Wednesday, January 8, 2020

How I went from anti-kollel to being "a kollel wife"

This is a bit embarrassing. But I need to be honest. When I first heard of the concept of kollel (ie: that a man learns all day and the wife works a full time job to support), I was appalled and disgusted.
I was probably 15 or 16 at the time, and at the time, in my mind, an ideal wife/mother was one who stays at home with her children and not one who sends them all out or has a nanny with them all day. And an ideal father was a man who brings a respectable income and dedicates some time to learn, like an hour a day. Afterall, why not? He can be a perfectly good Jew who keeps the whole Shulchan Aruch and halacha and learns just an hour a day. Right? Only the truly geniuses who will be big Rabbis one day should be in kollel, and come on, how many of those geniuses exist?

As time passed, I became even more resentful towards kollel. I looked down at such couples. I just did not understand how women can leave their small babies and see them only at 5 pm, while the husband is enjoying his whole day learning.
Now, mind you all, this was extremely biased and critical of me.I did not even know of any kollel couples, except maybe a few couples from Shul - but I did not even know them! I did not know if the wife was working or how long she was working for. Here and there I saw some yeshivish people and just assumed they're all living a life of poverty life while the poor wife is just slaving away having baby after baby while doing all the cooking, cleaning, carpooling, and the husband is hanging out all day learning Torah and eating and drinking without bringing a dollar of income.
And anyway, doesn't Jewish law require the husband to support his wife and family? Isn't that Adam's curse?
And isn't that how all Jewish communities functioned for years??
And didn't David hamelech and Moshe Rabbenu and Rashi and Rambam work?
(Little did I know that Rambam was actually supported by his brother for years and went to work after his brother tragically passed away).

Gosh, it is embarrassing to admit how judgmental and bigoted I was. And this is all while dressing tzanua and attending Torah lectures for years.

Fast forward to age 18. I went off to a seminary with charedi teachers. On the first week of school, a teacher requested that we each write a letter to ourselves - of what we do and don't want to change about ourselves. So, I wrote this letter, handed it in, and received it back 10 months later - on the last day of seminary. Among my goals of what not to change were:
1. I will never marry a man who wants to learn in kollel.
2. I will never stop wearing denim skirts.

Now, nearly 12 years later, I realize that it was silly to include those things as part of my goals. But back then, it was very important to me to get married to someone who is working so that I can be home with my children, as I saw that as ideal.

In seminary, for the first time, I met dozens of kollel couples and saw their marriages and homes. I was stunned at the beauty. How gentle many of the husbands were, how helpful, how harmonious many of these marriages seemed.
I soon discovered that many of these couples were being supported by their parents. I had mixed feelings about that - on one hand, that's nice. The wife gets to be home most of the day to take care of the kids. But on the other hand, if this cycle continues to the next generation, and if their children will also be kollel couples, then how will the kollel parents support the kollel children?
I asked one young teacher about this, and she said that actually, many of these couples go back to the America after a few years and then the husband does start working.
"Hmmm" I thought to myself. "That does sound like a nice option. Short time kollel, so that the husband learns a lot of Torah, and then he goes out to the real world and brings in a nice income."

So I make a new rule to myself: my husband will learn for 1 year, while I work full time and support, but once we have a baby, I will stop working to be with baby and he will go work.

This plan might sound nice in theory, but seriously, so many things were lacking in that plan - what, the second I give birth, he will find a profession? And um, doesn't he need some kind of education before going into a profession? And if he currently has a profession while we're dating, he'll just quit and go to yeshiva?
It was pretty naive.

And as I turned 19 and entered the golden world of shidduchim and I would mention to shadchanim how I want a guy who keeps halacha 100% but also has a college degree and works... I felt almost stupid adding in "or someone who is in kollel just for one year"
well, getting set up wasn't an issue. But I started suspecting that maybe, just maybe this guy does not exist.
As one Rebbetzin told me "there aren't so many guys who work full time who are as dedicated to halacha as you want them to be."
And I did not get it. What? Why can't there be a guy who is a lawyer, doctor, dentist, psychologist, nurse, speech therapist, etc. while being fully shomer negia, fully keeping shemirat enayim, not watching any movies, not having any female friends, not having unfiltered internet, and go to minyan 3 times a day and learn at least 1-2 hours of Torah a day? And have a Rav...
(Now, I'm sure these kind of guys do exist. But I did not find them too many of them).
 Also, I wanted someone who had a college degree and valued secular education and wanted to move to Eretz Yisrael and did not want me to wear a wig...
plus he had to be attractive in my eyes and not be too much older than me and does not smoke or do drugs or get drunk...
A black hat on Shabbat would be nice. But not mandatory.
And he should know halacha and how to learn Gemara well...
as I once said to a group of friends who afterwards laughed at me:
"if I make a mistake in the kitchen, I want to ask my husband and he will know the halacha!"
Haha. Funny? I didn't laugh. I was serious.

