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large families

Controversial Observations, Uncategorized December 12, 2013

Kids at Risk

I went to get some routine bloodwork done. The woman helping me was clearly “in the know” about Orthodox living, and was proud to show it. After some Jewish geography, she dropped the bomb. “Can I ask you a question?  If your child decided not to be Orthodox anymore, what would you do?”

Seriously. What is it about me that invites these questions??
To be clear, I’m pretty sure just about every Orthodox parent has at some point feared just this. Following are excerpts from a friend of ours, expressing his thoughts when “it” happened to him. It’s long, rambling, searingly honest, and almost verbatim. 

Welcome to the club.

I know what you’re thinking: “not my kid.”  I hope you’re right. But you may be lying to yourself – like so many others.

Yes, I’m just like you. I come from a great family – as does my wife. Our home is loving and open. Our family dynamic is strong. We are a model to so many. We are not poor in any way. Our children have everything they need. 

We did it all right. We have no regrets. Yet it happened to us. 

We learned many lessons the hard way – lessons that have allowed us to keep a strong connection to our struggling child – to keep a truly positive and loving relationship. Lessons that are universal – that apply to ALL children.

We daven [pray] every day: “Hashem [God], give us the strength and wisdom to persevere. Give us the gift of chochma [wisdom] for continued personal growth. Allow us all to come out the other end as greater people.” 

I thought it couldn’t happen to me. I’ve got a great marriage, a happy home, we’re open-minded, warm, and friendly, we don’t have crazy expectations of our children, they have what they need… no, it can’t happen to me. Think again.

Why am I writing this? Mostly for myself – to gain clarity. Writing really helps. I also believe that Hashem has guided us with an extra dose of siyata d’shmaya [Divine assistance] and allowed us to find the perfect people to mentor and guide us through these challenging times. We want to share what we’ve learned – and for the honest sincere parents out there who want the best for their children – we are confident that they will find some valuable lessons in this article.   

Who do you blame? Whose fault is it? How do I take control? How do I show my child who’s boss? These and hundreds of other questions fly through our minds. What will my family say? What will the neighbors say? 

And let’s be honest, in our cruelly judgmental society – where so many people are more concerned about how others perceive them – when we think about “straightening out our child,” is it for the child or for our reputation?   

This child can be the catalyst for the most exceptional personal growth you’ve ever experienced. This child will change you in a way that nothing else ever can. This child is your key to greatness. Are YOU ready? 

They are hurting – they feel like failures – they’re NOT bad kids. They want to belong and feel whole. Treating them as if they’re bad is a guaranteed way to ensure they’ll hate you and the system for a long time – and with good reason. 

I know it’s painful. Feel their pain. Allow it to envelop you. A wise woman who has dealt with many of these challenging situations told me, “Remember, as much as it hurts you, your child has even more pain.”  We, as parents, are in pain. Yet, if we’re healthy we have a life outside of our challenges. Our child is living a nightmare of pain. They want to belong so badly, they want you to be proud of them, and yes – they want to be like everyone else. 

Deep in their hearts (and sometimes not so deep) they want to know what’s wrong. “Why can’t I be like my other siblings?”  It will take them some time to figure themselves out and how they can see themselves as valuable members of a Torah-based society.

These aren’t bad kids! There are very few bad kids. These are kids who don’t fit and they’ve been destroyed so badly inside that they simply don’t care.  Forcing them to conform – pouring your frustration on them – will KILL your child – and you only have yourself to blame. 

The litmus test for this principle is anger and frustration. If you have any anger or frustration towards your child – you’ve got some growing to do.  Let them live THEIR lives, not YOURS. This is really hard. We want the best for our children. We will do anything to see them successful. Yet, it would be a worthwhile exercise to go into a quiet room and ask yourself the following question, “Am I embarrassed of my child in front of my friends?”

Do you believe your child has greatness? Do you know where your child excels? Where are they unique? Where do they stand out? Why are you proud of them? If you can’t answer these questions – you’ve got a problem.

