As the plane took off on Friday morning, I shared the earphones with my daughter and sang the song that had kept me from losing control on every takeoff to New York over the past six months.
A trip away for shabbos. A trip with my sweet girl to see a friend who has dealt with more than her fair share of my craziness.
Landing in Washington, I recalled the last time I’d been there. Years before, for a simcha. The circumstances were very, very different.
My daughter doesn’t experience shabbosim that often. Our version of shabbos takes the rest, the family time and the relaxation seriously. We do sing songs, we do have meals. There’s no community to visit. There’s no hachnosas orchim, we just don’t have the opportunity. The reminders of what we do and don’t do on shabbos are gentle.
On the rare occasion we spend shabbos by my parents, the atmosphere is so alien to her that she moves around the house quietly and fearfully. The sound of my father coming home from shul signals silence. There are no “nu, nu, uh, uhs” between washing and hamotzi. Were you to witness my daughter’s behavior when she is around my parents, you would not recognize the bubbly, polite, four year old ball of perfection that she is. She is a different person. Afraid. Clingy.
This shabbos was so different for us. There was warmth, there was affection. Sure, there were reminders about turning off the light, but there was no screaming of shabbos or disgust at transgressing the strict rules set by her grandparents. There wasn’t a strict timeline, the atmosphere was relaxed.
I had every intention of being normal in shul. Of following the rules and davening just like everyone else. Being there should have been relaxing – it was amazing to see the different Jews of all walks of life there. The shul itself was inspiring, a gorgeous, peaceful place that should have been the place I could put myself outside of the noise in my head and daven meaningfully.
My thoughts weren’t there, though. My thoughts were in a shtiebel hundreds of miles away, where I could imagine my sons in their pristine shabbos clothes, trying their hardest to conform to their father’s strict interpretation of hilchos shabbos.
A boy, not much older than my firstborn, started singing anim zmiros. The tears started. For me, there was a visceral reaction to leave. I couldn’t stand hearing the heartfelt and off key version this boy was so clearly proud to be leading.
Visiting with neighbors for shalosh seudos, I tried not to show my anger at the world I came from. How dare my family not give me this kind of warm and embracing community? It would have been better to know no community at all than to know the start differences between my velt and my friend’s. We often remark to each other that we come from very different worlds, but it’s underscored by times like these.
I am so angry. I am so sad. Articulating this is awful, especially when I’m in the company of wonderful people who I would be happy to call family.
None of this should draw away from the enjoyment my daughter and I had during our special shabbos trip. That my friend opened her home to us to show us a shabbos that was friendly and warm is something I will forever be grateful for.
There are no words to express how meaningful it was, even if it was just for a couple of days. To my dear friend who I’m lucky to call a sister even without the same parents, you have made a difference. Not just for me, but for my daughter who saw an authentic and positive Yiddishkeit rather than the fearful version her mother grew up to be angry with.
I saw a different side to shabbos. It bothers me to think about my life with those shabbosim growing up, and it’s painful to play the what if game.
Instead, I’ll focus on the gratitude I feel for someone who means a great deal to me and my daughter.
Thank you. From the bottom of our hearts.