In transition….

August 24th, 2011

stressed out photo

 

 

I am feeling a tremendous amount of stress this week, like the air around me is slightly constricting.

 

 

Thank G-d, nothing specific has happened. I am not fighting the battle of a lifetime. I am not describing the health challenges or life challenges so many face. I am simply in a phase of a lot of transitions at once, and it is enough to rattle my equilibrium.

School restarts in eight days. We have wound down from day camps and vacation plans. While we are enjoying our last days of chaos freedom, it isn’t our normal summer routine and it sure isn’t our school year routine.

I am also moving from the slow period at all three of my jobs to the craziest time of the year. I teach, so my lesson planning for Ivrit has had to switch from “thinking about it” to some very real and concentrated work. (Of course what I mean by that is that I have been slaving away at it all summer.) The Jewish outreach center that I work for has little-to-no programming over the summer, so we are in high gear for both the resumption of programming and the big push for the High Holidays. And the Girls’ Israel Year Program I work for will be sending 75 anxious young women away from home for the experience of a lifetime in just a couple of weeks, and I have to help prepare and send them on that journey.

Of course, it is more than work. My family is in transition too. My stepson is preparing college applications. His wings are spreading and his sights are clearly set out of the nest.

I am planning the bat mitzvah for my oldest daughter. I am as unprepared to watch her step into this new phase of life as she is to leave her childhood behind. It causes me to spontaneously cry when I have more than two minutes to think about it. I am enjoying her as an older child with the intelligence, compassion and reason of a person; a friend.  But she is still my baby, and it is still an emotional adjustment.

My youngest potty trained this summer. No more diapers. Did I just say that? No more diapers. My youngest child is 3 and a half. bye bye diapersI have never been able to say that before! I have blogged often about my enjoyment of “phase II”, meaning that I now have a house full of children instead of a house full of babies. I do enjoy it, but it is a gradual transformation. Family life is so different that what became normal for so many years.

Lastly, there is our biggest transition of all. With an 11-month countdown for Aliyah, the “to do” list is simply daunting. The changes are innumerable. Most immediately, I have to contend with the seemingly infinite clutter that I must sort and remove over the coming months.  More importantly, the transition with friends and family has begun. As our much talked about dreams are transforming into a palpable reality, time with loved ones takes on different weight and import, and conversations are shifting.

Elul is coming, and we all have to wake up from our spiritual vacation as well. The chaos lack of structure with the children always translates into lack of structure for me, including my davening and learning. I am conscious of the transition, and know that I have to move into a much more focused mode religiously as much as everything else. The only true answer for me to handle this rattled feeling is to cling to Him as my rock and daven for the help and focus that I need.

My friend Rena taught me a powerful lesson through her art many years ago.  She had a showing that included works of hers depicting the beauty of fall, and the beauty of sunset. In describing her work, she explained her own realization that the original artist, Hakodesh Baruch Hu, made the transitions of this world stunning. Sunset, dawn, fall, spring – are all the subjects of art and music throughout the ages. She came to understand that Hashem is teaching us the beauty of transition. Although it often feels unsettling, change is often gorgeous if we can just take a few steps back.

fall leaves

sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of this shifting shakes me and takes me out of my comfort zone, but it is all “l’tovah”. I know it is for the good. I am just working on the knowledge travelling from my head and my soul to my kishkes.

Please check back next week as I will be hosting  Haveil Havalim.

Facebook and Orthodox Judaism

August 10th, 2011

facebook churbanMargelit Hoffman of  Shmuel Hoffman’s Blog wrote  a very honest and thought provoking article for Mavenmall.com 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????

Post-Tisha B’Av Post…

August 9th, 2011

This was the most meaningful and focused Tisha B’Av I had experienced, at least that I can remember. Astounding to me given that I have spent a few at the Kotel. What made this year so different?

I believe it to primarily be two things.

The first, that I was asked to teach a women’s class the Shabbat before last. Although I try to learn about Tisha B’Av as much as possible during the Three Weeks every year, I simply learn more when I teach. I feel more compelled and more motivated. I need to try and recreate that dilligence as a student in the coming years.

