Survivor’s Guide to Working Motherhood and All of Life’s Challeges

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What better way to come out of my blogging hiatus than to discuss the perils of a “working” mother? I put “working” in quotation marks to reflect that I believe every mother is a working mother. That said, a woman who works- particularly full-time, particularly set, inflexible hours has a layer of potential stress that can be damaging if not considered properly.

For me, I feel tired. Mostly in the wee early hours of the morning and in the early evening hours when I get home from work until the time my head blissfully rests on my beloved pillow.

To be fair, I think my husband who is (thank God!) working, studying (CFA exam), learning Torah, praying in synagogue daily, and has family duties here at home may be just as tired as me. So this is for men too though I’m pretty sure men won’t voluntarily read this. Anyway…

This is my challenge. I’m tired. My body hurts. I just don’t feel like getting up to prepare dinner, brush and floss tiny teeth, clean the house, or make lunches for the next day. Worst of all, I wish I did! It’s a blessing to have a home and frustrating to acknowledge that it’s hard to do what’s required to maintain that home.

If I had a personal genie (and in my personal prayers), I would and do wish for the energy and time I need to accomplish everything I want to- and have to- do.

Again, this is my challenge.

Other people have other challenges.

My friends who are searching for their soul-mates are struggling to make sense of why they haven’t found them yet and fighting the burnout that goes along with boring, dreadful, or non-existent dates. They are wading through the murky waters of suitors’ superficial preferences and prerequisites. They have to filter the myriad of bad advice and negative comments they hear from so many around them including family, friends, and matchmakers.

This is their challenge. (May they find their happily ever after spouses soon, at the right time)

I have friends struggling to conceive, feeling out of place in the child-centric communities we have built.  They long for a baby to call their own, a child they can help guide and nurture….a family. Despite themselves, they grow hopeful and positive and their disappointment often turns to despair every month.

This is their challenge. (May they fill their home with many healthy, happy, successful children)

I have friends who are in a constant state of panic over money problems or perceived money problems. I have friends who are bored all the time and feel that life is devoid of pleasure or purpose. There are people battling failing marriages, special needs or difficult children, unhealthy relationships, and serious medical issues.

We all have our challenges.

It’s interesting to see how different people respond to challenges. Some seem to rise to the occasion while others get crushed by the burdens.

Here are my new top seven mantras/rules/aspirations for navigating through every (exhausting) day. Please add your own to my collection so I can have an even ten or maybe some universal ones that would work for any challenge!

7. I will make mistakes. Sometimes really embarrassing ones that immediately invoke regret. It doesn’t look good or feel good but it’s reality so I might as well embrace it.

6. Banish Guilt (Part One) Saying no is better than saying yes sometimes. Even when we have to turn a good deed down in order to focus on our obligatory deeds. (On that note, even if I’m not up to reading a bedtime story, I can still tuck them in and do bedtime rituals with love. Still passable, right?)

5. Banish Guilt (Part Two) My house does not always need to look perfectly clean and neat. Dinner doesn’t need to be better than eggs. Sleep trumps homemaking.

4. Asking for help is profoundly necessary. In the form of a spouse, child, family member, friend, babysitter, housekeeper, or (if you’re lucky) all of the above.

3. Compare myself to no one ever. Compare my family and friends to no one ever.

2. Wash everything away except for this very moment and soak it all in. It might be messy sometimes but it’s always glorious!

1. Thank God for the blessings in THIS moment.

We are all united through our various challenges and life can change so quickly that we may as well appreciate the whole picture- imperfections and all- instead of waiting for the next chapter of our lives.

Soon By You!

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Looking over the shoulders of fellow dancers, I just barely saw my friend’s shining eyes, her glowing face and perfectly curled-and-set hair. I couldn’t help but reflect her broad smile as she straightened out her lace white bodice and wiped the sweat from her brow.

“Aw, don’t worry!” A loud voice boomed over the blasting live music, shaking me out of my trance. “You’ll get there! You’ll get married too!”

Huh? I wasn’t sure what motivated *Rebecca who knew me as an occasional Shabbos (Sabbath) guest in her home to approach me. I quickly composed myself and grinned in her direction. “Thank you” I responded, trying to look gracious instead of shocked.

I turned back towards my friend, the bride, and tried to refocus myself in the moment but it was tough. I had never voiced my desire to get married to this woman. She knew I was working and enjoyed my job. Why in the world would I be absorbed in myself instead of rejoicing in my friend’s happiest day? And yet, in the wake of Rebecca’s comment, here I was, analyzing and growing increasingly self-aware of my single status.

Being single, when I stepped back to think about it, was a little lonely. I felt I was missing something, something vague. I didn’t know his name or his personality or what he looked like. I felt he was unattainable both in thought and in reality.

Still, with all that, I felt fulfilled. My job took up so much of my time and lent meaning to my life as I was able to connect and reach out to fellow Jews through my work. My evenings were often filled by events that I had either recruited for, created, or planned. Shabbos was tough, trying to figure out whether to travel and stay with someone or keep things very low-key with bakery challah, deli and a good book in my apartment.

I asked a rabbi/colleague of mine, “Do you think it’s okay that I’m happy not being married?” and he smiled and reassured me that I was emotionally healthy. A different rabbi, unaware of that conversation, called me into his office and declared with concern, “You can’t be married to an organization”.

I had dry spells when there was not a single mention of the opposite gender for weeks- months- on end. Other times, I found myself juggling more than one suggestion. Three weeks, three dates, three minutes- various times were required to sum up that “he” was just not for me. There was no consistency and I found dating a drain on my energy, my time, and my money (hair, nails, and clothes ain’t cheap).

More makeup, less makeup. Bigger hair, straighter hair. Skinnier, and…well, skinnier. The superficial expectations were taxing whether meeting men or meeting women who could introduce me to men. (Being totally honest, there wasn’t much expectation in the way of internal growth. As long as I could be polite and generate pleasant conversation, I felt little pressure. Any character development I took on, was for me alone.)

