When you‘re here, over the rainbow, it is different. Being out-of-town is not about living in some neighborhood of Brooklyn (other than Boro Park, Williamsburg, or Flatbush). Living out-of-town also does not mean living in other parts of the Big Apple, like Manhattan or Queens. It doesn’t even mean living in the suburbs – like the Five Towns or Great Neck. Being here, over the rainbow, means living away. Now, don’t even think its like living in New Jersey, Los Angeles or Chicago. Try to imagine a very small community – one with less than 100 shomer Shabbos (Sabbath observant) families. A place that is miles from any kosher restaurant, where one can be served by eager-to-please waiters on real plates. It is a place devoid of kosher pizza shops where one can grab dinner on a Thursday night or even a small bagel shop to run into Sunday morning. And one cannot buy The Jewish Press at the local newsstand.
Which of course begs the question: Why would anyone choose to live out-of-town, particularly someone born and bred in New York City? The answer is not that complicated. The move was based on a dream. It wasn’t actually my dream, but it was my husband’s. He desperately wanted to move out-of-town to teach. He really wanted to make a difference somewhere else – to go to a community unfamiliar with Orthodox Jews, and to contribute to that place through the teaching of Torah in its (only) day school.
When the plan to move was announced, and sometime after I stopped crying, people quietly warned us of its perils. “Your children will become korbonos (sacrifices),” they whispered. “They will never find shidduchim (marital matches),” some mumbled under their breath. But most just shook their heads, wondering how we could possibly give it all up – the shiurim (Torah classes), the yeshivas, the schools, the friendships, and of course the restaurants. How could we sacrifice our proximity to the great ones: the Rabbonim (rabbis), the Rebbetzins (rabbi‘s wives/teachers), the ehrlicher Yidden (Jews of integrity and stellar character) that we had become so accustomed to seeing? Wasn’t it ridiculous to move to a place where it was impossible to find the latest sheitel (wig)? Though valiantly trying to be brave for my husband, I too wondered if this was not a ridiculous plan.
For a long time I could not “get comfortable” living out-of-town. I missed reading The Jewish Press, which I had enjoyed over Shabbos morning coffee. When I was out in the car, I kept looking for women in snoods, for others to join me as I frantically shopped erev Shabbos (Sabbath eve) or erev Yom Tov (before a Jewish holiday). I kept longing for my old life. It took me eleven years (this is not a typo) to enthusiastically join the forces of other klei kodesh (literally “holy vessels,” those in Jewish education) in out-of-town chinuch (education).
And a funny thing happened when I finally did adjust. My friends from New York no longer pitied me. In a way, I think they began to envy me. Though we do not have so many choices for our children – in friends, and in learning opportunities – we were spared from dealing with the deluge of issues that had begun to arise in the in-town Jewish community. The at-risk teenagers, the fear of kids appearing one way but believing another, the yearning for designer clothes and vacations, the academic pressure, those issues were now the unfortunate realities to which our friends’ kids were exposed. It is true that our kids are less able to compete on the Torah level of our friends’ children. Yet our children are confident as Jews and Yiddishkeit (Judaism) is not a burden to them. For us, the way of the world is not so foreign. Our kids attend day school and are always around some children who do not keep mitzvos (commandments). They are accustomed to seeing homes with varying levels of observance, too. It could be that being brought up out-of-town removed the novelty of the outside world.
But of course all children, in the end, have free choice. We cannot stop that from being true. As my husband wisely says, all children must eventually choose for themselves if they want a Torah life. The choice could be when they are teenagers, or it could be years later. No one can choose for their kids, though as parents, we wish very badly we could.
It’s been over twenty-five years of living over the rainbow and we’re still doing it. We are living and teaching in a small out-of-town community, while raising our family. There are times we question our sanity, and there are times we sigh in relief. It’s sometimes very hard and frustrating here, and other times it is pure joy and delight. But all these years later, one thing we do know: we are helping build Torah in a place where we make a big difference. And for that, we would not trade places with anyone anywhere else.
It is my hope in this series to give over to you some of the flavor of life for an Orthodox Jewish family living in small town America. The ebbs and flows, how we deal with the sacrifices and how much we treasure the simple pleasures in our daily lives.
And as for my missing The Jewish Press – no fears, my mother got me a subscription.
Penina Scheiner is a kindergarten teacher, writer, and busy wife and mom who lives over the rainbow with her husband and kids.
About the Author: Penina Scheiner is a kindergarten teacher, writer, and busy wife and mom who lives over the rainbow with her husband and kids.
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