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Chapter Six


Boston Bound


    In July, we flew to Boston to look for an apartment. We didn't have any jobs lined up, but we knew were going to live there. Because they are not allowed to drive on Shabbos, Orthodox Jews have to live within walking distance of a shul. We weren't exactly sure where most of the Orthodox Jews lived, so we looked for an apartment near where the Jewish stores were located. Finally, we found an apartment in Allston. My cousin Jonathan, who grew up and was still living in the Boston suburb of Billerica, agreed to co-sign the lease for us.

    We moved to Boston about 2 weeks later. The closest shul was the Young Israel in Brookline, and we went there on our first Shabbos in Boston. It was nice enough, but it was a little big for us. Later, we decided to try the Lubavitch Shul in Brighton, and it took us about an hour each way to walk there. It was in the basement of the Pinchas & Pearl Krinsky's house, and it was a real cozy and comfortable little shul. We decided that we liked it there, so we kept going for a while. Pearl Krinsky was the first friend I made in Boston, and I will always be so grateful to her for reaching out and helping me feel right at home. She and her husband are people who are truly holy yet remain humble about it. They made sure to tell us that we were welcome in that shul anytime, even if we couldn't afford to pay for dues or High Holiday seats. Pearl sat next to me during services and helped me follow along. Many times, they also invited us to eat the Shabbos afternoon meal with them and their family. I was feeling pretty down and upset during that time, so it really helped to make new friends. I was getting over a miscarriage that I had about two weeks after we moved to Boston, and I missed my friends from Miami a lot.

    My husband Dovid found a job as a security guard at a parking lot belonging to the Sears Catalog Warehouse. Then I got a job in their warehouse sorting out and putting back returned clothing. We were lucky to have so much time together in our early years.

    We kept going to the Lubavitch Shul and we slowly started making friends. One couple who had also recently moved to Boston were Chanchi and Yosef Hershkowitz. I recognized Chanchi from St. Paul, Minnesota, where I had gone for two very short periods of time to the Bais Chana Institute for Women, which is a program for Jewish women who don't come from religious backgrounds. It offers the opportunity to learn all about real Judaism.

    The head of the program is Rabbi Manis Friedman, who also happens to be Ita Marcus's brother. The first time I went there, I came away thinking that Orthodox Judaism was nice, but it just wasn't for me. The second time I went there, I was engaged to be married, had basically become religious already, and my mind wasn't really on going to classes. So I found myself taking a lot of very long walks. Minnesota is a very beautiful place. One time, I asked Rabbi Friedman, "Why do you feel that Jewish women need to learn so much? Why don't you just teach us how to make chicken soup?" I added that I had been busy taking long walks and looking at trees and I didn't see any reason to sit in class to learn how to be closer to G-d. Well he looked at me, smiled and asked "And what does looking at a tree have to do with making chicken soup?" I laughed as I replied, "Okay, you got me there. I'll come to one of your classes."

    A lot of women think that Manis Friedman is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But you must understand, I had met Ita first, so when I met him, I wasn't that impressed. Eventually I met his wife and his mother. Now, if people try to tell me how great Manis Friedman is, I tell them that he learned everything he knows from his mother, his sister and his wife. And you know what? If he really did learn everything he knows from them, then he truly is as great as people say.

    Eventually Dovid and I became good friends with the Hershkowitzes. They were such relaxing and comfortable people to be around. Yosef kept us entertained with his endless supply of stories, jokes and impressions. Chanchi was real down to earth, easy to talk to and she had a smile that could light up the whole universe. We were very blessed to be part of that Shul because it gave us the opportunity to get to know so many extra special people.

    Our first Succos there, Dovid recognized, Avramie Litvin, a young man who had once visited the Chabad House in Coral Gables. He invited us to his parents' house, saying that his mother just loved having guests. That's when we first became friends with Lew and Jeri Litvin. As we sat in their succah, Lew charmed everyone with stories about his family. Lew Litvin was a large, warm and very sweet man. From that moment on, he and his wife Jeri looked out for us and became close and special friends.

    One time, Lew and Jeri invited us over for a 'weenie roast,' as Lew called it. As we sat at a picnic table in their backyard, Lew barbecued hot dogs and insisted that we eat several of them. Then he barbecued hamburgers and offered them, saying that of course we had room to fit them in. Just when we thought we couldn't eat another bite, Lew started barbecuing steaks, and naturally insisted that we enjoy some steaks as well. I know that somehow we managed to eat some. I also remember feeling like I was going to drop dead (G-d forbid). The strangest thing was that Lew and Jeri didn't have a light in their backyard, and it kept getting darker and darker, but Lew never seemed to notice the darkness. He just kept talking and barbecuing and serving the food.

