Monday, September 29, 2014

Pain in the Neck

How is the new year going so far? How was your Rosh Hashanah? And – the question on everybody’s lips this time of year – what time did you get out of shul? Do you belong to the 5 pm crowd? Or only the 3:30 community? As for myself, I was in a shul that finished at 1:30. Very humane. I have a suspicion that if you haven’t been able to “get through” by 1:30, those extra three hours probably won’t help much.

However, the real issue this year was that I almost didn’t get there.

Like every other self-respecting female, I spent the entire Erev Yom Tov baking, cooking, and preparing – and enjoying it. I am also incredibly fortunate in that throughout the day, there were people who called to wish me a good year. So – what does one do? One clamps the phone between the ear and the shoulder, and keeps stirring the tzimmes. This technique used to work just fine in the past – as long as one is young and limber one gets away with it, but suddenly one day the body protests, and says “enough of this abuse”, and before one knows one is sitting at the Yom Tov table, barely able to dip the sheep’s head in the honey for sheer pain. In my case the neck pain radiated into the whole shoulder and down into the rib cage, with the result that I could not breathe more than the tiniest gasps for air – or suffer the torture of what felt like a knife stabbing me. Needless to say, the whole first night of the new year was nightmarish; hardly any sleep, no moving, no breathing, and the worry of "what if this is a sign of what the year has in store for me, G-d forbid!?" And needless to say, when I slowly and painfully clambered out of bed in the morning I was not in a shul-going mood.

Some time in the late spring I had had a similar pain episode, and back then, when I had braved the agony and attended the Shabbos seudah to which we had been invited, I almost fainted from the pain, and had to be the object of much unsought attention. What if something similar would occur again? What if I fainted in shul? How was I going to bear the hard benches, all that standing, not to mention being able to daven with a modicum of kavanah, holy intention? And how was I even going to get dressed? 

I so wished that my husband might suddenly, unexpectedly, show up at the door (because his personal shul schedule is unpredictable in the extreme – his advanced condition of ADHD prompts him to run around from shacharis in the Vasikin minyan, to Torah reading in another place – except, if they are only up to “Sim Sholom” he’ll keep running, in order to find a shul where they have gotten to “Vay’hi binso’ah ha’aron” – then he might want to catch the rabbi’s drosha in a third shul, mussaf in a yeshivah, perhaps, and kaddish by the Chassidim. Five or six shuls in one day is perfectly “normal” for him, sometimes with one or two home visits sprinkled in, so he really might have popped in) to say something manly and protective to me along the lines of “you just get back into bed, and I’ll find someone to blow the shofar for you later”. But for once in a blue moon, he was just staying put in some shul and did not materialize when I needed him. 

So I was standing there, propped up against the bed, holding my bra in one hand and wondering what to do with it, when suddenly Hashem (because I assume it was He), put a thought into my head…

In my line of work I deal with Holocaust Survivors. Many of them have told me their stories, and additionally, throughout my life I have read numerous memoirs and testimonials of the devastation that they lived through. “Would they have let themselves be stopped by a bit of debilitating pain?” I suddenly asked myself. “Would an inability to breathe have held them back?” A nechtigen tog!, I had to answer myself in that resounding Yiddish circumlocution for the concept of “never!” Running, hobbling, or crawling, they would have propelled themselves towards the beckoning voice of the shofar if there had only been the slightest chance of hearing it; crippled by pain, unable to breathe, fainting and starving, they would have overcome any obstacle for the privilege of praying from a Machzor for a few moments – and tragically, this holds true for so many other thousands of Jews as well throughout our glorious and painful history.

Me – not go to shul on Rosh Hashanah? Are you kidding me?

Buoyed by this insight, and shamed by my own weakness, I betook myself to the nearest synagogue. And I didn’t faint. Was it the best shul experience I have ever had? Maybe not. But whatever I may have achieved there, and the very fact that I went, is entirely the z’chus of "my" Holocaust Survivors – and the only reason at all that I have chronicled my aches and pains here is to give tribute to those whose lives are a daily inspiration to me!

May we all be sealed for a healthy, pain free year!
Shalom Uv'racha!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Yom Tov Notes

There are only a few days left to Rosh Hashanah and I am so unprepared, spiritually and otherwise, that it is quite frightening. The only thing I have to hold on to is my computer document “Rosh Hashanah Prep” in the folder “Yom Tov Notes”. As the years go by I am growing in experience, if not in wisdom, and each year I commit new bits and pieces of that experience to the eternity of Microsoft Word.

“Cooking MUST be started the day BEFORE Erev Yom Tov” was a deeply felt urging one year that reeks of desperation. “KEEP IN MIND to wear comfortable shoes” on Rosh Hashanah, because the Amidah, the standing prayer, is awfully long, and hard enough to concentrate on, without the agony of too tight, or too high-heeled shoes. One year I even added a note not to wear long necklaces on Yom Kippur (costume jewelry is my mainstay!), because they interfere with the beating fist of the Viduy, the confession of our sins, when we strike our chest in remorse.

