03 September 2007

More on Shmirat Ha-lashon

B'H, cool yiddishe mama now has two new jobs, when a little over a month ago, I was seriously worried about my parnasah. I resigned from the Talmud Torah where I had worked for eight years because 1) I was not happy with the changes he had made to my schedule and 2) he hired as his assistant someone who I KNOW is not a good person for me to work for because she tried to ruin my teaching career six years ago (however, there's more tongue-wagging about an alleged affair between herself and a rabbi, while they were still married to other people). During the week, I'll be working as an aide at a day school every afternoon. Sundays, I'll still be teaching Hebrew, at a Reform congregation known until recently as being the most "classically" Reform in their outlook. All this changed, when the new rabbi and his wife, the religious school director, came on board. Both places have nice, professional people and I am pleased to call these people my colleagues. However, recently, I have heard a couple "slips of the tongue" by people that are bound by confidentiality in their jobs.

1) My mother-in-law is a receptionist in a local doctor's office (and it should be said that we do not have the best relationship, but that is another story). One day, she was checking in (or out) a patient and randomly asked the mother ("Lisa") if she works. It turns out that "Lisa" works at my Sunday job and this was mentioned to her. Later on, she told cool yiddish papa (her son) that she met someone at the doctor's office with kids the same age as ours who will be working with me on Sundays. Sure enough, "Lisa" approached me at the teacher orientation after seeing my name on my name tag (we have a very unusual name) and told me that my mother-in-law told her to look for me. On the surface, this could seem like a cute story of people playing Jewish geography. To me, though, I wouldn't want my doctor's receptionist discussing me with her family. All of us sign that paper when we go to the doctor, assuring us that our privacy will be assured. (Of course, it is an entirely different thing when one runs into another person in the waiting room and they start schmoozing.) I guess it reminds me of going to the mikvah...there's an unwritten rule that we not talk about who we see there (perhaps alluding to knowing what will happen later at home) and being discreet about it with others.

2) This second case pains me even more as this was a teacher ("Miriam") in cool yiddishe maidel's class. Last Sunday, she was in one of our restaurants and started speaking to a friend of mine, currently a server there and formerly a janitor at the school before he injured his back. "Miriam" started telling the most horrible things (not clear if it was true or untrue) about one of her students and their family (and using real names), thinking that my friend cared. When he said that he was not interested in hearing it, she found his boss' wife (a friend of hers) and continued the story, loud enough for friend (and several patrons) to overhear. I told my friend that she was not allowed to do that. Teachers, also, are bound by confidentiality, which includes not discussing students with non-professionals. [Of course, I can report abuse if I know about it, but I can't talk about the tzarot of a friend of mine whose son happens to be in my class at the day school. I could lose a friend and a job...not worth it on either count.]

What bothers me even more with this teacher is that a teacher is bound to uphold school values in their daily conduct. It's an easy stretch to say that a school which promotes Torah values should expect their teachers to do the same. [Since this teacher is not teaching limudei kodesh and is not frum, I am not expecting adherence to kashrut and Shabbat, just sh'mirat ha-lashon.] Sadly, when friend informed the director of the school (and this teacher's supervisor) of this indiscretion, he was told that the director spoke to the teacher and since the teacher said it was a "private conversation", he's to blame for overhearing it. [He showed me the e-mail and all he said to the director was to tell her teachers to maintain professionalism even outside work.]

[Side note to readers of this blog whose children attend the same school as cool yiddishe maidel: it was one of the assistant teachers, not the one that is frum.]

This is hard for me because up until now, I have loved just about everything about this school. It scares me because it could have been my child she was talking about, in this way. It's not that I have so many skeletons in my closet (at the same time, I am not an open book). I feel that if certain people are bound to maintain confidentiality, then they should act that way, even when off the clock.

15 August 2007

What is Frumkeit (really)?

Rabbi Maryles wrote a wonderful post about how praiseworthy it is to be a BT, yet we/they are treated as "defacto second class citizens" by many in the FFB world. For example, in our community, there is this FFB named "Golda".

Golda is the youngest child in a family full of rabbis, educated in a top-notch Beis Yaakov, and eventually married the "most frum" of a MO family (her brother-in-law was another early positive influence and a friend from college). Golda is extremely fascinated, to the point of being rude, with gerim and ba'alei t'shuvah. Upon discovering that a mutual friend of ours is a geress, she asked (in front of a large group of people) which traife food she "missed" the most. I really do not know what Golda is thinking with these questions. Tova (the friend) and I recently found out about another "stranger" in our midst (she told us because she is trying to make a shidduch for her daughter who converted as a child, over 10 years after the mother's Reform conversion). Tova joked that if Golda found out about this development, she might run to the lady's house and ask what pork tastes like or something rude to that effect.

