The Incomplete Place Setting

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Place Setting
10 Jul 2008

It is disconcerting for a parent to watch as our kids rush headlong towards adulthood. But this weekend I looked around and it is as though someone hit the fast-forward button on all our lives!

You see, this weekend is our daughter Ariella’s 12th Birthday, which according to Jewish Law is the date on which she officially becomes an adult, and is therefore responsible for her own conduct. This isn’t to say our job is finished… not by a long shot. But from here on in, her good deeds are recorded on her ‘account’, as are her mis-steps.

Nearly every week she has been attending the Bat Mitzvah parties of her classmates and friends, and has been excitedly talking with us about what she’s seen and what she’d like for her own Bat Mitzvah party. But we wanted to let her know on as many levels as possible that her party will be just that… a party. But her coming of age is right now… and has nothing to do with halls, bands, caterers and decorations.

Late on Friday afternoon, Zahava and I sat Ariella down and told her a story about her great, great aunt Raizel. We told Ariella about how this strong, beautiful, independent woman had been born during extremely difficult times, and how she had sailed in steerage from Belarus to the US as a child with nothing but what she could carry in her arms.

We told her how Raizel had tragically lost a husband early in life, and how she had gone on to make a life-long commitment to care for her younger brother whose already-tender mind had been permanently shattered by shock and guilt after watching the emaciated Auschwitz inmates he had helped liberate, writhing on the ground in their death throes from the sweets and rich rations he had innocently handed them.

Great aunt Raizel had been the first in the family to take Zahava on ‘grown-up’ outings to Boston… to sit along the Charles and watch the Swan Boats… to go shopping in the nicest shops… and to show Zahava how to take tea like a lady. Ariella was told all this and more about this wonderful woman she would never meet. And then Ariella received a string of perfect pearls with rich gold accents with which Aunt Raizel had marked Zahava’s ‘coming of age’.

Along with the messages of continuity and love, we also wanted Ariella to feel the joy of receiving gifts given with ‘warm hands’. You see, many of Zahava’s finer pieces of Jewelry were, sadly, given with ‘cold hands‘… not for lack of love… but simply for lack of time, when her mother passed away at the age of 53 from Ovarian Cancer.

Ariella doesn’t remember Zahava’s mother, but we have pictures of her being held by this courageous grandmother… a woman who tenaciously clung to life months beyond even the most wildly optimistic predictions of her doctors, simply so she could feel the reality of her first grandchild in her arms.

Two weeks after Ariella was born, Zahava’s mother felt she could finally let go and went on to discover that secret that is eventually revealed to us all.

I’m sure that as Ariella continues (G-d willing) to mark important occasions in her life, Zahava and I will continue to pass along heirlooms that the owners would much rather have given in person. And each time this happens, she will learn about the value beyond rubies of each of the original owners… and how we see the very best of these people in both her beauty and her demeanor.

One of the things for which Ariella and her brother Gilad are responsible each week is setting the Shabbat table. They take turns with this task and each knows the proper way to fold a cloth napkin, lay out the polished silver, arrange the china and place the crystal. They both also know to check how many adults will be dining so they can set the correct number of wine and cordial glasses.

As Ariella was putting the final touches on the silver and making sure that the settings were just so, I snuck up behind her, gave her a kiss on the cheek and whispered in her ear that she’d forgotten something. She quickly glanced around the glimmering table at the accents of azure, gold and silver, and asked me what she’d forgotten.

As the heavenly smells of roasted chicken, challah and other Shabbat treats tantalized our senses, I leaned in again and moved aside her new string of pearls so I could nibble on that delicious spot on the back of her neck (the spot I have loved since the day in 1994 when I carried her out of the maternity ward), and whispered, “You forgot to set a wine glass for yourself“.

David Bogner, formerly of Fairfield, CT, lives in Efrat with his wife Zahava (nee Cheryl Pomeranz), and their children Ariella, Gilad and Yonah. Since moving to Israel in 2003 David has been working in Israel’s defense industry on International Marketing and Business Development. In his free time David keeps a blog ( and is an amateur beekeeper.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.