A Bat Mitzvah Message

January 22nd, 2012

I wanted to share with you the words I said to my daughter upon her becoming a bat mitzvah. I have not forgotten nor moved on from the situation in Nachlaot, and I hope to have updates in the future.

I learned something very powerful through the experience of making my daughter’s bat mitzvah; the fact that should be obvious, that she is “frum from birth”. Having chosen a life of Torah and mitzvot, this difference between us was never so apparent or relevant for me until the mitzvot became hers as well.

I am hoping to hear some comments and reactions to her choice to sing in front of women only; but that would mean you have to read through the whole thing. :  )

I hope you will find some meaning in it for you:

Welcome everyone. We are so happy that you could be here to celebrate this milestone in Michal’s life with us.

Michal is my daughter, my student, my friend, and definitely my teacher. Learning how to parent Michal has made me a better person, and I thank her so much for her patience while I learn! I am so grateful for the wisdom of Hakodesh Baruch, our holy Creator, in the matchmaking he does between children and parents.  She is my extraordinary gift, and my tremendous obligation and responsibility.

Michal chose the theme of butterflies for her bat mitzvah. If you look, you will notice them with the crafts, on the centerpieces, in her scrapbook and even in her hair.

I think it is so fitting that she chose this for her theme. Butterflies look delicate, but in order to fly, they actually must be very strong… just like someone I know.

 They also go through a metamorphosis. Since Michal decided at three years old she was going to be a herpetologist, she learned the concept of metamorphosis then.  Becoming a bat mitzvah is also a metamorphosis.

My wise father once told me that when he was asked if he was ready to become a grandfather, he answered that he would be ready the minute he became one. I believe this is the process we all go through at different stages in our lives. We can prepare as much as we like, but experiencing it is the only way we truly get there.

When a butterfly breaks out of its chrysalis it must work painfully hard. I was once taught that if one were to watch a butterfly during this excruciating work, one would be so inclined to have pity on the poor creature, and help crack it open, aiding their escape. If we did, however, we would be killing the butterfly. Only through the effort and perserverance, does the butterfly develop the wing strength to fly and survive.

So too as parents, it is sometimes hard to allow our children to break free themselves, and to develop the strength and tools that they need to fly.  Michal, you are developing so much strength, every day, and I will always – ALWAYS – be here to talk with, to help you, to love you. This immense metamorphosis into an adult member of G-d’s people is truly cause for celebration. It will not always be easy, and it will not always be fun. I cannot always remove the challenges. But you will never, ever be alone.

As most of you sitting here know, Michal has many gifts, and many talents.

Reb Zushe of Annipoli, who taught:

 “Our Sages have said, ‘Just as their faces are different, so too are their thoughts different’ (Brochos 58a). There exist on earth millions of people, and they all have the same basic features on their faces: two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. Nonetheless, no two people look alike. Similarly, if the outward appearances of people are so diverse, then how great must be the differences in their inner workings, the qualities of their souls, and their natures. If the beauty of the soul in all humans was identical, then why would Hashem need to create so many millions of people, where each one is no different from the next?

The secret is this: Each person is sent down to this world in order to fulfill a specific Divine task, to carry out on earth a lofty, heavenly purpose. This is the mission of human beings on earth; moreover, for as many people as Hashem sends down to earth, He has just as many different tasks and purposes. The work of one person is totally independent of the task of any other person, and each one must carry through and complete his or her given purpose. Therefore, Hashem endows each person with unique talents and attributes necessary for him to fulfill his task. These talents cry out within each person, demanding to be expressed and to fulfill the mission for which they were sent to this world.” 

When most people think of Michal, they immediately think of how much she loves to … read. But the secret is, it isn’t really the reading itself that she loves so much. Like a butterfly, Michal is flying off to other places and times. This journey into the imagination and sparking of her intellect while satisfying her adventurous spirit is the real reason she sits with books for hours.

But Michal also has a very special talent with young children. When she was born, I insisted we give her a middle name. This was to avoid her feeling jealous of the many other children we did not yet have, all of whom would have middle names. I chose Sarah, in the hopes that Hashem would bless us with many more children, and would also bless us with Michal becoming a “little matriarch” to help with the brood. And  I think Hashem listened. Michal’s ability to engage small children and to bring them into the world of imagination she so often flies off to is a gift I hope she will continue to cultivate. Michal, may it be one of the unique ways in which you serve Hashem throughout your lifetime.

