By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
We’ve always been that house.
You know, the one with the revolving door that’s hardly ever locked. A few would unknowingly knock at first, but then eventually they’d just come without formality, like the other regulars.
The one that I’d use for countless Shabbos afternoon get-togethers with friends, the one where my family would stop by as well. The one we volunteered for minyan too many years ago to remember that, to my delight, throughout all the changes in our lives, continues today.
There are all types of people out there. There are ones who enter their homes and want a quiet and safe haven, a reprieve, and place all their own.
For me, a home is the place where your favorite people can get together and enjoy each other’s company. Family, friends, relatives who are blood-related and those who are not. Our door is wide open—you don’t need a key to get in. The key is just knowing you’re welcome, and people learn that quickly.
When I was a young newlywed and new to the neighborhood, we had a rotating minyan where there was a list of homes that would host 1–2 weeks of minyanim for the residents looking to have Minchah/Ma’ariv and not walk to shul.
As the ABCD community grew, there was a need for a permanent minyan location in addition to the rotating one. And we offered our home to host it.
It took a little practice getting things ready for the moment men would start arriving before Shabbos technically started and I’d still be running around, clearly not ready to usher in the holy day, but with some practice I got used to being ready on time.
It wasn’t at all uncommon to bentch licht with the shtender to my left with the ba’al tefilah ready to go, and the minyan behind me, catching up on their week’s goings-on with their friends and neighbors.
To some, it would seem like a less-than-ideal situation—to me it was a tremendous honor to have weekly prayers happening in our home.
It also got me to never be running late in lighting Shabbos candles. Like everything in life, there’s a good side and the challenge.
My boys couldn’t kvetch about going to davening, since it was the room off the kitchen and Moshe could get ready in record time and never be late since the commute to shul was down four stairs.
The minyan withstood the test of time, lasting through Moshe’s untimely passing until COVID deemed it unsafe to congregate in our house for the better part of two years.
Friday nights weren’t the same. The house didn’t feel the same. Whereas I’d always loved our open-door policy, the pandemic locked us out of that ease of connection and gathering at a time when we needed it most—especially my family.
Getting the kids to go to minyan, especially on Shabbosos when there wasn’t an older male present to take them along was a struggle, too. And during the time when houses turned inward and their residents had minimal face time with their neighbors, I met someone new.
Someone so different from Moshe but also with shared values and a love of bringing people together, like me. Meeting someone intensely private never would’ve worked for me, I guess.
During COVID, which was a universal downtime, I’d distract myself by imagining what it would be like to meet someone with whom I’d want to spend my life again.
I’d picture all the changes we’d have to make, and I assumed I’d have to sell my home, forgo our happy place and the neighborhood where my kids and my lifelong friends lived, and start somewhere new. I assumed it would be the only way to start anew with someone who deserved a chance to not have constant comparisons placed upon him, after all. My mind and heart were wide open, like the door to my home had always been, but I was waiting for someone special to enter.
And then, one by one, people met the mystery guy hanging out at our home on Barnard Ave. First, the neighbors and then more minyan members as our house welcomed the regular Friday night crew back in. We were so grateful. “Door’s open, no need to knock, no lock or key—just come right in.”
Then it was the backyard Shabbos minyan and, slowly, everyone got to know and love Jeremy. Not hard to do, if you know him.
And he loved them back. Jeremy eased into my life, my family, my community, my home. He wasn’t worried about competing with anyone; he was just here to share my life and the people in it. My initial assumptions about the need for relocation proved unnecessary.
Last week on Friday night, I felt the most profoundly special feeling after seeing one man who hadn’t been back at our home since the week after Moshe passed, three years ago.
Howie had been a regular minyan member, a good friend of Moshe’s, a jokester who’d always raise his voice for one part of “Lecha Dodi,” and even in his absence on some Friday nights, I’d find myself singing the part of “Uri uri shir dabeiri” a little louder, since his friend’s son-in-law’s name was Uri and it gave Howie sheer delight to mortify Uri by belting out his name.
But things have changed. Uri has moved to Florida and Moshe is no longer here, though Jeremy has kept the minyan flame going by welcoming these men back in.
When I took my seat on the couch and noticed Howie, I excitedly waved. He came over to catch up, and as he turned to go daven, he asked me if he could still sing “Uri Uri” the way only he knows how. He was probably just being sensitive, asking if it was OK to be who he always was because so much was so different. But I smiled and nodded my head, so happy that with all that’s changed, sometimes there could be things that could remain the same. Like precious, silly inside jokes from years past. His question bridged my “before and after,” invited my two lives to meld into one and coexist happily. It was a familiar taste of the former life we led, when things were simpler, permission to carry on.
Same house, different husband.
Same minyan, different Shabbos seating.
Same kids, a little older, more resilient, a variety of feelings to go through to get to happy contentment.
Some of the same, lots of the different, but an understanding that the people who love you will open their hearts and love the extensions of you, too. “Lecha dodi, likrat kallah, pnei Shabbos nekabelah”—“Come my beloved, to greet the bride once again.” Come in Shabbos, come in daveners, come in friends, loved ones, family, and joy. “Uri Uri,” wake from the slumber, it’s time to sing again.
So, in the end, maybe we won’t need to go anywhere. Jeremy never asked or tried to remake anything. He fits here, he belongs. He walked in the door and into our hearts—and invited us into his.
He sees how the kids and I belong here. Our community is part of our extended family. Our home, our life, our circle is big and beautiful and welcoming enough for it all. The door is open, no locks, no keys—just open arms.
Maybe the people around us made us realize that you don’t leave neighbors and camaraderie like this behind. They remain steadfast, and you can sing the same songs with them, even as you sometimes change the key.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.