There is a list of the people, near and dear, who must get a phone call or an email, because near as they may be to my heart, they live in foreign lands with many hours of time difference, and if I don’t plan in advance I might suddenly discover that it is too late!

Those of you who read my post about traveling and packing will not be surprised to hear that I have a list of what to pack in the (specially designated) little Yom Tov tote bag I bring to shul. My own holiday Machzor, obviously, but also a little book rest, so I can comfortably prop it up in front of me instead of having to hold it the whole time. Try it – it is very convenient. Tissues, because hopefully I will be moved to tears; and a shawl, because the air conditioning can be ruthlessly effective sometimes.

Then there is a certain thick, white, fringed pillow case that I must remember to bring, in order to have something to kneel on. Yes, usually I am the only woman prostrating myself, and I used to be embarrassed about this, but it is such a dramatic, emotional thing to do that I just can’t let “what are they going to think” stand in the way. And if you know me at all, which by now you should, it must be eminently clear to you that I would never dream of making do with a few paper towels beneath my knees, like I see many men do. Perish the thought!

For Yom Kippur there must also be something sweet-smelling, such as a pomander or a bottle of Eau de Cologne. Once, a few years ago, I went to the shul of a certain close friend for Yom Kippur. She had beseeched me to try it, promising that I would appreciate the heart-felt davening there. “I will save you a seat next to me”, she promised. I came, and discovered that not only was my seat reserved, but she had taken the time to prepare a number of pomanders for scented reviving purposes, and had set aside one specially, just for me! Every time I think about it I am touched by this lovely gesture of caring.

Last year I added a new item to my packing list: a seat cushion. As everybody knows, after 4-5 hours, the benches can get quite hard. Luckily, I already possessed a rectangular cushion, covered in burgundy velvet. So synagogue-appropriate…

Then there is the Rosh Hashanah food shopping of course – all the simanim to symbolize the many blessings we need for the new year; the honey and an extra-nice apple for dipping; the sheep’s head – grilled and delicious!.... glistening pomegranate seeds… chicken soup with curlicues of fat… carrot tzimmes with sweet potatoes and veal neck bones… and tongue, my once-a-year treat… mmm! My husband won’t eat tongue – he is worried it might lick him back, or something. So fortunate for me – I get to eat it all by myself.

I am telling you – without my Yom Tov notes I would be completely lost.

“But what about your spiritual preparation?” you are now saying, scratching your heads. Well, yes. It seems so easy, doesn’t it? But WHEN, is the big question – WHEN am I supposed to scrutinize my conscience and take stock of my soul? WHEN do I gather my thoughts enough to realize what it means to make G-d the King of my universe?

The only thing I can say in my defense is that I talk to Hashem about it every day – I thank him for bringing me safely across the street; for keeping food in the stores – and providing me with enough money to buy some of it; for getting me a coffee in the morning; for helping me find those earrings I had misplaced; for getting me a parking space, and helping me park without causing damage and mayhem around me; and for inspiring me to write these blog posts. And I thank Him fervently for my children – that they are healthy and kind and bright like shining lights, and that the oldest one is talking to me again; and I thank Him for the husband that He found me; and for my good health; and that He made the world so beautiful and I am allowed to live in it and breathe and enjoy the sunshine. I have never been a good davener, but I talk to Him a lot, and I thank Him often. Does that count?

Of course I need to become a better person – who doesn’t? I have my challenges, and I like to think I am working on them, and occasionally I see a little bit of improvement, but it is one of those uphill things. But there is always the chance of a break-through! Hopefully, this year will be the one – the year of great strides, of enlightened souls, of jubilation and salvation, for each one of us individually, and for the entire K’lal Yisroel!

Kesivah Vechasimah Tovah!

Shalom Uv’racha!

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Woman's Lot

Let me first of all establish that I have no complaint against Hashem and His Torah. I am not a feminist – certainly not in any political or sociological sense of the word – and I am very content with the role that He has given me – but there are some societal attitudes I find very disturbing. Let me bring you a couple of examples…

Why am I invited to a Shabbos tisch, with fervent assurances that “it is for women too — you are going to love it!”, only to arrive in the synagogue (a very prominent and respected one, at that) where there is no “it” to love; the women’s section is in complete darkness, no refreshments – not even a bottle of water – are provided, there are not enough chairs available, and the mechitza consists of floor-to-ceiling pegboard, where a few of the infinitesimal peep-holes have been marginally enlarged, so that if I give up the chair I managed to claim for myself, and stand close to the plank, I might press my eye to the aperture and perhaps – or perhaps not – catch a fraction of a glimpse of the proceedings. As for hearing anything – well, it is more a question of eavesdropping. Is this dignified? Is this how you treat invited persons of any gender? This is not a matter of “equality” – it is a matter of common courtesy.

