You’re Never Too Old
My parents hadn’t let me go to seminary in Jerusalem, and I’d never gotten over it
YERUSHALAYIM, SPRING 2012 An early riser, I make my way to the hotel dining room for breakfast. I’ve selected fruit, yogurt and granola from the buffet, quickly passing the croissants and pastries, and choose a corner table near a window. My thoughts are focused on planning my itinerary for the day. Today is Sunday, the 14th of Iyar, Pesach Sheini. The weather is outrageously beautiful. Okay, I’ll start with shopping in Geulah and Meah Shearim, eat lunch at my favorite Falafel Shel Shlomo stand, then I’m gonna— I catch myself as the significance of the date sets in. I may not have been in Yerushalayim this year for Pesach, but I’m in Yerushalayim now, today, Pesach Sheini. Just as in the time of the Beis Hamikdash, I can rectify a missed opportunity. I wasn’t able to daven at the Kosel a month ago but I can do so today, getting as close as we presently can to actually bringing korbanos. I go back to planning my slightly revised itinerary. First I’ll head to the Kosel to daven; then I’ll walk to Geulah, shop around a bit and have lunch. Sipping my coffee, my mind goes back several decades. *** “The wedding is off!” was the greeting I got that morning. My sister was supposed to have been getting married. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Why couldn’t my sister and her chasan just figure things out? What was wrong, anyway? As a teenager still in high school, I realize in retrospect that I was clueless about chasan–kallah relationships and couldn’t have been much help in providing a listening ear to my poor sister. All I was interested in was wearing that Scarlett O’Harastyle gown I’d ordered.
Well, the wedding took place and I got to wear my gown, but the marriage didn’t last. Just a few weeks later my sister was back home sharing the same bedroom with me again.My parents felt like failures, my sister was miserable, and I was left to entertain my younger siblings and keep everyone’s spirits up. It was not an enviable position. Feeling a little selfish, I started accepting babysitting jobs—lots of them. I also volunteered for numerous afterschool projects—chesed committee, bulletin board decoration (I can’t draw or even do block lettering to save my life), office help, tutoring—you name it, I signed up for it. The only topic discussed at home was get, get, get, despite my parents’ and sister’s hushed tones and whispers. The constant phone calls to rabbanim and lawyers only aggravated the situation. A thought then occurred to me: Perhaps it’s time to get out of this house! As graduation was drawing closer, spending a year in Israel for seminary seemed like a pretty good idea. Several weeks later I launched my campaign. Returning home from school one day, I approached my mother before the supper and homework rush. “Ma, I really want to go to seminary in Israel.” “You’ll go to Israel with your husband,” she responded immediately. I’d just lost round one. A few weeks later I tried again. “Ma, can we talk? I’d really like to have a year away from home. Live in a dorm with other girls, get to know my relatives in Israel, see the country, have new experiences…” “Stop it! G-d willing, you’ll go when you’re married. That’s what my mother told me and I’m telling you.
Abba and I have already discussed it. I even asked the rav and you’re not going. You’re needed at home. There’s a perfectly good seminary right in the neighborhood. This discussion is over.” Over for today, I thought, but there’s always next week and the week after that… Eventually it became a joke between my mother and me. “At least you have something to hate me for. Write a book about it and I’ll get the royalties” was her standard comeback. Was I ever going to let this go? Apparently not. Decades later, after I was married with children of my own and mentioned to my father that my 17-year-old son, his oldest grandson, would be learning in Israel for the coming year, he commented, “What a nice experience that is for children!” A nice experience for your grandson but not for your daughter?! My husband had offered me the choice of a sabbatical or some nice therapy to work this through. I liked the sabbatical idea. Maybe I could find a dorm that would allow someone my age to attend seminary for a while! And a book chronicling my experiences might prove therapeutic too. Write it all down; get it off my chest once and for all! I’d have to talk to Ma about the royalties. Of course, life intervened, and I didn’t get to go to seminary in Israel. *** More years passed. It was now several weeks before my fiftieth birthday. My husband and children were planning a big bash, about which I was totally clueless. For weeks my youngest daughter and my husband were hard at work on their laptops, whispering to each other and running out of the room whenever their cell phones rang.
I was asked numerous times what I wanted for my birthday. Was I brazen enough to request my heart’s true desire— to go to Israel and fulfill my long-lost dream of studying there? I didn’t have the nerve. Then the day of my birthday arrived. I was whisked away for a manicure that was to last until party time. When I returned home, I was thrilled to see the house totally transformed. A full dairy smorgasbord and a huge birthday cake decorated like a Scrabble board (my favorite game) had been et up. The dining-room table had been moved aside and the chairs were arranged theater-style. In front of the room was a “stage” awaiting some kind of performance. As friends and family began to arrive, I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. Not only did I feel special, I felt truly loved and blessed. My parents, in-laws, siblings, cousins and close friends had come from near and far to celebrate with me. At a certain point in the festivities my husband, the master of ceremonies, invited everyone to find a seat for the evening’s program. My children spoke, and I also delivered a few words to the guests. For the entertainment, an interactive improv comedy duo asked members of the audience to suggest ideas and scenarios for them to perform. They were quite good and had us all laughing hysterically for 45 minutes.
Then it was time for the final vignette to be presented. “Okay, let’s set the scene,” the actor called out. “How about a cruise?” a friend suggested. “Perfect,” said the other actor. The two comedians began their act, floating away in my dining room on their imaginary cruise ship, impersonating my husband and me. “We’re so lucky to be celebrating this special birthday on a cruise,” said the “wife.” “Yes,” replied the “husband.” “We’ve been planning this dream trip for a really long time.” “Funny, but I seem to have forgotten where we’re going. What’s our destination again?” the “wife” inquired. “Maybe to Jerusalem for a...” At that moment my husband stepped in front of the actors holding a huge certificate that read: “This certificate is presented to… Bearer is entitled to a ten-day, all-expenses paid session at the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.” Seminary! Now! At age 50! My husband had registered me for a ten-day “semester” at a seminary in Yerushalayim that welcomes adult students! It took a while for my screams of shock and surprise to subside. Maybe dreams do come true after all. “Book the trip for after Pesach and you’ll get Lag Ba’Omer in Meron too,” my husband suggested. And that’s exactly what I did. While I didn’t stay in the dorm with the girls (hotel accommodations were included in my gift), the trip filled a three-decades old void. I went to seminary in Israel. Each day I counted as a month, the full “semester” the equivalent of a year of study. I spent time with my cousins, who looked after me as if I were still 18. The bonus was when they took me to Meron for Lag Ba’Omer. Now that I’ve gone to seminary, I think my mother is expecting royalties.