Uzit Schneersohn of Kfar Chabad speaks about the two minyanim of children she brought into the world. She describes the hardships, how she handled things, as well as the joy and health that are granted to the mother of a large brood. * Presented for the holiday in which children are the centerpiece, “When your child will ask …”
By Rochel Haramati
It’s probably happened to you that you go shopping, to the dentist, or are waiting on line for something and like the typical Lubavitcher, you start talking with the person next to you. The baby you hold helps break the ice and one, two, three, a nice conversation develops and you have a wonderful opportunity for kiruv.
The question is soon asked, “Is that your first?”
When you answer, “No, the tenth,” the conversation comes to a screeching halt. She looks at you with surprise mixed with confusion, or astonishment mixed with admiration, or wonder mixed with concern, and once again, you need to break the ice.
Then you go and visit a Lubavitcher friend and when the two of you are sitting over a cup of coffee and catching up with one another, she says she would like a break and it’s too hard and expensive, and it’s accepted now. And then you ask yourself, what’s going on here? I don’t get it!
The Rebbe’s approach is clear and well-known. The Rebbe spoke so much about encouraging large families and about the enormous benefit of bringing another Jewish child into the world at large and particularly into the family, and the hastening of the Geula. He negated any thought of family planning!
You would have expected that—unlike the person you meet somewhere or in your place of shlichus, who is not yet a Chassida, which is why she expressed her lack of faith and her shock over the size of your family—at least your friend the Lubavitcher should know what the Rebbe said. At least she should be wanting a large family and view it as the most natural and normal thing.
Well, there are all kinds. There are many wonderful women whose way of life is in accordance with the absolute truth of Torah and Chassidus, whose desire is to bring more and more children into the world, who see each additional child as a fantastic gift from Hashem, who don’t stop thanking and praising Hashem for this.
One of these women is rather famous. She is Mrs. Uzit Schneersohn, mother of 20 children, boruch Hashem, and grandmother and great-grandmother to numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, kein yirbu.
When you were a girl, did you already picture having such a large family?
Not at all. I didn’t think about it and did not imagine it would be this way. But as they say, “With the food comes the appetite.” I had my first and looked at her and wanted more. And if you can manage with two, then why not more? I did not want to interfere with G-d; I preferred putting the time I had into raising my children rather than baking another cake or cleaning the house some more.
During hard times, did you consider taking a break?
After my second birth, I was in the hospital for a month and a half because of a pelvic fracture, a rare medical condition, one in several thousand. The doctor said that I couldn’t have more children! Aside from the tremendous pain I would suffer, it would be downright dangerous. I did what the doctor said but became pregnant anyway. I went back to him and he said I should immediately abort r”l. I said, “Excuse me, I cannot do that.” I could not destroy. It was clear to me that every child is a huge gift from G-d. So how could I be an ingrate and give him back the gift?
I said to my husband, “There is a doctor and there is a Healer of all flesh who does wonders.” I felt a strong connection to G-d at that time. I prayed a lot and boruch Hashem, our Yossi was born.
Over the years that followed I felt healthy. I was able to get around and to function and I was grateful for every additional child. There are women who wait for a child for 20 years and I merited to have 20 without waiting, so I do not stop saying thank you to Hashem.
After my eighth birth, I suffered tremendously from thrombosis in my legs. I went to a top doctor who told my husband, “If she continues to give birth, it is dangerous and you can start looking for another wife.”
I thought that life is more important, and I had children waiting for me at home, so I started a medical treatment that the doctor recommended which made me feel horrible! I felt that I would kill someone, G-d forbid. I stopped it and begged Hashem, “If you give me another one, it should be a healthy pregnancy.” Boruch Hashem, our Shmulik was born and everything was fine. Of course I did not neglect myself; I had my legs treated and I took natural remedies that helped me recover. I carried on.
Now I look at them all and say: Hashem, who could I give up? Each one is an entire world with ambitions and amazing accomplishments and a wonderful legacy. It is literally the revelation of the Ein Sof within the nature of creation.
How does one manage financially?
We had to adjust ourselves to the children’s needs. Parnasa is from heaven. One can be without parnasa, G-d forbid, with one child and another has 20 children, and each one has what they need. They may not have had all the luxuries of the latest styles and lots of toys, because I simply did not find them necessary. I wanted them to live properly, and that they should get along socially. A child can sometimes find a paper and crayons, or a pot and ladle that are given with a smile, more enjoyable than a battery operated fancy car that runs on its own all day and makes their natural creativity wither. You can take simple things that don’t cost anything and make children happy with them.
The main thing is to remember to say a good word and to listen to them, and then you will see how they can be happy with just about anything. Aside from that, we know (as it says in the HaYom Yom) that Jewish wealth is not found in houses and money but in children who are educated in the way of Torah and mitzvos. So it is obvious to us that we are rich and we feel happy!
They are close in age. Did they miss out on personal attention?
I don’t think I could give more attention to children than what I gave. The nursing period was great. Those hours were restful and the children knew that Ima is in her room feeding the baby and not to disturb. When I saw that a baby was a little hungry, I added almond milk which is the closest to mother’s milk. I would soak the almonds, peel them, grind them in the blender with water, and strain it through a cloth diaper. The pieces of almonds that remained on top I ate, and I gave the almond milk to the baby.
