Tag Archives: Judaism

It’s Not Enough: In Pursuit of a Life on Fire

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theperfectlife

You may have a nice job, good friends, and a happy family life. You may be fortunate enough to peer out of your bedroom window as the sun peeks out in the early morning. You might be blessed to have health, a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food in your belly. Still, it won’t be enough.

If we stop a moment, the reality that we need more sets in. Practice gratitude by counting all the wonderful gifts you were given. That helps. But, most days, you need more.

A teenager with good grades, good looks, and good fun will need more just as a senior living in a retirement community enjoying the golden years needs more too.

What’s the more?

What are we searching for? Why are we empty?

We crave a life on fire.

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We desire to live in an inspired, meaningful way. We want lives that are rich with cause, depth, importance. We want to impact. We want to mean something.

How do we live a life on fire?

I marvel at my powerhouse friends and family who do great big things with their lives. They start organizations. They  travel globally to share a message. They help thousands of people through unconditional support with a wide open heart, broad smile, and sparkle in their eyes.

How can we make every moment count? What can we do to uplift ourselves and those around us? What do we need to build to be worthy of living a life on fire?

Maybe nothing.

Maybe, we just need to audit our current lives and see what needs are right in front of us. Everything that has led up to this moment, this very moment, was by design. We are walking through a movie set, characters intentionally placed just so, backdrop calculated by a masterful Director. We are just asked to look around, take it all in, and react.

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What is being asked of us? Something needs our attention and only we can figure out what that is. A difficult relative. Financial strain. Worries about health. A void in some area. There is a lesson buried underneath our individual worlds and we can uncover it when we live our fiery lives with our eyes wide open.

What does my life demand of me right now vs. what do I feel like doing? If we go through each day in pursuit of truth, working on ourselves, wanting to help the world – no matter the home, the family, the career- life will be more than enough. We will live a life on fire and set the world ablaze.

Adult Friendships

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Adult Friendships
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Some friends and I in Jerusalem, 2011 (I’m on the far left)

Well, this is embarrassing. For years, I’ve been telling a few choice family members and acquaintances that I find it extremely difficult to establish friendships as an adult. Sometimes, I smile facetiously and announce that I have no friends at all and sometimes, on a good day, I concede that perhaps I have one or two. I must be the only person in the world who feels this way because, so often, listeners respond with an air of disdain. It’s as if they’re thinking: Sorry that you have this problem. Luckily, we don’t.

What was easy at 13 seems so daunting at 33. Do friendships have an expiration date? How much investment is required in a friendship? If we talk this much, share this much, connect this much…are we friends??

How did I have so many friends before adulthood? For me, adulthood began when I got my first full-time job in New York at 21 years old. Before that, I was able to prioritize friendships above all else with nearly endless time and care. Once I began working, I just didn’t have the energy to stay awake late with a friend on the phone. I was too tired to go out with friends unless it was the weekend or a special occasion.  I would often get home from work very late and the thought of using up my little downtime on socializing was too much to bear. I just wasn’t interested. After all, I had to wake up the next morning and work a long day! I was leading a very full life, albeit alone.

Marriage and children only served to reinforce my challenge. Today, now that I work full-time while juggling a young family, I’m thankful for a bathroom break undisturbed (still a rare occurrence). Showering and sitting down for a meal are luxuries. I don’t walk into a store unless it’s for groceries (don’t worry too much though, Amazon has cured me of my other shopping needs). Friends?? Impossible!

But maybe we need to define our terms before I write myself off as a recluse. What are friends anyway? Are they the people who will bail you out of jail or pick you up from the hospital? I would argue that any kind soul would do that for you, friend or foe. Here are three reasons you may call someone a friend and a little push back on that definition from yours truly.

You’re friends because of….

