October 7th, 2012

Hours before Simchat Torah and I am (finally) posting about Sukkot. Figures. 

I would like to dedicate this post, if I may be so bold, to the memory of Rav Haim Lifshitz, z”l. He was my Rav’s father, a great tzaddik, who passed away this past Shabbat. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. 

The truth is that as much as I usually try to prepare in advance, this year my thoughts and feelings on Sukkot came through experiencing it, listening and learning throughout the holiday.

The word that kept coming back to me this year was vulnerability. I was inspired by a dvar Torah given by Sally Mayer at a fantastic simchat beit hashoeva gathering for women here in Neve Daniel. She gave over an idea she had learned from Drisha’s Rabbi Silber comparing the tone of the parasha we read before sukkot (Haazinu), around Yom Kippur, and that of Zot Habracha, the parsha we read on Shabbat during Sukkot. The former has a clear tone of remonstrance and warning, logically connected to a time of our judgement.

Zot Habracha in contrast, has more of a positive note going into our future. This is how we feel during Sukkot. Feeling hopeful that we have been forgiven by Hashem over Yom Kippur, we dwell in a sukkah which has often been mentioned as a move of intimacy with Hashem. We move out of our safe, comfortable homes and into a temporary hut, trusting in Hashem’s protection as was just promised us through our repentance and in the words of that final parsha.

Yet the intimacy, it seems to me, is linked to our increased vulnerability. The people to whom we feel the closest are almost always those to whom we feel the most vulnerable. Or that we can be vulnerable with. Yom Kippur is a time when we are our most open and vulnerable with Hashem. At least in the ideal, we have undergone a process of serious introspection and have opened our hearts, souls and mouths to cry out to G-d.

Following that, we feel closer, more loved, and move ourselves to a place of more physical vulnerability than our homes.  It is through that move that we express our feeling of closeness to G-d and demonstrate that we know that in this time he is also very close to us…..

Why does all of this occur to me this year?

Because I think that people living in Israel feel more vulnerable than Jews living elsewhere. Particularly Jews living where we do, the beautiful Judean Hills that some would like to call “settlements” or “territories” or even “illegal”. I call it Jewish soil that has been loved, worked on, and cried over by Jews for over 2,000 years. But no matter what you call it, Jews here feel vulnerable, and I think it is connected to why it feels easier here to feel close to Hashem. The vulnerability that we choose is a daily reminder of where our trust truly lies, and that there is no “safe” and “unsafe” there is only the will of our Creator.

The increased vulnerability of a sukkah versus your home is a myth. An illusion, of course. A sukkah doesn’t actually make us more vulnerable, it simply reminds us that we don’t get protection from our home, we get it from Hashem. Whatever will become of us will happen no matter where we eat our dinner or sleep tonight. The same is true of Jews and where they live around the world. Jews in this part of the world are no more or less safe than anywhere else. The dangers may have drastically different manifestations, but we all are equally vulnerable to the will of Hashem every moment of our lives.

But I leave this, my first sukkot living in Israel in 12 years, feeling open, a little raw, far more vulnerable to circumstances, people and Hashem’s will than I ever did in the United States. And therefore feeling the heightened intimacy with G-d that I missed so greatly while I was gone.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Simchat Torah holiday, and that you will be here in Neve Daniel with us to celebrate next year!

Abba, Are We There Yet?

March 29th, 2012

When my children were younger I felt like I was always playing catch-up, scrambling up the learning curve to meet their needs. Somewhere past toddlerhood I guess I started to feel competent. Surprise, surprise, each of the children followed a similar developmental pattern. Lots of things were predictable. The “terrible twos” weren’t really so terrible. It was nice.

The trouble is that while I started to gain confidence, let down my guard, and even blog about the joys of “phase II” parenting…. the older ones kept growing up, bringing with them a whole new set of complex needs and struggles – ones I didn’t get any proper training to handle.

I remember that almost two years ago I was on the phone with our Rav, second guessing (again) our family size decisions. He cautioned me that I was about to hit a “whole new level of intensity and needs” as my children entered their second decade.  As is so often true with advice, I couldn’t fully relate until it happened.

I know that “big kids, big problems” is a cliche, but I don’t know that this is always true. First, big kids let you sleep at night. Second, older children can often articulate what is going on. It’s a pleasure to receive more feedback than crying vs. not crying and I blunder through.

When I try to wrap my head around the fact that I am already dealing with boy-girl issues, I just can’t. They are just too young! Everyone around me also seems to react that they are “so young”. Then I remind myself of Jimmy M. in the 5th grade. Although oblivious to me and any of my thoughts and feelings, Jimmy caused a blowup with my father about the injustice of only being allowed to date Jewish boys.

