With the beginning of the new year, I found myself facing the prospect of spending Rosh Hashanah and the accompanying Shabbat alone. As I am still a fledgling cook, I scrambled (begged, pleaded) for an invitation to stay with any of my friends who would have the space, not to mention the patience, to manage hosting me for three straight days. On the advice of a former colleague, I contacted a friend who I had worked with in Jerusalem before she moved to Tsfat, and was appropriately grateful when she agreed to put me up for the duration.
My trip to Tsfat was marred only by Google’s error prone bus schedules, which left me racing from Hadera to Haifa to Acco, chasing busses that had long since ceased operations in preparation for the holiday. After an expensive, but extremely quick cab ride from Acco, I managed to arrive just as my friend’s husband was leaving for the start of Rosh Hashanah services. He had been so changed by Tsfat that I didn’t recognize him, and when he came up and said hello, I practically yelled at him about the typical Anglo requirements for personal space.
“It’s called cocktail party distance, buddy!”
Once I realized my mistake and made an effusive and embarrassed apology, he laughed off my faux pas, although I’m not sure whether this was due more to his generally congenial nature, or awareness of the self-defeating hypocrisy of facing Hashem for the next three hours while holding a grudge.
In Orthodox Judaism, when you run into a man whom you know is a father, but whom you encounter sans children, no one thinks twice, with the possible exception of Chassidim attending Uman without their sons in tow. It didn’t occur to me to wonder why my host was walking out of the door responsible for only himself, and not any of his four children. And when I run into my male friends on the street, I rarely ask more than a few cursory questions about their kids, if that.
However, throughout the course of my three day stay in Tsfat, I was reminded several times that a mother is expected to be constantly on duty, and if you don’t have your child with you, there had better be a good reason why, like aliens or rabies, or something.
The standard time lapse between first introduction and the cross-examination regarding the location of my children was approximately six seconds. The time clock does not begin when I was first asked where my children were, but rather only after, having answered, “With their father”, I was still pressed for further details, as if I had surgically implanted Waze subcutaneously.
Why do you even need to know where they are? If I’ve said they’re with their father, why isn’t that enough?! Were you planning on sending them a rush delivery holiday card?
The absolute low point of the holiday weekend came when a sweet girl, with whom I had already shared one meal, began talking about my favorite of all non-sacred places: Ikea. I confessed that I had made a few trips to Netanya to pick up things for my new apartment, but that I still was on the fence regarding whether or not to purchase a new bunk bed.
“What would *you* even need a bunk bed for?!” My dinner companion questioned me stridently. It took her about a minute to remember that as a mother of four, I might have a use or two for bunk beds. She gave a little moue of embarrassment. “Oops. Sorry. I forgot that you had kids…”
For the record, even when they are not with me, I don’t forget I have kids, and neither do most mothers who face situations similar to mine. If you should come across me when my kids are not in evidence, there is no need to ask if I miss them (as one co-worker did, causing me to label her as mentally defective). Take it as a given that I do. But most importantly, don’t overlook the fact that I am still a mother, with or without my children nearby. Their absence cannot make my motherhood invisible.