How can you be a good parent and be your child’s best advocate if you don’t believe in them?  We are living in a society where we value children. A family of 10 children is commonplace. This is a real example of our clear values. Parenting doesn’t end with having a child and sending them to school. That’s the easy part. The challenge is to dig deep within yourself to gain a sense of your child’s greatness and steer him in that direction.

Have a picture in your mind of them being successful in the future. It’s not enough to believe it – although it’s a great first step – you must articulate it. Again and again.

This doesn’t mean you have to approve of what they’re doing. Nor do you have to share their values. But you MUST appreciate their inherent goodness and potential – and you must find the areas in which they excel.

We all know that Hashem created each and every person as a unique individual with a unique set of talents. As a parent you’ve been charged with helping your child find the areas where they can excel. Are they artistic? Dedicated? Funny? Thoughtful? Creative? Musical? Friendly? Hard-working?

What do they enjoy? Find those areas and encourage them. Please don’t be bound by what others find acceptable – don’t abdicate your parenting to them. If your child doesn’t feel that you believe in them – you’re a failure as a parent.   Hashem has given you a great gift – the greatest gift – a child. You may be a Rosh HaYeshiva [spiritual head of a rabbinical institution] or a CEO, you may be a millionaire and a macher. All of that pales in comparison to your role as a father or mother. You will ultimately be judged on how you dealt with your children.

Separate your nisayon [test] from their nisayon. You’re not a BAD parent (I hope) – recognize that Hashem has given them a nisayon – and you CAN’T win their nisayon for them. You can only deal effectively with your nisayon. Welcome to the gift of growth. This is an unparalleled opportunity.

We only grow when we are challenged – and this challenges us like nothing else

We only grow when we relinquish control – and that’s the only way to succeed

We only grow when we REALLY rely on Hashem – and now we’re in a foxhole

We’re forced to find the best in them

We’re forced to keep our mouths shut

We’re forced to reassess our parenting skills

We’re forced to think about the values we hold dear – and what is being transmitted to our children. 

Stop the religious fight. They’re empty inside and feel apathetic (at best) towards yiddishkeit [Judaism]. 

Do you think they don’t know what’s right and wrong? Do you think they need your reminders? Do you really think it’ll help? So GIVE IT UP. Never tell them the obvious. It’s counterproductive.

Your job is to be totally positive and not demanding. Ask yourself, “Why is it so important for me to mention this halacha [law]?” If it’s for your reputation – forget it! They will see right through you. If it’s because you’re worried about their neshama [soul] – then the right question is, “What’s the most effective way to engage them?” It’s not about getting them to do the right thing today – it’s about allowing them to begin to feel connected again. If they feel connected everything else will follow.

Focus on the joy in mitzvos – don’t expect them to join in – allow them to see the experience.

How real are mitzvos to you? Are they an expression of ahavas Hashem [love of God]? Are they an expression of hakoras hatov [gratitude] to Hashem? Do you live with “ivdu as Hashem b’simcha” [the concept of serving God with joy]?  If you’re just “going through the motions” your kid knows it – this is a wakeup call for you – to start making Torah and mitzvos real for you. You can fool a lot of people… but not your kids. 

Remember the choice is yours – will you sit and kvetch about how “the system” is at fault… or will you recognize the great gift Hashem has given you – the incredible opportunity to be forced to grow as a person. If you can shift your perspective – this can be the greatest growth opportunity you have ever experienced. 

I learned that whatever my gut told me was wrong! It was quite a humbling experience. I was convinced that it was my job to be mechanech [an educator], and I learned that it was my job to let go. It’s my job to fix my child? Wrong again – it’s me who needs the fixing.

No one is equipped to deal with this alone – and if you think you are – you need help more than everyone else – because it means that you’re an arrogant fool as well.

Please, I beg of you, don’t speak to your friends for advice, don’t ask your parents. Speak to someone who is an expert in this field. It can save your child’s life. 

