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Chapter Three

My Guardian Angel

    Erev Rosh Hashanah my mother drove me over to the Marcus's house. I had made sure to wear a modest-looking dress and I had a white scarf on my head because I had learned in my Temple that when a teenage girl or a woman goes into an Orthodox shul, she is supposed to cover her hair. I went up to the door and knocked, and when it opened, there stood Ita, Rabbi Marcus's wife. She was a petite woman with a big beautiful smile and a shining and expressive face. She reminded me a little of Audrey Hepburn.

    There were three small children standing around her and I asked if they were all her's. Still smiling, Ita told me she had five children. I had never met a Jewish person with so many children before. The only people I knew with that many children were Catholic. Ita asked me why I was wearing a scarf on my head, and I told her I thought I was supposed to cover my hair when I went to the shul with her. Ita explained matter-of-factly that the mitzvah to cover your hair only applied to married women and the mitzvah also meant covering your hair all of the time, not only in Shul. I waved goodbye to my mother and walked into Ita's house and into the lives of the warmest and most loving family I had ever known.

    I met Ita's son Shmulie, who was about a year and a half old. He had two ponytails, one on each side of his head, and so naturally I asked Ita if that was her daughter. She told me he was her son Shmulie and she explained that there was a custom from the Torah not to cut a boy's hair until the age of three. Shmulie was a delightful, energetic and happy-go-lucky little boy who had a lot of fun following around his three older brothers. Ita had just had her first daughter, Bluma, only a few months earlier. Bluma was round and cute and everyone in the house was enjoying having the first girl in the family. Zalman was the oldest of the Marcus children. He was unusually mature and helpful for a boy who was only seven years old. It was a pleasure to watch how much he enjoyed helping his parents. Chaim, who was five years old, was outgoing and interested in what everyone else was doing. He was a real people person, the kind of kid who makes sure everyone around him is doing okay. Yossi, who was three, had the most adorable round face and he was an especially warm and affectionate child.

    The Marcus's house was overflowing with people for Rosh Hashanah. In addition to having me sleep over at their house, they also had Rabbi Marcus's sister and brother-in-law and their three children. And besides that, Rabbi Marcus also brought home guests from Shul. The whole house was buzzing with people laughing and children running around playing and it was just such an incredibly happy environment. Rabbi Marcus was a good-natured person and extremely amusing as well. He was tall with a long dark beard, and like Ita, he also had a shining face with a big smile.

    It was unbearably hot that Rosh Hashanah, but instead of complaining, Rabbi Marcus was joking about how he was going to find a way to fit a hundred bottles of seltzer in the refrigerator. At the table he held up a bottle of Carmelita wine and proudly announced that the reason he had purchased that particular wine was because it had Ita's name in it. Ita smiled. I noticed that Ita and Yitzchok smiled frequently at each other. Yitzchok treated Ita like royalty and she treated him like a king with the utmost of respect, but not the kind of respect that comes from fear, the kind that comes from a genuine sense of love. I had never met a couple like the Marcuses before. It was like they were one person with two parts that functioned so well together. I could sense the connection they had with each other but it was on an entirely different level than I was used to seeing between a man and a woman.

    I also loved watching the way Ita and Yitzchok interacted with their children. I noticed when Zalman kept dipping his challah in the honey more than a few times Yitzchok smiled at him and said, "Zalman, you'll have just as sweet a year if you only dip your challah once." Everyone had a good laugh watching Shmulie bouncing on his father's lap, especially when Yitzchok exclaimed with a big grin, "Hey, Shmulie took my piece of challah!" I watched admiringly as every time Ita sat down, there was almost always a kid curled up next to her. It was a pleasure to see how they treated their children in such a positive manner. I enjoyed every single moment I spent in their home.

    I also enjoyed going to Shul with them, but it didn't take me long to figure out that the center of their life was not in the Shul but in their home. Ita set the tone for her family. She was an unusually generous and giving person. Even with all those other people in her home and with all the activity going on, she made time to talk with me and get to know me. There was something so different about Ita than any person I had ever known. She had a special sort of glow that made everyone around her feel just wonderful.

    When my mother came to pick me up after Rosh Hashanah I was sitting upstairs talking with Ita in her bedroom. She asked my mother if she would like to stay and talk for awhile. My mother loved talking to people, so naturally she sat down and joined in the conversation. I could see my mother was completely taken with Ita's warmth and sincerity. It occurred to me that maybe my mother had never met anyone like Ita either. They talked and talked about all sorts of things.

    I don't remember how the subject came up but at one point Ita remarked to my mother that being an Orthodox woman, she never had to worry whenever her husband was out that he was with another woman. Ita explained that since G-d understands the nature of human beings, He gave us the Torah to guide us through life in ways that are fitting and proper for a Jew to behave. Ita further explained that even when society decides to accept certain kinds of behavior as normal, behavior that is unacceptable in the Torah, a Jew who follows the Torah as G-d intended will never become confused or feel abnormal or see any kind of conflict concerning the situation. I watched my mother's face focused on Ita's as she continued by telling us there were many ways of behavior that G-d knew we could figure out by ourselves. But G-d also knew there were other right ways of behavior that we could not figure out by ourselves. So He gave us the laws in the Torah to make sure we would always know the right way to behave in every situation in life.

    I think my mother and I could have sat there for years listening to the profound wisdom flowing forth from this wonderful woman. But it was time to go back to the world we lived in and I think my mother and I both were a little sad about that. I knew the moment I met Ita that I wanted her to be a part of my life. So I decided that in order to have that happen it was important for me to show Ita that I wanted to be a part of her life also. I visited her many times after that Rosh Hashanah, and she always made herself available to me and included me in whatever she was doing. I appreciated that she never pushed me to do anything that I wasn't ready to do as far as my pursuit of Jewishness was concerned.

    Ita did become a very special part of my life, and I became a part of her's. She was and remains my friend, my teacher and my guardian angel. (I would have to climb a thousand ladders just to kiss her feet). One time I was feeling unsure of whether I should continue writing to the Rebbe. It was Ita who reassured me by explaining that having the Rebbe's wisdom and understanding of life available to us was like standing on the shoulders of a giant, enabling us to see things more clearly. Ita lives in California now and every time I call her I still enjoy listening to her words of wisdom and sound advice. Of course, many times when I call, she isn't home and someone in her family informs me that she is out somewhere trying to save some Jewish soul from screwing up their life, comforting another Jew on a loss, attending a class (or teaching a class for that matter -- this woman is brilliant), helping someone make a nice simcha, or just making a fellow Jew feel like they have some worth in this world. Anytime I have ever been confused about anything, Ita always has a good answer for me.

    Since that very special Rosh Hashanah, I have dragged Ita through everything in my life. She has seen me through joyful times and unfortunately difficult times as well, continuing to help me strengthen my connection with Mount Sinai. I recently asked her, "Ita, if you had known how much I was going to put you through, would you still have become my friend?" Ita replied, like a true guardian angel, "Alizah (my jewish name), I would not have given up this relationship for anything in the world."