Before Pesach, boys who are away at yeshivah come flocking home, spending time in the comfort of their homes…and with the comfort of a mother’s care. For the fourth Pesach in a row, though, Julie Goffstein’s four youngest boys will not be coming home for Yom Tov.
At some point in the middle of our conversation, I stopped Julie and told her, “You have such mesiras nefesh. Every step that you take as a frum woman…it’s probably more s’char than any of us can even imagine. Who else has to give up what you have just to be frum?”
Imagine if someone told you that you can choose between all your possessions and money or your frumkeit. If you choose to stay frum, we take it all away. What if they said: Give it all up or we’ll take your kids. It’s like Chana and her seven sons.
Except that Julie Goffstein has six sons.
And this isn’t the time of Antiochus and the Greeks. It isn’t the time of the Spanish Inquisition. Or the Crusades. Or Communist Russia.
This is Julie’s story, today in America. Listen as she shares it with me.
Hey mommy, I wanted to say hi, I wanted to talk now because there is a school shooter on my campus and we are locked down.
Julie Goffstein received this Whatsapp message from her 15-year-old son Aaron at 2:54 p.m. on February 14th, 2018, while Nicholas Cruz was shooting his way through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, killing anyone he could.
I’m safe in a closet.
That was the next message he sent her.
I’m perfectly calm, to be honest this isn’t the scariest event in my life.
“What did you write back?” I ask Julie.
“I was trying to calm him down. Be calm and positive.”
“What do you think he was referring to as the scariest time of his life?”
“He didn’t tell me, but I’m guessing that it’s this whole situation. Out of all my boys, he was the most sensitive and I know he’s really suffering. In the past, he’s tried to be in touch. ‘Mom, I’m not doing well being away from you.’ ‘Mom, I really need to see you.’ So I can only guess that this is what he’s referring to.”
This Pesach, Julie’s two oldest sons, Reuven and Yaakov, have returned home from their respective yeshivos in Yerushalayim and Pennsylvania and will be spending Yom Tov with their mother in Crown Heights.
But Aaron? It’s been seven Yomim Tovim since he was last with her for Sukkos 2014…seven Yomim Tovim since she’s even seen any of her four youngest boys. Virtually barred from communicating with her children, the messages that get through here and there are all that she has.
All So Perfect
When Peter and Julie Goffstein were engaged to be married, they spoke about the type of home they wanted to have. He had come from St. Louis, Missouri, and Julie was an only child from Toledo, Ohio. And though they had both been raised in a secular environment, they still had traditional values.
They wanted a large family and were committed to each parent having traditional roles. Peter was working in real estate development, and although Julie had a degree in education, there was never a question that she would stay home with the kids. It was what they both wanted. They moved around a couple of times during the first few years of their marriage, depending on where Peter needed to be for work. They were living in Atlanta when their first child, Reuven, also known as Jeremy, was born in 1998. That’s when both of them became drawn to Yiddishkeit.
“Single life was a party. But then when you get married and have your first baby, you think, ‘How are we going to raise this child?’”
Julie and Peter, with the help of Chabad, began their path to a completely frum lifestyle, returning to the legacy of their great grandparents, who came to the Midwest from Eastern Europe in the 1880s.
Yaakov, their second son, was born soon after, and after a stop in Orlando, the Goffsteins finally settled in the Chabad community of Cincinnati, Ohio. It was there, in a small but established Jewish community, that they set down their roots, were warmly welcomed, and quickly became pillars of the community.
It was all so perfect. In Cincinnati, the Goffsteins lived well in a new, 5,000 square foot home. Through their philanthropy, they helped with the establishment of the local mesivta and they donated the money for the dormitory. Visitors to the community would be hosted at the Goffstein home. And while Peter continued in real estate development, Julie’s responsibilities also grew along with her family. By 2010, they had six beautiful blonde-haired boys, and Julie was a busy and committed mom. Being a mother was all she knew.
Ken Goffstein is a second cousin to Peter, though he barely knew him when they were both growing up in St. Louis, as Ken had been raised Orthodox. He got to know Peter and Julie when a good friend of his, a rosh kollel in Cincinnati, told him about his relatives who had moved to town. Ken visited and the families became close.
“The boys grew up frum and I witnessed how all six of those boys were so happy. When I went to visit, I personally felt so happy. I saw how well-adjusted his kids were. I saw there was a sense of peace and family.”
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