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Uncategorized January 8, 2013


Dear Ruchi,

I am so confused I don’t know what to think.  When I started studying about Judaism with you, it sounded so beautiful, sweet, and positive.  I met so many nice people who warmly welcomed me into their homes.  I wished I could have that Shabbat experience, faith, and love in my home.

Now it is a few years later.  I have become much more observant, maybe even what you would call “Orthodox.”  I see the flaws in the community.  I see that lots of people are not sweet or warm.  I see judgmentalism and rudeness.  I feel kind of deflated.  Why didn’t you tell me?


Dear Disillusioned,

Let me begin by expressing my dismay at your disillusionment.  You seem not only dejected and therefore possibly stunted in your Judaism, but also that you feel I have done you a disservice by not opening your eyes to the flaws and difficulties of observant life in advance.


Imagine that you are dating a guy that you are really excited about.  Finally, you feel like maybe this is Mr. Right.  He’s kind, sweet, thoughtful.  You meet a married girlfriend for coffee and fill her in on your life.   She says, “Oh, honey, they all start out that way.  Let me tell you what married life is REALLY like.  He’ll leave his stinky socks on the floor and gain 15 pounds.  He’ll ignore you when the football game is on and burp loudly even though you hate it.  There are going to be times that you’ll wonder why you ever thought this was a good idea.  And THAT,” (she drops her voice ominously) “is with a GOOD man.”  (Deep, long-suffering sigh.)

Has your friend done you a service or a disservice?  Is she right?

Another analogy:

You schedule a meeting with a new school for your kids.  You meet the director of admissions who shows you around, and extols the virtues of the school.  You ask good questions and get good answers.  You like the look and feel of the school.  Everyone seems to really like it there.  You join.

After a few months you start to notice it’s not all roses.  There seems to be some underlying tensions between some of the administrators that filters down to staff satisfaction.  Some of the policies of the school don’t sit well with you.  But you still like the school in general, and are happy to spend the extra money to send your kids there.

Was it the job of the director of admissions to inform you of the politics and every policy of the school?  If a friend would have filled you in on all the behind-the-scenes negative stuff, is it a favor?  Is it right?  Would it have changed your opinion?


Is there any institution, school, company, family, religion, community, city, that doesn’t have flaws?  That doesn’t have negativity?  That doesn’t contain people who aren’t good role models?  Does that mean the institution or community is inherently flawed?

Here’s what Elie Wiesel said on the subject:

“A credo that defines my path:

I belong to a generation that has often felt abandoned by God and betrayed by mankind.  And yet, I believe that we must not give up on either. 

Was it yesterday – or long ago – that we learned how human beings have been able to attain perfection in cruelty?  That for the killers, the torturers, it is normal, thus human, to act inhumanely?  Should one, therefore, turn away from humanity?

The answer, of course, is up to each of us.  We must choose between the violence of adults and the smiles of children, between the ugliness of hate and the will to oppose it.  Between inflicting suffering and humiliation on our fellow man and offering him the solidarity and hope he deserves.  Or not.”

Open Heart, 2012

You wonder why people in the Orthodox community are flawed.  It’s because humanity is flawed.  But let’s not give up on Torah, on mitzvah observance, on humanity.  You may wonder why the religion didn’t “make” those people better.  It’s because religion can’t “make” anyone anything.  A
religion can’t make someone better, because he has to do the work to bring it
from his head to his heart to his actions. Free will is the arbiter
here and I don’t think anyone would want it taken away.

So, to my dear burned out friend.

Remember the day you discovered your parents weren’t perfect?  Didn’t know everything?  Wasn’t that devastating?  But now you probably see that although they’re not perfect, they did much good and taught you a lot.


I hope that you can see the meaning and beauty in the life that Torah outlines despite the fact that not all its adherents lead wonderful lives.  I could extol the virtues of the mitzvah-observant “lifestyle” and even its community with so many examples of truly incredible people who lead beautiful and wonderful lives, both in and out of the limelight.  But this is neither the time nor the place to do so, because you know they’re there.  You’re not talking about them.  You’re talking about the others.

