TAMPA, FL — When Ruthie Mandel came home for Thanksgiving break of her freshman year in college, she knew her parents were going to make her go to shul. She didn’t expect for her trip to the bathroom during the Torah service to bring back such unexpected memories, and certainly didn’t expect a basket of tampons to inspire such nostalgia.
“I guess it’s just, after being away, you see things that you had stopped noticing because they were just part of the background for so long,” Mandel explained, after noting that the small wicker basket with a yellow ribbon around it was sitting in the same corner of the bathroom counter as it used to back when she was like 5 and used to sneak out of services during the haftorah with her friends Leah and Sami to sit under the sink and put tampons up their noses because they didn’t know what they were for.
Mandel walked through the nursing room connected to the bathroom, which she and her friends used to call their “Clubhouse.” She recalled never knowing what the room was for and being confused when a woman who was actually nursing would kick them out.
“It just feels like, over my gap year and my time in college, I’ve changed so much, so it’s weird that everything at home is the same,” Mandel said, in response to noticing that the hand sanitizer in the basket is the same nasty-smelling pink one that it used to be when she, Leah, and Sami would use it to give themselves “massages” because their feet hurt from their little girls’ high heels that their moms made them wear every week because they cried and begged to get them for their cousins’ bar mitzvahs but then they never wanted to wear them again.
“I mean, I’m basically an adult, and I think it’s still the same off-brand maxi pads sitting here,” Mandel said, pointing to the feminine products, which have, indeed not been touched since before the shul got the new progressive rabbi and all the older members split off to form their own congregation right down the road. Mandel remembers this as the time the old people finally stopped yelling at her for making paper airplanes out of the weekly pamphlets, but the desserts at kiddush stopped being good for a few years (which didn’t stop her, Leah, and Sami from craftily stealing some before the grown-ups were done praying.)
“In a way, it’s nice to know that some things will always stay the same,” Mandel expressed, as she popped a peppermint that had been in the bottom of her dad’s tallis bag since she stole it from the hotel during her now 25 year old brother’s bar mitzvah.