Why am I sitting at a Shabbos Sheva Brochos where the (male) speakers are all pointedly addressing the men’s section, their backs firmly to us women. Since no microphone can be used we need every possible sound wave we can get our way, but the speakers make no effort to be heard by the female guests; yet we are shushed and told to be quiet – so that the men should be able to enjoy themselves unhindered? “Put us in a separate room then!” an irate fellow guest said to me, “We can’t hear a thing, and then we are not even allowed to talk among ourselves.” And I had to agree with her: sitting at a party, unable to follow the “entertainment”, yet not being allowed to talk for long stretches of time feels more like a punishment than a simcha.

And let me stress again: this is not Hashem’s fault…

Isn’t our holy Torah known for its respectful stance towards women, granting us societal rights and human dignity far beyond the norm of the surrounding nations? Where did things go wrong? Is it just a bad case of bad manners? How come certain men think they don’t have to behave respectfully towards women, and that it is okay to send an eight year-old boy around the simcha hall to shush the female guests? When and where did it become acceptable that a child should admonish adults? Not in the Torah MiSinai that I learned from.

The proper segregation of men and women at all religious and/or social occasions is non-negotiable. Aside from the necessity of keeping the men in line, there is tremendous holiness in the separation; it preserves not only the purity of our actions and behavior, but the purity of the very simcha itself - it is not tainted by the giddy rush of impropriety. However, the separation must be done in a manner that ensures the comfort and dignity of both men and women.

As a frum Jewish woman in a frum Jewish community, I often feel that I want to encourage and empower the women around me. The Torah doesn’t treat us like second-class citizens – why should societal conventions do so? My frum sisters who uncomplainingly accept these above, and similar, scenarios – do they do so because to protest would mean being branded as “modern” or “feminist”; or have their brains been so thoroughly washed that they no longer react to - or even perceive - disrespect?

I would make the case that it is because of my uncompromising loyalty to Torah values that I want to see its ideals of championing the dignity of women implemented and perpetuated; it is because I refuse to be “modern” or “feminist” that I insist that the men around me should treat me and my sisters with the consideration and sensitivity that the Torah mandates. All you men – Rabbis as well as laymen – who boast about how much you respect women: let's see you live up to your professed ideals!

And if you do - I'll respect you right back!

Shalom Uv'racha!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Our Rebbetzin

Around Shavuos time this year, my husband and I spent two weeks in Eretz Yisrael. “Not a vacation”, he keeps pointing out, because to him a trip to the Holy Land is an avodah – a word that can mean both Divine service and labor; for Divine service is oftentimes laborious. Particularly if, like him, you are a devotee of sunrise davening. For me the Divine service is less laborious, but even so I agree – much as I love the Israeli food, the shopping, and spending time with my friends in caf├ęs, it is essentially a spiritual undertaking, drastically different than lounging on a beach, assuming you would be interested in doing so.

There are many things to attend to in Yerushalayim, but the first and most preeminent is to visit our Rebbetzin in Meah Shearim. My husband has known and worshipped her since he was a young man in his twenties; I was introduced to her when we went to Eretz Yisrael as a fairly newly-married couple in 2005.

I had thought – taken for granted! – that the very first thing to do upon arrival would be to run to the Kosel Hama’aravi, the Western Wall, but my husband insisted that we must go to the Rebbetzin first. I argued that it didn’t make sense – wasn’t the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, by the Wall; shouldn’t we greet the Shechinah first of all? “No,” he maintained, “first the Rebbetzin – you’ll see…”

And I did see. In a little house in Meah Shearim we were welcomed by the wholly holy Rebbetzin who embraced us (figuratively, in my husband’s case), with such indescribable love and radiance that the experience was wholly transporting. The joy with which she greeted my husband, whom she hadn’t seen in over twenty years, made him laugh and cry like I had never seen him laugh and cry. As a young yeshiva student he had been a ben bayis (literally “a son of the household”) in her home, developing a close relationship with the Rebbetzin, her husband, a renowned Sofer (Torah scribe), and their whole family; but beyond that, when their youngest son became dangerously ill a few years later and they traveled to America for medical assistance, my husband went out of his way to be supportive and helpful in every way that he could, thereby forever earning a very special place in their hearts.

When the laughing and crying had subsided a little, we sat down in the red velvet salon to talk and I was properly introduced. With a mixture of Yiddish, German and English with a few words of Hebrew thrown in, we managed to have an interesting conversation. Born in Vienna, the Rebbetzin came to Yerushalayim as a toddler with her family, narrowly escaping the horrors of the Nazi era, and to this day she still lives in the house that was once her parental home. “My father was a king, and my mother was a queen” she told me – and it seemed to me that the condition must be hereditary; for her own bearing, with all its warmth and sweetness, is truly aristocratic. Additionally, her cheek bones are to die for. Graceful and vivacious, full to the brim of love for her Creator and all His creation, Rebbetzin Chanele inspired me that time – and every subsequent time – with such a desire to be like her, to have emunah like her, that I am entering a whole other spiritual level every time we meet.

