As a man, I will never know what it is like to be a mother. I will certainly never know what it’s like to be a Hasidic woman expected to bear children year after year and withstand the challenges and pressures of motherhood — like the ones Judy Brown described so poignantly in her two most recent articles.
But I do know what it is like to be a young Hasidic father overwhelmed by the lack of choice of a different kind.
Judy’s articles sparked heated discussion about motherhood and women’s roles in the Haredi world, with other bloggers and commenters adding passionate views of their own. This is an important and necessary discussion.
But as I was reading it all, I couldn’t help thinking of the flip side of it, a side we rarely hear about: That of the unprepared Hasidic young man. Barely in his 20s, already with one or two kids and perhaps another on the way, he realizes with a jolt that it’s his responsibility to figure out how to feed, clothe, house, pay tuition and wedding expenses for a dozen or so offspring. With zero marketable skills, limited command of English, and Section 8 slots in limited supply, his is not a burden easily carried.
And birth control isn’t an option for him any more than it is for his wife.
I remember what it was like for me. I was 21, married for two-and-a-half years, and a student at the kolel — yeshiva for married men — in our Hasidic village in Rockland County, N.Y. Our second child had just arrived, 16 months after our first. Rent was overdue. We’d maxed out our credit at the supermarket, the fish market and the butcher. A seemingly endless list of expenses was weighing us down.
It all seemed so sudden, and no one had told me that $430 a month — the amount of my monthly kolel stipend — would not suffice for a growing family.
I remember the panic, anxiety and depression that followed for a long time after, as another and yet another bundle of joy arrived. Each child was a blessing, of course. But how was I going to provide for so many blessings?
My wife sympathized, but it wasn’t her job to figure out the finances. She made the babies and cared for them. Paying for it was my job — except I had no idea how it was done.