jewish, jewish conversion, Judaism, shabbat

Chaya Sarah

A few weeks ago, I was doing some Sunday morning shopping. While puttering abound the store, I noticed a lady was sort of following me around the store. This is not completely unusual when you are identifiably Jewish. A lot of people have questions about Judaism and they ask them in unusual places. Sometimes it is in the copy room, the clothing department or even the frozen food section. I finally turned to the lady, greeted her and asked if I could help her. I mistakenly assumed she had a question about something kosher. Instead, she asked my name, took a deep breath and said, “You did my niece’s tahara.” I am certain there was an audible “crack” as my jaw hit the floor.  I am used to odd questions and unusual conversations, but this was a first.

Rewind. Five years ago, I received my first assignment as a math teacher.  It was in a rural county and the test scores were the “second lowest” in the state.  It was one of those places where people made a living from growing tobacco and cotton and where a full set of teeth was as rare as an Ivy League education. My commute was nearly two hours away and I would stay at least one night a week at the home of a fellow teacher. My classroom was in the basement. It was the old shop room, and when I spoke, the echo was so bad, my voice could be heard in the next county. Of course, I was the only Jewish teacher, something that became clear by the days I took off, the way I sped out of the parking lot on Friday afternoon and the book of tehillim on my desk. One of my collleagues was a minister, whose mentor used an ArtScroll tanach to help deliver his sermons. He would come to me with his “old testament” religious questions. I have always wondered why I wound up in this district, but now I think I know the answer.

Fast forward. Since the frozen breakfast aisle was not the place to continue this conversation, I invited the aunt to a coffee shop. For the next two hours we hugged, cried and held hands. She told me her niece had long ago left behind her Jewish identity and her family. She settled in the same community where I was a teacher. Several months ago she found out she was ill, and contacted her family. They had not heard from her in years.  As the end came, she decided against cremation, but didn’t want to be dressed and made-up either. She said she wanted to die as a Jew although she had not lived as one. My former colleague was a neighbour who visited her during her illness. She told him she wanted a Jewish burial, and he gave my name to the funeral director. He didn’t know anything about Jewish burial. He did not know that I had been a part of a Chevra Kadisha since I was 20.  These are things that do not enter polite conversation. He just assumed that as a practicing Jew, I would know what to do. Like a lot of non-Jews, he assumed just being Jewish makes you an expert on your religion.  We should be so lucky.

After I was called, I drove two hours away on an erev yom-tov to meet a group of women. We had one purpose. We were to  quietly assist a woman whose Hebrew name was Chaya Sarah leave this world and enter the next.

As we drank coffee and shed tears, I was afraid that Chaya Sara’s aunt would ask me specific questions I couldn’t answer. Fortunately, she sensed that modesty, privacy and dignity were all a part of the process and left it at that. I was grateful for that. All she wanted was someone to listen to her.  I could do that. During that time,  I remembered something the Rav who oversaw my conversion told me. All Jews are ambassadors for our people.   That precedent, he said, was set by Sarah imenu. I was very uncomfortable, but for better or worse, I was now an ambassador.  It was my job to make sure she appreciated the people she belonged to.  We talked about life and death, religion and philosophy. For a while I forgot that I had not completed my lesson plans, or finished my Spanish homework. The laundry would wait and the Challot for next Shabbat would rise without my nudging.

When we parted, we hugged and I invited her for a Shabbat meal. I have checked with her a couple of times to see how she was doing. We how have a dinner date.

I am writing this because it has been on my mind all week. This week’s parsha is called Chaya Sarah, even though it begins with her death. The parsha recounts the “days” her life. Sarah was irreplaceable.  She converted the women as Avraham converted the men.  She was not just the wife of Avraham and the mother of Isaac. As a Jewish woman, she taught us that we have a role beyond wife and mother. We are ambassadors, a unique role within the Jewish people.  Sarah was taken from her comfortable home, and from her comfortable world. She was placed on a journey that led her to set the world on fire. She left her comfort zone to reach out to the world.  In doing so, she reminds us that the “world” is relative.  Sometimes it is as close as the neighborhood coffeeshop. May her memory continue to be our blessing.

Have a peaceful week.

