Tuesday, 1 July 2008
I thought I would write a little bit about some of the jobs I have done because I have done some interesting ones.
Once when the kids were small and money was very tight I used to work as a cleaner and general mother's help for the local Orthodox Rabbi's family. I didn't really worry me doing a job like this because money really was very tight and Deborah (the rabbi's wife)used to let me do alternate afternoons and mornings, fitting in with my husband's split shifts, so that there was always someone to look after the kids.
Deborah was still only 25 but had four kids, and had another baby while I was there. She was very highly educated but had chosen to live this way and used to wear a special hat to cover her hair because only the husband is allowed to see your hair apparently. She obviously found this life very difficult because a sign outside her kitchen said 'Remember, whatever the day brings God is with you' which was the first thing she saw every morning.
Her husband was from New York and had presumably come to the distant outpost of Hull to increase the numbers. I think Deborah felt quite isolated and used to keep travelling to Manchester where there is a big Jewish community.
The kids actually had a great life and were very happy and were pretty much left to their own devices with each other to play with. Safety was minimal and the baby was once left unstrapped in a highchair from which he fell. Fortunately he was alright and Deborah had an arnica remedy for the bruises. This shows how very resilient babies are (lol) Sometimes I was cleaning upstairs and saw a small form had just scaled the the stairs on his own while his Mum was on the phone to Manchester. As I say the kids were lovely and very bright and Sara was obviously a good mother. I think if kids can come out of slightly chaotic households in one piece they turn out pretty good kids.
I used to iron the clothes for special occasions (there were many) and the clothes were expensive and elaborate. The girls were only allowed to wear skirts but this did not stop them tearing up and down on rollerblades. One little girl was called Dev-or-a leah (Hebrew for Deborah) which I think is a lovely name. They were very modest and I remember when some relatives came round feeling like a bit of a tramp because I was wearing jeans and had a bra-strap showing. They did have a tendency to start to talk in I suppose Yiddish which which they did on this occasion and I wondered what they were saying about me (lol). Probably just my imagination at work as they were always very nice to me and I used to talk to Sara a lot. Eleanor came round once to play with Devoraleah, because they were the same age, and they made quite a contrast in apperance.
I used to find the cleaning a great challenge and quite enjoy doing things like this. I don't know whether this is a foul calumny but my husband reckons that Americans are more untidy than the British (he was apparently told this by his brother who used to work in the Forces) and I used to see this at work when I used to arrive as there was literally food all over the floor as the kids used to wander about holding it and just let it drop. By the time I had finished to had all gone and was spotless. I (sometimes) like doing things like this, making order out of chaos with physical activity involved. It is very satisfying.
They ate very well and I used to peel things like butternut squash and exotic fruit and vegetables which at the time I had never heard of. The children had beautiful glowing skin and glossy dark hair, and their mother was full of old fashioned remedies like eating apple for an upset stomach. All the food was kosher and there were two separate draining boards and dishwashers for the meat and milk. I remember being worried because there was a very rickety cupboard above where I worked which was literally bowed with the weight of the dinner services needed for entertaining in the community, and spent some time calculating whether the cupboard could in fact actually hold this tremendous weight, and what action I would take if the thing started to collapse lol. I remember Sara once laughing because of my way with water (just sloshing it out of the tap) because apparently in Israel you would never do anything like that because water is at a premium. Lots of chicken soup was made and eaten (though I didn't approve of the kosher butcher). Pans of soup bubbled away on the stove while toddlers ran beneath. I think you must have a very strong faith to tolerate things like this (lol)
At Passover the house had to have a thorough clean for religious purposes so that it was totally spotless, cleaning the ovens with a toothbrush and cleaning all the skirting boards. Also I remember they had to have a special switch on a timer so they didn't actually have to do any 'work' during the Passover like switching on a switch.
I came out of the experience having the greatest respect for the family as the kids were delightful, though I did sometimes wonder if this was to Deborah's cost, and her husband did seem to spend rather a lot of time discussing the finer points of doctrine with his friends. I particularly liked the ceremony of the Sabbath when Deborah and her kids got together to pray around some silver candles to herald in a day of no work and family time.