It actually didn’t upset me too much that I was expected to date only Jews. It upset me that I was sent to public school in preppy-town, USA, with practically no Jewish population and then told I could only date Jewish boys. Perhaps this was a clever strategy on my father’s part, a means of putting off the inevitable.

But I doubt it. With hindsight, he probably made decisions about moving there when he was still in Phase I of parenting himself, and Phase II snuck up on him sooner than he had suspected as well.  I suppose he couldn’t wrap his head around having boy-girl issues when I was  in 5th grade any more than I can wrap my head around it now.  I bet he had  his first crush around that age himself.  He probably only remembered that as he stood there post-blowup thinking I was too young.

The thing is, we never really get to stop scrambling up the learning curve trying to meet their needs, do we? I am not sure that we would want to. If I ever master meeting their needs, won’t that mean that their lives have stagnated?  If they continue to grow and develop, this will mean an endless series of of new challenges, just like mine. Won’t that be a good thing?

I hope they will continue to grow, and I know that it means that I will have to as well. I also hope that they will continue to need me; seek my advice, solicit my support in the hard times, and welcome my applause in the good. My mother dropped her own life this last month and again last week to help me pack for our anticipated move. A significant evolution from fifth grade romance boundaries, it’s just a different, not lesser, call for help after all of these years.

And I know that they are glad I still call.

… I think all of this is what Hashem (God) wants me to understand of his relationship with me. He wants more than anything for us to continue to have challenges – always new, always harder – that are signs of our ongoing growth and development. Having to cry out to Hashem for help is a sign of both continued relationship and ongoing progress, just as in my relationships as both child and parent.  He really doesn’t want me to be “there yet” and to stop growing… and he really wouldn’t want me not to call.

The key difference is that Hashem doesn’t have to run up the learning curve. He, as the ultimate parent, has already arrived. As for me? I am not there yet, and since I hope for my children to keep being challenged and therefore challenging me, I am pretty sure I never will be.




I have been very fortunate to be writing lately of frivolities, indulgences, and good news.  I am so grateful for all of the good in my life these days.

But I am also crying. I have been crying a great deal over this particular tragedy, which is tragic on just so many levels…. The neighborhood of Nachlaot, one of Jerusalem’s oldest, has been broken – destroyed.  The people who live there – members of our one Jewish family – have been attacked, ruthlessly, for years. The children EVERYONE who lives there, is in constant fear.

Except for the terrorists.

There is a ring of at least 10 adult male pedophiles who have been terrorizing the neighborhood of Nachlaot. They are clothed in religious clothing and have been attending local synagogues as upstanding ovdei Hashem. And only 3 of the ten have even been arrested. The situation is a nightmare.

I don’t know where to focus my anger, sadness and outrage because there is just so much wrong with this story:       

1. The police made a statement on the TV news in Israel in Wednesday that “there is an investigation underway and a police presence in the neighborhood and the families are satisfied.”   This is a scandal, a lie, a sheer cover up. The ringleader of the ten – many of whom he recruited – is walking free. The police have thrown out the testimony of scores of children as “unusable” because the investigators themselves couldn’t get around to acquiring their statements fast enough. Children who were told that if they were brave and told the truth would see the bad guys taken care of by the trusted authorities now see the police doing little to nothing, and their rapists walking free, sharing their kiosk and daily bus.

2. There are not enough Haredi therapists qualified to treat the dozens (probably more than 100) children in their sector that have been terrorized. Their parents understandably want therapy for their children from a Haredi therapist. So children are going without treatment. On Wednesday’s channel 10 news report an anonymous Haredi parent said he did not ask his children if they are among the victims. His claim on TV is that his RABBI TOLD HIM NOT TO ASK HIS CHILDREN. I don’t even know what to say. **Note: Please read Chavi’s comments below that this was a distortion by the television news, and has more of an explanation, of course.  A tragic, but logical explanation

3. There isn’t enough money in the world to put the staff on this case that is necessary. There aren’t enough investigators trained to take statements from children. So the statements aren’t all being taken.

4. There are very consistent accounts from many children that siblings were forced to watch the molestation and rape of their siblings, and that the sex acts were filmed. NO FILM HAS BEEN RETRIEVED AT ALL. While private investigators could be very helpful in this case, it costs money.

5. Parents do not feel safe allowing their children out at all. Yet they must run from therapy to therapy to treat their children, if they are in fact getting treatment.  How they can be in so many places at once – and of course not getting the therapy for themselves that they need – is just beyond me.

