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Lifetakes: Of Siddurs and Sushi

Rivki Winter

I love sushi. But it doesn’t usually show up in the chassidish community. And now rumor has it that even the rebbetzin of the community had a couple of pieces of salmon roll.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Mrs. Fowler brought a magnificent platter of homemade sushi to our Israeli chassidish daughters’ siddur party. Do you understand why that made me cry?

Ihad taken the more conservative route, and my large chocolate cake in the shape of a siddur was in the center of the lovely and stylish buffet. I’m a baalas teshuvah — and I love sushi — but I don’t have the gumption to broadcast that in the form of a large platter of homemade sushi! Keep in mind, this isn’t Monsey or Boro Park. In Israel, sushi only means one thing: baalei teshuvah.

Just for the record, every last piece was eaten. Rumor has it that even the rebbetzin of the community had a couple of pieces of salmon roll. 

Some of us have tried to hide our less-than-prestigious yichus, regularly checking our head coverings and the thickness of our stockings against those of our more lineaged peers. Talents that once took center stage have been relegated to the attics and closets of our lives. I rarely play my trombone, my neighbor the dancer has exchanged her ballet shoes for more robust and respectable footwear. Not that there’s anything wrong with music or dance per se; it would just make a statement: No, I didn’t learn to play the jazz bass trombone in Bais Yaakov. 

In the back of the room, Mrs. Fowler told me, quietly, that early that morning her daughter Leah asked her if she too had a siddur party when she was in first grade. Groping for an answer that was both subtle and true, she replied, “I remember the first siddur I received. I still have it, and it is very dear to me.” 

She didn’t mention that she had gotten that siddur only a few years before Leah was born. She didn’t mention that her first prayers were not Modeh Ani or Shema Yisrael, rather, “Dear G-d, if You exist, please get me out of here. If You created me, it must have been for a purpose greater than this!” 

Those first prayers were not sung on a lovely decorated stage in a blue and white uniform, or shared with anyone other than the Divine. They were whispered alone, in dimly lit dorms and dazzling discotheques, sometimes with fear and desperation — imploring the One Above that we might find lives that would be more worth living. 

Here we are, living those lives. Gone is the world in which we grew up: sweet sixteens, proms, and the perfect California tan. Instead we are celebrating our sweet six-year-olds, watching and crying as they sing in Hebrew and Yiddish about the power of prayer — the power to penetrate the deepest depths and soar to heavenly heights.

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