The Charedi Playground

We Weisbergs affectionately call it “The Charedi Playground.”

And it’s one of our favorite Shabbat afternoon destinations. Every Shabbat, it’s packed with Charedi be-peyosed boys and be-stockinged girls from the big, poor, Yiddish-speaking families from Mea Shearim down the hill.

My kids enjoy all the slides and action, and I get to relax and read and enjoy the afternoon breeze. What could be better?

So that was where we were headed when I ran into Cythia with her baseball cap, deep tan, and shining green eyes.

Cynthia needed directions, but then we started talking, and talking, and she ended up as my bench companion at the Charedi Playground for the afternoon.

Cynthia told me that she comes from one of South America’s wealthiest Jewish communities. Her children have classmates who are driven to school in chauffeur-driven Mercedes and are even accompanied by body guards. Incomes and school tuition are as sky-high as the intermarriage and assimilation rate.

“Don’t think that I’m jealous of the wealthiest families in our community.” she told me, “I’m not. Believe me, they have as many if not more problems than regular families. In fact, I feel sorry for those wealthy families.”

Over the past few years, Cynthia told me, she had been becoming closer to Judaism. A year before, the Chabad rabbi had koshered her kitchen for the first time after 18 years of marriage. And she had started attending a Modern Orthodox shul where she was the only woman in the whole women’s section. But still, she explained, she had a very long way to go in terms of observance.

“I want desperately for my kids to stay Jewish. I want them to marry Jews. But I am terrified for them. I send them to a Jewish school, but most of their classmates will intermarry, I am sure of it.”

And Cynthia turned from me to the Mea Shearim kids running all around us with a wistful smile. She then looked over at one mother surrounded by a crowd of children and said, “Are those all her own children? Is it possible? Yesterday I was at the Kotel for my son’s bar mitzvah, and I was crying. To see all those Jews praying together. To see all those Jews connecting with G-d, to see such a strong, Jewish way of life.”

And for a moment, I saw those Mea Shearim children through Cynthia’s eyes.

I saw her remembering her children’s assimilated classmates.

Children who have everything. And have nothing.

And I saw her looking longingly at those be-peyosed boys and those be-stockinged girls.

Children who have nothing. And have everything.

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2 comments

  1. yes, yes, and more yes! being raised in wealth and privilege does have its drawbacks. for one, it is very easy to lose sight of what’s really important in one’s life.

    when i was pregnant with my first child, i literally panicked when i thought about the chances that my children would marry jewish. that’s when we got off the fence of “coming close to frumkeit” and actually doing it. i totally understand where Cynthia’s coming from. may she and all of Klal Yisrael always be blessed with a strong and loving connection with Hashem.

  2. Chana Jenny – this is one of your best. You brought me right into the playground with you, in fact, into Cynthia’s head.

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