Anyway, Golda seems genuinely fascinated by gerim and ba'alei t'shuvah because since she grew up in it, it seems odd that someone would "choose" to take this on. At the same time, she likes to "educate" us non-FFBs about the inner workings of the frum world. (Did I really want to know?) [At least twice, she has pointed out to me that one of her mother's ancestors was connected to "THE" Avraham ben Avraham, (of sefer fame)...Talk about riding on the coat tails of yichus.]

A recent simcha in the chareidi world may have changed Golda's perspective...She was snubbed at this party because amongst various reasons, it seems that she "married down" when it came to her husband (who, by the way, can boast of having had a grandfather who was a rabbi and a brother who is one), in the eyes of her mother's neighbors (and people she grew up with). This time, I gave Golda the education.

It seems that everyone has lost focus on what being "frum" means. So many people equate it with how many chumrot one takes on (or other meaningless external measures). First of all, my understanding of the mitzvot is that their purpose is to bring me closer to Hashem. My accountability (if I break one) is to Him, not to my fellow Jew (as much as some may want me to justify my life). I do sincerely believe that spirituality has died in so many people, that they may feel that taking on the most stringent rule fills them with a sense that they are getting closer to G-d (and keeping up with the Schwartzes on the chumrah of the month club).

Based on my bitterness about frum life (which I approached with open eyes), I have been asked why I bother. The answer is simple, which I told Golda. Golda did not have a choice to be frum, it's all she knows. I, on the other hand, chose to be frum because I wanted to have a closer relationship with Hashem and follow his mitzvot. I do this for purely selfish reasons and without a concern of other people and their relationships with G-d.

When They Were Young...

This post was inspired by a conversation I had today with one of my high school English teachers. She has since retired and is an adjunct professor in Holocaust Studies (as well as frum). I partially give her credit for where my life headed, as she was one of the first frum people I met that showed me it was possible to be a strong Jew and be "worldly". A large portion of my hashkafah came under her tutelage in high school. Yonina was bending my ear, sharing all the nachat she was receiving from her tribes of grandchildren. [One granddaughter, an officer in TZaHaL and frum, is engaged to marry another frum officer. Another granddaughter just graduated from our local chareidi girls' school and is heading off to seminary in Israel.]

Yonina: "It's the end of an era. For the first time in 52 years, one of my descendants will not be at ___________."

CYM: "A lot has changed in that time as well. Look how the hashkafah of the school changed..."

Yonina: "I have pictures of Rav D_______ before he grew a beard and was wearing sportscoats." [Rav D______ happens to be a descendant of a gadol that I do not wish to directly name as all will be revealed.]

CYM: "Everyone denies that ever happened, like when the school had mixed classes."

Yonina: "That was until the fifth grade. My daughter, 'Laura,' still remembers the boy who would pull her pony tail during class. Wouldn't you know, recently, Laura was talking to someone on the phone who had a familiar voice. After asking what his Hebrew name was, she realized that it was the same boy. My, how time flies!"

My conversation with Yonina reminded me of an e-mail that Esther had sent me some time ago. It must have been forwarded all over the Internet and blogged incessantly, but it is still appropriate in light of recent blogs on the chareidi world. [Rabbi Maryles and Barak]

An over-used cliche is that "clothes make the man". Would today's chareidim see future gedolim in (gasp!) modern clothes? Click on this link...

I welcome any feedback on when this change happened to Orthodoxy. What has been told to me by a friend (thanks, by the way) that it seems that the chareidim are trying to out-chassid the chassidim.

26 July 2007

Parnasah Update

For those of you who know me "in the real world", I have been having job tzarot for some time. After a rather stormy transition of directors, I decided to walk away from the Talmud Torah I have called home for eight years. In a nutshell: Reform rabbi who rents space in the school for her congregation led a campaign to have me removed for my "influence" over the students. With no just cause to not renew my contract at all, I was transferred to another branch. Received contract in mail, but returned a resignation. Later on, a former supervisor, "Oketz", (in the midst of her own rumored scandal) has been named as the assistant director of the Talmud Torah. [I had considered asking to withdraw my resignation until I found out that she was going to be there.]