I have expressed my gratitude for living in the small community that I do in many blog posts. In my mind  I keep returning to my hakarat hatov that although it has been Hashem’s will to exile me (again) from the land of Israel, that I am blessed to be in a place that has helped me work on myself, my spiritual growth, and to become a teacher of Torah.

Secondly, as I have also written about before, I am truly enjoying “phase II” with my children. There have been many changes in our lives since we have gone, slowly, from a house “full of babies” to a house with no babies at all. This year I was able to have a meaningful dialogue – more than once – with my older children about the meaning of the day. Their comprehension led to their help and cooperation in allowing my husband and I to mourn properly.  Their participation in our mitzvah, and their perception of it as just that, heightened the whole day for me and allowed me to focus more sharply. Even my talking to them repeatedly, or sharing a Tisha B’av video or thought helped me learn more, again,  through teaching.

My oldest daughter is now at an age where I can leave her in charge for limited amounts of time under limited circumstances. Last night being one of those, I was able to go hear Eicha in shul for the first time in eleven years!  Being with my community and hearing our amazing community Rav expound on the Kinot contributed so much to the day for me.

All that has happened is time; time for my daughter to grow up and time for the rest of the kids to be mature enough to understand why they need to listen to her for the evening and let me do this.

I am so very happy that entering “phase II” with our family allowed me to so successfully feel sad.

 

 

I hope that your Tisha B’av was meaningful and redemptive.

I occasionally have an opportunity to teach Torah classes to women in my local community. It is one of the many reasons I am so grateful to live where I do. Had I remained the tiny fish in the huge pond that is Jerusalem, I doubt that I would ever have had a chance to grow into a teacher, or to learn that it was one of my favorite things to do.

I have been asked often to post a write up of my shiurim on this blog. Most of the time I don’t prepare early enough or have time to post soon enough, and the material is then for a holiday that has come and gone by the time I get to it.

However, last Shabbat I taught a class on the Nine Days & Tisha B’av, so thought I would put down some of the discussion while we are still in this solemn period. Especially since it was an analogy to parenting that struck me so deeply while preparing the shiur, and that has been the sharpest part of my focus this year. So this is a recap of some of what we discussed:

During “The Three Weeks” and then “The Nine Days” and finally on Tisha B’av we mark the destruction of the Holy Temple.  I asked the women gathered if we are “mourning” or “yearning.”  Although the word mourning is often used, we are on the one hand mourning the loss of something we never experienced first-hand. And, usually when we mourn something it is a process of letting go because that thing (or person) is gone to us forever. Here, we mourn the Beit Hamikdash that was, but we also hope for its return. So we do mourn our loss, but we also yearn for it. We yearn for a new Beit Hamikdash and Moshiach’s  arrival.

The word that we use for yearning is “tshukah” in Hebrew, and it is a concept that I would like to return to later. But this is the other feeling we invoke during this period, because we not only mourn what we have lost, but we long–in fact strive–to get it back.

The next question I asked is:  Why are we fasting?

Fasting is not a very popular means of connecting to Hashem for most people I know. In fact, for some of us it is a distraction from whatever process we feel we should be going through, since we feel little more than hunger. Lastly, fasting is certainly not something we associate with mourning! The restrictions during the Three Weeks and the Nine Days are those associated with mourning, but the prohibitions of Tisha B’av are more akin to Yom Kippur.

I came to learn that the period leading up to Tisha B’av is constructed in such a way as to evoke a feeling of loss, to help concentrate on mourning what we no longer have. This is done so that we will be stirred on Tisha B’av to do teshuva* – do improve and repair ourselves, our community, and our world so that we can have a day of celebration on the 9th of Av, as the Gemara explains, rather than a day of mourning. The sadness of the day comes from our feeling that we are “still not there;” it is not a sign of mourning. It is intended to be our sincere demonstration of teshuva; of “tshukah” to Hashem so that it will be the last sad Tisha B’av.

