Eishet Chayil

We don’t get many chances to have meals together as a family during the week. Between home visits and secondary jobs, I often don’t get home before 8:00, which means that Eitan and Shayna have usually been asleep for at least an hour by the time I walk in the door. I can sometimes FaceTime with them to say hi, wish them sweet dreams and get an up close view of Shayna’s tiny teeth when she puts Trudy’s phone in her mouth but that’s about it. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to walk into a quiet apartment after a long day of work, but nothing beats seeing Eitan and Shayna’s faces light up when I walk through the door.

It’s one of the reasons why Shabbat dinner on Friday evening is so important to us. Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, lasts from Friday evening through Saturday evening. There are official rules that describe what constitutes “work” which I won’t get into here.(1) The important part is that Friday night is the time that we spend together as a family. We eat dinner together at the same table, have conversations about our days or our plans for the weekend and enjoy each other’s company.

Before we get to the meal, we light candles to signify the start of Shabbat and then sit down at the table. We sing two songs before making kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Then Eitan recites the motzi, the blessing over the challah, and we start eating.

A couple of months ago, Eitan was getting antsy while I was singing Eishet Chayil. He didn’t seem like he was being rude intentionally, but he was clearly bored and tired and wanted attention (as four-year-olds often are). He began making faces at Shayna, tugging at his clothes and playing with his silverware. I stopped singing and asked him to sit quietly until I was finished. He did so, for the most part, though he continued to fidget slightly for the next few minutes.

Once we started eating, I asked him if he knew what the songs we sing before kiddush were about. He said that he knew that the first song, Shalom Aleichem, is special for Shabbat. I agreed and said that it is about bringing people together for Shabbat and wanting peace for the people we love.  I asked if he had never noticed me looking at anyone while I sing the second song and he said that he has seen me look at Trudy. I said that he was right and explained that the second song, Eishet Chayil (“Woman of Valor”), is about all the amazing things that Mommy does for our family every day. It took some slight prodding to keep him focused (he was still trying to make faces at Shayna), but he was able to come up with a number of things that Trudy does for us at home, including cooking delicious dinners, keeping the house clean and taking care of him when he is sick.

Gratitude is a concept that can be somewhat difficult for young children. They understand the idea behind saying “thank you” as an acknowledgment of receiving a gift but it’s hard for them to keep those words in mind regarding other tasks that are not necessarily as tangible. Eitan doesn’t see the effort it takes to keep track of his doctors appointments and school functions, for instance, or the coordination that goes into planning his birthday parties, two tasks that Trudy handles masterfully. He doesn’t understand the organizational skills necessary to keep track of countless Carter’s and Children’s Place receipts or the patience it takes to make three hours with two kids under five – including baths, dinner and bedtime routines – run seamlessly. He certainly doesn’t see the way an emotionally and physically drained parent collapses onto the couch in the evening after a day of whining, nursing and the occasional tantrum.

To be clear, I don’t fully understand those things either. I spend most of my days (and, often, my evenings, as well) at my desk or on the subway or in other people’s homes. People aren’t whining at me, demanding that I do things for them or crying if I don’t do them immediately. The difference is that I understand what I don’t understand (sort of). I don’t understand, for instance, how Trudy can prepare dinner, feed the kids, clean the table and kitchen, bathe the kids and have them in bed in the span of an hour and a half. I don’t understand how she can keep shopping lists and birthday parties and school event plans straight without having a breakdown. I certainly don’t understand how Trudy can look at a set of ingredients in a fridge or freezer and turn them into a meal I’d gladly pay for in a restaurant without a recipe.

The most essential aspect of Trudy’s “valor,” though, has very little to do with logistical household tasks. Trudy’s star has always shone brightly, but it changed once Eitan was born and then again even brighter when Shayna came along. It grew stronger, as though Trudy’s evolution into an amazing mother added new layers of warmth and caring, intensifying her ability to love the people around her. She’s not only the primary reason why our children are consistently fed, clothed and as social as they are; she’s also the reason they’re always so happy.

