Browsing Tag


Uncategorized November 24, 2014


Some of you may have missed “Finding Meaning in Terror,” my most recent post, if you receive notifications via email, since it appeared on the same day as an ad which appeared at the top of the email.  Please be sure to check it out.

“May G-d avenge their blood.”

Sounds harsh?  This is a standard prayer that one might say when hearing of the death of a fellow Jew at the hands of a hate crime – of one who was killed for being Jewish.  Last week, I included this short prayer at the conclusion of a Facebook post. 
One of the murder victims. His wife is a Markowitz from Cleveland. Rebecca Blech Schwartz, I am so sorry for your family. May his soul find rest and may God avenge his murder.
“Kraft described Levine as an exceedingly humble person, and while he was a serious learner devoted to increasing his knowledge of Judaism and Torah, he also had a sharp sense of humor and loved to joke around. Growing up in Kansas City, Kraft and Levine loved to watch the Kansas City Royals baseball team.”
Rabbi Kalman Levine The stories are coming in fast about the four rabbis murdered during the brutal terror attack in a Jerusalem synagogue – one of the them, in…

I know that previously, when posting thoughts of this nature, I’ve received some inquiries about the “avenge” piece, and this time was no different. In the chat box of a Words With Friends game, an acquaintance asked: 

I always felt good about the simple Jewish approach to vengeance: it belongs to G-d. We pray to Him to bring it on people who perpetrate evil, and we go through appropriate legal channels (including this incredible law firm) to bring about justice ourselves, but we do not take vengeance into our own hands.
Then I read this emotional piece by my friend Sarah Rudolph, expressing resistance to using the term – and it really made me think.  Revenge people-style, and revenge G-d-style are not the same thing.  People-revenge is angry, instinctive, emotional, and anger-driven.  G-d revenge is restoring justice to a world gone mad.  I don’t want revenge, because I don’t want to become an ugly person.  I want G-d to do it – because I know He’ll do it right.
And I’m proud of a religion that knows the difference.
Controversial Observations, Uncategorized January 6, 2014

Yoga and Orthodoxy: Compare and Contrast

Assignment: Compare and contrast yoga and Orthodox Judaism.

The panelists are all familiar with both yoga and religious, observant Judaism.  They are all friends of mine in real life.  Some are highly trained yogis and others practitioners.  Note: the ideas and opinions expressed below do not necessarily reflect my theology.  

The Similarities

Sandy Gross:

They’re the same, in that it’s morals and ethics.  It’s more like Mussar (spiritual character development in Judaism).  As far as Orthodoxy, yoga just uses different tools – poses, for example – for us to “practice” applying these morals and ethics (in yoga they’re called Yamas & Niyamas).  Orthodoxy uses other practical tools – the 613 laws.  Both are practices, and practical, and that’s why I like JFX (the Jewish Family Experience, our congregation) so much!  We can always use more tools to help us be more mindful and inspired people:)

Scott Simon:

I think what is interesting about yoga poses – which most people consider “yoga” to be – is that they are not really about getting into shape.  They are actually meant to prepare the body to be able to sit for long periods of time in spiritual quest (meditation etc).  Judaism I am sure has methods to begin the process of getting us ready to enhance our connection with G-d through prayer.   

Sindy Warren:

I agree with Scott’s point about the yoga poses (asana practice) being intended to ready the body and mind for meditation, which can be, in some ways, likened to prayer.  I also like Sandy’s point about both paths being moral and ethical guidelines for proper living.  They can also both be seen as paths for spiritual growth and bringing one closer to one’s own potential.

Sandy Gross:

I view the laws, mitzvot, as very present moment opportunities to connect to G-d.  If one chooses to do them:). Ha. That’s why I think a lot people have connected so well into yoga – learning to integrate your upper arm bone into the shoulder socket properly in a weight bearing position (and other physical alignment hard rules), for example, may not seem very “spiritual”  but to me, it’s integrating mind with body, helping the body to return to harmony – it should be considered spiritual.  Alignment for me is respect for this amazing body and this is extremely spiritual.  I am integrating it with its operating system (G-d?) with every move I make.  I try anyway…that’s why we call it a yoga “practice”  :). 

