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Feb 28 2013

The Orthodox Matchmaker I Never Thought I Wanted

By at 2:39 pm

wedding rings on pink backgroundI grew up in an Orthodox Jewish world where at age 22, a girl was considered a cat-collecting spinster if she was heaven forbid, knock-on-wood, still single. In my world, girls at 22 were on the brink of “spinsterdom,” and girls who were 23, 24, or worse, 25 (gasp!), well, they were just ancient.

After graduation, I traveled to Jerusalem where I studied Hebrew, Israeli culture and customs, and visited the grave sites and the places of my Jewish ancestry. Each landmark visited reminded me that there was a world much bigger than Miami Beach, Florida, where I had lived for most of my life. Much like my classmates, I was studying in Israel for a year following high school. But unlike me, the girls I shared rooms with planned to continue on The Plan once they returned home. The Plan was to get “set up” with a suitable religious guy from a “good” family, who was either ambitious or extremely learned (depending on said girl)–a guy who would provide a comfortable life for the two of them and their soon-to-be children. The Plan was flawless. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 18 2013

Explaining to My Son Why Some People Don’t Think I’m Jewish

By at 11:48 am

hippo cartoonLast week when I was at the JCC, I saw a girl I knew from our old Ultra Orthodox community. Not thinking twice about it, I took the boys over to say hi. She saw us coming and walked toward us smiling as she called the boys’ names and they rushed to her, waving hello and with arms flung wide, and gave her a big hug.

“Long time no see!” I said, suddenly remembering that the last time she’d seen me my hair was covered in a scarf and my legs with a skirt. I wondered, not able to do much about it, if she would feel weird about talking to me now. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 22 2013

The Western Wall is For Me Too

By at 11:57 am

For me and my children, one of the highest things on our to do list when traveling to Israel was to visit the Kotel, the Western Wall.

Before our trip, I had quickly read about, but not dwelled on, the arrest of Anat Hoffman, the leader of Women of the Wall, in October, allegedly for singing the Shema out loud at the wall and for wearing a tallit (prayer shawl). For a woman to wear a tallit while praying at the wall is against current law: in 2003, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin (phylacteries) or tallitim at the Wall, or reading from the Torah at the Wall. I was shocked to read of Hoffman’s arrest, but her act of wearing a tallit didn’t resonate with me, as I have never worn one, despite attending Conservative shuls my entire life and being bat mitzvahed. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 1 2012

Surviving Shabbat At the (Ultra-Orthodox) In-Laws

By at 10:27 am

“I’d rather shove a fork in my eye.”

That was my response when my husband said his parents called and asked if we’d like to come spend the last Shabbat of Sukkot with them in the ultra-Orthodox community my husband, children and I recently moved out of. It wasn’t any one thing in particular that gave me the knee-jerk, panic-stricken reaction to shout, “NO!”

In part, it was the fact that my relationship with my in-laws has been cordial but not particularly warm. It was the idea of spending 24 hours in a place where I’d never felt like myself. And much more basic than that, I hate packing my boys and all their belongings up and taking them somewhere unfamiliar to spend the night. They don’t ever sleep well, which means I don’t sleep well and that translates into one miserable weekend for everyone. My husband said, “Think about it and we’ll let them know tomorrow.” Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 18 2012

Explaining My Jewish Family to My Christian Parents

By at 2:30 pm

bride and groom figurines in front of ketubahWhen I was in middle school, I was lying on the couch one day reading a book when my dad walked through the living room. He asked if I’d done my study guide for a test I had the next day. I told him, “No,” as I continued reading and he asked if that was a smart idea. I said, half paying attention, that I would be fine. I failed the test.

When he asked about it later and I begrudgingly told him that the teacher surely had it out for me, he said, almost to himself, “I wonder if you’d have failed if you studied.” Read the rest of this entry →

My Orthodoxy Doesn’t Look Like That Orthodoxy

By at 12:02 pm
Serving up cholent for Shabbat.

Serving up cholent on Shabbat.

