Browsing Tag


Uncategorized January 23, 2012

The Roseto Secret of Longevity

Date trees, in isolation, produce dates that are sterile,
not sweet, and not marketable.  Date
trees planted in groves, specifically where the branches are intertwined,
produce sweet and delicious dates.
In Roseto, Pennsylvania, a startling discovery was made in
1966.  People in that town were living
significantly longer than in any other city in America, even in adjacent
Pennsylvania towns.  They died of heart
attacks at a rate only half of the rest of America.   
What gave? 
They weren’t eating healthier or exercising – but the residents of this
town had one thing its neighbors did not: community.  This was largely a town of Italian
immigrants, where the elders sat out on front porches and everyone took
responsibility for one another.  This
appeared to be the direct cause of the remarkable longevity of the people of
Dates, people: we need each other.  Our very survival depends on it.
On my recent trip to Israel, I decided to stay after the
tour was over for two extra days to shop, pray, and visit.  I didn’t make firm plans with anyone,
preferring to be an independent agent and let my day unfold organically. 
The first day, I was heady with freedom.  I walked wherever I wanted, ate wherever I
pleased and whenever I was hungry, reveled in having no one expect me to be
anywhere.  For a working mom, this was so
completely and radically different from my daily existence that I was quite
literally drunk with joy.
The second day, I tried the same gig.  But it didn’t feel good anymore.  I felt unloved; unmoored.  Unneeded, ignored.  Anonymous, even rejected.  I craved my peeps.  When I made my way to the airport much later,
I practically hugged every one of my friends at the airport (okay, I did
actually hug them all).  I felt like a
hungry person who just found a meal.  A
warm, hot meal, cooked with love and served on a pretty plate.
Hey, I get that I’m an extrovert.  An introvert might enjoy the solitude for
longer than I did.  But I suspect the
feelings I experienced would eventually surface as well.
Dates… people…
What are your experiences with living in a community?
appreciation to Dr. David Pelcovitz, a remarkable human being, and his poignant
words at the AJOP Convention last week in Stamford, Connecticut.
Uncategorized January 17, 2012

Poll Results: How many Orthodox people do you know?

My month-long poll on the homepage just ended, and here are the results:

88 people responded.

Of those, 27 people (30%) say “most of my friends and relatives are Orthodox.”

37 people (42%) say “I know a number of Orthodox people well.”

15 people (17%) say “I know a few, but not well.”

And the smallest group, 9 respondents (10%) say “none personally.”

I find this very exciting, because if 27% of the respondents are saying they don’t really know Orthodox Jews personally, hopefully this blog is an opportunity to learn about us Orthodox folks in a real way – not in media-hyped or Hollywood-puffed fashion.

Also: the comments that those very 27% post, are being read by the 72% who are very comfy in the Orthodox world, which means the insight is traveling both ways.  (For the number-geeks out there, the percentages are rounded, hence the 99% total.)

And that, my friends, will hopefully be the beginning of the Bridge… the one that will draw us nearer to one another as a People.

I can hardly wait.

Uncategorized September 23, 2011

The Jewish Family Experience (JFX)

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to blog about JFX.

JFX is an organization that my husband and I and some friends began 7 years ago.  We were back in Cleveland after having lived in Israel and Buffalo Grove, IL, and were running some Torah classes with some folks that my husband had met at bris ceremonies.  And they said:  “Who knew Judaism was so cool???  Will you teach our kids?”

And we said: “Yes!”

And JFX was born.

At this point we run 10 different kinds of programs such as Sunday school, Shabbat events, Bnei mitzvah, holiday celebrations, classes of all kinds, and Israel trips.  And that’s all very cool, and you can check it all out on our (shameless promo) website:  Be sure to check out the blog too – it’s fun.

But that’s just the face of JFX.  There’s a whole other part to us:  the soul.

Basically, we’re a family.  A community.  My husband and I, we’re like the parents.  And then there’s all this extended family.  They’re all my friends.  We like hanging out with each other.  We invite them for Shabbos and they invite each other.  We take care of each other in joys and sorrows.  No, we’re not all the same.  Some keep Shabbat and some go to Vegas Friday night.  Some keep kosher and others… don’t.  Some don’t gossip and some wear skirts.  Some kids’ go to day school and some to Hawken and some to public school.  Some wear kippahs and some lay tefillin and some are atheists.  But, I dunno, it works.