Michal’s first name is after my grandfather, Michel, my mother’s father. He had the most wonderful gift of making each person, regardless of their age, religion, abilities or circumstance feel like a mensch. Connecting to people of different ages I believe is the greatest gift Michal has received from her namesake. The friendships Michal has forged with adults is partially due to her recognition of the extraordinary in other people, and partially an internalization of the commandment to love every fellow Jew. Michal, may you continue to excel in the mitzvah “v’ahavta l’reecha kamocha” and to be an ongoing aliyah (raising up) of your namesake great grandfather’s neshama (soul).

As only some of you know, Michal has another unique and special gift. That is the love of singing and music. Praise of Hashem through music is chronicled throughout Jewish history from the Torah until today. Michal has chosen as part of her gratitude to Hashem for bringing her to this day to sing a few songs, including some she has written herself.

Part of the process of becoming a bat mitzvah is a heightened awareness of gender separation and the role our femininity can play in our serving G-d.  For us, as Orthodox Jews, this means celebrating all that is within a woman’s realm, but recognizing the power within as well. Our laws of modesty are in place because of the immense power a woman can have on the focus of Klal Yisroel. For many, these laws of modesty include a woman singing alone.  This is why Michal will be singing for an exclusively female audience. 

When I am (finally) done speaking, we are going to kindly request that all of the males present with us today join my husband for a brief Mincha service. I am happy to explain this more one on one, but I would encourage all of them men to direct those questions to my husband at the end of Mincha, so he can field them instead of me!

Michal I bless you to always lean on those that love you, to always face that which confounds you with a commitment to learn and study more, to always love your yiddishkeit and Hashem as much as you do today, and that you always, always remain aware of the spark of Elohut –the special piece of Godliness – that exists within you, and that you connect to that Heavenly spark in order to fulfill the unique divine mission for which you were sent to this world.

 I love you.  

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Meeting David Cook

December 6th, 2011

I met David Cook last night. And I got to talk to him. For real.  

What a strange way to come back to a blog I haven’t written in – wait I have to check – two months.  I tried to gain some balance between my blogging and the rest of my life as a part of Elul. Clearly the pendulum just swung all the way in the other direction instead of finding a good midpoint.

My focus on family at holiday time and the transition into a regular post-holiday schedule was a good thing. If you are back checking-in despite my absence, well, thank you. I hope I am back to stay, and that this exciting weekend was just the kick I needed.

I met David Cook prior to his concert last night. For those of you who don’t know, he was the winner on American Idol in 2008.  I don’t usually watch the show. (We don’t own a TV at all anymore.) He was the clear winner from the first week, and watching him rise way above every other contestant every week wasn’t even that fun after a while. I only watched because he is a really good musician, and I wanted to hear him play and sing regardless of the rest of the competitors.  So I guess that means I like his singing a lot.

I have a background in classical music, and I would like to think that my taste in music is eclectic but all good.  His music has depth, and is quality, classic rock and roll without any unnecessary and inappropriate ridiculousness.

I don’t know if it is more celebration of being in ‘phase II‘ (i.e. I could actually make arrangements to leave the kids for a looong time), the fact that this is the year I turn 40, or whether perhaps this is the year I am destined to turn into a groupie, (even though I have already declared here that I wouldn’t!) – but my husband bought me the “VIP package”, and off I went. Sound check, vip pass, t-shirt, ‘gift’ and a chance to MEET THE BAND.

I was late. They told us the night before – the night before – that we had to be there 3 HOURS before the concert was scheduled to start. They told an ima to seven little ones this minor detail only 24 hours before. One of the many signs that this whole enterprise wasn’t designed for people like me.  I was actually quite proud of myself that I was only 20 minutes late. Until the woman at the ticket counter told me I couldn’t come in. Too late. I wasn’t there on time.

Well, I told her the truth which is that I HAVE SEVEN CHILDREN AND IT WAS A MIRACLE I GOT THERE AT ALL AND IT BETTER COUNT FOR SOMETHING AND THEY BETTER MAKE AN EXCEPTION! I asked her to pleeeeease ask in the back. Down the hall behind the closed double theater doors I hear a very good singing voice improvising a tune about how “none of this would happen if we came on time, on time…” Then a young man with a strikingly familiar beard comes out and hears my tale of woe, asks my name and presents me with my golden ticket. But, he says, “They are almost done with the sound check so you better run”. As I do, it occurs to me that this must be David’s brother (Andrew*). Turns out I failed groupie 101 because all of the other women knew “of course’ that it was Andrew. Silly me.

