Coat of Fur // Was it ever really meant to be mine?

As told to Elka Aarons

I was only five years old when I first understood the glamour of wearing a fur coat. This was when my public school class reader included a story about some beneficent lady who was apparently always thus attired. As far as I recall, throughout the story, she bore no other appellation. She was simply identified as “the Fur Coat lady.”

I certainly did not suffer from any aspirations to possess such a status symbol of my own—not then or at any subsequent time in the following decades. However, the story did evoke a certain reverence for a lady wearing a coat of fur—a completely false value, of course—which all goes to demonstrate the care we should exert in choosing the reading matter of young children.

Some 30 years later, now mother of a family with a severely limited clothes budget, I was agreeably surprised and grateful when my husband insisted that he buy me a warm coat to brave the exceedingly cold winter that year in Denmark, where we were temporarily residing. We entered a chain store whose prices were known to be “very reasonable.” Lo and behold, the coat rack displaying coats of my size bore one made of synthetic fur. The price was still within the “reasonable” range.

“Let me buy you this one, Shifra,” my husband generously offered. “I, too, will enjoy seeing my wife so respectably attired. No one will know that it’s not genuine fur.”

I knew, of course, that this remark could only have been uttered by a male. Any woman would immediately discern the difference. At least I hoped that the women in my circle would recognize the obvious fake texture. I had no desire to be considered a spendthrift who spent more than we could afford on status symbols!

I could, of course, have simply replied that I preferred a plain woolen coat. (It was before the days of down and microfiber garments.) But my husband wanted to see me in that one, and who knows? Was I in fact subconsciously still influenced by “the Fur Coat lady” of my childhood literature? So the fake fur it was. And it became my sole winter coat for the following several years.

It was 20 years after that, however, when for the only time in my life, I was to be tested by, of all things, a fur coat. And this time it was real fur, probably mink—I never asked.
Life had not been easy in the interim. I was widowed at a young age, and, a few years later, when my children were settled in yeshivos and seminaries, I had remarried a pleasant ben Torah in similar circumstances. My new husband, Shuey, lived in a different city, which involved acclimating to many major changes and creating a new social circle for myself.

Though we both worked, parnasah was not easy. The expenses of our children’s education followed by the expenses of marrying them off were overwhelming. However, in our new circle these issues were the norm and I soon found my place happily in my new life.
My new social circle, however, did not include the wives of my husband’s siblings.

My husband had been adopted while still a preteen, after losing both his parents in a car accident. His adopted parents, living in a neighboring suburb, did indeed shower love upon him, and welcomed me, the incoming bride, with much warmth. Their two biological sons and their wives were also polite to me. However, they mixed with a more modern and affluent Jewish community than we did. The two sisters-in-law, Shelly and Betty, had been bosom friends doing everything together ever since their marriages over 20 years ago. They did not feel under any obligation to include in their friendship the new second wife of their adopted brother-in-law, who anyway was a member of a completely different community.

A few years into our marriage, Shuey’s adopted mother became ill, and passed away. We all joined in mourning for her. Following the shloshim, I received a special telephone call from Shuey’s adopted father.

To read more, subscribe to Ami