Karen Marocco:

I think in many ways Judaism and yoga complement each other. Below are some of my thoughts:
For me, yoga is very much a practice of mindfulness. On the surface it’s about being aware of how your body moves/feels, the quality of breathing, what you eat etc. But it’s also about being mindful/aware of your thoughts, habits and actions-even throughout the day when you’re not doing the actual poses. For example, loshon hara  (the Hebrew term for the sin of gossip) is something many of us struggle with – or at least I do. Practicing mindfulness has helped me become more conscious of my words. It’s hard to better yourself when you’re unaware.
In teacher training we had to choose one yoga sutra/teaching that resonated with us and write about it. I chose the sutra surrender to a Higher power because it’s so in alignment – get it, ha! – with Judaism.  When my mom got sick, we turned to science/medicine for help. But ultimately, we believe that it rests with God. We do what we can and then surrender the results to Hashem (God).
Jody Trostler:

Interestingly I believe that my connection to yoga when I started practicing 13 years ago-ish was what was missing for me spiritually in Judaism. I was raised very secular and did not know what I did not know about the power of Judaism spiritually and intellectually. 
As I have learned and grown Jewishly,  some of the common practices of vinyasa yoga have become a bit uncomfortable. OM-ing and bowing/namaste is one of them. I felt a bit uncomfortable in my first yoga class after returning from my first and only Israel trip. I think my experience was so deep and profound spiritually that everything else felt shallow. Now I realize that I was being judgemental in these thoughts. 
I remember Shawna Rosner and I were talking about this years ago and she told me that instead of namaste she would say the Shema. I loved that and I now have adopted that practice (thanks Shawna!). This brings me close to G-d and is a reminder to pray when I am in a good place.
As my Jewish education has expanded and grown through mussar and Sunday school I do see several crossovers in the yoga teachings and mussar. It’s all great stuff and it just reinforces that I am on a path of growth.
The Differences:

Shawna Rosner:

First of all, I believe that Orthodoxy and yoga are mutually exclusive and in my life they remain so. I have always been closely identified with being Jewish and practicing Judaism, and did not turn to yoga to fill my need for religion. However, I found that I really cherished the snippets of philosophy on life that were often times interwoven into my yoga classes (and still do). As I have come to study more Torah, and Mussar in particular, I have found many parallels between yoga and Judaism and some differences as well. I no longer go to a yoga class craving the spiritual lesson as I have found it elsewhere (mostly thanks to JFX). 
My yoga practice is based on a mind and body experience. I try to find peace, balance and equanimity in my yoga practice, but I would be deceitful if I didn’t admit that the physical benefits of the practice are very important to me. I feel better after yoga and I believe this is just one step in becoming a better me and better able to give more of myself to those around me a d the universe as a whole. I also feel this way after studying Torah and Mussar. 
For me yoga is not a soulful experience. By that I mean I do not feel closer to a higher power when practicing. However, as Jody mentioned I do take the opportunity to say Shema during opening and closing of class and when Sanskrit just doesn’t feel right to me. So in essence I bring some Judaism to my mat. 
Thank you for the opportunity to express my views. For those that have not yet read Letters to a Buddhist Jew, as I did in Mussar, I highly recommend it!!
Sindy Warren:
Yoga eemphasizes being in the resent moment.  Learning to sit with the instant discomforts (of he body in asana practice and of the mind in meditation) and not reacting.  To create space betwween stimulus and reaction.  Orthodox Judaism, I think, places a huge emphasis on he future (ie, the World to Come).  Mussar, too, is forward looking and also focused on the post – what should we do in certain situations, looking to our ancestors (the mussar masters) for guidance.  Judaism has a unique way of blending the past with he present and he future – the holidays being representations not nly of our ast but of the present (and future) spiritual energy in the world.
Another interesting difference is the idea of doing or not doing, depending on the practice.  Judaism teaches through action.  Be generous, and you will become more generous.  Do first, then believe.  Yoga teaches the importance of non-action (to wit, the phrase “don’t just do something, sit there”).  