The word tshukah as explained by Rabbi Fohrman in The Beast that Crouches at the Door, is a yearning that comes not from a needy deficit, but an overflow of abundance. It is not the feeling a newborn has when it needs to nurse… it is the feeling the nursing mother has when she needs to provide. It is our overflow of love for Hashem and our desire to serve him that has nowhere to go until we once again have a Beit Hamikdash in which to channel our love and desire to cleave to G-d in the proper way.

My final question was: Why do we need to mourn for Three Weeks and to have a day of sadness and teshuva? Surely we demonstrate to G-d in our prayers and rituals every day that we miss the Holy Temple and that we yearn for its return? The commemoration is deeper than the historical anniversary of so many tragedies for the Jewish People.

Rabbi Label Lam answers this question so beautifully in his wonderful piece on Tisha B’Av at Torah.org:

“On the 9th of Av we are like little children sent away from the table. The child sent to his room can artfully distract himself. His parents wait for the breaking point. He might then even be willing to admit his faults like fighting with his siblings etc. That time never comes. Why? He’s found some candies, there’s a cell phone, a computer and a treasure of other goodies. He’s forgotten that he’s being punished.

The father realizing that the child is too busily engaged in his “things” forbids him for a time to play with these toys and those. Suddenly, he feels alone and isolated from the family. Tears begin to stream. He cries out longingly to his father and is invited to the table again with a pleasant mixture of joy and humility.”  (click here to read the whole article. )

We are like G-d’s punished children all year. We are in exile every minute of every day. We do not have our Holy Temple, and we are banished from the closeness with Hashem that we enjoyed when it stood. We are so distracted by our comfort and blessing that we forget that we have been punished. Our computers and cell phones, wonderful kehillot and yeshivot, our beautiful built-up modern Israel… all allow us to forget.  We don’t always know what we are missing, and we don’t know what it feels like to have such an intimate relationship with our Creator. It is sometimes easy to forget that we can and will have more; but Hashem gave us intimate interpersonal relationships precisely so that we can taste that closeness and yearn for it with him.

The Three Weeks are our reminder that we have been sent away, that we can be so much closer to the Divine… that we once were, and that it is truly up to us to be so again. Done right, the limitations imposed during the Three Weeks and Nine Days bring us to this difficult combination of mourning our closeness to our Father that we lost and our yearning to be back in his good graces. The power of mourning and yearning together ideally mobilizes our true and deep teshuvah on Tisha B’av; a teshuva marked by fasting and focus.

I bless you all with a meaningful remainder of the Nine Days, and a meaningful fast. May our communal Teshuva bring Moshiach bimheira yameinu.

 

*teshuva = repair, return, improvement, repentance.. or as Aish.com puts it “dry cleaning for your soul”

 

I welcome your comments and thoughts, and am happy to suggest the following articles (far wiser than mine) at Torah.org and Naaleh.com:

Why Do We Fast? by Rabbi Prero

Mourning on the 9th of Av, the Reasons, by Rabbi Jacob Mendelson

 

What Are We Missing on Tisha B’Av by Rabbi Lam

 

Why Destroy Our Sanctuary? by Rebbetzin Tzippora Heller

 

I  have an old friend (can you say that after nine years? What if it feels like you have always been friends?) that I rarely get to spend time with. We are different ages,  at different stages of our lives with different schedules. Recently we got a precious hour to catch up over some of her delicious warm soup.

Her company feels like “comfort food” as much as the soup.

Yet the conversation we had, like so many that we do, was not a comfortable one in some respects, and did not involve much in the way of what our respective children are up to lately, or any small talk. We wound up in a debate of sorts, that was, for me, enlightening, refreshing, challenging and real – the precise words I would use to describe this friend.

She and I come from very different Jewish backgrounds. While we arrived at an observance that is quite similar in a lot of ways (we have both studied at the same women’s beit midrash, davened at the same shul… ) we very often disagree about aspects of Orthodox Judaism, especially as it relates to women.

This particular conversation revolved around the idea that Traditional Judaism is a Patriarchy, one that has not created a suitable status for women with an expertise of Torah knowledge, one that has not created a voice for women’s thoughts and ideas on the Torah, one that has arbitrarily unilaterally* dealt with women’s observance of certain halachot without their say, and one that has not sufficiently encouraged and inspired women to learn, teach, interpret, think, or speak out.