  1. Shared interest, stage of life, or community. Examples: We both have babies and we spend lots of time together on the playground. We love sports and play basketball every morning. We are next door neighbors. In all three cases, these friendships likely take up most of our quota for “friend time” and, I would argue, count the least. Why? Because they’re dependent on something external to exist. Judaism teaches that a love dependent on something is only as strong as that thing. Move out of your neighborhood, stop playing basketball, no longer go to the park and your friendship will disappear.
  2. History. I have friends who I rarely/never speak to but love and they have a special place in my heart. We went to school together or we spent summers together, we talked and talked, sometimes about nothing and other times about everything. While these friends are very important to me, many of them play a big role in my rear-view mirror but don’t really know me as I am today. If I was in trouble, I wouldn’t call them because there’s a lack of familiarity with our adult versions of each other. I have tried to rekindle these friendship over the years and end up awkwardly stumbling in and out of connection.
  3. A safe space. These are the friends that we can really spill to, feel safe with, and share our innermost thoughts without fear of being judged. This category is the one I am most inclined to give credit. There’s just one problem. In a time when privacy is as undervalued as it is today (how many times have you signed off on the privacy terms and conditions of your favorite app?), we may indeed feel “safe” with any supportive, open people in our lives. Also, feeling safe or confident to share is a function of our own self-confidence and not a reflection of friendship necessarily. I have seen some gut-wrenching posts on Facebook and I continue to be surprised by people’s raw vulnerability on scaled social media sites.

You may disagree with me and consider any of the above definitions as entirely reasonable. If that’s the case, I too have friends (yay!).

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Two special friends who visited me in San Diego, 2007 (I’m on the far left again)

Until I have an intuitive understanding, I will have to rely on my intellectual understanding of how the Torah defines friendship. Judaism has a lot to say on the subject but the most compelling teaching, for me, is the story of David and Yonatan. Yonatan was the son of King Saul whereas David was just a young shepherd from a large family who became prominent through a remarkable series of events. Their backgrounds had no overlap, they didn’t have similar interests, yet the Mishna describes their friendship as loyal and devoted, dependent on nothing, and everlasting. Even more remarkable was that Yonatan was the heir to his father’s throne but David took it over- a move that should have made Yonatan jealous and yet he was entirely supportive.

So the Torah defines friendship in very simple terms.

Friendship is simply an outpouring of constant love and loyalty. It may start out as connecting with someone because you both love golf, attend the same school, or share cubicle space. But that does not make a friendship. Spilling your deepest, darkest secrets doesn’t make a friendship either. Being friends with someone in your childhood or teenage years of angst is also not the magic bullet.

The answer comes down to the question: Will you allow your relationship with this person to exist superficially or will you opt to go “all in” and choose to care for him/her deeply? Do you choose to love that person? Do you choose to help that person and invest in that person? Will you allow them to help you?

The lesson for me is that friendship is a choice to prioritize a person outside of myself or my family. In this light, I am starting to wonder if maybe I have more friends than I thought.

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

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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.

God’s PR People

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I’m friends with professionals who are in Judaism’s marketing department. They are synagogue leaders, teachers, non-profit directors, counselors, rabbis, rebbetzins, youth group advisers, and the list goes on.

My question is this: Is custom packaging Judaism for any given audience wrong?

I am confident that enriching and expanding the Jewish community is a good thing. My question is one of parameters.

It seems that Judaism – and the Torah specifically- should be enough. The wisdom is rich and relevant. The values are clearly for the good of the people. Why should the Torah need PR?

On the other hand, those said values and guidelines have an image. Like it or not. When any given person thinks about living a Jewish life, a picture is conjured up. A picture also comes to mind when considering the G-word for that matter (rhymes with cod).

For some, God is Santa and He needs to hand out presents to us so we know we’re loved.  For others, God is a deadbeat dad who created a world and walked away. Worse yet, God is a sadist who takes pleasure in the world’s clashes and suffering.

So too with Torah Judaism. Picture Judaism. (I’ll give you a minute…) Did  you think of a faceless old rabbi with a silver long beard and dusty black hat sitting in a stuffy room hunched over a book?

Surely our definitions of God and Torah Judaism needs reworking.

Obviously Judaism isn’t just for the old Torah scholar. Judaism is for all of us.

Packaging God and Judaism has already been done by every single one of us. Every Jew who’s spent two minutes thinking about his/her own heritage.

Not only is it right to repackage Judaism and God, it is necessary since there are so many distorted images already out there. In order for us all to be great Jewish leaders (which would be ideal), we need to have a mature grasp on what God and the Torah is really all about.

That way, we fully understand the content to ensure it’s not manipulated. The message must always stay intact. But the packaging? That’s up for grabs.

How Madonna and College Girls Are Ruining Feminism

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I’m a die-hard feminist. Have been since I can remember. There was really no choice since adults always described me as “feisty” and “outspoken”. When we’d have company over as a kid, I’d usually sit on the men’s side of the table to discuss current events and ideas (as opposed to recipes and diapers- sorry ladies!). Maybe if authority figures noticed any shred of deference or submissiveness, my life would have taken a different track. But I doubt it.