Sandy Gross:

The main difference (although I focus on the similarities mostly:)  is that Judaism is a dualistic religion.  Yoga, is non-dualistic.  G-d is everywhere including and especially in us.  Two quotes on the walks at the new Evolution:
“The sun shines not on us but in us.” John Muir
“My body is my first prop.”  BKS Iyengar
And, yoga is not a religion, it’s considered an (experiential) science.  The Latin root of the word “religion” is to “realign with your origin.” That word religion needs a new PR campaign.   I feel like I am religious then, if you define it that way:). Again, I’m trying!  
Karen Marocco:

Namaste: This is the most uncomfortable part of the yoga practice for me. Namaste is what many teachers and students say when ending a class. Often translated as the light in me honors the light in you (which I think is a beautiful sentiment.) However, literally namaste means “I bow to you.”  Even though people bow their heads as a gesture of respect and not worship I was always taught that you don’t bow to anyone but God. There have been Jews who have chosen death over bowing to another person. 
Sandy Gross (on bowing):
The bowing in Namaste, to me, in this non-dualistic path of yoga, means you’re technically bowing to yourself.  Your higher Self that you share with everyone else… Acknowledging that we are one.  That there really is no separation.  
I think I remember also hearing that the bowing is the representation of the physical, lower-cased self, with the higher Self or light/G-d, energy within that we all share.  
In the OM yoga tradition in which I was trained, we did not bow nor say Namaste. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. 

Thoughts from the Facebook discussion:

Renee:  I think a mindful yoga practice is a lot like living the Kabbalah.  Technically if done properly, EVERYTHING one does is out f gratitude to G-d in both practices – so es, food choices are simple and prayers are offered; positive community; mind/body/spirit connection; ego not important; meditation several times a day…

Ariella:  To be “good” at both you’ve got to be committed. Both are complicated. 
Allison:  You’re always learning with both Judaism and yoga.
Chantal:  I’m very wary of bringing in the spiritual side of yoga as some of the origins really border on avoda zara (idolatry) if not outright… Tread carefully!
Dave:  They’re both misunderstood (and dismissed) by the ignorant…
Wendy:  Yoga is quieting the voices in your head, it is profoundly moving if you let it be, it’s about gratitude on a very deep level, a connection with yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. Yoga is good for you. There is no doubt about it. 
What are your thoughts, OOTOB readers?  What’s your experience with yoga and/or religious Judaism?  Does yoga satisfy a spiritual or religious need for you?
(For an interesting related read, check out this article and especially the comments.)
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 December 5, 2013

Divine Providence

It’s not the roof above my heaď that’s keeping out the rain
It’s not the doctor’s medicine that takes away the pain
It’s not because of my hard work that I’ll do well again
It’s the One who was, and the One who is, and the One who will remain.

(Pulling Strings by London Girls’ Choir)

People think the line of demarcation between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews is Shabbat observance.  And for the most part, at least on a practical, obvious level, this is true.  But there is another philosophical aspect at play that I have found to be huge line of demarcation as well.  Granted, the line is not drawn as clearly in the sand (some non-Orthodox Jews believe in this too, whereas some Orthodox Jews have a really hard time with it) but I’ve found it to be a barrier in conversation and understanding.

True story a friend told me:

My daughter went to Israel after graduating high school, like so many Jewish day school students do. I did not have any kind of a formal Jewish education and knew nothing about seminaries or yeshivas. I had heard many girls talk about different seminaries, but had no idea how one was different then the other. So when it came time to choose a seminary, my daughter did the investigating on her own. She decided on a seminary in Har Nof that turned out to be a great fit for her. It was a small school and the girls were very close with a lot of the faculty. My daughter often had Shabbos meals at her Rabbis’ or Rebbitzens’ homes. My daughter also forged a close relationship with her Aim Bayit (dorm mother), which was like an RA (resident advisor) when I was in college. 

My daughter had been accepted to a college in New York City, deferred for a year and was planning on starting her college years right after her year in Israel. It was getting towards the end of her year in Israel and she asked me if I would be open to her returning for another semester. I was so glad that she was enjoying her seminary and seemed to be gaining a lot from the experience. I was happy to send her back for another semester.