6. The silent victims are the ones that scare me the most. Who knows how many children can’t, won’t, admit what has been done to them? Each of these children, those who have bravely spoken out and those that have not will grow up with all of the scars of this horrible nightmare:

  • The scars of being raped
  • The scars of watching the violation of others
  • The scars of not being believed or heard
  • The scars of being betrayed by the police, their government, their rabbis, their community
  • The scars of being betrayed by Klal Yisroel.
The city has (finally) admitted that there is a real crisis here and they don’t have the resources, training, manpower or no how to address it properly. This must be fixed. We owe these children, these families, nothing less.

Kol Areivim Ze L’Zeh“. We are all responsible for one another. Every Jew is a cell in one Jewish body that acts to serve G-d. And yet this part of our body is screaming, terrorized, broken, betrayed. And where is Klal Yisrael??? Where is the outcry and support from the Rabbis? The community? The Jewish Human Rights Activists?

Who in the Diaspora KNOWS about this? 

Chana Jenny Weisberg at has done a HEROIC job of publicizing this horrific tragedy, but since it is her community she has paid a price. And she has been mostly alone in her efforts. I am so grateful for her letting me know and giving me an opportunity to pray and cry with the mothers and children of Nachlaot.

But we can do better. WE MUST DO BETTER.

I know there is a lot of press right now about Beit Shemesh and the tensions between religious and non religious groups in Israel. I hope this sinat chinam is not related to this horrible suffering we are seeing. But regardless, this is our chance to show some unity and help poor innocent children, religious and non-religious who have all been hurt.

We simply must act. 

Kol Areivim Ze L’Zeh. We will be held accountable for our silence on this matter, and it makes me tremble, quite honestly. I worry about these children as adults. How their untreated trauma and terror can create Jews who hate the world, hate Israel, hate Hashem, G-d forbid.  G-d forbid, it can create future victims, according to research.

I hope this bleak and poorly written blog post makes you upset. And I hope it empowers you to help.

There is a lot that YOU can do:

1. MAKE A DONATION. There is so much need, both in terms of resources to help these families, as well as to fight the battle properly in court. (Assuming they can get an arrest of the known perpetrators). These children will obviously need YEARS of therapy and assistance. Their souls, their minds, their well being are the collective responsibility of the Jewish people and right now they are broken. Destroyed. I hope to see their future participation in the type of camps and retreats set up for other terror victims, such as the work at One Family Fund. I hope they read this, and make an inclusion for this horrible type of terror victim.

Click here to make your donation to the Nachlaot Pedophile Crisis Fund:

(Note: If the link isn’t working for you, please try logging in to Paypal and then clicking on the button. Sorry.) 

2. Letters can be sent to these children to let them know that they are NOT ALONE. That Klal Yisrael loves them, and that most Jews are not the monsters they have experienced. They need love, lots and lots of love.  Letters can be sent in Israel to:  Children of Nachlaot (or Yaldei Nachlaot) c/o Weisberg Family, Shirizli 11a, Nachlaot, Jerusalem, Israel

In America to: Nachlaot Children, c/o 3 Overton Road, East Windsor, NJ 08520. They will then be sent to Nachlaot. Gifts are welcome too, but please send them directly to Israel.

3. Emails can be sent to the Justice Minister, Yaakov Neeman:  At least one person has had trouble with that address, so you can also send to the Ministry’s Director General: to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat can be sent through the form at this link:

They are waking up to the extent of the damage, but public pressure and concern will help get the attention and resources where they need to go. It is already too little too late, but we can still make a big difference. Not just to help these victims, but to pressure the administration(s) to make permanent changes so something like this can never happen again.

NOTE: Since the writing of this post, this is finally being discussed by the Knesset. Please see Altea’s comment below. Pressure and attention is still needed, of course. If you can read in Hebrew, or if you use google translate, you can read more here:

4. Prayer – this will always help. Join me in letting Hashem know that these are our children too, and that their trauma is our trauma. That Nachlaot is broken, so we are broken.

5. Publicity – please share’s articles on this matter with people you know. Share this post. Let people know. Make sure your local Jewish paper is talking about this. Appeal to your Rabbis and leaders to talk about this. Grown Jewish victims of pedophilia around the world will tell you the damage they have been caused by Jewish institutional silence. It is a second rape. We can do better. We must show them that we can and will scream out loud in pain for them over and over until the noise is heard.

6. Volunteer.  Altea Steinherz is a local lawyer and hero. She is coordinating volunteers and says she needs anyone who can and will help. You can email her at:

7. Donate. I said this already, but I want to remind you in case you got distracted. I am sorry for not making this story easier to read. I am too upset, and too much time has gone by for these families already.