As I was to experience myself, every Shabbos she and her husband would feed the multitudes, the salon and the dining room both set beautifully with candles and flowers. Depending on whether there would be more men or more women at each meal the bigger crowd would get the salon, while the smaller group would squeeze into the dining area. Since that first trip, I have had many Shabbos meals in both rooms; both settings are festive and dignified, and the food is fine, but the ikar, the main point of the experience, is the atmosphere; the regal, yet humble, radiance of both the Rebbetzin and her husband. The singing of zemiros, holy Shabbos songs, is no mere sing-along in this house; it is an elevated avodah, reminiscent of the singing Levi’im on the steps of the Beis Hamikdash. Sadly, for the past couple of years, the Rebbetzin must preside with the assistance of her sons, since her beloved and saintly husband now keeps Shabbos in Gan Eden.

As we walked along Meah Shearim on our way to the Kosel that day I said, “Now I understand why we had to see the Rebbetzin first; this was the necessary preparation to get us in the right frame of mind to greet the Shechinah.” Then again, the Shechinah also lives in a certain little house in Meah Shearim…

*      *      * 
This year, in an unexpected and unprecedented sequel to our trip, the Rebbetzin arrived in America a few days after we did, in order to attend a number of family simchos. She was kept very busy between all the special events, but one day we managed to abduct her in between appointments, and brought her home with us for a brief visit. “We have a red velvet salon too*" we coaxed her, "you have to come and sit and make a brocho in it!” And she did – she came and sat and made many blessings. It was a strange and wondrous, almost unreal, feeling to be able to entertain the Rebbetzin in our home – a person so indelibly connected to Meah Shearim, a personification, if you will, of all that is holy in Yerushalayim; suddenly sitting in our living room in mundane America. It was like a collision not just between planets, but between galaxies. Twilight zone!

My husband has been completely overexcited ever since. He managed to get her to pose with him – at a proper distance! – in a few photos that he now runs about displaying to all his friends. “Guess who is in a photo with the Rebbetzin!” he boasts to all and sundry. They are all terribly envious of him. Or so he says.

Shalom Uv’racha!

*If you have any interest in interior decorating, you may want to take a look at my red salon here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Erev Pesach

Wine glass in hand, waiting for my husband to come back from Ma’ariv, the evening service, I am surveying my domain – not a speck of chometz, forbidden leaven, in sight. All is ready for Bedikas Chometz, the ritual search that ensures that no chometz has been accidentally overlooked. What a satisfaction! For many years now my husband and I have been going away for Pesach. Except for our second year as a married couple, when we stayed home full of exciting intentions of creating the Seder of the decade, but ended up “alone”, i.e. just him and me (which was rather anti-climactic), we have been going to either Eretz Yisrael; or to a certain college campus where my husband would supervise the kashrus situation while I would relax to my heart’s content, and frequent a Chinese massage parlor in my spare time (when I wasn’t busy relaxing); or to our cousins in Baltimore, where the livin’ was easy.

This year, however, we had a dilemma. Eretz Yisrael was off our financial map; my husband was refusing to supervise more kashrus in the middle of the Seder, or to put up with the lack of spiritual atmosphere of the Hillel house; and the Baltimorons had up and moved to our town, now living only a half-hour’s walk away. Don’t get me wrong: I love them, and I am thrilled to have them close by, but – it is no longer a question of “going away”. Going out of town for ten days, even to a place like Baltimore - which is not known for any extremes of exoticism - can be quite alluring, because, after all, it is a change of scenery, but sitting in a guest room two miles from home just doesn’t have quite the same cachet.

Our solution was Solomonic in its ingenuity: spend the Sedarim with the Baltimorons (for whom we will now have to come up with a more suitable epithet); then moving back home on Chol Hamoed, the intermediary day, and gracefully accept invitations by our friends. By Hashem’s grace and kindness, we have both friends and invitations. So this spring, for the first time in many years, I have “made Pesach”. Every Yom Tov, holiday, has to be “made” – it doesn’t just “happen” by itself, but Pesach requires some extraordinary making.

Slightly nervous about the now unaccustomed task ahead of me, I made sure to start early.
“The bedroom is already kosher l’Pesach” I was proud to inform one of my very close friends three weeks before Purim, expecting to hear some well-deserved praise.
“Did you wash the walls?” she said, because she is not right in the head.
“No, I certainly didn’t” said I.
“Why not?” she inquired in a kind of plaintive tone.
“Because there is no chometz on my bedroom walls. Kitchen walls, possibly – bedroom walls, definitely not.” That should give her something to think about!
“You could repaint the walls instead” she suggested – clearly bonkers.
“Yes I could, but I am not going to” I replied, sort of doing that teenage rebellion thing that I never really mastered in younger years, but could do to perfection now, should the need arise.

