Sisterhood Blog

Sleep-Away Camp for Yiddish-Speaking New Mothers

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Reading this article on Slate, reminded me how misplaced our priorities sometime seem to be — with new moms rushed home and right back into their physically and emotionally demanding lives. A week after giving birth to my youngest, a decade ago, I was back at work (though my boss at the time allowed me to work from home for the next few weeks).

The Slate piece writes of the Latin American postpartum custom of la cuarentena, or “the quarantine,” which despite its unpleasant name and the folk customs associated with it, keeps the new mommy and baby in confinement for 40 days, optimally waited on by extended family members. The article says it sounds “like a hedonist’s dream,” until the new mother being interviewed elaborates. “Food, sex, and rest are subject to a constellation of taboos and prescriptions. Sex is a no-no.” But who wants to — or is able to — have sex soon after having a baby anyway? “Rest is mandated and traditionally facilitated by female relatives, who take over errands and chores. Foods are divided into the approved (carrots, chicken soup) and the forbidden (spicy and heavy fare).”

It reminds me of the Haredi custom of sending women from the maternity ward to a kimpeturin heim, or convalescent home for new mothers. They’re found in sizeable Haredi communities, where couples often have six, 10 or more children, and postpartum new mothers go for anywhere from a few nights to two weeks to recover from the birth.

There are four in the New York area; one, called the Seagate heim, in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, one in Lakewood, N.J. and two in Rockland County, in New Square and Kiryas Joel. “Aishes Chayil,” (also formally known as the “Mothers’ Relief Center,”) of Kiryas Joel is a 50,000 square foot facility finished in 2008 at a cost of over $11 million, most of which, according to this article, was provided by the taxpayers of New York State.

It was described in this article in a local newspaper, which wrote several articles tracking the money which paid for the center, as “opulent,” with marble floors and a giant chandelier.

Setting aside question of whether it is right for pork-barrel spending to pay for a kosher new mommies’ convalescent home, these places sound like fantasy retreat centers. As one mother posted on the website for Orthodox mothers Imamother.com, “Basically you nurse, eat and sleep then nurse again and eat again and sleep again!” In addition to the fancy finishes, Aishes Chayil is said to have a waterfall and garden, nightly activities and gourmet food.

I’m not planning another baby, but it’s tempting to consider it just to have the chance to go to a place like Aishes Chayil (even if I don’t speak Yiddish). Because even a decade after having my last baby, it sounds like heaven to me.


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