I wasn’t an old single by most standards but I reached a point of balancing annoyance against gratitude with every mounting “Soon by you!”.

Of course, when very close friends announced their engagement, a shrill unrecognizable voice in the back of my mind reminded me that with each passing day, I was falling behind in the Great Race of Life.

Still, this friend, at this wedding, I never felt we were in competition. She was someone I met and connected with only a couple years prior to her wedding. Sweet from the first time we spoke, I felt unbridled joy for this joyful bride.

So, as I worked unsuccessfully to shake off Rebecca’s well-intentioned and insensitive guarantee of my imminent betrothal, I paused for a beat. I should remember this moment, I decided. When I am married with children (if I ever do get married), I will never get too caught up to speak without thinking and forget how I felt when I was single.

 

 

 

 

 

*Name changed to avoid Lashon Hara, negative speech.

Mourn, Fast, Pray.

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When I was in college in Manhattan, I didn’t sleep much. Shopping for trendy clothes, listening to urban music, cramming for tests, social scenes at night- there weren’t enough hours in the day. I was intensely focused on doing well in school and attending the best parties. Work hard, party hard. I took it seriously.

I would occasionally take a train to Philadelphia to spend a holiday or Shabbat with Rabbi and Rebbetzin Kamenetsky, sheyichyu l’orech yamim tovim aruchim (they should live long, good days). What a treat it was. The moment I entered, an alternate universe surrounded me where dignity, integrity, and kindness seeped through every interaction and decision.

The polarity between my lifestyle in New York and my experiences in Philadelphia was stark. It struck me when I entered their house; it struck me when I entered my dorm.

That same polarity is what I experience when I go about my regular day, and then stop to stare into the photograph of the faces of our martyrs. They never chose to be kedoshim (martyrs) but apparently that fate chose them.

 

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For those of us who knew or had exposure to these kedoshim, or know their families, the news is particularly painful. These men exemplified such incredible Jewish values, not least of which included moving away from their native, familiar countries to live in Jerusalem.

A volunteer from Zakkah  who arrived on the scene to clean up the sickening mess said he’d never seen anything comparable at any other terror site. Bloodied tefillin (Jewish phylacteries) and siddurim (prayer books), these murderers acting with unfathomable brutality in a holy sanctuary brought back visions of photographs this volunteer had only seen in Holocaust museums.

My teacher from Neve, Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller writes that her daughter, Miri, called her at 7:00am saying her son, Mordechai, had just came home from shul. “He said that Arabs came in and are shooting, and that a man with an axe is hitting everyone. Some of the people threw chairs at them, but it didn’t help”. You can read her beautiful words and full account here.

What can our collective reaction be? I deeply desire a reaction as I bounce back and forth between my “regular” day and thoughts of this tragedy.

How should I react? What can I do? What can anyone do?

I keep asking these questions to myself and I know many ask them as well. While I refuse to look at photos or video footage of the bloody massacre, I have read many posts of friends expressing their thoughts about the tragic events. After reading, I have concluded that first and foremost, we mourn. We mourn the husbands and fathers who died. They were all Jewish leaders, in their own right, and they were slaughtered for being Jewish. Unarmed, in prayer, unprepared, they died. Their wives widowed, their children orphaned.

Second, we pray for the recovery of those who were wounded. An hour ago I received this email:

Just got this: from Israel!!!!!
Please stop for a minute and pray urgently for Eitan be-n Sorah – it is URGENT. He is hanging between life and death. The murderers chopped him on the head with an ax and he is in a life-threatening place right now.

We are unified, our little Jewish nation that has withstood so much, in prayer for this man and the other men in similar straits.

So we mourn and pray. What else?

I have seen a couple of very positive ideas including collecting charity for the families of the kedoshim. Another insight circulating was to work to build ourselves internally into better people.

For the readers who know this world to be run by a compassionate Director, what can we do other than mourn, pray, and try to do good things?

What ails our Jewish nation, communities, individuals, selves that we are here?

How would you like Israel’s leadership to respond? Fight back? Do nothing? To what end?

Jewish history appears to run in a strange pattern where we find overwhelmingly dark times befalling the Jewish people that snowball into a Holocaust. We also find equally dark times plaguing the Jewish people that end, like Chanukah and Purim, in miracles and victory.

In the case of Chanukah, a spiritual threat was fought with a physical war. In the case of Purim, a physical threat was fought with a spiritual war (fasting and prayer).

Perhaps mourning, fasting, and praying are our last and only hope.

For those of us who struggle with feeling fully connected spiritually (me), this isn’t an easy conclusion.

To our mourners, we mourn with you:

“Hamakom yenachem eschem b’soch she’ar aveilei tzion v’yerushalayim.” 

May God console you, together with all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

To the wounded, we pray for you.

For our nation, for our country, for our children, for our future: We mourn. We fast. We pray.

Orthodox Women Talk: Round 3

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Exciting news! The highly acclaimed blog series, Orthodox Women Talk, is happening right here and now! I’m so thrilled to host this third edition of engaging panelists below (who I’ve never met before) as we all share with you our perspectives to readers’ questions. Please email me at rachel.s.eden@gmail.com if you’d like your question or suggestion to be considered! Ok…let’s do this!

 

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Teeny Tiny Disclaimer: Opinions below do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog.

Reader writes: I‘d love to hear something regarding your favorite way to infuse your lives with Judaism. (Kosher food, Tznius, Shabbat…etc..)”

 

TALI SIMON

I have to admit that I was confused when I first read this question. To me, saying that I infuse my life with Judaism makes it sound like my Judaism is separate from the rest of my life: there’s home life, and work, and seeing friends, and then there’s also my Judaism. But that’s so far from the reality.

Judaism is my life and I couldn’t separate the two if I tried. Some of the basics: I live in Israel, where every daled amot (let’s just call that every four paces) that a person walks equals another mitzvah. Add to that the fact that this year is Shemittah, when we have the opportunity to eat produce suffused with holiness — seriously, we’re talking about holy guacamole (check out chabad.org for lots of information on Shemittah and what it involves). My family is also lucky enough to live in a religious yishuv (settlement), where having a Torah-infused life is just the most normal thing in the world.