Please leave me comments to this post, so that I know I am not alone. Because I will keep making noise until I feel like someone out there is hearing me. I hope that happens soon. I also must mention that in addition to her other heroic efforts on this front, Chana Jenny Weisberg raised $4500 for these families. Would that it were enough. Let’s help rebuild Nachlaot.

We, Klal Yisroel, can do better.

Additional resources for information about the situation in Nachlaot include:

Israeli news report from Channel 10 

An Aspiring Mekubal

Failed Messiah

Haaretz (all the way back in October – little has changed since) 1 2

My Teacher, The Abuser 

A Mother in Israel

Facebook and Orthodox Judaism

August 10th, 2011

facebook churbanMargelit Hoffman of  Shmuel Hoffman’s Blog wrote  a very honest and thought provoking article for called “The Facebook Churban”. In it, she explains why her family is removing the internet from their home. They are Torah observant Jews who work on the internet. It is their livelihood. She has done a fabulous job of articulating the powers of good vs. the dangers. This move will have serious ramifications on their daily routine and what reads to be significant inconveniences. Yet they are removing it anyway.

I agree with just about every word she has to say. At the same time, I am not getting rid of my facebook account, or the internet in my house.  I feel really good about my remaining focused on using them both for good, and trying to only utilize the blessings of technology for kiddush Hashem. Maybe I am just “not there yet”, maybe my working from a Starbucks is just too unrealistic. Maybe I have an easier time shutting them off and down – I would like to think I do.

Where her post hits closest to home is on the matters of disconnecting from family members and bitul zman (an inappropriate waste of one of Hashem’s greatest gifts to us, time.) If I am going to be honest with myself and truly put G-d in the center all of the time, then I need to do a serious “cheshbon hamachshev, v’machshevot” (accounting of my computer, and my thoughts) about my use of the internet and social media, and perhaps make more guidelines and restrictions for myself. It is as much of a danger from my droid as it is from my laptop, if not more so. And that isn’t dependent upon internet in my home. That depends on me.  I have left her article up on my laptop, nagging me to reread it and make the personal assessments necessary. Which means getting off of all of the other stuff in cyberspace and really focusing on it!

I don’t think it is an accident that Tisha B’Av comes about a month before Elul. The process of teshuva has begun, and before we know it, the time of cheshbon hanefesh will be here. I know for  me this year, my relationship to my computer, my email, my blessed and beloved social network and the internet will be at the forefront. Stay tuned.

What do you do to avoid hillul Hashem and bitul zman in your house from the internet????

Last lap?

October 3rd, 2010

For me, one of the clearest “punishments” for choosing to live outside of the land of Israel is the three-day yom tov.  Here in the diaspora, September has been a string of holidays chained together by a few work/shop/cooking days.  My guess is that with the holidays coming at the same time as back-to-school and the non-chag days being on Fridays, it didn’t feel that much different in Israel, but no doubt my readers will clarify this for me. (I hope.)

I went into Shabbat morning telling at least a couple of community members that I felt like I was running the “last lap in a very long marathon.”  A month of cleaning, shopping, cooking, serving, cleaning, serving, cleaning, serving…. laundry…. lather, rinse, repeat. The last day had finally arrived.

I was glad that I made it to shul to hear the Rabbi speak, because he really turned the whole day around for me. I am sure he chose his topic the same way he always does; by listening to whatever has been going on inside my head the past few days. I keep asking him to stop eavesdropping on my thoughts when he chooses his sermon topics, but it doesn’t appear to have stopped the habit.

The Rabbi spoke about parashat Bereishit, yes, but he spoke about how in this parsha, in the beginning, is the clearest, starkest way that man can emulate G-d. We rest on the seventh day because G-d did. Period. Wanna be like G-d? Keep Shabbat.

He went on to remind us that yes, it is keeping the Shabbat, but moreso it is being “in the Shabbat” that makes us like G-d. That when we truly dwell in the mindframe and Shechina*-consciousness of Shabbat, then we are emulating G0dliness in the purest form.

He reminded me in that one moment that it wasn’t the “last lap” of anything. The holidays ended the day before. It wasn’t the Shemini Atzeret moment, the Sukkot moment, the Simchat Torah moment, or even a last moment of any of them. It was “mamash the holy Shabbos.” The only thing that made the day the “last lap” was that it was one more day to dwell in G-d’s presence and to stay close before going back to months of normalcy… a normalcy that includes less time and focus on accessing that closesness to Hashem.