I am taking graduate classes at the local Judaics studies college. They have a cooperative relationship with the local bureau of Jewish education to cover 2/3 of the tuition for each teacher enrolled in a class there. The future of grad school hinges on my having a teaching position in a bureau school. Last week, I told them that I can't continue studying if I don't have a position (they also rely on Jewish Federation dollars connected to enrollment numbers). Today, I made a tally of all the places that I contacted and what happened (identifying details have been changed, of course):

4/26/2007 Large Conservative Congregation (S) [replied right away]
not looking for anyone right now
Position desired: teacher, tutor, or aide (cold contact)

4/26/2007 Other Large Conservative Congregation (T) [last e-mail from her: 6/20; last correspondence: 7/18]
she attempted to set up meeting in June but nothing materialized; I repeatedly attempted to reach her without reply
Position desired: teacher, tutor, or aide (cold contact)

4/26/2007 Chabad Hebrew School (M) [interview: 5/21]
interested in talking to me when she saw that I was from Talmud Torah (her strongest competitor), but told me in the interview that she has "two married ladies" already and "only" hires "seminary girls" for the teaching
Position desired: teacher (cold contact)

5/31/2007 "Congregation Sinat Chinam" (R C) [reply: 6/xx]
keeping me on file should anything come up
Position desired: teacher (cold contact)

6/19/2007 Community Day School (L) [reply: 7/20]
does not have any openings
Position desired: tutor or aide (cold contact)

6/19/2007 CYM's school (RJ) [reply: 6/20]
"already filled the aide position"
Position desired: aide (response to e-mail that he sent out)

6/29/2007 Jewish/multicultural school (S) [notified: 7/18]
got called in for interview right away, references checked out, but job went to someone else ("not enough experience")
Position desired: teacher (response to ad in paper)

7/19/2007 Haredi school (C)
calling her tomorrow
Position desired: early childhood aide (received a lead from former teacher)

7/26/2007 Small Reform Congregation (R M) [gave me my first teaching job]
just sent him an e-mail today and awaiting further information
Position desired: teacher (cold contact)

7/26/07 Another Small Reform Congregation (D)
sent resume today
Position desired: teacher (referred by former academic advisor)

I also had a job interview today with an insurance agency, not my ideal line of work, but it fits one of my "nine rules": Be humble.

[What does that refer to? In the spring, I found a book at the library whose title intrigued me, 9 Things You Simply Must Do. In some future posts, I will talk about these rules. Right now, here's the synopsis. The author (a psychologist) has noticed nine "deja vu" traits that repeat in successful people.

He also wrote a series of books about setting boundaries in personal relationships, aptly named, Boundaries. At first, I shied away from this book because he uses a lot of quotes from the Christian Bible (he happens to be a devout Christian). Then someone suggested that I read what he has to say and substitute wisdom from TaNaKh or rabbinic literature that runs along the same theme. (Easy considering that 1st century Christians were essentially Jewish except for that whole "Yeshke is Messiah" thing.)

Will keep the blog world updated as things progress.

25 July 2007

This tag was from Barak, who got it from DovBear. It was about Tisha B'Av. Here are my answers:

Fast: While I am not “small” and do have ample reserves, I find this fast to be the hardest (see Insights).


· “I’m a ‘bad Jew’ because I find it hard to be sad about Beit Ha-Mikdash being destroyed. Like any tragedy, it resonates the most with one who experienced it firsthand and fizzles out the more removed one is from it. For example, when I explained 9/11 to cool yiddishe maidel, although I 1) was not connected to anyone who died that day and 2) had at the time never even been to New York, it was easier for me to describe the history that I experienced. However, when cym kept asking why the grown-ups had to fast yesterday, I had to simplify it to that we are “sad” that we don’t have the Beit Ha-Mikdash and told her that it was destroyed because people were too busy doing avodah zarah (bayit rishon) or hating each other for stupid reasons (bayit sheni).

· This might get me labeled an apikoros but, oh well… Due to my non-Orthodox origins, I can acknowledge Beit Ha-Mikdash as being important to us (and do strongly consider the kotel to be the holiest spot for Jewry), but to mourn this for thousands of years simply because this event had the strongest impact to ChaTZaL? In my “warped” logic (or maybe an early teaching that has stuck in my head), daavening is an “evolved” form of avodat Hashem. The korbanot needed to be done in those days as that was how people understood G-d.

· With the above being said, I still fasted because it has been commanded, but I used the time to reflect on the tragedies that affect modern Jews (and could potentially destroy us): continual sinat hinam, constant “out-frumming” your neighbor, and the death of spirituality.

· Why is it always easier to fast on Yom Kippur? Amongst the reasons I came up with: we’re in an atmosphere where more people are fasting (as opposed to work), “life” stops (since it is a Shabbat Shabbaton), etc.


· Another day in the life of a SAHM with children. Fast day or no, life goes on for them. Had CYM’s BF over for playdate and dinner.

