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Chapter Eight

Sharon Leads Beyond The Rocky Road

    Living in Sharon was like living in paradise. It was truly a beautiful and peaceful place where everyone voted at the town high school and watched the fireworks by the town lake. I'm sure a lot of other small towns were equally as nice but Sharon was different because Sharon was at about seventy percent Jewish. We immediately became part of the Chabad community there run by our friends Rabbi Chaim and Sara Naomi Wolosow. They were constantly coming up with new and exciting programs and activities designed to bring knowledge, unity and of course a whole lot of fun to all participants. Sara was one of those women who looks sixteen forever. She possessed an unending enthusiasm for life and a positive and peppy personality. Her husband was a highly regarded Torah scholar who also related well to everyone and found something good to appreciate in each person he met.

     In the basement of the Wolosow's home was the Chabad Shul, which was always overflowing with an easy-going and pleasant atmosphere. Every Shabbos there was a big kiddish so everyone could spend a little time enjoying each other's company. Later, after lunch, Rabbi Yaakov Karp (whom everyone called Yankel) would go around gathering up the children from their houses and then they would all follow him to his house for a fun-filled Shabbos party. I used to call him the Pied Piper of Sharon. Waiting at the Karp's house was Yankel's wonderfully sweet and gentle wife Miriam, who created the calm and relaxing atmosphere the Karp home was known for. During the Shabbos party Yankel would lead the children in songs, entertain them with beautiful Shabbos stories and serve them delicious nosh.

     Sharon was indeed a very special place. I enjoyed the time I spent there, but the problem was that during the school year nearly all of my time was spent on the highway driving kids to and from yeshiva. The commuting got to be so crazy I could barely function anymore. Often we ate our meals in the car and I got so tired while I was driving, many times I would doze off. The yeshiva needed me to pick up some kids in the next town over and I didn't know how to say no. But it got so I couldn't sleep much at night and then I would wake up late and the kids were late to school everyday.

     I was greatly relieved when school was out and summertime rolled around. I loved sitting by the lake with my kids, enjoying the fresh air and the cool breeze. The summer break gave us a chance to relax a little and get to know some of the people in the Chabad community better. Many of them were a lot different than the Jews in Boston. They were into things like macrobiotics, home schooling and home birthing. I had never associated these things with Orthodox Jews before and I found it interesting how they managed to work these lifestyles into their lives of Torah. They seemed to enjoy being different from mainstream Orthodox Jews (if there is such a thing). I had been trying for many years to mold myself into what I thought an Orthodox Jew was supposed to be. I wasn't so sure anymore that was there was such a thing as the ideal Orthodox Jew. Was it possible that as long as something wasn't against the Torah it wasn't necessarily something that had to be abandoned? If so, these people were certainly a good example of this.

     Of all the different types of Orthodox Jews in Sharon, the one I admired the most was Sara-Rivka Ernstoff. She home schooled her children, ran a successful karate studio and had enough energy left over to help other people in the community. She was smart and confident and she truly loved supporting and helping others to realize their own individual strengths. I found myself a little envious of her that she had somehow managed to remain different while at the same time succeeding in the life of an Orthodox Jew.

     I had regretfully left my own differences behind me when I became Orthodox. Meeting Sara-Rivka helped me to rethink my original decision. I remembered listening to Rabbi Manis Friedman say that when a person makes the decision to become an Orthodox Jew they should approach the situation in the same way they normally approached everything else. I wondered why Rabbi Friedman's statement had never sank in, especially since I remembered clearly understanding what he was saying at the time. So why didn't I follow his advice? I decided it was because I had never actually made the decision to become Orthodox. I think I was afraid I would fail at it or quit the same way I had quit almost everything else I had taken on. Instead of making a commitment, I allowed myself to be pulled along by the people I chose to trust. Thank G-d I finally had enough good sense to trust the right people. I figured if I simply hung around these people, their holiness would eventually seep into me. That way I couldn't screw up, because I wasn't really doing any of the work myself. I was allowing other people to do it for me. But guess what? It worked. It worked because I was unknowingly following the Torah by making myself into a vessel where Torah was able to come pouring right in.

     But now G-d was showing me through Sara-Rivka that it was time to trust myself. I wasn't going to screw up and I wasn't ever going to quit. He was letting me know that it was okay to be me, and it was time to let my differences out and use them to take an active part in my growth as a Jew.

     I had always written poetry since I was a kid, but mostly for personal gifts for family and friends, I decided to write a poem with a Jewish theme and I brought it in to the yeshiva. Dolly Bloom, who was the music teacher there, put it to music and encouraged me to continue writing. I started getting pretty good at writing poems with Jewish themes and putting them to secular tunes. They even used some of them in the yeshiva productions. It was something I really enjoyed doing and something that came naturally to me. It also helped me to bring out more of who I really was and it made me feel good that I could contribute something beneficial to life as a Jew.

     Everyone in the Chabad community encouraged and supported one another in whatever they took on. We had a lot in common because we were all about the same age and had children who were all around the same age also. It was nice but I found myself wishing we had older people in the community who could provide the wisdom and experience we lacked as a young community.

