By Hannah Berman

Some Things Never Change

The nature of life is such that things are always changing. We refer to this as progress, but it doesn’t always seem like progress. Over the years, some things have changed so dramatically that there are times when one can hardly remember things as they once were.

The simplest yet most obvious changes are always in fashion. The length of hemlines and the width of ties are two examples, but there are others. A few decades ago, no female in her right mind would think of wearing anything that was torn. If it was torn and not fixable, out it went. If my mother determined that a torn garment couldn’t be repaired, she would cut it up and use the pieces for schmattes. The next thing I knew, she would be dusting furniture or polishing the silver with a piece of my old blouse.

But all of that is ancient history. In the 1990s, torn jeans became a fashion statement. While the statement didn’t last long and was soon put to rest, in 2010 there was a revival and this time it caught on big time. Why anyone would want to wear ripped clothing is surprising, but that’s just the way it is. Since that time, when it was reintroduced as a revival of the earlier look, the only jeans that teens and young adults like to wear are ones that are torn. And the fabric isn’t just frayed; some millennials are parading around in jeans that are all but torn to shreds. This applies equally to males. Everyone has adopted this weird look.

Many other things have changed as well. When we were children, it was all about the boys and their bar mitzvah. Girls were not exactly ignored, but we had to wait three years longer for our celebration, because what we got was a Sweet Sixteen party. Bas mitzvah parties were not yet on the radar screen. At least not in the Orthodox community and certainly not so far as my family was concerned.

It seemed that everything was about the male children, and the long-awaited Sweet Sixteen party was somewhat low-key. The party had little meaning and zero religious significance but that was what we got. Things evolved, and bas mitzvah celebrations today are as common as bar mitzvahs. Good for us!

For many years, staying up all night to learn on Shavuot was mainly a male experience. Some females did the same thing, but that was not the norm. In recent years, that has changed, and today many girls learn on Shavuot. But this is only a partial change because it applies mainly to unmarried females. Married women remain less likely to stay awake all night. Housewives are busy figuring out what to serve the “troops” and are anxious to come up with new ideas for dairy meals. So, as is often the case before any holiday, females are overworked and exhausted. Meals consisting of meat and potatoes are less complicated and a lot easier, but most people don’t eat much of that on this holiday. Fish, various salads, and fruit are the nutritionally sound parts of a Shavuot menu, but cheesecake, blintzes, and pasta dishes will not be denied! It doesn’t feel like Shavuot without them. The women, who typically do the menu planning, food shopping, and cooking, are so tired that even those who feel the obligation to learn all night don’t do it. Many barely have the energy to remain awake until 10 p.m., much less engage in all-night learning.

The big discussion in many homes is what time Shavuot lunch will be served and which of the midnight learners will be awake to come to the table. Children are often concerned with food and time. On Pesach, kids have a competition: How late was your Seder? That question comes up the day after each Seder. The kid whose family had the longest Seder is proud to declare himself the winner. Not one of them admits that there might have been a break during that Seder so that some older family members could get up to stretch and walk around for a bit while others took to the living room sofa to rest. That often adds an extra hour to the evening, but it is not acknowledged by the kid who claims to have had the Seder that ended the latest.

The Shavuot competition is similar. The main questions are: “How late did you stay up learning?” and “What time did you get home?” Food is another hot issue because people are expected to be hungry when they are up in the middle of the night. So the final question is, “What did they serve at your shul?”

These questions and childish competitions are comforting in their own way because they are among the few things that have not changed and probably never will.

One major change that is a positive winner is what took place on Monday, May 14, when the U.S. Embassy opened in Yerushalayim two weeks after the anniversary of Israel’s 70th birthday. Now that’s a change to celebrate. That’s the way it is. 

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435.


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