When I moved onto the block not too many years ago, neighbors welcomed me. One brought over a cake, another came to visit Friday night, everyone was friendly and smiled, said hello on the street and chatted amiably when the kids would play outside.
Now I hear a painful silence.
There are many frum families on the block, but they now choose to look the other way. Why? Because I am no longer married. Because I am divorced.
At first I thought people were just being polite – not interfering or simply minding their own business – while I was “separated,” but then the silence became deafening.
Everyone ignored me. Everyone ignored my children. Time marched on, and my family became invisible.
Nobody volunteered to take my boys to shul, or to walk with my eldest son.
An invitation for a Shabbos meal or Yom Tov? Almost unheard of.
An invitation to hear Havdalah? Never.
I put on a happy face for my children, and told myself it doesn’t matter – we will be strong, we will manage. But the lack of community support began to sting as my children realized that not only was their home different, but they were no longer welcome in other kids’ homes.
Nobody anticipates divorce or plans to end up being a single parent, but sometimes circumstances occur that lead to such a state. Klal Yisrael is supposed to be a nation of “baishanim, rachmanim and gomlei chasadim.” Where is the rachmanos on my children? Where is the chesed neighbors can extend in an effort to help out?
There are so many instances and opportunities to show you care, to lend a helping hand – to just say hello and smile. But the silence continues.
When it snowed, not one of you offered to help shovel my walk. And when I dug out my car so that I could go to work, I did so under the watchful, amused eyes of a number of frum men, who just stared while I shoveled.
When it came time to put up a sukkah, not one ounce of concern was displayed. When I asked to borrow tools from two neighbors, no one thought to offer assistance.
And when it comes to organizing a carpool for school, don’t you think a single mom would want to be included – especially when our kids go to the same school and we live on the same block? Yet you chose to include another family from a different block.
Is everyone that self-absorbed and selfish? Are you all afraid divorce is contagious? We have so many tzedakah organizations in our midst to alleviate all types of situations – childless couples, poor kallahs, children at risk, among so many others, but you can’t or won’t help a neighbor on your own block?
What exactly are you teaching your children? Instruct them to care for a fellow Jew who lives next door or a few houses away – it’s more tangible than telling them to help an abstract person they’ll never meet.
I am writing this on behalf of all divorced and widowed single parents in order to increase the awareness and sensitivity so desperately needed in our communities.
Klal Yisrael – you have the opportunity to ease the ache of loneliness, to make a difference in children’s lives, to cause families to feel welcome rather than alienated. By turning your face, you create so much pain for families that are already suffering enough.
I appeal to your innermost hearts: Take a moment to imagine these families – yes, they are still families – and every Erev Yom Tov think of some way you may be able to help. Include them in your thoughts and deeds, and in that merit may we all have a shanah tovah u’metukah.
Sara Soferet is a pseudonym. The author is a young divorced mother of three residing in Flatbush.