     Eventually a lovely couple, Feivel and Chana Schneider, moved in and readily assumed the role of the nurturing grandparents to the children and of reassuring advisors to the parents. Feivel was the 'candy man' in shul and his wife started a book club to encourage the women to read more books of Jewish content. Sadly, Feivel passed away a few years ago, and the community still feels a tremendous loss. His wife continues to help expand the library at the Chabad Center and is involved in all aspects of Chabad activity in Sharon.

     In May of 1990 we had another daughter, Alta Bracha. Her name is very special, even though she wasn't named for anyone. Until then, we had named our children for people in our families. But when Altie was born, she got pneumonia because fluid got into her lungs as she was being born. The doctors didn't think she would live. She was born on a Tuesday night, but we couldn't give her a Jewish name until Thursday. It is a Lubavitch custom to name a baby girl the next time the Torah is read (the Torah is read on Monday, Thursday and Saturday). I knew that she had to have a Jewish name that would help her get better. Usually in a situation like that, the name Chaya would be given, but I already had a daughter with that name. I called Ita and asked her advice. She decided it would be best that she call her grandfather in Brooklyn and see what he had to say. She then called me back and told me that he had said without hesitation to name her Alta, which means old in Yiddish. We also added the name Bracha, which means blessing.

     After she was named, she stopped getting worse and slowly started to get better. It was such a good feeling to see so many people working so hard to save our little baby girl. The hospital sent a social worker to talk to us in case we needed some support. The social worker was nice enough, but I explained that we were okay, because we had a whole network of people to give us comfort and support. We were indeed very blessed. Thank G-d, and thanks to all the brachas from the Rebbe, she recovered completely, except for some nerve damage in her right arm.

     Before Altie started getting better, I got a call from a woman in Sharon whom I barely knew. She said that eight years earlier, her daughter had been through the same situation and she made sure to tell me that her daughter survived and was strong and healthy. She asked if I would mind if she came to the hospital to say Tehillim for our baby. I was so touched by her gesture of kindness, and I was grateful to G-d, not only for allowing our daughter to live but also for making sure we were taken good care of during such a difficult time. Alta Bracha had such a beautiful and delicate little face but she was so skinny and bony it was scary. Still, I knew that because of everything she had gone through, and the fact that she had survived, Alta Bracha would turn out to be the strongest of our children.

     In the summer of 1991 the Wolosows started a Gan Israel Day Camp in a beautiful wooded area on the other side of the lake. It was a giant success and all of us who pitched in and helped out were thrilled to be part of such a fabulous camp. The Wolosows were born to run a camp for kids. It was a wonderful way to provide the Jewish kids from Sharon as well as from Boston and other surrounding communities with a place where they could enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities in a Jewish atmosphere.

     By that time the Wolosows had moved out of their tiny house into a bigger house. They kept the shul in their old house for a while, until the opportunity came to move the shul into a much larger building. This gave them plenty of room to have Bar Mitzvahs and weddings and all sorts of programs which required more space.

     Unfortunately my husband lost the job he had at a large law firm towards the end of 1991. He went back to work with a lawyer whom he had worked for years before.

     In May of 1992 we had another daughter. She was born early on a Monday morning, and my husband got home in time to name her at the morning Torah reading. I had always wanted at least one of our children to have a Lubavitch name and my husband liked the sound of the name, so we named our beautiful new daughter who had dark shining eyes Nechama Dina. That is the name of the wife of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and my doctor told me that he got her out just in time. We were grateful to G-d again, for He was indeed very generous to us.

     That summer my sister and her kids came to visit us. I was nervous about the visit because I hadn't seen her in six years. But my wonderful friend Dolly Bloom put me at ease with her heartwarming advice when she said, "Listen, a sister is a sister." She was right. I had a good time with my sister and her kids. I realized that even though we were very different in so many ways and we lead different lives, we were and would always be connected by that very special bond that exists between sisters. It's also easier to be close when you are blessed with such a sweet and sensitive sister as mine.

     When the school year began in September of 1992, there was finally transportation available to the yeshiva in Boston for our children. I enjoyed not having to drive anymore and the extra time I had allowed me to think more clearly about where our family was in life, and where we were headed. I began to feel that it was time for us to move to a place where we would be surrounded by Orthodox Jews and the environment would be overflowing with Jewish stores and yeshivas and anything and everything that represented a Torah way of life. Suddenly I wanted more for our children. Although I loved our life in Sharon, I felt that the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Boston could no longer provide the Jewish education our children deserved, so I knew it was time to move. Sharon had led us beyond the rocky road, but now I had an incredibly strong and pushy feeling inside of me (I should have known right then and there that we were headed for Brooklyn). That pushy feeling was telling me that it was time to move to a place that would provide us with the greatest opportunity to grow in our Jewishness. Now, when I look back, I realize we had absolutely no idea then what a giant leap our whole family was about to take. I'm sure if someone had been able to show it to us, we would have said there was no way in this world that we would succeed in leaping so far without falling. But guess what? We made it! And not only are we still standing, but we are continuing to forge ahead even further, giving our connection with Mount Sinai the chance to grow even stronger. Besides being surrounded by the holiness that the Rebbe created in Crown Heights, there is a special little added benefit for me living here. Brooklyn is where my mother grew up, and even though I don't live in the same area as she did it makes me feel really good inside knowing I am close to a place she once called home.