Happy Mother’s Day, Trudy. Thanks for being our family’s eishet chayil.

 

A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

On Friday night, my family and I attended a Shabbat dinner at our local synagogue. Shabbat – the Sabbath day – is observed on Friday night through Saturday evening in Judaism. It commemorates the seventh day of creation, when the Bible says that God rested after having spent the previous six days creating the world. Jews observe the day by taking a break from their regular, day-to-day activities to pray and spend time with family and friends.

The dinner was sponsored by the synagogue religious school and preschool and my wife happened to be one of the organizers for the event. Approximately forty families from the synagogue school community came together to pray, eat and enjoy each other’s company. The event started with the usual Friday evening prayer service and then led into the Shabbat meal. Parents shepherded their children into the synagogue ballroom, where tables had been prepared for the meal. The rabbi led the group in singing Shalom Aleichem,1 recited the kiddush, the blessing over the wine, and helped all of the parents recite the ritual Shabbat blessings for their children.

The evening was beautiful. We got to spend time together, not only as a family of three, but as a community. My wife and I end up working into the evening so frequently that eating dinners together as a family are rare occurrences during the week. Shabbat, though, is a sacred time that we use to be together as a family. The dinner at the synagogue gave us the opportunity to reconnect, not only with each other, but also with our friends.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

On Friday evening, in Paris, France, at 9:20 PM, local time, two bombs exploded moments apart at Stade de France, a stadium where France was playing Germany in a soccer match.2 Over the next half hour, terrorists carried out additional attacks using bombs, shrapnel and assault weapons at four different Paris restaurants and Bataclan, a small concert hall where the American band, Eagles of Death Metal, had been performing. By the time the terrorists had been subdued, 129 people had been killed and over 350 people had been wounded. The world watched as information began to emerge about the terrorists and the lengths to which they had gone to create fear and to publicize their messages of hate.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Even though the attacks began around 4:20 PM Eastern Time, I had not heard anything about them until much later in the evening. I came home a bit early from work that afternoon so that I could spend some time with my wife and son before we had to leave to get to the synagogue to finish off the last-minute preparations for the dinner. In fact, it was not until at least halfway through the actual dinner – probably around 8:00 or so – that I heard anything about the attacks.

It was a flashbulb memory, to be sure. I know that, years later, I will be able to remember the exact spot where I had been sitting when Trudy told me about the tragedy that had taken place in Paris earlier that day. I will be able to feel my elbows leaning on the table and my chin resting on my fists as my eyes, tired from the week of work that had just finished, stared lazily into space and then suddenly became laser focused.

I’ll remember the feeling of ease and relaxation that I always appreciate so much during the singing of the Shabbat evening prayer services. I’ll remember the connection between Trudy, Eitan and me as Trudy and I placed our hands on Eitan’s head to give him his weekly blessing. And I’ll remember the way my shoulders suddenly tightened and my heart sank as I heard the news.

I’ll remember wondering how it was possible that people could be inflicting such terrible pain at the same time as such wonderful experiences were being created. I’ll remember wondering how people could perpetrate such terrible acts at all. I’ll remember feeling utter sadness as I realized that I was starting to feel somewhat numb to the idea of this type of a tragedy, since I had already lost count of the violent acts that had been carried out in the few years since Eitan was born.

Most importantly, though, I’ll remember the silent determination, the internal resolution, to keep teaching Eitan about love and respect for other people, no matter what evil they might try to carry out against him or anyone else. I’ll remember that Eitan has a pure, empathetic heart that is destined to make the world a better place. I’ll remember how thankful I am to have my family and my friends around to help me try to make sense of the circumstances that some people face on a daily basis.

I’ll remember reinforcing my decision to help Eitan see the best of times, even when it feels like the worst of times.

 


1. Shalom Aleichem is a Hebrew song that portrays the singers welcoming angels into their midst to celebrate the arrival of Shabbat.

2. My notes about the timeline of the attacks came from here.