Who are the “real” Orthodox?  The great role models you encountered at your gateway to observant life, or the poor role models that you met later on in your journey?  I can’t answer that because Orthodoxy is a human invention.  But I will say this:

To the extent that a Jew is following Torah, his actions will be beautiful.

Because the same Torah that says to keep kosher, enjoins us not to judge those that don’t.
And the same Torah that says to have humility and modesty begs us not to gossip about those that don’t.
And the same Torah that pleads with us not to neglect Shabbat forbids us from embarrassing another human being.

When you find Jews who are keeping all the man-to-God commandments, and are neglecting the man-to-man commandments, you have the most toxic, ugly mix possible.  You have a classic chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name).  You have before you a person for whom there is a total disconnect.  For whom his relationship to God is stunted, confused, or dead.  For whom Judaism is in his body but not in his heart.  Maybe he is keeping the external ritual laws out of habit or social pressure, but this is incomplete and warped Judaism.

But this is the human condition.  You are disillusioned, yes, because to think that Orthodoxy can magically transform us from all our human flaws of impatience, rudeness, judgmentalism and the rest – is, indeed, an illusion.  When you sign up for Orthodoxy, you don’t buy a KGB of rabbis who force you to comply with anything.  You’re on your own, there.  And if you want to keep Shabbos and be rude, yes, you will have the free will and the space to do just that.


Did you know that Orthodox people struggle with the same character flaws as everyone else?  WE ARE REGULAR PEOPLE.  We are trying, but we’re not perfect.  We are learning, but we may not always apply what we learn.  We are all different.  We are not lumpable together.  Our rabbis and teachers constantly tell us not to judge.  Although we sometimes fail, can we try together to succeed?

I know we’ll both be richer for it.

Uncategorized December 4, 2012

The Shame of Chosenness

It seems, often, that others deem us the Chosen People far more readily than we do, ourselves.  And not necessarily in a positive way.

This is a crime.

In Jewish liturgy and text, chosenness and love are inextricably intertwined.  The Jewish people is called God’s “firstborn.”  We are chosen with love.  Chosen for what, though?  The shame, I believe, comes from a deep misunderstanding of the answer to that question, and I believe the answer people harbor in their hearts comes in various varieties.

1. We’re not chosen.  Jews are like everyone else.  We shouldn’t be different from everyone else.  It’s what makes us hated.  The more similar we will be, the more “normal” – the better.  Who are we to think we’re better than anyone?

2. We’re chosen, yeah, but we shouldn’t really advertise it.  I mean, just between us, Jews are smart, ambitious, driven, bent on education and family values.  We’ve won all these Nobel Prizes and we’re barely a blip demographically.  These ideas feel like a superiority complex, so better not to discuss it too much, but just read Start-up Nation and Mark Twain and what-have-you.  It’s undeniable.

3. Jews are chosen for greater responsibility – to be a light unto the nations (see Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s concise and brilliant If You Were God – a book that changed my life).  That means we have more obligations in Judaism (613 instead of the 7 that non-Jews have) and a request from God to be a good example wherever we go.  This is how I see things.

One time, my husband and I were at the Geauga County Fair.  For those of you that don’t live in Ohio, firstly you’ll never ever know if I misspelled Geauga, and secondly let’s just say that we were the only members of an ethnic or religious minority there.  There was a wagon that was transporting the visitors from the parking area to the fair, and we were (surprise) toting a stroller.  As we attempted to maneuver the stroller onto the wagon, a man jumped off the wagon to help us and after we all settled in, said conspiratorially, to our utter shock, “You guys are the Chosen People.  It’s an honor to help you.  And Israel?  I don’t know why everyone doesn’t understand that it’s your promised land.”

And with that we rolled along on our merry way as I tried to find my tongue.

Whatever you might say about evangelical Christians and Israel, one thing is clear: I’ve been reminded often by non-Jews, sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a negative way, that the Jews are unique and different and will never really blend in.

