By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
“Ever feel like life had been going so predictably for so long that you began to expect things to happen the way they did even before they actually did?”
“And then when it all turns upside down in a split second and everything changes so quickly, you have to just hold on to the details of the past, the memories of your life as it once was, you have to even hold onto who you once were for fear that even you’ll become an unrecognizable stranger to yourself and people around you?”
“You have to brace yourself for a future you didn’t want, one that’s presented far too many challenges to keep track of, far too much emotion to feel at one time, far too many questions to answer when you don’t know the answers yourself.”
“It causes you to regret the time you had that you didn’t appreciate as fully as you should have. It causes fear and uncertainty for the future.
“But it also presents an opportunity to appreciate things the right way. The way they’ve meant to be treated all along.”
Those were my opening lines to a woman I had never met and in hindsight, it might have been too much, too soon to the friend who stood nearby her at the NCSY/TJJ for moms Friday night of inspiration that was held this past Shabbos at the Young Israel of Lawrence Cedarhurst.
As I scanned their faces and noticed her friends’ eyes well with tears, one slowly streaking down her face, I immediately asked if we should change the subject.
As I spoke to her friend, a woman who had been introduced to me by my friend Yonina, who in her distinct way mentioned that she too had lost her husband at a young age, it was essentially all I needed to connect to her.
It’s an odd way to start a casual round of pleasantries in this setting, such a dark and uneasy conversation on a night where a lot of these women were observing a level of Shabbos for their very first time.
I also know that people who have gone through this type of loss seek out this type of connection with others who have been through a similar loss, because it validates their new selves, the things that change and the choices they make.
All the things we spoke about were things I already knew about like her newfound inability to read books, for she lost all focus after her husband suddenly died.
I saw in her face how she recalled the person she used to be, adding that her young children and her job helped her tremendously during that time, three years ago.
How she was desperate to carry over some of who she once was, because it was the only thing she’d be left knowing.
Once she asked me about where I found myself these days, four years later, and I was able to segue into introducing them both to Jeremy, who had walked up to us as she had asked. I felt a shift in her demeanor and her comment about how was she wasn’t ready to embark on dating, yet was thrilled to see that it could be done, indicated to me that it was something so important for her to witness—the concept that after loss comes an opportunity for happiness.
We parted ways and I took a seat by my table of women I didn’t yet know, but I suppose that this is the point of a Shabbos such as this one.
Over 200 men, women, teens, and children gathered to celebrate something a number of us might take advantage of on a weekly basis—keeping Shabbos.
There was a mix of past TJJ moms with their husbands and children plus a number of applicants who have signed up for one of the two trips happening this summer.
There were inspirational speeches by Rabbi Trump, Gideon Black, our very own Stephanie Sokol as well as personal testaments of how impactful joining this program has been for some longtime members of NCSY.
The concept of starting a program for the mothers and fathers of teens that were involved in NCSY started around five years ago and has been gaining popularity and momentum with each passing year.
It provides more of a family friendly design where moms and their husbands and children can learn about laws of Shabbos and yom tov, where each rosh chodesh, there’s an opportunity to teach them about the next holiday coming up.
There are Pesach workshops, challah bakes, get-togethers at various moms’ homes to discuss how influential the women of Tanach were in ensuring the future of the Jewish people, in addition to many topics covered regarding observant Judaism and its history.
It’s been a wonderful addition in my life and has given me a chance of appreciating being born into this observant lifestyle more than ever before.
I sat with Ronit, a woman who was a product of two Israeli parents but with minimal experience observing Shabbos. She wanted me to go through my day on a Shabbos and tell me what we did throughout the 25 hours that we found ourselves without electronics, phones, or any of the weeklong distractions. I laughed as I went through my day, focused on family, friends, and neighbors stopping in to say hi, eating good food, and getting together and just talking, reading, and breaking up the more than occasional kid fight. But then I realized that to her, all this was a departure from what her life looks like on a Saturday, so I spoke about it as she asked more and more questions.
I thought about how courageous it must be for these men and women who at this stage of their lives, deciding to explore what it means to lead a more observant life, to incorporate maybe 1% more than they had in previous weeks, and how it can positively affect their lives, their kids’ lives, and those of their future generations.
I told her about the Sefer Torah dedication we were having for my late husband Moshe that coming Sunday, which happened two days ago as I write this. I spoke about how that type of loss has the potential to leave a mark on families forever, but how this Sefer Torah that we wrote in his memory can be the sweetest part of the bitterness we’ve been through. It’s something we’ve been looking forward for years.
There were a lot of flashbacks as I watched the throngs of people squeeze their way into my house on that Sunday. It reminded me about the week when we sat shivah for him, 4 years ago. Except this time, everyone was happy, smiling, and looking forward to the only real type of closure we’d ever really have. This Torah sealed his untimely passing with a kiss from me, from his children, his mother, and siblings and it gave us the chance to finally have something to hold, dance with, and have for the rest of our lives.
In the beginning, starting this project just was an attempt to gain some type of control over an uncontrollable situation. In my mind, at that time, I needed something to look forward to, some type of way to make meaning out of such a loss for us all. In my plans, I envisioned Dovid standing in front of the Sefer Torah we wrote in Moshe’s memory. I thought about how heart-wrenching it would be for him, for our family, for everyone involved. Of course, in G-d’s true fashion, this happened three years after we anticipated, two bar mitzvahs under our belt, and two more to go, b’H.
The more I thought about it, the more thankful I was that things had been pushed off the way they had been. While there were some tears, there was a lot of happiness, lightheartedness, and gratitude that this came at the right moment instead of the one we had planned initially. To sum up this past weekend in words would be difficult, even for me. The plethora of emotions that I went through in the matter of three days was overwhelming even for someone like me, who loves to feel it all. But I’m of the belief these days that the things that happen are meant to, how and when they’re supposed to. I’m open to the relationships, life lessons, and future experiences that’ll make for one great book, one day.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.