By Malkie Hirsch
A couple of months after Moshe died, things in our house started breaking. And I don’t mean the color printer (which hasn’t worked in months).
I mean the central air conditioning, the fridge, the range, and the ovens. The shower body (who knew the shower had something called a body?) in the kids’ bathroom stopped working and had to be replaced; that required a plumber to remove the tiles and sheetrock from the shower wall. The shower door in the basement fell off the track.
But let’s start from the beginning.
One summer day, just as I awaited the arrival of a friend from Israel, I noticed that the house was a bit on the warm side. Moshe used to keep the house temp at a solid 68 degrees year-round, but walking in from the outside and not being met with a blast of cool air was odd.
I ran upstairs to check the thermostat and, sure enough, I saw it climbing as I was on the phone, frantically trying to reach someone, anyone, who could come check it out on a weekend (which is an anomaly, as it seems—unless you’re willing to pay an extra fee for a weekend consult).
The closest I ever came to taking care of any broken appliances or HVAC systems previous to this time was to call Moshe on his phone at work:
Me: “Moshe, the air isn’t working well!”
Moshe: “I’ll take care of it.”
That’s how things went here. I could substitute any other appliance or issue in the house for “air-conditioning” and I’d be met with the same response. “I’ll take care of it.”
So this was alarming. And I didn’t know how to convey how imperative it was to get my system fixed as soon as possible.
But these HVAC guys had Sunday barbecues to attend and didn’t care if I was warm, so things remained that way until my brother walked into the house (after I sent out an SOS on the family WhatsApp), peered at the thermostat on the wall, and asked, “Do you have batteries?”
I stared at him. “Batteries? This thing works on batteries?!”
He laughed. “Most household items work with batteries. Maybe that’s the issue. Maybe your batteries in this wall unit died and that’s why this floor’s unit isn’t working properly.”
Yes, it was a battery issue. That time. The AC unit had to be fixed a few weeks after that, and it wasn’t as simple as batteries.
And then, it was the freezer freezing over. I started noticing a lot of condensation in the door of the freezer, and upon touching the frozen items inside, I realized (with the horror only a woman who takes up permanent residence in her kitchen would have) that the items were far from frozen.
“You need to unplug the fridge and let it defrost,” said Nisanel, the local broken-appliance whisperer.
“No. There’s gotta be another option. Do you know what I have in my fridge and freezer?! Where will I put everything?!” I asked him.
He started listing options.
“I was sort of hoping you’d change your mind and figure out a way I didn’t have to remove the innards of my fridge. You’re saying there’s really no way?”
He laughed. “Nope.”
Of course, I thought of a better way of defrosting the block of ice inhabiting the back of the freezer, with Moshe’s Elchim hair dryer.
But once Nisanel was able to properly diagnose the issue, he realized that he couldn’t get the fridge out of its spot because it had been wedged in before the floor was tiled, and so, another major problem to tackle.
In walked Erez, whistling show tunes under his breath and doing a mean vocal impersonation of Elmo, to Rosie’s delight, while cutting away at the cabinetry above the fridge.
In the matter of a day, he trimmed the cabinetry so I could access the back of the fridge for future frozen emergencies and, at the same time, I was able to clean out the bottom of my freezer, which was a good thing, in hindsight.
Then it was the oven—the one appliance that succumbed to abuse from me that few other appliances have seen. But it had held on for so long, I sorta thought it had magical powers.
It totally threw me for a loop when I noticed one day that the top oven wouldn’t preheat to the temperature I set it at.
“You need a new element and a new computer,” stated Nisanel.
“I need a what?!” I screeched.
Poor, poor Nisanel.
“Except the brand doesn’t make this oven anymore so it might take a couple of weeks to repair the computer across the country. And it’s not a guarantee, since the oven is 12 years old.”
“So you’re saying what?”
“Get a new oven.”
As if things weren’t tricky enough without all this happening. As if I needed the added phone calls to different repairmen, appliance places, and so on.
But I could almost sense Moshe watching me and telling me that I could do this. That all the broken appliances and items around the house were just a test to see what I was made of.
Because for the first time in my adult life, I didn’t have someone to lean on, someone to tell, “I don’t want to do this.” It had to be done and I was the one who had to do it.
No one to tell that it’s a pain and bothersome and annoying to run around trying to find the same color tile to replace the ones in shards on the bathroom floor. But the satisfaction of staring at the spot-on match while bathing the kids one night was a great feeling.
And yes, while I was annoyed at times about the added expense of replacing these items, I realized that my reaction would never have been this low-key if not for the loss we experienced in his loss.
When something so out-of-the blue happens, and happens so unexpectedly, so suddenly, you find that little else will bother you in the same way it has in the past.
Because you realize that this is a temporary problem with an easy fix. You call a repairman or an appliance store or your neighbor or your brother and it gets resolved.
But the love you lost, the life of the person you spent your adulthood with, creating your family and the dream you had as a little girl, is irreplaceable.
So the items that break get fixed. They get repaired, they get patched, and new life is breathed into them. The same can’t be said for the loss of a loved one. Your life and the lives of your children get changed in a split-second and there’s no repairman on the face of this planet who can change it back.
The Hebrew word for break is “shavar.” Someone taught me that the same word has two other meanings: Nourishment and hope.
When Yaakov Avinu sends his sons into Egypt during the famine to buy food, he tells them: “There’s shever in Mitzrayim,” there’s nourishment there, hope that we won’t have to starve.
But this was the beginning of the Jewish descent into Egypt that nearly broke their family and our nation—until it didn’t; until that challenge, that pain (which is what Mitzrayim actually means—suffering) became the experience that molded us and prepared us for salvation, giving us hope for a future that included Matan Torah and the land of Israel.
The fact that brokenness can morph into the nourishment that brings hope and strength is all represented in that one little word: “shavar.”
The Japanese have a custom to repair broken objects with liquid gold, creating new artistic beauty out of brokenness. This practice is called kintsugi.
It’s not the same smooth surface as before; the breaking changes it permanently, but it also creates new possibility and identity out of the shards.
It creates new meaning out of the object—something previously thought of as just broken becomes beautiful again. This concept could be used for so much more than just appliances—it could be used in life experiences and in the people living through them. Things break but ultimately are fixable.
We don’t get to choose what breaks or what we lose. But I’m learning to find my liquid gold, putting back the pieces of our lives in ways that are different but leave room for healing and hope. As I do, I realize that I’m made of something way tougher than I ever expected.
A knob came off the drawer over Shabbos. As I pulled it out, I smiled and put it on the windowsill and made a mental note to call Erez on Monday for the new list of repairs to be made.
As these things happen and I tackle them, I realize that I’m made of something way tougher than I ever expected.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of just 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are now privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.