By Malkie Hirsch
I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you …
Lyrics from “For Good” from Wicked
In my phone, she’s referred to as “Alana White–savior.”
Alana is from Detroit and first appeared in my life as a friend of my friend Naomi. Her mother was like a second mother to Naomi, as Naomi’s biological mom lives in Montreal, where Naomi hails from.
As Naomi started gaining more recognition from her Instagram page, @naomi_tgis, she found herself packing up her cozy Detroit kitchen setup and traveling all over the U.S., sharing her knowledge of all things dough- and baking-related with her Insta fans. Naomi is a natural teacher and her command of a room is palpable. She’s clear, concise, and organized with her laminated recipe pages and her wealth of baking knowledge. She empowers women to do what they previously thought they never could, and I’m proud to count her as a friend.
As the groups hiring Naomi increased in size, so did her need for assistance for prep and at the demo itself. That’s where Alana stepped in. Though she was still attending school and had a job, she’d move things around and act as Naomi’s assistant whenever possible, and she quickly became an indispensable part of the TGIS team.
One week, Naomi was slated to do a demo on a Saturday night. We determined that in order for Alana to be there to help out right after Shabbos she had to stay with Moshe and me for Shabbos.
It was a wonderful Shabbos, and I loved observing the dynamic between Naomi and Alana. I quickly understood how special Alana is. She was immediately engaging with my kids, helpful over Shabbos, constantly drying dishes or playing with Rosie or chatting with us. She’s a great conversationalist; she would equally share fun stories and listen to others’ in perfect measure.
A couple of months passed, and Alana was sitting in school on a sunny and bright Wednesday morning, feeling bad for herself — she had to spend her entire birthday going from class to class. Suddenly, she noticed her phone (which was on silent) buzzing with activity. She saw missed calls from her mother and flight info from Naomi. She thought it was odd, because hadn’t been informed that Naomi was coming in, as she always had been in the past.
What she didn’t know at that time, on her birthday, what she couldn’t have known or even imagined, was that I had just been notified that Moshe was gone.
March 27 was supposed to have been a happy day for Alana. But that awful day, which should have been marked by joy and celebration of life, was completely turned on its head, overtaken by a shadow of death.
Alana and I crossed paths in life, not knowing why at the time, but the picture becomes clearer day by day.
It wasn’t an immediate thought at first, but I knew I’d need help. I tried to articulate my thoughts, and I thought about hiring a live-in. I didn’t know what I needed exactly, but I knew I’d need support and daily help with the kids. They were ranging in ages 11 down to 1½ and I had previously had a babysitter during the day for Rosie. I needed someone the kids could turn to. Someone they would trust and love.
“Alana wants to move in,” said Naomi about a month after Moshe passed.
“Why on earth would she consider that?” was my response, not understanding most of what was being said at that time.
Previously living in Queens with several roommates, Alana needed to adjust her school schedule and it wouldn’t allow for her to stay at the job she’d been at for years.
Without the income, she would need to adjust her monthly budget. So upon being presented with the idea of living in Woodmere, at the house where she had been a Shabbos guest just a couple months prior, we agreed to try it out. To be my support and be here for the kids when I was out with someone at an extracurricular, at therapy, carpooling all Sunday, at hockey, or wherever else a single mother of five has to be on any given day. But to also have the ability to go to school, work at a job, continue dating, and have a social life. Seemed like a win-win set up, but with people living together, you can never know for sure how it will work.
The silver lining in life without Moshe here is Alana White, my savior. She loves my kids like they’re her blood and they love her back.
She does bedtime better than I do, and Gavi asks for her every night. When she has a late night in school, and I know his eyes will close before his head hits the pillow, he asks me if Alana will come upstairs to say good night when she gets home. I always reassure him that she’ll be there and I know that he’s able to close his eyes, comforted by the knowledge that she’ll be there for him, even while he sleeps.
Alana makes better lunches (imagine that) and is such a maternal, warm person that I’m excited for her future husband and children (in the right time) because I already know how lucky they are.
She’s an early riser, and I hear her knock softly on Dovid’s door, way before I’m thinking of waking up for the day.
“Dovid, time to get up,” she whispers through his door, with all the warmth and tenderness of a blood relative.
She preps breakfast and helps the little ones choose clothes for the morning. Some mornings, she leaves early and I’ll get a rundown of what she did before leaving at 7:30 a.m. She has a crazy school schedule but always has a smile on her face for us, even when I would imagine she’s not feeling particularly cheerful.
She’s the best taste-tester and always wants to learn and help out. She counts my friends among her own now, greeting them easily and fitting into our social cocoon with ease.
I learn a lot from Alana on a daily basis. About her work ethic, her quiet and understated demeanor, and her gentle and patient nature. I’ve never met someone with more friends and enthusiastic Shabbos invitations.
The list is endless — she has a magnetic personality and generous spirit; people flock to that kind of energy and I love having it in my home.
Plus, she does her massage therapy practice on us at night and that’s a major perk.
Another gift that makes Alana so special to us is her ability to relate to how my kids are feeling. You see, she lost her own father at the tender age of 5, in the same unexpected way that we lost Moshe. Sometimes she’ll talk about her early memories and I get a surge of hopefulness — because of how great she turned out and the type of person she is, despite (and maybe even because of) the challenges she had to face. Maybe that’s what convinced her to take a chance and move to Barnard Ave. Maybe it was knowing that she could do something for my kids, having that generosity of spirit that makes up most of Alana White. Maybe she, and G-d, just knew that I needed a constant living reminder in my home that someone can endure a huge childhood loss and emerge as a magnificently happy and healthy human. A banner proclaiming the possibility of resilience, of light after darkness.
She once paused in the doorway of the basement and shared her surprise at how her life has gone so far. The dating struggle, combined with being away from her family, is sometimes such an emotionally heavy burden to bear. Alana isn’t in denial that things have been hard — in the past and even now.
I know that she could have chosen differently than living with my family as we heal from our very recent, unfathomable loss that hits so close to home for her. She could have sought out a simpler boarding arrangement, and I could have just hired a live-in to help out.
But I also know that having her here has been immeasurably helpful for our deep healing work. If she had gone elsewhere, we would not have had the emotional support, culinary bonding, and unique friendship that she brings to the table. We all count ourselves as blessed and thankful to have Alana in our lives.
She’ll now and forever be a part of our family, even, and I hope especially, when the time comes for her to raise and nurture her own family, G-d willing, in the near future.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away in March at the age of 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.