Story # 2 in the Home Health Aide Chronicles
On Tuesday, Ophelia informed me they were sending me someone temporarily for 2 days. A permanent homecare worker had been found, and she was going through the registration process and would start on Thursday. The temp was young and capable, said Ophelia - around my age. She was a former public school teacher. I braced myself warily - at least it wouldn't be the disaster that was Danuta and at least it would last only two days.
At 4:30 the bell rang. Who's there? A hesitant, quiet voice told me her name was Ms. Yvonne Murphy. In walked a perfectly coiffed, well dressed, tall, very shy woman. She was wearing a crisp white shirt, black slacks, and her hair was done up like she was heading for a party. She had biracial features but was light skinned (not that any of it matters; I'm just describing her). She looked, for some reason, extremely uncomfortable to be in my house. I groaned inwardly. She did not look dressed for a homecare job.
I asked her to sit down and described Dovi to her. She informed me that she was starting a live-in job the next week, and when she had gone today for her registration she was practically begged to do a 2-day job until my permanent worker could arrive. Therefore she wasn't dressed for the job, but tomorrow, she promised, she'd come in a more comfortable outfit so she could be more helpful. I showed her the documentary I made of Dovi and she sniffled. It was a little awkward; she was around my age, sitting around my pristine kitchen (Wendy had been there that day), waiting for Dovi to come home. So we made small talk.
Chaim came home, and Yvonne tried to engage him in conversation, but Chaim was unable to respond as his English was still non-existent (he has since learned a ton of English, mostly thanks to the presence of our permanent home health aide). Yvonne remarked about this and asked when he was going to learn English. I told her that they would start two years later. "You know, first they learn Bible studies; it's more important than secular studies."
Finally, Dovi was home. Yvonne did a marvelous job entertaining him, blowing bubbles for him, giving him a bath and getting him into pajamas. She seemed to enjoy working with him and I really appreciated the difference between a crotchety old woman like Danuta who only wanted to clean, and someone young and patient like Yvonne who really liked and enjoyed children. I felt a pang of sadness that she was only there for one more day, and I hoped the new, permanent aide would be as good a fit as she was.
The next day Yvonne arrived dressed in pink colorful scrubs, rolled up her sleeves, and helped me in the kitchen. We had some wonderful conversations. She showed me pictures of her daughters, Sarah and Daniella. One of them was a carbon copy of her, and the other was darker and looked like her ex-husband. She had gotten married very young but eventually divorced, and her ex was remarried. She sent her daughters to private schools. One of them had graduated and was working in a group home for disabled adults. The other one was in 12th grade. She lived in a nice Brooklyn neighborhood. I was very impressed; she seemed to live a quiet, middle-class'ish kind of life. I was surprised she had left her public school teaching job to be a live in - it was probably a quarter of the pay and none of the satisfaction. But she had outgrown teaching and wanted something else for a change. I told her I was writing for a frum magazine and showed her my articles. She chortled and said, "Just don't write about me!" I giggled - what was there to write about?
I would soon find out...
As she washed the dishes she remarked that she had been sent to an elderly woman in my neighborhood that day as a sub as well, and she was very impressed. "She is a Holocaust survivor! I am amazed by them. I helped her clean for Pesach. (She pronounced it Pe-sak)." I asked her if she liked working with the Jewish population, and joked that she was going go learn so much about Jewish culture she could almost be Jewish herself. Then I noticed, to my surprise, three Hebrew letters tatooed on the back of her neck. I asked her what the symbolism was, and she looked at me in surprise and said that it's one of many names of G-d. I was wondering why this obviously non-Jewish woman would have a Hebrew name of G-d tatooed on her neck and I asked her if she was religious. She told me she wasn't.
Dovi came home and Yvonne played with him some more. She gave him his dinner, bath, and pj's. Then it was time for her to leave, and I was suprised to find myself feeling really sad. We exchanged email addresses and hugged and both of us had tears in our eyes. I would really miss her. She was such a pleasure to have around. She wasn't lazy, was soft-spoken, patient with Dovi, and simply nice to talk to.
I emailed her the next day and told her how much I missed her. She asked me how the new HHA was working out and I told her she was pretty good. (I will write about her in a future entry.) Then my curiosity got the better of me - as it always does - and I decided to google Yvonne Murphy (obviously this isnt her real name). I didn't find her on google or on Facebook, but Sarah and Daniella Murphy both yielded results on Facebook. Sarah looked exactly as on Yvonne's picture, and she the place of employment she listed was indeed a group home for disabled women - surprisingly, a religious Jewish place. Then I checked out Daniella Murphy's page and my blood ran cold. For high school, she listed a high school in Israel. Her place of residence was a very Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood. Her list of friends, one after the other, were Jewish. Her listed religion? Jewish.
I sat there, stunned. What was going on? Had Yvonne's daughter converted and gone on to live in a religious New York neighborhood? But she was just in high school. Why had Yvonne not mentioned it? Funny how it hadn't occurred to me ask her which private school her girls went to; I figured it was probably some unfamiliar exclusive school, so I didn't bother. I clicked on Daniella's pictures. It was definitely her. She had an album of pictures, "Taking pictures of my mother." The woman in the picture very closely resembled Yvonne, and her name was "Rachel Murphy". Her hair was dyed and sleek instead of wavy and black, but it was definitely her face.
What was going on here???
Had I just had a... sister in my home for two evenings, and she hadn't said a word about being a member of the tribe? I felt duped, silly, and... terrible. I had spoken to Yvonne in a way that would feel condescending if she was indeed Jewish. I talked to her about "Passover" and "Saturday" and "the Bible". Who knows, she may have understood all the Yiddish conversations I had with my husband and kids while quietly not letting on. It was crazy.
I had to find out.
I emailed Yvonne hesitantly and confessed that my curiosity had gotten better of me and I had looked up her daughters on Facebook and there seemed to be photos of her too. Was it indeed them? Yes, she confirmed that those were her girls and her. Great! So she was not hiding; her daughters' information was public, so my next questions, while nosey and Yentish, were not out of left field. I asked her hesitantly whether it was true that her daughter - or both - were Jewish, or was I mistaken? I apologized if my question breached any boundaries.
Yvonne did not reply.
I never heard from her again.
The question gave me no rest. I contacted another Facebook friend of mine who worked in the same group home system and asked her if she knew Sarah and whether she was indeed Jewish. After a bit of undercover sleuthing I discovered that Yvonne and both of her daughters were Jewish, had grown up in the religious neighborhood they listed on their Facebook page, and Yvonne had stopped observing religious Judaism a few years ago.
I felt awful.
Why did Yvonne hide that truth from me? What was she afraid of? That I would be judgmental, ask her questions? I am totally not that type. I would never judge her for leaving Yiddishkeit. I would never try to convince her to return to Yiddishkeit. I would just have a new friend. Now I feel stupid; I would have related to her very differently had I known the truth.
It also explained why she felt so uncomfortable at first. It was like she had walked into her neighbor, a fellow frum Jew's house, and she was hiding a secret. There had been no way for me to know - she didn't look remotely Jewish to me, and she had not once corrected me when I used English words for Hebrew. I wondered whether she expected me to intuitively figure it out - especially once she explained the tattoo to me - but I didn't.
What a pity we haven't remained friends. But I will always remember her fondly.
And sorry, Yvonne... I did write about you. But not in Binah magazine... yet.