Home Alone

“You know, Mommy, that if you were going away and we were staying home, it would be bayit rek,” Daniella said to me a few weeks back, the day she and Simone were boarding a plane for San Francisco.

“I hadn’t thought about that. It’ll be bayit rek indeed—for Abba and me.” With the girls gone and Benjamin living in his own apartment a few miles away, we could walk around naked all day if so inclined.

“No, you don’t get it: bayit rek is when the kids are home alone, not the parents,” she said as if she knew more than me. Which is probably true, especially when it comes to biology and calculus and maybe Hebrew. But not in this case; I understood the concept clearly. I just hadn’t applied it to our situation.

“Yeah, but do you know what we’re doing while you two will be away? We’re going to Netanya for the weekend and having a party one night. Now that’s bayit rek if I’ve ever heard it.”

People eating in sukkots in parking lot of apartment where we stayed in Netanya

“A party?” she said with an incredulous look on her face, probably envisioning empty beer bottles strewn across a room and girls and boys sitting on top of one another, or more. I nodded my head yes even though Philippe and I hadn’t discussed it yet.


In terms of my Hebrew vocabulary, the two words bayit and rek have been in it for decades. Bayit means house, a word I probably learned in third grade Hebrew school. Rek is the antonym of maleh, words I learned together in ulpan immersion classes over twenty years ago, the former meaning empty and the latter, full. But when you put the two words together—empty house—they become a concept, an idiomatic expression to mean parents away, kids home, party.

I first learned the meaning shortly after landing two years ago when our British friends were flying to London for a long weekend, telling me how their three teen daughters—then 17 and 14-year-old twins—were staying home alone. When I offered them to come for Friday night for dinner, she laughed. “No, you don’t understand, they want the house all to themselves. Bayit rek, get it?”


When Daniella and Simone first concocted the idea of flying solo to California for part of the endless holiday season in September, I had thought it excessive after our summer trip. Somehow, though, they made it happen and Philippe and I ended up with 14 days alone, in the house. A staycation of sorts. Initially I feared the holidays would be sad without them here, but then, as time passed and we began making plans, life got full.

During the first week between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, we spontaneously treated ourselves to dinner at an upscale Italian restaurant in Tel Aviv. On Tuesday, I hosted the usual yoga teachers’ practice and added a potluck lunch.

Yoga teachers' practice potluck

One morning we met my brother- and sister-and-law and nephew in the Tel Aviv shuk where we roamed through the old Yemenite neighborhood adjacent to it as if time didn’t matter. It was the start of the weekend, and we had no place to be, no one to answer to. Then Philippe and I indeed threw an end-of-summer, Sunday night pool gathering as a farewell to night swimming until spring. The next day I walked to the nearest movie theater and saw an afternoon matinee of “What Maisie Knew”, which had been high on my list.  Then, after sitting and eating in our friends’ sukkah all afternoon last Thursday, we adults decided to see “We’re the Millers” at 10pm, crawling into bed after midnight. We could sleep all day long if we wanted.  Just a couple of days before the girls were due home, we spent another late night out at a wine and cheese party in our friends’ sukka on Saturday night.


Now that our kids are 20, 16 and 14, now that Philippe and I turned 48 this past August and we celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary this month, bayit rek is starting to mean something else altogether. Something inescapable, almost ominous, as our kids—and we—get older.

During our trial bayit rek, while Philippe and I lived with meager amounts of food in the refrigerator, eating only if and when we felt like it, while we checked in with one another every morning to see who was working from home and who was away, sometimes spending too much back-to-back time (our desks are on opposite walls in the same office) and others not seeing each other all day, I began contemplating the meaning of it all. My next career move; my parents’ inevitable aging; turning 50; kids’ post-army paths and the unknown world ahead of them, culminating in our empty nest.

Holding my friend's new baby and contemplating my bayit rek

The real, full-on bayit rek will surely happen faster than we wish. There is no way to back up, freeze any of us as we are now and hold time in our hands. All we can do is hold on to one another and squeeze tightly.

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12 Responses to “Home Alone”

  1. Amy September 30, 2013 at 3:45 am #

    Beautiful piece! And glad you enjoyed the chaggim, empty nest or no!

    • Jennifer Lang October 1, 2013 at 10:18 am #

      Thanks, Amy. Hope your chagim were great too.

  2. Amy September 30, 2013 at 6:31 am #

    Nice description of the mixed feelings during an ending/beginning. Glad to be able to share it with you. 😉

    • Jennifer Lang October 1, 2013 at 10:19 am #

      Mixed, conflicted, inside out, up-down, all of it… thanks!

  3. karen Zivan September 30, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    love it!! We have been declaring bayit reik since the summer, becasue all five SHOULD be OUT OF THE HOUSE….but they keep showing up and although I tease, Im so happy they are home, and Im so happy when they leave!

    • Jennifer Lang October 1, 2013 at 10:19 am #

      Very sweet. Love the push me-pull me feelings, knowing we’re all in it together.

  4. Jill September 30, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    Bayit Rek is a beautiful thing- that is the sole reason overnight camping was invented! We have been enjoying 7 weeks of Bayit Rek for 6 summers and we savor every moment of the no cooking, limited laundry, not going to the grocery store , and on and on and on….
    I say that while I ponder how good you look with the new baby:)

    • Jennifer Lang October 1, 2013 at 10:21 am #

      You’re right. East coast Jewish summer camps provide bayit rek…. glad you get a glimpse on a regular basis. Best part of a new baby on my neck is when she started fussing, I headed out the door…

  5. Auntie Mona September 30, 2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Welcome to the beginnings of your “full-on” bayit rek, such as it is, the highs, the lows and everything in between.

    Our rabbi spoke about our wish to “freeze time” like when our kids are little and adorable and fully dependent on us, or when we are somewhere magical and what I like to call “picture-postcard perfect”, and yet we know we can’t. So, your essay here was very timely for me, todah rabbah!!!

    And, like Jill, you do look great holding that little baby.

    And, hi to you, Karen Zivan!!!!!

    auntie em

    • Jennifer Lang October 1, 2013 at 10:22 am #

      Funny your rabbi was just discussing the same thing. Call it synchronicity. I have no desire to go back in time but wouldn’t mind staying right here, now, as we are…

  6. ilene October 1, 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    Nice to hear you had a relaxing chagai tishrei; and that baby (and you) looks so comfy-love it!

  7. Barbara Liss October 1, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Lovely piece. We have been in the mode for a while now, enjoying it immensely. Suddenly, (or so it seems), we are about to reach the next level. Both daughters-in-law are pregnant! One due in January and one in March. And now, thirty three years later, a new crib will be entering our home. A wonderful cycle.

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