    Lew loved to cook, and he loved to talk. But fishing was his real passion in life. He went out fishing a lot on his boat, and I have a feeling that he probably sat out there talking to the fish. Lew was a real colorful character. He told us that when he was younger, before he became orthodox, he played the trumpet and toured with Mercer Ellington. We really enjoyed our friendship with the Litvins, and they made our years in Boston very entertaining. I've always been drawn to colorful people. In the back of my mind, I was worried that it was impossible for a person to be both an orthodox Jew and a colorful person. He was the first person to really impress upon me the idea that rather than trying to change that special part of yourself when you become orthodox, you should use that special part to serve G-d with your own individual style. And style was something that Lew Litvin had plenty of.

    Rabbi Chaim and Nechama Prus were also among the many special people we met in the Lubavitch Shul. Chaim was very successful in bringing Chabad activity to the Boston area. Nechama was an unbelievably beautiful and elegant woman who was as intelligent as she was beautiful. She was good-natured and soft-spoken and made a good impression on everyone. The Pruses told us they were opening a Chabad House in Kenmore Square early in 1981. We were very excited to hear this news and when the Chabad House was ready for business Dovid and I went there to meet the couple from New York who had come to run the programs, Rabbi Abba and Chanie Perlmuter. Chanie was endlessly energetic, full of exciting ideas, and she had a real heavy Brooklyn accent. I loved her right away. Everybody who meets Chanie loves her instantly. Her husband Abba was a quiet, easy-going and funny, funny guy. Actually, Abba wasn't really that quiet. It's just that next to Chanie, anybody seems quiet. Abba used to tell a joke about when he met Chanie. He said after a few days with her he was finally able to interrupt and say "By the way, what is your name?"

    The Perelmuters were exactly what the Jews in Boston needed. One year Chanie convinced a major department store in Boston to put on a fashion show which featured exclusively modest clothing. Chanie wanted to show the whole world, or at least Boston, that Orthodox women who observed the laws of modesty could do so while also looking beautiful and elegant. The fashion show was a huge success. Of course, every project Chanie took on was a success. This was because Chanie had a special way of getting people to help out. She would call you up and say something like this, "Hi, it's me, how ya doing? Listen, I need you here on Tuesday at 3:00 so be on time, okay? See ya then. Love ya, bye bye." What could a person do under the circumstances. I'll tell you what you do. You show up on time like Chanie told you to. That was because all of us knew there wasn't anything Chanie wouldn't do to help any one of us out. And when Chanie took on a project we knew that it was something that would benefit everyone, because Chanie never thought in terms of "self," only what was good for unifying the community. Chanie knew people and she knew that people needed to feel productive and important and part of something larger than themselves.

    Chanie was amazingly perceptive about human behavior for someone so young. I think she was only twenty-one when I met her. She and Abba were such likeable people that Jewish students poured into that Chabad House week after week to enjoy Chanie's delicious Shabbos food and Abba's amusing and easy-going nature. They understood just how to gain the interest of all different kinds of personalities. They also did an excellent job of motivating each person and giving them confidence and support concerning their growth as a Jew. I admired Chanie greatly and I wanted to be just like her. The strong impression she made on me would eventually give me the guts to allow my real self to emerge. But Chanie was more than just a great inspiration, she was absolutely the funniest person I had ever met.

    In September of 1981 G-d blessed us with our first child, a son, whom we named Yosef Baruch. Yosef was for my grandfather on my mother's side and Baruch was for my grandfather on my father's side. Yosef had a round face with dark hair and he was really cute. After Yosef was born Dovid started a new job at a photo developing store. We got a 40% discount on developing pictures, which was great because like all new parents we took about a million pictures of our new baby.

    One day my father asked Dovid if he would like to go back to school to study something to help him make a better living. Dovid said that in the back of his mind he had always thought about being a lawyer, but he figured it was too many years and too much money. My father told him to go ahead and apply to law schools and he would pay for Dovid to go. Dovid took the LSAT and applied to some law schools in the area, but he applied late and didn't get in any of them that year.

