To Fill the Sky with Stars, an anthology edited by Miriam Liebermann, addresses issues faced by women in the transitional years. Our children are leaving home to begin their own independent lives. We forge new paths interacting with adult children, simultaneously reinvesting in our marriages. Beloved parents are aging and roles become reversed as we tend to our parents with the same loving care and attention they had once bestowed upon us. We may embark on new careers. Some of us may relocate, packing up precious memories of years past and move to smaller quarters, closer to the children.
Some may be dealing with health issues and the adjustments that must be made as we age. The blessing of grandchildren adds a beautiful dimension to our lives, as we gratefully assume yet another new role. Life becomes more serious and our relationships, especially with the Almighty, take on even more significance.
This is a period of major transition. To Fill the Sky with Stars offers validation, encouragement and practical advice. This anthology, together with its companion volume, The Best is Yet to Be, connects us with over 60 wise, insightful women. Through their writing, we are empowered and encouraged to move ahead with grace and enormous gratitude.
Following is an excerpt by Sterna Lehrman, LCSW, “Lessons Learned from a Fifty-Year Class Reunion.” Assuredly, you will find Sterna’s message both relevant and timely.
High school reunions have a way of striking an emotional chord that goes deep. Some of us are excited to see our classmates whom we may have not seen for umpteen years.
We look forward to the camaraderie and to sharing aspects of our lives with our peers. But there is the other side of the coin as well. Many of us are concerned about how we will be viewed, and we embark on a diet while even considering plastic surgery, okay, maybe just Botox. Still, there are some of us who will think about what we have to share over the expanse of years and feel that we come up empty. The thought of attending the reunion can create terror. I combined both approaches, eagerly looking forward to meeting and greeting my high school classmates, but definitely working on that diet.
Fifty years have passed since graduating Bais Yaakov High School. Reunion fever was in the air. My classmates were exceptionally adept at organizing and putting on a good show. I was fortunate enough to have been selected to be on the planning committee. My job was to create a panel of classmates who would talk about how their high school experience impacted on the next fifty years of their lives. We had to go back in time and dig deep.
The connection between what I experienced as a high school teenager and the adult I am today did not come easy to me. I struggled to remember and connect the past to the present. Then it hit me. I heard that our high school Chumash teacher, Rebbetzin Chana Wesel, would be a keynote speaker. This was a the link that could span the years.
I clearly remember that Rebbetzin Wesel demanded that we arrive punctually to her classes, which meant that 9 o’clock was not 9:01. When Chumash was our first period, I recall how we darted out of the train and ran like jack rabbits through the streets of Williamsburg, all the way to school, huffing and puffing up the stairs, panting as we arrived, hopefully in the nick of time. Did I appreciate this at that time? Absolutely not! But did this have an effect in later life and did I internalize this experience? I remembered that I taught a seminary class where the students in the morning were teachers in the afternoon. My job was to work with this class on how to handle their students’ emotional needs. Rumor had it that these girls habitually walked in late, and I had two hours of material to cover in an hour and a half. I did a Rebbetzin Wesel on them. I simply informed them that since they were professionals, I would treat them accordingly and expect them to be in the classroom at exactly 9:00 a.m. I recall saying that 9:01 would be too late. I certainly had some resistance as could be expected, but eventually they all managed to straggle in before the 9 o’clock bell. A lesson in time, commitment and responsibility well learned.
The second lesson in life that I learned from Rebbetzin Wesel was a more profound one. Rebbetzin Wesel was an adept teacher who made the Chumash come alive. Each lesson was meaningful and often inspiring. One day I remember that her lesson was especially engrossing and at that moment I experienced a spiritual high. Just then, a few rays of sun streamed through the window and I could actually feel the kedushah in the room. At that time Rebbetzin Wesel stopped the lesson and said, “Girls, there are times such as these that you can actually feel the Shechinah in the room with us.” I was struck by this comment because she gave language to my inner experience. The lesson that I internalized at that moment was that learning Torah created a feeing of connection to the Aibishter. Unbeknownst to me at that time, this turned out to be a defining moment.
What did I do with this information? Well, for the next 35 years probably not very much, but when I reached my 50th birthday, I began to think that I was getting closer to the time of giving a din v’cheshbon, and thoughts of upgrading my neshama and spiritual growth took root. So I designed a program of learning that replicated the one we had in seminary, where I would learn the parsha with Rashi and some other commentaries every week. Friday nights and Shabbos day were designated to complete this goal and complete it I did. For five years I studied hard and you know the Chazal that “mitzvah goreres mitzvah” – before long I added Navi and then decided to delve into hashkafah, listening to tapes of Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman on Chovos Halevovos. Over that five-year period of time I noticed that my emunah and bitachon were considerably strengthened.
Well, they say the refuah comes before the makah. And so this strengthening was none too soon as a number of challenges were awaiting. Not long after this growth period, I lost my dear daughter, Devorah Jurkanski, in a car accident, certainly a life-altering experience. Four years later I lost my husband after a very short illness. Just one year later I lost my father, the light of my life, and one year after that it was my mother who was niftar. During this time a family member was ill with cancer. Last year I lost my precious grandson in the Waterbury bus accident. How does one deal with so much in such a short period of time? Psychologists say that the defining trait in people who deal well with life’s difficulties is resilience. And to some degree that is true. But I found that what stood by me more than anything else was my newly forged connection to Hashem. Working on emunah and bitachon was an absolute lifesaver.