That is what I believe is her opinion… you see, it isn’t mine. [ Dear friend if you read this and I have gotten it wrong, please forgive and feel free to let me know, comment away, and clear up the misunderstanding. ]

How much we need to “trust” the male sages of our Talmud that their decisions are what are best for women as well as men is a real source of disagreement for us.  I don’t want to see women as Rabbis. I don’t want more access to “male” halachot, and I don’t want to spend time exploring if some of them actually should also be my obligations as a woman.  I think there is a lot of wisdom in many of the decisions that the male sages have made about women, many that are antithetical to modern sensibilities of women’s roles in families, societies and Judaism.

Of course I believe that when it comes to gender issues(as well as lots of other things) there are problems within Orthodoxy. There are lots of groups of people who are serving Hashem in lots of ways that I may think are, well, misguided. There are also whole religious societies that have certain areas that need a lot of work…. but I think they are parts of a body that need healing, not an affliction from within that must be uprooted or defeated.

She did make an interesting and very compelling point to me, one that has stayed with me: we live in an age where women live more years than every before with grown children. Those children customarily don’t live around the corner, meaning in our times women have more time available for Torah study than ever before. More time to attend shul, more time to sit in a beit midrash.

This huge shift was pointed out to me several years ago by another friend and amazing woman who is the past president of her Conservative Temple. She said: ” I don’t have to be home to take care of anybody. I have time now. I am not a mom to young children. I am not a grandmother. My children didn’t get married after high school, they are busy pursuing their careers. So I have time as a Jew – and what is the Jewish world offering me to do with that time? Where is the establishment putting that decade of my life to good use as a member of the Jewish people? Why are they telling me not to use it to be Shul President? Were would they like it to go? Away?” I had a momentary desire to drop everything at that moment and write a book. Because what ARE we doing with that new-found decade (or more) in the lives of Jewish women? What are we offering them to help cleave to and serve Hashem? And what is the establish doing to work on the problem?

One answer is that we have more resources for Torah learning for womenthan ever before.  In Israel, in New York, and on-line. I have friends in this in-between stage who are consuming Torah classes at places like Naaleh.com at an astounding pace — because they simply have the time.

So a woman who is a true expert in Torah? My friend is right when she says that there are now scores of women with far more Torah knowledge than an average Talmud Torah 3rd grade male teacher bequeathed with the title “Rebbe”.

So, what are we to do?  I want women’s roles to stay far away from those that men have. I have stated before on this blog that I am a sexist, and with strong reasons. I don’t think women encroaching on male territory is good for men, and therefore I don’t think it is good for the perfection of our society. But these women have accomplished something that is often taken seriously by the people who know her, yet isn’t acknowledged in any systematic way.

Personally, I like the idea of a “Hachama“, which could be translated as “wise one”.  I would like to see “hachamot” in schools. I think it would confer an understanding that some women – like this friend of mine – are head and shoulders above the rest of us in their Torah learning, due to the hours and years of study that have been put in. I would like Yoetzet Halacha Shani Taragin, for example, to be “Hachama Shani Taragin” because at the end of the day, she is an expert. She cannot perform the duties of a Rabbi, and she cannot give halachic rulings, but she certainly can teach Torah rings around most Rabbis and Torah scholars I know.  She certainly could be consulted as an expert on a lot of Torah topics. And she should be called something other than Mrs. when she teaches at the many Torah institutions that she does. She will soon be a “Dr.”, but do we really want our Torah credentials coming from the world of secular academia? I don’t think so.

So, while we may not agree on the solution, at least I was positively persuaded of the need. I hadn’t missed it, not being a hachama myself, but when pointed out to me, I do understand the lack.

Long after arriving home from this visit with this debate still percolating in my head, it occurred to me that one reason that we have such different viewpoints is because we arrived to a similar spot from opposite directions… with one thing in common. We both have a Jewish voice that was silenced in the past.

