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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 6/23/06

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Dear Rachel,

I do hope you print my letter, if for no other reason than to console my damaged self-esteem and to confirm what I have seen for many years as a single person.

I saved the Family Issues section Friday, Feb. 17, 2006, where a woman writes about a 22-year-old non-Jewish woman who is married, has a small child and is overweight.

She was “amazed” that a girl who was overweight could be married and have a child!

Has the Jewish community become so discriminatory as to want to create a ‘master face?’ Sorry, but this is what I believe has happened within the Orthodox community.

Where is the outrage? I have worked in non-Jewish professional environments for over 20 years and have seen such a different way – which is why I speak with such consternation.

I have seen women who were homely, overweight, not fashionably dressed, with “unconnected” families in other words, “regular folk” who marry, have children, work, and are successful persons.

I have seen women get engaged without diamond rings.

I have seen women get married without a seven-days worth of designer outfits.

I have seen women get married without fine furniture.

I have seen women get married without first buying their spouses-to-be diamond watches.

Have we become so exclusionary that only the “finest” will do?

Ouch that really hurts

The frum community really needs to take off their blinders and look around. We can learn from our non-Jewish neighbors.

Thank you.

Exasperated to no end

Dear Exasperated,

Thank you for sounding off in this forum and providing us the opportunity to weigh in on your perspective – and to, hopefully, affect your negative outlook and ease your disquietude.

Your sentiments betray an underlying bitterness, one that may be at the root of your discontent -and the cause of your lackluster view of your own kind.

I suspect that many readers of the “Orthodox communities” you so unflatteringly paint with the broad stroke of your bristling brush are seething at your insensitive insinuation, and rightfully so. The fact is that for every couple that tends to place overemphasis on material value and aesthetic qualities, hundreds of other fine young men and women among us marry with nary a single designer apparel in their seven-day wardrobe; begin their lives in modestly furnished living quarters; and opt for practical and reasonably priced watches/gifts over glitzy baubles.

Your many years in the non-Jewish environment may have well deprived you of the chance to witness firsthand the unstinting generosity of Jewish professionals who consistently brighten the lives of the less fortunate – by open-handedly dispensing charity and lending dignity to the less privileged, which frequently comprise the needy chossen and kalla.

Another crucial factor that may have escaped your notice (as when you suggest that we “look around”): We need but look “within” – for the Torah is our guide in every aspect of life, and we are enjoined by the Torah to treat our spouses royally (yes, this encompasses bride / groom and man / wife bestowing gifts upon one another). Obviously, this can and should be accomplished in budget-conscious style.

Admittedly, as human nature would have it, there will always be those who get carried away with keeping up with the Reichs. Our weaknesses notwithstanding, we are Hashem’s chosen children – and our flair for finesse and eloquence (a trait bequeathed to us by our ancestors) befits a people who are meant to set an example for the rest of the world in how to serve our King.

I am reminded of the kalla who was presented with a diamond ring at her tenoyim (engagement party). She graciously thanked her in-laws for the magnificent gift and, turning it down, claimed she couldn’t possibly accept responsibility for its safekeeping. When asked what she would prefer in its stead, she replied “A sewing machine”- explaining that this would spare her the expansive waste of time in searching for a suitable wedding dress, as well as relieve her parents of the enormous expense involved in outfitting her for the occasion. Besides, she elaborated, if Hashem would see fit to grant her children, such a gift would come in handy later too, in that she could utilize it to sew their clothing, do the mending, etc.

Just whom can we learn from, you say?

There is a famous story of a well-to-do Chassidic couple that lived in Warsaw and had a virtuous son who was a sought-after bochur due to his learning acumen and refined character. Though he was proffered shidduchim of the most illustrious kind, he turned them all down. When asked why no one was “good enough” for him, he confessed that he’d heard of an upstanding family in town who had a daughter with an impediment. Being of very short build, she had difficulty attracting any suitors – and his heart ached with a longing to alleviate her family’s burden by taking this girl as a wife. And so he did and went on to build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrol.

One of his sons-in-law, R’ Mendel of Kotzk – a renowned gadol hador – would later pay tribute to his father-in-law by validating the elder one’s genuine motive in taking a wife purely l’shem shamayim. For, as R’ Mendel put it, his mother-in-law was not only of short stature, she was also hunchbacked and required a special stool to sit on behind the counter of her store in order to be visible to her patrons. And this was why his father-in-law had merited prestigious title, great wealth, and outstanding shidduchim for his children.

Now, who is it we are to learn from?

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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