Living in Israel and not owning a television means that on a good day I can shield my kids from most of what passes for “news” today.
My kids didn’t want to go to school because for them every day at school is like going back into battle. Four months in a new country, they are dealing with bullies, lack of understanding the language and the material, being too far ahead in certain subjects and too far behind in others. All of the toilet paper in the bathrooms being used up by the end of 4th period. Teachers who care, they do, but have 25 other kids to worry about, instead of ten. Even the kids who are nice to them most often are still not “friends”. And the noise; Israeli buildings, including schools, echo more than American ones, and when the student population of their grade outnumbers the entire student body of their school (preschool-8th), it is just so noisy.
So they go off to battle every day, and some days are better than others, but it is still wearying, and still requires bravery. Now I understand why our young soldiers get such short periods of time to go home! Ten days of sleeping in, hugs and food from Ima, choosing the company you keep and quiet when you want it? Well, of course it is hard to give that up.
They didn’t want to be brave this morning. So they carried on, crying and yelling and threatening and being altogether unpleasant. After all, I moved them here, so ultimately it is my fault.
A part of me really wanted to give them some perspective. “Look at what just happened. Don’t you know what you have? What you are? Alive, that’s what! You are here, breathing and safe, and be grateful and go to school! But give me another hug first. “
I didn’t do that. The last thing in the world they needed was for me to add to their long list of fears. It wouldn’t have given them perspective, or taught gratitude. It would have reminded them that they are right that school requires bravery – of all unimaginable types, bravery that it just shouldn’t require.
But it gives me perspective. I can’t imagine how many parents didn’t want to send their kids to school today, or how many little children across America didn’t want to go to. Children who also cried and carried on… and unfortunately not simply because they have had a week and a half of sleep, warm food, vacation and quiet.
My condolences to the families and community of Newtown, CT. I hope that there is some source of comfort and healing there for all of you.
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Have you ever had a day that was perfect? Truly perfect?
During sukkot (yes, that is right, it has taken me until Chanukah to write about it,) I and my family met one of my very best friends and her family at the beach in Ashdod. The weather was perfect, the waves were perfect, the scenery was perfect, and the company was even more perfect.
At some point in the afternoon the two husbands left with half of the kids, and I was left on the beach with my daughter joyfully riding waves and jumping into the arms of my friend. The kids that stayed with us were happy. No one needed me, no phone was ringing, no chores awaited; it was late in the day so not too hot or cold, and everything was, well, perfect.
As I sat there I tried to take in the moment and internalize it. To keep it recorded in my memory and in my soul so that I could go back there and visit it at some when life is feeling a lot less perfect. I also tried to figure out what Hashem wanted me to be learning from this slice of perfection. What am I supposed to learn from this beach, this day, in this scenario.
I spent a good part of the day in the waves myself. Waves that were big enough to lift you up and carry you, but not out of control or “hostile”. Most of the time I was riding with ease. At one point I was socializing, enjoying myself, but distracted, and I did get carried under. I was fine, but very concerned about my hair covering coming off, so I kept my head in the water until I could retrieve it and put it back on. I looked ridiculous, but there wasn’t anyone there to notice. (At least that is what I tell myself.)
It occurred to me, while sitting on the beach in complete solitude and bliss that was is true of the waves is true in the rest of the world that God has given us:
When we are prepared for what is coming, then we stand in the right place, catch the wave and use it as an opportunity to move, enjoying the process. When we aren’t prepared for what is coming, it comes anyway, and often knocks us down and pushes us under. We often feel like we are drowning, even when we aren’t, and have a hard time getting our footing again. Especially because once that wave catches us off guard, the next one just comes rolling in whether we have gotten back up or not.
There are experiences that come and are sometimes merely crises because we weren’t prepared for them. We can’t always know what will come our way, but I think that working on one’s faith is a lot like standing in position for the next wave. Having faith that is strong, developed and ready makes it so much easier for you to meet the next challenge and “ride” it through, and working on ourselves and our character, being in tune with the calendar and what God wants from us, instead of absently just going along, increases our chances of seeing the waves before they arrive – and crash down on our heads.
