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Uncategorized March 28, 2013

My Dad

Hey Readers,

This is a cheap post, because I am posting the question and not the answer.  It’s a super-busy time now, although the seders are over – I’m still celebrating Passover till next Tuesday night, with my kids off from school, lots of family coming and going, and fun times.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  That said, here’s a Facebook message from a reader.

Dear Ruchi,

I know we’ve never met, but I follow your blog and I get your emails between Passover and Shavuot.

reason I’m writing you is because of my experience with my newly (about the last 7-10 years) Orthodox father. He is an ordained Conservative rabbi but he hasn’t had a congregation in over 40 years. I
grew up in a town where the closest synagogue was an
hour away. As the town grew, more Jews moved in, until there were finally
enough to have our own synagogue. My dad was not the rabbi – he had
returned to school and became a psychologist.

We were brought up
mostly Reform-Conservative. We didn’t keep kosher or even observe
Shabbat. I married a Reform Jew and we aren’t observant at all.

problem is that we drive from my home town to where my dad lives each year for Passover.
My dad has tried unsuccessfully to get us to attend his Orthodox shul.
We would prefer not to. This year he practically begged my husband to
attend and my husband tried as best he could to politely decline. My
father was more than offended. I don’t understand why it’s so important
to him that we go to his shul. He told me that he is uncomfortable at
and I quote “our church” (we belong to a Reform temple) where our daughter is becoming a bat mitzvah in October.

Thoughts?  Advice?

Uncategorized February 28, 2013

I Will Never Be Orthodox. Can I Still Be Part of the Community?

Dear Ruchi,
family currently lives 7 miles from the Chabad shul that we attend, so we drive to/from
Shabbos services (though we do park at the church across the street).
Our son doesn’t wear a yarmulke on a daily basis. We have a television
in our home and our kids watch appropriate shows on a limited basis. Our
home is not kosher (yet!). The point is, clearly, we are not Orthodox
and I’m not sure that we ever will be. We are not prepared to sell our
home and move closer to the shul so that we can walk to Shabbos
services.  Also, because there are so many rules/laws/customs, I am
overwhelmed and don’t know where or how to begin.
of that said, can we ever really become a part of the Orthodox
community? Everyone has been very nice, but there’s a big difference
between being nice and being inclusive. Will it ever be OK for me to
invite an Orthodox child to our home for a playdate (with reassurance
that I will serve food on paper plates and will not mix milk/meat…I’m
sure there are other things that I would need to do, but I have no idea
what that might be!)?
I be able to actually become friends with some of these women or is it
frowned upon to have non-Orthodox friends because of the difference in
lifestyle? I met a very nice woman at the weekly Kabbalah café and would
like to see if she’d like to meet for coffee, but I’m not sure if
that’s acceptable because I doubt that Starbucks is kosher?? I don’t
want to put her in the awkward position of having to say “no,” so I just
haven’t asked.
guess what I’m really asking is are we ever going to be “Jewish
enough”? And how do I even begin to learn all of the customs that I
would need to learn in order to fit in better? I have asked if there is a
class for people wanting to become BT, but it isn’t offered here. My
husband manages better than I do because of his upbringing,
but it’s hard to say to him “tell me everything I need to know” because
there are a million minutiae (i.e. 39 categories of work prohibited on Shabbat, 613 mitzvot).
For example, he was given the honor of an aliyah last week and had to
say that he couldn’t because he’s a Levite and the Levites had already
had an aliyah (so he held/carried the Torah instead). The point is, I’d
never even heard anything remotely like that before and would have been
honored to accept, which would have been wrong (I realize that as a
woman, this wouldn’t happen, but it’s an example of how little I know).
How can I raise observant Jewish children when I know so little? I feel
like I need a brain transplant or something. 🙂
I know no one in the Orthodox
community and have so many questions and concerns. I want to “get it
right” for our children because this is important to me. If we can never
be accepted, then does it make sense to join this congregation? I would
welcome your honest thoughts and feedback.

Dear Lauren,
You’ve touched on many different points here in your email, so I will just address them in the order you’ve asked.
1. It’s unclear to me whether you are interested in becoming more observant/Orthodox, but are deterred because of social/logistical obstacles, or you just don’t see yourself ever following all those restrictions.  Do you believe in the heart of Orthodox philosophy?  Do you wish you could be more observant, but lament the obstacles, or do you feel a sense of relief that you’re not?
2. I’m also a bit confused because you say on the one hand that you’ve met a few people that you’d like to further your social relationships with, and that you do attend the Chabad shul on occasion, but later state that you don’t know anyone in the Orthodox community.  Do you mean you know them casually but not well enough to ask these “loaded” questions to?  Are you friends with these acquaintances on any level?
3. Would it be OK for you to invite over an Orthodox child with attendant reassurances?  The answer is yes!  What a nice invitation!  But truthfully, not everyone will feel comfortable with that – not because they’d suspect you of being duplicitous, G-d forbid, but because if you don’t know the laws really well, it’s pretty easy to make a mistake.  Some families will be OK with it and you’ll have to learn to not take personally the discomfort of those that aren’t.