What startles me is how uncomfortable many Jews are with this concept.  Sort of like not wanting to be teacher’s pet.  Maybe this is one reason Jews rarely invoke God’s name socially or publicly (as a good friend of mine put it, “we were raised to never say God’s name, except in vain”), whereas non-Jews seem wildly cool with it.

Truthfully, although Jewish literature is replete with references to the Chosen People notion, it’s hardly exclusionary.  Judaism both tells us not to push our religion on others and to accept them if they truly want to convert.  Judaism also teaches that any good person, Jew or non-Jew, has a share in the Jewish version of the afterlife.  In other words, while Jews are chosen by God, anyone can choose to be chosen just like we did.  We chose to be chosen nationally (Abraham our forefather discovered God on his own and any of his children who followed his monotheistic path became Jewish) and anyone can choose to be chosen too.

Having done a completely non-scientific study, my research seems to indicate that Jews who have grown up in remote communities, where they were among a very small number of Jews (and they always know exactly what that number was), are convinced that Jews are different and special – indeed a member of the “Chosen People” – and don’t have a problem with the concept, whereas perhaps ironically (since many Jewish parents choose this next option purposefully to aid in their kids’ Jewish “identity”) Jews who grow up in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, go to public school with Jewish kids and attend summer camp with Jews, tend to struggle mightily with it and fight it.

To respond to William Norman Ewer’s famous witticism:

How odd
of God
to choose 
the Jews

I like this anonymously penned rejoinder:

It’s not so odd
the Jews chose God

Uncategorized August 22, 2012

Dear Teacher: May It Be An Atonement

Dear Teacher,

I’m only in the 5th grade, and you aren’t even my teacher.  But you taught me something that I’ll probably remember for a long time.  

I don’t think you saw me watching when you fell in the cafeteria.  I was eating my lunch with my friends, and some water must have spilled near the sinks, because you slid right across the floor and fell with an embarrassing thud.

All the teachers rushed around to see if you were OK.  I looked away, ashamed to see a grown-up fall like a regular kid.

And then, as you got up, I heard you say a phrase I’d never heard before: “It should be a kapparah.”

Now, I knew the word “kapparah.”  That means “atonement.”  I thought hard about what you said, and realized that you were taking your embarrassment and your hurt, and saying that you hoped, and prayed, sort of, too, that God would take it and use it to erase something wrong that you had once done.  Maybe something by mistake.  Or maybe something on purpose? 

I didn’t know grown-ups did things wrong on purpose.  Especially you.  You’re such a good person.  But my mother told me once that nobody’s perfect.  Only God is perfect.  So I guess that’s what you meant.

Anyway, I thought that was a really neat way of dealing with what happened to you.  Maybe I’ll copy that when something wrong happens to me that I can’t fix or change.  And maybe I’ll take it with me for when I become a grown-up.

So I just wanted to say thank you for that.  It changed the way I think and really helped me.


Rochel Indich, 1985
5th grader at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Uncategorized July 17, 2012

God: Up, Up, Down, Down

Through the baby monitor, I heard these words from my two-year-old daughter:

“Up, up, down, down…
up, down, up down…”

I knew immediately what she was singing!  Uncle Moishy’s song about God [Hashem]:

Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere
Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere
Up, up, down, down
right, left, and all around
Here, there and everywhere 
That’s where He can be found…

Apparently, she had been learning this ditty in her little day camp around the corner from my house.  I found this to be overwhelmingly heartwarming, and repeated her genius to everyone I know (hence, here).


Because I adore the fact that my very young child, who can barely put together a sentence, is absorbing in her young and fragile psyche ideas that I hold so dear.

That God is omniscient.

That He is omnipresent.

That He’s personal.

I take God personally.   That means I believe He cares intensely about what I do, micromanages world details to accommodate and make possible the personal growth of me and others, employs a level of detail in the minutiae of my motivations and machinations, and it’s all because He loves me.