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My friends are all excited – as it appears most of the computer users are – about Pinterest. I like it, but I am not in love. I remember seeing the growth and potential in twitter and wanting to share, but not having my contacts yet on there. I don’t feel that way about Pinterest, so I found it unsettling to read EVERYWHERE that Pinterest is a “girl thing”. Really? I am a girl? It seems to me that Pinterest is a visual thing.
And if it is a girl thing, well, so what? What does that mean? Along comes Clever Girls Collective, a network of women who blog and work in social media, with a great article on the topic. I really hope you will read it.
HOW TO STOP BEING A PINTEREST SEXIST
ESPECIALLY if you aren’t a girl.
I can’t continue to work in PR and social media without getting better acquainted, even if I don’t fall in love. Umm, it’s a work thing, you see…… If you are a pinterest user, I would love to hear why you love it and what you use it for.
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I am on my way to a five day vacation with three women I know from elementary and middle school. We come from very diverse backgrounds and have chosen very different paths in life. Our lives and get together could probably qualify for some mid-life chick flick.
The vacation is a reunion for all of us. But what other functions this excursion has for each of us is as different as the rest of our lives.
I have a year of overwhelming commitments. I wanted to go back to work full time despite the challenge of juggling that with so many children to care for. I got what I wanted, but the price has been little time for reflection, contemplation – blogging – and going forward with my customary “strategy building” intentionality. I like to run my household by reflecting on how things are going, assessing what I would like to see continue / change, and modifying my own strategy and attitude. By committing my every waking minute, I have left myself no room for this part of my being – this crucial aspect of mothering. It is exhausting, and I can see that my family is paying the price.
I know this trip away from my family is as good for them as it is for me beyond the cliché platitude. Yes, of course a rested and relaxed Ima is a better one. But like any corporate retreat, the simple QUIET of my first hour on the airplane has given me more chance for reflection than the last six months of chaos.
I know it will be incredible to catch up with old friends, and hear how the story of their lives have been unfolding. But I also can’t wait to just catch up with myself.
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I don’t have a bucket list to complete “before I die.” I was born with this strange innate clock that is always running, reminding me that my time on earth is limited so I better use it while I’ve got it. It took me a long time to realize that not everyone feels that same internal ticking. One of the reasons I remain busy (only one of the reasons) is my desire to “get it all done” in this lifetime. It is very often an inadvisable approach.
But I do have big plans to move 6,000 miles away in only six months (!!!). and it has caused me to form a bucket list of sorts and to operate that way. I have gotten to enjoy a VIP experience at a rock concert for one.
Next week I have plans to go on vacation with three friends from Middle School. No kids, no husbands… hopefully no responsibilities. The fact that all four of us are turning 40 would have been enough reason, but I know that if I don’t do this now, it won’t happen. Ever.
I won’t get to everything I would like to cross of that list before we move, but I am seriously enjoying the effort along the way!
What’s on your bucket list?
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It has been almost a full month since I last wrote a blog post. I am not sure if this is an indication that I have truly spent the month on vacation, or precisely the opposite.
Being at a house by the ocean that is not my own with a stream of visitors and visiting time withgrandparents has been wonderful. I am not sure I would use the word “leisurely” or “relaxing”. The lack of school structure for six kids for one month certainly might have eclipsed my ability to blog, beach house notwithstanding. I feel like I have been busy, and tired. I have spent a great deal of time shopping, cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.
I wrote last year about finding the moments of personal vacation within my family vacation, and every year this is a different experience, since the ages and circumstances of the family are always changing. I discovered kayaking this summer, because our old, dear and generous friends lent us theirs for two weeks. Out in the kayak in Barnstable Harbor, there was more than one moment this month when I could not hear a single sound. Not a child, not a phone; not even a boat or seagull. And I love the fact that my older brother showed me the ropes my first time out. No spa visits like last year. Not even some “escape shopping”.
I am experiencing a different kind of relaxation… and that is the sort of phase II with my family. What I mean is that we don’t have any babies, nor are we expecting one (right now). After years of vacationing with strollers and car seats, middle of the night nursing, bottles and diapers and bouncy seats and carriers, we are just a family with a gang of kids. Day trips are suddenly possible. The kids can buckle themselves in the car, or at least buckle each other. No sunscreen battles, or constantly running after a destructive 18 month old.
