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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.

Oct 24 2011

Interviews with Interesting Jews: Chanale

By at 11:02 am

A mom, a rock star, and an Orthodox Jew.

Chanale Fellig is a mom of two, and a Jewish rock star. But a very specific kind of Jewish rock star. Chanale is Orthodox, and follows a law called kol isha, prohibiting men from hearing women sing. We’ll let her tell you more about that in her own words below.

But even though she only plays for 50% of the population, she has a huge following. She’s just come out with her fifth CD and her first music video, called Taking Over My Heart. We’re kind of fascinated by her and we bet you will be, too.

1. What inspired you to get into music?

Growing up with six girls, we spent a lot of time singing and dancing in our kitchen to all kinds of Jewish music. Back in the eighties, practically all the Jewish music was by male soloists or boys choirs. Then Ruti Navon, a superstar from Israel, became a Ba’alat Teshuva (converted to Orthodox Judaism) and began performing for all-female venues. The first time I saw her perform, I was absolutely amazed.  I remember being mesmerized by the glamor, the passion and the confidence she had. And it was all in the realm of modesty! She wore a great big curly wig, sang with enthusiasm and made all these women so excited and happy. All of 10 years old, and I wanted in.

2. Why perform just for women and girls? Can you explain kol isha to our readers and why it’s meaningful to you?

In my opinion, singing for an audience of only women is the greatest experience a female singer can have. Women connect faster, emote deeper, and enjoy more thoroughly when they are in a room filled with only women. As a songwriter I write songs specifically with my female fans in mind so I can perform them completely focused on each and every woman and girl in the room. I don’t consider kol isha a restriction, but rather a privilege. My songs (“Perfect By Design”, “My Business”, “Her Home”) have always been custom-designed for women and I love this niche in Jewish music.

3. How did having kids change your music?

Having children has cracked my heart wide open and I am sure my fans will notice that in my latest album. My kids have taught me that life is precious and that motherhood is an all-encompassing experience that I cannot separate from my music. I sing from my heart, and my heart is filled to the brink with love for my children. So that’s what you’re gonna get from me right now.

4. Clearly you love your kids, but are there any annoying habits they’ve recently acquired that drive you nuts?

In the last few weeks, their new shtick is running out of bed, (holding hands), giggling like maniacs, like two partners in crime. I think they believe I will be less angry if they come out together, a united front, and although I can’t get enough of their cute faces, I honestly would like them to get into bed and STAY THERE!

5. On a purely superficial level, what are the advantages and disadvantages of wearing a sheitel (wig)? Are there no bad hair days?

As a girl my hair was always long and curly and had to be revived every morning or stuffed into a ponytail. My curly wig rests comfortably on a stand, and is not subjected to all the “dirty work” parenting consists of. (Really? Do I have to expand?) Most days, a wig is the answer to my prayers, instantly glamorizing my denim-skirts-and-hoodies look. As the official face of Milano wigs, I am working with them on customizing something super special for on-stage, when I need all the help I can get transforming from Mom to Star. So in my world, sheitels are a lifesaver.

6. Are you your daughters’ favorite singer? Or have they fallen to the way of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber?

My daughters are definitely fans of their mom’s music but I can’t say they haven’t been exposed to a little Taylor Swift on the side.  I AM guilty of telling them she is Jewish, though…


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