Tag Archives: religion

Yom Kippur Memory

I bless my kids every Friday night before kiddush. It moves me every single time. Sometimes to the point of tears. It’s my reconnection with the boys after busy weeks of to-ing and fro-ing. No matter who is mad at who, who let who down, who’s grounded or had their phone taken away – Friday night bentsching is sacrosanct in our home.

There is a tradition that Erev Yom Kippur we bless our children too. For some, this is the only time of year they bless their children. For me, on this day, thanks to Rabbi Artscroll, I bless them with the long version of the blessing, found in the Yom Kippur machzor.

When I was 16 my father was very sick here in Monsey. He was at the Good Samaritan hospital for treatment and we had been told he was close to death. We flew in from the UK to be with him. It was this time of year. My parents had been divorced for a long time by then and I had little to no relationship with him.

We went to see him Erev Yom Kippur, and he wanted to bentsch us. My father, in my memory, had NEVER bentsched us, never taken the time to reconnect, and until that moment I had never felt that I missed out.

My brothers went forward one by one, and my father placed his hands on their heads and intoned from memory :

Image from aish.com

Then it was my turn. My father had no idea how to bless a daughter. We scrambled around for a siddur so that he could find the right words. But the damage had been done. I didn’t hear the blessing, I didn’t feel it – truth be told, I didn’t want it. My father, who had not been present for most of my life, just proved to me, in that moment (in my mind) how little he thought of me.

I was 16 and I was hurt. My father died 3 years later, and at the ripe old age of 19 I had just got to the point of wanting to know him and to know who he was. Maybe he felt just as bad at that moment – maybe he just didn’t know how to tell me. I will never know.

I remember my father every time I bensch my kids. At this point, I remember him without the anger and resentment I used to feel, but still with sadness at what might have been.


Saying Amen

There was some discussion recently around our table about whether or not you can say Amen (lit: “truthfulness”) to a bracha (blessing) that you didn’t hear, but that you know has been made. There were opinions on the Yes side as well as the No side. The Yes side backed it up using the large shul in Alexandria as an example. Way back when in the mists of time, there was a shul in Alexandria that was so big, that the people in the back of the shul could neither see nor hear what was going on in the front of the shul, or on the bima. So, when the congregation needed to say Amen, apparently a flag was raised so that those who couldn’t hear knew it was time to say it. This, posited one of the boys, was the reason that we can say Amen to a bracha we didn’t hear.

On the other side, Amen is not a word to be taken lightly. Chabad.org, in an article on the laws of responding Amen, says that if you do not know which bracha has been pronounced, you are not supposed to say Amen. I always thought Amen was just another Hebrew word, but apparently it carries a lot of weight.

So, learned friends, I promised the boys I would ask my JewCrew for their knowledge to help us understand this issue.

How are wigs ok?

The other day I received this email from Chaviva.

So, my mom has been emailing me … about you. She had questions about whether you’re observant (the wig confused her) and now she’s asking how it’s okay to wear a wig when you can easily look hotter than you might without it. I’m not sure how to answer her, as I’ve never really looked into the halakos of sheitels because up until recently I’d always been in the camp where I sort of get where she is coming from.

Thus, I thought I’d ask you, my yiddishe mama, for a good response to my mom on the whole being frum and sheitels and it being okay. In the process, it’ll be a learning experience for me, for my mom, and probably blog fodder for you 🙂

Chavi – I hope you direct your mom over here – I am going to try to explain…although this is an age old discussion….

This is an excellent question and raises an important discussion topic. I have often felt that some of the wigs worn nowadays (yes, mine included) defeat the whole purpose of tzniut (modesty) and kisui rosh (hair covering). I have, in the past, criticized those who wore awesome looking human hair wigs that totally looked unwiglike.

Then I bought myself one of them as I was so sick and tired of wearing synthetics that gave me constant headaches. Suddenly, covering my hair was a pleasure instead of a chore. Suddenly I wanted to cover my hair with my wig because I felt good in it.

In the community where I lived it was more common and accepted for married women to wear wigs. When I first joined that community, upon my first marriage, in order to fit in, I purchased my first wig. No one in my family had ever covered their hair before, let alone wore wigs. I desperately wanted to fit in to my new community. But I hated wearing it. I kept it for special occasions.

Over the years, whenever I got dressed up, I would wear a wig. I never felt, personally, that my outfit was complete if I was wearing just a hat or a headscarf. Now, when I hang out in my denim skirts and tees, I wear a bandanna or a mitpachat, or my braided tichels.

After my divorce, I uncovered my hair. It was something I did for myself. Read more about that here. I had many long talks with my Rebbetzin about hair covering and the whys and wherefores. She explained to me one time, that part of covering our hair when we are married is to remind US that we are married, not just to show everyone else that we are taken. When we have a hair covering on our head it makes us think twice before we do something we shouldn’t do.

