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Reaching High

Esther Teichtal

Reaching only the average adult’s waist, P’dut Rotnemer’s take on the world is fresh and different. And she’s teaching others to reach high as well

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

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I t was a simchah buffet. It was a searing experience.

Speaking at the Har Nof Community Center in Jerusalem, P’dut holds her head high and captivates us with her story — one richly laced with humor, insight, and courage.

Possessing a mature build and child-sized arms, P’dut’s hands barely reach the microphone, yet her unwavering voice fills the hall. Attractively put together, with lustrous hair brushing her shoulders and large black eyes that seem to encompass the world, she’s a study in strength and vulnerability. A dwarf from birth, P’dut walks through life seeing things from a different angle.

P’dut’s description of her fiasco first made me realize how rarely the world of average-sized adults thinks to accommodate the needs of a person this short.

Rushing to a friend’s chuppah, P’dut had almost reached the bus stop when she realized she was wearing flats. Silver flats. Trendy with a touch of elegance, they complemented her outfit. And they were comfortable. Blissfully so. But memories of the wedding she had attended three months before raised other considerations. Should I go back and change? It’s late. Perhaps this time there won’t be a buffet?

Two steps later, with dissipating resolve, P’dut stopped in her tracks. She returned home and changed into heels. Better. Her reflection told her she was now two inches taller. With a wave to her mirror, P’dut tip-tapped off down the street, as fast as her heels would allow, glad she had thought of the switch in time. With her heels, she’d be able to reach further than the lace skirting around the bar. Perhaps she’d even be able to view the various dishes with her own two eyes.

Droplets formed on her forehead as she recalled the heat that hit her face from the burners beneath the buffet cauldrons at the last event she’d attended. And the greater heat that burned within, as she begged ladies — elegant women towering miles above her — to please plate her a portion of Chinese stir-fry. Never again.

Star of the School, Pariah of Society

P’dut has no recollection of feeling intrinsically different from her peers. She credits this, in no small part, to her parents, who have always treated her as one of the crowd. With five sisters and six brothers — it was some crowd.

“My siblings weren’t fazed by me at all,” she tells me later, when we talk after her presentation. “On the contrary, they kept luring their friends home to see me!” I react with astonishment. She explains: “My parents made us all feel that my height (or lack of it) is a mere practical issue. Just like people are either fat or thin — I’m short.”

After making aliyah from France with her family at the age of six, P’dut entered first grade only to become, from the very first day, a star attraction. Girls crowded around, eager for a chance to exchange a word. She was different. But not in a bad way.

Technically, though, she was faced with constant hurdles. Her uniform shirt needed adjusting to fit her preschool-sized torso, and no matter how proudly she wore her knapsack, its edges scraped the classroom tiles. During recess, she had to ask a friend to lift her so she could reach the sink for netilas yadayim. On the rare occasions she was called up to the blackboard, she had to stand on a chair.

None of this really fazed her, though. As I look at the woman on stage, fearlessly facing the world, it isn’t hard to see the indomitable girl she was. “I don’t think any of the technical stuff is all that devastating…” She just goes ahead and deals with it. “The hard part,” she continues, “is how people think and react.”

Indeed, if you listen to her talk, it soon becomes clear that the crux of her challenge rests at society’s feet. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 553)

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