American Jews, Israel, jewish, jewish conversion, Judaism, shabbat, Uncategorized

The Sane Asylum of Shabbat

As I write this, the Yazidis in Iraq are facing genocide, Israel and the Jews are being blamed for everything from anthrax to zoological catastrophes, and I am wondering if Jews have a place in the U.S. let alone anywhere else.  Thank goodness for Shabbos.  For 25 hours, I just get to be a Jewish woman.  During that time, I get to meet people and be a person who makes a meal, entertains and gets to be “Sarah” (Sarah, Abraham’s wife was known for her hospitality).  Nothing makes me happier than getting a text or phone call asking me if I can host someone for a meal.  Bringing a little bit of Jewishness into a person’s soul for just a few hours is what I think I was made for.  I may not have a cure for Ebola, but creating a good challah has its place in the world too!!!

This week we had 33 people in our house for supper and lunch.  We had people who have been a part of the frum world since they exited the womb, people who found Judaism as adults and people who were just starting on their discovery.  It was heaven.  No one cared who wore skirts or pants, no one cared about hair coverings, no one cared about who drove or not.  We were just a group of Jewish people, enjoying each other’s company, good food, and bring the peace that G-d says accompanies the Sabbath in our lives.  The best part came when someone leaned over to me and said, “Do you know what an impact you are having on people’s lives?”

A home made challah, some kosher wine, chicken and baklava can go far. 

Go Jews!!!

Have a peaceful week.

American Jews, Israel, jewish conversion, Judaism, Uncategorized

Human Shields, Human Rights, Human Indifference and the Flourishing of Evil


“We know that Hamas uses human shields. But why would you report this when you are sitting in the middle of the Gaza Strip, surrounded by Hamas gunmen?” — Reporter covering the war, who asked not to be identified*

The “leaders” of hamas give interviews from hospitals and schools, because they know they have the protection they need, innocent civilians. Other “leaders,” safe in their homes in Qatar orchestrate the media and demonstrators throughout the world like the pathetic puppets they have become. “Human rights” demonstrations in Europe and elsewhere have become little more than an excuse for the promotion of genocide. In Seattle, a demonstration included a poster showing a Jew drinking blood and eating a Christian child. In France, they have become a pogrom. The demonstrations have absolutely nothing to do with being human let alone rights. They are nothing more than a stage for Judehass and Israel bashing.  If these concerned demonstrators cared about human rights, they would be marching in the thousands against the embassies and consulates of Russia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and others. They would be demonstrating against the rape of women and children, child labor and the treatment of minorities in their countries. Alas they remain silent. Using this silence, Russia and its allies shoot down a passenger jet, and are on the verge of unleashing a war on the Ukraine. Using this silence, ISIS (part of the umbrella that includes hamas, the Muslim brotherhood, Islamic Jihad etc.) is on the verge of exterminating Christians in Iraq. Our politicians react to their demands by punishing Israel. The 48-hour ban by the FAA on flights to Israel was so transparent it was sickening. It was a ploy to hurt Israel economically, and it handed a big victory to hamas. Watch out Heathrow and Kennedy, you are now in their sights.

Jews are a soft target, and the leaders of Europe (and now the U.S.) are so adroit at appeasement, all they offer is impotent words, “anti-Semitism, bad, bad,” and then wring their hands. The goal of ISIS and their minions have in common, is to extend their influence either through a caliphate or through the terror they deem necessary to bring the western world to its knees. Our president should be taking every opportunity to demand that hamas cease using human shields, and encouraging Israel to continue to destroy the tunnels terrorists use to attack it. It was revealed this week, that hamas was planning an attack on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year). The attack was designed to send terrorists through the tunnels to take over kibbutzim and towns in the area and unleash murder not seen on any level. In the aftermath, the terrorists would be dancing in the streets, giving sweets to the children and rewarding the families of their martyrs with money, cars and other luxuries. We would be doing what we have come to do so well, holding memorial services and funerals and the leaders of Europe and the U.S. do what they do so well, sending condolences, and asking for restraint.

Last night, I watched Mike Huckabee’s outstanding monologue. He emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself. He talked about the extent that Israel has gone to protect civilians (leaflets, phone calls, dummy bombs etc.). He made the correct connection, “as Israel goes, so goes the U.S.” Our leaders tell Israel to negotiate, but how dos one negotiate survival?

I want to go one step further. As a convert, I have written that I joined the Jewish people because my soul was bound up with them from the time I was a child. I have no doubt, (as I am strongly considering volunteering with the Peace Corps), that one of the reasons (unbeknownst to me as a child) is that Jews care about others as much as they care about themselves (often to the detriment of the Jewish people).

