For the last several days my social media feeds and email inbox has been full of inspiring memes and articles about inspirational women in tribute to International Women’s Day, which in case you don’t know, was on Friday March 8th 2019.
In truth, my feeds are always filled with inspiration and motivation about strong women. I have purposely curated my feeds and online exposure to include only news, and information that inspires me to reach to greater heights, professionally, socially, emotionally and spiritually. This is the first year however, that I noticed all the hype on International Women’s Day and it inspired me to look at my grandmothers and the role that they have played in me becoming the woman that I am today.
My grandmothers were both holocaust survivors. They arrive to foreign lands, the United States and England from Europe after losing almost their entire families, their former lives torn asunder. As a young child, I took for granted the fact that they got married, had children and set up homes anew. Now as a grandparent myself, I look upon them with amazement. Despite all they had suffered and experienced, they still found the stamina to start over, to hope for a better future and to trust that life will be good to them again.
Not only did they get married and have children, but they were both enterprising women and used their resourcefulness to bring regular income into the home. My grandmother, Oma, from London began baking fancy cakes in the 1970s that were highly sought after by her community. I visited my grandparents in London when I was 10 and I vividly remember excitedly running around at a party pointing out all the cakes that my grandmother had baked.
My other Grandmother, Babi, worked alongside my grandfather in his printing shop, greeting the customers and making the sales. She was the pleasant face of the store, providing the softness and warmth to my Grandfathers gruffness and exactness. At her recent funeral, people commented that they would come to the store especially to be greeted by her smiling face and warm words.
When I got married at 18, I knew that I would follow in their footsteps and have a large family. Though I was two generations removed from the Holocaust, the aftershocks of the Holocaust were still felt in the Ultra-orthodox community that I come from, and having large families was expected. It was a way of both taking revenge and ensuring the continuation of the Jewish nation.
I did not however expect to work nor to be an independent woman supporting my family. I had gone to Ultra-orthodox schools and took the studies very seriously. I had been taught that the ideal was for me to marry a Torah Scholar, have a large family and support him and the children. Being that my father had become wealthy over the years, I easily found a Torah Scholar to marry, since my father promised to support us for many years to come.
This worked well for over a decade. I had children quickly and easily and I stayed home and cared for them while my husband the Torah Scholar spent his days and evenings in studies. By the time I was 33, I had nine children and unexpectedly began to feel a deep emptiness and sadness. I was doing all I had been taught to do, supporting my husband and caring for my children but it was not enough.
I could no longer ignore the burning need inside of me to expand my knowledge and contribute to the family finances. I eventually enrolled in a college program designed for women from the Ultra-Orthodox community and found a part time job at a non-profit organization shortly thereafter.
As I began to become more independent, things began to shift in the relationship with my husband. No longer was I willing to tolerate being put down or made fun of. No longer would I run to do his bidding the moment he demanded it. I began to recognize that I am a person of worth and deserve to have a voice of my own. That my role at home was more than being a helper to my husband and children and I also deserved respect. We eventually divorced as I continued my journey of financial, emotional and spiritual independence.
As I experience the pain of my family, community and some of my children not understanding my journey, I look back at my grandmothers and the strength that they had to overcome and build their lives anew and I know that they are behind me, supporting me and holding my hands as I embark on my own journey of building my life anew.
Who has inspired you to step into your power and find your independence?
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