    In the meantime, my in-laws offered to help us find a bigger place to live. They eventually bought a three-family house in Brookline which was owned by one of the Bostoner Rebbe's sons. Our new apartment was huge, and we couldn't believe we were moving in there. A lot of Orthodox families lived right in that neighborhood and they were all so friendly to us. There hadn't been many Orthodox people living near us in Allston, and now we were thrilled to be right in the middle of Jewishville. My husband started going to the Bostoner Rebbe's shul and he liked it a lot. I also liked it, but I still felt more at home in the Lubavitch Shul. Sometimes on Yomtov, when Dovid went to the Bostoner Rebbe's Shul and I went to the Lubavitch Shul, I would tell people we had a mixed marriage.

    One of the most exciting and unifying times of year came during Rosh Hashanah, when Jews from all of the Orthodox shuls in Boston went to the Cleveland Circle reservoir for Tashlich. It gave everyone a chance to wish each other a good and sweet New Year, and it was pleasant to see Jews from different Shuls coming together for this Jewish custom. The funny thing is, the first time I ever went to Tashlich, during that memorable Rosh Hashanah with Ita, it seemed to me to be about as far away from a Jewish custom as you could get. I had been taught at my temple that Jews didn't have any sins, so as I stood there watching people performing this custom, I remember thinking it was just like the Baptists. I couldn't figure out why Jews were doing something that seemed like such a Christian custom. Because I had grown up in a secular world devoid of true Torah knowledge, I didn't understand at the time how non-Jews had taken certain Jewish customs and changed them to something entirely different. I think that's why so many Jews in this world are so confused about what is truly Jewish and what is not. Maybe that's why I especially enjoyed Tashlich in Boston, now that I understood and appreciated where this custom originated.

    In July of 1983 our second son was born whom we named Nosson Nuta. He was named for Dovid's brother Neal who had sadly been killed in a car accident a little over a year before. Neal had been named for Dovid's great-grandfather Nathan, who lived to be in his nineties. Nosson had auburn hair and a beautiful angelic face. He was an especially sweet baby. A couple of months after Nosson was born Dovid finally began law school at Boston University. My wonderful in-laws told us they were lending us the money to live on for the three years of law school so I wouldn't have to work. They later forgave the loan altogether. The enormous extent of my in-laws generosity constantly overwhelmed me.

    My parents came up to visit us several times and we also went down to Miami. It was nice to see our friends in Miami Beach and they were thrilled to see us with the two new additions to our family. By then the Marcuses and the Eliezries had moved to California so unfortunately we didn't get to see them. But otherwise we enjoyed our visit.

    Having such a large apartment was great because besides having so much space it gave us the opportunity to have a lot of guests. During Dovid's first year in law school we hosted a Chanuka party for the people in Dovid's law school class. About thirty people came and we cooked about 100 meatballs, a giant pot of ratatouille and I don't even know how many latkes we fried. And don't forget the baked apples! It made Dovid feel good that so many people came. He had always been the smart kid in school, not the cool kid and it was hard for him to make friends. But in law school everyone is smart so at least they have that in common. Dovid did well in law school and he really enjoyed the experience. It was good for him in many ways, including being an Orthodox Jew. The dean of law school, Dean Schwartz, actually had a daily minyan in his office which provided the Orthodox students with a convenient place to daven.

    In September of 1984 Yosef began nursery school at the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Boston. He had a good time there and we enjoyed seeing all of the projects he brought home and listening to him singing the cute little songs he learned there.

    In March of 1985, our first daughter was born and we named her Tovah Gittel after Dovid's grandmother. She was born a week before Passover and it was also Shabbos. Tovah was adorable with dark hair and a cute little face. On the following Monday, when Dovid went to law school, it also happened to be April Fool's Day. He brought pink bubble gum cigars to hand out in honor of Tovah's birth, and some of the law students thought he was making an April Fool's joke. The day before Passover, the doorbell rang and I was so surprised to open the door and see Chanie Perlmuter standing there. She handed me a brand-new robe with a matching scarf. Chanie explained that people always give a gift for the baby but they don't always think about the mother, and she thought it was even more important to give the mother a gift. I knew that she had been busy preparing for Passover, not only in her own apartment but in the Chabad House as well, so I really appreciated the time Chanie took to come over and make another mother feel really important.

    That Passover we were very blessed to have my parents and my in-laws there to help us celebrate not only Passover but the birth of our new baby girl. Life was wonderful in that house in Brookline. I wasn't the type of person to get attached to things but I actually had this thought in my head that one day we would take over the attic apartment when our family G-d willing would grow bigger. I also dreamed that my parents would move into the downstairs apartment so they could be right there watching their grandchildren grow up. Unfortunately that's all it was ever meant to be, just a dream. My journey to reconnect with Mount Sinai was about to hit a rocky road.