I went home determined to be in Shabbat, and to savor the holiness rather than watch the clock for my return to…. everything else. It really changed my Shabbat, and I enjoyed it so thoroughly. I even had a house full of unexpected “stoppers by” and relaxed and enjoyed it. (Despite having nothing left in the house to serve them.)

I felt the sadness as Shabbat left us that I am told people holier than I feel every week. I suddenly remembered a dear friend (and tzadika), DE, telling me one year of the depressing let-down she feels every year at the end of Sukkot. I was very surprised; the only feeling I had ever  registered was relief. At the time I  couldn’t relate to her feeling at all because I didn’t have that kind of relationship with G-d.

I think I was able to connect to Hashem in Tishrei this year more than ever before. My grand theory on this is that since my children are getting a little older I was able to sleep more hours this year than ever since getting married.  I feel very strongly about the relationships between sleep &  religion, sleep & happiness and  sleep & health … but that is a blog post for another time.

But whatever it was, the davening, the sleeping, choosing to have fewer guests (!) or just the wake-up call from our wise Rabbi, I felt like this last day wasn’t a drag, and wasn’t a last lap…. it was a gift.

*The majestic presence or manifestation of God which has descended to “dwell” among humankind, traditionally referred to as the aspect of Hashem that comes down into the Holy Temple and/or comes closer to the Jewish People on Shabbat.


August 12th, 2010

I had a shocking experience today.  I have a cordial and somewhat of a “working” relationship with the local public library. Now.

I remember the librarians’ trepidation when as new residents I would stroll in with six children in tow, confident in my ability to maintain “order”.

There is one librarian in particular is, well, just the cranky type. Over the years, I have listened to my fair share of curt reprobations and reminders, and I have tried to respond to with consistent smiles, patience and cheeriness. Over the years she has come to understand that my children actually won’t trash her library. She has come to appreciate my desire to not only respect her, but the library itself. My volunteering to teaching music programs there hasn’t hurt.  I only learned this year that the library is her baby. She is responsible for its existence, and has been there tending to it since it was a storefront with some boxes of donated books. So, she is naturaly protective.  I have come to understand and have tremendous admiration for her efforts and concern for the library. I recognize her worries as those of a mother cub, the library being her baby.

I gave a performance at the library yesterday, a celebration of Jewish music for children and their families.  I went back to the library today for some follow up, and she was very kind and appreciative.

And that is when she said it:  “You know, I have to say, you are just, well, more put together than a lot of those Orthodox women. You should talk to them. You know it really is such a shame.”

She truly meant it as a compliment.  What I think is lost on her is that when I go into the library the VAST majority of the people coming in are in T-shirts, tank tops, jeans, shorts, flip flops, etc.  It is totally, utterly normal in our small, rural town to be very casually dressed. From where I am standing, “dressed” is a very kind adjective some of the time. Yet it’s those “Orthodox women” that are slobs. Isn’t it always?

I think it goes without saying that the only reason she noticed so starkly and felt she could say something to me is because she is a non-Orthodox Jew. You know the lack of funkiness on the part of us religious ladies is really giving the rest of the Jews such a bad name… and clearly it isn’t appreciated.

I don’t resent her feeling the way she does, or even her telling me. In fact, I am glad she feels she can speak plainly to me with candor.

Having lived in the US as a non-Orthodox Jew, Israel as an Orthodox Jew, and then back in the US as an Orthodox Jew, I really, really do understand exactly how she feels.

Lenny Solomon of Shlock Rock* produced an album of original songs called No Limits.  On that album he has a song called “Representing”. “Every day we’re representing…” he sings. And we are. We are Hashem’s agents. Ambassadors. Everything we say and do is watched, noticed and judged.  By EVERYONE who isn’t a religious Jew, especially other Jews. It is true all of the time.

This morning I put on a little makeup and jewelry to go to the library and grocery store. I am known in both. (Did I mention this is a small, rural town?) No one who spends what I do in the grocery store on a weekly basis goes unnoticed. Consistently needing two shopping carts doesn’t help either.  Today they remarked on the miracle of my having no kids in tow. Really.

Part of me feels really silly getting done up for the library and grocery store. Why take the time? Who cares what other people think? It is a trip to the grocery store, after all.

The other part of me knows that every three to four weeks a complete stranger will stop me while I shop and tell me about their intermarried daughter, their trip to Israel 15 years ago, or even that they have a “baal te-something” child that won’t eat much in their home. Do I mind if they follow me and watch what I buy?