We’re not afraid to tackle some serious issues: G-d?  Developing a relationship with Him?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why do good people do bad things?

And we all are investing our kishkes into our kids.  Making sure they stay Jewish.  Making sure they love it.  Making sure they find it cool, fun, and awesome.  Making sure they know the Rabbi’s cell phone number.

JFX is so special to me.  I feel humbled and loved and enveloped and grateful.

JFX… I love you.

Uncategorized September 16, 2011

Cultural Oddities: Simcha Celebrations

So as I venture into ever more diverse segments of the Jewish community, I have come to the conclusion that there are some fascinating cultural differences and similarities in celebrating bris, bar and bat mitzvah, and weddings.

Here are a few:

1. “Making a bar mitzvah.”

Frum (Orthodox) people generally say, “I’m making a bar mitzvah.  I’m making a wedding.”  What this means is that they are planning the simcha for their child, which is true, but I’ve never heard non-Orthodox people use this particular verb in this context.  Why is this?  Similarly, Ortho-folk will say, “I’m making Shabbos,” or “making Pesach.”

2. “Just come.”

I’ve found that Ortho-folk who come from large families and busy communities are much more “heimish” (homey) about extending an invitation by phone, declining an invitation, cancelling, showing up uninvited, etc.  Clearly, people should be good about sending invitations and reply cards, and not make the “baal simcha” (the one “making the simcha”) call you to see if you’re coming (!) when they’d much rather be at the manicurist’s, but in general, this degree of chilled-out attitude doesn’t seriously bend anyone out of shape.  “Surprising” someone at a simcha is also a totally accepted thing to do, or popping in for part of it if you can’t be there for the whole thing.

3. The six weeks rule.

You know how the “rules” say to send an invitation six weeks before?  I find more secular Jews send them out earlier than that, and I’m not even referencing the “save-the-date” that comes out much, much earlier than that.  In the other corner we’ve got the Ortho-Jews who send them out later.  Sometimes much later.  (See: heimish.) Also, no save-the-dates as far as the eye can see.

4. Gifts table.

No idea why on earth this is true, but at non-Orthodox shindigs, there is typically a gift table.  Ortho-folk bring their gifts to the home before or after.  Truly an oddity to my mind.

5. What time does it start?

Non-Ortho affairs start, well, when they’re supposed to start.  Showing up late requires an explanation.  On the other hand, when an Orthodox wedding or bar mitzvah is called for 6 pm, “everyone” knows it’s only going to be immediate family and the photographer at 6 pm.  Show up at 6:30, for crying out loud.  (!)  The other totally bizarre thing about this is that the further east you travel, the later you should show up; so when my sister’s vort (engagement party) in NJ was called for 8 pm, most folks showed up at 11.  Oh… was that not on the invitation??

6. Kids.

Well, this makes perfect sense.  Orthodox people have more kids… their simchas have a lot more kids! Your typical Orthodox wedding will have multiple nieces and nephews, all decked out in their finest, to the extent that a babysitter (or team of) is often hired at the hall to supervise the kiddies.  There is often a whole “kiddie table” with “kiddie food.”

But as usual, I like to find more in common than not… we all: want to experience nachas, want to be surrounded by family and friends, have spent more than we planned, and want all our guests to be happy.  Oh, and if our kids could write their thank-yous with no input on our part, we’d all be all the more joyous.

Mazel Tov!

Curious to hear your observations! 

Uncategorized September 8, 2011

So, How Did You Guys Meet?

April, 1993.  Jerusalem.

I am 18 and studying in seminary in Israel.  I have never had a boyfriend.  It is Friday during the holiday of Passover (Pesach) and I am at my aunt’s house.  I call my parents to wish them a good Shabbos, and my mother asks me if I am sitting down.  I sit, then say yes.

Mom: Someone approached me to ask if you would be interesting in dating while in Israel.
Me: Whaaaat?
Mom: It seems the Koval boy is in yeshiva in Israel right now and was suggested for you.
Me: But-but I’m still in seminary.
Mom: Why don’t you think about it?