We are still in transition, don’t get me wrong; we are potty training, and still planning around the “baby’s” nap. But 3-11 years old(My SS sadly didn’t join us this year) feels REALLY different than a house full of babies and toddlers.
My pockets of personal vacation are less about escaping all of the child care because the child care is less intense. This is probably just the calm before the storm, (right Miriyummy?) given that they will all become teenagers practically at once – and then I am thinking “intense” will become a fitting description again.
I have found that as in a traditional vacation, this year has been more about an escape from much of the long list of responsibilities I have. No escape from the childcare or housework ones, of course, but a break from work, my house, my scenery, my routine.
A break that has been in blessedly gorgeous surroundings with quiet bay waves, lovely neighbors, gorgeous hikes and silent kayaking.
Wow. After all of these years I guess it has started to become a vacation.
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We are trying something new this year. We are away for an entire month. Every year we spend some time up near my parents’ house by the beach. When my children were younger we came for a week, then ten days. Last year it was over two weeks.
As anyone with a large family will tell you, once you are packing for two weeks, another two makes very little difference. We are fortunate that my parents generously rented us a house. There is just no way we would have been able to spend the month living with my parents. I want them to still love my children – and me – by the end of the month!
I am looking forward to getting settled and being able to stay that way, even if for a little while. Having said that, family vacation doesn’t generally feel like much of a vacation for me.
I have also upped the ante by deciding that this is the time and place for potty training! (That’s a post for another time.) This year I am adding to the challenges of being with my relatives, hosting other guests, trying to give the kids routine, limitations in kosher food and the sand, sand, sand. I also have to continue to work from home while away.
Still, with all of this going on, the biggest challenge for me while away is not finding time to myself. Who is used to that anyway? So far I have logged one hour of blissful reading ALONE in the sun, and a whole fifteen minutes on the beach walking with my husband while the children circled and hovered.
What is harder is finding my relationship with Hashem here. The beach in New England is relaxing and beautiful, clean and charming, with p0lite tourists and locals. But there isn’t a Jewish community, people to enjoy Shabbat with, etc. Our second day here my husband and two sons walked 4.5 miles each way to to a Chabad minyan without carrying even a water bottle. While my husband may want to try it again, the twins won’t, and I am not so keen on spending Shabbat until 3:30 with six kids by myself.
Finding G-d in the gloriousness of the ocean views isn’t too hard in a spiritual sense, but carving out time for rituals, davening and Torah is a bigger challenge here. Dressing the way I do sticks out A LOT. I have already had to answer “kippah questions”. Maybe this year, the first with no babies in the family, I may just find the right religious balance.
As for beach adventures so far, I missed the giant spider crab with her babies yesterday that my kids found, so I have no good photo of it for you. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.
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About a month ago, I went to a fundraising event for Jew In The City where I got to meet Mayim Bialik. Probably best known as “Blossom“, she now plays Amy Fowler on The Big Bang Theory.
The main reason I attended the event was to support Allison Josephs, the one-woman-show behind Jew In the City, and the amazing work she is doing for the Jewish world. I was determined not to be a groupie. I am embarrassed to admit that prior to the event I had never watched Mayim on The Big Bang Theory. I have been privileged to spend most of my life meeting and speaking with prominent, people for one reason or another (none of which have anything to do with me). I don’t fawn, and have always prided myself on relating to the famous just like everyone else. (*Margaret Thatcher was the exception to that. I don’t consider her a real person; she is history and larger-than-life, right? )
But this scenario was different. I spent my entire childhood dreaming of a life on stage. I performed from age eight. I took singing lessons, dance lessons, acting lessons and spent summers at BU Theater Conservatory. When I was a junior in high school and the hobby wasn’t going away, I was told by all of the well-meaning adults in my life that I was ”too Jewish” to make it in “the business”. It wasn’t just my parents who discouraged me, telling me that Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand were the exceptions to the rule, but all of the professionals in show business who I came into contact with as well….
… And then the movie Beaches came out. And Mayim Bialik was literally playing a young Bette Midler. And her movie role led to her own TV show. So she became a hero to me, and a symbol that all of those adults were wrong. (Somehow I drew that conclusion a lot at 17.) I continued to pursue a career on the stage for many years after. I subsequently dropped that plan for my own reasons, almost all of which had to do with my religious growth and shift in priorities.
