Lafishman’s Blog

December 7, 2011

The Vort

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The Vort

And so it begins. Last night we attended a vort (engagement party) for our friend’s oldest daughter. She’s all of twenty and met Moshe, her fiancée, about five months ago. I marveled at how the parents managed to spruce up their normally hectic house and pull together an impressive spread of homemade desserts in a matter of days. The engagement didn’t become “official” until the l’chaim the night before. So I assumed the parents didn’t have much of a heads-up. But then, I don’t know how these things work.

My only daughter, Emily, is 17—three years behind Sheva, the kallah. Since Emily is classmates with Sheva’s sister, she showed up at the vort along with most of the Bais Yaakov senior class. How close these girls seemed to the same fate as Sheva, and yet how giddy and awkward. They stand on the brink of a pre-ordained fate. Graduate high school. One year of seminary. Begin college while awaiting a fix-up with a suitable guy. You might get your degree before the first child comes but, without birth control, chances are slim. And truly, who wants to spend four years in college while the matrimonial clock ticks away? By the time you graduate, you’ll be 22, with just three to four years of eligibility left.  Meanwhile, you will have sat in the wings watching your high school friends married off one by one.

Walking into the party around 8:00 last night, I felt ecstatic. I shared the satisfaction our friends must have felt to see their first daughter fulfill her obligation as a daughter of Torah. Never mind that they’d only met the groom’s parents once, and none of the rest of his family. So what if his career path was uncertain? This would not be a marriage of selfish desires or eager lust, but a payment on the future of the Jewish nation, teeming with righteous, learned children.

And why shouldn’t I be elated? After all, this is the path we chose for Emily even before she was born, when we decided an orthodox lifestyle would remedy the empty, confused spirituality of our own childhoods…not to mention the missteps we’d taken coming of age in a secular society.

By 9:00, my ecstacy had decayed into tempered mortification. My daughter, married at 20? Committed to sharing a bed and life with a man she barely knew? Tossing away all that academic potential? And what if she were to fall for a guy who plans to spend all his days studying Torah? What if he expects us to foot the bills? What if we’ve actually raised…a kollel wife?

I looked at my daughter shifting from foot to foot across the room. As Sheva had been, she’s among the top students in her class. Sheva was accepted into the most academically elite seminary. For the two years following her stint in Israel, she wavered between career options. These included the typical choices for a woman who planned to raise many children while helping fund their private school education: occupational therapy, speech therapy, teaching, and the more ambitious pharmacy career.  Those less suited to academics might train to be a sheitel maven (selling and styling wigs). Such portable jobs are highly prized among the young women who can’t be sure where their husband’s learning will lead them. And if you can make money in your basement while the kids sleep upstairs, all the better.

Suddenly, I wanted to pull my daughter aside, rip away her ankle-length grey uniform skirt, years of learning how to teach and train her fourteen future children how to carry on the legacy of Torah, and say, “Just kidding.”

But wait. Haven’t I been the one who has fought tooth-and-nail to keep our kids on the derech? Haven’t I made sacrifice after sacrifice to bring my daughter precisely to this point? What if it was a mistake? Maybe a school a little to the left would have been better. She could have taken more science labs, joined the Physics Club, become a doctor. Maybe we’ve put her in the impossible position of being the one upright Jew in a home of observational misfits.

What’s the use? One long look at my daughter and you can see it’s too late. We’ve done our job much too well. She is a jewel in God’s crown, a shining, polished, pomegranate dangling from the branch. She has already exceeded our capacity to serve God and, I can’t help but think, she knows just how she needs to do it.

Yesterday morning, I felt all was as it should be. My daughter will do right everything I did wrong. It’s just…standing face-to-face with a roomful of well-wishers in black suits and long skirts, the cookies decorated with “Mazel Tov” and the stupefied look on the future groom’s face last night, I wondered if I’ve been too sure about what “right” is. I can only pray that God and my daughter do.


April 13, 2010

A poem for Yom HaShoah


by Lisa Turner Fishman

Maybe I didn’t know the cold Gestapo breath on my neck, snows of human ash

or the stench of certain death squeezed up next to me

on a three-by-five wooden plank each night for seven years

…but then again, maybe I did

Maybe I don’t know the shame of a shaved head, branded flesh or public nakedness.

And I don’t dare judge those who were there, who couldn’t bear

to think about it, much less talk about it all these years,

whose Jewishness was perverted into a wound so tender,

it won’t be touched.

I haven’t one aunt, uncle, bubbe or zayde who was ripped from home to ride a cattle car

to Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen or Sobibor.

But what I do know

(not what I have learned or read or heard, but know)

is this:

every time a Jewish boy whines because he must go to Temple on Yom Kippur,

missing school so that everyone will know he is different;

every one who believes his Bar Mitzvah is enough Jewish education;

every time the local Jewish paper announces a Goldstein engaged to  a Singh

or the birth of Christina or Conner James;

every Jewess’ child who wakes in late December to fascinate over a silver-laced tree;

every time a worker hides his religion for fear of discrimination,

and we gloat about finally achieving our immigrant grandparents’ longed-for assimilation,

with each of these, my friends, a Nazi soul dances with glee.

He did it, killed another Jew, made him or her a coward, shameful, dirty and worthy

of all the hate we have turned on ourselves.

We have become our own enemy.

Have you? Will you?

Forget the insults you took, forget about any of the six million people

you might have been, given a few historical seconds more or less?

Deny your own truth?

Will you admit that you, yes you, do not deserve to live?

Will you let those friggin’ Nazis win?


©Lisa Turner Fishman 2010

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