First year ended and she was home for the summer. It turned out that the college which my daughter planned on attending in NYC had a campus in Jerusalem. My daughter decided to take two college classes in addition to her seminary classes when she first returned to Israel. The class schedule worked out fine and she was all registered. The only problem was that the college classes started earlier than the seminary classes and the seminary apartments were not going to be open until two weeks after she got back. She didn’t know where she was going to stay for those two weeks.

The dilemma was solved quickly. The Aim Bayit, Sarah Leah Silverman, lived two blocks from the school and said she could live with her until the seminary apartments opened. My daughter was just about to go back to Israel and an old friend of mine from 7th grade saw on Facebook that my daughter knew Sarah Leah Silverman, so she asks her how she knew her. My daughter explains the relationship. My old friend then tells my daughter to ask me if I remember Shari Teitzman. I said “Sure. We were friends during my high school years. We knew each other through a youth group and had friends in common. We spent a week of our summer at a camp together and we even sang a duet in a talent show together.”

Well, it turns out, Shari Teitzman became observant about 30 years ago and started using her Hebrew name. Years later she got married and was known as Sarah Leah Silverman. So the woman who my daughter had built this relationship with, was an old friend of mine from over 30 years ago. There was no way of me making the connection, and Sarah Leah had no idea that the young woman she befriended was my daughter.

My daughter finished seminary, made a life direction change, and ended up making aliyah. She now boards at Sarah Leah’s home and they are extremely close.  What incredible hashgacha pratis.

This story expresses how a [fill in your favorite term: frum, Orthodox, religious] Jew thinks.  It’s the belief in Divine Providence, called in Hebrew “hashgachah pratis/t.”   In Maimonides’ epic Thirteen Principles of Faith, the generally accepted list of philosophical bylaws for an Orthodox Jew, it’s #10.  It includes:

1. The belief that God is aware of the small details of your life (omniscient)
2. that He has the power to intervene and manipulate events just for you (omnipotent)
3. that He cares enough to do so (all-loving)
4. that everything He does is good (all-good).

(In fact, as Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith of observes, anyone asking “why do bad things happen to good people” is using these four truths as a premise.  If any of these are not true, the question disappears.  More on this later.)

There does appear to be, at least according to some, a “sliding scale” on personal attention that any given human being will earn.  Leviticus 26:21 warns, “If you act toward me with an attitude that everything happens by chance, I will respond and allow the forces of nature take their toll on you without any intervention on my part” (SR Hirsch’s explanation).  Meaning, that if you try to see God’s hand in your life, He will show it more and give you more personal intervention.

What I’ve found interesting is two-fold:

One, the angst that some Orthodox Jews experience with this philosophy and its corollaries, and two, the instinctive nature of some non-Orthodox Jews to embrace this (it’s for sure popular, in fuzzier form, in yoga), despite the fact that the Conservative and Reform movement officially reject it [addendum: the Conservative Movement does not officially reject it. See comment section below.].

At least I think they do.  You won’t it find it here or here (except briefly in Reconstructionist Judaism), the top two Google search returns to “reform, orthodox, conservative beliefs.” When I tried to find out more I got a lot of Christian sites and stuff about George Washington (?).  I base my words on things I have heard Reform and Conservative rabbis publicly state, although I do have a hard time figuring out why this information is so elusive on the web.  It seems from what I’ve observed in my own life, Conservative Judaism deals with the question by stating that #2 above is untrue – that God cannot actually control everything [note: this may be the views on individual rabbis, and not a movement-wide belief. Again, see comment section.].

In any case, I live my life with this belief.  The parking spot that just opened?  God loves me!  The store that closed right as I approached?  It was meant to be.  Everything happens for a reason.  The investment that went sour?  It wasn’t determined for me on Rosh Hashanah; it was never mine.  That guy that dropped my friend when she though they were getting engaged?  His basherte is someone else.

You can see where this philosophy has the potential to bring a lot of serenity its wake.  And to the really tough questions, like cancer, holocausts, and mental illness, what can I say other than I’ve seen adherents to this philosophy pull through and draw immense strength from this belief.  To those who feel it strongly, it’s a balm for life’s ills.