My friend grew up in a traditional household with a traditional education….if you can call moving around the world going to zillions of Jewish schools traditional. I don’t know much about her family life growing up and I would never presume to describe how her parents taught her to view women in Judaism. But I do know that she had a lot of experience with women learning Torah… for the purpose of teaching their sons. Or girls being limited in what they could learn – and what they could say – within Orthodoxy.

“Don’t speak, don’t think out loud – you have to fit our mold“.

I grew up in the seventies, with feminism at its strongest, including within the Conservative Jewish world I lived in. I was encouraged to daven, read Torah, learn Torah, wear a tallis, be a Cantor – forge ahead in helping women being everything a man could be in Judaism.

But I wasn’t taught women’s halachot. And I was told that it isn’t okay to want to stay at home and raise children, or change diapers rather than make it to shul. (Not only is it not okay to do, but it really isn’t okay to want to.) It wasn’t okay to let my husband’s career take precedence, or to view myself Jewishly in any way different than a man. When I chose to be Orthodox I was told I was “chaining myself to a stove”. Why would a woman want to do that to herself? It would not have been socially acceptable to admit I am a sexist in my former life. To say such a thing was a “shanda“.

For the record, I have spent a great majority of the last decade barefoot, pregnant and/or nursing and cooking! Because I want to and I love it. It nurtures my family, it has made me happy – and I resent being told that it simply isn’t a valid option – it is only a symptom of oppression!

“Don’t have those goals or desires – you have to fit our mold“.

So, I want a place for the traditional woman’s role to be elevated and valued by society, including secular society. And my friend wants a place for women to do more, take on more, say more, be heard more and have it elevated and valued by society, not just secular society. But I think both desires come from a place of being invalidated.

The Girl Scouts have a saying which has become a life-mantra for me: “Always leave a place better than you found it.” I think they must have gotten that from the Torah somewhere,  Tikkun Olam and all.

This friend? Well, a short get-together over warm soup leaves me better than she found me.  And I think that is a sign of a great friend and a real “hachama“.

*the wording where crossed out was changed at the request of this friend.

Haveil Havalim

July 18th, 2010

The preamble:

Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs — a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It’s hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by the formidable Jack.

I have not commented on every entry, but I have read (and enjoyed them all.) Especially when it comes to Judaism and Torah, it isn’t always a good idea to weigh in. If yours did not receive my two cents, please forgive me – maybe you will consider yourselves lucky! Looking back, there seem to be two common threads this week; oppression / dislike of Jews around the world (especially in the media) and “can’t we all just get along”, both very appropriate for the Nine Days.

Thank you, fellow Jewish bloggers, for becoming an important community for me. I hope this first shot at the carnival aptly conveys my gratitude:

Paul Gable presents Israel Matters posted at Brushfires of Freedom. It may be a hard pill to swallow for some, but is a critical call to action for us all.

Mrs. S presents Visiting day FAQ posted at Our Shiputzim: A Work In Progress, saying, “Thanks for doing this!”  - I am sure lots of us echo her thanks.

Mordechai Torczyner presents Talking to children about depression posted at The Rebbetzin’s Husband. The debate seems to still be open as to what age is appropriate, and I look forward to following the comments as they develop.

Chabad presents The eighth note! posted at lubavitch.com Chabad-Lubavitch news site. As a musician, I would just love to learn more about who “they” is that says there will be an eighth note, and where they say it! Please let us know.

Allison Josephs presents Mi Casa Es Su Casa posted at Jew in the City a helpful reminder of how to give… and receive.

Yisrael Medad presents Did He Deserve the Medal? posted at My Right Word, saying, “Perhaps this British soldier didn’t deserve a medal?”. I’m no Yisrael Medad, but I think he deserves the medal. Maybe it is the historians who need to get sacked.

Yisrael Medad presents Write to J Street posted at My Right Word, saying, “You don’t really like J Street, do You?”, in which he exposes how US enforcement of NGO rules seems frighteningly inconsistent. What a surprise.

