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Family Structures

Rivka Berman

Even if Ruchama is a recent baalas teshuvah who emigrated from Eretz Yisrael, is she more important than me?

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

Iburst into the house and slam the door. The beginning of a school year gets me tense. With all the competition, I am drained. Finally, home! 

“Gila, is that you?” Mommy asks.

“Mmm, hi.” 

“Please run to Pomegranate and get some honey-glazed pecans,” calls Mommy’s tired voice from the kitchen. 

A girl can’t get a hello before she gets orders in this house. I know that with Ruchama and her little kids underfoot 24/7 for the past three weeks, it gets even more challenging to prepare for the chag. But even if Ruchama is a recent baalas teshuvah who emigrated from Eretz Yisrael, is she more important than me? 

I head to the grocery, my wide steps fueled by my tumbling thoughts. I wish Mommy would be pleased with me. I want to be understood.

Photo: Shutterstock

The crunching red leaves create a melody, along with the swinging tree branches on Ocean Parkway. Eventually, my gait slows. Nature talks to me in ways that even my mother’s smile doesn’t. Maybe I can convince my father to take us on a Chol Hamoed camping trip? My parents will relax enough to just appreciate my presence and not just my two hands and feet that can assist them. 

Ruchama rolls up her sleeves one Thursday night and bakes a three-layer cream cake. Mommy presents it on a crystal plate with slivers of mango on the side. Everybody oohs and aahs, but I don’t compliment Ruchama. It’s enough that I had shopped for the ingredients for her concoction and washed the mixing bowl for her. 

My family is very nice to Ruchama. Needing to leave her nonreligious community in Teveria, Ruchama wanted to move to America, but didn’t have the strength to push through all the obstacles to obtain a visa. My parents had offered to help, and now it’s our address listed on Ruchama’s immigration documents as her residence in the US. 

My sister Shaindy’s boys are running around in wild freedom. 

“Shmully! Heshy! Sit down. Sit down with the Legos,” I hiss. 

Shaindy, in the meantime, is sharing her latest parenting issues with Mommy. “I heard a cute expression from Shmully’s morah. ‘In a family, the mother is like the four walls and the father is like the roof.’ It’s a good one, huh?” 

I leave the room. These days I’m very sensitive to parent-child dynamics. Are my parents proud of me?

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