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Monday, May 23, 2011

Let's Enjoy the Journey Binah, Pesach issue

Let's Enjoy the Journey

Debbie Shapiro interviews Tzippy (a pseudonym)

LEAD Some people have the knack of being able to make the proverbial lemonade out of lemons. But Tzippy goes far beyond that; her lemons are converted into delicious lemon sherbet. She's a person after my heart – so incredibly positive that she doesn't even see the bumps on the road. To her, they're just wonderful opportunities for growth and challenge, and she enjoys every moment of the journey.

Tzippy: Growing up, we didn't observe any mitzvos; there was no Pesach, no Yom Kippur, not even a mezuzah on our front door. I was twenty-six when my mother passed away following a five year battle with cancer. Not long afterwards, I made the life-changing decision to travel to Israel to study Judaism. I spent the next one and a half years studying at Neveh Yerushalayim. It was an amazing education!

For me, one of the biggest challenges of being a baalas teshuva was in integrating my personality with my being frum – in other words, who I was, with who I want to be. At first, I thought I'd need a lobotomy to be able to fit in to what I considered a very rigid society. I came from a very musical home, and I loved to sing and listen to music. I assumed that there was no place for that in Yiddishkiet. But I soon discovered that I was wrong. Today, I often go to women's performances and join my friends for impromptu kumsitzes. I enjoy listening to music, and have learned that here, in the frum world, I cam elevate my love of music, and make it an integral part of my avodas Hashem. The same thing with art; I love to paint, but in the secular world, art is often used immodestly. As a religious woman, I use my artistic talent to convey the beauty of Torah.

My husband, Moshe (a pseudonym) is an Israeli baal teshuva.  The fact that we found each other is a miracle, because we're from such very different backgrounds  - he's Israeli, while I'm an American, from the West Coast! Marriage is always a challenge and marrying someone from a different culture is even more of a challenge, but if the couple is flexible, the differences will only serve to bring them closer.

What are some of those differences? Well, for one, Israelis tend to eat differently from Americans. Instead of a bowl of sugary cereal for breakfast, they have bread, cheese and salad, lunch is the main meal and supper is a light, milchig meal. Although at first it was difficult for me to prepare so many meals and I wished that my husband would just pour himself a bowl of cornflakes for breakfast and grab a sandwich for lunch, I worked hard to adapt myself to his way of doing things. Today, I can honestly say that I really prefer our very healthy lifestyle.

My husband appreciates a clean, uncluttered home, with everything organized and neatly put away in the closets. At first, I found the logistics overwhelming and was extremely frustrated at my inability to do something as seemingly simple as run a home. I finally hired a professional home organizer to teach me the tricks of the trade. She helped me de-clutter my kitchen, and taught me how to fold clothes so that they would not fall off the shelves.  Once I was got that down pat, I brought in another professional who taught me how to fold sweaters and keep on top of my daily housework. That extra help made a huge difference in my life.

People often complain that Israelis are tactless because they might ask a total stranger if he owns his apartment or how he manages to cover all the bills. They view that as very nosy – delving into the secrets of their private lives.  Yet -- and now, after living I Israel for so many years I find this really strange – Americans, especially non-religious Americans, tend to air their dirty laundry in public. They often have no qualms talking about very private matters with complete strangers, all in the name of "honesty." Israelis, on the other hand, tend to be very private about their relationships. It took me a while to gain that sensitivity.

Then there's the different standard of living. To an Israeli, a three bedroom apartment is luxurious, whereas an American will see it as small. Although by California standards my family was not particularly well off, we lived in a large – by Israeli standards – house and always had more than one car. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in a fairly affluent home, by Israeli standards, yet they lived in a small apartment and never had more than one car. So after I got married, it was difficult for me to get used to living in a three room apartment, especially since during the week two of those rooms are taken over by our home business.

In addition to running our very busy household, my husband and I operate a profitable business from our living room. So although we are married for over five years, and have not yet been blessed with children, my home is always full of people – both clients as well as the several young men with special needs that we employ, and who practically live in our home while they help us run our business. I call them "my boys" because they have really become like family to us.  They eat their meals with us, and help us with everything from stuffing envelopes and depositing checks at the bank to emptying the trash and cutting vegetables for lunch.

