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).
When Dr. Slaughter’s article about women having it all hit the fan, I read what was for me a super-interesting response on the subject from a Jewish perspective, written by one Tzivia Reiter. Tzivia, it turns out, is an Orthodox mom of young kids; a professional career woman; and, I noted with a touch of envy much admiration, a published author.
Well. I asked nicely, and this very busy and accomplished woman said yes. Thanks!
What I loved about interviewing Tzivy was her very regular-ness. I got this impression when interviewing Libby, too. While I could fill these interviews with stereotype-busting Orthodox women running for senate or Orthodox girls who are weight-lifters, and there are bloggers who are doing a great job with that, my point here is to find people (and not just women, either) who are REPRESENTATIONAL. Like I am. I’m an Orthodox woman who is deeply fulfilled in my life, and I know so many others who are, too. Likewise, I felt both Libby and Tzivy (and future interviewees) are speaking on behalf of many like-minded members of the Orthodox community. You’re not getting an exception: you’re getting a window into entire communities.
Tzivy is available to field comments and questions.
OOTOB: What is your name?
Tzivia Reiter, also known as “Tzivy.”
OOTOB: Where did you grow up?
I grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
OOTOB: Where do you live?
I currently live in Passaic, NJ.
OOTOB: What did your parents do for a living?
father is a computer auditor. He is also a Rabbi, and a very involved
father, from the time that my siblings and I were little until this day.
My mother is a stay-at-home mother, and is my role model for the kind of
loving and devoted mother that I wish to be to my own children.
OOTOB: How many children do you have? How old? Boys or girls?
I have 4 daughters, ages 1, 4, 6 and 8, B”AH [with the help of God].
OOTOB: What do you and your husband do for a living?
My husband works in computers. I work at OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services, a
social service organization that provides both acute services to
individuals challenged by psychiatric or developmental disabilities, as
well as services to individuals and families confronted by everyday
you practicing Judaism in a similar fashion to how you grew up, or is
it different? If so, how so? How would you define your “brand” of
grew up “FFB” (frum [Orthodox] from birth). I don’t like to use
labels when it comes to these things, but I would say that my husband
and I are (always doing our best to be) Torah observant Jews.
OOTOB: How old were you and your husband when you got married?
My husband and I had both been dating [seriously for marriage purposes] for approximately 10 years by the time we met – so you do the
math! In the Orthodox Jewish community, many people marry young, so
this was kind of an aberration, but it allowed me to develop myself
personally and professionally in a way I might otherwise not have done
had I married younger.
OOTOB: How do you and your husband stay connected while raising a busy large family and with all the community obligations?
is not easy at all. I always thought I would have a regular date night
when I got married, but I found that once I had children it was not so
easy to leave them at night when I was out working all day – either
because I felt too guilty or too exhausted. I
think this is an issue for so many working mothers – we do not give
ourselves permission to focus on our marriages. Time is at such a
premium, our jobs need us, our kids need us, that it can feel almost
indulgent to take the time to nurture our marriages. But if we take the
time to spend with our husbands (without the kids), it helps us stay
connected and close – which in turn strengthens both partners to handle
the daily challenges and stress that comes our way.
husband and I try to work at this, and make a conscious effort to set
aside time for one another. But we have come to realize that it doesn’t
have to be a big night out on the town (what’s that?) to make a
difference. It can consist of spending (telephone and blackberry-free)
time at home after the kids are asleep with take-out, or meeting for a
quick lunch during the workday. What has also helped is that we
recently started commuting to work together in the last year, and we
both really look forward to that time together.
OOTOB: How would you describe how you and your husband share work and parenting/household responsibilities?
husband and I both work and are both involved parents to our children.
We both spend time with our kids, are involved in bath and bedtimes,
and will alternate taking off from work as needed if our children get
think that the expectation in contemporary families today (whether both
spouses work or not) is that there really needs to be more of a sharing
of responsibilities. Traditional gender roles where the woman is
responsible for the mothering and household and the man is the primary
breadwinner, either don’t describe most families today or are not
realistic when so many moms are out of the house for so many hours a
day. The roles need to be more flexible and fluid. That having been
said, I think it is still true that many mothers including myself assume
a greater amount of the domestic and parenting responsibilities – we
have all the details in our heads about our children’s classes, school
supplies, playdates, carpools, doctor appointments, dinners and
everything else our families need to function.
