Jen has been in my life for years, first as my jeweler, then as my neighbor-turned-friend, and now as part of my precious inner circle of “those people.”
It all started years ago when my husband discovered that there was a woman who sold the most beautiful baubles out of her converted garage on Church Avenue, around the corner from where we lived.
It was initially odd when I first approached the garage door and quietly knocked. I looked up and noticed a camera, and as if the curly-haired jewelry gods heard my plea for entry, the door opened and I walked inside, not entirely knowing what to expect.
I was met with a sassy woman who could sell ice to Eskimos. Or diamonds to Eskimos. She was blunt, she was funny, she was definitely a little scary, and I didn’t want to cross her, ever.
As the years passed and we became friendly, I got to know another side of her that others might not be lucky enough to see.
I felt flattered that she sort of took a liking to me and I held my breath so I wouldn’t mess things up or say something stupid that would earn a look that I’m pretty sure could kill.
I always looked forward to the text messages that went like this:
“Hey, Happy upcoming birthday/anniversary/yontif! Come pick something out — it’s on Moshe!”
I’d dutifully visit Jen, and my mother and friends noticed my new glam and followed. It was always a treat getting to hang with her and her products, and her words were all gems. And leaving her place with a beautiful pair of earrings or a necklace that told me that Moshe thought of me for all the milestones in our life and marriage was always special.
When she discovered my love for cooking and baking, our relationship evolved into occasionally catering Shabbos meals for her. I’d get a text on Monday that would say “Hey, I want to invite a bunch of guests for Shabbos but clearly I’m not doing so unless you can cook for me. Let me know if you’re available!”
She’d critique each dish with honesty, and I always knew that she did it because she believed in my talent and wanted to see me succeed in this new venture.
I knew that when I went in to repair or clean jewelry, my eyes would wander and I’d usually walk out toting a fabulous impulse buy. That’s what happened on March 26, 2019. I went in to repair a bracelet and noticed a necklace boasting a diamond-crusted eye. I paid for it and asked her to extend the chain to make it bigger.
A day later, my world fell apart. Everything in life quieted and Jen become so spooked that of all the pieces I could have looked at, I selected one that was supposed to ward off the evil eye.
But it hadn’t. My husband was gone, and with him our hopes and vision for a beautiful future with him and our kids.
She refunded the money from the necklace I bought but I obviously didn’t know that. I must’ve been messaging her a few weeks later and I asked her about the necklace. It’s funny where your mind can go when enormously life-altering things happen, because you just want, more than anything, to reach into the Great Beyond and bring back your children’s father, but somehow you can also want a new necklace with an eye made out of diamonds.
When she told me she refunded the money, I was saddened but understood her logic. Who on earth would be purchasing jewelry at a time like this anyway? Even so, Jen kept an eye on me.
A few months passed as I worked on trying to settle into our new normal. And every so often, Jen would show up at my door with a gift, explaining why she wanted me to have it.
A symbolic bracelet, or a necklace on erev yontif that was a broken heart. Because when it arrived to her showroom, she looked at it and thought of me and how my heart was broken and couldn’t be repaired. Her way was this way. Selling beautiful pieces to people to show them how much they’re thought of. How much they’re loved. She knew how Moshe had taken care of me in this way, and quietly honored his memory and our friendship by gifting these items to me.
Most recently, she showed up the week before Dovid’s bar mitzvah with her signature bag and a message for me that she had received through email. She told me that she was just the shaliach and had no idea who had bought this piece for me and why.
But she did say that she was hungry and wondered if I had any desserts she could trade for the diamond necklace in the bag she brought with her. She walked into the house and read the message aloud to me, my parents, and kids, and I stood there in complete shock at the letter and message. I think Jen was in shock as well, because she kept shaking her head as she read it.
She went on her way, leaving behind a beautiful piece of jewelry and a message I want to share with you.
I want to wish you a huge mazal tov upon your oldest son Dovid’s bar mitzvah.
A few weeks ago I reached out to you about baking a letter cake for my daughter’s birthday. You told me you were making a bar mitzvah the same time. I couldn’t get you out of my head. Over the course of this past year, I read your weekly column in the paper. Although you don’t really know me, I feel like I got to know you and get a small glimpse into your life. You are real and deep, emotional and spiritual, and inspiring.
I was 11 at my older brother’s bar mitzvah. At Shabbos lunch my grandmother got up and gave an impromptu speech about how amazing my mother is and that she deserves a medal. She then took out a beautiful piece of jewelry and presented it to my mom. It was a moment I’ll always remember. She subsequently presented her with a medal at each of my other five brothers’ bar mitzvahs.
This year was the first bar mitzvah from the next generation. And this time my mom got up and presented my sister with a “medal.”
Malkie, although we are not family, I would love to present you with a small medal on behalf of all your readers. You are such an incredible and inspiring mom. You have not only survived a terrible tragedy but seem to thrive. You are an amazing role model to your children and all those who come in contact with you.
I’m not big on Instagram but after reading weeks of your column I followed you on Instagram. Your smile is contagious and real. You invite people into your home to get a glimpse of your daily life — struggles and mostly triumphs. Your kids, b’H, thriving and happy are a testament to who you are as a person, how you present and process pain and happiness.
May Hashem bless you with tremendous nachas from your bar mitzvah boy and all your other children. May you only have happiness, health, success, and kol tov in every aspect of your life.”
Sometimes you don’t know how you’ll impact someone’s life. There are things you say or do that might seem ordinary or commonplace, but it could change someone else’s life.
Jen’s personal life and professional one are two completely different entities, but she’s managed to show me and so many others how much she cares by doing things you might not know about.
But some lucky people do. I do.
It’s about accepting the gifts (figuratively and literally) that G-d hands to you and using them to uplift others.
There’s something people write when they want to highlight an often-neglected population: “I see you.” When it feels like everything is glistening around you but your own world has gone dark, it can make you feel invisible. Last year was not the right time for a shiny new eye; it was our darkest hour. I couldn’t yet see or feel seen. But now, a year later, after countless tears, impossibly, my eyes have begun to shine again; the sparkle has returned, and I was able to enjoy this simcha with real simcha. Feeling seen (which according to Chazal also means understood) is incredibly healing.
I wonder if the woman who reached out to Jen over the internet knew how profoundly she’d change my outlook on having to make my first of four bar mitzvahs alone. I wonder if she knew how it would breathe new life into me, and tell me that my efforts every day aren’t for naught. That she, a stranger I’ve never met, noticed and wanted to make sure I knew that I have layers of cheerleading and support from people I don’t even know. There is almost nothing more loving than reminding someone in pain: You’re not alone, and you matter. You deserve to be happy. Objects and jewelry are not what really matter in life, but the sentiments that thoughtful giving can convey are priceless. Diamonds like Jen and this anonymous reader, with their extraordinary sensitivity and generosity, constantly strengthen my faith in humanity and give me the courage “to keep on keeping on,” as they say, and look to the future with shining eyes.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away at the age of 40. She has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.