4.  Ditto with your friendships.  Most people in Chabad communities (I’m not sure if the community is a Chabad one) are very inclusive and are comfortable being friends with various types of Jews.  Other, more insular communities, might be less so.  Here in Cleveland, for example, it would be my Orthodox friends’ pleasure to go out for coffee (Starbucks is always safe – even though there is a controversy involving the Starbuckses that serve non-kosher sandwiches, you can always get a juice or something) with a non-Orthodox friend they met at the gym or something, and especially at a Jewish class or venue.  When I look around at my community, I think the answer to your question about your personal friendships would be a resounding yes.

5. Are you ever going to be Jewish enough?  That’s between you, your husband and G-d – and no one else.  No matter where you are on the spectrum, there will always be some that don’t consider you Jewish enough and some that consider you a fanatic.  Learn to ignore judgmental people on both sides.

6. How can you begin to learn?  If there’s a Chabad shul, I would imagine classes couldn’t possibly be far behind.  There an organization called “Partners in Torah” where you are matched up to a study partner over the phone for a once-a-week study session on any topic of your choice.  It’s free, and amazing.  Look them up.  Is there maybe a community close to yours that has an educational organization for beginners?  Of course, there’s lots of stuff online, but personal connections, relationships, and community are key.  AND finding a rabbi/mentor to guide you in this journey.

7. Regarding brain transplants: you have exactly the brain that G-d wants you to have to fulfill your unique purpose in life!  🙂 

All the best, and wishing you lots of success,

Dear readers,

Would you add anything?  Have you “been there, done that”?

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 July 1, 2012

Saturday Joggers

Actual conversation:
Rabbi, I have a silly question.  So this weekend we were away for a friend’s son’s bar mitzvah, and Saturday morning I went out for a jog.
So there I am, in my shorts, and, well, you know, and my route takes me right past the local Orthodox synagogue, just as everyone’s leaving.
And so on the one hand, I want to say “Good Shabbos,” or “Shabbat Shalom,” or whatever, but would that be weird, because obviously I’m like, jogging, and not, well, in shul… And I’m not dressed modestly so would that make people uncomfortable?  Or should I just say good morning?  I mean, how would that be viewed by the Orthodox?
Saturday joggers and Orthodox shul-goers: what say you?
Uncategorized January 26, 2012

Inside the Mind of an Orthodox Worrier

Did you think that if someone has faith in God, they stop worrying?  Oh me oh my no.

I happen to have been blessed without the worry bone.  Sometimes I wonder if I am, in fact, a Jewish mother.  (As it turns out, I am.)  But I find that many, many folks have it, big time.

Here’s how the mind of a religious worrier works; by way of explanation, the word “Hashem” is used herein to denote “God”  – it’s a respectful Hebrew reference.

From an email I received last week:

This morning I was thinking about this adorable newborn baby I saw
in Macy’s last week. He was in a stroller, hat falling down over his one
eye and he was just watching me as I walked by. It really struck me how
this baby has no worries whatsoever. He doesn’t know that there is
anything in life to worry about and all his needs are currently being
met by his loving parents who were both by his side. 

So I said to myself, this is how we are suppose to feel when we
know (really know) that Hashem [God] is taking care of us, just like a loving
parent. We shouldn’t worry, right?

Then I started thinking, at this newborn’s young age, he really
doesn’t have free will and therefore his parents (provided they are
normal) wouldn’t punish him in anyway or deprive him of anything. 

Then I started thinking that I have free will and therefore how
Hashem relates to me depends on my free will choices; whether I get His
blessings or a nudge to move me in the certain direction, or G-d forbid,
something much greater then a just a nudge to propel me in a completely
different direction.  (G-d forbid, loss of job, change in health, divorce
or death, G-D FORBID!).

So unlike this newborn whose parents only shower him with love and
good things, what Hashem showers me with all depends on my free will

Emuna [faith].. it’s all ultimately in Hashem’s hands, but I have to use my
free will to make the best choices all the time so that Hashem will
treat me favorably. 

On the other hand, I’m taught that if I’m meant to lose my job,
I’ll lose it regardless of how good a job I do and vice-versa. 
years ago, my boss kept me on when from a practical standpoint most
employees would have laid me off because work was so slow. I thought he
kept me on because he figured I’d get busy again and then he would have
an experienced employee on staff (not so easy to find in my field). Maybe
that was his thinking. A religious friend of mine said maybe he kept you on
because Hashem felt paying me was like his tzedakah [mitzvah of charity].

When do I ever know if I’ve used my free will properly or to the
fullest? Have I been kind and sensitive enough to my family, co-workers? Have a given my employer his money’s worth? Have I used my money in
ways that Hashem wants me to? Have I used my speech properly, have I
davened [prayed] enough? Have a taken good enough care of my body, this vessel
that He has given me on loan?

I believe that Hashem controls everything and I believe that
everything is for the good. But doesn’t my free will effect how Hashem
chooses to treat me? 

I kind of feel like I’m going around in circles with my thinking.
So…does faith make worry easier, or more complicated?

Uncategorized January 25, 2012

Holocaust Survivor Grandparents and Being Orthodox

1. Are you Orthodox?
2. Are your grandparents survivors?
3. If you’re not Orthodox, were your grandparents born in America?
I’m trying to decide if there’s a correlation.
What do you think?

(Scroll to the end of the comments for my findings.)