As has been corroborated by the various letters this column receives, these are challenging times. Then again, among the multitudes that walk G-d’s earth there have always been the troubled and troublesome. Many will surmount their difficulties and furthermore be strengthened by them, while others unfortunately buckle under the stress of their burdens and use hardship as an excuse to lead a worthless life or become a non-believer.
As human beings, we seem to have the tendency to focus on the negative and take “good” and “normal” for granted; in this column, however, the calling attention to problems is meant to evoke discussion that will, hopefully, lead to positive results.
The following is based on a conversation between this columnist and a young lady (whom we shall refer to as “Debbie”) who has overcome substantial adversity in her own life, in a most remarkable way. It is our hope that her spirit, courage and bearing throughout her less than ideal upbringing will inspire others and help them prevail in their own struggles.
Rachel: You come from what may be termed a disadvantaged background (I refer to your early childhood years). How old were you when you found yourself embarking on a “new” journey in life and were separated from your mom?
Debbie: I was 8 while still in Moldova I had no understanding of responsibility whatsoever. I remember traveling around with my mom from place to place, being a happy-go-lucky little girl who had no concept of danger or worry. I can recall nights spent at the train station (since we didn’t have a house at the time and no friends or relatives to host us), but to me it was more of an adventure.
Before I turned nine, we somehow became affiliated with the Yeshiva in Moldova. It was so cool to learn Hebrew and to discover new things about being Jewish. I must have been viewed as the Yeshiva’s pity case, but I had no concept of that.
When I found out I was going to America to live with a family, I was excited – through the roof. I don’t remember ever being worried or sad about it. Looking back I probably had no inkling of what was really taking place – the fact that I’d probably never see my mom again, and that a language barrier would lead to discord (much of it as a result of misinterpretations) but in my mind everything was good. I don’t think I ever contemplated that evil existed in the world.
Okay, you were by nature optimistic and a happy little girl. So when you got to America, what were the immediate challenges that you recall coming face-to-face with?
The family that adopted me was very different from me. They were very uptight and rigid. I was used to having a place to explore, run around and grow in. All of a sudden I was thrust into a place where I couldn’t be myself. I had to sit at the Shabbos table from beginning to end. Not only did I have to read the Medrash Says on the parsha every week, (truthfully I loved that part), but I had to say a d’var Torah and answer parsha questions at the Shabbos table, too!
And it wasn’t just a Shabbos table comprised of family; there were always Shabbos guests.
Not going to shul was not an option. I had to go! My adopted sister and I were the only women in shul Friday night and the first girls in shul on Shabbos. During Torah reading I had to sit with Eema and follow inside the Chumash with my finger.
All this and so much more before I even reached the age of 12! I guess you’re getting the picture all the fun was taken out of life. Yiddishkeit didn’t seem as exciting as it once had. I became an aggressive little girl who lashed out and didn’t want to follow rules at home. I remember dreading coming home from school in 6th grade. When most kids could hardly wait for school to be over at the end of the day, I got the nervous butterflies about 45 minutes before the school day was out.
Sibling rivalry is a common phenomenon. Would you say that yours (with your adoptive sibs) was of the common kind or did you feel yourself trapped in a Cinderella’ish predicament?
The oldest boy at the time was 14, the girl was 10, and there was a baby boy of 3.
I wouldn’t exactly term it a Cinderella’sh bind – it was more like their kids were perfect. In reality they really were, compared to me. The sister was in all honor classes and as studious as they come, as well as well behaved and organized. She followed all the rules without questioning. The oldest boy was a learner who left shortly after I arrived for a very prestigious yeshiva.
I felt that I was treated very differently. In truth, I guess I had to be, but in no way was it constructive. I always felt picked on as the “black sheep,” but that might have been because I was the black sheep. I was different and no angel, neither studious nor well-organized. And there were “consequences” for not following the rules.
My sister didn’t need “consequences” because she always followed the rules. Besides, her parents were always understanding towards her. Because she was more “responsible” and “mature,” she could make her own decisions, whereas I was not allowed to.
I must add that as we grew older she became my biggest advocate and supporter when it came to disagreements with her parents. She would stand up for me (my older brother did too when he was around) and argue with her parents on my behalf. Sometimes it would work and she would rejoice for me when I would avert the “consequences.” I felt that the parents enjoyed punishing me, while my sister was really sad for me.
Considering all of this, did a bitterness born of resentment creep into your conscience? Did you ever feel that life was unfair?
Sure, I’m human and did get very bitter and resentful at times, but it was never towards life it was more towards the parents. I had no reason to believe that life was mean to me – after all it got me this far. I felt that they were blocking my life.
To be cont’d
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