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Take Note

Libby Rubinstein

The same group of toddlers who had spent three weeks belting out the repertoire at home now sat squirming in silence on their mothers’ laps

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

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I scanned the row of flapping papers haltingly, as if I could slow down the year that had rushed by with opportunities lost

I looked at my daughter’s morah singing chirpily to a silent room and thought, There’s another reason I could never teach two-year-olds. Sing solo to a roomful of mothers?!

The same group of toddlers who had spent three weeks belting out the repertoire at home now sat squirming in silence on their mothers’ laps.

My daughter alternated between whispering into my neck, “I want to sit on your lap,” to playing with the shiny crown on her head, to nodding her head in satisfied approval as the brave morah continued with her solo.

Then the show was over and we laughed at the cute outbursts of the slowly warming up children. At that point, the morah directed our gaze to the wall right behind me. That’s when my laughter came to an abrupt halt.

All along the wall, strung upon clothespins attached to a string, were beautifully decorated cardboards, each child’s name dancing across the bottom. Affixed to those backgrounds were fluttering scraps of paper, taped on top of each other in a carefree mix of pink, white, lined, floral. These were the mitzvah notes the kids had amassed all year. Mitzvah notes! Hazy recollections came back to me, of my daughter waving a grocery bill, saying, “Look! I have a nitza note!” and an even vaguer one of me fumbling for a pen on a rushed morning as my husband held her schoolbag at the front door. Beyond that my memory bank came up empty.

I turned my head with apprehension, scanning the row of flapping papers haltingly, as if I could slow down the year that had rushed by with opportunities lost. I found mine toward the end. It had three notes positioned creatively, in a benevolent effort to bolster the board’s appearance. My first thought: Three? Nice. It could have been worse.

My second thought: How did I miss the boat on this one? Did the morah mention it even once? Vague memories of cheerful handwriting on a parshah sheet came back to me… the kinderlach love bringing in mitzvah notes… we are so proud that we can do mitzvos!

Definitely not something that could have prepared me for the moment of truth that would come, nothing there that could have alluded to the great unveiling that would take place when it would be too late to write anymore.


I was curious to meet these three pieces of myself up there on the wall, wondering what were the occasions that merited my tuning in to the mitzvah note cause.

She gave Tatty back his pen when he asked for it.

She said the Mah Nishtanah beautifully.

She loves to help clean up the toys. Hurray!

Beautiful, really. But why only three? It hurt.

All the mothers in that room were busy — some with large families, big children, demanding jobs… yet time and again they had found the two minutes to put in those investments of love. I looked at the woman on my left and laughed sheepishly. She laughed back with me. There was no way to make that plaque look fuller.

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