Let’s define our terms. What is feminism? I think it’s generally understood to mean the desire to have equal rights and treatment to men. Also, an acknowledgement that women are as good, smart, strong, and capable as men. Lastly, women are equal to men.

I’m not a feminist under those conditions. Judaism recognizes women as having incredible power and abilities but are different than men. We look different – I don’t think I need to draw you a picture. We sound different- men’s voices are generally lower in pitch and women’s are generally higher in pitch. We usually make decisions differently (see Myers-Briggs for evidence). We typically excel in different areas of study. Notice all my qualifiers: “usually”, “typically”, “generally”.

Turning a blind eye to these vast differences is the ultimate slap in the face to our gender.

I don’t even think the words “equal”, “better”, or “worse” should be used in a conversation about women and men because of our extensive differences. Would we use those adjectives to discuss giraffes and elephants?

In my opinion (like all things you’ll find here), the newest wave of American feminism was led by Madonna (her 80’s version- not current day). I was at a laundromat the other day and I saw an interview with Madonna from the 80s where she declared that she didn’t care that people had a problem with her being so sexual. She was “taking back control” of her sexuality. That’s why she was dressing in black leather with plenty skin exposed, in seductive poses, with a long blond ponytail, and a cone-shaped chest. Here’s the thing. If she didn’t claim that she was in control, we might think that it was the men controlling her and Madonna creating an image of male fantasy. Beyonce is considered to be a feminist with you-go-girl songs but her videos tell a different story.

It’s difficult to determine just who is in control, after all. When the sorority girls use Halloween to dress up like a Playboy bunnies, can we really say that they’re “in control” of their sexuality? Or are they, like Madonna, dressing like pin-up girls to gain male (and female) attention? Was Marilyn Monroe a feminist or was she objectifying women by just being a physical object to be lusted?

When I gave a series of classes on modesty to a group of co-ed college students, I was fascinated with the reactions I got. The girls just didn’t seem to care about feminism (secular definition). When the boys saw how little the girls cared, they gave up answering my questions with what they thought would impress the girls. They – the girls and boys- unanimously agreed that cat calls and whistles was in no way demeaning to women. Many of them agreed it was a compliment and would be pleased for their mothers or sisters to be on the receiving end.

Ultimately, Judaism’s view on women and modesty appealed to most of them because it’s so much more rational than this new definition of female power. Women are to be treated with respect, like queens, for their innate worth. A woman’s physical appearance is a beautiful shell but pales in comparison with the beauty of her mind, heart, and deeds.

I hope my boys grow up valuing women for their internal worth and not just their physical appearance. Sadly, this generation’s college girls are following in the footsteps of Madonna and true feminism has taken an enormous step backwards.

Playing Defense in a War that Need Not Exist

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Why, oh why, do I insist on reading Rebecca’s blog before bedtime?!? It must be my alter ego, a sixteen year old girl who knows not of consequence and insists on pulling all-nighters at whim. She doesn’t know my children who have the habit since birth to wake me at the crack of dawn. Anyway, I did look at Rebecca’s blog. And I did look at Rebecca’s comments. Then I fixed myself a strong drink (peppermint tea from Trader Joes- what did you think??) Then I reread the comments. While I realize the conversation could end here, I am eager  to counter some of the arguments I just read. So here we go.

Firstly, kiruv is the organized attempt to connect Jews to Judaism by Jews. Rebecca started a blog with one singular purpose: to foil such attempts. A very naive part of myself is flabbergasted that such a blog exists. Rebecca is a nice lady. I have private messaged her and public messaged her. While I don’t know her, I’d genuinely love to hang with her because she seems personable and kind. Maybe over a couple nice hot mochas, we could talk about the destructive words published on her blog. In a world filled with so many bad guys, I like when the good guys work to build up the good. Sadly, this isn’t happening on her blog. The very existence of this blog is upsetting to me which is why I have chosen not to publicize it.

Reading cynicism and bitterness at this level is destructive to everyone and I wouldn’t even let myself read it if it weren’t for the purpose of representing a silent group of people who don’t know this exists. She does have  a steady stream of devout followers and one of them submitted her blog link in the comments bar of my blog which I approved. I’m not one to censor even when censorship might be appropriate (gasp!). I’m not afraid of what will happen if someone I know and care for reads her blog. I just truly feel sorry to spread it. Her blog takes a beautifully intended model- with room for improvement (like all things)- and twists it beyond recognition.