"My boys" need to be constantly occupied, which means that I'm always busy finding things for them to do. At first, I found it very stressful to prepare meals for them in addition to my other work, but my husband pointed out that it is an opportunity for me to perform a mitzvah, and the truth is, it's really not as difficult as I originally thought. I just make an extra loaf of bread in my automatic bread maker and add some chicken to the pot.  The boys really love being part of our family, and we love teaching them to be independent. One boy, for example, has difficulty doing almost everything, but for some reason he just loves cutting vegetables. Whenever he had extra time, I put him to work making salads or soups, some that we used immediately, and some that I put in the freezer. His mother thanks me for teaching him that skill. He had always had to wait for others to serve him his meals. Now, he feels confident enough to prepare a sandwich and salad.

Our boys are all unique, with different abilities and limitations. At first, I expected too much of them, but now, I realize that when they say that they cannot do something, be it something as simple as bagging our products -- I have to accept it. Just to give you an idea of their mental abilities, of all the boys that work with us, only one is able to count, and he can only count up to ten. Although I know they are brain damaged, I have to constantly remind myself to be patient. I find it easier to be patient with the boys that look obviously retarded. The one boy who appears completely normal is the most retarded and I have to continuously remind myself that he is disabled, more like a small child than an adult, and that I must accept his disability. It's not easy.

The boys also need constant supervision, because on their own they can make some really major – and costly – mistakes. They couldn't possibly work at a normal job; but here , there's absolutely no pressure. It's really therapeutic. We try our best to give them life skills. For example, most of the boys have no idea of the meaning of money. To them, a five shekel coin is as valuable as a two hundred shekel note. You give them a shekel, they think they're rich!  So we teach them; explain it to them over and over -- and over again.  But as we repeat ourselves again and again,  we're really training ourselves to have patience. It's not easy. It's a process for all of us, but we're learning, just as they're learning. And we're also have a lot of fun. After all, the boys are really like small children, and we have six of them!

One of the perks of having the business at home is that I'm home all day. I try to be very organized. I shop for Shabbos at the beginning of the week, and finish all my Shabbos cooking by Wednesday night. But I wasn't always that way. When I first got married, I was absolutely clueless about how to organize an entire Shabbos, and every week was another hurdle. But I really worked on it, and I've learned that it's a real boon for our shalom bayis to come into Shabbos without stress!

People often ask how working together with my husband impacts our marriage. Baruch Hashem we have a very good relationship and often schmooze between our jobs. After we close the office, he goes to learn, and, more often than not, I go to a shiur or socialize with friends. At the end of the day, we both make that mental switch so that our workplace becomes our home again. And we never answer our business phone after five.

When my husband and I were still newlyweds, he told me about a close friend of his who had not yet been blessed with children after close to eight years of marriage. "Nisyanos can either bring a couple together or cause them to grow apart," he said. "My friend and his wife grew closer from their challenge. I don't know what challenges we'll face together, but whatever it is, let's hope it draws us together rather than forcing us apart." We, too, have yet to be blessed with children. Baruch Hashem this nisayon has brought us much closer to each other.

When couples have a baby right away, their focus changes, which is the way it should be. They're often tired and busy, and don't have a lot of quality time for each other. But because it's just the two of us, we have had to really work on developing our relationship; we can't hide behind the busyness of constant childcare. We spend a lot of time to talking about our goals, our dreams, were we have to change and grow. We've also had the freedom to travel all over Israel. It wasn't something that I chose, but looking back, I'm glad that we have had this opportunity to really bond.

We human beings are complex – we experience pain and joy, and often these two emotions are intertwined. So yes, although I appreciated the opportunity to spend so much quality time with my husband, I will also admit that there was a lot of pain at being childless. During the first three years of my marriage, it was extremely difficult for me to watch the months go by without a yeshua. I felt so different from my friends. I couldn't call them between five to eight – that's the time their busy giving supper and putting the kids to bed – and I felt as if life was just passing me by. Eventually, however, I decided to make peace with my situation – while continuing to do my hishtadlus.

Hashem is giving me these years to accomplish things that, had I been blessed with children right away, I probably would have never managed to do –such as complete Ulpan and, together with my husband, develop a successful business. I am very involved with a Jerusalem based organization, started ten years ago for women without children. In addition to socializing and giving each other emotional support, we share information. This year, I took over running the organization, as the women who had been in charge before me had good reason to leave, as did several other members, baruch Hashem! Last year we had a special get-together about fostering and adoption and some of our members have also opened up their homes and hearts to foster children.

I really love my life as it is today; I'm so busy, between working with "my boys," helping my husband with his projects, trying to make shidduchim, making sheva brachos for new couples in our community. Life is wonderful, and, with Hashem's help, I hope that it will get better and better as the years go on.

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