Israel has been publicizing the plight of Arab Christians for years. Christians, like Jews once flourished in the Arab world. The tolerance of the Muslims helped produce the greatest Jewish thinkers the world has ever known. All of that is gone now, and the Christian minorities are learning what we learned long ago. No one cares about them. Forced to convert, leave or die (sound familiar?) they are quickly disappearing. The biography of Brigitte Gabriel will bring tears to your eyes. As a Lebanese Christian, her parents told her to “go to Israel” in order to save her life.

We do nothing as an American pastor, Saeed Abdeini, rots in an Iranian prison. I was shocked when Father Jonathan Morris appeared on Fox today to talk about the order of ISIS that the Christians of Mosul, Iraq convert or die. He talked as if it was something new. It is not. As much as I admire Father Jonathan, he has been silent on the treatment of Jews in Europe and until now, the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. He rightfully criticized the administration and western governments for their lack of concern and action, but he should have been leading the way a long time ago. Just so the Christians of Mosul know, as they pack up their bags and hopefully escape with their lives, the Pope is praying for them (read, the Vatican is doing nothing for them). I agree that prayer is necessary, and makes a connection to G-d we desperately need, but prayer needs to be followed by action. Father Morris needs to make the following connection, as the Jew goes, so goes the Christian. This might be too much for him to stomach right now, but it is true. I am sure he has read the words of Martin Niemöller. When asked how the Nazi’s came to power, he wrote the following:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.


As people, we need to remember that all it takes for evil to flourish is for good men, including men of faith to do nothing. We are all in this together.

*”How the media is helping Hamas” by Basam Tawil, The Gatestone Institue, July 27, 2014.

As the IDF fights for us, please remember to pray for them. They come from every country and speak a multitude of languages. Verses of Psalms (20,83,121,130,142) are considered powerful. Although prayer in Hebrew is like a local call, G-d hears prayers in every language. Here are a few:

He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our God, from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, and on the sea.

May the Almighty cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.

May He lead our enemies under our soldiers’ sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may there be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is the Lord your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.


Que Celui qui a béni nos ancêtres Abraham, Isaac et Jacob, bénisse les soldats de l’Armée de défense d’Israël qui défendent, au sol, dans les airs et sur mer, notre terre et ses saintes villes, des confins du Liban au désert d’Egypte et de la Méditerranée à l’Arava, sur le continent, dans les airs et dans la mer.

Que le Tout-Puissant mette en déroute nos ennemis qui se dressent contre nous. Que le Saint béni soit-Il protège nos soldats de la détresse et de l’angoisse, des blessures et des maladies et qu’il envoie la bénédiction et la réussite dans toutes les entreprises de leurs mains.

Qu’Il annihile nos ennemis sous leurs pieds et qu’Il ceigne nos soldats de la couronne de la victoire, du diadème triomphal. Et que se réalise pour eux le verset : « Car c’est l’Eternel, votre Dieu, qui marche avec vous, afin de combattre pour vous contre vos ennemis et de vous procurer la victoire.


Él, que bendijo a nuestros patriarcas Abraham, Itzjak y Iaacov, que bendiga a los combatientes de las Fuerzas de Defensa de Israel, quienes defienden nuestra tierra y las ciudades de nuestro Dios, desde la frontera con el Líbano hasta el desierto de Egipto, y desde el Gran Mar hasta llegar a la Aravá, por tierra, por aire, y por mar.

Que el Todopoderoso haga que los enemigos que se levantan en nuestra contra sean fulminados delante de nuestros soldados. Que El Santo, Bendito es, proteja y libere a nuestros luchadores de todo problema y peligro, y de toda plaga y enfermedad, y que Él mande bendiciones y éxito en cada obra de sus manos.

Que Él disponga que nuestros soldados derroten a nuestros enemigos y que les garantice la salvación y los corone con la victoria. Y que se cumpla para ellos el versículo: “Porque es el Señor, tu Dios, quien va contigo a la batalla contra tus enemigos para que te salves”

Y ahora respondamos: Amén.





Judaism, Uncategorized

Aversion to Indifference: Why it is good to be a part of the Jewish People

Judaism abhors indifference. Read the list of founders and donors of any organization that protects human, animal or ecological rights and the list has an overwhelming number of Jewish last names. Mr. Goldberg might not write a check to help Jewish children get an education, but he will bet the farm on a children’s museum or hospital.   Organizations like the Peace Corps have an inordinate number of Jewish volunteers.  Jews make up a high number of Nobel Prize recipients. That is because, as a stiff-necked people, we like to shake things up. We try to change things for the better.

