Browsing Tag


Uncategorized March 17, 2015

Blog Roundup: Viral post, book, haircovering update, and more

Greetings, OOTOB readers!

Hope you’ve all been well.  Today’s post will be a conglomeration of stuff I’ve been into.


Firstly, my post from a couple years ago on cleaning for Passover in one day appears to have gone viral this year.  That makes me both happy and sad.  Happy, that more people can understand that Passover is about joy and that God would never give us an unmanageable task, and sad that so many people are freaking out about Passover.  8,000 hits this week alone tells me that people are kinda into this topic.  Ya think?  It’s gotten so that when I go grocery shopping, people stop me to say, “I hear you have this thing with cleaning for Pesach in one day…?”  Yeah, I’m that girl.  So check it out and pass it along.


You may have noticed that ad up there, in green, for kosher vitamins.  This company is supporting OOTOB, so please patronize our sponsors and if someone asks you about kosher vitamins, send them the link.  Thanks!


This recent Kveller post by my online (soon to be IRL) blogging buddy Nina Badzin – I’m headed to Minneapolis on Sunday to address Aish on Women in Judaism – is a really important post.  It’s short and deceptively simple, but don’t be fooled.  None of these things are commonly blurted out in a word-association game about Judaism, but all of them are in the Good Book right with shofar, matza, and l’chaim.  Read it and tell me what you think.  Judaism is meant to lived and expressed every day – and primarily in the home.  Check it out.


My book, a women’s prayerbook, is done and off to my editor!  The publishing company Mosaica Press is handling it, and I’m feeling a huge sense of relief now that it’s out of my hands – at least this phase of it.  It doesn’t have a name yet, so please weigh in on my two options, as developed by my trusty crowdsourcing marketing team on Facebook:

1. Calling God: a women’s prayerbook of conversation and connection
2. Prism of Prayer: a women’s prayerbook of conversation and reflection

Basically, don’t worry about the subtitle so much, but envision yourself at Barnes and Noble or recommending it to a friend. Which title has more punch, interest, and memorability?

It’s due out this fall, so keep your eyes and ears open for that.


A couple of months ago I blogged about my evolving views on haircovering; specifically, methods of which to do so.

Each year I put together a shutterfly album of our family’s pictures from that year, and I noticed in my absorption in that project that I really, really, like the way I look in the pictures with scarves.  It encouraged me to wear more of them, as opposed to wigs, which I hate wearing.

Anyhoo, that’s what’s been going on around here.  Happy preparations for Passover, for my Jewish readers 🙂

Uncategorized December 23, 2014

Shining a Light of Chanukah

Hey readers,

So the bald truth is that I’ve been too busy to blog.  Oy, the honesty!  Nevertheless, I’d never abandon you in your moment of need.

Here are some Chanukah laughs, and here are some ideas (too late for this year, no doubt, but just to kick yourself about how smart you could have been).

I wrote an article for the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, the [insert insane hyperbole here] organization that sponsors the women’s trips to Israel I’ve been running since 2009 – and going again in April – woot!  It’s got some grammar glitches cuz I wrote it in a rush (oy, the honesty!) but I think it’s still passable.  It’s something I feel strongly about, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Chanukah story is Judaism’s classic lesson of finding a bit of light amid the darkness.  As the famed Kotzker Rebbe said, “A little bit of light dispels much darkness.”  The iconic tale of the small bit of oil that lasted eight days serves as inspiration for us in the darkest days of winter.
The Jewish people have been the victim of so much darkness of late.  Hate crimes, terror, world denouncement and prejudice have all become the new normal.  How to react, how to cope??  How can little old me deal with all this?  The only way is to resolve to just shine a little bit of light and make a difference in that way…read more by clicking here


(Oh, and I’m pretty sure I misattributed that quote.  It was Shneur Zalman of Liadi.)

On another note, by ebook is coming along nicely thanks to my detail-oriented fellow grammar-nerd daughter, whom I’ve hired to edit it.  And my prayer book is, like, 75% written.  We’re progressing, people. Patience.