So I run down the aisle of the now lit theater and I am REALLY close to the David Cook himself. He looks out and sees me running down the very long aisle and sings in the middle of the sound check “welcome to the party”…………..…. so let’s just go on record that this technically means David was singing directly to me…..right?

The sound check ends about one minute later and we get in a line to meet the band. And the line is incredibly long. It wasn’t feeling so “VIP” at that moment, more like “cattle“.

We had a wait, so I got a chance to speak to the women near me. I had no idea I was such an amateur. Not only was it my first VIP pass at a David Cook concert, but my first concert! They had each been to at least 3 or 4, and paid for this VIP privilege in the past. I really was shocked. While perhaps it may seem a tad obvious to you out there, it appears that there are a lot of people in the world with a lot more free time than me. 

The women ahead of me in line (yes, it was almost exclusively women) were FAR more prepared than I; they had come up with interesting poses for their photo with the band, brought presents, etc. Wanting a conversation? Clearly I had it all wrong. The point apparently was to see how many hugs you can acquire. I simply didn’t know.

Rather than feel excited, I sort of felt sorry for the band. I am always a nervous wreck before going on stage. I wouldn’t want to have to spend that time connecting with strangers and hugging them all and pretending it was where I want to be. And David was fidgeting… he was nervous. Or anxious. At least I think so. I wouldn’t want to have had to do that before a concert. Even for all of that money.

It was finally my turn. I got to meet the band. I told them I was an Orthodox Jew and that I didn’t want to shake their hands or hug them and why; that they shouldn’t take it personally. They looked completely shocked. Apparently there aren’t a lot of women frum enough to say such a thing to a rock star and yet still come to their concert AND pay for the VIP package.

Apparently there aren’t any.

Then I met them all; I shouldn’t have done that. I only had a minute or two, and the band didn’t have any interest in anyone pretending they were interested in them. But I did get to watch David Cook try to explain to his keyboardist that I am an Orthodox Jew when he went to shake my hand!  I got an autograph, a hasty photo, and video of the meet on my camera to prove it happened. (If you want a link to the video, send me a message)… but here is the pic:


Andy, who told us we couldn’t take his picture.

I then went over to Andrew to get my “VIP gifts” and be gently told to leave until the concert started. Andrew apologized that he was ‘caught” singing about being on time. I actually feel very privileged to have gotten to hear him sing.*

The rest of the evening was actually the best part. I got to have a hasty but elegant and delicious dinner with my husband at Max & David’s restaurant, and enjoy a great David Cook concert – with great seats I didn’t use because we were down near the front and I got to stand close enough to really watch the performance.

He was really good. He sings well, and he is an artist. A clean, non-offensive, not trying-too-hard, not over-the-top artist. I truly enjoyed the music, and I also really enjoyed that my husband enjoyed being there with me, and could embrace that this makes me happy. The show was great, and worth more to me than the “VIP gifts” or the sound check. I wish I could have met David Cook after the concert instead, just so I could tell him how much I appreciated it.

Not stock photos, my photos.

Of course today, the day after, I thought of all the things I wish I had said to him. This happens to me all of the time. The things that I couldn’t think of in the rush and the crowd and the nerves. I gave Andrew my blog address. The likelihood he will read this is pretty non-existent, right, but hey, if Mayim Bialik could come and read about my meeting her at my blog and then re-post it, it sort of makes anything possible, right? So Andrew, or David, if you are out there, this is what I wish I could have said:

  • I really appreciate your music. I appreciate what it is, and what it isn’t.
  • I am glad that you can make serious rock music without having to stoop to depravity, it means a lot to some of us out there.
  • I think your job is hard and I hope you stick at it, because you are good. I hope it isn’t always lonely and that you are enjoying the ride.
  • Why did you name your song Circadian? I get the sleep theme of the album but please explain it to me more; I really want to know.
  • The acoustic piece you played was amazing; the best part of the show. Please give an acoustic-only concert some time. And invite me.
  • Let me know when you want to play in Israel, because I will get you the gig and an awesome tour of the country. Just tell me when.

… Okay, that’s my list. I will have it to remember should I ever happen to meet him again. Or perhaps one of you could just pass it along to him the next time you see him.

What have I learned?