I spend most of my day taking care of my kids. That would be valuable for anyone, Jewish or not, but as a Jew, there’s more under the surface. Whether I’m changing diapers, playing in the park, or doing something “obviously Jewish” like singing Modeh Ani with my toddler — it’s all part of raising the next Jewish generation, the people who will keep on keeping the mitzvot and teach their kids to do the same. As a Jew, my day is not just about me, and not even just about my kids who get the bulk of my energy, but also about all the future generations. Not that I’m thinking about that every time I change a diaper, but still.

When I’m not with my kids, I’m working, and in that area there’s also no separation between life and Judaism. As a freelance writer and editor, I choose my clients (and I can turn down a project if it isn’t right for me), so the material I work with is Torah literature, Jewish history, or related to Judaism in some other way.

Do I walk around in a holy haze all day, feeling super spiritual every single second? No — there are times that I feel especially connected, but in general, a normal day is a normal day. It’s just that my “normal” is very, very Jewish. So what are my favorite ways to infuse my life with Judaism? I guess everything!

Tali Simon is a writer, editor, and food blogger living near the Dead Sea. She loves to cook, her skinny husband loves to eat, and their two kids are rather unpredictable. Check out Tali’s vegetarian recipes, weekly menu plans, and stories about life in Israel at More Quiche, Please.

 

REBECCA KLEMPNER

​One of the biggest influences on my day, from the time I was still a child until today, has been ​saying the prayer Modeh Ani when I wake up in the morning.

First of all, it reminds me that it’s a gift just to wake up in the morning, because some people don’t. And it reminds me that G-d can hear me even if I can’t see Him.

Later on, I learned that when the prayer ends with the words “raba emunatecha” (“Your faithfulness/reliability is great.”), it indicates not only G-d is faithful and reliable, but that if He awakens us each day, it’s because He believes in US. He feels we are important, that we have a job to do today and the means of doing it. There’s hope for us yet!

I find this very comforting.

At a certain point, Modeh Ani and the Bedtime Shema were the only prayers I said every day. And yet they reminded me that there is a singular, unique G-d; that He loves me and listens to me; and that I’m a Jewish person. Starting the morning with Modeh Ani brought a “Jewish” energy into the rest of my day. As I grew in observance, it became a reminder that everything I do in the day can be transformed into serving G-d. If I pick modest clothes, eat kosher foods with the proper blessings, greet people with a smiling face, choose to learn a little Torah instead of waste my time, I draw that G-dly energy into the rest of the day.

I once heard that someone stayed overnight in the home of Rabbi Noach Weinberg, z”l. When Rav Noach awoke in the morning, he bellowed out this enthusiastic Modeh Ani that you could hear from the next room. He was definitely a man who looked forward to serving G-d each day. I use this story sometimes to remind myself that each day is an opportunity to do good and be good, even if occasionally I just want to crawl back in bed for a couple more minutes of shut-eye.

I also sing Modeh Ani to my children in the morning, very softly, in my first attempt to wake them. (It doesn’t always work. 🙂 ) I think it’s a lot nicer than an alarm clock.

Rebecca Klempner is a wife, mom, and writer living in L.A. Her picture book, A Dozen Daisies for Raizy, appeared in 2008, and her short stories and essays have appeared in publications including Tablet Magazine, Binah, Hamodia, and Ami. Her current serial for teens and tweens, “Glixman in a Fix,” appears weekly in Binah BeTween.


MELISSA AMSTER

I infuse my life with Judaism by baking challah. I love the process of making the dough, braiding it, and then enjoying the way it smells as it bakes and then cools. Sometimes, my kids will mix the dough and then braid with me and they have such a good time. Other times, I’ll have friends over to braid challah together. I always say prayers for people as I’m kneading the dough. The next day, I share a loaf of challah with a friend or neighbor. This came from Loaves of Love, which Chabad started up after the murder of Rebbetzin Rivkah Holtzberg in Mumbai, as she used to give challahs to everyone in her community. I feel it’s a nice way to continue to honor her memory and it also helps me feel more connected to the women in my community. Of course, the best part of baking challah is eating it on Shabbos. I can taste all the hard work and love I put into it.

Melissa Amster lives in Maryland (DC Metro area) with her husband, two sons and daughter. When she’s not reading and interviewing authors for her book blog, she works for a Jewish non-profit. In her spare time (what’s that?!?), she likes to watch her favorite shows on TV, bake challah and desserts, and host meals and other gatherings. Check out her personal blog and follow her on Twitter.

 

SKYLAR BADER

I’m a nerd, so it’s no surprise that my answer would be books and ideas. I try to always be reading something Jewish. I’m always in the process of reading about 20 books, so that’s not hard!

But since the suggested ideas were more “physical world” things, here’s my physical world application of Judaism: social justice. I know, you’re thinking, “OMG who let a reform Jew in here?!” (I’ve gotten that awful reaction before: “social justice” is a perversion of Judaism created by reform guilt (since “tikkun olam” is considered one of the major tenets of the reform movement). Seriously? Orthodoxy may have many disagreements with the reform movement, but the importance of humanity and helping people should not be one of them.)

Tikkun olam, social justice, being a good person, whatever you call it, it’s important to me. I add a lot of time to my day by taking the time to treat people as betzelem Elokim (in the image of God), whether that’s…

  • Listening when I don’t want to
  • Letting the aggressive driver go ahead (even though he’s totally in the wrong!)
  • Being patient with strangers when I don’t have the time
  • Responding with a real answer when someone asks “how are you?”
  • Doing that chore that I know the other person should totally be doing instead of me (not pointing that out is actually the hard part)
  • Speaking out when someone at a Shabbat table says something racist
  • Advocating for serious Torah education for the women with the time and inclination
  • Advocating for feminism, religious freedom, against racism, against sexism, and in any other way that recognizes the betzelem Elokim in others
  • It can be as simple as taking the time to explain why you can’t help a stranger with directions (“I’m sorry, I don’t know this area well. Good luck!”), instead of just yelling “Sorry!” out the side of my mouth as I run down the sidewalk. Or worse, acting like they never spoke at all.