Happy reading.

Happy Chanukah.


Uncategorized August 4, 2014

Not This Year

Well, here we go again.  Tonight and tomorrow are Tisha B’av – the saddest time on the Jewish calendar.

It’s always a struggle to “make myself sad” so I can appropriately commemorate this day.  Not this year, though.

It’s usually tough to conjure up feelings of wistfulness about our nation’s eventual return, unified, to our Land. Not this year, though.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine our land full of dead and wounded.  Not this year, though.

It can be a stretch, at the height of summer, to pause from our revelry, from our swimming, from dancing at weddings, from outdoor barbecues – to focus on loss and pain.  Not this year, though.

At one time it seemed a bit overblown to state that we were surrounded by enemies who wished to see us dead.  Not this year, though.

And ultimately?  It has, at some points in my life, been difficult to truly pray for life to change, to bring in its wake better times, peaceful times, happy times.

Not this year.

May this be the last Tisha B’av – this year, and any year.

Uncategorized June 2, 2014

Amelia Bedelia and the Oral Tradition: Guest Blogger Rabbi Zee

Rabbi Zee (aka Zauderer) is a fast-talking New Yorker.  Except he lives in Toronto and has some really interesting things to say – if you can follow the pace.  He joined us in Cleveland for a Shabbaton weekend last year and I’ve been getting his weekly emails ever since.  He and his wife Ahuva and their eight children live in the Bathurst/Lawrence area, where their home is always open to anyone who wants to experience a Shabbos or a Torah class. Rabbi Zee (as he is known to his students) brings to his classes a special combination of Torah knowledge, teaching experience, and interpersonal skills.  In honor of the forthcoming holiday commemorating the giving of the Torah, Shavuot, here’s a classic piece of his on the Oral Tradition (the mishna/Talmud).  Rabbi Zee will be available to field comments and questions here.  Email him to be added to his weekly list – it’s great stuff.

“Now let’s see what this list says,” Amelia Bedelia read. “CHANGE THE TOWELS IN THE GREEN BATHROOM.”  Amelia Bedelia found the green bathroom.

“Those towels are very nice. Why change them?” she thought.

Then Amelia Bedelia remembered what Mrs. Rogers had said. She must do just what the list had told her.

“Well, all right,” said Amelia Bedelia. 

She snipped a little here and a little there.  And she changed those towels.

“Now what?  PUT THE LIGHTS OUT WHEN YOU FINISH IN THE LIVING ROOM.”   Amelia Bedelia thought about this a minute.

She switched off the lights. Then she carefully unscrewed each bulb. And Amelia Bedelia put the lights out.

“So those things need to be aired out, too. Just like pillows and babies.  Oh, I do have a lot to learn.”      
It is a foundation of our faith to believe that G-d gave Moses and the Jewish people an oral explanation of the Torah along with the written text. This oral tradition is now essentially preserved in the Talmud and Midrash.                
However, there are many Jews today who are skeptical when it comes to accepting a so-called “oral tradition,” claiming that the Talmud and all the interpretations of the literal text of the Torah were the product of later Rabbinic scholars who might have had hidden agendas and fanciful imaginations.                