· Cool Yiddish Papa collapsing in bed before nine o’clock, so he missed going to Eikha. [He was up until 3:30 AM the previous night finishing HP7 because he had borrowed a friend’s copy.]

How long was Shacharit:

· Barely daavened with children grabbing at my legs. “The big guy” understands.

Kinah for Gush Katif:

· HUH?????

Kinah for the Holocaust:

· To be honest, I have not sat with kinot since having children. Bli neder, will look at this one next year.

Break Fast:

· Rushed as I had other things to attend to (wink, nod to Esther). Drank a large glass of water and a protein drink (just started yet another diet). I also ate a piece of grilled salmon after returning home.

· I had made veggie burgers, tater tots, and corn for the kinder to eat earlier. CYP had vegetarian kielbasa and bell pepper sauté (with the remnants of the children’s dinner). I think at some point he also had some ice cream. (He doesn’t have to watch what he eats…)

22 July 2007

MEME part deux

The Rules:

Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves.The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged.


1. I AM ADDICTED TO THE WRITTEN WORD. I will read anything I can get my hands on. Currently, I am in the midst of several books: one in the car (in case kids fall asleep), one in the living room (for when I need down time), one in my totebag, and two stacked on my nightstand. Whenever I go to the library, I clean out the section that I need. I even picture words (with complete punctuation) over someone's head when they are talking to me. Someday I hope to funnel this passion into a writing career.

2. I BEAT DEAD HORSES. (No, not literally.) I am never satisfied with an answer I am given and will instead re-visit it whenever a new angle pops up in my head. For example, my friend Rivka's BF Golda, seems jealous of my friendship with Rivka. So, every time I notice it, I log it into my head to build evidence. I feel like telling Golda (who I had classified as a "coffee friend" a long time ago) that I have my own friends and don't need to steal others...

3. I AM A WELL-REPUTED "FOODIE". As a BT who has gone "both ways" on the kashrut thing, I actually remember how food is supposed to taste and try hard to replicate on a kosher level. I am frustrated by people who accept poor-quality food as the price of being closer to G-d. I own over 30 cookbooks but read them more to get ideas than to follow them.

4. GOOGLE IS BUSY BECAUSE OF ME. Want information found? I'm the person to do it. Need to stretch a paper with extra information? That's me, too. I found my father's widow who dropped out of sight several years ago just by typing her name into stuff.

5. [wil fill in later]

6. [wil fill in later]

7. [wil fill in later]

8. [wil fill in later]

Ok, I tag...Chana and Hila (sorry, but I think you are my only readers that weren't already tagged).

Book Tag

My friend Barak tagged me...

Look at the list of books below: Bold the ones you’ve read. Mark in blue the ones you want to read. Cross out the ones that you wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole (or use red coloring). Finally, italicize the ones you've never heard of.

I've read some of these, hated some, and wouldn't touch some, but there aren't any on the list I'm planning to read...See below to find out who's been tagged...

1. The DaVinci Code (Dan Brown)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) loved the BBC version w/ Colin Furth; inspiration for Bridget Jones' Diary
To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee) My 9th grade English teacher thought that we were too stupid to read so she showed us the movie.
Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell) Read it three times
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)

8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) I liked the Little House books nas a child but sounds worse.
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)

11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling) [maybe when the hype dies down]
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
[maybe when the hype dies down]
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Rowling) [maybe when the hype dies down]
7. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald) [sounds like the name of some bad porn]
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)
[maybe when the hype dies down]
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien)

22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) Read it in 10th grade when my brother wanted me to know what teenage angst was.
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) Favorite book from childhood.
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)

26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) 11th grade English after I got switched to the honors class
28. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom) so that when I talk about someone's "Tuesdays with Morrie" friend, then I KNOW what it is.
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)

34. 1984 (Orwell) 12th grade reading project; too depressing
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant) One of my friends told me that its' poorly written feminist midrash.
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)

41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel) read after seeing the movie w/ Darryl Hannah on TV
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella) Aren't you sure that my mother-in-law didn't write this?
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom) looks interesting

45. The Bible read Christian version in a college religion course; and read Jewish one all the time
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) Hate Russian authors
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) 12th grade English. You're right, Barak. Long-winded, depressing book. [Why would people voluntarily move to California?]
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb) another depressing book
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)

52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens) 11th grade English. Sealed the deal on my unabided hatred for Dickens. [I found out later that he was paid by the word, explains a lot.] Fondest memory of this book was when teacher accidentally called it A Tale of Two TITTIES. Entire class couldn't stop laughing.
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens) 11th grade English summer reading [see Dickens tirade at # 52.]
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald) 10th grade English
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling) [maybe when the hype dies down]
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) Literature of Women class taught by A MAN
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)