It bothers me that so much of orthodox society is machmir on tznius, machmir on men’s hats, machmir on women’s haircoverings, machmir on where you’ll eat or not eat, machmir on what colors are “allowed” to be worn, machmir on what school you’ll send your kids to, etc, but not the interpersonal mitzvot. There’s been intermittent public discussion about curbing lashon hara, but it’s always aimed at women (oh how those women talk!) and in the most childish of ways sometimes (everything’s pink because we know you ladies LOVE pink!).

I want to be machmir on interpersonal mitzvot. And you know what? I think the interpersonal mitzvot should apply to non-Jews as well. Another way I’m being machmir and/or making up halacha. (If you’re new to this idea, most of the interpersonal mitzvot only apply to Jew-Jew relations, such as the laws of speech, colloquially known as lashon hara.)

It’s hard, and sometimes I’m not good at it, but I’ve seen tremendous growth in myself. And I’ve seen how others react differently to me. Even strangers seem to recognize me as having a kind face. Sometimes it weirds me out that my behavior can apparently make my face look different in a way that’s obvious to a stranger! It’s amazing how much people appreciate when I treat them as tzelem Elokim. Especially in NYC, we can feel invisible and meaningless, and when a stranger is willing to sit and listen to your problems sympathetically for 20 minutes at the pharmacy (without dictating how to fix those problems), that’s huge. And boy, did I regret it as the woman just kept talking, but I knew I actually had the time (if I was being honest with myself) and she seemed to need the talk. I like to think I was able to bring some shalom bayit to her and her husband, or at least some release for her. It’s a gift to them, and it’s also a gift to me in the long run. What’s the Jewish word for karma? 😉

The really hard part? Being machmir on respecting others when you believe that person is harming others, via word or deed. That’s an art form, and I’m still fingerpainting. The biggest example for me: confronting people who say racist or other disrespectful things at the Shabbos table or other social events.

Of course, maybe one day I’ll be a parent, and all this patience and kindness will go right out the window.

Skylar Bader is an orthodox convert living in New York City. She wears many hats, which you can check out at www.skylarbader.com. She blogs at crazyjewishconvert.blogspot.com, teaches conversion candidates and kallahs, and is also a lawyer for small businesses. Originally from the South, she has four pets and an addiction to books.

 

EMILY CHILUNGU

There are a lot of ways that Judaism has made my life (and the lives of my husband and kids) a lot richer and more meaningful.  Judaism takes the everyday and elevates it, makes it special, and living an observant life pretty much puts Judaism into every area of your life, from what you eat to what you wear to how you structure your week.  But two areas–which are closely related–where we have made the extra effort to clearly incorporate Judaism, and where Judaism has had a enriching effect, are kindness towards the creation and an appreciate for it.  I know that isn’t as clear or concrete as modesty or kosher or Shabbat observance, but it’s a major part of who I am as a person and as a Jew and who we are as a family.  For us (I say us because my husband also feels this way), being in nature and seeing the beauty, complexity, and astonishing variety in it is the best way to tap into that awe that we should have for the Creator of it all.  Synagogue and prayers from a book are tough for me.  When I get a chance to pick up a prayer book, I just keep looking at the clock or counting the pages–I admit it, when it comes to structured prayer, I am lousy at it.  I don’t feel much when I am in synagogue, beyond the wonderful feelings of community and friendship with the people I am with, but when I go out into the woods or paddle around in my kayak or spend time with animals, it’s there that I really feel the presence of G-d and appreciate His creation, and in turn appreciate Him.  Before I was Jewish, I didn’t think much about where all the world around me came from.  I grew up in a more rural place, and had natural beauty all around me, but it was just there.  I enjoyed it, I loved it, but I didn’t see past the science or just basic pleasantness of it.  Since becoming Jewish, and acknowledging that there is this Creator behind it all, it adds a layer of wonder to everything.  The Torah starts with the creation of the world, and I always took that to drive home the point that first and foremost, G-d is a Creator and an artist and we are part of that creation.  That’s something I think we forget sometimes.  It describes the world and all that is in it as very good.  Not just alive or there or neutral or a backdrop or unintended consequence, but very good.  Judaism tells me that while there is certainly a wonder to the world that can be tapped into through appreciating the aesthetic or the biology behind it, there is also a goodness, a rightness to it that runs deeper.  Nature is like a little glimpse of this great Divine wisdom.  So it’s a two fold benefit–because of Judaism, I see a new layer of beauty in nature, and because of nature, I am able to appreciate G-d.  My husband and I really try to impart that feeling to our kids because we believe it will enrich their own Jewishness.  We are very fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the country (seriously–upstate New York is pretty cool), and access to some really stunning places is easy, and we take our kids on adventures as often as we can because we want them to know that G-d doesn’t just dwell in the synagogue, and He is not just accessible through pre-written prayer.  He’s also out in His creation, and that creation is so wonderful and beautiful.  It’s not all just a lovefest, though.  Along with that appreciation there is a responsibility for it.  We are to be stewards (sorry, while that word always strikes me a weird, I can’t think of a better one!) of this place, and we have to take care of it.  When you see G-d’s hand in things, and you see life in things, you begin to want to treat those things as precious, which they are.  So we are big on kindness and care when it comes to the things that G-d designed.  In addition to getting the kids out into nature, we also get them involved in tzeddakah for local animal shelters and food drives for the less fortunate.  Don’t get me wrong–anyone can, and should, do these things.  You certainly don’t have to be Jewish, or even religious, but for us, for me, Judaism has added a deeper meaning to these things.  Like I’m not just doing it because it is the right thing to do, but because I want to do it, because it satisfies a need I have to feel a connection to this huge creation that I am a part of and share a bit with.  Wow, I’m sorry this is kinda nebulous, but I hope that answered the question of what my favorite way to infuse my life with Judaism is.

