and stay that way until you go to sleep. At nighttime, you will be my sweet little Michali again. O.K.?"

Michali had lots more questions to ask but Shulamis was in a rush, as usual . . .


When Shulamis returned home later in the afternoon, exhausted from a busy day at the office, she forgot all about the experiment. Figures and columns still danced before her eyes. She opened the door quietly, hoping to evade her children for just a few moments. Nothing would happen if they waited a bit more before getting their daily greeting. The babysitter had surely given them their lunch long ago and they were probably playing with the new game she had just bought them. She sat down for a steaming cup of coffee, trying to shoo away her tiredness.

She looked about her, trying to plan the afternoon: I'll do the silver and crystalwear today, she thought, after her eyes fell upon a pair of candlesticks that no longer gleamed quite as brightly as they should. Then there was a pile of ironing. Alright, so many of her friends laughed at her for ironing all of her children's clothing, even pajamas, and the bed linen, too. Most people didn't do that any more. But she wasn't going to lower her standards for their sake . . .

Suddenly Shulamis realized that it was too quiet. She went to the children's room to find Chagai playing by himself. Michali, dressed in an old housecoat, a tichel, and a pair of old slippers, was standing on a chair, dusting a shelf filled with her collection of exquisite china dolls.

"What are you doing?" she heard herself scream, when a doll almost slipped from Michali's hand.

"Oh, Mommy, hello. Did you forget that today I am the Ima? You said so. So I have to do what Ima's do, right? I told Chagai not to disturb me and to play quietly because I had to clean the house, right?"

Chagai winked knowingly at his mother while Michali continued cleaning. "I have so much work to do," she said importantly. "And I must finish quickly because tonight I have a very important meeting."

"I always said you were a serious child," said Shulamis, and left the room, suggesting that Michali give the children, that is, her dolls, supper.

"Children, eat nicely, now. And don't forget bircas hamozon. You're too tired? Never mind, then. Michali, finish up your yoghurt and Chagai, don't rock in your chair, you might break it. Michali, you're getting the walls dirty. And now, children, hurry up. Abba will be so happy to find you already in bed when he comes home and besides, I have to leave soon . . . "

Michali's voice reverberated loudly throughout the house. Michali was enjoying her new role and Shulamis was also amused at hearing herself being imitated.

"Now, Michali, you must take a shower. I know that you're tired, but you still have to. In our house, no one goes to bed without bathing first." Michali lectured her dolls with great pathos and Shulamis could not help laughing out loud. Even her tone of voice reminded her of her own manner of speaking.

"Ima," Michali burst into the salon where Shulamis was polishing silver. "I need some fancy clothing now. I told my children that I have to go out this evening. I have a very important meeting and I've left them with a good babysitter. They don't need a thing now and they have no reason to cry even if Ima has to go away. So now I need some fancy clothing to get dressed up, like when you go away at night, O.K.?"

Michali would not stop chattering until her mother had provided her with one of her older dressy outfits. Michali put it on and then Shulamis heard her say, "Abba, I'm going now. Take something from the refrigerator. There's plenty to eat, O.K.?" A door slam informed Shulamis that Michali had `left for the evening.'

"Children," Shulamis called as soon as she had finished buffing the last item in the breakfront, "come, it's time to eat supper. Quick, now. I'm in a hurry." It suddenly seemed to her that she had just heard those words before . . .

The week continued with Michali playing the double role of mother and daughter, and doing an excellent job. More and more, Shulamis was able to identify herself.

"I don't have time now," "I'm in a hurry," "Play nicely by yourselves, now," "I have to leave," "I'm tired of wearing these same clothes again," "Don't get yourselves dirty," and "Don't touch," were phrases that repeated themselves continually, in variations. Shulamis began to notice how unpleasant they were, even though she justified herself that in the fast-paced life she was leading, and taking her personality into consideration, she had no alternative.

What really broke her were the cries of Michali's dolls every time that Michali had to leave the house. Michali's reassuring words were ineffective and she would often end up saying, "When you are Mommies, you will see how it is. What can I do? Mothers have to get dressed up and go out."

Michali's reprimands whenever the `children' touched something were loud and particularly rasping. When Shulamis tried to tell her to lower her tone, Michali became very indignant. "But they touched it. I have to educate them that in our house we don't touch such things. Isn't that the way Mommies have to yell?" she asked innocently.

Every day that passed caused Shulamis to shrink a bit. The routine phrases that issued from Michali's lips began to grate on her nerves and lose their meaning. With mixed feelings, Shulamis awaited the next meeting to hear what the other women had to say . . .


The group of women waiting for the group to begin was noiser than usual. Each one had an interesting fund of expressions and habits to discuss. The moderator cut her usual address short and threw the discussion open.

"It was a very rewarding experience to hear my daughter. Every second word of hers was `Be'ezras Hashem, Bli nedder'," is how Rachel, who had always seemed to Shulamis a very uncomplicated, rather colorless, person, began her account. "Every so often she would lie down and when I became concerned, she said that mothers had to rest because they needed their strength."

The women burst into laughter. "But sometimes she would take a siddur, sit down very seriously, and begin davenning with all her heart. `Children,' she would say, `don't disturb me. I'm saying Tehillim'. She `cooked' a lot and tried to get her dolls to help her around the house when things got out of hand, in her opinion."

"My daughter was busy with her dolls. She did arts and crafts with them and even helped one with homework. She fed them and got angry when they forgot to make a brochoh," said another.

"My daughter really embarrassed me when she said she had nothing to wear and had to go shopping," said Tirza, who was the most like Shulamis in the group. "But at least she gave me some good credit, too, when she told her doll to go and buy vegetables so she could cook for a Chessed organization. I wouldn't have believed that children so young absorbed so much."

The impressions continued to flow from the mouths of the participants and it was gratifying to get to know the women in the way they revealed themselves in their true colors, for the very good, via the impersonations of their daughters. Shulamis sat there, enjoying listening to their experiences and revelations, yet feeling that she wouldn't dare expose herself here, in this forum. She could not reveal herself in her true face, as she had seen herself reflected in her daughter's eyes, which was very uncomplimentary. She certainly never dreamed that the most accurate, poignant reproof she would ever receive would come via her own daughter, and in such a Purim-y forum.

She began to feel that it was precisely her daughter's impersonation, her costume-making, that had ripped off her own mask, her own carefully groomed facade, exposing her underneath it as very bare, stripped to the core, helplessly looking for assistance in changing her direction in life.

Perhaps this group, this class of self awareness, would help her find a better identity, she thought. And suddenly, she understood why she was there altogether.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.