Some of us might be willing to accept the notion of G-d revealing Himself to the Jewish people and giving us His Torah – the Written Torah, that is – but anything other than the Five Books of Moses is circumspect.                
If we study Jewish history, we will find that this is an old claim that was made well over 2000 years ago by a breakaway sect of Jews known as the Saduccees. While they accepted the authority of the Written Torah, they rejected the oral traditions and interpretations of the Sages, and they preached a literal reading of the text of the Torah…. which led to some interesting and strange practices. I guess one could say that the Saduccees were the “Amelia Bedelias” of the ancient world.                 
I will give you some examples of what can happen when we take every word of the Written Torah literally, without relying on a much-needed Oral Tradition.                
G-d commands the Jewish people in Numbers (15:38): “They shall make for themselves tzitzis (fringes) on the corners of their garments ….. It shall constitute tzitzis for you, that you may see it …..”  The Torah never writes explicitly that we should wear the fringed garment. If anything, the Torah says that we should see the tzitzis, implying that we should hang the fringed garment (today called the prayer shawl) on our wall in a noticeable place.
And that’s exactly what the Saduccees did! They hung their tzitzis on the wall, but would never wear them.                
How about the Sabbath? It is one of the Ten Commandments. Yet in the entire Written Torah, virtually no details are given as to how it should be kept! So how are we to know what to do? Should we keep the Sabbath by lighting candles… or maybe a trip to the park with the kids was what G-d had in mind? Or maybe it should be left up to each individual to celebrate the Sabbath in his/her own way?                
The details can be found in the Oral Torah, of course. As G-d said, “You shall keep the Sabbath holy, as I have commanded your fathers” (Jeremiah 17:22) – obviously referring to an oral tradition. But I bet that Amelia Bedelia and her predecessors the Saduccees sure would have been confused!      
Let me give you one more example, which has relevance to the upcoming holiday of Shavuos (The Festival of Weeks).
In the Written Torah, G-d commands the Jewish people to celebrate the holiday of Shavuos. But He doesn’t tell them directly which day they should celebrate.  Rather, the Torah states in Leviticus (23:15) “You shall count for yourselves – from the morrow of the rest day seven weeks…”  The Torah writes further that at the end of those seven weeks of counting you shall celebrate the Festival of Weeks.
Now, if we are to believe that only the Written Torah was Divinely given, but not the Oral Tradition, then we are forced to conclude that G-d was playing some kind of cruel joke on His Chosen People!
I mean, come on, can’t you help us out here a little, G-d? On the morrow of the “rest day” we should count seven weeks and then celebrate Shavuos? Which one of the 52 “rest days” of the year are you referring to, G-d? Are we going to play Twenty Questions here, or what?                    
As a matter of fact, the Saduccees, for lack of a better option, decided to count the seven weeks from the day after the first Saturday after Passover, which means that Shavuos would always come out on a Sunday!                  
Of course, the Oral Torah helps us out here as always, and tells us exactly what G-d had in mind with that very vague and ambiguous reference.                
Now, when Amelia Bedelia makes such mistakes and follows everything Mrs. Rogers tells her to do – literally – it makes for an interesting and comical children’s book, at which we can’t help but chuckle. But it’s not so funny when the stakes are higher – when the very foundation of our faith and of our lives – our beloved Torah – is taken so literally as to become vague and confusing, and, G-d forbid, almost comical.

THE OBVIOUS QUESTION                

Okay, so let’s assume that G-d gave us two Torahs – a Written Torah and an Oral Tradition along with it to clarify things – but we still have to ask ourselves why would G-d do such a thing? Why couldn’t He just write everything clearly in the Written Torah?  This way He could have avoided all the problems and divisions among our people, whereby some of us accept both Torahs, and some reject the Oral Torah, because it seems to have originated with a bunch of Rabbis, instead of being Divinely given and inspired!               
I once posed this question to a man from West Orange, New Jersey, with whom I had been studying on a weekly basis. His ten-year-old son had joined us that evening, and the young boy came up with an answer that is, in my opinion, quite profound, and also has a connection to the very first words in this week’s Torah portion.               
In Leviticus (26:3), the Torah states: “If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them; then I will provide your rains in their time.”
The verse seems to be repetitious. What is the difference between “following my decrees” and “observing my commandments”? Rashi, the great Bible commentator, explains, based on the Oral Tradition, that “following My decrees” – which is read in Hebrew bechukosai tay-laychu – means that we should toil in Torah study, whereas the next words in the verse refer to the performance of the actual commandments.
It is difficult to understand where the Oral Tradition got the idea of “toiling in Torah” from the Torah’s words bechukosai tay-laychu, which simply mean “to follow My decrees.”
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, once explained this strange oral tradition as follows:               
There are two methods of writing – one with ink and paper and the other by engraving on stone. The difference between the two is that when one writes with ink, the words do not become one with the paper, making it possible for the message on the paper to be erased over time. When a message is engraved into stone, however, the words and the stone are one unit, so that the message remains in the stone permanently.
The Hebrew word bechukosai, or decrees, comes from the root word chakikah, which means engraving. G-d is teaching us that if we want the words and the message of the Torah to leave an indelible and permanent impression upon us, we must study them intensely and toil in them, so that we become one with the Torah that we study and it becomes engraved on our hearts.
And that’s exactly what the little boy answered to my question. He said that if the entire Torah had been written out for us, without our having to put any effort in trying to explain it and get to the deeper meaning behind the literal text, it wouldn’t become a part of us and would leave no permanent impact.
This is one of many reasons why the Oral Tradition is so very important and central in Judaism.
Uncategorized April 13, 2014