Finally, pray.  Let’s be honest – for many of us it’s hard to make davening [prayer] real. I remember the lyrics of a song from when I was young. “You can get up every day and pray those same quotations, you can do it all on the outside going through all the motions…”  These words always spoke to me – as I recognized how shallow much of my davening was.

Remember this nisayon [test] is your ticket to greatness. Don’t squander the opportunity kvetching. You can make your davening real. You can beg! You can speak from the depth of your heart and soul….

There’s more. Much more. All of it honest and growth-oriented.

My answer, then, to my erstwhile questioner in that random suburban lab, should have been: “If my kids, God forbid, decide to give up this faith that means the world to me, I sure hope I can be just like this writer.”

Controversial Observations, Uncategorized August 21, 2013


A while back, an online friend of mine, Allison Josephs (aka Jew in the City) posted the following video, entitled “Orthodox Jewish All Stars.”  The tagline was: Are all Orthodox Jewish men rabbis? Are Orthodox Jewish women allowed to work? Find out from these Orthodox Jewish All Stars!

I loved the video.  Especially the part about Tamir Goodman, a neighbor of ours and personal friend of JFX, my organization.  But something about it niggled in the back of my head and kept rattling there.  I wasn’t sure what it was, so I ignored it and figured that it would go away.
Another blogger who always makes me think, PopChassid, wrote this little number, and as soon as I read it, bingo.  I knew.
It’s all about defining normal.
Much of the time, I, too, try to show the world that yes, I am Orthodox, but I’m still normal.  Which means I like stylish clothing and looking good.  I like to be in the know when people crack pop culture jokes.  I like to be up-to-date, respected, by the standards of the world.  <—– See that?  By the standards of the world.

In Allison’s very excellent video, which addresses a real misconception, she shows how wonderful the “all-stars” of Orthodox Judaism are.  But by whose standards are they all-stars?  By the standards of the world.  They are quintessentially normal.  No, better than normal.  They take the standards deemed “normal” – successful financially, famous, esteemed – and excel therein.
But why are we buying into those standards?  To me, a Jewish all-star is someone who excels in being Jewish.  In promoting and living Jewish values, such as kindness, Torah, humility, generosity, faith.  Granted, many of the all-stars featured are doing both – for all I know, they all are – I don’t know them all personally – but this is not exactly what they are being lauded for here.  They are lauded for their cool careers that are normal by the standards of the world.
Why am I being critical?  It’s not really my style.  
But this was a very important recognition for me to make personally.  When I think of myself as “normal” (by the standards of the world) I may fail miserably.  I have a lot of kids.  I only wear skirts and dresses.  I cover my hair.  These things aren’t particularly normal.  And that’s what I walked away from this whole tararam with – that while my lifestyle, personality, and personal practices may sometimes jive with the world’s standards of normal, and that’s all fine, I shall be equally proud where they don’t.
Now, my chin lifts with pride and gratitude when someone asks me if my youngest of seven is my fist child.  My heart soars with coolness at my somewhat counter-culture skirts.  My mind expands to recall that my covered head is an external sign of my status as a married woman.
These are things I need to remind myself of.  Because I, too, am subject to everyone else’s standard of normal.  And I wish I weren’t.
PS Update/response from Allison Josephs:
I’m not sure if you noticed me say it, but the line that sums up all the “success” is me saying:  what makes this group extraordinary is not just that they thrived professionally, it’s that they stayed true to their Jewish heritage while doing so even when it wasn’t always easy. Now that’s what I call an all star.

Uncategorized February 7, 2013

5 Questions Orthodox People Are Happy to Answer

Most Orthodox people that I know just love to talk about being Orthodox and are flattered by interest and curiosity in their lifestyle.  [GENERALIZATION ALERT.]  Here are some questions we’re happy to answer.

1. How did you and your spouse meet?
While we know that the way we meet and date is very different from that of most people, we’re proud of our style and, like most couples, enjoy recounting the process.