I would like to request that this post not become a forum to angrily address where God has wronged you in your life.  I will not publish comments that speak disrespectfully to me or to God.  

Uncategorized June 2, 2013

Seeing the Essence of a Person in Tragedy

Just reading an article over Shabbos about the tragic passing of Shoshie Stern, a 12-year old daughter of a friend-of-a-friend who was hit by a car in Florida and killed instantly.  Two stories about the incident just made me stop in my tracks in absolute amazement that a human being could rise so incredibly above her nature.

1. The article’s author, a friend of the Stern family, describes that his wife, Zahava, had dropped off Shoshie at her home, but later received a frantic call from Shoshie’s sister asking where she was.  A desperate call-fest ensued, with both families trying to locate Shoshie.  Finally Zahava called Denise, Shoshie’s mother, to see if they had heard anything.  Denise, who had just heard the tragic news moments earlier, blurted out: “Shoshie’s been killed!  She was hit by a car while she tried to cross Palmetto Park Road.  She’s dead!”

Zahava was overcome with emotion but a few minutes later Denise called back.  Why?  To apologize for blurting out the news over the phone, and asking if Zahava was alright, and to ask her for forgiveness.

Yes.  Forgiveness.

2.  At the hospital, after identifying her beloved daughter, Denise begged one of the police officers to find the motorist who had killed her daughter.  “Tell him it wasn’t his fault.  Tell him that we are a people of faith, we believe in G-d, and that we believe that this is part of His plan.  He should not blame himself or feel guilty, and tell him that he should not allow this to ruin the rest of this life.”

Amazing.  That a human being could rise so high.  An inspiration.

Thank you to Dr. Norman Goldwasser and Mishpacha Magazine.

Uncategorized April 11, 2013

The Growing Jew

Sorry, readers, for the LOONG lag in blog posts.  Between Passover, my kids being off, getting back to all my responsibilities after the long break, and getting to my spring cleaning that I didn’t choose to do before Passover – I haven’t actually even sat in front of a real computer in days.  Thanks to those of you that let me know you’ve missed my posts – that means the world to me!

Tuesday evening I taught a class for a local group of young Orthodox women in their early 20’s called “Finding and Keeping Your Soulmate.”  I started the class by asking them, “Why are we here on this earth?  What’s the point?”  They knew the answer I was looking for: to grow.

What does it mean to grow?  To be a grower?  To get into the mind of a “grower,” here is an unsolicited email I received from a friend of mine who became religious in her adult life.  She had had a great day, and just wanted to share it with me and few friends.  It tells clearly what the life of a “grower” looks like.   [Note: “Hashem” is a Hebrew term for God.]