Were you told that God loves you?  If you ever opened a prayer book to the Shema, it was right there, in the paragraph preceding it. 

Tim Tebow opened this question to the world on a whole new level: does God live on a sports field?

Here, there and everywhere, that’s where He can be found…

While hearing my child sing this song gives me intense comfort and peace, I acknowledge that there are those for whom it brings a stiffening of the neck. Was the Tebow debate about the detail of God’s personal involvement? Was it the resistance of Jews to unabashed declarations of faith?

Is that discomfort dependent on WHICH God we’re talking about (well-nigh irrelevant: a Jew would never wear his God on his sleeve. Why?)?

How much longer can my little girl unabashedly sing “Hashem is here” without filtering?

Related posts:
I’m In a Relationship
The Beauty of Basherte

Uncategorized June 27, 2012

My Mussar Obsession: Guest Blog at Pop Chassid

Those of you that know me IRL or follow me on Facebook know that I’m seriously into mussar.  Love learning it, love sharing it, love living it to the best of my ability.

But what is it?

Today I’m guest-blogging over at a beautiful blog:

It’s so many things.

It’s the belief that each one of us possesses a holy soul that has a unique mission to fulfill on this earth.

It’s the philosophy that our primary path to becoming spiritual beings is the process of refining our character traits.

It’s studying, in depth, the inner workings of envy, greed,
stinginess, kindness, ego, generosity, fake flattery, laziness, modesty,
joy and serenity.

It’s identifying where our work lies, in perfecting ourselves, whenever we are in an altercation with another.

It’s the serenity and inner joy that comes from accepting responsibility for our own reactions, perceptions, and relationships.

Continue reading…

Uncategorized January 13, 2012

6 Ways to Re-Inspire

Some people look at Judaism as a marathon.  If you finish, you’re Orthodox.

However, God seems to have a rather interesting and multi-layered way of judging us.  And we’re not privy to much of it.  In any event, all Jews of all stripes ought to be asking themselves some tough questions each day.  Like, who am I?  Where am I going in this life?  Why?  Whom have I chose to surround myself with in this journey?  What am I doing Jewishly?  Why?

As an observant Jew, I’m hardly exempt from these questions.  Which
some find unfathomable.  I feel it’s just the opposite: if I’ve been
gifted with passionate Judaism, oughtn’t I constantly check in and see
what my relationship to that entity looks like??

A dear reader Facebook-messaged me the following:

So, I would be looking for suggestions on how to keep that fire for Judaism going. I find that I get it for a while and then I get busy
with all the day to day stuff of work, preparing for Shabbat, childcare, etc.
and then one day I realize I’m totally stagnating Jewishly. So then I
try to get fired up again. I would find helpful 1) tips for getting
fired up and 2) tips for staying fired up amidst the day-to-day grind.
Feel free to hit the delete button.

So it ebbs and flows, like any relationship.  This process is described in many Torah sources.  For the Kabbalistic, mystical-minded among you, one way of describing it is “days of love and days of hate.”  And the real question then becomes: what to do about it??

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Exercise.

Whoa – did you read that right??  Yup.  I find that when I’m on my game, I’m on my game across the board.  I’m getting enough sleep, eating well, working out, and paying attention to my soul.  Success breeds success.  Put a different way, when you take care of yourself, you want to take even better care of yourself.

2. Check in with another.

So here’s a newsflash: as smart, savvy, psychologically-aware, and emotionally astute as you may be, you are incapable of being objective about your own stuff.  That’s not an insult, it’s a statement of fact on the human condition, so you’re in good company.  Whoever thinks they can be is in further delusion than simple subjectivity.  So take a deep breath, grit your teeth and ask a wise person who loves you where you can reign it in. Are you being lazy?  Envious?  Materialistic?  Be willing to hear the answers.  Make sure they know you want the (loving version of the) truth.  And don’t respond for 60 seconds.