Yisrael Medad presents Hillary Clinton’s Humor posted at My Right Word, saying, “Hillary feels so Jewish, becoming the mother-in-law of one of the tribe, that she feels she can be humorous about antisemitism”. Not very funny, indeed.

and….Yisrael Medad presents JPost.com | BlogCentral | Green-Lined | A grand newspaper or a political rag sheet? posted at Green-Lined, saying, “At his Jerusalem Post blog, Yisrael Medad takes on the New York Times”. He can accept that glaringly obvious anti-Yesha stance of the paper. Here he takes issue with the lack of journalism standards. For me, just another reason to never read the NYT.

Culture

Susan Howe presents 12 Truly Bizarre Funeral Customs from Around the World posted at The Budget Life Blog, saying, “Various funeral and burial customs surrounding the dead have grown up in various places around the world. Some of them are really interesting to know that they still exist as technology advances.” This is fascinating and researched glimpse  at traditions I have never seen before. Some are downright amusing. Others are downright disgusting.

Robert Avrech presents The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Proust, Jews, and Jewish Inverts at Seraphic Secret.

Humor

Heshy presents Yo momma is so frum posted at Frum Satire. Now, now, I resemble that remark…..

Judaism

Lisa presents The Morality of Flattery and Christian Zionists posted at Lamrot Hakol (Despite Everything). I am wondering if it is such an accepted idea that Christianity is idolatry? Maybe I am simply too ignorant on this front.  Important point, whether you agree or not.

Rachel Barenblat presents 6 tastes of Ruach ha-Aretz posted at Velveteen Rabbi. These are little glimpses into what sound like an intense retreat.

Risa presents Yearning posted at Shiloh Musings. Beautiful.

Ben-Yehudah presents Response To Hecht’s “Anti Semitism USA, Circa 2010” posted at Esser Agaroth.

David Levy presents Tisha B’Av by Candlelight posted at Jewish Boston, saying, “Dan Brosgol remembers observing Tisha B’Av at Camp Ramah.”  Me too! Me too! I fondly remember Tisha B’Av by Candlelight at Ramah as well… and I have more than a decade on Dan Brosgol.

Ben-Yehudah presents Eating Shuwarmah During The “Nine Days” Oy! Geeeeevaaaaald!!! posted at Esser Agaroth. Tasty story. Very Israeli.  Do you agree with Minnesota Mamaleh‘s “to each his own”?

Personal

Mirjam Weiss presents A Fishy Story in Two Parts posted at Miriyummy, saying, “Girl vs fish, fish wins, and a cross cultural dinner.” Great story, great recipe, and apparently, a great future son-in-law.

rickismom presents Beneath the Wings (a Poem) posted at Beneath the Wings. Beautiful poem. Inspiring.

Home Shuling presents Something more, or just different? Explaining Orthodox Judaism to my children. – Homeshuling posted at Home-shuling. Can I comment on a blog post… about me? It isn’t really about me, it is about the ever-impressive author, but since I am mentioned I think you will have to all just read it and judge for yourself.

shorty presents What have i done lately? posted at Shorty’s Adventure. Sad, struggling, honest. I hope that when the Nine Days end you feel your spirit lifted and new optimism… oh, and freeze challahs so they don’t go to waste.

Lady-Light presents Received a Gift: an Unexpected Visit to Family!, Monday Activities (Second verse, same as the first), and  Tuesday Activities…Last, Bittersweet… posted at Tikkun Olam.  I put these together since they chronicle the same experience. A beautiful one at that.

Elise/ Independent Patriot presents EMERGENCY CALL NOW: NO RESTRAINT AND SECLUSION IN THE IEP posted at Raising Asperger’s Kids, saying, “Because it is against basic jewish ethics to abuse the most vulnerable in society plese list this blog so ppl will call and help stop this addition to the bill. It takes away children’s rights and teh rights of parents to stop the abuse.” This is a disturbing policy. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We hope you will keep your readers posted on this bill.

Minnesota Mameleh presents Summer Days Summer Nights posted at TC Jewfolk. I can’t say I agree completely with the “everyone does what works for them” approach. Maybe I will have the honor of a healthy cyber -dialogue on the matter with the amazing Mamaleh herself one day. But her post is sticky, gooey sweet… and yummy.