The wigs that are worn these days by many of us, yes, they do kind of defeat the purpose. But nowhere does it say that we have to look ugly or less attractive just because we are married. I like to know I look pretty – not just for my husband, but for ME, for my own feelings of self worth. But I don’t know of one husband who wants to run his hands through his wife’s wig because it is so gorgeous. The real hair wins every time on that score. (My KoD says I look hotter without the sheitel, just FYI).

So to answer Mom’s question – is it ok? I don’t know. Is it done? Absolutely. Does that make it right? Hmmm.

If anyone else wants to chime in, go right ahead.

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New Rule – household help must be uglier than you.

A friend forwarded this link to me, and asked me for my thoughts. I had heard vague talk about it, but had no time to pay it any attention. Click to watch the video.

This is a video made for Aish by Lori Palatnik. In it she asks us women to do the sensible thing and make sure that the help we employ at home is not as cute as we are, not as skinny or skinnier than us, or as young. She warns us to not be stupid and to safeguard our marriages.

On the one hand I see the point she is making. Why deliberately put temptation in our husband’s way? That must be asking for trouble.

But on the other hand – are our husbands not grown men capable of knowing that it’s wrong to cheat, and that even if he sees a pretty young thing in his house, she is off limits?? Does he walk around with blinkers on, so that he never has to see someone who might look younger or cuter than his wife? Do we now tell all the bosses in this world that they are only allowed to employ ugly women lest a man might be led astray? Do we forbid our teenage daughters from bringing their friends home?

Why is she putting the responsibility on the women? Would it be our fault, then, if a husband cheated with the help? Or only if we hired someone pretty?

Most homes I have been in, when the help is there, the husband is usually at work. And even if he isn’t, he’s busy doing something other than ogling the help.

Has it happened that a religious man has cheated with the help? Absolutely! Has he cheated with his next door neighbour, his best friend’s wife? Indeed.

If a man is going to cheat, he will find someone to cheat with. No matter how hard the wife tries to keep all the women around him ugly (like it’s even possible) if he wants to stray, there will be no stopping him.

Lori Palatnik is a very learned woman, and I usually enjoy and agree with much of what she says. There is something to be learned from this video – yes a marriage is something to be cherished and taken care of. But it takes work from both. If a man cheats it is HIS fault not his wife’s.


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Dressing for shul

I try hard not to demand too much from the boys, especially in the summer where they are supposed to be able to chill out. However, yesterday, as they were getting ready to go to shul for maariv at the end of the fast, I insisted that my son change his shorts for long trousers. There was much eye rolling. Apparently “God doesn’t really care what you wear to shul so long as you show up”. Um. No. I believe it is inherently disrespectful to show up to a place of worship looking like you just stepped off a basketball court. The night before he had ridden his bike for an hour before maariv and I insisted he showered before going – I am apparently a very demanding mom. Seriously, to me, when you go to shul, you must show more respect than when you are just hanging out at home with your friends. It doesn’t make me a hypocrite – it’s not pretending that you are different, it’s just dressing appropriately for the occasion.

While there was eye rolling going on, his friend who was hanging out with him told him that he was going home to change before shul as his mother also doesn’t let him go to shul in shorts. Score one for the mommies.

Demanding? Or justified?

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The Kiddush Cup.

This might look like just a regular kiddush cup to most of you folks, but to me it symbolizes a whole lot more.

Four years ago, when I became a single mother, my friend Z! purchased this for me. The kiddush cup that had been used in our house up until then left with my ex. Which was fine. He was the one that used it twice a weekend since we had first been wed. He was attached to it and totally entitled to have it.

Z! bought this kiddush cup for me to use every Shabbat from then on, something that was mine, that had not been shared. If you look closely it’s more feminine than most of the bechers that you see. I have used this becher faithfully every Shabbat that I have been home, ever since.

That first Shabbat, making kiddush out of my new kiddush cup, was emotional. I had become the head of the household overnight, the one responsible for everything. I was now in charge of religious observance and rites in the house, and I was the only one old enough to be responsible to make kiddush. There were many times that my voice cracked while saying kiddush, that the tears rolled down my face, that I was overwhelmed with my single motherhood.

Within 2 years my oldest son became bar mitzvah and relished the opportunity to take over this religious rite. Initially I allowed him to use my kiddush cup and say the blessings every Shabbat that the kids were with me. I sat back and shepped nachas as he proudly voiced the holy words. And yes, there were many happy tears too!! But occasionally I needed to reconnect with that rite. I needed to remember the person I was that first Shabbat as a single mom, and how far I had come. How despite all the hardship that life rained down on me, that I remained true to the core Torah values, that I encouraged the same in my children.