So, well, yes – the apartment has now been rendered both clean and chometz-free, and (with many thanks to my excellent cleaning lady), I must say that it has been a pleasure. The mustiness and dust of winter replaced by freshness and a breeze with a scent of spring; order in the ranks of the household goods; repairs and replacements of the little things around the house that should have been addressed before, but weren’t until now. Because I worked too, mind you – not for me to only sit and watch, along the lines of the main character of Three Men in a Boat, who observes that “I love work; it fascinates me; I can sit and watch it for hours!”

There is both a satisfaction and a sense of adventure about it – the home is transformed; its regular permanency challenged (perhaps somewhat reminiscent of the upheaval of Succos – after all, both holidays commemorate the leap of faith and the upending of the “normal”; they are both feasts of transition); and for as long as I have been making Pesach, I have always found excitement as well as an almost primeval contentment in the moment when I am placing all my brand-new groceries and implements in one of the kitchen cabinets, newly-scrubbed and covered with some stupid paper that is always a little bit askew. For eight days I will be camping, as it were, with different pots and pans, different counters and cook tops, different foods – or rather, with a different limitation of permissible foods (ah, the delicious Pesach cakes!) – which all contributes to giving me that sense of adventure.

We are on a hike. Where are we going? Hopefully to Yerushalayim – meaning both the geographical city, and the spiritual city center of our hearts.

May your journey be a happy one – have a kosher and freilichen Pesach!

Shalom Uv'racha!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Match Made in Heaven

Truly, marriage could only have been invented by G-d, because who would ever venture into it, or suffer through it, or enjoy the benefits of it, if it were not for the Divine law that compels us. And I am not specifically speaking about my own marriage, but rather about the institution per se.

Who but G-d could ever have come up with the idea that living together, one man and one woman (yes, for the record, that is the only definition of marriage that I accept) in a committed union is a good idea, considering how much hard work is involved? Far easier to be a serial monogamist. And yet, there is a certain quaint charm to it.

When I was still waiting for Mr. Right, I often heard married people talk about the “hard work” involved in marriage. “Fair enough”, I used to think, “but what does that really mean – what kind of hard work?” I am currently taking a poll among my married friends, but while I am waiting for the results to come in, I have thought a lot about it, and for myself I think it means: accepting the fact that marriage is meant to change you for the better. It may sound easy and self-evident, but it isn’t. One’s inner sloth – the Evil Inclination – just wants to take it easy, and resists change the whole time, and that is the fight that is hard work for one’s better self to win. It is so much easier to denigrate the marriage, or the spouse, than to take oneself to task and demand improvement.

We do not know the man we have married until we have lived with him for quite a while, but neither do we know ourselves until we are tested. Marriage comes to provide that test. You go around thinking you are an absolutely charming specimen of womanhood, but then – once again! – he puts away the ketchup bottle upside down, and it leaks all over the refrigerator – and there goes your charm down the drain for the umpteenth time.

When we met, my future husband declared, in an unguarded moment, that he could take very well care of his own physical needs and that he wasn’t looking for a wife to do so; he had experienced freshly ironed underwear in his first marriage and felt it was overrated – what he was longing for was a wife he could talk to; a wife who would understand him. Obviously, his words have come back to haunt him. In his present, considerably happier, marriage he knows himself to be lucky if his underwear are reasonably freshly laundered.

There was an incident once, when I had actually been neglecting the laundry to a degree that was quite unusual even for me – no doubt due to a pressing engagement with a pint of ice cream – and there was not a clean undershirt to be had either for love or money; but did he complain? No, never saying a word, he just quietly went out and bought himself some new undershirts, thereby further endearing himself to me for all eternity. (A little tip for all you husbands who might want a little tip.) And all you radical feminists out there, who are braying: “why didn’t he just wash his own undershirts?” – shame on you! I really can’t afford to buy new washing machines all the time.

But hark! – there is a murmur in my little writing chamber. It is a chorus of disgruntled readers’ voices: “Wasn’t this article supposed to be about how you are being tested, oh charming specimen of womanhood?” you are saying. “So far, all we can see is that your husband is the one being tested – and passing with flying colors, we might add – while you are floating about all day on a cloud of ice cream!”