When people convert to Judaism, they give a lot of reasons for doing so, but the love of justice and compassion, the aversion to indifference ranks right up there. No one says, “I converted because I want to give up 26 hours of my life a week to keep the Shabbat” or “I just hate shrimp.” Behind every Jew is the belief that, “I can make this world a better place.”

This has been an awful week for the Jewish people. As a nation, we plunged into the depths of mourning as parents buried Eyal, Naftali and Gilad. We were sickened as an Arab teen, Mohammad Khdeir, was kidnapped and killed in revenge. Our reactions are different, and that is what makes the Jewish people different. It took the discovery of the three bodies (one of the boys is an American) before president Obama made a weak statement. He called Mohammad’s death heinous, a strong word he refused to use when the victims were Jewish and American. All of their deaths were heinous. Our president is the spiritual and political descendent of Jimmy Carter. He believes that Jewish blood can be spilled like water, and cares nothing about the death of an American at the hands of terrorists. He is indifferent.

As a people and nation, the Jews of Israel were sickened by this act of vengeance. We are angry,  and we are demanding the lawless individuals who took this boy from his family be found and punished. The words, “justice shall you pursue,” is seared into the Jewish psyche.  We know we are better than that.  As I write this, his murderers have been arrested. This is because, in the end, the uncle of Naftali Frenkel said it best. “Murder is murder. One should not differentiate between bloods, be it Arab or Jew.”  His words echo our heartfelt beliefs.  Of course, the murderers of the three boys remain at large, protected by their sick and twisted community and ideology. No one in Mohammad’s family condemned the murder of Jews, because by their very existence, Jews deserve to be murdered.

We are different. The value we place on life is different. Islam may be the religion of “peace,” but words and practice are two different things. Their leaders, at least at this point of time, elevate death and place no value on life. It is an affront to believe that Allah sanctions the murder of people based on their religion.  People who really believe this are atheists.  They believe they are G-d and can function in that role.  We cannot be indifferent to suffering. It is not part of Jewish belief. It has no place in the Jewish mind. It cannot be part of the Jewish soul.

The final phone call from Naftali Frenkel has been released. I cannot bear to hear it, but I read the transcript in Hebrew. Each boy was told, “head down” and a muffled gunshot followed. After their murder, there was jubilation. It was the same reaction from the same community that danced and gave their children sweets upon hearing of the deaths of 3,000 people on September 11th. They are indifferent to the suffering of others, we are not; we refuse to be indifferent.  No matter how estranged from Judaism we may be, that demanding little sliver of G-d in our soul does not allow us to be indifferent.

I am a teacher in an alternative school. Although I mostly teach math, I also teach U.S. history, including the civil rights movement. There are similarities between the deaths of the three boys, and a young teen named Emett Tillman.

Emmett Tillman was a black teen from Chicago who was visiting relatives in Mississippi. An outgoing young man, no one told him he was not allowed to talk to a white woman. Her husband and a relative kidnapped him, gouged out his eye, shot him, wrapped him with a weight around his body, and threw his body into a river. His body was found a few days later. Like the community in the West Bank, the people of Mississippi knew who killed this young man.   Those who killed him were never properly brought to justice, because their leaders were indifferent. In their sick and twisted hearts and souls, they justified his death because of the colour of his skin. The followers of hamas (I don’t justify them with a capital “h”) justify the murders of Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, and thousands of others on the basis of religion, or on failing to adhere to the tenants they impose on religion. Their murderers think out of the same brain. America is not a perfect country, but Jews have worked hard to fight indifference and we have been successful.   Jewish volunteers worked hard for change during the civil rights movement. They still work hard today.  They were also murdered because they felt their brothers had the right to vote and participate in the American dream. American Jews worked hard to change indifference into compassion and action.

I know all of the perpetrators will face justice. Mohammad’s will face it first because we do not tolerate this kind of behavior from our own people. We are not indifferent. We will not and do not stand idly by as the blood of our brother, no matter what his religion, colour and background is shed.  The “pintele yid,” that little sliver of G-d that presents itself to us makes us care.  It makes us act. It appears to us no matter how far we stray.  It is a pain in the ass.  It also prevents us from being indifferent, and when properly nurtured, can help us change a world.

