It appears that some of my most recent articles have been hot topics, the first being my Dear John letter to the neighborhood I love – emphasis on the word “love.” Another article was the letter Chaya wrote to me about thinking that her dream of living life as a kollel wife has gone up in smoke because of the financial effects COVID has had on her parents’ savings and, added to that, it appeared that Chaya wanted her parents to stop helping her siblings who were already living the kollel life. “If they can’t help me, they shouldn’t help them either” is what her letter sounded like.
For both the Dear John letter and for Chaya’s letter, I have received more emails and have been stopped more on the street, in Dunkin’ Donuts, and in the Shabbos Park than I have for any other emails and articles that I have published.
My policy is always not to push anyone into any type of situation that they don’t want, whether it be with a job or with dating. Usually, I respond to the email writers, ask permission to print their questions as well as my responses to them, receive an answer, and that is basically the end. I don’t usually keep in contact with the email writers, but an exception was made this one time. With so many asking me about Chaya, or rather telling me what they thought of her email, I reached out to Chaya. The letters that the Queens Jewish Link has been printing in response to her email share the same theme: Chaya needs to grow up and live the life she wants for the right reasons and not to be the spoiled brat she sounds like and suggest that her parents withdraw help from her struggling siblings. I wanted to know if she has changed her mindset or is still thinking along the same lines and if any of the letters hurt her. Chaya responded to my email and said I can print her response to the responses her email has been receiving. I told her that I would.
Thank you for giving me the chance to respond to your response and those who have written to the “Your Say” section. I will say that I am a lot like you, because I have enough confidence in myself not to roll up into a ball and cry, because so many people seemed to think I was immature and not being realistic. But I know who I am and what I want.
Looking back now, I think I should have written my letter and signed it with a fake name or not at all, because my parents and close family knew it was my letter that was printed. My parents spoke to me the same Shabbos that my letter was printed – first my mother and then together with my father. They said they thought I was mature enough to know the truth about finances, and that is why they had their original conversation with me. But now they see that I misunderstood or was misguided. My parents said that as a young adult and “not one who lives in a cave,” I should understand the toll that COVID has taken on everyone’s life – many lost family members, don’t have food to eat, lost jobs and businesses, etc. And they considered themselves lucky to only adjust their finances and that no one in our immediate family was very sick or died. They too thought that I had a very “flippant” attitude towards COVID. They explained that some finances had to be reconsidered or juggled for now, and that my “kollel life” was only one of those that had to be reconsidered because it wasn’t happening right now, while my siblings’ lives were. They hope I become a kallah soon, but realize that if I do, that they will not be able to provide the cushion I spoke of. Maybe if it takes a couple of years for me to become a kallah, things will change; but they have to deal with the here and now. They, too, said that I didn’t have any right to dictate how they chose to help their children and grandchildren. I listened to my parents and asked questions. They provided me with the best answers they were able to, while still being “truthful and realistic.” I also received a call or two from my siblings, asking if I was serious about my parents withdrawing their financial help and if I was, how could I be that selfish. Believe me, I heard it all.
Now let me tell you what I told my parents. In high school I can name all the rebbetzins and rabbanim who kept talking about the kollel way of life and how fulfilling it is and how wonderful it is to allow your husband the time to sit and learn while the wife took care of the work and most of the worry. One teacher repeated over and over, “There is no greater gift, besides children, that a wife can give her husband than that of time to learn. Look at Rabbi Akiva’s wife.” My friends and I heard the same thing in seminary, and in seminary we would go to several families to help them live the kollel life. We babysat the children, helped with errands, etc.
If I seem misguided, then I blame the yeshivah system that drilled it into my head and the heads of all the other girls that this was the life to live. I vividly remember a classmate of mine in 12th grade ask a teacher what was wrong with marrying someone who was working or studying for a degree. The teacher said nothing was wrong with that, but asked if the classmate would realize the full sacrifice a wife can make so her husband can sit and learn if there wasn’t some hardship that came with it. She actually said, “A doctor’s wife sits in her nice house while her bank account grows and she can afford the babysitter if she didn’t want to stay home at night if her doctor husband attended a shiur or learned with a chavrusa.” A few girls in my class had a very big issue with that, and it led to an argument with the teacher. But, Goldy, let me ask you what other type of life was I supposed to even think of living, when all through high school and seminary the kollel wife was what we were told to live.
