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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Expect the Unexpected

Expect the Unexpected

Sometimes (or maybe I should say, most of the time) things don’t do the way I expect them to go. And although sometimes (um, well, to be honest it’s not just sometimes…) when that happens, I get upset, or even angry, I’ve learned from experience that I shouldn’t. More often than not, I discover, either immediately or several years down the road, that what I thought was an unpleasant turn of events was, in reality, a surprise gift,

This last Rosh Hashana Hashem presented me with one such surprise gift. It was not one that I would have chosen, and to tell you the truth, it was only thanks to a shiur that I attended erev Yom Tov that I was able to keep reminding myself that if this is what Hashem is sending me, then that is what I need, and that it’s my job to focus on the avoda of Rosh Hashana.  But it wasn’t easy.

Okay, I know that you’re waiting to hear the story, so I won’t continue to keep you in suspense. Every year, my husband travels to Uman for Rosh Hashana, and every year, one of married daughters and I make Yom Tov together. This year, since neither of us were feeling well, I decided to splurge and go with my daughter and her children to a heimishe guest house for Yom Tov. I had heard from people who had been there in previous years that it would be a perfect blend of gashmiyus and ruchniyos: a slow, hertzidig chassidishe davening, lots of heimishe families, and traditional (Ashenazi) food. “You don’t have to bring a thing,” said one women.  “They take care of everything for you.”

I couldn’t wait.
The large “Bruchim Haba’im l’nofish Rosh Hashana” sign at the front desk was the first clue that I should expect the unexpected. We were a bit surprised at the very casual dress code – lots of teenage boys in cut-off jeans and thongs, and a number of women were (gasp!) smoking.

The elderly chassidishe couple sitting in the lobby looked as shell shocked as we were. “The hotel rented out all the rooms to two groups,” the man explained. “One’s a mesorti group from Kiryat Gat, the others an organization for divorced women and their children called ‘Em Habanim.’” The man shook his head and added, “I have no idea where I’ll daven.”  

Since davening “nusach Morocco” was not really an option for us, we opted for the Em Habanim minyan, comprised of half a dozen avreichim, a few bar mitzvah bachurim, lots of children, most under the age of ten… and one elderly chassid.

Between mincha and maariv, instead of words of hisorerus, an avreich told the children a simple story, a mashal about our love for Hashem. At first, I found myself bitter and angry. “Will I be spending Yom Tov listening to children’s stories?” But then I decided to stop fighting the inevitable and focus on Rosh Hashana. I was startled to find myself moved to tears. And although the davening was much, much  faster than I would have liked (after all, how long can little children sit?), the cries of these little children, growing up without a father, evoked a depth of emotion that I didn’t know I was capable of.

Throughout both days of Yom Tov, my little granddaughters sat at my side for most of the davening. Every few minutes, one of the madrichot, oblivious to the fact that they were not part of the group, patted them on the head or stroked their cheeks as they handed them a coupon (to be redeemed after Yom Tov for a prize) or a candy for davening nicely. Each time the children yelled “Amen,” or sang one of the traditional Rosh Hashana songs, I had to wipe away the tears.
I admit, this gift wasn’t without its challenges. We ate in the main dining room, together with the group from Kiryat Gat. The atmosphere was very (VERY) different from anything I had ever experienced. And of course the food was far from heimishe. Yes, we had our moments; one night two of the children vomited all over the hotel room. At some meals, we couldn’t take the noise and left after the first course. Sunflower seed shells were EVERYWHERE. By the third day, people were throwing chairs at each other.

But on the other hand (Debbie, remember, focus on the positive…)  I met some incredible women and made some new friends, hopefully for life. I am in awe of their bravery, raising children alone, instilling them with yiras Shemayim while providing them with a stable home. Shabbos, one of the boys celebrated his bar mitzvah. He wanted to make it there because, as he told his mother, “Em Habanim is our family. They’ve been there for us, and now I want to share my simcha with them.” After the davening, the men and children sang and danced as they accompanied the bar mitzvah boy and his radiant mother to the dining room. I understood how the boy felt. It really was one large, warm family.

This morning, one of the women that I met over Yom Tov sent me an email, It said, “When life hands you a script, write a better one.” Rosh Hashana I was handed a script that could have been a disaster. I could have spent the entire Yom Tov ranting at the unfairness of it all. Instead, I decided to rewrite the script, to focus on what I had, not on what was lacking. In doing so, I discovered precious gifts, women who can teach me lessons in courage, and who will hopefully become friends for life.

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