61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky) brother bought it for me Chanukah 1993...still sitting in book case unread
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) Mostly rememered by its Spanish title that sounded so cool: Cien Anos de Soledad
67. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ann Brashares) I sadly admit that I read the whole series last summer, loaned to me by a teenaged friend of mine.
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo) [rather see the update RENT]
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) [will end up reading it when CYM sees a "prince" on the cover]
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding) Liked books better than movies, but some British guys are easy on the eyes...
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez) [can't Marquez write anything uplifting?]
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)...really, where?
78. The World According to Garp (John Irving) Movie w/ Robin Williams first, then book. Book much better, got more into back story.
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte's Web (E.B. White) Read to us by teacher in 2nd grade but hope to re-read with CYM.
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck) Depressing book.
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)

85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) 9th grade, read on own. Liked more than 1984 b/c of the decedance.
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)

90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding) Strange book, completely grossed out by the whole pig thing.
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd) [Maybe it should stay secret...]
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton) Does the movie count?
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)

100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Bonus: The Princess Bride (William Goldman)

I tag...Chana and Hila.

08 July 2007

On Friendship...

To my three readers:

A month and a half ago, after almost two years of feuding with my mother-in-law about this and that, she finally said that she wants us "to be friends". I told that it would not be possible right now because essentially I don't trust her! When cool yiddish papa and I were dating, she engaged in rampant lashon ha-ra about us with her friends (which she blatantly denied after he walked in on a conversation being done ON THE SPEAKERPHONE and USING OUR NAMES). Since we've married and subsequently committed to a halakhic lifestyle, she has "accidentally" taken cool yiddishe maidel out for traife food and suggested car trips on Shabbat. Since telling her that I can't trust her, I have been feeling backlash from family about "daring" to tell her that I don't trust her.

I might be dragging too much about my personal life into blog world, but this topic has been in my head for a while, so read and enjoy!


A real friend will "have your back" and not stab you in it.

Goes hand in hand with respect. Without trust, there really is not a friendship.

The ability to keep a personal confidence
Part of the previous one. Whatever I tell someone should not have to be prefaced by, "do not tell anyone" when it is clear that it is private information.

Be able to rely on their friends in an emergency
Once in a while, not being there for your friends (because you are going through your own thing) is not a sin. However, if I am always being ditched for your own thing, I'll start to wonder...

Will stick by them when the going is rough
This goes with the previous one.

Will be open and honest about their feelings and opinions
If you are my friend, then you should feel the need to tell how you REALLY feel about something to other people, instead of telling everyone but that person. Even if you don't agree, you should feel comfortable enough to say something discreetly.

Be empathetic
You don't have to agree with everything that I do, but you should be able to see my side of it.

If you feel that there is anything to add, please be sure to comment.

03 July 2007

At a Crossroads

I just realized that it has been over 2 months since I last time that I posted, so I guess I should let the blog world know that I am alive and well (B'H).

* Cool Yiddish Papa and I have successfully moved out of our other neighborhood and managed to sell our house (even in this market). While we could have made more of a "profit" by waiting to sell, we decided that our happiness (and cool yiddishe maidel's social life) takes a precedent.

* A month after our move to "the other neighborhood", I met with the new director. I immediately did not like managerial style (more about that another time), and after two months of indecision, I bit the bullet and decided to not renew my contract for this year (without having a job lined up). I have to admit that I am pretty proud of my resignation letter because not only did I tell him that I am not coming back, but I did call into question his techniques.

* I am actively looking for another job, preferably in teaching, but am willing to shift careers if I can find something there. The realities of raising a family today supercede my "selfish" desires to have the career that I want.

* I have also made the decision that I want to take more time for my writing. It is something that I immensely enjoy. Watch soon for my fiction blog as this blog will continue to be essays influenced by real life experiences.

Keep reading as I continue to update my readers (who may have dwindled because I have not been writing).

19 April 2007

Help Wanted!

Community after-school Hebrew program is seeking a Hebrew and Judaics studies teacher. Applicants should not be "too religious" and should be willing to step aside should the powers that be determine that you are "not right" for them, despite a successful teaching record and legions of loyal students as well as their families.

Perhaps that is the ad that my school should put in the newspaper. The upside is that the new director would like to place me at another branch of the school with same number of hours, etc. However, the two people who judged me for being "too frum" from DAY ONE have managed to get me out. As I told the director today, "Removing me will not end the problems between them and the school. They have made complaints about every teacher in the school. If I am being sent away, then so should all of them."

