Tag Archives: rebbetzin

Where The Riches Are

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I took a bite of the steaming hot, four-cheese pasta I had ordered in mid-town Manhattan and nodded my head. Yes, I agreed with my friend sitting across from me, this was too delicious to be true. We were out for a girls lunch. A work/pleasure hybrid of a lunch break as my companion was evolving in her Judaism and wanted to talk about her next steps in learning and growth. She was pretty, composed, and very down-to-earth. I had liked her the minute we met weeks before at an outreach event I helped run in NYC. We were about the same age and instantly hit it off with easy conversation that balanced giggles with depth.

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A little background for the buildup. While I’m pretty grounded, I have this weird sixth sense and I believe that I see people’s auras…just a little bit. Just sometimes. The color, the energy. It doesn’t happen often but I have experienced the phenomenon. (Oy. If I’ve freaked you out and you want to stop reading, I totally get it.) Once, many years ago, I told my roommate in school that a black energy appeared to be radiating from her. The words tumbled out of my mouth and I realized mid-stream how strange and offensive they sounded. She got very quiet but spoke after a few moments. “I was institutionalized”.  Then quiet again. Gulp. I wasn’t prepared for that. Since then, I’m more cautious about sharing my observations though I still get into trouble occasionally.

I share this with you because I felt I really had a grasp on my lunch date’s energy. She was admirably calm. She was patient and it was as if nothing could phase or stress her. She spoke deliberately and slowly; she paused before answering. She was like… a warm blue. (In contrast, I speak quickly and often kick myself mid-sentence for not filtering more. Over the years, I’ve conditioned myself to lock my jaw shut and pad my responses with “Can I process that and get back to you in the next couple of days?” I have yet to regret that answer and use it liberally to ensure that I am thoughtful and not rushed.) I digress but don’t worry, the bombshell is coming.

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So there we were, indulging in carbs, enjoying girl talk, speaking of personal development and lofty ideals when my friend cleared her throat. She wanted to confide in me about something from her past. Of course, I gladly obliged and assured her that my lips were sealed. Whatever she wanted to tell me surely wouldn’t shock me. I knew my friend was on her journey in spirituality and connection to Judaism. It was clear that she hadn’t been particularly sheltered though she came from a solid family and a good home. Whatever was in her past couldn’t be so bad.

Then, with her reflective, collected disposition, she described how she became addicted to cocaine and battled to stay clean. She had a stint in rehab and was a real ‘mess’ (her word) through college. I used up every bit of control I had to show no signs of shock. I knew addiction existed and I had met addicts before but her? I just couldn’t reconcile it. How could this composed, even sophisticated, soft-spoken young woman have such a dark, out of control side? I thought to myself, maybe I don’t know her that well. Perhaps she was unstable? Could it be?

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“I hope I haven’t changed the way you look at me”, she said. I vigorously shook my head and worked hard to convince both of us that she hadn’t. As I walked to the subway from the restaurant, I reminded myself that an addiction shouldn’t define a person and that her future wasn’t hinged on her past.

Fortunately, my friend didn’t vanish from my life. We actually grew closer and stayed in touch for many years. I absolutely adore her and she has taught me a lot about how complex human beings truly are. Looking back, I so admire her confidence that day. She fully accepted herself and felt comfortable to talk about choices that would bring most people shame. Since then, she’s married and had many children. I wonder if she would tell anyone what she told me all those years ago but it doesn’t matter. She has a depth of self-acceptance that most of us would and should envy. Perhaps hitting rock bottom and having to climb out of that pit builds self-acceptance.

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Fast forward ten years to the opposite scenario. I was working on campus and had developed a relationship with one of our students. She was a sorority girl who would do coffee with me from time to time. She joined our weekly learning program. Her etiquette was always on point. Based on her Facebook profile, she seemed to have an exciting party life but never spoke of it to me. I always had the sense that she was holding back in the hopes of making a good impression.