Politics

Ben-Yehudah presents Jewish Criticism Of Israel posted at Esser Agaroth, saying, “From Yo’el Meltzer, posting at Esser Agaroth.” How and when can US Jews criticize Israel? This is an interesting principle from which to operate.

Risa presents Remember Gush Katif posted at Isramom. Thank you for making me cry, even though you are right, the tears aren’t enough.

Torah

I haven’t written any comments next to the entries in this section. I read and enjoyed them all, and learned. I promise. You should too.

Batya presents Careful With Words, Promises, Pledges, Oaths etc posted at Shiloh Musings.

pc presents The Goel hadam today posted at Torah Down Under, saying, “Can the goel hadam kill an accidental murderer today”.

Josh Waxman presents Rav Yaakov Emden’s Eight-Legged Camel posted at parshablog. Distortion? Myth? Interesting. Four legs are enough for me, thanks.

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver presents Understanding the two sides within posted at A Chassidishe farbrengen.  I hope the way I understand this is correct. I have always thought that true kedushah comes from the integration of these two sides, not just the struggle, or the primacy of one.

Israel

Joel Katz presents Religion and State in Israel – July 12, 2010 (Section 1) and Religion and State in Israel – July 12, 2010 (Section 2) posted at Religion and State in Israel.

Eric presents Lies In Iran’s Media Exposed posted at The Israel Situation, saying, “Iran’s newspaper wrote a horrible, incorrect article about UNIFIL and the Lebanon War in 2006. This is a line by line look at the facts.”

Eric also presents My Israel Support posted at The Israel Situation, saying, “A look at what I am doing to support Israel at home and ideas for you to do the same.”  I can’t look at the mainstream media anymore, never mind analyze its inaccuracies and biased coverage against Israel.  Good luck with the new assignments!

Batya presents Winner Takes All, Losers Be Damned posted at Shiloh Musings.  An insightful observation; I look forward to reading your vision of how we can change things for the better.

Ilana-Davita presents her Weekly Interview: Ruti posted at Ilana-DavitaThank you for the intro to Ki Yachol Nuchal! I am looking forward to reading more… from both of you.

Anonymous presents Eleven days posted at Door number three, please., saying, “Uberimma and family are making aliya at the end of July. Be part of their welcoming committee at Ben Gurion, especially if you are a soldier!” Good luck on your upcoming aliyah! Yashar Koach, titchadshu, and b’hatzlacha…. I am not sure what I like better, the post, or the list of 100 things on the side.

Harry presents presents This is the story of Johnny Rotten – In Israel at Israelity.

Harry also presents T + L love J Town at Israelity.

.. and Harry presents Tourists flocking to Israel at IsraelityNice to hear (and end this with) some good news. I hope he is right that it’s the best year ever for Israeli tourism. Hope we can make it the best year ever for aliyah too.

That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of haveil havalim using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

I hope that this is a meaningful Tisha B’av for you.

L’Shana haba b’Yerushalayim habnuya.

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Happy Mother’s Day

May 9th, 2010

Today I was blessed to attend a fabulous class by Rabbi Aba Wagensberg of Israel. I went to a beautiful brunch (a spread of food prepared by others), learned beautiful Torah from a wonderful Rabbi, and had the honor of driving him to his next destination, with an uninterrupted 90 minutes to talk to him. (I am proud to count him as a client of my firm at the moment.)

After some adorable homemade cards, a breakfast I didn’t want and adorable hugs, I ran past the DISASTER of a kitchen filled with the supplies used to make the adorable homemade cards and the breakfast I didn’t want, and left. By myself. I spent the majority of the day not mothering, which was the best Mother’s day gift I could have asked for. Sorry if that makes me sound like a terrible Ima, but this year that is what I needed.

The topic of the class was “Coping with Pain and Suffering”.  Rabbi Wagensberg reminded me that everything that we are given is precisely what we need in order to help us become the best person we can be.