Most Orthodox girls “start dating” for marriage when they return from their year/s in Israel.  Unless she’s not ready, a girl’s parents will start fielding suggestions from friends or relatives who “know someone” – ie, their neighbor, cousin, nephew.  My case was unusual because the guy was my neighbor and our parents were friends, so his mother basically suggested the idea to my mother, whereas typically a middle-man or woman is involved to minimize the awkwardness if one party is disinterested.  These are not “arranged marriages” – the dates are arranged, and not dissimilar from a classic blind date, and the marriage itself must be entirely consensual after getting to know one another.  Parents typically do a rather thorough background check, talking to neighbors, relatives, teachers, roommates.

My thoughts:
I’m not ready for this.  This is so exciting!  I’m not ready for this.  How cool is this!  Am I ready for this?  The Kovals are really special people.  Are you ever truly ready for this?

April, 1993.  Jerusalem.

The holiday is over.  I call my mother.

Me: So, what’s going on with the Koval situation?
Mom: Well, they are definitely interested.
Me: But I can’t go out while in seminary.  That’s too weird.  And everyone in the dorm will know!  I think we should wait till after finals.

Seminary is a time to focus on spiritual growth and textual knowledge.  I wanted to close one chapter before opening another.  It helped that seminary offered philosophical lectures and practical advice on dating and marriage, and I wanted to get that all in before I got started with the dating bit.  Also, typically the dating process is very private.  The guy and the girl don’t share with friends whom they are dating. This is for  two reasons:  one, to protect the couple from awkward explanations and gossip in the event it doesn’t work out, and two, as the Talmud states: Blessing only rests on that which is hidden from the eye.  Put differently, if you’ve got it, don’t flaunt it, or you risk losing it.

My thoughts:
How will I borrow that killer outfit from my Belgian friend in the dorm without letting on that it’s for a date?

June, 1993.  Jerusalem.

The “Koval guy” pulls up in a taxi to my aunt and uncle’s apartment in Jerusalem to pick me up.   He knocks, comes in, and sits at the table that is set with refreshments no one will touch.  We chat, and leave.  All according to script.  He speaks Israeli Hebrew to the cabbie and is very, very, nice.

After the date I return to my aunt and uncle’s apartment.  I am happy.  We went to a lounge and chatted for a few hours, then took a walk in a park.  It was a good date.  He’s very nice.  I’m willing to go out again.  My aunt and uncle are the “shadchanim” – matchmakers or middlemen, but that’s a lousy definition – meaning they mediate after each date.  It is de rigueur for both boy and girl to get back to the shadchan within 24 hours.  He does and also had a nice time.  The second date is handled through the mediators and is set for a few days hence.

The purpose of Torah dating is for marriage – no delusions there.  There is absolutely no touching before marriage, so the dates are spent chatting and in casual activities like touring, playing games, or eating out.  The subsequent dates are either arranged via the shadchan, or by the couple themselves over the phone once they become more comfortable.

My thoughts:
He’s so nice!  Could I marry this guy?  Wait.  I don’t need to know if I want to marry him.  I just need to know if I want to go out again.  I do.  That Israeli accent was pretty impressive.

End of June, 1993.  New York.

We’ve gone out 4 times in Israel.  Our dates have included a safari trip, an air hockey stint, a pizza date, and the boardwalk in Tel Aviv.  He’s really, really, really nice.  I respect his values and his opinions.  I am truly impressed with how he treats the waitress, the toll booth guy, and the parking attendant.  He is thoughtful of my schedule and respectful of Torah leaders.  I like that he’s also normal.  Very spiritual, but likes to have fun too.  Great family.  He obviously thinks this is going places, because he left his yeshiva mid-semester in Israel to continue dating.  Our next date is to meet his parents, which is hilarious, because I totally know them from the block.  But OK, to spend some time chatting.  As a potential daughter-in-law.  We meet in Central Park, then head over to a restaurant for dinner.  Future FIL jokes about my boyfriend ordering garlic spaghetti.  I blush.  FIL is sweet.  My parents are very supportive and talk me through the whole process.  At this point we do blood tests to rule out Tay-Sachs incompatibility.