How did you do everything – the laundry, cooking, childcare, housekeeping, and in such quantities? Did you get help?
There was no money for help, so Hashem helped us understand what is important and what is trivial, because perfection is impossible. We are not angels and we cannot manage everything! From the time my family grew significantly, this thought about important and trivial was my guiding light. Although by nature I am neat and clean (to the point of ironing sheets), I had to forgo things for the sake of that which was more important.
Every morning I ask myself, what is the most important thing to do today? What is the order of priorities? And I do that first. Even if I managed to do only three out of ten things, I am satisfied, grateful and happy, with the three. I see the cup as half full. I didn’t manage this, but I managed that. Joy and gratitude create a wonderful atmosphere in the home, even if the home is far from being organized, but I am good with it. My children never ate off dirty plates and today it’s easy with disposables; it’s a great solution.
It’s really not easy, even though it’s the best thing. Those to whom order and cleanliness are important, should take help; it’s important. It’s part of the expenses of having children. We rely on G-d who does the best for us.
When was it the easiest time for you?
When Yedida and Nediva (the oldest girls) began helping me.
What age was that?
When Yedida was 3. The first help I remember well was when I asked her to help me hang the laundry. She would hand me item after item. Do you know how helpful that was, instead of me bending down? As they got older, they helped more. I didn’t burden them, but all help was appreciated. After the tenth child things got appreciably easier, because the older ones helped raise the younger ones. After the 20th child, you’ll laugh, but I really wanted another child. Could it be I was done?
In addition to having your own children, you have done a lot and are still active in convincing women not to abort. What do you say?
There was a long period of time when I went to every department at Assaf HaRofeh hospital. I went with Penina Yisroel and with other women and we really made an impact. Then we would go to the bris and they would say, “This is Uzit’s baby boy.”
First I spoke about myself. Then I exposed them to other insights, such as that G-d does not ask of us that which we cannot do. What do you choose – to clean windows or raise a Jewish child? To develop a career or hasten the Geula through drawing down another soul from the treasury of souls?
I always say and it’s tried and true, “From this child that you are thinking of aborting, you will have much nachas! What a terrible pity to lose good, wonderful children. And if G-d forbid you abort, it will be on your conscience for the rest of your life. It depends on what you want, on what you are looking for in life. Life is limited in this world. Maybe by aborting you managed to keep your looks and get to doll yourself up every morning. Is that what you are going to take with you to the heavenly court, or are you going with mitzvos and good deeds? Or, as we put it nowadays, with what will we go to greet Moshiach? With lipstick or a baby?
When the husband finds a larger family difficult, what can be done?
My husband was an educator and a very special person. He always knew how to introduce creative ideas and enthusiasm into everything and raised them with lots of fun. When Moshe would come home from work I would complain that it was hard for me and I need help. I meant he should help me out in the house. What he understood of what I said is that it’s hard, and after ten children, having more would be too hard. The neighbors also pitied me and let me know that ten is enough.
When I realized that, I made a switch in my head and stopped complaining entirely. I did what I could quietly. I learned to forgo things and to know that it’s possible. Despite my orderly nature I forwent order in favor of giving attention to the children. Moshe would come in and say, “Oh my, what a balagan (chaos).”
I would say, “What’s the problem, the door is open!” and he would laugh.
My mother a”h would come and say, “Leave the children and make some order.” I spent more time with the kids, listening, giving attention, watching over them, but I have no doubt that it is far better to raise children in an orderly home. The chaos bothered them and still bothers them, but they have to understand that they have one mother and she isn’t an angel and whoever wants order, should make order.
What should women do if they yearn for children but were not blessed with them?
They should help those with children! I grew up in a home with seven children. We had a childless neighbor. My mother would let her come down every morning and help us; apparently, she liked doing this. A woman who helps with a large family is a partner with them, and women with children should not be ashamed to ask for help. If a woman does it happily and feels good about helping, it’s a mitzva for her and for us it’s so helpful.
Your career as a grandmother started very young, while you were still bearing children of your own. Did your grandchildren feel the love of a grandmother or was that impossible?
The grandchildren don’t miss out on having a grandmother. They feel there is another person who loves them, they have a grandmother who is interested and who smiles at them; they don’t need more than that. It doesn’t matter that I gave birth along with my daughters and daughters-in-law – that goes together excellently. There are those who think that there needs to be a space between raising little ones and having grandchildren. People plan … We don’t need to plan anything. The planning we can leave to our Boss. There is a baal ha’bayis in the world, blessed is He, and He is the best planner there is for us!
I thank G-d for my health, that at my age I still get around and am active. Most of my friends are already in wheelchairs with lots of medication. Giving birth is healthy for a woman, healthy for the world, healthy for everyone. There is nothing more important. Whoever can, should grab this amazing gift with both hands.
We need to constantly give thanks. That’s how we start our day and how the rest of the day ought to go. Laughing is healthy! It’s good! I discovered that, long before the era of laughter therapy and workshops. Come and visit me and you’ll see chaos. I help my children with the grandchildren and it’s really nonstop, but boruch Hashem, there is a lot of joy.