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Chapter Nine

Crown Heights, Here We Come!

    Once we had decided that it was time to leave Sharon, my husband and I discussed where we thought we should move. We figured that the best place for us would be somewhere in the New York City area, and we also wanted to be near a Lubavitch yeshiva. I mentioned Crown Heights, and my husband said to me that there was absolutely no way he was going to move to Crown Heights. He was worried about the crime, worried that the people there would be rude, and well he was just not going to move there.

     So we thought about moving to Morristown, New Jersey. As it happened, that June we were going into New York for a wedding. We took a little detour to drive around Morristown and see what it was like. My husband had briefly attended a Yeshiva there many years before and said it was a beautiful town. It was still beautiful, and so was the Yeshiva there. Unfortunately, I noticed that there really weren't many Orthodox Jews out and around. It seemed to me that life for the Orthodox was pretty much centered around the Yeshiva. That wasn't exactly what we were looking for. And even if we had wanted to move there, I had heard that there were almost no apartments for rent in the Orthodox area. There were houses for sale, but we were in no position to buy a house.

     We thought about moving to Monsey, New York. I had spoken to a few people there who gave me the impression that although the Lubavitch community in Monsey was growing, it wasn't as big as we wanted. Also, there was no Lubavitch school in Monsey. Then I considered the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. We couldn't figure out how you were supposed to know which area to choose to live in, and also we would have to have the kids commuting to get to school every day, and we didn't want that. The truth is that for some reason I felt so strongly about moving to Crown Heights that at one point I basically told my husband that I was moving there with the kids and we were going with him or without him. I can't believe I said that to him, but Thank G-d he came with us. So we ended up in Crown Heights after all.

     A few weeks before we were scheduled to move, I was talking to my grandmother and she was worried about us. I told here we would be okay and that we were moving to Crown Heights. She said she wished she could help us more financially but she had to save some money in case she needed it to take care of herself. She had already helped us a lot in the past. I told her not to worry, just to take care of herself.

     Well, 24 hours later Grandma died in her sleep. It is said that when a person dies they are able to help you much much more than they could when they were in a physical state. It turned out that my grandmother had taken very good care of her money so that her family would benefit from it. I inherited part of my grandmother's estate, and my wonderful sister pushed all the legal stuff though as fast as she could because she knew we really needed the money. My sister is a very kind and special person, and I hope that very soon she will G-d willing meet the man that G-d meant for her to be with.

     I had been calling the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council for weeks trying to find us an apartment. There was only one couple that seemed to be willing to rent to people who had no job, even though we said we had money to pay the rent. The owners lived elsewhere, and they were looking to rent the upstairs back apartment. It didn't have a living room or dining room, just a kitchen, 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. My husband had said he didn't want to move all of us into an apartment with only 1 bathroom, and I had said that even apartments with 3 or 4 bedrooms in Crown Heights only have 1 bathroom. But somehow, this apartment had 1 1/2 bathrooms. I also told my husband that I didn't think our beds would fit into a bedroom in a Brooklyn apartment since we both had queen size beds. But it turned out that this apartment had 1 very big bedroom that could accommodate our big beds.

     Dovid took our two oldest children into Crown Heights to sign them up for school and to look at this apartment. He told me it was in really horrible shape but that it had space and the neighbors downstairs seemed nice, and besides, it looked like we had no other choice. Something told me that we were supposed to be in this apartment. I called Rabbi Groner (the Rebbe's secretary) to let him know we were moving there and to ask him to ask the Rebbe for a bracha that everything should go well. He asked when we were moving and I told him Labor Day. He said that Monday was not a good day to move, and I thought it was some spiritual thing, but he said there was the Caribbean-American parade that day and it would be hard getting through all the traffic and blocked-off streets.