Don’t be late if you have a VIP pass to a concert, because they probably won’t let you in. If you can’t get in, use the “momma to seven children” card if necessary. I learned that I have this quirky thing about me where I think of all famous people as just people. I want to meet them, but then I just want to have coffee and learn about their lives, not swoon. I learned that hitting 39 and getting into a bucket-list mentality isn’t all bad. We have to live while we can. I learned that one should go to a meet and greet after their first concert or before their second, so they don’t have to blog all of the stuff they never got a chance to say.

Most importantly, I learned that it is really important to be married to someone who gets you, and can understand the passionate Torah teacher who wants to go to a ‘meet and greet’ for a rock star and sing along to the songs in his concert. 



[*The story as I understand it is that Andrew Cook went to the American Idol auditions and his brother David came along. Andy didn’t make the cut, and the producers convinced David to audition. I find Andy’s story and his decision to manage David’s band and to go on the tour fascinating. I just don’t understand the dynamic. I wish I did. I am certain he is happy for his brother but the story reminds me of Aharon and Moshe, and I find it a curious fascination.]


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Local Boy Maccabeat Makes Good

February 17th, 2011

I went to a “mediashmooze” last night in Manhattan.  While I decide whether or not to write about the whole experience, I do want to spread the word about one of the sponsors, Jdeal, and a great proud moment for those of us here in my little Jewish community.

Jdeal, a project launched by MetroImma is kind of like a Jewish Groupon, and is growing quickly.

The lastest deal is a discount on tickets to the Maccabeats’ performance this Monday night in New York, at B.B. King Blues Club and Grill on Monday, February 21st at 8PM.

The Maccabeats - Yonatan is in the white shirt, bottom left

I wish I could go.  It’s a day off for a lot of people, but not for Imas to seven, so I have to bow out. But it promises to be a great show.

One of the band members, Yonatan Shefa, grew up in my little town in my little Jewish community. I have had the privilege of singing with his mother, a talented musician in her own right. Every time I hear a word about the Maccabeats I feel like a proud momma.  I couldn’t wait to show my kids the clip of the Maccabeats on live network television. If you click on the Jdeal link, you get to read about their success story. There I am, crowing, right?

When I meet their fans, I crow about our local boy. I am probably embarassing him a great deal. So Yonatan, if you ever see this, and if I am right, I am sorry.

This event marks a great accomplishment for any aspiring musicians – arrival on ticketmasters – and Jdeal. If you grab the deal and enjoy the show please come back here with a comment and let us know.

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Last week our local library invited Yosi, a childrens’ performer, to give a Chanukah concert. We don’t live in a large Jewish community, and the greater community does very little to acknowledge Jewish holidays. I was thrilled.

But Yosi got sick, and the event was cancelled. I called the library and offered to “fill in” and run a Chanukah Musical Party (as opposed to a concert) this week instead. After all, I reasoned, it is actually Chanukah this week. The children will  have something instead of nothing, however lame it may be. It will be great marketing for my Jewish Mommy and Me program. And who knows? Maybe one more Jewish family will leave wanting to know more about their Judaism. …

I didn’t think it through, and I didn’t consider at the time how much I was setting myself up to flop, fail; embarrass me and my family.

The local outreach Rabbi was so pleased that I “think on my feet”, and jumped into the void quickly enough for it to work out. The library is thrilled! My kids are excited (the almost 10 year old is embarrassed in anticipation, I think).

I learned the word impetuous at a very early age from my father – about me. I have made very quick decisions much larger than whether or not to perform without an instrument or musicians – or a clue – in a small local library before.

After 18 months of college searching, 8 applications, etc, I decided to blow it all off, “defer” and go to Israel for the year. It was one of the best, and most pivotal decisions of my life.

I dated my husband for 8 months. Some considered that very short; for me it was far longer than I felt was necessary.

I suppose that some enjoy the comfort of  safety. This isn’t a feeling I can relate to very much. It isn’t learned, it is an innate personality trait that I enjoy taking risks, knowing that I will sometimes fail.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t come with an innate ability to deal with said failure.

The dictionary uses the term “rash” to somehow differentiate between impetuous and hasty. So are my decisions rash? Or just “thinking on my feet”?

Perhaps the only way to know is with that wonderful clarifier hindsight.

My first singing teacher taught me the trite phrase “life isn’t a dress rehearsal”. It resonated with me. I think more often than not I have been happy with the hasty decisions I have made.

I hope today’s performance is one of them. I have already expended a lot of energy with thoughts of “what was I thinking”.

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