Chava Berman Borowsky

Work above all

I couldn’t relate to other people’s struggles. I married the first boy I dated seriously at 22 years old and after my divorce when it was time to remarry I once again married the first serious guy who told me upfront that he was looking for a relationship and wasn’t interested  in playing games. I had two children, first a boy and then a girl two and a half years apart, exactly as I planned so they would still be friends but they wouldn’t fight. It was super easy to plan as I became pregnant with each the same month I stopped taking my birth control.

I couldn’t relate to other people’s struggles but I didn’t know anyone who could relate to my struggle. The issue that caused me more grief than anything else in the world was the fact that no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t seem to hold a job for more than a few months. Every single time it was a different story but always the same outcome – I once again would be out of a job and again go on a time consuming search. It started with my first job as a Teacher’s Aide when I was 18 and I was fired on April 1st with the principal telling me that “the teacher was very unhappy with my performance.” This would be the first incident which would foreshadow many more to come in the near and distant future. It came to a point where I was jealous of disabled people because at least they had a legitimate reason as to why they couldn’t work. I was also jealous of people who struggled with infertility because at least their struggle was completely out of their control and it would be foolish to ever blame them.

The pattern would repeat year after year and usually a few months before summertime I would be out of a job and I would put off searching until after the summer since anyways my kids hated kaytana, tzaharon, and most chugim. They were always overjoyed to be able to stay at home where they could play with legos, do art projects with me, and watch YouTube clips.

This all changed in 2018 after my devastating but amicable divorce. I was bombarded with one message only – it was incumbent upon me to achieve financial independence, to never God forbid rely on a man, and to be the archetype of a tough no-nonsense bulletproof independent woman. In the summer of 2019 I found a job as a bookkeeper with a nice family business where all I had was one  goal in mind: I needed to conquer my own personal Mt. Everest and prove to myself that I could hold a job for a full 12 months. My mom and my sister begged me to come with the kids to the U.S. for the summer but I adamantly refused as I had just started a new job. In the past I had already missed my brother’s wedding and a few other family functions because I had started new jobs which I was sure at the time would be long term.

The conclusion of the year of 2019 brought the Corona epidemic to China and then in the beginning of 2020 the epidemic had already spread to the rest of the world. Two of my sisters got married in my parent’s backyard that year but I missed the weddings also because of Corona and also because I didn’t want to take time off of work. I was at the 11th month mark of almost reaching the apex of my Mt. Everest when I realized that I could no longer ignore something very sinister which was taking place in my own body. 

Throughout the year my stomach had become more and more bloated and it felt as hard as a rock. I had gone to the doctor at the beginning of the summer and he had prescribed a bunch of tests that he wanted me to take, but he also said that he didn’t think it was very serious. When the doctor called me to inform me he had found an appointment for me I dismissed taking the tests as it was the first week that I had started working at my new job. Throughout the year I kept on dismissing symptoms telling myself that I could deal with any medical procedures that had to be done after I finished the one year mark at my job. It was becoming increasingly difficult for me to breathe, and I could no longer tell myself as I had done in the past that “breathing problems could be damned, I had my Mt. Everest to conquer first.” 

By the time I took a simple x-ray it was clear to any doctor that I had a massive growth going on in my stomach. The same afternoon I was contacted by the Kupat Cholim and they told me they could get me an appointment for a CT scan in two months. There was absolutely no way that I was going to wait two months and so I paid 3,000 NIS for an immediate CT scan the next day. I was supposed to get my results two days later. Three hours after taking the CT scan I was in a taxi with my kids on the way to Rishon Letzion to get my kids a haircut in a kids’ hair salon when I received a frantic call. The first question I was asked was “Are you breathing?” The next thing I was told was that I had to immediately go to the emergency room because we didn’t have too much time to wait as the cyst was surrounded with 4 liters of water which had already entered my lungs. 

It was the biggest growth that Wolfson Hospital had ever seen. It was 4.8 kg., bigger than my firstborn son who was nine and a half pounds when he was born. In addition they had drained out the 4 liters of water. The growth had doubled in size in the past two months and just kept getting bigger. Had I waited for the CT scan from the Kupat Cholim chances are I would have been dead by then.

Instead of being happy that the growth wasn’t cancerous and that all my health troubles were gone with a simple two-hour surgery I came back with a broken and traumatized spirit. I blamed myself incessantly for not taking care of the growth earlier. I was embarrassed to tell anyone how big the growth was and I lied to my siblings and parents when I told them that it was two pounds. They were shocked when I told them it was two pounds so I didn’t see how I could tell them that it was actually five times bigger. I sat on the couch and cried intermittently. At one point my 8-year-old daughter said to me, “Imma, don’t cry, it’s OK. You used to have a huge stomach and now you don’t. You should be happy now.” The last thing I wanted to do was to parentify a small child. 

Another huge issue was the fact that my body did not get the message that I was safe now and that it was OK for me to sleep. In the month preceding the surgery my body didn’t allow me to sleep to ensure that I would keep breathing. I had always been a morning person and in our household it was perfectly normal to do household chores and homework at five in the morning. Now day and night had no significance as I wasn’t able to sleep no matter how tired I was.