Very soon this kiddush cup will be polished up, and put in a place of honour in my breakfront in the new home we will share with the KoD. He has his own becher that means a lot to him, and I am content to sit back and be blessed with his kiddush. Z!’s becher however will have pride of place and will always remind me of how far I have come.

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Asking a Shaila (a question)

This one is for the #JewCrew.

Let’s say there is a brother and sister who have a halachic shaila about family matters they need to ask of a rav. The sister follows one rav, the brother another. He asks his rav, she asks hers, and the answers are different. Who do they go according to?

EDITED TO ADD – this is something that they have to do together, not separately.

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You cannot possibly know

Unfortunately I have several friends going through divorce right now. It’s heartbreaking, whatever the circumstances, even when it is for the best. My divorce was a few years ago. It was rough and tough, and there were times that I wondered if I would survive the whole process. It’s mentally and physically and emotionally draining. My family and friends and my kids pulled me through. A minute at a time, a day at a time. Hell doesn’t even begin to cover it.

So when I was called recently for the phone number of my awesome divorce lawyer (something that happens all too often) I was surprised by the person on the other end. They were calling for a friend. She wanted to sound me out on what I thought might happen in this person’s divorce, like going through one divorce makes me an expert?! And then she says “well, not everyone can have as smooth a divorce as you and your ex had.” Say what?

Apparently, if you manage to put your issues with your ex behind you, and move on like grown ups and put the kids first, and be civil and cordial with each other, it means your divorce was less contentious, and easy and smooth. Ha! “Obviously you didn’t have any major issues to deal with otherwise you guys wouldn’t be talking to each other today”. Hmm, the fact that we have four kids together has nothing to do with it? The fact that these four kids need to know they have two parents who both love them to distraction – and are prepared to bury the hatchet for their sake – means that the hell we went through was nothing?

How dare she judge? Because I didn’t blab about the details to all and sundry that minimizes my experience? Because we were both able to get remarried – it means we didn’t suffer? We both did, believe me.

I ended up challenging her. I said “you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, until you have been in my shoes you cannot possibly know what I went through. How dare you minimize my experience?” – She tried to explain herself. “You made barmitzvahs together, you had him over to your house for birthday parties, you speak to each other when you bump into each other in public……everyone knows you guys are friends. How can you be friends if you went through hell? Besides, he IS letting you take the kids to NY…..” (yeah, she went there)

I explained that we are not friends, we just make an effort to get along for the sake of the children. And we have moved on. Neither of us wants to live in the past. We have new spouses, and new lives. We have acted like mature adults. Apparently that means I cannot really understand someone who is going through a difficult divorce. I cannot empathize. I cannot advise. Because me and my ex are civil to each other.

I have hakoras hatov (appreciation, gratitude) toward my ex. I do. It took effort from both of us to let go of the pain and anger etc. We would not have a civil relationship if either of us was not willing to make it happen. It requires work on both sides. But instead of getting applauded for that by this woman, I was judged and it bothers me. It shouldn’t.

Why can’t people just keep their opinions to themselves?

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Bracha from a Rebbe

I just received an email from a good friend telling me a big-name rebbe is going to be in town, and that I should go to him to get a bracha (blessing), you know, to speed up the move and the paperwork etc.

I have to be honest, previously I would have scoffed at this type of thing. The guy is flesh and blood like the rest of us, how can a bracha even from a learned man change your life? God is in charge, He’s already planned out my year, no bracha will change it. For me it was right up there with tying a roite bendel (red string) around my wrist – it works if I believe in it, but doesn’t if I don’t.

But this email gave me pause. Should I, shouldn’t I? Couldn’t hurt, right? And then I got to thinking, it’s extremely hypocritical of me to even think I should go. After all I never believed in this kind of stuff to start off with. Now that I need extra help with my situation, it’s all of a sudden ok?

Can a bracha from a learned man really change around one’s future, one’s parnassah, one’s heavenly decree? Am I a hypocrite if I do go and ask for a bracha for me, the KoD and our family?

What are your thoughts?

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WWYD – Shabbat Guest

So here is the scenario. You have an open door policy on Shabbat. Your friends know that they can bring a friend or two along with them if they are coming to you for a Shabbat meal. You like to have advance notice, but you always cook enough to feed an army anyway, so if you get a drop-in or two, it’s never a problem.

Your friends let you know a day or two before Shabbat that they plan to bring their single girlfriend Ms X along with them, as she has nowhere to be for Shabbat. They tell you she is so excited about attending. What these friends are not aware of is that Ms X used to work with your husband a couple of years before, and he cannot stand her. Being the consummate professional that he is, he never let on to her that she made his skin crawl. He has told you that just hearing her voice is the equivalent of nails on a chalk board for him.

You know your husband is going to be extremely uncomfortable having her at his table, but you also know that it would be mean and rude to tell your friends not to bring her.

WWYD in this situation?

(not my story)

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