Her (and her followers’) core issues, as I see it, are the following:

  1.  Jewish outreach professionals want those around them to observe Judaism in the same way.
  2. To accomplish this, people in Jewish outreach mislead other Jews

Rebecca makes a couple outrageous comments and points that are too ridiculous and off-the-wall to address but the above two essential themes keep coming up again and again. Generally in debate, people react in a knee-jerk fashion. We are very ready to defend our or our team’s actions and attitudes. In order to not fall into that trap, I decided to let these two ideas just sit in my mind and I really considered them. Is there a part of me that wants other Jews to act just like me? That wants other Jews to be the same? And then: Have I created false relationships to achieve that? Let’s Pause and really THINK. Click if you please:

30 seconds to THINK

Ok. Now that I’ve put myself under a microscope for a minute, here’s what I’ve come up with.

YES, I do hope that students who’ve joined me for a cup of coffee at the Starbucks near campus will observe Shabbat more wholly, invest time into their relationship with God, identify more strongly as a Jew, be a more dignified and modest person, feel more connected to other Jews, honor their parents, opt to raise a Jewish family, celebrate Jewish holidays, the list goes on and on and on. I too hope to change for the better from these experiences and there’s no question in my mind that the list I just wrote above would enhance any Jew’s life. But let’s get a few things straight:

  1. I don’t care about the color of your yarmulke.
  2. I don’t mind if you like classical music or jazz or Jewish.
  3. I do think Jews shouldn’t eat pig or lobster but if you want to be a vegetarian-  go for it- I’ll happily accommodate you at dinner.
  4. How you choose to express your creativity is totally up to you within the confines of the Torah (obviously).

Be YOU. And YES> Be Jewish.

As for the second point (misleading students) – I agree to a point. I would not approach Jewish students and say “I’m hoping that after hanging out with me you won’t marry the non-Jewish person you’re dating.”  I would say, “I’m a religious director  here at USC. Can I do coffee with you and get to know you?” I guarantee you that every single Jewish student I end up befriending knows that the point of my presence is to create a Jewish student community and enhance their observance of Mitzvot. I didn’t move to South Central LA for the frat parties.

Now to address the deluge of comments. Like this one by “Tuvia” on Rebecca’s blog:

“They (people in kiruv) are all to be treated as the enemy for not permitting open inquiry and frank discussions with those who have diametrically different approaches.”

(Mouth agape, speechless) Uh…..  What in the world am I doing behind this computer screen if not engaging in a frank and open discussion in real time? Seriously though, a girl goes out on a limb to speak for an unrepresented movement and then encounters that accusation? Oy.

Rebecca’s response? While she doesn’t comment on his whole dissertation. she does write in regards to his feelings that we (in Jewish outreach) are dishonest: “I actually agree with you, Tuvia.” At least I’m finally not surprised.

Here’s a goody from “DK”:

“Remember, the Kriuvnik does not want to defend their behavior, so they prefer to defend that which they do not believe they do. Focus on that which we can prove they do. “

DK- please be specific! It’s difficult to know what you’re super angry about and in case you have a valid point, I’d love the chance to defend what you can prove I do.

Another favorite from “Tuvia”:

“Stop them. Keep writing. They are terrible people … Terrible manipulators. Horrible horrible middos (character traits) at the root of this. Keep up the pressure.”

One person named “Jewish Rebel” commented on “Tuvia”‘s post:

“Tuvia: That was awesome.”

Well said, Jewish Rebel. Listen, Tuvia, my middos are a far cry from perfect but “horrible”??? Geez. I humbly agree to disagree.

I definitely wouldn’t want to cross some of Rebecca’s fans’ avatars in a dark virtual alley late at night.

Now let’s turn the magnifying glass on the accusers for a moment. And not in a bad way. But let’s be honest. I really tried to put myself in each person’s shoes as I read the comments and Rebecca’s article. There is only one rational explanation for this level of anger and bitterness. These people have been burned. In case it was a Jewish person who hurt them under the guise of orthodoxy or kiruv I want to apologize- truly and sincerely- for any pain that was caused. In case you were dealt a blow that wasn’t caused by a person but impacted your life tremendously, I can certainly empathize and understand that. I’m no stranger to challenge. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Torah is good and Judaism is great but more to the point it is ours. It doesn’t belong more to me than you. It is for us to enjoy and share. There are 70 legitimate faces of Torah and I aim to connect and learn from the other 69 no matter who they are, what they think, or how they act.