Emily Chilungu is a 35-year-old mother of four. She is observant Jewish convert married to another observant Jewish convert.  She’s from rural Ohio and currently lives in upstate New York.

 

RIVKI SILVER

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I’ve found that my role as a mother of small children makes infusing my life with Judaism both harder and easier.  While the many physical tasks I do to take care of the house and my family can serve as an excellent distraction from all things spiritual, it’s really through my children that I most integrate Jewish thoughts and rituals into my daily life.

The first thing I do with them in the morning (assuming I wake up before them, that is!), is go into their room and sing Modeh Ani with them.  The modeh ani I sing with them is way more involved than the one I mumble to myself when I get out of bed, so it’s like I’m getting a do-over, which is awesome.  Then we ritually wash our hands (and also brush our teeth).  At breakfast, we make brachos over our food and I try to mention from time to time things like how making a blessing over food is our way of thanking Hashem for providing us with food.  We have a marble jar that I use as a reward program, so when my children do a mitzvah, usually one related to interpersonal relationships or manners, I’ll put a marble in the jar.  They get a prize when the jar is filled.  At bedtime we sometimes read books about midrashim, or other Jewish stories.  I try to slip some mussar into bedtime stories when I have the presence of mind to do so.  And we say Shema together before bed.

And in addition to the active education I’m trying to give to my children, I’m also keeping in mind that I should be modeling the kind of behavior I want them to emulate.  So it’s a dual program of teaching and living which is filling my life with Judaism.

Now I’m going to go do some laundry, which is sure to be a more spiritual experience now that I’ve taken the time to think about spirituality.  Sweet!

Rivki Silver has spent most of her life immersed in the study of music, but for the past six years has been learning about marriage and motherhood.  She writes about relationships, parenthood, music and religion, as seen through the lens of an Orthodox Jewish woman.  Her writing can be found on Kveller.com, Aish.com, PartnersinTorah.org, as well as her blog, LifeintheMarriedLane.com.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

KESHET STARR

The great thing about being frum is that so many details of your daily life are naturally infused with Judaism–from what you eat to what you wear to what your calendar looks like. But, especially as someone who’s been observant for a number of years already, it can be hard to continue to practice with the same intentionality and joy as you had at the beginning, all the more so if you’re sleep deprived and tired! My solutions for this are to try to approach the prep and planning I do for holidays, Shabbos, etc, with a lot of joy, even if I have to “fake it till I make it” in the beginning. I also try to listen to classes and read Torah books when I can so that my observance doesn’t feel like something I do by rote, but something alive and growing. in recent years, it’s also been very exciting for me to see my children learn more about Judaism and to share in their natural enthusiasm!

Keshet Starr is an Orthodox wife and mom who works as an attorney and moonlights as a scrapbooker, blogger, photographer, baker, reader, writer, and lover of all things creative! She lives in New Jersey with her fellow-attorney husband and two young children. When she isn’t taking care of her to-do list, indulging in a hobby, or sipping a hot latte, she likes to think about the deeper things in life and connect with others. Keshet blogs at www.keshetstarr.com and Instagrams at @keshetstarr.

RACHEL EDEN

Rachel

My absolute favorite way to infuse every aspect of my life with Torah and spirituality is reaching out to other Jews, kiruv. While I do teach Judaic studies in a day school, my most inspiring and energizing moments come when I’m teaching and connecting with college students and adults alike. Exposing Jewish people to the richness of their heritage, discussing Jewish values in contrast with Western values, conveying Torah’s timeless wisdom as applicable, vibrant, relevant…these are a few of my favorite things! I consistently walk away from classes and dialogues more inspired than I walked in and feel closer to God.

Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky has said that the time to act Jewish isn’t daily or weekly and it’s not monthly or yearly either. We can’t place Judaism in a box and take it out when praying or learning or for a holiday. Being Jewish has to permeate every moment of our lives. We are Jewish when we’re driving our cars, waiting in line, on an airplane, talking to our spouses privately, disciplining our children, interacting with colleagues or clients. There’s no off-switch. This concept is particularly meaningful to me since it demands us to heighten our awareness and consciousness in all aspects of life. Framing stressful situations as growth opportunities has enhanced my life and the atmosphere in my home. Developing a strong work ethic plays well in my personal relationships, in my job, and when relating to myself and  God.

In addition to trying(!) to living consciously and teaching, I love hosting Jews from all walks of life at my Shabbos table. If the goal is to expand ourselves as people and be a source of blessing, what better way than to expand our hearts and our homes?

When working on campus, I was astounded by the number of students who were embarrassed to be labelled “Jewish”. I was asked to refrain from asking a student if s/he is Jewish on campus in case friends of the student would hear! The words of Rav Noach Orlowek stick with me: Our differences are either a source of pride or shame. It is incumbent upon us to personify the dignity and beauty of a Jew so we can be a shining examples for our children and the people around us.

The reality of hosting Shabbos meals, teaching, and generally reaching out is that you know the people around you are watching your behavior as a testimony of Torah’s truth and wisdom. For all orthodox Jews, this is true, but those in outreach are particularly aware of watchful eyes. While there are disadvantages, I think the pressure of knowing others are looking at us creates the motivation to bridge the gap between living a life of mediocrity and grasping to live an extraordinary life.

Rachel Eden hails from Southern California where she teaches and writes about all things Jewish. She has spent the past ten years in various roles of outreach in California, New York, and Israel. She has a home of boisterous boys (and man) and invites you to be their guest (at your own risk). Rachel’s blog can be found at www.thiswaytoeden.wordpress.com.

Woe to Persian Jews

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One of the moments I consider a tipping point in my religious journey (still journeying, by the way) was when I was in college in NYC at 19 years old discussing my values and vision for the future with a friend. When I mentioned I didn’t want a television in my house because of the flood of negative messages and influence I’d prefer to filter, not to mention the potential for wasting time, my friend did a double take. Apparently it was the final straw! “You don’t want a TV in your house? Don’t you think the way you run your life now doesn’t really jive with how you see your life in the future?”

