My neighbors couldn’t win. A Shabbos invitation meant they felt sorry for me. When no one invited us, I assumed that without kids we didn’t rate as desirable company. People who included me in conversation must pity me, and the range of topics in which I couldn’t join was a relentless reminder of my “difference.” I yearned for the anonymity and heterogeneity of the city. Sometimes I even yearned to return “home” – back to New York, where, I conjectured, the sense of belonging in my family would compensate for constantly feeling apart from my community.
In calmer moments I realized that my neighbors couldn’t possibly do the right thing – because I myself wasn’t sure what the right thing was. Sometimes I wished that someone – anyone – would notice me standing by the sidelines at the kiddush and, realizing how left out I felt, come over to sympathize. Other times I prayed to be treated just like everyone else. I wished for conversations in which I could participate, but on the flip side, dreaded the self-conscious sense when others felt compelled to change the topic because of my presence.
On our first Simchas Torah, I insisted on going to shul. My husband didn’t have a choice, I reasoned, so why should I get to take the easy way out and stay home? Standing crowded amongst – yet miles away – from the other women, watching them watch their children dance, engendered a sense of pain that rose above the noise of the hakafos and threatened to engulf me entirely. I turned to leave. A neighbor tapped me on the shoulder. “Next year, b’ezras Hashem, yours will be dancing there too.” Then she was gone. I stayed.
That summer marked two years since our move. In July, fifteen families in the neighborhood celebrated a new arrival. Our English-speaking women’s email list, already known as a ceaseless conduit for chesed and good-deed-doing, nearly exploded from the volume of communication as two-weeks’-worth of meals were arranged for each newly-expanded family. Our home was busy, too. We were traveling into Yerushalayim every other day for blood tests and ultrasounds, learning how to inject medications and trying to understand the small print on strange drugs. It was our first attempt at a new procedure for infertility.
The night before one segment of the procedure, we were walking home through the balmy night when I suddenly burst into tears.
“What can I do for you?” my concerned husband pleaded. “Anything to make you feel better.”
“I want… someone… to make me a meal,” I blurted out between sobs.
“A meal,” he repeated, more calmly, glad to have something concrete to do. “No problem, what kind? I’ll buy you any meal you like.”
“I want a tuna sandwich…”
He was relieved. “No problem – I’m on the case!”
A fresh burst of sobs was the only response. “I don’t want you to buy it for me,” I finally explained. “I want someone to make a tuna sandwich for me.”
“But how can anyone prepare a meal for you,” he asked, all too reasonably, “when no one knows what you’re going through?”
His logic was wasted on me just then. But his words hid in the crevices of my memory where they gradually did induce a tectonic shift in my thinking. So it was that several procedures later I did something radical: I shared what we were going through with a neighbor. Three of them – to be precise. One had waited fourteen years to have a child; the other had eight children, yet always seemed to know the right thing to say; the third never asked me questions I couldn’t answer.
Now my weeks of medical appointments were interjected with constant calls, visits and little “pick-me-up” gifts. On the day of another procedure, one of the three husbands volunteered to pick us from the fertility clinic an hour away. As he drove us home from our physically and emotionally enervating day, my husband dozed, but I was too pumped with adrenaline (or the wearing off of anesthesia) to sleep. I half-noticed our driver speaking softly into his phone. As we reached the entrance to the yishuv he got on the phone again. We pulled up in front of our house – where our other neighbor, father of eight, stood on our doorstep. He handed me a package. The label read, “Soup, lasagna, chocolate cake, with all our love.” It was hot, fresh and just-out-of-the-oven.
“What is this?” I asked.
My neighbor, who had just devoted three hours to bringing us home, smiled. “We wanted you to have your homemade tuna sandwich.” For the first time that day, I wept.
Nine months later – and eight years to the day my husband and I had gotten engaged – I held my baby girl in my arms for the first time. My daughter. I stared down in awe at the tiny human being who had made me a mother – and I was finally at peace. It was the second day of Sukkos and I knew immediately that I wanted my Sukkos baby to be named on her Yom Tov, with the day of Hoshana Rabba as my ideal time. Five days later, in the presence of family and friends, the Rav announced my baby’s name. My father, hearing his mother’s name bestowed upon his long-awaited granddaughter, wept. My husband, who had chosen the name, smiled.