Last night when I went to sleep I kept thanking Hashem
for an amazing day. I didn’t go anywhere special or meet anyone famous
and actually it was a very difficult, stressful day, but the greatness
and the pleasure was in the difficulty and “ordinary” day. 
I started off davening [praying] after my morning coffee as I typically do, but yesterday morning I was keenly aware of my desire to rush through the davening
to get to work. I discovered this past year that I have a very strong
work ethic, which is good. A top priority in my life is to stay on top of my work, give my clients top service, try to get as much done in a
day as possible and bill as many hours as I can (to make money). I
realized yesterday when I was davening (but while my thoughts were on work) that if I put 1/100th of the drive, passion and energy into serving Hashem and grabbing mitzvahs,
as I do trying to satisfy clients and bill, I’d be in a lot better
shape. SO, I was/am so grateful to see this so clearly. Now I have
to figure out how to channel that drive into my service to Hashem.
Next thing that happened was I was on my way to a dentist
appointment when someone from my office called to tell me she made a
major mistake and sent out 28 letters over my signature that should not
have gone out. At first I was like “OH NO” and then I just dealt with
it. When I got to the office a few people were talking to her, so she
and I didn’t talk. She left work shortly after that and I didn’t get to
even say hello to her. I called her because I wanted her to know that I
wasn’t avoiding her or upset with her. I’ve made lots of mistakes in my
lifetime and wanted her to know that it was just a mistake. I left her a
message and she was so appreciative. If the roles were reversed and she
hadn’t said hi to me or spoken to me about the mistake, I think I would
have felt so much worse.
So, back to the dentist. I had an unexpected root canal and the
tooth was “hot.” I needed a lot of Novocaine and some of it dripped down
my throat causing a sensation (or perhaps reality) that I couldn’t
swallow. It was a very scary feeling. When I spoke, my voice sounded to
me like I swallowed helium, although the dentist said I sounded like my
normal self. I thought I was going to have a panic attack. I started
talking to G-d. I asked for His help and told Him I knew He was with me.
I pictured that image that is often used of Him holding me in His arms
and comforting me like a baby. Thank G-d, there was no panic attack and I
got through it ok. It’s painful today physically, but I felt such a connection to Hashem.
I am SO busy at work (thank G-d) and will be going away for 3
weeks, so the stress (that I put on myself) is pretty high right now. I davened that Hashem
should give me the clarity to work through a complicated matter at
work and do so efficiently. To my great surprise, I had an awesome day
at work! Hashem gave me clarity in areas that I didn’t have before and I was able to get a lot done.  
THEN, I went to Heinen’s and was waiting on the express lane and realized I wanted to pick up a plant for someone’s
birthday today. I stepped out of line only for a minute and when I got
back 2 people pushed my cart aside and went in front of me. I was upset
for about a half a second and then realized, it’s an express lane,
moving quickly, I left my cart, they had no idea how long I’d be
gone and they had every right to go ahead of me. But I decided to go to
another lane anyway, which was now shorter. 
There was an older,
heavy man with a cane in a wheelchair cart in front of me. I wasn’t
sure how he was going to get his items onto the conveyor. I’m never sure
if I should offer help in these situations or not; does the person
appreciate the help or do they want their independence? I leaned over
and asked him if I could help him and he was so appreciative. The person
in front of him took quite some time to check out so he and I had such a
nice conversation. We laughed about a number of things and talked about
his favorite candy bar, as I got one off the shelf for him. I was
thanking Hashem privately for giving me the opportunity to have this interaction with him. It felt so special. I really felt I was living Hahem’s will.
And lastly, my husband had two difficult situations yesterday
which he shared with me in depth. I felt such pleasure and pride in him
and the way he handled the challenges. I was feeling so blessed to have
him as my husband (which thank G-d, I feel often).

SO, I went to sleep, reliving my day and thanking Hashem for all of it. It felt like a day that Hashem was very happy with. I know I was!  

Uncategorized March 6, 2013

Does it Come From Her Religion?

Last week, my teenage son found himself in Rockland County, NY, with a flight from La Guardia in a few hours and no ride.

To be fair, he had a perfectly legitimate ride that decided to leave early and unexpectedly, leaving him stranded.  He was staying at my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s home, and he called me to brainstorm about how to get to the airport.  Well, I’m a fan of independence in kids, so I told my son that he could take a bus to Port Authority and from there take another bus to the airport.  We realized that time was tight and I agreed that he should instead take a cab from Port Authority to the airport.  My son wasn’t thrilled about these plans, but he agreed nevertheless.

Ten minutes later I get a phone call from my brother-in-law.

“Ruchi, Sara is going to drive him to the airport.”

“What??”  I said.  “That’s crazy.  It’s an hour without traffic!  And all the kids are home!  And there’s no need for it!  Really, he’s fine!”  (Why does anyone bother with how long a NY drive will take without traffic?  How is that information even relevant?)

“Oh, no, she says it’s perfect, because since the kids are off and they have nothing to do, this will be a great activity!  A project!  A trip!”

This, then is my sister-in-law.  When she does you a favor (a huge one), she makes you feel as if you are doing her a favor by acquiescing.  She’s truly something.

Now I ask you a question.  My sister-in-law is a really, really good person.  But I believe that her religiosity, her belief in chessed (kindness), that God put an opportunity in her path for good, that she will never lose out by doing a good deed, makes it much easier and more satisfying to act altruistically.

What do you think?