Huh. Good point, I thought.

After a long time investigating, discussing, and contemplating my religious choices, my behavior took considerable time to match up with my mind. That conversation goes down, in my personal history, as a game-changing one.

Game-changing revelations like the one I had at 19, that occur after a seemingly inconsequential experience, usually is the result of a long brewing build-up.

Recently, I had a very short interaction with a Jewish outreach professional that has shifted my perspective significantly. Without discussing the actual interaction, I’d like to address a flawed,  yet widespread, philosophy.

In Jewish outreach, a topic I have dealt with extensively in this blog, there is an objective. To bring Jews closer to Judaism. Different people define that closeness differently and different organization create milestones, strategies, and more specific objectives around that BUT the overall goal is always to bring Jews closer to Judaism. You might phrase it differently but, in my opinion, that would be semantics.

If you disagree, please do contact me because I’d be curious to hear a different perspective.

So, let’s say you want to dedicate your lifelong career to bringing Jews closer to Judaism. How would you do it? You would try to use your resources (time, money, energy) most effectively to foster the best success. This is the way any business is run and anyone with a goal, personal or professional, would be wise to take this course.

Trouble is, there is a danger… In Jewish outreach, we work with people. ***Please see bottom of post

I write this post with caution. I have deleted hours of work in the past to avoid hurting others, undermining good values, or any writing that might garner writer’s remorse. I read reprehensible blog posts where bloggers bash efforts at Jewish unity and continuity in the name of principles when it’s clear there’s a personal agenda. I have no such agenda. On the contrary, I very much support Jewish outreach efforts and endeavor to use my time sharing a positive Jewish message and being an example of a kind, compassionate, proud, upright Jewish woman.

That said, there is a danger when working in Jewish outreach and running the outreach organization like a business. Outreach organizations tend to focus on Jewish people who are most likely to embrace and be open to Judaism. Some Jewish demographics get less attention than others based on this. For example, in recent years, campuses have gained more traction in Jewish outreach because someone young and unencumbered by a spouse and children is more open to embracing new ideas and learning new practices. But what if some Jewish groups are purposely left out to their own detriment?

The example I’d like to raise is young Persian Jews.

Persian Jews, isolated and discriminated against for being Jews in Iran, are generally a more insulated community when immigrating to America. As a community, they tended to be more traditional than their assimilated Ashkenazi (and some Sephardi communities depending on origin) counterparts.

My Persian friends in high school always had huge extended family Shabbat dinners, where no one was strictly observant, but everyone was strongly traditional.

I can personally relate to this culture having been born to South African/Rhodesian parents where a traditional (as opposed to orthodox, conservative, reform, etc) Jewish approach was mainstream and accepted. I still remember attending my late cousin’s shiva in Israel and being asked by an elderly South African man (with no malicious intent) if my father had become as “fanatic” as I was. I still crack a smile at the memory!

Back to Persian Jews though!

Young Persian-American Jews are generally discouraged from becoming “too orthodox” in appearance, practice, etc while they are still expected to marry Jewish and maintain their traditions. Many such young people, who have desired a more Torah-observant lifestyle, are swayed by familial pressure to not entertain such notions. As such, most mainstream outreach organizations and professionals do not  expend the same resources on Persian Jews as they would on others.

But that’s okay because, those young Persian-American Jews have their respective families and communities to keep their religiosity in check. Right?

Remember Tevya’s tradition song in Fiddler on the Roof? From a Jewish continuity perspective, our hopes for Tevye’s progeny are practically dashed when his youngest daughter, Chava, marries out to a Russian Orthodox Christian, Fyedka.

Tradition, un-anchored by a solid Jewish education and context, feels meaningless particularly for a second or third generation of traditional Jews. SO, young Persian Jews, in my estimation are in the particularly difficult predicament of feeling very Americanized and connected to non-Jewish people, activities, and general lifestyle with minimal effort to guide them towards their heritage.

To be fair, there are some Persian-only groups that do focus on the Persian young Jewish community but some of their membership feel there shouldn’t be a need for such exclusive organizations if the mainstream ones would include them as well.

Having been through my share of Jewish outreach positions and having discussed this often with others in the field, I strongly believe outreach organizations should afford Jews positive Jewish experiences to encourage stronger practice but with ZERO expectation for any increase in observance level. To expect that would be arrogant, unfair, and create a very negative/competitive/unhealthy work environment! Most Torah-observant outreach organizations (I have not done a formal survey) are funded by people who want tangible results, measurable external success, and outcome-focused efforts. Much is lost by such practices, including (G-d forbid) the next Persian-American generation.

Jewish outreach (kiruv) shouldn’t have any specific goal other than to expose Jews to Judaism.

Now if only I could find people who share my views to fund such efforts.

 

*** After reading this blog post, my husband made a crucial point: There are many, many dangers in treating Jewish outreach organizations like businesses. The underlying one may be: “My strength and might are in my hands” Kochi v’Otzem b’yadi. This attitude is antithetical to Torah Judaism which insists that any fruits of our labor are God-given. If we assume anything successful is coming from ourselves, we are being arrogant. Working with the intention of ‘I am trying to connect Jewish people to Judaism’ should be the focus. The supremely bottom-line focus on numbers, numbers, numbers ironically counters the very values we are trying to spread and yet this attitude often reigns supreme. My husband, after reading this footnote, wishes I would elaborate further and says it’s an article unto itself. One day I’ll convince him to write it.

This Life is Like

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Here’s what I thought life was like.

 

Childhood: Life is all about me.

 

Teenage years: Life is all about my enjoyment. (Translation: Still about me)

 

 

Adult years: Have life mostly figured out, just living and working the dream that I dreamed (idyllic home, perfect parenting, children basking in my awesomeness, etc).

 

 

Golden years: Sit back, relax, enjoy what you’ve built.

 

 

Of course, there are a few key moments that if you mess up, you will alter your trajectory and rob yourself of the fantasy mansion with paid staff for a rundown shack that smells like cigarettes and trash. (Remember MASH???)

