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Turning Tides: Brief History

As told to Leah Gebber

I married yichus — and expectations. The world is a shtender and a gemara, and what more could you need or possibly want?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

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M y husband’s family is into brief histories. Mention someone’s name and my mother-in-law will thread her fingers together, give a solemn nod, say, “If you want a brief history…” and then launch into an account that includes yichus, achievements, children, and notable relations. “Let me tell you about your Uncle Shmiel,” she’ll say. Or Great-Aunt Esther. Or even the latest about your cousin Dov Ber. She knows, I guess. In her 70s, living in Bnei Brak all her life, having married into a “name” family when she was just 18, she’s made it her lifelong mission to know all the people whose grandchildren’s upsherens appear in the press. Well, their wives, of course.

So in the spirit of my mother-in-law, who plays such a big role in this story, I’ll offer you a brief history of my family. I married yichus — and expectations. The world is a shtender and a gemara, and what more could you need or possibly want? I’m talking generations of talmidei chachamim and ovdei Hashem, who shteiged quietly, without taking positions or wanting kavod, simply sustaining the world with their learning.

Family gatherings fill me with awe: to peep through the mechitzah and see faces alight with dignity and wisdom is a privilege indeed. When I married my husband, he expected to continue on the path of his brothers, father, uncles, grandfather — and so on, through the generations.

We had boys first, and maybe that triggered all the changes in our lives. Our two eldest weren’t doing well in cheder, and my husband had to get to the bottom of it. He sat in on classes, talked to experts, and devised a learning plan that would play to each one’s strengths. Despite our last name and lots of fluffy talk, the plans were not implemented. Again, my husband investigated and found that there were failures in the system: communication between administration and staff was patchy, rebbeim were suspicious of changes, a whole gamut of reasons and excuses.


When my husband throws himself into something, he does it all the way. To cut a long story short, Shimon decided that he had to further study what he called the systemic failures in the cheder system. And to do so, we moved to America, so that he could first get a degree in Education, then a Masters in Educational Management, and then a PhD in Educational Leadership. Go explain how a boy who learned in Bnei Brak all his life can get a PhD in a language not his own. Whatever. He did it.

I won’t say it was easy for me: the upheaval of a new country, supporting my children as they acclimated to a very different culture, encouraging my husband — from helping him with basic math courses through spell-checking his dissertation. I do have lots of family in the States, though, so at least I had a support system. The hardest part of it, for all of us, was facing my in-laws’ disappointment. Shimon was passionate about what he was doing, said that he felt it was his tafkid; what could bring more nachas to HaKadosh Baruch Hu than devoting himself to the best ways of educating His children. His parents said, no, our family has a tradition of devoting ourselves single-mindedly to our learning and allowing other people to save the world. The argument went on, unabated, for a decade.

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