Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul: Celebrating the Power of Friendship

I just came back from a monthly Jewish group representing women from all walks of life. Tonight's event was the 4th annual "Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul - Celebrating the Power of Friendship." The first "Soup for the Soul" event I attended was back in 2008 which you can read about here, which led me to write about my Soup Memories of my Grandmother, Hinda Czernick z"l, which you can read about here.

I always come back from these events nourished emotionally and physically. Hearing other women speak about their experiences dealing with friendship is a real "mitzvah" - good deed.

Although Pittsburgh is a warm and friendly town, it has been a "dark" place for the first few years when I first arrived. I felt like an immigrant, vulnerable and alone.

And because I felt vulnerable, I didn't want to make a new friend or acquaintence who would talk about the next upcoming holiday events with her parents or who couldn't really understand me. As the saying goes, "Home is where you are understood."

I'm also not the kind of person who needs a ton of friends, even though I have more than 500 "friends" on Facebook. I just had (am still having) great difficulty meeting the right kinds of friends.

I found it extremely difficult to just meet socially-minded and smart women. Pittsburgh is a tight-knit community, and combined with the language and cultural barriers from living years in Israel with my own lack of support system, I didn't see how I was going to feel like an "insider" anytime soon. Luckily, however, our parents support our living in the States, which is big plus for nurturing both of our professional dreams and aspirations.

So, I tried everything I could: I went to Israel women's events; and when I was able to attend, they were always late at night and I couldn't get a babysitter. Plus the women changed all the time and there was no real consistency.

I tried creating my own meet-up event through one of the Pittsburgh chapter Mother Meet-Ups. I had baked brownies, procured a babysitter, cleaned my house and created a Creative Writing Meet-up. But then it started to rain, and all eight women who had reserved, suddenly cancelled.

I figured out how to work the Pittsburgh Transit Authority which Ivry and I used to meet Mothers on a Sunday. But yet, these meet-ups never amounted to something more than just an hour of fun play, that I had to ask myself, what was the purpose of the meet-up in the first place?

The first three years were a test of endurance to see if I could survive the isolation and thrive with winters. And since I also write professionally, I found the isolation was eating away at my personality, which isn't good for creating a balanced writer's life.

For a time, it seemed that the only viable route was connecting to single mothers. Like me, the single mothers I met didn't have the family support and weren't social butterflies. A few of them had children's Ivry's age, but like other attempts to create a social network, these ended in disaster.

I connect with the parents of other children in Ivry's class and while it doesn't seem to amount to much, it is something.

I continue to synagogue "shop" trying hard to avoid "cold" congregations. Case in point: My husband loves the Chabad community in Squirrel Hill and attends services frequently at the synagogue across the street. They are open, accepting and inviting.

And then, there was Candice Ward, our good neighbor, who died last October. She was a true testimony of the power of friendship. In her later days towards her death, she continued to babysit for Ivry. We returned the favors by cooking for her and sending Ivry with containers of food as her "messenger". I put bundles of food outside her door. She called us "the food fairies" which always made me laugh. She was our guest of honor at the Shabbat Friday night table. She loved Haim's potatoes and always said how Haim's chicken was so tender and better than Meals on Wheels. A poet by trade, Candice was also a scrupilous editor and often would edit my stories and poems. We would talk about contemporary female writers by Shabbat candlelight.

In a way, we nourished Candice emotionally and physically like I was nourished tonight.Still, when I pass her door, I can't get rid of her presence, but yet, I need to nourish myself with real friendships, not just memories.

Maybe she didn't realize it in the earlier days of our friendship, but she was a good friend and "aunt" to Ivry. The fact that I could always go downstairs and chat with Candice or get her advice made me feel that I had some kind of support even though I didn't know how ill she really was.

After realizing my support system had died with Candice's passing, and that other "friendships" belonged in the junk yard, I decided to make 2011 the year that I would thrive socially.

Recently, I hooked up with an Israeli-American friend, who has a very similar background to me. The nice part is she lives across the street! We share similar views, both have young children, and continue to straddle two histories, two languages, two cultures and two mentalities. We both realize that the professional opportunities are far greater here than those in Israel, which is why we both continue to stay and support our working husbands. We are both writers, think "artsy-fartsy" and both grew up in New York City.

So after tonight's event, it was hopeful for me to continue to see the cup half full as opposed to half empty. I do have a few friends and this area of my life, like this blog, is a work in progress.

I'm no longer in such a 'dark' place.

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