Who is writing this article – you or me? I thought so. Let me therefore assure you that I am being tested too; sometimes I pass, sometimes I fail. In the early days there used to be many more fails than passes – criticism (constructive or otherwise) or various types of dissatisfaction on my part would be clearly voiced at even minor provocations – but the ratio is changing, slowly but surely; I am learning to keep my mouth shut, or to use it in a more pleasant way. A little trick I discovered along the way was to try to stop even the irritated thought when it would pop up, and not give it any real estate in my brain, because once a thought is rattling around inside your head it can so easily slip out through the mouth. And yes, in case you are interested, since this is a great challenge for me, it is very hard work.

But G-d wants us to work on ourselves, and grow and improve, so he gives us marriage, with its daily opportunities for character refinement, and it is a wise woman – or man – who takes advantage of those opportunities. The reward will surely come, hopefully already in this world.

Ultimately, speaking of marriage, we might be faced with the question: does a woman really need a man, or is the single woman “like a fish without a bicycle”? Personally, I would say that she might not need him, but that without him she won’t be all that she can be.

Shalom Uv’racha!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tichel Pride

I was browsing about on some Jewish websites the other day when I came across a blog post called – I hesitate to even type the title – “The Tale of the Magic Tichel and Its Hijab Envy”, written by one Chaviva Gordon-Bennett. In her article, the author complains that she doesn’t feel beautiful in her tichel, which doesn’t fit her well, and that she thinks the Muslim headscarf – the hijab – does a better job of bringing out a woman’s beauty and modesty; one of the supposed reasons for this being that a tichel reveals some of its wearers hair (?!), while the hijab does not. All in all, Chaviva is not happy with the situation – she knows something needs fixing, but she is looking in the wrong place for the remedy!

As a woman who mostly wears a (synthetic) sheitel, or wig, but also enjoys wearing tichels, kerchiefs, when the mood – or the outfit – is right, my reply to Chaviva – or anybody else in a similar predicament – is as follows:

G-d forbid that the Daughters of Israel should envy the adornments of another nation! (All the more so, when the object of the envy is a nation that, by and large, is seeking the destruction of ours.) If you are unhappy about how you look in your tichel, here is some advice and encouragement; you, too, can look “more tzniut and more stylish – more mysterious”; yes, more holy and more feminine, beautiful and glamorous too!

·      First of all, who says that the tichel could or should reveal any hair? Try to become more diligent about covering your hair completely, and you will see that your beauty and dignity will increase exponentially!
·    If your tichel doesn’t fit you, learn how to tie it better (there are great internet tutorials!*), and use some of the excellent aids available, such as “The WiGrip”, a velvet band which holds your hair in place, while simultaneously preventing the tichel (or the wig) from slipping. There are specially-made liners that give volume as well. There is no reason or excuse to be “perpetually shifting and pulling and tucking” anymore!
·    If you don’t feel beautiful – maybe you need to invest a little more effort into finding really beautiful tichels (there is an endless supply available both in stores and on the internet*), which will sit on your head like a crowning glory. You can decorate them further with ribbons and head bands, brooches, pins and hair clips – there is no end to the lovely things you can find in a trimmings store, a hair accessories store, or even places like H&M, that will enhance your tichel.
·     Since a tichel reveals and emphasizes the face, and particularly the eyes, more than a wig does, you may need to pay more attention to your make-up. A refined and elegant eye make-up will make all the difference in the world! Make sure to keep your eyebrows well-groomed.
·      Earrings do very much to enhance the over-all look as well!

But the greatest adornment of all is the holiness that you will emanate when you begin to cover your hair punctiliously, reminding yourself every moment of the day of Who is your King – and that you are His daughter! I once heard a certain rabbi say that the reason a married woman covers her hair is to be reminded that Hashem is her master – not her husband! It seems like a unique viewpoint, and be that as it may – it is a very holy act to cover one’s hair. Personally, when I tie my tichels, I am also reminded of the headdress worn by the Kohanim in the Bais Hamikdash.
 Letting go of that celebrated tefach, the much-disputed finger-breadth or hand-breadth measure of permissibly showing hair, can be a real challenge to many. Chaviva talks about her bangs, and shows them in her blog portrait – the look is, unfortunately, rather that of a sweet little puppy than that of a Jewish princess. As one who also always had bangs, I can understand the fear of the revealed forehead, which I used to share before I was married. (Once I had gone under the chuppah, though, I never showed a single hair in public.) I think the solution may be to try to accept on an emotional level that your image has changed; to admit to yourself that yes, I am now a thoroughly different person – I am changed and transformed, not only internally, but externally as well, and I am at peace with that. As a married woman one is always in disguise - whether I wear a sheitel or a tichel, my true, "revealed" self is not visible in public. In a sense, it is Purim all year round, and what you see is only a part of me - I am wearing a mask, as it were, and if that mask has no bangs, so be it. 

If that doesn’t help, I have found that a piece of sculptural lace or fringe can serve beautifully as a “bangs substitute”. What does not work however, if you want to achieve the maximum levels of holiness and beauty is to hang on to the bangs. You will be neither here nor there; standing with one foot in each camp, as it were, holding back a piece of yourself from Hashem, holding yourself back from growing, and missing out on that mysterious glamour in the process.