Four More Questions to Ask on Passover

Father, I’d like to ask you the Four Questions.  Why is this night different from all other nights?

The first question is:

Why do we get generations together for the Seder?

Because the whole point of the seder is the Haggadah, which literally means, the telling.  We’re commanded, “And you should tell your children on that night saying, ‘God took us out of the land of Egypt!'” Which essentially means that if you’re wondering when is the right time to sit your kid down and transmit what you know and care about Judaism, this is the night.  So we get generations together so that one generation can transmit to the next what it’s all about.  Being Jewish.  Being a nation.  Being free to be a Godly people.

The second question is:

Why is matzah so hard to digest?

This is a difficult question, my son.  But I’ll do my best.  You know how “wonderbread” was called that because it was so easy to digest?  Matzah is the barest form of bread ever.  It’s supposed to be rough stuff.  It’s supposed to be uncomfortable.  If you don’t like it, that’s a good sign.  Eat it anyway.  For a week.  And see how you do.  That’s a teeny, tiny glimmer into being a slave.  Kvetch if you must, but that’s the point.

The third question is:

Why do Passover and Easter always coincide?

You are a perceptive one, son.  Good job.  Easter was tied to the lunar calendar, not the solar one, and thus didn’t have a set date.  Due to the way it was set up, it invariably coincides with Passover.  More, the Last Supper was likely a Passover Seder – Easter is about Passover in its origin.

The fourth question is:

Why do so many Jews eat kosher food on Passover?

I don’t know the answer to that one, son.  But  I will say this: observing Passover in some way is an almost universal expression of being Jewish.  90% of Jewish couples attend a Seder, and 65% of intermarried couples do.  This and lighting Chanukah candles are the two most widely observed Jewish rituals.  Chanukah’s easy: it competes with Christmas.  But Passover?  Why Passover?  Something tells me that Jews sense that this holiday is about our very identity, our infancy.  About asking the older generation to give us something of meaning to take along.  Even if we don’t identify strongly, we sense that tossing this ritual aside is something of a sacrilege.  And maybe continuing the holiday throughout the week, by altering our eating habits, is a part of that.

Can I ask you a question, now, son?

Sure, dad.

How did I get so lucky to get a son like you, who asks such great questions about Judaism?

I dunno, dad, I guess the same way I got a dad like you, who can answer them.

Happy Passover to all my OOTOB readers!  See everyone after Passover!

Uncategorized March 10, 2014

Book Review: Let My RV Go! How BTs Handle Fitting in… Or Not

One of the cool parts of being a rich and famous blogger personality mostly unknown Orthodox girl who started a blog is that people contact me to promote their stuff on my blog.  Some of it is absolutely not a fit for this blog (can you say Bible Revisionism? are people actually READING the blog before they send me stuff?) but some is just completely fun.  Like when I get sent free books to read and review.  Especially when they’re relevant, fresh, funny…and totally in synch with the blog.

Example: Let My RV Go, a new novel by Nicole Nathan.

The premise of the novel is two BT families, who, while trying to escape the cold Canadian weather as well as the pressures of organized Orthodox society, take two RVs down south to handle Passover their own way.  Alo
ng their journey they examine different attitudes toward fitting in, standing out, dealing with what they actually believe, and rejection of their secular pasts.  Rereading that, it sounds really heavy, but actually,
the light and funny tone makes the messages so much more palatable.

