“I just know you are going to love it here…” the sugary voice of the real estate agent broke through my daydream in which our future house featured prominently. “This yishuv is known for its warm and friendly atmosphere; there are several shuls to choose from; you’ll never find a house at this price so close to Yerushalayim; and the schools are some of the best in the country.”
My husband had known from the start that this was where he wanted to live: he had gone to yeshiva right nearby. Besides, his Australian country spirit had never been fully at peace in the city. Now it was up to me. I, on the other hand, had always lived in the city. I liked strolling down the busy boulevards, catching buses home after late-night events, and having the world within walking distance.
I stood silently, gazing out at the glinting sunset reflected in the surrounding mountains’ embrace. I visualized the mikvah the olei regel years ago immersed in that stood just outside the town’s borders, imagined walking up the hill to a morning Tanach shiur at eight and then down at nine. I admired the array of head coverings on the women – bandanas, hats, scarves, sheitels – and the little boys – kipot of blue, white, black, intricately embroidered Yemenite designs. It was a sea of color – past, present and future – nestled within the stark green and brown peaks of Midbar Yehuda. I liked what I saw. “It’s perfect,” I said. “It’ll be home.”
We moved in just before Pesach. I instantly loved my new house. And like any good relationship, it improved consistently with the time and efforts I put in, hanging pictures in the living room, planting impatiens and a real cherry tree in the front garden! My husband was welcomed in shul and soon had his makom kavua. The grocery lady quickly learned my name. And just as the real estate agent had promised, it was indeed the perfect place for raising children. There was just one problem: We didn’t have any.
It wasn’t that we hadn’t noticed until then. The fact that we were already married for five years and had yet to be blessed with children was rather hard to ignore. But the city had been…well… the city. I never knew whether the couple across the hall had two kids or five, or whether the noise over our heads came from a dozen kids under the age of ten or teenage boarders who liked to party. On the yishuv, by contrast, I knew for a fact that of the 278 families living there, we were the only ones without a child. And just in case I wanted to forget, the reminders were constant: In response to my friendly greetings, my new neighbors would immediately inquire “ages and grades,” wanting to know at the outset which of their own children could play with mine. My warm “good mornings” stopped cold.
I set out to shul on our second week. The grandmother in the next chair complimented me on my apparent diligence. “How impressive to see a young mother at shul. What a good example you must set for your children.” The following week I davened at home. The local playground loomed teasingly just a few houses down – at once so near and yet so far away. I started taking the long way up to the bus stop.
Two months after we arrived, the English-speakers’ email list announced the first-ever “women’s get-to-know-you” evening, designed to give all of us newcomers a chance to make friends. Finally, here was an opportunity to meet people that didn’t depend on one’s kids. I literally counted down the days until the big night arrived. I took my place and expectantly looked around at all the other people who would shortly become my friends. The organizer announced that we would go around and give each person a chance to introduce herself. I immediately began mentally planning my introductory speech; after all, I wanted to make a good first impression.
“My name is Esther,” the first woman began, “I moved from Monsey three months ago with my husband and four children, aged 2, 4, 6, and 8.” Linda was the next to speak: she was from Baltimore, had just had a baby, her third child, and celebrated her eldest’s fifth birthday. And she was an accountant.
I was starting to sense a pattern. Apparently, “introducing yourself” meant listing your offspring. With growing uneasiness, I calculated how much longer it would be until my turn. The woman two seats away had just finished holding up a picture of her happy family of seven. I mumbled something about a burner left on – and ran. My poor husband was at a loss as to why his wife had returned from the much-anticipated party weeping. I, in turn, had to force myself to go to the next get-together. I was determined not to let my self-consciousness imprison me inside my very lovely home. Instead, I would go out and mingle − and feel part of everyone around me. In this I rarely succeeded.