Everyone takes their own journey and I was interested in Yael Armstrong’s account of hers. I was sorry, though, that she did not distinguish among the different types of Orthodoxy in the Jewish community. Because despite the fact that “Orthodox” literally means “true belief,” or “one way,” there are many ways that one can be considered an Orthodox, or “Ortho-prax,” Jew today. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 11 2012

Why Being Orthodox Didn’t Work For Us

By at 10:12 am

skirt and long sleeveFour years ago my husband and I were married in a traditional Orthodox ceremony. There was no question about what kind of wedding we would have.

My husband was raised as an Ultra Orthodox Jew. Two years before meeting him I had an Ultra Orthodox (ultra kosher) conversion. I made the commitment to live my life as an observant Jew. I committed to marrying a Jew and raising my future children up in the Jewish faith. I could not have been happier with my decision or felt more fulfilled as a Jew and a human being. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 16 2012

The Not-An-Orthodox-Rabbi’s Husband

By at 10:26 am

man with diaper bagRussel Neiss’s wife, Rori Picker Neiss, is in school at Yeshivat Maharat. It’s the first institution to train Orthodox women as spiritual leaders and halakhic leaders. While his wife learns to be a Maharat, Russel is learning to be a Maharat’s husband.

I walked to the back of the synagogue clutching the overstuffed diaper bag under one arm and my screaming 10-month-old daughter in the other, and I wondered whether it was really worth it. This was her third diaper change since Shabbos services began that morning.

I’ve always liked taking her to synagogue. I especially loved those first few months where should would sleep through all of the morning prayers and the Torah service, only to awaken and cry at just the right moment before the rabbi’s sermon–thus affording me the perfect excuse to quickly exit, guilt-free.

The past few months have been different. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 15 2012

Interview with Interesting Dudes: Rabbi Steve Greenberg

By at 10:44 am
rabbi steve greenberg

From left to right: Rabbi Steve, Amalia, and his husband, also Steve.

Steve Greenberg is the first gay Orthodox rabbi, which seemed reason enough for us to want to talk to him. Read on to hear about his challenging journey to become a rabbi, father, and activist in the gay Orthodox community.

Did you always want to be an Orthodox rabbi, ever since you were a little boy?

Well, I can’t say when I wanted to become a rabbi but it was probably a growing interest from my late teens. I became “frum” (religiously observant) when I was 15. I accidentally met an Orthodox rabbi who invited me to his house for lunch and he invited me to study with him every Shabbat, “over tea and oranges.” I was charmed and said yes. I was totally enraptured by the Jewish learning and became a valued member of his community in a year. I was probably thinking about becoming a rabbi when I chose to attend Yeshiva University following high school. But my first clear memories are when I was learning in Israel at a Hesder Yeshiva and spoke to Rabbi Amital about the idea. By that time I was 20 years old.

How did you and your husband go about having a daughter? Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 15 2011

Too Busy For Book Club: Jewish Women on the Back of the Bus

By at 11:49 am

Orthodox women waiting for bus in brooklynHello Kvellersphere,

There have been several articles over the past few weeks about bus lines that serve Orthodox areas in New York coming under fire for allowing the community to force women to the back of the bus, so the men and women can sit separately.  These buses are run by private companies, but they receive public funding and are considered public buses. Here’s one article from The Post, and another from The Forward.

Recently I also saw an article in the LA Times about a similar situation in Israel, tied to much bigger issues on the state of feminism in the Jewish State.

I would love to know what you think.

And I would really appreciate some different perspectives here, as well as someone who can explain something to me: I see Orthodox Jews riding the New York City subway all the time, and I can’t think of a more tightly packed sardine can humanity than a subway car. So if they can ride the subway, why do they need to curtain off the bus home?

In this New York Times article, a legal expert argues that forcing women to the back of the bus is a violation of civil liberties. But a religious expert argues that blocking these communities from public transportation is a violation of their rights.

If you were riding one of these buses, in Israel, or in the United States, what would you do?

Read up on why we started Too Busy For Book Club.

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