It was a shmiras halashon group thing, organized by her gan, and Princess was really excited to be doing such a big girl thing. It was Friday night, and I had just lit the candles. Her hair was long and damp and smelled like strawberries and she was wearing her purple head band with the bow. Her dress had a waist and she held her head high when I dropped her off. An hour later, salads made, table set, food warm on the hotplate, I was a little worried. My husband walked in from shul with 84,000 guests, and she still wasn't back. "Are you sure they said that they would drop her off?" he asked me over the clamour of everyone finding seats to their liking and the baby discovering his vocal cords.
"That's what the note said. But it was in hebrew, so I might have made that up. I'm gonna go. Start shalom aleichem, and I'll be back as soon as I find her."
I left the gate swinging open as I ran out into the street. It was dark, and getting chilly.
It only took a couple of minutes. She was walking towards me. Her hair was dry. She had lost her headband.
"Ima, it was so fun. We sang and sang and then I said we could have it next week at our house and they gave me a wafer but it's a little melted so I have to change."
"Sweety, where are you walking from?"
"They walked me to the top of the street."
The top of the street. We are at the bottom of the hill.
You weren't sc--you were okay? You walked back by yourself?"
"No, Ruthie's mommy saw me and maybe she thought it was a mitzvah to walk me back, so she walked me until I saw our house and then she left and then I saw you."
"They dropped her off at the top of the street in the pitch black and left her! She's five!" I said to Outdoorsman later that night in a furious whisper.
"It's really crazy." He was quiet. Then he laughed. "It's Israel. Five year-old Israelis take their younger siblings to Misrad Hapnim and argue with the clerks over the delay in the paperwork."
"That's not funny. Okay, that is funny. Stop being funny. They dropped her off in the middle of the night five minutes away from her house! I'm moving back to America."
"Home of the Sanitized for your own Protection."
"Yes! Where five year-olds get walked to their front doors! Like they should!"
That kind of thing happens around once a month. I intend to pack a suitcase and get our passports in order. Then something else happens, like a friend will call from New York and complain about the vocabulary that her daughter is picking up from her friends with TVs in Bais Yaakov, or how her eight year old needs to wear a pencil skirt, and I know that I need to stay here, in my wonderful little apartment with my blissfully fashion-ignorant little girls who think that "shakran!" is the baddest word ever.
I remember asking my older sister, when she lived in Irael and I was still single and in America and a D-centered teenager why she lived in Irael. And I was angry. "Why do you live there? We need you. Ima needs you. Abba misses you. The boys need a role model and you get married to this great guy and then leave?"
And she explained about kedusha and about the needs of your husband and the little family that you created coming before your siblings and parents and how I would understand when I got married.
I explained myself to my mother a couple of years ago when she said, "But if Outdoorsman gets a job...that's means you're staying there. Right?"
I tried to explain how I felt about living here, but I also had so many doubts that I was pretending not to have because my sister had always sounded so sure. It came out in a jumbled mess, a tangle of words. Halfway through the ideals of lower happiness thresholds and not living in a fashion parade, I petered off. "Um, how does that sound to you, Ima?"
"Like you're a little confused." She laughed a little.
I laughed, too. "I am. A little confused."
"That's okay. You'll work it through."
And I did. And she misses me and I miss her and it's so hard, sometimes, to come back home and see my father so much worse and my siblings needing a role model, and we come for a few weeks and then flit right back out of their lives? The teenage me would have been furious at the now me.
So we spoke to Rabbi Orlofsky. Are we being selfish, living here? My brothers idolize Outdoorsman. Wouldn't we be more of a help over there?
"So you're gonna be the savior of your families?" He smiled.
No no, not so dramatic, just, you know, are we more needed there? And it is hard living here, too. Everyone is so black and white. And they drop off five year old girls in the pitch black--but the point is, Rabbi, that maybe we are supposed to be there for them, back home. Not here.
Rabbi Orlofsky was quiet for a minute, thinking. Then he said, "No. How do you know how you would be in America? Do you think that you could stay the same that you are now? You live here, in this kedusha, where people want to be and want to raise tzadikkim and it makes you into a beacon of light, into a role model, into people that they want to be like. No, I think that you do much more for them by living here then you would be able to do living there."
I'll have my ups and downs. I'll have my days where I want to go back without even packing a suitcase--they miss me, they need me, we are out of zip lock bags and deodorant and a five year old girl should not be walking home by herself--!
But for our anniversary, my mother sent a card. She sent some money, which is terrific and awesome. And she wrote, "I'm sorry that I cannot support you financially, but I want you to know that I'm so so proud of you. You're living the life that I would love to live."