There was a day I was wearing particularly shlumpy clothes into the local CVS. Who would notice? Who would even know I was a frum Jew? In a denim skirt, sweatshirt and baseball hat I could be anybody…. only I forgot that my son with his tzitzit and kippah was with me.  A Jewish couple that had just moved into town stopped me outside and introduced themselves as I went back to my car. I have (embarrassing) reminders like this happen to me all of the time.

It is Elul, and we are supposed to remember now more than ever that Hashem is always watching us. That he sees what we do, how we behave, and that he deeply, deeply cares. It can be a positive motivator to remember that people are watching too. Whenever you think “it’s just me” and they aren’t watching you, they are. It isn’t just a question of whether we bothered with makeup or some jewelry, or clothes that have even some modicum of fashion.

We frum Jews sort of think that the world is holding us to a higher standard when it comes to how we speak, how much we smile at others, our patience when waiting in line, etc. But “we” is awfully communal and vague.  Each and every individual one of us really is.  The way I see it, it is an obligation and a burden, but also a privilege .

It is a burden of privilege the same way that living in Israel is: it is a burden of relevance.

*Shlock Rock is coming to the US later this year and I am booking engagements for them, so if you are interested, write to:

Bedtime issues

April 15th, 2010

The worst bedtime issues in my house are not those of any of the children. They are entirely my own.

I like control. I like feeling in control, I like being in control. And being a parent, I have found, is one long road of giving up all control. It starts when your body doesn’t feel like your own anymore, and your eating, sleeping and peeing are all controlled by the little being growing inside of you. It ends, well, I doubt it ever ends.

After I  have helped with homework, fed them, bathed them, read to them, cajoled them, brushed teeth, had the heart-to-heart conversations that always seem to need to happen only 5 minutes AFTER they are supposed to be asleep, cleaned up from the homework, dinner, baths, cajoling and everything else, I sit down… and it is quiet. It is bliss.

It is my time. I get to decide what I am going to do (or not). I can eat what I want, and I can work using my full concentration and whatever brain cells still have energy to function. I can even blog about still being awake.

What my husband wants is another story. He has waited for the kids to get homework done, dinner, baths… I think you have seen the list.  So he has waited a long time to talk to me, spend time with me, or just to go to sleep at the same time. He also wants a wife that is well rested and has gotten enough sleep to do it all again the next day without needing him to take over.

But I don’t want to go to bed at a time that is convenient for someone else. And I don’t want to go to sleep just to do the right thing and get enough sleep, any more than the kids do who need the aforementioned cajoling. (As I write this it sounds like such a rebellious, childish sentiment.)

I want to control this precious time, and use it as I see fit. I would like to think that if I had more control over other aspects of my life than bedtime wouldn’t become a “power struggle” for me. However, I accepted a very long time ago (or at least I thought I had) that I don’t really have any control over anything. It is an illusion. Hashem controls it all, and I have to do the best I can in each situation I am given.  I also thought that raising a non-custodial stepchild who also happens to be a teenager had stripped me of any remaining control issues. Clearly not.

Staying up as long as I want, enjoying the peace and quiet, using my time only mildly wisely and eating things I won’t let the rest of my family have is the closest I am going to come to a “room of one’s own”  for now. And it feels  self-indulgent and “selfish”… blissfully so.

I saw an article posted today titled “5 Keys to Your Child’s Happiness.”

It was posted by newtips4mamas (twitter) but is found on

So states the title, the article is about 5 keys to having happy children. What I find interesting is the research at the beginning of the article that states that a huge majority of parents in 67 (!) countries wish happiness for their children far above all else.

And with my regular level of chutzpah, I think they are getting it wrong.

Or rather, I think the Torah instructs Jewish parents to take a different view, with a different priority.

We need to raise kids to be good, not happy. We need to raise children to do the right thing, to be good and to do good. There are many, many, many times in life that doing that which is right and good does not make us happy.

My husband brought this concept up to me years ago, quoting Dennis Prager as his source. Prager has an article on raising good children in his book Think a Second Time.  (As a side note, I don’t agree with lots of things Dennis Prager says, particularly his views on plastic surgery, but about this I think he is on the mark.)

He writes: ” The problem with regard to parents raising good children is not that most parents don’t want their children to be good people. It is that few parents actually make their child’s goodness their primary concern. Most parents are more concerned with their child’s being a brilliant student or a good athlete or a successful professional. ” (pp. 36-7)

Maybe what he would say today is that based on Oprah’s research, most parents are more concerned with their child being happy.

There is something deeper than happy, and I am not sure what one would term it in English. In Hebrew, there are several words for “happy”. Sameach, merutzeh, mapsut, .. . there are more.  One of them is to feel “shalem”, which means whole, complete, at peace. I think this kind of happy comes from doing and being good. From knowing your source. Knowing your purpose.