     We tried to move on Sunday, but it took longer than we thought, so we left late and stayed overnight at a motel about an hour away from Brooklyn. We came into Crown Heights early in the morning, before the parade. It was horribly hot that day. I had told my kids we were moving someplace where there would be thousands of Orthodox Jews all over the place. But as they watched the many people go by who were in the parade who happened to all be people with dark-colored skin, one of my daughters remarked that this wasn't anything like she thought it would be. I thought that was kind of funny. Actually most of the Jews were still out of the city for the summer, so that's why it wasn't exactly like I had told them it would be.

     I sat outside on the steps until everything was moved in. When I finally went up to see the apartment, I got really depressed and went to bed for a month. Not really, but not so far off either. I got very worried that I had dragged my family here and put them in a situation like this. Now I was the one who was worrying and thank G-d my wonderful husband started taking care of everything. It took me a long time to get out of the apartment and get to know the community, but slowly I did. The kids adapted easier, some of them easier than others, and we were really proud of them. They were thrown into this fast-paced Chasidic Community and they were able to hold their own.

     It was time for our first Rosh Hashana in Crown Heights. Rosh Hashana is always special to me because the first real Rosh Hashana I spent was with my friend Ita. It was a beautiful experience and it made me want to have that kind of life, but I never believed I could do what I needed to do to achieve it. Ita believed I could do it, and Thank G-d she eventually made me believe it too.

     It was Erev Rosh Hashana, and I hadn't used gas burners for over five years. My husband kashered the burners, but he wasn't done until about an hour before Rosh Hashana. I quickly threw all the chicken and potatoes I had into one big pot, but the fire was too high and I kept turning on other burners during Rosh Hashana to try to get a smaller flame (I couldn't remember if I was allowed to turn the flame down or not on Yom Tov). Besides heating up the whole house even more, the whole pot of food ended up burning. At least we had been invited out for two meals at the Hershkowitzs' home (they had moved to Crown Heights from Boston about nine years earlier). Also, on Erev Rosh Hashana my wonderful friend Soreh, who came in from out of town to spend Rosh Hashana with her daughter and son-in-law, dropped off some delicious food she had made for us. I had told her that the oven wasn't kashered yet so I could only cook on top, so she was concerned that we wouldn't have enough food.

     The school sent home some beautiful clothes for our girls. Some wonderful person donates new clothing on Rosh Hashana and Passover so that the children can have something new to wear. It was unbearably hot and sticky, and it was a three day Yom Tov. I remember sticking my head out the window and begging G-d, "Please don't make me go through three days of this heat." Lo and behold, a few hours later it started raining and the temperature began dropping and finally thank G-d the weather became cool.

     And so we made it through our first Rosh Hashana in Crown Heights. Yom Kippur came and left without any great difficulties. And then came Succos, which in Crown Heights is quite an exhilarating festival. Everyone runs around gathering everything they need to build their Succah and helping out their neighbors in any way they can. My husband brought a lot of tools from Sharon, which made him very popular on our block. During Chol HaMoed there is an incredibly fantastic street festival here called Simchas Beis Hashoeva. There is music and dancing and food and sparklers and lots of excitement.

     There was one mesmerizing moment when my eyes were drawn to three men dancing together, one in back of the other. It was a situation worthy of it's own celebration, a Lubavitcher wearing a black hat, another kind of Chasid wearing a Shtreimel and a Jew wearing a Greek fishing cap. The apparent differences in these men remained insignificant, while the bond connecting them shined forth with a brightness that lit up the entire celebration. The joy I was feeling as a spectator was soon replaced by an even greater joy the moment I realized I was now a full-fledged participant in this way of life I had reached out for so long ago. This life and these people were all familiar to me know, even if I did not know them personally. They were the husbands and the sons of people just like me, because now I was just like the women and the daughters who stood beside me. That evening was much more than a celebration of Succos. It was a celebration of my life, a life that had truly become so much a part of me now. And I took great comfort knowing that from now on, all of the beautiful moments I experienced would indeed last forever, especially since my connection with Mount Sinai was continuing to grow stronger and stronger.