 

Those key moments are the BIG crossroads of life, the choices like which SCHOOL (high school, college), which EXPERIENCES (travel, spirituality), and which PARTNER (and perhaps very important friendships). These BIG choices create a lifestyle and circumstances that make or break a person’s future.

That’s what I believed anyway.

Since I was 13, I lived my life according to the BIG choices philosophy. I undertook to live away from home during high school in order to go to a Jewish school (kicking and screaming parents in tow), I didn’t burden myself with a moral compass until I was 18 and knew if I didn’t buckle down soon, my future direction would change. By 21 I made a decision to be conscientious, accountable, an adult. Someone who could hold down a job, whose mistakes and challenges would from here-on-out be of small proportions, hey, maybe I could even be a role model for others.

Goodbye journey, Hello destination. I’ve arrived.

 

 

My rude awakening came swiftly when I found myself on top of the world in this new-found state of nirvana, proud over my accomplishments and choices. I was doing everything I set out to do, making myself and my mentors proud, feeling self-satisfied.

 

My disillusionment came in the form of a few human errors, a reality-check when I encountered said mentors’ (who were all grown up and, of course!, infallible) mistakes.

I lost my resolve. I no longer had the strength or motivation to maintain the perfect image I thought I had attained (I hadn’t!).

 

When I was ready to dust myself off and try again, I lived in a new world where role models can make the wrong decisions and I was no longer perfect.

In the ten years since then, I have made lots and lots of adult-size (super-size) mistakes. I have learned to forgive myself and others for the constant stream of bad decisions (from trivial to large). I have learned to give myself plenty of time and patience.

Every time I step up to a new rung, a new job, a marriage, a new child, a new friend, a new challenge, I am greeted with fresh new mistakes.

I look at how I spend my time, where I spend my energy- mental and physical, what I give my all to, what I have become complacent in, bad choices I never bothered to correct, good choices I need to dust off and re-integrate.

Turns out, this life (for me, for now) is more like:

Childhood: Life is all about me.

Teenage years: Life is all about my enjoyment. (Confession: I hope this won’t be the case for my children!)

Adult years: The good days? Three steps forward, two steps back or – bad days- two steps forward three steps back.

Golden years: Growing, growing….

…Gone.

 

May this Jewish new year, we be blessed with all the resources we need  (health, peace of mind, money) for a fresh start towards human, fallible and humble greatness, a year of growth and positive impact, a year with clearer understanding of what this life is like.

Confessions of a Cheater

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It’s funny how we excuse some things but not others. Take Lea*, for example. We’ve known each other for a very long time, surfing in and out of contact for ages, reconnecting on Facebook, and ultimately our childhood friendship has been crystallized,  glorified as the years pass.

We recently touched base and had a fascinating theological discussion but in case that’s not your bag, I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, I was advocating a Torah lifestyle while my friend was knocking it to some degree.

None of that phased me, but as we were speaking, Lea mentioned how boring marriage is. I assumed Lea meant that having passed the honeymoon phase, marriage now required plenty of work on her own character, investment of time and effort, sans the glitz of romance and excitement.

Before I reacted, I asked Lea to elaborate. It was as if she had been waiting for someone to ask her to elaborate.

Marriage is a prison. I’ve been married for years and please don’t give me some fluffy advise about working on pumping up the electricity because I’ve been there and done that. I’m tired of the same spouse- it gets old. People were not built for monogamy. I want to connect with new people, live new experiences. Whenever I bring up the topic to my husband, he loses it and demands to know why he’s not enough for me so I drop it. There are so many reasons to stay together: the kids, money, comfort, fear. Some people have discovered the joys of an open marriage but most don’t do that. Everybody cheats or wishes they could cheat but nobody admits to it. Now I’m stuck feeling resentful towards my spouse for making me feel stuck.

Reading this conversation in an article likely dilutes the shock value I experienced when listening first hand. Will you reread this and imagine your childhood friend saying the same words?

I was surprised on more than one level. I thanked her for her honesty- after all, do you know many people who would express a struggle that private?

What most surprised me was how far she had gone to rationalize her feelings. Lea is bright, no question about it, but to intellectualize cheating by insisting that humanity is not built for monogamy? To comfort herself with the illusion that everybody does it? The whole discussion brought to light how far down a rabbit’s hole any one of us can go when we think long enough for our brains to regress to our bodies. It’s a lesson for me in other areas of my own life.

 

But back to infidelity….What about the trade-off? How many new, even pleasurable experiences will be worth one meaningful life-long relationship? No one doubts that the novelty of a new person (for one evening) creates more of an adrenaline rush than the umpteenth time our spouses walk through the door. But at what cost? And how can we be so blind as to not recognize the beauty and greatness that our spouse has? This is the one person in our family we actually chose!

I do not judge my friend at all, I just wanted to express my feelings about her choices in the hopes of catharsis (for me!). My friend has dug herself too deep a hole to attempt to climb out though I hope she does take that first, painful step. She knows I only have her best interests at heart and, again, hats off to her for her honesty.

I doubt any readers would dare agree with her on facebook or any public forum but if you ever want to debate this privately, I am game.

 

*some details have been changed to protect my friend’s anonymity.

The World Just Became So Much Darker

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A 2 dimensional page, a written word, and a flat screen can be boring, lifeless, false, and inauthentic when contrasted with a 3-D, living, breathing human being.

Examples:

First: Facebook.  While good for some things, Facebook was aptly nicknamed “Fake Book” to reflect the facade that our lives (like our social profiles) are all laughter, gourmet dishes, and well groomed children.

Another example, now that I’m extremely familiar with job hunting, resumes from unknown people with no connections are generally ignored.

Lastly, dating profiles are mostly not even a glimpse into a person’s essence, lifestyle, or daily thoughts, feelings, speech, or action.

That said, I am striving to maximize the power of the written word while knowing full well it won’t do her justice.

Who is “her”?

She is the woman who I met when I was at the self-absorbed, self-indulgent, carefree age of 18.