So here is the very same Mayim Bialik talking about her religious growth with me in the center of the second row, hanging on her words like a full-blown groupie. It didn’t help that we are both into attachment parenting and healthy eating (“both into” as in she has written a book on holistic parenting and I do what I can when I can.) Or that the first thing Mayim said to me when I walked in was: ”Oh my gosh, I almost wore that dress tonight!”.
Yes, she did say that, and this is the dress.
I tried not to gush, or to tell her all of this background which would have sounded ridiculous to her, but to instead maintain my customary non-groupie-like composure. Since I fell out somewhere between polite and out-right gushing, I think I came across as a complete weirdo. I also think she must be really used to it.
More than anything else, I really appreciated learning from her that evening. Much more than an actress she is a true thinker. A PhD in Neurology, she is intellectual and deliberate in her approach to just about everything, including her faith. One of the things she said that struck me the most is that she knew she was on a ladder of personal growth. But she needed to understand the shape and structure of the ladder, i.e. Jewish law, philosophy and theology, before being able to reach her hand off of it and safely out to Hashem. I have used the analogy of a ladder often in describing my own personal Jewish reality and I found her description so apt.
I left the evening sure that if we just had some time together Mayim and I would just be great friends. This woman who had the career that I tried not to covet as a teenager is now in the arduous process of melding her love of acting with her growing love of Judaism. I feel for her, relating so strongly to the many choices and changes that I made along the way. Okay, so I didn’t exactly have to contend with being on a PRIME TIME SITCOM, but I made my own sacrifices.
I think it is to Mayim Bialik’s credit that she left me with that impression that we would be buddies if only… as well as no doubt 90% of the other people in that room, and 90% of the women all over the country who watch her and have met her.
One other comment she made that stayed with me was her retelling of a fundamental question Allison asked her when they began learning together many years ago as chevrutot, or study partners: “Why do you think G-d gave you this amazing success and what do you think he wants you to do with it?” She didn’ t have any answers then, but it was a life-changing reference point that she said Allison has stuck with and revisits with her. She is taking a lot of composed, rational middle-aged women like myself and turning us into groupies, and getting an increasing amount of attention about her Jewish growth and her holistic parenting choices.
So she is doing much with her notoriety, and I think she is at least part of the way towards figuring out an answer.
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Immahlady prepared a dvar Torah that she shared with me. And I feel I have to share it with you. Although we have just said goodbye to Purim, we are unfortunately still reading headlines about Amalek every day. I just read about a disturbing incident of disunity in my former community, and I think that my friend has addressed it beautifully, albeit unintentionally.
I hope you had a beautiful Purim, and that the spirit of achdut can carry you through to an elevated and meaningful Pesach.
D’var Torah – Parshat Tzav/Shabbat Zachor –by Immahlady
When Parshat Tzav and Shabbat Zachor (the Shabbat prior to Purim) connect, we are given some special insights into how to combat our age-old enemy Amalek.
I’ll get there in about five steps.
Step 1: The Joke.
You’ve probably heard it before, but laugh anyway. A new rabbi comes to a well-established congregation. Every week a fight erupts during the service. When it comes time to recite the Shema, half of the congregation stands and the other half sits. The half who stand say, “Of course we stand for the Shema. It’s the credo of Judaism. Throughout history, thousands of Jews have died with the words of the Shema on their lips.” The half who remain seated say, “No. According to the Shulchan Aruch (the code of Jewish law), if you are seated when you get to the Shema you remain seated.”
The people who are standing yell at the people who are sitting, “Stand up!” while the people who are sitting yell at the people who are standing, “Sit down!” It’s destroying the whole decorum of the service, and driving the new rabbi crazy. Finally, it’s brought to the rabbi’s attention that at a nearby home for the aged is a 98-year-old man who was a founding member of the congregation. So, in accordance with Talmudic tradition, the rabbi appoints a delegation of three, one who stands for the Shema, one who sits, and the rabbi himself, to go interview the man.
They enter his room, and the man who stands for the Shema rushes over to the old man and says, “Wasn’t it the tradition in our synagogue to stand for the Shema?”
“No,” the old man answers in a weak voice. “That wasn’t the tradition.” The other man jumps in excitedly.