The key to achieving the full glory is an attitude of “Ashreinu – mah tov chelkeinu!” (“How fortunate are we – how good our lot!”). Let us be proud to be Jewish women, and let us be proud of our tichels – let us wear them as banners!

Shalom Uv’racha!

*A few websites with tichel tutorials and products that I greatly enjoy are:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Sock Manual

A marriage is generally founded on the following two-part premise:
     a)      Every man – even the best of them – generates a certain amount of dirty socks
     b)      Most of those dirty socks are going to end up on the floor – your nice, clean floor!

Because of this universally acknowledged truth, I have keenly felt the need to develop a Dirty Socks Marriage Manual in aid of all you young wives and wives-to-be out there.

The first thing to understand is: This phenomenon will not change, no matter what you do or say. For generations wives have suffered, raged, prayed, even tried to bribe their men into compliance, but the problem remains, unaltered.

I once read a cute article (if memory serves, which it often does not, it may possibly have been on, but I have absolutely no recollection of who wrote it. Sorry!), wherein the writer described how she had tried various approaches to correct the situation, such as attaching a cutesy Post-it note to a sock, imploring her husband to “Pick me up!”. Dejectedly – inevitably, I would have said – she had to admit that even this humorous strategy had failed. (The funny thing was, though, that when I made an - unsuccessful - attempt at locating this essay again, and entered “dirty socks” in the search engine, I found countless digressions on the topic – evidently, there is a lot of dirty sock pain out there!)

Therefore, I hereby offer a radical approach to the problem; an approach that aims at preserving your sanity and your healthy blood pressure levels:
  • Do not let his dirty socks on the floor spoil your good mood – just smile serenely, turn your gaze Heaven-wards, and (here it comes!) blithely step over them!
  • You may increase the efficacy of this method by humming a little ditty as you step along.
  • Strive to ignore the twitch of duty that might bid you to bend down and retrieve them, while simultaneously ignoring the twitch of rage that bids you to yell your head off and tell him what’s what. Also strive to banish from your mind the highfaluting lines fed to you by rebbetzins, kallah teachers, and such, who may have told you that a good wife always feels it is a holy privilege to pick up her husband’s socks, the dirtier the better; indeed, she feels elevated by it! These ladies weren’t doing you any favors!
  • In a real emergency, such as when his mother is coming to visit, you may kick the offending article(s) under the nearest piece of furniture. Hopefully this will prove to be a bed, but sometimes it might even turn out to be the dining table (floor-length tablecloths are of the essence), or the living room sofa – just ask this experienced wife!
  • There is no cause for concern – if it ever gets to the point that he really wants his socks washed he’ll find them and bring them to you, don’t worry!
  • Don’t nag, don’t even discuss the matter – just try to find the serenity to let events unfold; then shrug your shoulders and smile innocently and say “Oh, really – you don’t have any clean socks? What a shame…” Then snicker quietly to yourself. Having to go to his niece’s wedding in dirty socks will resound more with him than anything you could ever say. In a worst-case scenario, he will find that he quite likes wearing dirty socks, and then you’ll never have to worry again!
  • Never use the word “never” (as in “you never pick up your socks”), because you remember, there was that one time, on your wedding anniversary, when he wanted to impress you, and proudly put three socks in the hamper. Obviously he overlooked the other seven under the bed, but still, you know – he did it!
  • Always avoid the word “always” (“you always leave your dirty socks on the floor”), because you know very well that once he left them in the car instead.
  • Learn to say “Do I know?” and “Do I care?” – but in a loving way.
  • As a last resort, play dumb. You know you know best anyway.
Since I like to spread pearls of wisdom all around, I also want to share with you a great T-shirt that I just read, the message of which seems to be uncannily applicable to the issue at hand:

“L-rd, give me COFFEE to help me change the things I can change;
and WINE to help me accept the things that I can’t!”

Did I ever mention that I drink quite a lot of wine? Serenity now!

Shalom Uv’racha!


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Traveling Light

There are some people who are very proud of how little they pack when they travel, gallivanting about all over the civilized world with nothing more than a sleek carry-on case – and then there is me. My situation is altogether different. Any tasteful accoutrement that could possibly become useful in some remote emergency scenario – I’m packing it! I do not (yet) as Queen Elizabeth II does, travel with my own white leather toilet seat, but I have given it some thought... 

In any case, traveling light is not for religious people. Fuhgeddaboudit! First, there is obviously the issue of bringing the extra Shabbos outfit. And depending on where you are going, it may not be sufficient with one outfit for Shabbos – oh no, there has to be one for Friday night and another one for Shabbos day. I see it more and more even among quite non-materialistic women. Who came up with that? Is this a new chumra, a new religious stricture? Because G-d has seen that outfit, thank-you-very-much, and He gets fed up with seeing the same dress over and over, and He is drumming His fingers, as it were, waiting for you to come up with something new already? Or maybe it is based on the frequent changing of vestments that the Kohen Godol would perform on Yom Kippur? Five changes, back and forth between gold and white linen. Because obviously we all want to be very holy.

