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Instant Motherhood

As told to Riki Goldstein by Chana Rosenblatt

Many people thought that we had both lost our minds: how could I marry someone 16 years older than me with four kids?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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SHEVES ACHIM Neither we, nor our kids, believe in “half” brothers and sisters. My husband reminds the family, every so often, that the shevatim, Yaakov Avinu’s sons, are never referred to as “half brothers.” Our family is very close and united

I suppose it all began with a plane ticket and a job my friend didn’t want.

I was an 18-year-old Bais Yaakov graduate living in Jerusalem, with a wish to travel to the US to visit my extended family. But I couldn’t afford a ticket. So when a friend’s mother suggested I take up a job offer that my friend had rejected, a six-month stint caring for four children in London whose mother was sick, I agreed. As one of 12, I had a knack with little children and was adept at running a busy household. It would keep me busy, I figured, and pay for my ticket to America. I’m a person who throws myself into whatever I’m doing. As soon as I arrived at the Rosenblatts’ home, I played with the kids, laughed with them, and loved them — we bonded right away and grew very close. Elana a”h and Shaul were a special couple with amazing children, aged two, four, six, and eight.

Unfortunately, eight months after I arrived, Elana passed away. I stayed for another four months to help the kids settle down, then flew on to America for the long-awaited family visit.

Rocky Ride

A year after I left London behind, the shidduch between Shaul Rosenblatt and myself was suggested. (It was actually my mother who suggested it first.) Soon, we were engaged.

As I had lived with Shaul and his family for many months, I knew exactly what I was getting myself in to. I had seen Shaul in action as a husband. And so I was a lot more confident going into the marriage than I might have otherwise been. He has lived up to and exceeded my expectations. I was just 20 years old; my husband was a 36-year-old rabbi, who was running a successful organization — Aish UK — at the time. Many people thought that we had both lost our minds: how could I marry someone 16 years older than me with four kids? How could he marry someone so young and have her bring up his children?

During our engagement, many people pressured us to break it off. Time, baruch Hashem, has proven them incorrect, and we bear no ill will or judgment toward them. They did what they thought best. In such situations, people struggle with issues of loyalty and have many conflicting thoughts and feelings. Still, with so much pressure coming our way, I didn’t know from one day to the next if the wedding was going to happen. At times I found that challenging, but overall, I saw the rocky ride as just part of the process we needed to go through…

Those who stood behind us made a huge difference. My family and my husband’s family were incredibly supportive all along. During the engagement and the first months of the marriage — and until today — there were a few people who were continuously kind and supportive. I found that kindness and support go a very long way: it gives you strength and holds you together in the face of insecurity or difficulties.

I was a little worried about “taking Elana’s place.” Rebbetzin Karlinsky, a wonderful woman who lost her husband when she was young, called me during my engagement and told me something that resonates with me to this day. She said that when someone leaves this world, they go to a world of truth. In the world of truth, people are not petty or angry or jealous, they know what really matters. She explained that when a spouse passes away, the soul is not completely at peace until his or her other half finds happiness. A man like my husband wants a wife and his children want a mother — and how could that bring anything other than complete peace and joy to his late wife? That comforted me and helped me get rid of a lot of my uncomfortable and guilty thoughts.

Carving Out Time

After sheva brachos, we returned to London. We remained in the same house that my husband and his late wife had lived in. The kids were comfortable and settled there and we saw no need to uproot them. The household was busy, but coming from a large family, I was used to working hard. It helped that I happen to enjoy housework!

We had an active life and adapted to it quickly. There were no quiet evenings, no quiet Shabbosim. I think we had two Friday night dinners on our own during the first ten years of our marriage! I found it hard to share my husband with everyone all of the time. My husband is a very devoted rabbi and works hard for the community. We didn’t share that development together — he was already in that position. After a long day with the kids and the house, I’d wait for him to return home. And then all the kids would jump on him: “Abba, Abba, Abba.” My husband is a special man and our kids love him very deeply, but I wanted more of him for myself. We did manage to go away alone for a week a few months after our marriage, which was really nice. When I watch family and friends — and today, my kids — during their shanah rishonah, I smile, but I would do it again 100 times over, just the same! Very early on, one of my mom’s friends told me to go out once a week with my husband to connect and spend some time together. We did that, only a bit differently; we broke down the once a week into shorter times a few times a week. Several times a week we went for a walk together and every so often had lunch together. We still do that today.

A few years after our marriage, a good friend of my mom came to stay for a few days. I think she found me overwhelmed, and what she said was: at times we can get so busy taking care of everyone else that we forget that we matter just as much — look after yourself, treat yourself every once in a while to something nice, and give yourself what you feel you need. If you do that you’ll have more to give to everyone else... It was good advice.

The Kids’ Reactions

My oldest son, who was nine when he lost his mother, absolutely hated not having a mother; he was a sensitive boy and didn’t like the family being unsettled. During the year I was away, his father had been through a broken engagement, which was very hard for the kids.

I had built a very strong relationship with all of the kids during the time I spent with them, and so our decision to get married filled the kids with relief. Akiva was nine when we got married and his kindness and welcome to me set the tone for the whole family. This immediate acceptance of me made it a lot easier with the other kids.

I never saw myself as a replacement for Shaul’s wife Elana, in the same way that I never saw myself as a replacement for my kids’ mother. I knew Elana, and loved and respected her. I was so much younger that to compare myself to her was never an option. In my mind she was always special, wise, good hearted, and kind — an amazing mom. I don’t see us competing for the same spot, but rather as different parts of the same unit.

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