If all continues to progress, the sixth or seventh date will be proposal time.   If either party feels they need more time, or are unsure if this is it, the shadchan will be notified and will relay this info to the other party with as much tact as possible.  Ideal shadchanim are kind, thoughtful, tactful, reachable, and responsible.

My thoughts:
If he would propose today, I would say yes.  I feel that I know everything that I need to know.  I feel confident that I making this decision with my head and not just my heart.  Thank you, Hashem (God)!  I am so grateful!  Thank you for sending me such an amazing guy, with no effort on my part!  You are so good to me.  May this be good, may this be right, may I only know happiness.  And if it’s not right for me, won’t you kindly alert me soon?

July, 1993.  NY/Cleveland.

Three dates later, he proposes at Medici’s in Manhattan.  I am glowing, I am ecstatic, I can’t believe it.  We have to keep it a secret because his grandparents are on a cruise and we don’t want to announce it without them here.  We’ll tell hand-picked family members only.  My grandparents have tears in their eyes.  They love him.  I am popping with joy.  A week later, we arrive in Cleveland, announce our engagement, and schedule a vort (engagement party), which the entire city attends.  Delighted comments range from “I had no idea!” to “I should’ve thought of this one!” to “I thought of this idea, but you were in Israel/I didn’t think you were dating yet/you guys beat me to it” to “Mazel tov!  May you build a wonderful Jewish home!”  It’s wonderful and my cheeks ache from smiling.  We set the wedding date for three months hence – October 18.

No touching = short engagements.  Can’t say the David’s Bridal peeps were too keen on this.  (“October 1994?”  “No, October 1993.”  “OCTOBER 1993??  That’s very soon, ma’am.”)  However, all the Ortho-folk involved in this shindig are totally used to this (the caterer, the Italian hall owners, musicians, photographers, and flower people).

My thoughts:
I’m so excited!  I’m so lucky!  This is serious.  I have to start learning about marriage.  I’m so excited!

August-September 1993.  Cleveland.

We arrange for a local Jewish rebbetzin to teach me about a Jewish marriage.  This includes all the mikveh laws.  I read lots of books and take classes on communication, the holiness of marriage, and the spirituality in building a family.  I feel very entrusted with millennia of sacred texts and learning.  The “Koval guy” has returned to Israel to continue yeshiva study, much to my chagrin and pride.  We talk once a week on the phone as he stands on his friend’s balcony in Israel with a cordless.  It’s noisy and hard to hear him.  It has to suffice.  I am so happy knowing that he, too, is taking many classes on marriage and how to be a good husband.  I pray a lot, in gratitude and supplication for our future.  I turn 19 in August and my birthday is celebrated with my fiance and his family, as well as mine.

My thoughts:
This is crazy!  Is this me??  Getting married??  Am I playing house?  Hashem, please let this be good.  Please let me deserve this.  Please let me know how to be a good wife and him to be a good husband.  Let us be healthy and happy and build a wonderful family together, kind, spiritual, loving.  This is crazy!

October 18, 1993.  La Malfa, Mentor, Ohio.

Marty La Malfa joins hundreds of guests in our special day!

And… how did you meet?

Uncategorized September 6, 2011

Queens Girl, Cleveland Girl

One of the most awesome parts, and one of the worst parts, of being Orthodox, is living in a community.  Especially a small community.  Like Cleveland, which has recently been deemed a very “genuine” place to live.
Now, granted, you can technically be Orthodox and live wherever you want, but it means you may not be able to go to shul (synagogue) or easily obtain kosher food.  You could certainly eat fruits, veggies, grains, etc., and you could certainly do your praying and your Shabbat solo, but you might feel much more isolated – we were meant to support one another in this Jewish journey.
So what do I love about living in a small community?
People care if you exist.