But this is also true for everyone we are given; our spouses and our children are just the challenges Hashem knows that we need to learn and grow. While he was addressing the serious, hard sufferings of this world people must deal with, I was also reminded on Mother’s Day that my children are the most amazing gifts in more ways than one.  They do teach me so much, and help me grow.  Each one is an awesome responsibility and often a huge enigma. But gifts. Not only for all of the good and wonderful things they do, but for the acting up, acting out, and just plain stumping me that occurs on a regular basis.

Having “abandoned” them for almost the entire day, sure enough my re-entry was met with a sudden list of traumas, complaints, boo-boos and of course “we’re starving“…..

…. thank you, Hashem, for the Mother’s Day gifts……

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

It was posted by newtips4mamas (twitter) but is found on Oprah.com: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/5-Keys-to-Your-Childs-Happiness/print/1

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.

“Work at Home” Mom

January 25th, 2010

I am trying something new this year. I am now what I like to call a “work at home” mom. I am working as a PR consulant part time, from home. I also am home full time with my 1 1/2 year old son.

while the other six are in school during the day, that only gives me until 3:30 to work until basically 9 pm, when bedtime is over.

(I also carve out time for teaching early childhood Jewish music classes and some Torah learning.)

I have remained a “stay at home” mom for almost the entirety of the preschoolers-rearing stage — a long ten years. I am glad that I did, and it has always been because I felt it what was best for my kids. I even kept everyone home for a year, with 3 preschoolers and a baby having “Gan Ima” all day every day. (The horror others had that I was “homeschooling” my children who were all too young to technically be in school is for another post.)

But being home with my kids full time was always a struggle for me.  I don’t enjoy going to the playground for hours. I don’t like fingerpaint. I don’t enjoy sitting on the floor with one cute little child and playing trains. Certainly not as much as I liked working. I LOVED working. I enjoyed my career. When I gave it up, it was never forever and it was never really completely. I found fulfillment in event planning or article writing within my Jewish community instead of for an employer. I joined the shul board, founded a Jewish girl scout troop… lots of activities to keep me busy and engaged at certain elements of my career.

Two years I began working again outside of volunteering. Very, very part time, and all from home.  At first pregnant, with a sitter for my toddler. Then,  with a little baby around. It wasn’t so complicated. He loved to nurse and sleep, and those things made it easy for me to squeeze in work. And parts of my brain started to buzz with activity again.

Now I have developed a business and a client base. (I happen to love the clients I have now.) My little one is a lot less little, and I find myself doing a challenging juggling act I never really attempted when my other children were this young.

A friend who has her children in the same school was laid off this year, and is having a go at consulting, and also at trying to be a “work at home” mom. Her little one is younger than mine, and still a tad easier. (He will catch up soon enough, I have no doubt)

“G” & and I are trying an experiment; we are going to try to work in the same house 2 – 3 days a week while the little ones play, sleep, whine, make messes, etc.  The idea is to have a mother’s helper here with us, share the expense, be with our children, while successfully earning money.

When my now ten year old was 18 months I would have never made it past the guilt to such a plan. I needed to be spending my days at mommy and me, music classes, gymnastics for toddlers, and water babies — which very pregnant with twins was quite a picture, believe me.

Now, I am a different woman, ten years older with a lot more experience and confidence. Those classes were fun, but she didn’t need them. What she needed, and what my little one needs now is a happy, healthy, focused, centered mommy who can give her little one(s) attention and love with a whole heart and mind.  She didn’t really like those classes any more than she liked the park. It was “Ima time” no matter how you sliced it, made it fancy, added programming, or spent a lot of money on it.

I am hoping that I can find the perfect balance for this child and for me – his Ima – at this stage. The experiment with his friend, my friend, a sitter and two laptops all in one house is a new one, and you will have to follow me in seeing if it works.

But I can tell you that I nurse him to sleep while writing letters and articles. I take a break between skype calls and emails to nuzzle his neck and tickle him like crazy and even to play with trains a little…. and so far, it is the most fun I have had being home.

Now if I can just find a way to get the 20 weekly loads of laundry done in the mix……….

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.  :  )