But not immediately. It doesn’t make a young child happy or shalem or anything other than pretty mad to have to share, wait, give instead of take, act selflessly, etc.

However, by raising our children in a Torah path, to be serving our creator and living by the rules of right and wrong contained within halacha, we are training them to be good.

One of the mitzvot contained in that halacha… is to be happy. Not the happy described in the article on Oprah’s website. Not the “I am the most loved, most special, most tended to child” kind of happy… the happy of purpose, of meaning, of being good – and knowing why.

Of course I want my children to be happy. Of course I want them to experience more joy than sorrow and to feel the words of “Modeh Ani” right down to their bones every single morning. But I just don’t agree with the apparently thousands+  of parents they seem to have polled that this is the number one priority, number one wish.

I will suffer on the side as they experience the nisyonot, challenges, that Hashem sends their way.  I will hope that they can see all of those future challenges as gam zu l’tovah – Hashem’s will, and ultimately for the good.

I will continue to prioritize their childhood being a development of their goodness… and hope and pray that with it, from it and through it….comes happiness.

I was asked by the local outreach organization to teach a “lunch and learn” class on Tu B’Shvat this past Shabbat.  I heartily agreed because I love what they do and love to help them do it. I love to teach and jump at every chance to do so (there aren’t that many). I have been running a women’s Tu B’Shvat seder at the same location for the past four years, and as a result have ended up learning quite a great deal about the holiday.

However, once I had a chance to stop and think about it, I realized that this would be the first time I was teaching a shiur to a mixed crowd. I teach lots of mixed crowds – religious and not religious – but never men and women together. My rebbetzin – who would never agree to do such a thing –  gave me a look that read “give me a break”. My husband gave me same look, but even stronger.

I am not shy or in anyway less than completely outspoken in mixed company. I have “addressed” mixed audiences before in the same location… but not as a teacher of a Torah shiur. Not for an hour and a half. I have taken gemara shiurim for women.  I studied at Drisha. I had a Rabbi (the brilliant Rabbi David Aaron) speak under my chuppah, but was adamant that I wanted a woman – the incredible Rabbanit Chana Henkin – to speak at the wedding…. so no wonder they gave a look that said “give me a break”, right?

I wrote as my title that I am not a feminist. I am a strong sexist, and a huge fan of womankind.

What I do not support, however, is the idea that we are the same as men in any way, that Hashem wants us to have similar roles in any way, and that male opportunities can and should be given to women wherever and whenever possible. (Even when speaking within the boundaries of halacha.) That is my understanding of what feminism is, and so that makes me not a feminist.

Here’s the thing; I think that women are better at just about everything under the sun than men. Maybe not lifting huge weights or playing football. But if we needed to, we would find a wiser way of getting both of those things done. I have seen and heard and read numerous studies on how women use more parts of their brain. I have read shiurim on how the limitations put on women in Orthodoxy are because we are “exempt” and not because we are “prohibited”. Why do more things than you have to in order to connect to G-d? Why not perfect instead what you do need to do?

My experience of egalitarianism in Judaism is the equivalent of the best behaved child in the school fighting for decades for the right to stay after school in detention.

I once had a dream of becoming a Cantor. I had amazing role models, education and experience to pursue such a thing. My choice to sit behind a mechitza is not because I feel a desire to be subjugated. It comes from a true sense of superiority – not the opposite.

Years ago, I sat in a session at the GA – the General Assembly of the UJA.  In this session they were discussing a new crisis in the Hebrew Union College’s Rabbinical program. According to the panel, as the percentage of enrolled female students neared 50, the enrollment of males just started drastically dropping off.  The woman on the panel went on to describe studies that had been done in other industries, and cited the same phenomenon in the secular world.  Men fled the nursing profession when women began entering it in equal numbers.  The rise in female enrollment in medical school, at least according to the panel member, was having the same effect.

This would seem to be data that agrees with the way a sexist Orthodox Jewish structure was explained to me. Women can be rabbis; they can be great rabbis…. but what does that do to the men? There is something in the male psyche and makeup that doesn’t like competing in anything against women.

And I think the sages understood that much better than contemporary secular society would like to.

I know there are some that believe that this is about evolving and growing beyond such primitive and unfair inclinations, but I don’t buy it. If you believe in G-d, and you believe (he) made man and woman the way he did for a reason, then I believe you need to conclude that the differences are not to be ignored or squashed, but acknowledged, celebrated and worked with.