This means they notice if you are out of town, they ask you why you decided to switch your kids’ schools, and they are happy to see you when the weather gets warm.  Your existence matters to the PTA, the minyan, and the local Jewish vendors such as the butcher, baker and candlestick maker.  Okay, so in 2012 that’s the neighbor that cuts hair and waxes eyebrows, the neighbor that does my wig, the neighbor that sells accessories in her basement, and the neighbor that owns the local kosher grocery.
This makes me feel warm and fuzzy.  Originally from Queens, many of my relatives live in virtual anonymity on the east coast.  If they drop into one minyan or another, it’s not likely anyone will notice.  If they attend this or that simcha, it’s not likely anyone will notice.  If they buy their groceries at this corner store or the next… big deal; there’s way too much traffic for anyone to take note.
I like it that people care; that my presence and purchases matter; that the schools want more rather than fewer kids.  I like it that my neighbors know when I’m on my own because my husband is out of town for a few and that we’ve been away for a holiday or forgot that it was a holiday weekend and took the garbage out too early or forgot to close the car windows and it was raining, all of which are true stories that have actually happened to me.  I married a Cleveland boy from down the street.  The whole city was delighted when we announced our engagement.  It was so… shtetl-like.  In a good way.
So what don’t I love about living in a small community?
People know everything about you.

This means they notice if you are out of town, and they ask you why you decided to switch your kids’ schools.  Your existence is noted by the PTA, the minyan, and the local Jewish vendors such as the butcher, baker and candlestick maker.  Okay, so in 2012 that’s the neighbor that cuts hair and waxes eyebrows, the neighbor that does my wig, the neighbor that sells accessories in her basement, and the neighbor that owns the local kosher grocery.  And it can be awkward when you patronize one friend over another, one school over another, one minyan over another – when they are all neighbors and community members.

If you teach in a community school, or do business in the community, you see your students/bosses/clients everywhere you go.  This can, indeed, be awkward.
There is an interesting mitzvah to patronize a fellow Jew’s business wherever possible.  If we don’t look out for each other, who will look out for us?  So I am patently aware of this when the local Jewish vendor is right next to me in the carpool line.
But I would never trade what I have in my community.  When someone gives birth, celebrates a bar or bat mitzvah, or wedding, or is new to town, the community roars to life.  They send over dinners, they invite my kids over to play, they send over teen volunteers, and they take over carpools.  I have been brought to tears at the incredible warmth and support in my community.  And I mean personally, and organizationally, via the various non-profits established to support families in financial need, medical need, special ed need, and the list is limited only by the imagination.
So this Queens girl is quite proud to call this small town home.  Thanks, Cleveland, for being such a special place to live and to raise my family.  And for being, oh, so genuine.
Uncategorized August 3, 2011

Black Hattitude

If you think long skirts are all the rage, check out what’s goin’ on with the black fedora.

Why DO some Orthodox men favor these antiquated black fedoras, en masse?  Is it a closet Michael Jackson thing? (Answer: no.)

There are a couple of ideas behind the black hat.

1. Historically, it has been considered a sign of respect and gentlemanliness to wear one’s hat.  JFK supposedly was the first prez to appear at his inauguration sans hat, which was either way cool or rather blasphemous, depending on how old you were at the time.

2. There is a mystical notion in Jewish tradition that while a man should keep his head covered (with a yarmulke/kippah) at all times, to demonstrate visually that God is above him, he should actually wear a DOUBLE covering while praying/saying blessings.  The hat worked nicely, since everyone wore them for formal appearances, so having a formal appearance with God fit right in.

3. The fedora emerged in recent years as a “uniform” of sorts with the “yeshiva” community – and thus became viewed by adherents as a badge of pride, similar to tzitzit (the fringes some men wear hanging from under their shirts).  Ie, you can wear it, or you can wear it with pride.

I’ll focus for now on the last point.

The “yeshiva” community is a culture and lifestyle based on the notion that the center of a man’s/boy’s academic attention should be the yeshiva – an institution of almost full-time Talmudic study.  (Why this is for men and not women will be the subject of a separate post.)

The largest yeshiva in the US is Beth Medrash Govoha (translation: Upper House of Study) in the city of Lakewood, NJ.  Remember: NOT  Lakewood, Ohio.  You’ll be searching the 480 for awhile in vain for the black fedoras.  An entire yeshiva community has arisen around the yeshiva, and the “uniform” for a guy would be white shirt, black pants/jacket, and… the ubiquitous black hat.

Other aspects of the lifestyle include a resistance to pop culture (ie, not getting People magazine or going to movies), an emphasis on modesty between men and women, a passion for prayer, Torah study, and acts of kindness within the community, and the importance of large families when possible.
Believe it or not, all this is expressed with the donning of the black fedora.

Any questions?