2. (For women) So is it hard to shop for clothes?  Where do you find your skirts?
Again, like most women, we like to shop and the thrill of the chase is a good part of it.  So the limitations of our wardrobe make it kind of like a treasure hunt.  When we find a good skirt, we Facebook it so all our fellow skirt-wearers can enjoy.  It’s fun to share how we make “regular” department store clothing or Target finds “kosher” for our use.  Go ahead, ask!

3. How do you guys manage with so many kids?
While sometimes this question will be met with a groan and some eye-rolling, because ALL of us struggle with raising kids (whether it’s one or ten), overall we are proud of having large families and have developed tricks and tips along the way.  So it’s a good feeling to be validated for this and respected for meeting the challenge.

4.  Do you mind that you can’t eat all these foods and that you’re limited with what restaurants you can go to?  What do you do when you travel?
Kosher is another area that is all-inclusive in our lives.  Like most people, when something is a big part of our lives, it’s fun to talk about.  As we do, we revisit these concepts from a fresh perspective (yours) and are reminded that our lives are pretty cool.

5. (For guys) Do you wear your kippah all the time?  What about sports?  Does it ever fall off?  Do you wear it when you sleep?
It’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of habit with observance.  Being reminded about something that is a constant is good for us.

If you are Orthodox, what are some other questions you’re happy to answer?  What are some questions you don’t want to be asked?
If you are not, what are some questions you’ve wondered if you could ask?

Interviews, Uncategorized August 29, 2012

Meet Tzivia, My Orthodox Professional Mom Friend: an Interview

My interview with my Chassidic friend Libby was such a sensation that I thought I might do a series on a variety of Orthodox people I know… problem: they all responded, “Well, I’m not as interesting as Libby…”

Which is OK.  My point here is to show that there are lots of really nice, normal Orthodox people who like being Orthodox, and that there are lots of ways to be Orthodox, too.  So I intend to proceed (without worrying about competing with the world’s fascination with all things Chassidic).

Uncategorized August 13, 2012

How We Have a Family Reunion

Short answer:
Either at a family wedding, or in bite-sized pieces.

With over 50 first cousins, I will leave it to you to guess if we are still doing holidays all together (NOT).  Us older married kids host our own holidays, and the younger marrieds go to the parents/in-laws.  Since my in-laws live in town, we are fortunate that we can go and visit whenever the siblings and cousins come to town.

But my family mostly lives in New Jersey and New York, and that’s why we have decided to do a winter road trip and a summer road trip each year so that we can all spend time together.  (We do not attempt to fly. For too many reasons to enumerate.)

So we’re off.  (Dear thieves: there are still occupants in my house.  Large, strong ones.  Just sayin.)
We’ll be based in Lakewood, NJ, where my parents and two sisters  live, with day trips to Monsey, NY to see my grandparents, aunts and uncles, plus some Kovals that reside there; Brooklyn to see my grandma and brother and family; Long Island, to drive my son back to school and also to visit my father’s grave at Wellwood Cemetery; and spending Shabbat with my younger brother (my DNA twin) and his wife and kids.  And we’ll retrieve my daughter from the camp bus!

So I may be AWOL for a bit… or not!  Hard to say when the blogging bug will bite.  Ta-ta! 

How do you organize family get-togethers?

Interviews, Uncategorized July 23, 2012

Meet Libby, my Chassidic Friend: an Interview

I’d like to introduce you to my new friend, Libby S.  Libby is a woman, a mother, and wife.  She belongs to the Vizhnitz group of Chassidus [Hasidism].  Libby has agreed to open her private life to all of you, in the hopes of helping me reach my goal on this blog: Jewish unity via mutual respect and education.  I am really grateful to her for this, and look forward to having you all learn from her life.

Please note that English is not Libby’s first language.  Yiddish is her first language.  I have added some translations and clarifications in brackets.

Uncategorized December 5, 2011

The 5 Things I Wish All Orthodox People Knew

I was taken aback that my post on The Danger of Being Orthodox has, in two weeks, quickly climbed to being my third most widely read post since I began my blog back in July.  I’m not quite sure why that is, but the phenomenon, and its follow-up conversation that it engendered, What I’m Thinking When the Orthodox Make Headlines, have really got me thinking.  And I’ve decided to address this, then, to my fellow Orthodox men and women – of all stripes.

