From the COLlive Inbox:
It is Friday afternoon, and I still don’t have a place to eat for the Friday night meal. I go through all the options in my head, and discard them one by one. I ate there last week, I go there too often, I recycle the same places regularly, and while I am grateful to all the kind families who host me, I want something new.
My friend from out of town is coming to Crown Heights for Shabbos. She invites me to join her at a meal arranged by Miri Lazarescu, Sema Marks and Breindy Gottlieb geared towards post-seminary single girls in conjunction with ‘In the Heights’.
I don’t know much about this program, but I am hesitant to go because I probably won’t know anyone there, or if I do they are probably girls I used to know in high school, with whom I have not spoken to in year. It feels like if I join, I am labeling myself as “single”. I think about all the things that define me. I have many talents and interests, there could be a group for girls interested in art, or acting, or graphic design, or writing. Why must we all be lumped together as one because we all share the same ‘single’ status?
But my friend will be there, it will be nice to spend time with her, and well- why not.
The meal is taking place at the Machon Chana building, so we follow the signs and end up outside an apartment, from which sounds of a shul in progress are emanating.
My friend is not sure that we are at the right place, but a kid pushes the door open and inside I see chairs, and a few women davening. Suddenly there is a woman at the door motioning us inside, and I feel welcome. She looks so familiar, and I find out that she is Mrs. Labkowski, who runs Machon Chana. She is also the mother of my high school principal, Mrs. Wagner, and I am flooded with warm feelings. The shul is small and intimate, and I feel like I belong here.
After davening, Mrs. Labkowski passes around a sicha and she gives it over. I listen, and I miss it, it has been so long since I last learned a sicha. The topic is so relevant. It is about the Elisha Hanavi, and the miracle that he performed for the widow of the prophet Ovadiah. She is poor, and the debt collector threatens to take her two sons away as payment. Elisha tells her to find whatever she has in the house that is of value. All she has is one bottle of oil. Elisha tells her to get as many empty vessels as she has around the house, and fill them with oil from the one bottle, and miraculously they all fill to the top. She is able to pay off her debtors, and support herself and her children with the leftover oil. Mrs. Labkowski spoke about Jews who may be far from yidishkeit, but no matter what they still have a pintele yid. She spoke about how hard it is for girls to keep up their standard of chassidishkeit after high school and seminary, to keep doing mitzvos and finding meaning in them. She said, you must keep pouring the oil in, do the mitzva even if you feel no meaning, and eventually you will feel that it is meaningful. I felt understood, justified. Here is someone that is saying, it is okay wherever you are in life, you are never too far, there is hope for you and you can always grow and become a better Jew.
After the uplifting shiur, we go across the hall for the meal. There are so many girls there, some faces I recognize, and lots of new ones. I start getting nervous when my friend and I cannot find two seats together. I feel uncomfortable sitting next to new people, but my friend does not like my suggestion to ask two girls to move over so we can sit together. So I sit down alone next to a girl I don’t know, and think about going home.
I am pleasantly surprised when the girl sitting next to me ends up being nice and funny. We find things to talk about, we have similarities, and my earlier good mood returns. The meal is really nice. The food, which was cooked by a voluntary committee of girls, is tasty and just like homemade food. It feels so nice to be having a meal with lots of other girls, and it brings back fond memories of high school and seminary.
There are two Rabbis here with their families- Rabbi and Mrs. Daniel Green, who recently moved here from Florida, and Rabbi and Mrs. Zushe Wilmowsky. They both take turns saying Dvar Torahs, and a few girls share thoughts on the parsha. The Rabbis leave the room to give us a chance to sing, and I remember how singing at shabbos meals or farbrengins was always the most enjoyable part for me.
Mrs. Labkowski speaks about how the program ‘InThe Heights’ was born. She wants to fill a need in the community, to create a place where single girls can come to learn, to socialize, and to have fun. She wrote a letter to the Rebbe, and got a bracha for girls to congregate together and the importance ofprogramming for young women ready to set up theirhomes. They are in the process of building a lounge for this purpose. They plan to make more Shabbos meals like this one, as well as weekly Friday nightfarbrengens, shiurim, motzei Shabbos recreational activities and other programs. Mrs. Labkowski is a genuinely warm person, and I can see why so many women and girls are attracted to her program.
It is so beautiful to see all these girls getting involved, volunteering to take charge and arrange a meal, to create a place where girls can come and socialize, bond, and learn from each other. I was wrong. We are not all here because we are letting out “single” status define us. But rather, as peoplegoing through the same stage in life, this is our support group, a family that is chosen. A place where we can learn from and empower each other.This is a place where I would want to come to.
It is my sincerest hope and wish for all frum single girls that they not remain single for long. But in the meantime, In The Heights is a great program, where girls can get involved and use their talents for good. Mrs. Labkowski has a vision, and with brachos from the Rebbe, and all your help, it will very soon be a full-fledged reality.
To learn more about In The Heights, or to offer your talents, contact In The Heights at:[email protected]