Thursday, October 17, 2019

Reviewing: “On My Own…But Not Alone,” by Ahava Ehrenpreis. Mesorah Publications. Shaar Press, Artscroll. 2019. English. Hardcover. 320 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1422623312.

We often see the widow who lives in the house on the corner as she goes out to shop; the divorcee with three little boys in the apartment next door; the two young women who share an attic, who walk by on their way to work. They are all going about their daily lives. But what are the challenges they face, what are their feelings, their anxieties? For the moment we smile, perhaps issue an invitation to come sometime for a Shabbos meal or just exchange pleasantries as we pass on the street.

What are the thoughts and feelings of these women? “I was just widowed and I feel lost. My husband handled the car and the insurance and the mortgage and I paid the bills—but balancing the checkbook, making sure there was enough in the bank for the car payment—I never really thought about that. And I’m so lonely; I can’t get used to the silence.” A woman with young children wonders in dismay, “Succos is coming, who will take my son to dance in the circle?” The single woman living alone may be thinking, “It’s Thursday night, should I buy something for Shabbos since no one has invited me yet? But maybe I’m relieved to avoid another meal while watching someone else’s toddler or of pitying glances from my hostess and her assurances that, if I would just be more open-minded.”

Can anyone understand the challenges these women face? Are they alone in their feelings and fears? How can they understand this as part of Hashem’s plan? These and so many other issues facing women on their own are addressed in this new and important book, “On My Own…But Not Alone,” by Ahava Ehrenpreis which was just released on June 3, and published by Shaar Press, a division of Artscroll. This unique volume addresses the above issues and many others that face women on their own. It is also an excellent book for every woman to refer to in its discussion of halachot for women, the spiritual and psychological mechanisms of dealing with life as it is in reality rather than as one may have expected. The chapters dealing with legal and financial planning are geared to what married women should be aware of in these areas as well as women on their own.

The underlying question for a woman on her own is often, “Why do I deserve this pain and frustration? Should I feel guilty for resenting the women around me, who seem to have the perfect marriage, the perfect family, who are so busy shopping and cooking and planning Yom Tov? It seems as if their only challenge is how many kugels they have to make or shopping for their children.” Or the widow who thinks, “How could I have planned better to be financially secure? We were going to plan for our golden years but somehow there was never time to actually go to a lawyer and find someone to help us arrange our finances.”

Ehrenpreis began this endeavor after facing many of these issues herself when she became widowed after many years of marriage. She found herself dealing with areas of life for which she felt highly unprepared. Feeling very strongly that there should be a way to spare other women from a similar scenario, she decided to compile a guide for women and couples to prepare for these eventualities. She then realized that though particular circumstances may differ, many of the same challenges are faced by divorced women and even singles. Society stresses the value and importance of a couple, of building and maintaining a family, celebrating Shabbos and Yamim Tovim. The psychological and emotional impact of these stresses on women on their own can be devastating.

The book is divided into sections, including spiritual sensitivity, emotional sensitivity, halachic sensitivity and day to day sensitivity, each with an introduction by the author. Experts in the field such as Rabbi Yaakov Bender, Rabbi Henoch Plotnik, Rebbetzin Leah Kohn, Rebbetzins Aviva Feiner and Esther Reisman address the hashkafic challenges that a woman on her own must contend with: understanding her role in our very family-oriented society and coming to terms with a life, far different than once envisioned. Managing feelings of self-esteem and trying to accept with emunah, and even simcha, the realities of a life plan that was not one we would choose are the focus of articles by recognized and renowned psychologists Dr. Norman Blumenthal and Dr. Perella Perlstein. Therapist Esther Moskovitz writes about the psychological impact of the situation and provides coping mechanisms.

“I am eating at my friend’s house on Friday night, where should I light candles? My husband always made Kiddush and Havdala; now that I am alone, what should I do? Do I need to buy my own lulav and etrog?” The answers to these and other halachic issues are discussed by recognized poskim, Rabbi Doniel Neustadt and Rabbi Henoch Plotnik who provide a reference point for so many of these issues, though the author stresses that everyone needs a rav to deal with individual questions. Also included is a basic guide with overviews for each Yom Tov as it impacts women, which should be helpful to any woman, whatever her status. Louise Litman, a frum lawyer and an expert in the field offers guidelines and a checklist of issues and topics for women on their own as well as for married couples to protect themselves and their assets. While financial planner, Alan Eisenstein, offers advice applicable to everyone, not only women on their own.

Most powerful are the stories told by the women themselves. Marked by a “Women’s Voices” icon, these are the personal narratives of women, whether widowed, divorced or not yet having met their bashert. The individual stories’ impact on the reader is extraordinary. In her own words, each woman tells a story, unique in its details, sharing the emotional issues, coping techniques, and ultimately, her incredible emunah, finding ways to live with joy and fulfillment. These women speak out to help other women cope, but they also express how society at large can be exceptionally kind but also, inadvertently, unkind. In these narratives, written by widows, divorcees and singles of different ages, geographical locations and circumstances, a woman on her own can find validation, as well as coping mechanisms and strategies from others who have faced similar circumstances and found ways to survive and even flourish.

Simultaneously, the selections can sensitize all of us to greater degrees of awareness. Have we thought to offer a woman on her own a ride to a simcha or asked if she needed something from the store? Perhaps what we say may be painful or intrusive. Have we unthinkingly insinuated that perhaps someone is single because she did not take our suggestion for a particular match?

To quote Rabbi Yaakov Bender in his letter of approbation, “Mrs. Ehrenpreis has presented in this book..amazing wisdom on how to navigate the system...We salute and thank her for this valuable work.” But it is also a book that everyone who knows a woman on her own should read and absorb. We can cry and we can celebrate as each woman rises to meet the challenges Hashem has given her. Everyone can gain in their emunah and be humbled by the heroism of these women as they deal with and accept the plan given to them by their Creator.

By Rebecca Sapir