3. Listen to a lecture.

There are so many ways to hear a good, juicy, deep, thought-provoking class that will re-inspire you to want to be the best version of yourself.  There are Jewish sites that offer material on virtually any topic under the sun.  Some of my personal favorites are,,,  You can read it, download it onto your ipod (or have your kid do it), play it off your laptop, burn it onto a CD, digitally embed it into your cassette player (kidding).  You can have a Torah thought texted to you, telephone-conferenced with you, Facebooked to you, tweeted at you, or beamed at you daily from above (again, kidding).  It’s a brave new world.

And shockingly, you can learn something live too.  Check out the resources in your area.  Just make sure it’s commensurate with your skill, style and interest level.

4. Do an act of kindness.

Nothing makes you feel like a better person than, well, acting like a better person.  The ancient practice of “mussar” – character development with spirituality – teaches that growth can occur from the outside in.  In other words, behave as though you are spiritual and you will become more spiritual.  On a very practical level, you feel great when you give, and success breeds success (see #1).

5. Switch it up.

Stagnating in prayer?  Make a change in what, where, when you pray.  Add something new to your routine, or say less to focus better.  Shabbat: start inviting guests.  Or stop inviting guests.  Change around your menu.  Light candles in a new place in your home.  Holidays – try a new service, introduce a new family ritual, poll your friends for ideas.  Kosher: scout out some new foods that you’ve never tried before.  Do a food swap with other kosher friends for dinner.  Eliminate your go-to food for a week to appreciate it more.  Don’t let stagnation build.

6. Ask for help.

So this may be new for you, but I find prayer really works.  Ask for help from Above in whatever language feels right for you.

Here’s one for beginners:

“Um, hi.  I don’t know who You are and I don’t know what to call you, and actually I feel very strange talking to You because I feel like I’m talking to myself.  Oh… you probably already know that… OK, I’ll get to the point.  So I’m feeling disconnected… unmoored… uninspired… so maybe you can help me.  I don’t know how You can help me, but probably You know how.  Help me to become more integrated in myself, to be the person I know I can be, to be in touch with my spiritual side, and to feel good at the end of the day.  Help me make a difference in this world, be a good example, and do good deeds with all the amazing gifts and resources You’ve given me.  Kay.  That’s about it.  So… thanks.  Um, have a good day… and let’s chat again tomorrow.”

 Jewish tradition teaches that God will never say no to a prayer like that, because while not everything we pray for is in our best interests, becoming a more spiritual human being is always in our best interests.

So I turn to you now.  Have you experienced the dark days?  What ideas have worked for you?

Uncategorized December 16, 2011

The Beauty of Basherte

“You’re not going to make it tonight?  OH! 
We’ll miss you.  Okay, don’t
worry.  Everything is basherte.”
“I can’t believe I’m going to miss your wedding!  My son just woke up with strep and there’s no
way I can leave town!  What should I do –
everything is basherte.”
“What??  The freezer just
died, full of food!  Well.  Everything is basherte.”
pre-destined; meant to
be.  Usually used in reference to a
soul-mate, as in marriage, but also used to reference the Hand of Providence,
whether for the good or bad, that shapes every event in our lives.  Some Jews prefer to call it karma…
Here’s the beauty of basherte.  When it’s your reality, it simply has the
power to take the wind of disappointment, regret, blame and anger right out of
your sails.  When it’s the reality of
others in your life, it takes those emotions right out of their sails.
It takes practice.
You can’t be a control freak or a micro-manager
and expect this to be easy.
You can’t make a dumb mistake and blame the
results on God.
People usually use the term “basherte” to describe a
wonderful, serendipitous event, where the Hand of God stirred the pot and
everything tasted wonderful upon completion. 
That’s beautiful too.  
But the real power of basherte is when you apply it to the
negative things that occur to you.
I am anticipating the question of why bad things happen to good
people.  While that is a valid question, I
deal with it mainly in person only.  I intend
here to address the instances referenced above: the inevitable and mundane
disappointments of daily lives.
Have you ever experienced, in hindsight, the beauty of basherte?  Seeing the Providence in what seemed like a
disappointment or negative occurrence?