This column has received a number of letters regarding the young wife and mother who penned a so-called memoir supposedly based on her relatively short-lived existence as a member of the Satmar community. While most of these letters express sentiments already aired in this column over the last several weeks, readers seem particularly effected by the scene as depicted in last week’s letter to Deborah by A Willy Mom:
“And then I saw the interview you had with Barbara Walters. I sat in stunned disbelief as your new friends, with the help of their audience and their guest – you – poked fun at a magnified screen picture of you walking to the chuppa with your face ‘badecked.’ I was most distressed.”
As a means of defining the raw emotion that has gripped A Willy Mom and so many others like her, I take the liberty of addressing Ms. Feldman directly on their behalf:
Deborah, we don’t suppose that behind the scenes you bothered letting your new friends in on the significance of our beautiful longtime tradition of “badeken” that was initiated by our Matriarch Rivkah who covered her face when she saw her future husband Yitzchak approaching.
Then again, we don’t imagine your new friends as capable of grasping the concept of a kallah’s purity, let alone appreciating the symbolism conveyed by the veil with which the groom gently covers his bride’s face before proceeding to the wedding canopy where they will stand together to be sanctified as husband and wife.
Oh, yes, about the veil… symbolic of the inner beauty of the bride, which is not to be overshadowed by her external, physical beauty, it also signals the groom’s commitment to protect his bride, as well as the bride’s commitment to reserve her beauty for his eyes only.
Above all, Deborah, in that brief intrusion into your walk to the chuppa that your new friends seemed to find so hilarious, we don’t suppose any of you caught sight of the tears welling in your grandmother’s eyes, or heard her whispered prayers to G-d beseeching Him to shield you from harm and pain and to bless you with endless Yiddish nachas and a happy life alongside your life partner.
But, Deborah, after all is said and done, we still hold out hope — for a righteous woman’s tears are never in vain, as the following story (told by Rabbi Price of Neve Zion in Jerusalem) illustrates.
A family man in Northern Israel ran a produce distribution business. When his son Yair Eitan was old enough to help out, he’d drive the company’s delivery truck. One of his regular stops was at Yeshiva Lev V’Nefesh, where attendees are mostly baalei teshuvah.
Having been raised in a secular home environment, Yair’s curiosity was piqued by the lively energy that pulsated within the yeshiva walls. He gradually began conversing with some of the students and before long was actually sitting down and sampling some Torah study.
His parents were none too pleased about their son’s discovery and new friends, and his enraged father prohibited him from ever stepping foot in that yeshiva – or any yeshiva – again. In his words, there was no way any son of his would become a “backward, bearded chareidi.”
Yair would not be deterred and continued to visit the yeshiva without his parents’ knowledge. Eventually, however, they found out and his father’s violent reaction led to Yair leaving home. In a note he left behind, he wished his parents well but did not disclose his destination. By this time he was aware that there’s a line drawn in the commandment to obey a parent when that parent would have his child disobeying the Torah.
Nonetheless, the father searched for his son until he found him and forced him to return home. He moreover filed a lawsuit against Lev V’Nefesh, claiming that the yeshiva had brainwashed their 18-year old son.
A trial was held and Yair testified that no one coerced him to attend the yeshiva and that he did so of his own volition. The elderly judge who presided over the case seemed somewhat distracted as Yair spoke; he kept eyeing the father. When Yair stepped down having completed his testimony, the judge asked the father to approach and take the witness stand.
The judge first asked him if he was of Eastern European descent and if his name back in Europe had been “Stark.” When Mr. Eitan answered in the affirmative, the judge asked him if he was originally from Pinsk. Again, the answer was yes.
“I remember you very well,” the judge continued. “You come from one of the finest homes in pre-war Pinsk. Your father was a deeply religious and highly respected man. Your mother was renowned for her kindness. She would cook meals for the poor and the sick regularly. I remember well when, as an 18-year-old, you openly departed from your parents’ ways.