This is true of the
women in so many dual working parent households. I don’t think this is
because we have to but because most of us wouldn’t have it any other
Orthodox Jewish families there are many factors which come into play
when determining these shared responsibilities. There is definitely a
strong feeling that the Jewish mother is the spiritual and emotional
center of her home, and that is a big part of our identity as Jewish
women and Jewish mothers. It helps us transcend some of the mundane
daily tasks such as making dinner and overseeing homework and bedtime, and
provides meaning and direction amid the hectic pace and chaos of
everyday life. Most of us would not want to relinquish that.
also the additional variable that men are required to daven [pray] 3
times a day, go to minyan, and learn Torah daily. This realistically
impacts their ability to be as involved in the daily household tasks.
What makes this work (or not work) is the extent to which both parents are
on the same page about these values, and can map out a schedule that
works for the whole family.
a personal example, my husband recently took on a new learning (Torah)
program which took up many hours in the evening. I was happy and proud
about his learning seder [designated learning time] as this is something
I value greatly, but I found that the evenings didn’t go as smoothly
without his help. He made some adjustments to his schedule, doing some
of the learning on his lunch break, which lightened the load in the
evening and made him more available to the children and me during the
hectic evening routines.
MOTHERING, WORKING, AND YOUR BOOK
OOTOB: What is your profession?
I work as a Director at OHEL Bais Ezra. My educational background is
in social work. In my professional role, I work with children and
adults with developmental disabilities and their families. We provide
housing, day programs, at-home services and family support services, to
name just a few. I love my job, which is more than just a job to me, and
find it to be very meaningful and interesting.
OOTOB: How does mothering fit in with your profession?
am fortunate in my workplace’s overall approach to work-life balance.
There is an understanding about the pressures of contemporary families
and the need for parents to be available for their children. In
addition, I do not work 5 days a week. This gives me flexibility if my
children need me to take a day off for a school event, doctor’s visit or
any other need.
OOTOB: What prompted you to write Briefcases and Baby Bottles, a book about Orthodox working moms?
I wrote this book so I could read it.
found that when I returned to work after having my first child, I was
very torn. I had always loved my work, but I found it very difficult to
continue working in the same way while simultaneously being the
involved mother that I wanted to be. There are only so many hours in the
day! As the years went by and my family grew, there was even more to
read almost every book I could find on balancing work and family, which
I found exclusively in secular bookstores. While some of those books
were very helpful, they did not address many of the concerns I had as an observant Jewish working mother: How could I juggle the many expected
communal obligations with work and family life? How could I make the
most of my time with my growing family of young children after a long
day of work? How could I prepare for Shabbos when I worked on Friday?
How could I fill my home with the warmth, spirit, and nurturing that
is the hallmark of the Jewish mother, when I am out of that home for so
many hours a day?
wrote this book so I could hear how other Jewish women managed to do
justice to the different roles they assumed: what were their struggles
as well as strategies that worked for them in balancing the different
aspects of their lives.
OOTOB: Is your book unique to Orthodox women, or are the themes universal to all working moms?
book features interviews with over 20 observant Jewish women, and tells
their stories from the front lines: the good and the bad, that which
devastated them and that which made them stronger. It is definitely
told through the lens of a traditional Jewish perspective. The purpose
of the book was to address some of the unique aspects of the observant
Jewish lifestyle as it pertains to working mothers.
Yet there are so
many challenges inherent to being a working mother that we all
universally struggle with, no matter what our background. I would like to think that any working
mother could identify with many of the personal stories and perspectives
that are featured in the book, and could gain insight from some of the
eternal Jewish sources that are quoted in its pages.
OOTOB: Any closing thoughts or remarks?
When the Anne Marie Slaughter essay came out about “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” it created a firestorm of discussion and debate about the contemporary
working woman, family life and work/life balance. Orthodox Jewish women
have what to contribute to this important discussion. So many of us
today are working outside of the home. Some women are supporting
husbands in Torah learning, while still others are finding they need two
incomes just to survive. While some women choose to work for personal
fulfillment, many others are driven into the workforce by sheer
necessity. I think it is important to acknowledge our place at the
(conference) table as we continue to navigate our careers while
simultaneously upholding our roles as mothers, wives, nurturers and
builders of the Jewish home.