“Wasn’t it the tradition in our synagogue to sit for the Shema?”
“No,” the old man says. “That wasn’t the tradition.”
At this point, the rabbi cannot control himself. He cuts in angrily. “I don’t care what the tradition was! Just tell them one or the other. Do you know what goes on in services every week — the people who are standing yell at the people who are sitting, the people
who are sitting yell at the people who are standing—”
“That was the tradition,” the old man says. It’s funny, and we do laugh, but how often do we see this play out in families, at work, and yes, brace yourselves – in shuls – and between the different movements of
Step 2: The Parsha
The parsha opens with HaShem telling Moshe to instruct the Kohanim regarding the sacrifice of particular offerings. Normally, when HaShem gives such instructions, the Torah uses the words ‘Emor’ or ‘Dabair’, which mean ‘say’ or tell.’ Instead, this week we have Tzav, ‘command.’ Command is a stricter, more concrete word then ‘say or tell.’ And given that commandments laid out this week apply to the Kohanim, a group already uniquely dedicated to the service of HaShem, it seems odd choice of words. After all, they have already proven themselves more than willing to obey HaShem’s laws. Rashi explains ‘tzav’ appears before the description of the olah offering. Whereas the Kohain is entitled to a portion of most offerings, the olah offering is entirely consumed by fire. ‘Tsav’ is a message to the Kohain not to downplay or ignore the elevation offerings, even though the other offerings are more lucrative. The Kohain does not profit directly from this korban, but nevertheless, it is a requirement he cannot shirk. Why is the Olah offering so important?
Rambam explains that the olah offering was one from the entire community. And as such, this sacrifice serves as a means to unite the community, not just to each other, but to G-d. In doing so, making us one nation. In essence, we are commanded to unite ourselves as a nation.
Step 3: Zachor
The Shabbat before Purim is called Shabbat Zachor. In addition to the normal Torah Reading, we read a few extra psukim from Devarim reminding us that we must not forget Amalek. While B’nai Israel walked out of Egypt, the surrounding nations were
pretty freaked, G-d rescued Israel from the most powerful country on the planet – with signs and wonders, with plagues, and of course, the splitting of the sea.
These miracles acted as a deterrent preventing the other nations from attacking Israel during the Exodus. Everyone, that is, except Amalek, which snuck behind B’nai Israel to attack the stragglers – the elderly, the weak, and the infirm. In doing so, they show
not only a complete lack of human decency, but also blatant disregard for HaShem. They showed no fear of retribution from G-d, despite the fate of the Egyptians, but they were afraid to meet their victims head on.
Because they acted so distastefully, we are commanded to wipe the entire nation of Amalek – sparing no one. In the HafTarah we read how Saul defied G-d’s commandment and did not completely wipe out Amalek. This misstep leads us to Purim, when we read about Amalek’s direct descendent Haman.
Step 4: Purim
Listen to the words Haman uses to convince Achashverosh to annihilate the Jewish People. He says “There is one nation that is scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm.” Scattered and disbursed indicates that in
Persia, the Jews were very much as we are today – spread all over the land, not clustered into one community. The sages also explain that, like today, the Jews under Persian rule were just active in secular as well as non-secular activities, some more observant, some less so.
But Hashem and Haman agree in one critical point. No matter how we spread out and divide ourselves into categories, no matter how we separate ourselves from each other, Jews are – and always have been – one people, and have always shared in the same
fate. This is why Haman can justify genocide in response to his anger at Mordechai. As Rabbi Shalom Schwartz explains, the very goal of Israel’s enemies is to cripple the will of the nation through fear and suffering. But we see in the Torah reading on Shabbat and in the Megillah on Purim, that the Jews rally under attack from Amalek – fear and danger united us in Shushan, just as the Olah offering
united us. The key word here is united.
Step 5: Back to the Beginning
Like the Babylonians, Romans, and other historical enemies of the Jews, the Amalekites eventually dispersed through assimilation and marriage into other nations. Consequently, we can no longer identify Amalek as a people. But that does not mean
we don’t have the means to counter what Amalek stood for. Amalek leaves a calling card: It creates division and strife, sucking out hope and joy. Amalek tries to tear asunder what we have spent generations joining together, and will use any means necessary to break our hope – whether by blatant genocide or by sneaking in to murder the unarmed and defenseless. The best means of combating Amalek is to prove that no matter what, we will always remain an Am Echad, one nation.
