It was Friday, on a balmy spring morning, and I was standing in line at the checkout counter in Rockland Kosher Supermarket. My cart was overflowing with groceries which would add up to a pretty penny. I was, however, the grateful recipient of food stamp benefits, and one swipe of my precious plastic card would cover the cost of my bimonthly food shopping trip. Nonetheless, I had chosen carefully, scanning the sale aisle for bargains, wanting to make the most of the government’s assistance. I loaded my items onto the counter and waited patiently for the cashier to add them up.
“Delivery, please,” I said. One hundred and fifteen dollars and sixty-three cents was my total. I confidently handed the cashier my food stamp benefit card. “Your food stamp balance is zero dollars and zero cents,” read the receipt. I stood there for a moment, not knowing what to do. “Please step aside while I put your order on hold and ring up the next customer,” said the cashier. I obediently stepped aside, racking my brain for a solution as to how to pay this bill. Please, G‑d, I thought, help me put food on my table.
Out of nowhere a well-dressed, kind-looking woman appeared. She smiled and said, “I can lend you the money, and you can pay me back at your convenience.” Thinking of my family’s wellbeing, I put my dignity in my pocket for later retrieval and nodded my assent. She handed her credit card to the cashier and waited while the transaction went through. I provided the delivery boy with my address and turned back to my benefactress to obtain her name and telephone number. Not seeing her, I scanned the store and the parking lot outside. She was nowhere to be found.
I walked out of the supermarket with a lump in my throat. Her kindness had opened up a torrent of emotions that for the past twelve months had been held in check. I quickened my pace as the tears began to flow, heading toward a quiet side street where I could cry in peace.
Exactly one year before, my husband had walked out on me, leaving me to care for my three children. He left me a note, saying that he no longer wanted to be tied down. From one day to the next I was thrust into a world of uncertainty. I had three beautiful daughters, ages three, six and nine, who were left fatherless and confused.
The years preceding this event had not been ideal. Soon after my marriage, I noticed that a large sum of money was missing from our joint bank account. When I asked my husband about it, he was evasive. That incident was the first hint that something was wrong. It took another few years to realize that I was married to a man who was addicted to gambling. He was slowly destroying his finances, himself and his family.
I consulted experts, did research and pleaded with him to go for help. But it was to no avail. When all our resources were depleted, he picked himself up and left.
I turned to government funds to help me stay above water and provide for my children. I turned to social services and became acquainted with Medicaid, food stamps and welfare. I enrolled in a part-time college program, and the kids—though saddened by the loss of their daddy, who wanted nothing to do with them—slowly began to heal. Slowly, my life returned to something resembling normalcy.
Although on the outside it appeared as if I was doing well, deep inside me there was an unbelievable rage which did not abate as the weeks and months rolled on. The abandonment of my husband meant the abandonment of my Father in Heaven. The losses of my childhood resurfaced and threatened to engulf me.
During the lonely silence of the nights, I would relive my childhood memories, picturing the day my parents were killed. I, an only child, was left an orphan. I was sent to be raised by an aunt. Although my aunt and uncle were well-meaning people, they were rigid and controlling. At the age of thirteen, my bedtime was still 8:00 PM. A sleepover was absolutely out of the question, and many of the privileges my friends enjoyed were foreign to me. My aunt would monitor my phone conversations and all my extracurricular activities. As I had an independent personality, this created friction, and I yearned for the moment when I would be set free.
As I moved through my teenage years, I secretly dreamed of the day when I would have a place I could truly call home. At the age of twenty-one, I was introduced to Leib. Leib was gentle and kind. He was loyal and principled, and we shared the same vision of building a fine Jewish home together. I was genuinely happy and looked forward with great anticipation to our future together. Nothing prepared me for the pain ahead.
When I first discovered that “Leiby” was addicted to gambling, I naively thought that we would work through this problem together. Little did I know that Leiby was not going to allow himself to be helped, and that he would fall into a depression and eventually leave me.
During those years of trial, I fervently prayed to my Father in Heaven to save our marriage. I desperately wanted my precious little girls to have a solid, stable home. The day Leiby left us, I began to function on two levels. While I marched forward, taking care of business and reconstructing our lives, my inner world was in turmoil and my faith was slowly eroding.
That Friday morning, in Rockland Kosher, an angel appeared out of nowhere, bringing not only a box full of groceries but a message full of love. It was that Friday that I renewed my relationship with G‑d, feeling strongly the sense of caring and security that accompanies the knowledge that He continues to hold me and my children in His arms.
I felt ready, at last, to move forward and reconnect with society. I accepted a longstanding invitation to the local rabbi’s house for the Sabbath meals. Friday, before sunset, I prepared the candles for lighting. The Sabbath table was covered in white, and my children were dressed in their Sabbath best. The candles shone bright, lighting up their innocent glowing faces and warming my soul. And as I stood there, I contemplated the day’s events.
A food stamp card that didn’t work, and a fellow human being who reached out to give without a second thought, combined to open my heart and reunite me with my Maker. G‑d has many ways of reminding his children of His loving presence. For me it happened at Rockland Kosher.