One day, after about a year, she and I met at the Starbucks on campus. I could see she was going through something but didn’t want to share. In the hopes of convincing her of the importance of vulnerability, I said to her, “Y’know…you don’t have to be perfect all the time. That must be really draining.” She started crying despite valiant efforts of staying composed. Suddenly, she was mortified that she had dropped her guard, apologized profusely, and excused herself. This poor young woman really wanted to reach out, she spent so much energy acting like everything was okay, and she just couldn’t make peace with herself. She couldn’t accept that she was flawed, like the rest of us.

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I’ve quoted this line before but it bears repeating. My very favorite verse of all time from the Torah is one pertaining to offerings. While I can’t say all laws of korbanos (ritual offerings) are my favorite area of Judaism to explore, this particular point is so profound that (even) I cling on to it. All meal offerings, the Torah demands, must be offered with salt and not honey or yeast (Vayikra 2:11-2:13). Yeast inflates and honey sweetens. G-d doesn’t need us to offer falsely inflated or sweetened versions of our true selves. Rather, we are required to use salt, something that brings out the natural flavors and preserves. (Rabbi Mordechai Gifter)

What a gift. G-d, who is perfect by definition, is requiring us to be as we were created. Flawed. Broken. Vulnerable. Makes sense. After all, He created us that way. But why?? Why can’t we achieve perfection? Why can’t I love myself…once I’m perfect?

The whole point of this life, the one that begins the moment we are born and ends the moment we die is our quest for correction, our journey to perfection. I’m awed by people who try to make an impact and be an “influencer” under the guise of perfection. I have no desire to emulate that. I want to embrace this life, accept every part of myself, and understand that the creased, bent, and fractured pieces are where the riches are.

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.

Going to Mass on Christmas Eve with the Kids

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It’s the source of jokes and marketing campaigns. From theaters to amusement parks and many venues in between, the age-old question that haunts many devoted Jews this time of year: What should we do Christmas Day? Many plan to eat “Moo Shu Jew”- that is, eat at the best local kosher Chinese restaurant. One thing is for sure, Chanukah is over so there’s no chance we can piggyback on the commercial blow-out that shadows Christmas to exploit Chanukah. A good thing. Well, I haven’t quite figured where I’ll be on December 25 but the good news is I know where I’ll be Christmas Eve- where every good rebbetzin should be- church!

It started with a phone call from a local church asking for help from the rebbetzin of my shul. Christmas eve is the one time of year when everyone wants to go to Mass which makes finding group leaders for children’s groups very difficult. Would the rebbetzin of my shul come and help supervise the church’s youth group? To be clear, there would be no religious overtones with the kids- only games and toys but still, this all takes place on the church’s property and facilitates the members to attend Mass without disruption. This poses at least a couple interesting questions. First, is going to church permissible according to halacha (Torah law)? Second, is this something a Jewish person should do or want to do? The rabbi (her husband) agreed that as long as she doesn’t enter the sanctuary, there would be no problem with going inside the building that hosts youth programs. As for question two? The rebbetzin empathized with a fellow community leader’s struggle to locate reliable people to help with childcare and wanted to help. Additionally, she felt that it was appropriate from the standpoint of derech eretz (acting with consideration for others). Obviously this is an out-of-the-box perspective….which I admire.

I don’t know if I would have stepped up had I received that phone call myself, but last Thursday the rebbetzin told me she had an unusual request. She had just heard the good news that her daughter-in-law gave birth to her second baby and she wanted to book her ticket to Arizona when she realized she had a scheduling conflict. She was supposed to go to church on Christmas Eve here in San Diego. Would I fill in for her? This is a woman who serves the Jewish community of San Diego in a myriad of ways so there’s no way I’m not going to oblige if I’m able. So yes, I said yes. But what came so naturally to her, to help out the church doesn’t come naturally to me and I’ve been turning it over and over in my mind since I was asked. I’m bringing my children with me which adds another layer of complexity as I try to delicately explain Christmas, church, and Jesus to my very young boys who seem to be taking this all rather well. It’s going to feel strange walking into that church tomorrow evening but despite my uneasiness I’m really proud of representing the Jewish people to the Christian community