The best part is that the director determined that they are "key players" in the school's future, yet they account for 10% of the ENTIRE STUDENT BODY! My boss, at least one colleague, a few parents, and some students have already pledged to go to bat for me. One parent even told me that my being religious was a good thing for her children. They have learned to have pride in their Judaism that was never there.

Wish me luck as coolyiddishemama fights for her job.

17 April 2007

Post Pesach Re-Hash (one week later)

A struggle we all have as halakhically observant Jews is finding the line between halakhah, minhag, and chumrah. I do not claim to even have the first answer on the distinctions, but I do think that it is important for people to learn them. Being frum today involves knowing these boundaries and respecting them. Due to the Shoah, entire communities (and along with it, their m'sorot) are gone. The lines for Ashkenazic Jewry are so blurred. In my understanding, G-d gave us ONE TORAH. From there came Halakhah. This is something we follow since we are Jews. It's what we do and we do not wait for the kavannah to be right in order to do it. Due to our dispersion and relative isolation from each other, the leaders of our communities consulted the halakhah to ensure that the members of THAT community were following halakhah according to their understanding. Along the way people have CHOSEN to take on more than what was required for whatever reason.

In my effort to get healthier, I meet with other frum ladies for the united purpose of losing weight. Essentially, we are all friends but one in particular that I can most talk to, Rivki, said that as long as the conversation does not go into hashkafah, we're all set. This did not present itself so clear as when we started off sharing diet strategies for Pesach and ended up revealing our minhagim. Luckily only one woman seemed to feel (but did not vocalize it) that none of us were "making Pesach" properly.

This woman's family is not yekkishe but her father's father took on the minhagim in Europe. Upon arriving in NYC, he settled, where else, but Washington Heights. Her family has a "minhag/chumra" of only accepting KAJ hechsher for Pesach. I heard this story last year when she was telling me that the year she was engaged to her husband, her father would only allow her to eat by her chattan's family on the eighth day. Why? They willingly accept Manischewitz, which apparently, had a "concern" by the KAJ crowd years back. To her family, Manischewitz was "chametz". After marriage, she insisted to her husband that they continue to only use this hechsher on their Pesach products, including on (which I don't get this marketing ploy) "18 minute matzo". According to my undertanding of the halakhah, isn't kosher l"Pesach matzah BY DEFINITION REQUIRED to be out of the oven WITHIN 18 minutes or else it's chametz? [Please correct me if I am wrong.] I told her happily that I managed to "get by" on "regular" dairy products like specially labelled (but same price) cream cheese and butter. I only had to break down and buy "frummie cheese" when I normally buy other certified cheeses that I can find at Trader Joe's.

Rivki's family does not eat grebrokts because when her mother became frum, the rebbetzin kept the minhag. However, their father also decided to keep it. Her sister married a Farsi this year so immediately proceeded to kitniyot. Finally, a third lady who only knows Sephardi customs as she married a Sephardi after conversion in Israel, was surprised to hear that her house is not "chametz" to us, but to just skip the rice. [Her husband is friends with every Sephardi in town and tends to prefer his friends.]

My first significant frum rabbi experience was with a rabbi who does not eat grebrokts until eighth day. He knows that it is not chametz, but al yad sheni, it has been his family's custom. He instructed CYP and I specifically to NOT take it on.

In several recent posts, Barak has been echoing this theme in regards to the two day yom tov for us outside Israel, chumrot in kashrut that are causing the price of keeping kosher to sky-rocket. Minhagim seem to serve to divide us, but it seems to also cause us to look down on those whose customs seem meikel (leinient) or up to the more machmir (strict). A seminary girl from "the old neighborhood" one time told me that since we don't "keep chalav yisrael" then we don't keep kosher. Ironically, this is the same girl whose mother admitted to have purchased a local brand of ice cream that is chalav stam years earlier. (The entire family has been frum for generations, so it was not a matter of being ba'alei teshuvah.)

For some, grebrokts are presented in the same light. Orginially a chassidishe custom (in the Gemara, it is permitted to dip your matzah into water before eating if it is difficult to eat AT THE SEDER), it has also taken on a similiar air of being more machmir. One time, someone had said that this was the last year for eating matzo ball soup for the sedarim since the following year, they intended to not eat grebrokts, understanding it to be a "more frum" thing to do.

If our desire is to be "more frum" than there also needs to be an understanding of the hows/whys of what we do and not just assume that being frum means excessive hardships.