This sounds like a long list. But all of this was important to me.
It was either this whole list or nothing. I did not want to compromise about one thing.

I remember one guy saying he has a TV. He does not want a TV but for now he has a TV. What? You have a TV?
I went crazy. I told the Rebbetzin how can you set me up with someone who has a TV?
She was appalled by my reaction and said something along the lines of "you want someone who keeps halacha but works. He says he does not want a TV after being married, but for now, what do you expect?"

It seemed that everyone was confused by me.

As I reached almost 21 and dated 20+ bachurim, I started realizing that what I'm looking is a kollel guy. But I was in denial. No, I can't support. I won't support! It's against the ketuba! It's against my values.

But I did daven a lot. And HaShem knows I was sincere. HaShem knew I wanted a holy home. HaShem knew I loved Torah and wanted a home with the Shechina in our home. I wanted to do the right thing, and this is what I thought the right thing was. I just had this kollel thing in my way.

So HaShem sent me someone who was able to turn me around.
At the time, my husband was in a baal teshuva yeshiva. But it was a modern yeshiva. He was not "black and white" but his hashkafah was very similar to mine. Torah was also everything to him.
But he planned to work after we got married.
And when I said - well, how about learning for another year? He was thrilled. Of course just one year!

Well, as the year was near passing, I started nudging, ok... how about work...
but my dear husband was really enjoying learning, and he was majorly growing, and I was majorly growing...
so we went to a Rav, who told us, if you want a home of Torah, you need to suffer a bit.
He told me about his daughter, who is a kollel wife for many years, and they struggle to put food on the table. But she is like Rachel, Rabbi Akiva's wife.
I could not accept this.
I cried.
But I kept davening that HaShem should help us have a parnassah so that my husband can keep learning.
And HaShem helped my husband not give up even one of his kollel sedarim while opening a business and while I worked part time from home, not negotiating on my value of leaving my baby alone with a nanny.

How I came to value kollel was a gradual process. It was only as time passed that I saw how much goodness the learning was bringing into our home, into our marriage, into our middot.
And that goodness was worth more than any salary.

I watched the siyum hashas haolami that took place in NY last week and really appreciated how they dedicated a section to the wives. When one of the men said something along the lines that "it gives me so much joy that when my daughter asks - mommy, where is daddy going? My wife responds 'daddy is going to learn." - that made me cry. With joy. With gratitude. That when my kids ask "where is Abba?" I say "Abba lomed." (Daddy is learning)
That is a zchut. There is no greater answer I wish to respond to them.

Kollel has brought much goodness that when my husband was offered a job that pays A LOT but would mean him learning just a few hours a day - I said no way.
If I was told this 11 years ago, I would never believe it.
I never dreamed that it would be possible to be at home and have my husband learning.

This has taught me the importance of giving HaShem my heart and relying on His never ending love, patience, and guidance to direct me. Anything is possible for Him. The question is only when are you willing to give him your heart?

G-d wants your heart

There's a line from the Gemara (Sanhedrin 106b) that often is on my mind - "Rachamana liba ba'i" - which translates to: G-d wants your heart.

Be sincere in your avodat HaShem. Show G-d your heart. Spill out your heart in tefillot, and even if you're confused, as long as you are sincere and ask G-d for help from the depth of your heart, G-d will direct you to right path.

I feel that this is very much my life story so far.

I starting becoming frum at the age of 13. I really had no idea what it REALLY means to be frum. I just knew Torah is emet and I want to keep the emet.

But I had so, so many confusions along the way. Being in a reform day school, a conservative high school for 9th grade, a modern orthodox high school, all while attending a sefardi Beit Knesset and shiurim by yeshivish Rabbis and then later on attending 2 different charedi seminaries can do that to a person.

I can say only one thing was consistent about me the whole way: I genuinely wanted to know what the right path is.
It took a lot of mistakes and confusion and frustation but BH I feel that I have arrived at the destination. I have a lot to work on, but I at least know what my ideal is. What I should be striving towards.