I took a gap year after high school in order to learn more about Judaism. I chose a seminary where I knew I could have fun at night, and maybe (when I wasn’t sleeping) learn during the day.

Apparently, I was supposed to be expelled due to my repeated absences, broken curfews, and other misdemeanors. I didn’t know this until I left the program when the director told me. I wasn’t asked to leave because my family had a strong tie to a very important person in religious circles and no one wanted to break the news to him that I was out.

So, I stayed. The whole year.

When I did attend class, I picked wisely. I didn’t want the “dry” stuff I was forced to listen to in high school. No, I was way past that.

I wanted something to jolt me, I wanted something I hadn’t heard before. I wanted to be awakened, electrified.

There were around three such classes (there would have been a fourth but it began at the ungodly hour of 8:00am so that was an impossibility. Epilogue: My children never let me sleep past 6:00am. Karma?).

One class was taught by a woman who was everything I had learned to avoid during my four high school years in Los Angeles.

She was NOT fashionable. It gets worse. She didn’t CARE that she was not fashionable. She (how dare she!) didn’t WANT to be fashionable.

She wore floral shirts with matching floral skirts. To be fair, she also had a beautiful, wide smile and big, warm brown eyes.

What she lacked in trend, she made up for in dignity. Ten fold. A hundred fold.

I have only scratched the surface.

Mrs. Weiner was young (30s) but so wise. She was incredibly honest and shocked us by exposing our rights and ideals as the frauds they sometimes were.

In class, when she spoke, she made us mad. She WANTED to make us mad. It was the only way we could begin to CARE. It was the only way we could WAKE UP.

I was out with a friend one night, sometime in the middle of my gap year,  involved in a silly conversation on a Jerusalem public bus when my cell phone rang.

It was Mrs. Weiner.

“Hi Rachel, it’s Mrs. Weiner. I know it’s late but can you come over to my apartment? By the time you get here it will be about 11:00pm. Is that okay? There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

I was intrigued. I was so curious. Why the urgency? The late hour? All her small children and jobs to wake up to the following morning. This must be BIG. Did I go? You bet.

When I arrived, she was plating chocolate chip cookies for me which I declined. Her husband made a quick appearance in the living room to grab a cookie, and she bantered with him. Their back-and-forth was so witty, so quick, and also familiar, relaxed. It was strange that they lived what I considered a serious, idealistic life and yet were taking pleasure in it.

We finally got down to business. “Rachel, I wanted to talk to you because I heard you were spending time with the wrong crowd.”

That’s what she wanted to tell me?

I WAS OVERJOYED. This woman was taking such an interest in me. Also, I was flattered that she called my crowd “wrong”. What 18 year old wouldn’t want that? (never mind)

We talked for a while. I vehemently denied any wrong doing. I loyally told her my friends were all top-notch, squeaky clean, and on the up-and-up.  We talked some more.

I floated out of her little apartment that night feeling utterly loved.

After seminary, we lost touch for the most part. I saw her every few years and when she had her baby (about 11 or 12 years ago),  she texted me the news from her hospital bed. I felt utterly loved again.

I took absolute pride in introducing her to my husband, and bragged that we lived in Jerusalem and he learned Torah ALL DAY long.

It is for these reasons that I’m at a loss. In shock. I never fully appreciated the phrase “the world became a little darker that day” until yesterday.

My beloved, tell-it-like-it-is, funny, nurturing, vibrant, vivacious Mrs. Devora Weiner died and I didn’t even know she was sick.

I’m deeply saddened. Not only for my personal loss but the loss the world has just suffered.

Mrs. Weiner would probably say something profoundly true in a matter-a-fact way like the time she told me that all people have days when they love their spouse and days when they hate their spouse. I was horrified at 18. At 31, even with a perfect husband like mine, I understand her gist.

Mrs. Weiner, I’m sorry I never told you before. Thank you so much for teaching me a multitude of life lessons. Thank you for personifying true beauty and grace. Thank you for exemplifying what a Jewish woman can and should be, a wellspring of blessing to all those around her. I love you and I miss you not being in this world.

 

 

 

 

I Smiled at a Muslim Woman Today

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The title says it all. I took my kids out for ice cream this afternoon and consequently felt  wholesome, spoiled, and blessed all at once. As the kids licked their cones of world-class chocolate, I walked between our seats and the cashier grabbing napkins, dabbing faces.

I was smiling at the image of my sons relishing their treats when I looked up and saw a woman walking our way. As she passed us, with the smile still firmly on my face, we made eye contact.

Living in San Diego, I often spend time at the Bay, the beaches, or the library and have noted a rising number of religious Muslim couples and families frequenting these same attractions. Sometimes I get the sense that I am being stared at, or maybe even- when they see my husband’s kippah – glared down.  Not wanting any negative attention, I either avert my eyes or attempt a small fleeting shadow of a smile.

Today, at Baskin Robbins, I involuntarily made eye contact and smiled at a Muslim woman. And…

She smiled back.

Our smiles didn’t halt or slow down any of the cruelty and violence issued out by Islamic States, Muslim Brotherhoods, or Islamic militant groups like Hamas. We changed nothing. I don’t even know what she was thinking.

“The Torah ideal is to greet each and every person with a pleasant facial expression.” But what about a woman who may support jihadi groups (which have more than doubled over the last few years)?

I certainly have no obligation to smile at an enemy, do I?

On the other hand, what if she doesn’t align herself or support the feelings behind such hateful groups? Surely this, too, is a fair and strong possibility.

A Talmudic pearl of wisdom that was passed on to me and has caught on as a common Hebrew expression: Respect & Suspect. We have an obligation to treat everyone with the utmost respect and we also have an obligation to exercise prudence, to take cautionary measures, and not trust those very people we are honoring.

In other words, I fully respect the mystery woman who I encountered and I have every right to suspect her as well.

My six year old boy, with his kippah and peyot, is all too familiar with bomb shelters, Hamas, and antisemitism. Somehow, he caught the exchange between this woman and me.

My son and I were both thinking the same thing but neither one of us said a word. We just looked at one another and…smiled.