I was being realistic. I knew that one salary would not go far; that is why I spoke with my parents early on. I wanted to make sure that in case there wasn’t enough money left over at the end of the month for some essentials or even some luxuries, I would not be left wondering how I was going to pay a bill or even pay the cleaning lady – yes, I said it. Just because I’m a kollel wife, I have to work, cook, take care of the children (im yirtzeh Hashem), and clean the toilets? Once a week or once every two weeks everyone should be allowed to have a clean apartment, even if it’s just for five minutes before the children or you spill something. I felt I was doing the responsible thing. Had my parents told me from the start that they would not be able to provide a cushion, I would have known and could have decided if the kollel life was right for me. But I was not raised in a cave, as my parents said. I knew that my parents worked hard and we were able to enjoy some things that other families could not. I also knew that my parents were helping two of my siblings; so, yes, I expected the same for me.
Chas v’shalom, I do not view COVID as an “inconvenience.” I was just stating that had it not happened, my parents’ finances would not be as they are (and, yes, some of their friends and distant family members would be alive and people would still own their businesses, etc.). It may have sounded as if I viewed COVID as an annoyance, but I did and do take it seriously. I’m not a good writer, I couldn’t make my thoughts very clear on paper, but I was not trying to write about COVID. That was just a point I was making as to why things are the way they are.
For those who wrote that I am selfish, shallow, need a good talking to, go ahead and think what you will. You all do not know the whole story. You only know what I wrote. All I will share with you is that I have a partial scholarship for my occupational therapy program and my parents offered to pay for the rest of the tuition. If I was asked to contribute, I gladly would. But my parents want me and my younger siblings to save as much as we can so that when we all do marry, we have some savings to start out life with.
I have begun to rethink my plans of living in Eretz Yisrael for the first couple of years of marriage. Yes, it would be wonderful to live there, but there are some great yeshivos here in New York, where my husband can learn and I can avoid the extra stress of being overseas. And, yes, that means coming to my parents for Shabbasos, and to the in-laws if possible, but I know my parents would insist on us coming, so I have no worries that a Shabbos will overburden them.
I am making adjustments to the life I always dreamed of having, but it was only a dream put into my head and repeatedly drilled in by my teachers. If you don’t want your sons and daughters thinking that they are “entitled” to their parents’ finances, as one person wrote, then maybe the yeshivos should equally discuss what a rewarding life you can have being the wife of a teacher, accountant, plumber, lawyer, or doctor, and not set the kollel life on a pedestal for all of us to see and try to achieve. In today’s world, everything is expensive, and costs are only going up. But salaries remain the same. Is it a mitzvah to live a poor life, to literally struggle, and to worry about how the rent will get paid, and if there is enough money for milk for the baby or if I have to start mixing milk with water to save money, because that is the truth of it. I don’t want to literally struggle and worry if there is a chance that I don’t have to.
The “chance” was my parents. And I realize that many girls and guys do not come from the same type of family I do and aren’t helped financially or even emotionally. I know I’m lucky and I also know that I don’t think I was made to literally suffer. I am ready to sacrifice luxuries, but I was not raised knowing how to suffer and to live without essentials. This is who I am. I know it, my parents know it, my friends know it, and now all of you know it. Some were made for the very hard kollel life and can handle it. I am not. But I am not giving up on my dream altogether. I am making some adjustments. And that is where I will leave it.
Goldy, thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond, even though I honestly feel that I don’t owe anyone an explanation.
There you have it, folks – straight from Chaya herself. I felt she deserved a chance to respond to what others were writing (and saying) about her. Maybe some of us can better understand why Chaya thinks as she does and why others may, as well.
I want to wish Chaya and everyone else hatzlachah and brachah, along with mazal with whatever life path they choose.
Hatzlachah to you all.