Forced sleep deprivation is clearly defined as torture according to the U.N. As the days and weeks turned into months of no sleep my mental health was rapidly declining. I had reached a state where I was unable to do basic tasks and all I did was fantasize about admitting myself to the hospital where I would be induced into an artificial coma and I would be able to sleep for a few weeks. I was still in a state of severe trauma where I couldn’t even read books because innocuous words like “grow” would severely trigger me.

I was in a mental state where I couldn’t do anything other than click a few times on my phone and magically a Wolt delivery guy would show up at my door with some food. The first bakery on the app opened at six and that’s when I could order something. One day the kids came to me after being at their dad’s house for a week. My son opened the door with his sister trailing closely behind. Trash hadn’t been taken out in weeks and the entire two and a half meter dining room table was covered with open fast food packages. I saw my son hold back tears as he abruptly turned around, covered his sister’s eyes and said, “Come, let’s go to Abba’s house.”

Sometimes I would walk from my neighborhood in Holon to Southern Tel Aviv and I would pass through seedy dilapidated neighborhoods. Usually it was past midnight but I knew that no matter how many hours I laid in bed I anyways wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. It was oddly comforting to be in a place with zero expectations where gender ambiguous prostitutes stood on every corner and bags of drugs were exchanged for bundles of cash quietly and without any fanfare. I was well aware that no sane woman would walk alone in the wee hours of the morning in such places but a lack of  sleep had stripped any vestige of sanity away from me. I had never been addicted to any substance but I honestly didn’t see much of a difference between myself and a non-functioning addict.

In one very desperate attempt to sleep I had swallowed a few bottles of melatonin to no avail. My body would still not allow me any respite. I then waited until six in the morning for the kiosk to open and I bought a two liter bottle of Jack Daniel’s bourbon. I promptly drank the entire bottle in the hopes that maybe now I would be able to sleep. Other than feeling a little bit nauseous it did nothing for me. It was at this point that my mom got on a flight within 24 hours and physically dragged me back to the U.S. so that I could rehabilitate with the support of my family.

With the help of a private family psychiatrist and with a lot of trial and error I found a drug which could help me sleep for a few hours. I was still visibly shaken and wounded and found it difficult to attend any family functions. I was however slowly feeling better and I could begin to function at a very basic level. I kept in touch with my kids by sending them reels and clips that I thought would interest them. My son was in seventh grade and was assigned to do his Avodat Shorashim. I transcribed to my son what to write for the section about my side of the family. When he shared his Google Docs with me I saw that he added a section about me. He very matter of factly and without any shame wrote that his mother was currently in the U.S. with her family because she was in a bad emotional state and couldn’t do basic tasks like cooking or cleaning but she was coming back in the summer.

It was also during this time that I started a virtual online relationship. I had met someone on Jswipe who I was honest with about my story and he nevertheless accepted me for who I was. He was from Mexico and currently lived in Ashdod. We agreed to have a virtual relationship until I would come back to Israel and we would proceed from there to see if online chemistry would translate into real face-to-face chemistry. After what I had gone through the most important thing to me was to find a man with a good heart who I could build a healthy meaningful committed relationship with. It was obvious to me that had I had a partner I would have never found myself in the situation I was currently in. No spouse would let their partner neglect themselves the way I had done to myself. Chava’s Mexican Boyfriend became a lighthearted inside family joke as they said they would take it more seriously after we met in person and there was some substance to the relationship.

After a year in the U.S. I returned to Israel, this time to Jerusalem, as it was important to my family that I live close to extended family members. I spent the days touring Jerusalem with my kids and resettling into the country. I had also finally met my boyfriend, Berel, in person and fortunately there was chemistry between us. We spent our first date touring the Old City and different art galleries. A few weeks later I made an official event at Sacher Park for my extended family to meet him. He was now unanimously added to all the family WhatsApp groups and Chava’s Mexican Boyfriend stopped being an amusement. A few weeks later we got married on October 6th on my birthday just the way I wanted.

The unglamorous and unvarnished truth is that I paid a tremendous price for a basic elementary human need. I have a massive permanent vertical scar covering my entire upper body. My very generous divorce settlement is completely gone after not being able to work for almost two years. In addition I didn’t see my kids for a full year. To this day I can only fall asleep approximately one and a half hours after swallowing one of the strongest psychiatric pills ever invented. If for whatever reason I don’t have the pill, it’s not even a question that I’ll be up all night. If you’re looking for a story about a protagonist who faces all her demons and where old patterns die hard please go to Hollywood for that script because that isn’t my story and I’m not going to pretend that it is. I made a commitment to myself to share my story to clearly demonstrate what happens when we are blinded by one objective. And last but not least, I’m currently on my third job this year.

About the Author
Chava Berman Borowsky grew up in Los Angeles, CA in an Orthodox community in the La Brea Fairfax neighborhood. She moved to Israel in 2008 and has since lived in Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh, Holon, and Ashdod. Her hobbies include cooking, hiking, painting, and writing.