How do we act as one nation?
To truly behave as one nation, we must believe that we are all connected, that we all belong to each other. And as long as we can be one nation, hope is not lost. This room – like the rest of world – appears to be full of individuals. But if we could see each person as limb extending from a shared body, we would understand that in order to keep the whole body safe, we must take care of each part as if they were all of equal importance. We cannot discount a limb because it refuses to move in the same direction of the others. The problem with that well-established shul in the joke is not that a difference of opinion exists. The old saying about two Jews make three opinions speaks volumes. That’s not the issue. The problem is when we use those disagreements to create rifts and arguments. Working together, as an Am Echad, is the only way to effectively combat Amalek.
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My “old friend” wrote a lengthy comment in response to my post last week, and I have decided to share it with you as a guest post:
I think friendship the way you have described it is what it truly should be: a laboratory where we get to try out each other’s ideas and see how they fit, volleying them back and forth to see how they can grow and take on a life and meaning that is at least clear to us both, and perhaps also, even although not necessarily, acceptable;). I too value that about our friendship, and always enjoy the sharpening that comes to my mind when I have to articulate things that have become nebulous through non-speech. The following is some “word soup” to continue the conversation and to perhaps sharpen the distinctions between our positions. I have always believed that I am responsible for doing those things that I wish or believe need to be done, and therefore that I must do them. Whether those things are making sure my children have the best options for growth and learning, or whether the Torah is dispensed and dispersed in the world in optimal ways.
This is why I spent most of my children’s young years as a housewife and mother, cooking and baking nourishing dishes to eat and working at and with the schools in which they learned. I never actually thought of myself as chaining myself to a stove, nor did I see that as part of Orthodox Judaism. It did mean that my career and personal development took a different route, even perhaps a bit of a detour, and that I added different types of experiences and skill sets to my already eclectic resume. Now that they are grown and out of the house, I continue to cook and bake most of my own foods, for the nutritional value that provides me, again not because of some gender role or some external force, but because these are choices I make, based on my needs and understanding of what is available and what I wish to put in my body. To a certain extent I feel the same way about my understanding of Halakha and Torah. It is not so much an issue of “trust”ing male sages, rather understanding how they arrived at their conclusions, and whether those conclusions are still valid in a world where both men and women share the burden and the partnership in raising, educating and growing our children, and whether they are still valid for me in my world. In a world like this, perhaps the rules that Ima2Seven sees as playing out for her are not really applicable. It is perhaps convenient, and even pleasurable or correct for her family, for her and for her husband to be to be doing the tasks they do, but does that make it the case for every Orthodox Jewish couple?.
In my experience of learning, many of the “rules and regulations” that appear in our legal corpus are the result of attempts to formalize case law into formulas that can be generalized. The problem with doing this is that there will always be exceptions to rules like these, that case law would have provided for but legal formulations cannot. A difference between me and Ima2Seven is that she prefers to give these questions, when they arise to her Rabbi, I prefer to learn the sources and find out the options for myself.
This is my way of initiating a healing of those “parts of the body that are afflicted”, for myself. I do not believe that this is “uprooting”, rather casting new and relevant light and perspective on laws that need to be seen. Understand please, I do not believe that I will be able to solve these issues, not even for myself. I wish to understand some of the sources of what i perceive to be difficulties. I do however believe that that is the first step in the dialog, of men and women with the Torah and the Halakha that will hopefully lead to the healing without uprooting that we all wish to see.
Even though Ima2Seven declares her “sexist” position, I think that she herself would have a tough time accepting the original rules that go along with it. We fought long and hard so that women could vote, get equal pay for equal positions, could speak or perform in public and many other advantages that will allow her daughters to reach at least the same heights of knowledge and independence as those reached by her sons. To disallow that in the religious context, is to me the worst of the logical outgrowths of her position, since at some point, for some of these young women, one of the only options left them might be to leave the religious fold altogether, in order to find intellectual satisfaction, or suitable partners with whom to connect, because we have not shown our young men and women how to navigate these very complex yet intriguing waters.
I told you she is a “hachama”; what do you think?
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