But what really stands out in this cute and interesting book is the honesty.  Most books written for Orthodox audiences, which this is, judging by the publishing house chosen and language and references used, excise all mentions of pop culture and women in bikinis and being okay with not fitting in and wistful reminiscences of previous secular pasts – for good reason.  If religious kids are going to read these things, we want them to encounter good examples and not be given ambivalent messages about religious life.  But here it totally works, and it’s brave.  And I like it.

At one point in the book, Pauline, the narrator, who just can’t seem to “fit in,” and is always trying to contain her curly red hair under some sort of head covering, sits in the laundry room of an RV park with her counterpart and foil, Julie.  She observes:

Looking over at Julie, I wonder if she and I will ever be close friends.  Julie is devoutly mouthing words written by King David some 2,800 years ago and I just can’t take it.  How can she be so devout and focused all the time?  How did she switch over to being religious so easily, so completely, without ever looking back?  She never talks about her past, but I’ve heard stories from Mike.  He once told us she used to be a dancer who leaped and twirled across North America and Europe performing raw emotion… and now, the only form of expression I can see are her lips mouthing the powerful, timeless words of King David. 

I wonder if she misses her dancing days, her travels, her freedom.  All these years, I’ve been afraid to ask because she may realize that I’m sinecure about my own beliefs….

This is a journey Pauline takes during the book, and at the end, says, “I’m pleased with myself for being so upfront about our incongruence.  I’ve always been aware that I don’t fit into the traditional frum box, yet now I’m actually being open about it and I don’t feel embarrassed.”

The Berkowitzes and the Shapiros, the two families on this little RV getaway, represent the two ways BTs handle organized, contemporary frum culture.  Way one: fit in at all costs, wear the garb, do as the frummies do, and you’ll be okay.  Way two: be yourself, be the best Jew you know how to be, fit in enough that you’re kids aren’t dying, but don’t check your personality at the door.  What’s cool about this book is that it doesn’t make the mistake of having these two families be stereotypes.  They are real people.  They and spouses are not always in the same place.  They are miffed by the “religious” folks questioning their kosher status, but the book doesn’t make those religious folks bad guys.  Julie, the “fit in” girl, hasn’t changed her name to Chaya Gitty.  See?

Here’s why the author wrote the book, from her website:

…I am ba’alat teshuva, becoming observant some fifteen years ago. Turning my life inside out and my kitchen upside down was not easy. It was deeply satisfying and meaningful, but it was often hard work. As I entered the religious world, I became aware that Observant Jews are cautious of the secular world, while secular Jews often misunderstand the Orthodox. We all bring our own perceptions and misconceptions. This results in the creation of two thickly lined boxes containing us and them. Becoming religious, I also became aware of the enormous rift between the two worlds. What does a ba’al teshuvah do? Should he simply break out of his box by forgetting his past and then try to mold himself the new box? Or, should he carve his own space outside of the box? …In the novel, I wanted to explore this rift in a way that readers on both sides could see each other in an honest and light-hearted way. And hopefully, they would be able to understand each other better.

My only critique is they have four little kids who seem remarkably easy to handle… it almost made me wanna RV myself one day.

If you are a BT, what has been your struggle with fitting in/maintaining yourself?
And if you’re a prospective one, has the prospect seemed daunting?

Uncategorized November 29, 2013


I know, it’s Thanksgivukkah and menurkey, not Chanu-scrooge.

Whenever I do a google search, it fascinates me to see what pops up as a suggestion from the almighty mind-reading google.  Try it. Stop midway into your search words and see what google thinks you want to know. I typed in “why give gifts on” and the first return was “why give gifts on Christmas.”  (The second was “why give gifts on hanukkah.”)

