By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
It’s always a good time when I get that ominous WhatsApp message from the editor (my pet name for Abba) that goes:
Now, if you’re one of my siblings or my mother, this is a very common greeting.
It also sounds casual and easy but there’s a lot behind that two-letter word that’s counted as a favorite salutation of his.
It’s not a “Hey, I just wanted to check on how your day is going and how the kids are doing, and maybe see when you’ll be home so I could wish you a good yontif.”
In response to his message, I’ll usually write “Hey” back.
Keep it chill, casual, and wait.
The truth is, I know what’s coming out next, especially during this time of year.
“So did Michele e-mail you about the submission schedule for articles during this yontif season?”
To which I respond, “Implying that you think I check my e-mail? Guess you didn’t read the article about my inbox that’s got 50,000 unread e-mails and counting.”
Not that I needed him to elaborate.
I knew what the next tidbit would reveal (“your article is due an hour after yontif is over”) and because this isn’t my first year writing during this time, I knew how impossible a task this would be.
Usually, Michele or the editor like to add a helpful suggestion about doubling up on written material so I could hand in something prepared in advance, and that’s my cue to laugh.
What they don’t know is that even if I had the time to bang out more than one article per week (which I don’t), I couldn’t do it, because the subject matter of my writing is my life.
Now, if I could see into the future and get a heads up of how things would play out, I’d be way more popular, and it probably wouldn’t be based on my writing ability.
But that’s the truth—my main muse is daily life and that’s what I’ve been working with since starting this column.
My feelings and the general undertone of my writing changes too, based on different factors.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling serious, sad, or stressed, my writing will reflect that.
When I read an inspiring book that I need to share with you, I take on the author’s writing style and an article can sound different based on that.
I write the way I speak—no frills, approachable vocabulary, and animatedly.
And sure, after such a serious holiday where I spent time in introspection during the many hours in shul, I could write about prayer, too.
But I figured that this week, on one of a few days that I’ll have to write something as we start a new week on a Wednesday, that I’d write about my life that while is no stranger to me, still seems sometimes like an old friend that I’m catching up with.
I have a few friends who go away for Rosh Hashanah and it’s somewhat of an occupational hazard to those who experience changes in life that might cause them to need to switch their place of prayer (shul).
It could be a divorce, or another type of loss, but sometimes even though there’s no clear-cut reason as to why they need to change, it’s still necessary.
There’s a need for a fresh start and newness, even though there’s also that desire to keep things that don’t have to change somewhat the same.
For the last few years since Moshe’s passing, we’ve been at a house minyan and then at my parents’ shul, and I’d compare not having a place like we used to as if we were living a nomadic existence.
Anyone who leads a frum lifestyle knows how important it is for a man to have that place of prayer where he feels at home, we even call it a makom kavua—a set place.
A place he’d feel motivated waking up early to go to.
A group of people who would welcome him when he showed up.
A spiritual leader to confide in.
Somewhere he felt safe opening up and being vulnerable enough to pray the way it mattered.
With our recent familial developments, it’s something we’re still working on.
For me, one of my main motivations behind getting remarried was having someone show my boys how to become men—something I might not be as adept at, what with being a woman.
In addition to my own reasons for wanting to embark on a new relationship, I felt that it was necessary for them to have that role model, someone genuinely frum and G-d fearing, someone who loves our religion and appreciates the purpose behind having a synagogue they could call their home.
The joys it can bring spiritually, emotionally, and socially.
Though personally, I was always more of a thrice yearly shul goer, once Jeremy joined the shul where my friend Yonina and her family attended (as well as a place he enjoyed) she’d pass on a message through him telling me that she’d save me a seat on every Shabbos where he’d show up with the boys and I wouldn’t.
It was more of an attempt at humor but maybe I’ll surprise her and just show up on a random week.
Over the holiday, I sat in the back of a shul I had never been to. It was a satellite minyan to the main shul we officially belong to, but not one I’ve been a part of.
There was that welcome element of anonymity that I needed on this particular holiday.
No chitchat, no catching up.
It didn’t bother me as I had a good cry and looked less than presentable.
There was that much needed privacy as an old friend who had been though loss herself walked out of shul after shofar.
Her face was a mirror image of what mine used to look like, a combination of anger at what had happened to her mixed with sadness with a tinge of disbelief that it could get better.
“I hate this,” she whispered as I pulled her into a hug and we spent a minute standing there, crying. “Is it really better?” she asked as we separated. “It’s really better,” I echoed in response, encouraging her to hold on for a little longer.
If nothing else, at least we had this moment where she could see us as a family, trying.
Starting over is tough but it’s way better than not trying at all.
I’d look to the other side of the partition and see my new husband overseeing where my kids were in their machzorim. There are 4 of them, and although this is something they’ve done since they were little, it’s all different because Jeremy’s a different man. Although he’s not their biological father, he loves them as any father would love their child and I saw it clearly as I watched on from the women’s section, a few feet away.
Although I’m still living in the same neighborhood as I always have, among the same families and friends, things feel very different. Sometimes there’s a want for change and other times, there’s really no choice.
I read recently about rehabilitating a patient after a spinal cord injury and the various exercises that therapists will do with paralyzed body parts.
They move the person’s legs and feet manually, or in water to help remind the body’s natural response to reawaken and remind itself of how they used to work together as a whole. G-d is called HaMakom because He is the place where everything and everyone else exists. Also because He is “maykim”—uplifts and “mekayem”—sustains us—through all the injuries and struggles.
That detail resonated with me because some of our parts are newer than others but with the right attention and practice, we’ll get to a place where we work together in unison. It might take a little fine tuning, a move to a new shul and some other changes here and there, but what might start out as a crawl will gain momentum as time goes on. We are slowly finding and rebuilding our makom.