…. So I believe all of that, and still gave this shiur in front of a bunch of men.  G-d must have a wonderful sense of humor. Someone in our community had a baby, and while baby and Ima stayed in the hospital, many family members came for the shalom zachor and to lend a hand. From Brooklyn and from Lakewood. With very black hats on their heads. And these family members decided to stay for the ‘lunch and learn’.

Mixed learning in our community, taught by a woman at times, isn’t unusual or controversial. So the issue was with me, and my comfort level. Now, I was dealing with men in my audience who had never (they told me) listened to a shiur by a woman in their lives.  So apparently, I was making some statement or stand anyway.

I would love to hear from my readers if my next move was cowardly; I asked the proud new father of said baby to get up and read the Gemara section (the first part of Masechet Rosh Hashana, in the Mishna) that is our first mention of Tu B’Shvat. The truth is he is a wonderful Rebbe in the school and he did a much better job at reading and explaining it than I ever could have.  I am quite sure that there is no halachic distinction at all whatsoever between my teaching the class and my reading that Gemara. But I couldn’t do it.

The rest of the shiur I chose to enjoy. After all, no one made anyone stay, or indicated that it would be rude for them to leave. They could have eaten and then left. They chose to be there. They complimented me afterwards. I take comfort in the fact that I seriously doubt that any of the black hat men have ever heard much of anything about Tu B’Shvat at all whatsoever. Certainly not why the kabbalists made a Tu B’Shvat seder and perceived it to be a tikkun.

I am not embarrassed to teach in front of men, and I don’t apologize for my own level of knowledge, access to learning (yes, the Gemara) or my ability to give that knowledge over.

Through this process I have come to realize that ultimately what bothers me is only that I don’t like being the focus of attention in a room for over an hour that isn’t filled solely with women. Although the focus should of course be on the material, in principle I just don’t want to stand up and be that which everyone looks at for such a long period of time in mixed company.

I don’t think that I will agree to do such a thing again. In this particular case, there was a least some strong element of kiruv, outreach, involved. I know there were men at an early point in the Jewish journey who became more connected to the holiday because of my teaching. This is the one aspect that causes my ambivalence.

I have no doubt that the “black hat” men (as if I can judge them by their head covering…) did NOT learn that a  woman can be learned and teach a coherent shiur on a topic and give over information they didn’t know. I am 100% certain they already knew that.

I don’t think tzniut is about hiding your talents. G-d forbid. Or denying them. But I do think it is about having the confidence to share them in a way that draws attention to the service of Hashem and only the service of Hashem and not attention to ourselves or what we are capable of.

I hope this is the way in which the shiur was received.  I am confident that Hashem is concerned with my intentions.

I am still left with the feeling that I made a statement, and not one I am sure I wanted to make.

I am, after all, a sexist.  :  )

Happy Thanksgiving

November 26th, 2009

While I should be doing lots of things other than blogging at the moment, I will use my son’s still frequent nursing as my rationale, and post a quick message. (Yes, I type and nurse at the same time. Sorry if that provides an unpleasant image to some readers. )

My sons ask me annually why certain religious jews do not celebrate Thanksgiving. I don’t have any great answers for them, which is probably why it is an annual inquiry.

This year my answer, in earnest, is that the Jewish people are blessed to celebrate Thanksgiving every day. I see my friends on facebook pausing to reflect on their blessing from Hashem. Which is great. But I also know that this is my obligation according to Halacha every single day. I am grateful that the United States is the kind of country that encourages everyone else to be conscious of our “brachot hashachar” for one day, and gives everyone a long weekend to feel grateful in the company of family and friends.

Prior to my (first) aliyah, I did not take Thanksgiving very seriously. I scoffed at most things American, and took a lot for granted. The truth is, I took almost everything in my life for granted. I was in my early twenties….

When I met my husband in Israel, I remember his rebuke that I should be happy and grateful to have Thanksgiving, to be an American, and to be blessed with a life of the freedoms that growing up in America afforded to me. Even as an expatriot, he pointed out to me how blessed as olim in Israel we were to have come from an American upbringing.

Since that year, I have come to appreciate Thanksgiving (and the freedoms in the United States) more and more. If we could bring the best (and only the best) of what America is built upon to Israel, the country would be much better for it.

I think that the foundation of Thanksgiving, or gratitude, is humility. As is most of Judaism. Knowing that everything we have, we do, and we struggle with are all gifts from our creator to help us learn, grow and improve can only lead to tremendous gratitude.

I hope that you are having a wonderful day of Thanksgiving and gratitude wherever you are, and that you are reading this after the holiday because you are too busy enjoying your blessings to read today.