Let’s begin our little comparative religion lesson. According to my google-based knowledge of Christianity the reason people give gifts on Christmas is because the Three Wise Men visited baby Jesus, and bore gifts. Also, to demonstrate the belief that Jesus is a gift from God. Whatever your beliefs may be about Jesus, this correlates.  Bear in mind that, irrespective of a popular song, typically one (1) night of Christmas is celebrated, and hence one (1) gift per giver per recipient.

Unless you count stockings.

According to my knowledge of Judaism, we give gifts on Chanukah because, um, because, um, we don’t. There does exist a legitimate custom to give “gelt” – Yiddish for “cash.” No set amount, no rule to give each night. There are a few reasons offered for this custom, and here is one that I remember learning as a child:

The Hebrew word Chanukah shares the same root as chinuch, “education.” The occupying Greek forces were determined to force Hellenism upon the Jewish population, at the expense of the ideals and commandments of the holy Torah. Unfortunately, they were quite successful in their endeavor. After the Greeks were defeated, it was necessary to re-educate the Jews—to reintroduce a large part of the population to Torah values. Appropriately, during Chanukah it is customary to give gelt to children as a reward for Torah study.(courtesy of

There’s also a popular custom to reward and thank those who teach your children Torah during this time.

So it would seem to me that distribution of “Chanukah gifts” is a tradition that has been borrowed from the Christmas season. The gift-giving has crept into even the most religious circles. But I, Chanu-scrooge, will not buy into it (see what I did there?). Firstly,  I’m a pretty sourcy girl. I like to know where things are written, what they mean in the original, and do things mindfully.  Second, the commercial spirit is bad enough all year without totally capitulating now, of all times, when we are celebrating a holiday that’s all about the triumph of spirituality over materialism.

Thirdly, I’ve noticed that Chanukah is 8 days long? That’s a lot of gifting, even if you just do “small” gifts.

So what to do if you too, don’t believe in all the Chanukah gifting (and if you do, wonderful!  Enjoy.) when lots of your kids’ friends are getting Chanukah gifts, some large and some small; some just the first night and some all eight nights??

Answer #1: stand your ground.

Answer #2: stand your ground.

Answer #3: create a Chanukah ritual that is fun, and still is consistent with your Chanukah instincts.

Here’s what we do.

1. Every night of Chanukah is made special in some way.  Aside from the festive candle-lighting, singing, and dancing.  One night I might make latkes.  Another night I buy donuts.  Another night we might go over to my in-laws for a Chanukah party.  Or we’ll play dreidel.

2. One night, we do the “gelt ladle.”  Apparently, my husband experienced this once as a child.  His teacher at the Hebrew Academy hosted a Chanukah party at his home, and there was a large bowl full of change.  Each kid was allowed to scoop up a ladle-full of change and keep it.  My husband introduced this fun little gelt-distribution to our kids, which is almost as much fun as having your paycheck direct-deposited into your bank account.  The kids love it!  It’s not so much money, but it’s experientially delicious.

3. We are very blessed in that my kids have lots of grandparents and even great-grandparents, all of whom send my kids gelt.  Some goes to tzedeka and a small amount to savings, and then each kid gets to spend his gelt.  Some years, my kids have pooled their gelt (after thank-you notes are duly dispatched, of course) to buy some communal goodie like a basketball hoop or a Wii.  Other years, they go solo.

4. We’ve created our own custom and it’s really fun.  Each member of the family, parents included, writes down some kind of reward or privilege that they want on a paper.  For example: miss a half-day of school, dinner with mom, a day with no chores, gift card for $10.  In case you are wondering, mine were a Sunday afternoon all to myself, and an evening where everyone handles their own dinner (vacation-minded much?).

So each member of the family writes down two, each on its own paper.  We fold all the papers and put them in a little bowl, and then we go around and everyone chooses.  It’s hilarious to see each person pick out things that are totally incongruous (my husband picked out “double screen time”).  After everyone chooses, each person can make one trade, so the campaigning and lobbying ensues.  It’s our little way of giving our kids stuff, where most of it is privilege or time with us as opposed to “stuff.”  And the game itself is really fun family time.

These are some ideas we’ve had to make Chanukah feel both fun and authentic for us.

What about you?