Hi guys.

So we’re all in this Ortho-boat together.  We have a lot in common.  And we also have our differences.  Sometimes enormous differences.  In fact, one could argue that the Jewish relationship to the world in general may parallel the relationship of the Orthodox to the Jewish community in general.  Another post for another day.  In any event, my specialty is public relations.  So communication is a must.  Here’s what you may already know.  Or maybe you know it but forget sometimes. Or maybe you have no idea.  I’d love to know which it is.  Ready?  Let’s go, in no particular order (but regular readers already knew that).

1. You are public.
You may be totally wired to the internet, or shun technology entirely (I personally have family members in both categories).  Either way, it is terribly important for you to know that, perhaps completely unbeknownst to you, your actions, decisions, insular school systems and social habits are being noted, observed and recorded.  Either by impartial journalists, judgmental bloggers, angry former Ortho-folk, or anyone.  Please don’t assume that anything you do is ever private.  Because it’s not.

2. Be a mensch.
Because you are Orthodox, people think you think you are better than others. You may truly think that, or you may not.  I don’t know.  But the best mitzvah/custom/spiritual rite you can perform is called “being a mensch.”  I did not make this up.  It’s all over our liturgy.  Also, everyone is looking for it.  “Those Orthodox… what good is it to keep kosher if you’re going to be rude on the airplane??”  When you keep the ritual stuff and aren’t a mensch, you make the ritual stuff look bad.  When you keep the ritual stuff and ARE a mensch, you make the ritual stuff look good.  It’s never been divisible, and now least of all.

3. Be proud of who you are.
Not proud as in arrogant or superior.  Proud as in take pleasure and joy in your different-ness.  There’s no need to be “just like everyone else.”  People truly respect those who live by their principles (as long as you’re a mensch…see #2).  Have a lot of kids?  Wear only skirts?  Need to do your praying?  Do it with joy, and unapologetically!  You do both yourself and your religion a disservice when you try to under-represent what you are.  It’s so awesomely cool to be Orthodox – and if you don’t feel that it is, that’s something to think about.  I have seen with my own eyes that proudly observant Jews garner respect (as long as you’re a mensch…see #2).

4. Keep learning.
Being brought up Ortho is not the end of the story.  You need a community, support, inspiration, and sources.  If you aren’t learning, you aren’t growing, and if you aren’t growing, you’re stagnating.  You don’t “arrive” till you reach the pearly gates – the journey keeps going.

5. Ask yourself if God is in your life.
This may sound ridiculously superfluous, but it’s not.  I’ve stated a number of times on this blog that being Orthodox does not equal having a relationship with God – and many times the folly of #2 lies precisely in this very area.  Do you talk to Him?  Do you ever ask yourself if He’s proud of you?  Do you feel His presence in good times and bad?  Do you think He loves you?  Do you love Him?  If it’s been awhile (or never) since these questions have been thought about, or better yet, talked about, there’s a problem.  You may be Orthodox, but what about being Jewish?

PS As a disclaimer, because I know the above can sound kind of preachy, I’d like to acknowledge the obvious.  I am a regular girl, far from perfect.  I am hyper-cognizant of the above, not because I am a superior specimen of Orthodoxy, but simply for three reasons:

One, I am married to an incredible human being, who is my teacher in so many things, and especially the above five.  And mostly, in the hugely important #2.  For that, I will forever be humbled and grateful.

Two, my experience in Jewish education and Jewish unity over the past 13 years have taught me a thing or two.  I’ve tried to learn from my own mistakes and from those of others.

And three, my parents, my siblings, my upbringing, and my schooling have given me such awareness in all of the above.  There is not enough gratitude in the world for the priceless gifts they have given me.

And finally, I’d love to hear from you.  What are your thoughts of the five?  What might your list look like?