On Shabbos afternoon we sit outside, the women in my neighborhood. Sometimes we sit on my lawn, sometimes we sit on my neighbor’s lawn. We just sit outside on those sunny, warm, long afternoons and talk.
The women, in ascending age order:
Mrs. F. is a mother of two in her mid twenties. She and her husband , who she married after meeting him only twice, moved from Williamsburg to the house next door to us almost two years ago. She dresses beautifully, is going to school to become a stenographer, and just got her driver’s license. Her husband is an architect, they both have an incredible eye for beauty, and they send their little son (the second is a baby) to a local Munkatch cheder.
There’s Mrs. S. (for clarification purposes, Mrs. S. the First). She grew up in a Modern Orthodox home the midwest and lived on the Upper West Side for several years before she married her husband at 27. After living in Israel for half a year, they decided to become Bobover Chassidim. They now have ten lovely children and aside from their lack of proficiency in Yiddish, are virtually indistinguishable from the Bobovers-from-birth in my community.
My mom grew up in Brooklyn , attended Bais Yaakov elementary and high school, became a CPA at Deloitte, and “retired” after ten years on the job to be a full time mom.
Then there’s my neighbor Mrs. S. the Second, who I’ve known since I was very young because she’s a close friend of my grandmother’s. She wears pants, doesn’t cover her hair and is one of the most generous people I know. The children of Mrs. S. the First are like grandchildren to her. She has their picture hanging on her refrigerator, and when Mrs. S. the First had her last child, Mrs. S. the Second brought the baby to the Bobover shul for his Shabbos bris. She has impeccable taste and probably has more shoes than everyone in the group put together.
Mrs. L. is probably the last steady “member.” She’s in her eighties. I’m not quite sure what her story is, but apparently her husband used to be a Conservative rabbi. She’s can’t walk very well and she doesn’t get out much, but she looks forward to sitting outside on Shabbos. She tells me all the time.
It never ceases to amaze me how easily and well everyone gets along, how conversation flows so naturally and seamlessly even though we’re all so different. It kind of makes me think that our differences, though very obvious, are in many ways superficial, and the things that tie us together are much more significant than those that set us apart. I guess there are things that every woman or mother worries about, whether she’s wearing pants or seamed stockings.
Sometimes I think that when we pass judgment on large groups of people, when we fail to judge them favorably, it’s because we’re seeing these people as a group, a large, amorphous, often menacing mass of exactly what we ourselves probably do not know. We forget that every group is comprised of individuals, real people with the same concerns, fears and insecurities as you and I. When we start looking at people as people, it becomes a lot easier to love them. And that, I think, is how change starts.