And that is only when you are a guest in somebody’s home; if you are staying in a Jewish hotel you need three outfits – one for Friday night, one for appearing at the Shabbos se’udah, and one for when you wake up after the afternoon nap, for G-d forbid that anyone should harbor a suspicion that you don’t own enough clothes. Needless to say, each outfit requires its own accessories, shoes and jewelry, and chad gadya, chad gadya – one thing leads to another – and this is coming from somebody who loves clothes, accessories and jewelry…

Then there is all the other Shabbos equipment. We are used to traveling to remote spots – spiritually remote, if not geographically – where Shabbos is barely known beyond a rumor, and everything must be brought along. Shabbos candles with holders and don’t forget the matches!; havdoloh candle, wine, bechers and benchers; a nice tablecloth of course, and a little something for covering the Challah (plus the Challah itself, obviously); a cholent pot; a Kosher Lamp for reading in bed and something to read in bed; masking tape for the light switches in case you should get absent-minded, and – it just never ends… "Her poor husband" you are thinking now, "all that heavy lifting!" Not so. He explained to me at an early stage of our marriage that his - rather impressive - muscles were purely cosmetic. They are no use at all. I do most of my own heavy lifting.

Kashrus brings with it its own packing needs. Aside from the frequent necessity to bring along certain food stuffs (try to find parve chocolate along the US highways, or bishul Yisroel tuna!), there are the pots and the pans, and the vegetable peeler and three colors of paring knives and cutting mats and sponges, and disposable plates (three sizes) and extra-pretty disposables for Shabbos (I thought we had dealt with Shabbos already…), and always an electric pump thermos for frequent tea drinking, even on weekdays, and kosher wine, and a proper corkscrew that won’t break and cause untold suffering.

And we always bring our own pillows, otherwise we can’t sleep. And hard-boiled eggs.

In my computer I have numerous packing lists, each refined for its specific purpose: for car vacations or air travel, domestic or international, for Europe or Eretz Yisrael, for Pesach and for the rest of the year, and a special one for a certain college campus where my husband is occasionally asked to substitute – complete with a map of our room marking each electrical outlet. There we have to bring our own linens and comforters and towels as well. And tables.

I even started working on a packing list for when the Meshiach comes, because that’s when you want to be ready and not waste time dithering back and forth about what to bring to the Holy Land. My dear cousin and I have been discussing this topic – we are in absolute agreement that among other things, we will need a special Meshiach kleid – a beautiful dress for greeting the Ge’ulah Sh’leima. May we all be zoche to do so!

So – no, traveling light must be something that the Gentiles have dreamt up for their own amusement – not something that applies to us at all.

I have just returned from a visit to my European country of origin – need I say that I was assembling my packing for about ten days in advance? Don’t ask! There is no need – I’ll tell you anyway. In addition to all the customary necessities, I went all out this time and packed an extra-small hot water urn, with an adapter to fit the foreign-type outlet – no more fiddling with pots and unreliable thermostats; I bought stuff for a really pretty Shabbos belt and sewed it together – and packed it; and then the gifts, of course…

And aside from the kashrus aspect per se, one must definitely take along some food, just in case. My husband always says a Jew doesn’t even go up in the attic without taking along a little something to nibble on, because you just never know. I used to think he was a little over-zealous, bringing along food even on air planes where we had already ordered kosher meals. Wasn't that enough for him? But he kept harping on his theme of how Jews must bring food wherever they go. 

And then we had a charming little adventure some years ago which taught me. We went to Eretz Yisrael with Turkish Airlines (first and last time), and on the return trip everybody's kosher meal consisted of only a mini-container of apple sauce and three saltines – because the main course, the Actual Food, had gone missing, and the staff had the audacity to tell us that this was the way kosher dinners came. If my husband hadn’t had some fruit and little bags of nuts and candies handy that he generously shared with his fellow Jews - including his wife - there would have been mass starvation, I can tell you.

This time I flew with Norwegian Airlines (which I will willingly do again), a discount airline that doesn’t even offer a kosher meal, assuming you would be willing to pay $30 extra for meal service. (Halal food they do have. Go figure.) So my dear spouse loaded me up with salads and chicken and Milky Ways to eat before the chicken – and the ubiquitous hard-boiled eggs of course – and the concept of schlepping has now taken on a whole new dimension.

Traveling light? No, I don't think so. But I simply MUST buy some of that extra light-weight, spinning luggage. Matching, of course. In pink…

Shalom Uv'racha!