A large part of being a Jew it seems is the obligation to have a perfect memory. We are to remember what G-d did for us in Mitzrayim (Pesach), that as slaves we never had a day off (Shabbat), and that in almost every generation some "bad guy" has risen up to try to annihilate us, spiritually or literally (Tisha B'Av, Chanukah, Purim, and Yom Ha-Shoah). As a teacher and a parent I struggle with how much or how little information to give my students/children. There are just elements of our history that I do not feel obligated to show cool yiddishe maidel (CYM) or light of my life (LOML) until they are old enough to ask questions. I can't ask them to even understand it because there are adults who can not begin to grasp the full extent of hate.

Sunday was Yom Ha-Shoah. Communities all over the world held ceremonies to fulfill a modern interpretation of "ZACHOR"--Remember the Shoah so that there may never be another one.
At what age is it appropriate to show children the horrors of the Shoah?
Like many in my (and my parents') generation, our questions started when we saw the numbers tattoed on the arms of our grandparents' friends or our neighbors. With the witnesses to the horror getting older and dying, this may not be such a reality as my children (and i'y'h, my grandchildren) start to have questions. To answer the above question (without saying whether it is the most appropriate age), I was eight. My mother was avoidant so I tried to read Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. When she saw the book in my room, it was the first (and only) time she attempted to censor my reading material. She instructed me to return it to the library right away. I was sent off with the "short answer" that Hitler hated the Jews and wanted them to all die. If he had succeeded, none of us might have been born. [To end the story, I finally read it at 13 and took a Holocaust studies course my senior year of high school.]
Like many other places, our 7th-8th grade class, with the help of their teacher, created a moving ceremony commemorating Yom Ha-Shoah. Fifth and sixth graders were also invited to attend, with fourth grade and below remaining in their classes. (While my third and fourth graders are aware of the Shoah, we decided that the assembly was not pedogically appropriate for them.) At the end of the day, I saw a child, perhaps a year older than CYM, walking out of class wearing a paper star created to look exactly like the one at the top of the post. She is in a mixed class of kindergarteners, first and second graders. She is a part of the groups that wants to be with us for our building, but not for our religious instruction. The instructor, a special-education teacher by trade, deemed the Shoah appropriate for five year olds!
This is the same group who, last year, pulled themselves from the gan teachers' "Muffins with Mom" on Mother's Day which included the children doing a "Ani ohev/ohevet et eema sheli ki..." with pictures. The reason? "They already do Mother's Day in public school. Why not do something more appropriate like Yom Ha-Shoah?" Our answer had been, and will be, that kibbud av v'em is universal, like being thankful (ie Thanksgiving, Sukkot).

Please take the opportunity to sound off about this! This is a rare time when a J-blog is not attacking hashkafah. I want to "hear" how you feel about this.
A brief aside...Those who know me in the "real world" know that I have not been blogging for a while because my husband and I have left "galut", what we affectionately call our charedi neighborhood in which we lived for eight years. Someone said that we should have known where we were moving at the time, but not realizing my husband's dream to own a house that we could afford (at the time) superceded living in that neighborhood. At the same time, I know another couple who has settled there in the past year and feel that they have truly found a home. We are making a sacrifice in our move, having sold our house for slightly less than we paid for it in 1999, but even CYP (the financial maven) agreed that happiness is not something we can put a price on. Our house will close at the end of the month, i'y'h, so my life should uncomplicate a tad so that I can return to more blogging.

Back to the intended topic...by trade, I am a teacher. For the past three years, our school has been in a "partnership" with a grass-roots Reform congregation. In exchange for using our school building as their homebase, the families are to enroll their children in our religious school program. The obvious exception includes those who chose the day school route. Seems like a fair arrangement, yes? Well, from day one, they have used the word "partnership" to imply control of our curriculum.

For the record, I teach at a "community" school, meaning that we do not have any official hashkafah. My students' families range from completely secular, with some who are from intermarried families, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and two who belong to an Orthodox synagogue. To many, teaching these students may seem like a daunting task. However, my theme all these years has been to focus on what all of us have in common as Jews and discuss our differences as "options".

Officially, this year, I am out of the loop with them because the president (whose child would have been a student of mine) petitioned to allow their congregation to use our teachers and classroom space to give them a completely separate program. The reason cited was that I'm "too Orthodox" to teach their children. By the way, I teach modern Hebrew, which the last time I checked, was universal. [Ironically, the teacher they requested is also frum, perhaps with less tolerance towards their lifestyle based on conversations she and I have had about the class.] Their fear has been that I would use the class as a soapbox for expousing my "beliefs" that everyone needs to be frum and I would proselytize to them. [This accuasation was thrown about without their knowledge that both my husband and I are ba'alei teshuvah and have many non-religious friends and family that have never felt that we force an observant lifestyle on them.] With a new director coming in, I am thankful that I am not their teacher. Any complaints from them are not based on me, at least.

