When Our Traditional Ideas of Giving and Receiving Get Turned Upside Down

Some thoughts about relying upon others in a time of need


By Dara Kaufman / Executive Director

Growing up, I was blessed to have my grandparents, Betty and Philip Turetsky, live close by. My grandparents were hard-working chicken farmers in Perinneville, NJ and my grandfather also worked as a dress cutter in New York’s Garment District. Upon retirement, they moved to the Berkshires to be close to us. For most of my older childhood, my grandfather would be at our house every day helping my parents in our greenhouse and flower business.

Working alongside my parents in their flower shops, taking us for ice cream, making us our favorite meals, and giving us rides to school was their way of showing us love. As children and even young adults, my sisters and I happily received the care and attention my grandparents bestowed upon us.

I was living in Israel when l learned that my beloved Grandpa Philip had passed away. There was no Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom to facilitate a virtual funeral or shiva. I had a hard time grieving alone. I remember sitting with a close friend and sharing stories about my grandfather, including telling her how he would always drive me to school when it was raining. As a child, I thought it was just a fortunate coincidence when he would show up in our kitchen on a rainy morning and offer to take me to school. It was only as an adult that I realized he came over early on purpose because he did not want me to walk in the rain.

Such is the nature of life. As children, it is natural that we are on the receiving end of care, and as we grow into adulthood, we gradually take on the role of the caregiver. The ritual of becoming a bat or bar mitzvah specifically lays out this transition from being a receiver of care to assuming the responsibility of caring for others – giving Tzedakah, caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and protecting the orphans and widows.

This pandemic has turned our traditional notions of giving and receiving upside down. People who unexpectedly lost their jobs through no fault of their own have suddenly found themselves in line at the food pantry and applying for housing assistance. Independent and self-sufficient older adults suddenly found themselves relying on adult children or community volunteers to bring them groceries and medicine. Many times over the last year, I heard a common sentiment: “I have always been the one who gives. I never thought I would be the one who needed help.” 

This past month, despite being extremely careful, my husband Ofer and I contracted the COVID-19 virus. The illness was awful, and we were both very sick. To complicate matters, our 15-year-old daughter Maya did not contract the virus. The reversal of roles between parent and child, giver and receiver, changed overnight. We were quarantined in our room, and our daughter became our primary caregiver.

As difficult as this situation was for all of us, it was especially  hard for her. She was scared for us; she was afraid that she would get it; and to make matters worse, she had to go into quarantine on the exact day that all her peers were finally returning to in-school learning for the first time since November.

Let me say that Maya was AMAZING.  She rose to the challenge in ways we never expected. For two weeks, she managed everything on her own. She attended virtual school, prepared and cleaned up meals, put away groceries, emptied the dishwasher, did her laundry, and sanitized every surface every time she used any common area.  She took care of all of us! And she was resourceful in keeping herself busy. One day I called her on FaceTime to see what she was up to, and she showed me all the rings she had made out of paperclips.

As much as I was grateful for all that Maya was doing, I felt a lot of ‘mom guilt.’ I was also surprised at how uncomfortable I first felt when friends and family began offering food and other forms of help. Like so many others, I was used to being the one doing the helping. I never thought I would find myself needing to accept the assistance of others. But the reality was that we did need the help.

Four weeks after we first fell ill, I finally felt strong enough to make a simple Shabbat dinner and light the Shabbat candles. It was an emotional experience. Staring at those flickering lights, the enormity of what we had been through really hit home. I was overwhelmed by a sense of relief and gratitude.  I also felt compelled at that moment to say the Shehecheyanu for my parents and best friends who had all recently received their vaccinations.

Later, I recited the Birkat Ha Gomel –  a blessing that expresses gratitude for coming through illness (or any trauma) and the miracle of healing and full restoration to life. While I did not recite it in the traditional public format, it was still very meaningful. I love that Judaism has these wonderful blessings and rituals to help us express deep feelings, restore our spiritual energy, and bring us back to wholeness.

We are so thankful for the many meals, flowers, calls, emails, cards from our family, friends, and community members. We are also deeply grateful for the many misheberachs, prayers for healing and recovery offered on our behalf. 

A Federation board member recently reminded me that by allowing others to help you during a difficult time you are actually enabling them to do a mitzvah. It turns out that accepting help when you need it is really a win-win for everyone. May we all keep that in mind for the future!

Dara Kaufman is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires. Shown above is an image from Dara's first post-coronavirus Shabbat.