This week I have to meet with my new boss to assure him that my personal life does not affect my abilities to be a professional Jewish educator. As we all know, who we are and how we think does seep into our professional lives. On that I'll keep you posted. Since I am feeling quite productive, I'll be posting twice today.

"Chanokh lana'ar al pi darko"

["Teach a child according to his way", --sefer Mishleh]

In an earlier post, I have commented on parents who have handed over parental control to rebbes out of a lack of confidence in their own parenting. Now, I am looking at this passuk from a different perspective. What does it mean to be "fair"? Does it mean to treat everyone equally (including ignoring each person's unique situations) or does it really mean to assess each person's needs differently?

I feel that it means to follow the second opinion. After a search online, I found that the Vilna Gaon
and I see eye to eye[side note, a friend of mine found out that he is a descendant of VG after finding the name of one of his ancestors in a book about VG]. (It has been a while since I found the quote so apologies to the person who posted it on the Web.)

"The Vilna Gaon asks, 'Why do you have to teach a child according to his way, why not according to our way? The reason is, because each person is born with a unique nature. We have to train the individual according to his or her character and personality traits - the method that will work for that person.'"

As children we see our parents treating our siblings differently as "unfair", but then, when we become parents ourselves, we start to see the wisdom behind it. However, this is something that cool yiddishe maidel fails to understand when I am dealing with light of my life. While it may not be "fair" to compare my children to each other, I will anyway.

When CYM was 2 1/2, she was clearly more "verbal" (using more words) than LOML is currently. However, I can tell LOML detailed instructions (as in a string of sentences) and she shows complete comprehension while I had to (and still do) break it down for CYM. The girls are three years apart in age. By necessity, I have to do things differently for each of them. CYM can be left for a playdate at a friend's house while LOML still needs constant supervision.

Just something that I have reflected on and decided to share with you...

28 February 2007

Something's Gotta Give...

Hila commented recently about not seeing me blog lately. Well, Hila, between children, work, grad school, housework, and preparing to sell a house (in order to close on a new one), blogging had to fall by the wayside. First of all, I am a peasant with dial-up. CYP wants to economize and hold out for DSL until we get to our new house. (It's a blessing in disguise. I might end up living on the computer if we had broadband anyway.) Second, I had problems finding a cord that would keep my laptop charged (and recognize when I switched to AC power).

I have been so stressed out lately with all my tzarot. I just realized that the hair that is coming out in my hands in falling out from stress. My aunt suggested that it was the sheitels I sometimes wear when cool yiddishe maidel wants me to have hair ("that boys can see"), but I told her that it wasn't so. Much to my distress, I have gained 10 pounds in the last two months without even having had the pleasure of binge-eating.

When talking about my tzarot, I have been "reassured" by people that Hashem doesn't give us more than what we can handle. Well, I still want to know what my breaking point will be...don't all of us to tell the truth?

25 February 2007

I'm Alive (and Well)...B'H!

I have been extremely busy these past couple months and have had NO time to blog!

CYP and I are making preparations to leave galut and join our friends in "the other neighborhood". Packing is quite a chore. Part of me just wants to chuck everything and start over. Who knew that we had SO MUCH STUFF in such a little house!

A favor to ask all my loyal readers who still check on my blog and haven't given up on me... Please read the below letter and click on whichever link applies to you. I have until Purim to collect this data. [If you are part of "my real life" and already completed this survey, no need to re-do it.]

Dear Friends (and Friends of Friends):

I am taking a course on the History of Conversion (to Judaism) as part of my grad school studies. One of the assignments for this course is to evaluate contemporary views of conversion. I have chosen to select for my topic attitudes regarding conversion within the Orthodox community.

Please understand that I will not know who responds to which survey so your privacy is ensured. I am posting this on the blog to further protect your privacy.

To fulfill sh'mirat ha-lashon, all information is considered confidential and will not be discussed except in the context of this project. Any identifying information will be changed where it will not change the results of the data.

Please click on the link that pertains to your situation. You have 10 days from the receipt of this e-mail to complete this survey. If you have any additional information you would like to share with me (such as your story or general conversion issues), you can e-mail me

Go ahead and forward on to other interested parties. I would like to get as diverse of a cross-section as possible.

Conversion Survey (for Gerim):

Conversion Survey (for Born Jews):
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