Judaism, Uncategorized

Hashem Yikom Damam

I was watching the football game between France and Nigeria, cheering for “Les Bleus” as LeMonde reported the awful news. The bodies of Eyal Yfrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel had been discovered near Hebron in the West Bank. As I write this, the boys have been buried, and condolences offered. One the way to the cemetery, an ambulance carrying the body of one of the boys was attacked. This is clear message that they will not even let us bury a murder victim in peace. The Israeli army has destroyed the homes of the pieces of garbage that murdered these boys and the necessary manhunt is on.

For nearly two weeks we waited for our president to make a statement, anything to make it sound like he gave a damn about the kidnapping of an American teen. He didn’t of course. That would require a mensch. The same president who traded terrorists for an army deserter said nothing. Now he has sent his condolences and is calling upon “all parties to practice restraint.” What he really means is that Israel should do nothing, because as we all know, Jewish blood is cheap. Do our political jack-asses even read the newspapers? A “caliphate” now exists in Iraq, and the sole purpose of it is to bring the world to its knees, and use whatever force is necessary to make the rest of the world practice their twisted form of religion. Those who wish to destroy us have become increasingly brazen. There is no restraint Mr. president. It is time for you to put on your big boy shoes, grow a pair and behave like a man.   I know that won’t happen.   Just as it took a Churchill to follow a Chamberlain, it is going to take more than what we have in our pathetic congress and White House to deal with what is being unleashed upon our world. One politician who did get it right was Mike Huckabee, the former Governor of Arkansas. On a visit to Israel this week, he met with families, expressed his own outrage, and felt that Israel had the right to do whatever was needed to bring these boys home.

At a time like this, I do look for spiritual guidance, and words I can understand.  I found them with the ever eloquent Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. He explained that while we believe in an afterlife, resurrection of the dead and in Gan Eden (paradise), we do not place our emphasis on those things because we believe in life. We desire life. Each week we recite words that ask for life. We do not dwell on the afterlife because if the focus is solely on heaven (remember those 72 virgins every suicide bomber gets?), one can justify every kind of evil on earth. Historically, the Church justified burning at the stake, drowning and slaughter of innocents to “save their souls.” Today, it is the Christian world in the Middle East and Africa that is being wiped out by those who desire death, but whose leaders hide so they do not face it themselves. They rely on fools who are willing executioners. Christian leaders are unbelievably silent (but are hell bent on punishing Israel for not practicing “restraint”). I respect Rabbi Sacks, but I also believe that there are those who just delight in the suffering of others. These are the people who enjoy kidnapping and killing teenage boys.

I also learned that we say, “Baruch Dayan HaEmet” when we are able accept death. However, as decent people, we cannot accept what happened to these three boys. For this we say, Hashem Yakom Damam. May HaShem avenge their blood. We must pray, we must daven, but now, it is time to ask Hashem to back it up with an army. We have that right.

Hamas says that if any action is taken they will, “open the gates of hell.” Seriously? They opened those gates a long time ago. They have terrorized our world to suit their desires and bend it to their demands. They do not want a state. They don’t need a state, and they do not deserve a state. They are successfully taking the Middle East and Europe threat by threat, attack by attack. In time, they will have the U.S. as well, because we are “restrained.” People who hate us more than they love their own children take advantage of our “restraint” and desire for peace, to plan and carryout their next attack. There is a question we need to ask our president and leaders. What say you? Do we die on our feet, or live on our knees?

Judaism, Uncategorized

When a door is closed, G-d opens a window; The Neighbourhood Shiksa

The past couple of weeks have been amazing. I had no idea my blog would have the impact it did. The phone calls, texts, emails and visits I have received in the past few days have left me a very humble person. I was emailed or called by people from Europe, Israel, Mexico and the U.S. I was also asked to be a speaker for a women’s event. I was contacted by two Jewish newspapers and asked to give interviews about the “Conversion Crisis.” I declined to do this because there is no crisis. The personal prejudice of individuals does not equal crisis. A conversion is either valid or it is not. I knew the real goal of the interview was to get me to trash traditional Judaism. I also received an apology and was told that they never intended to question my conversion.

When I went to shul on Shabbos, I received hugs and was told how nice it was to see me. Nothing says, “I care about you” like a hug. My little Kiddush partner told me she missed me. Another young man asked my son if I could make challah for Shalosh Seuda (the third meal, often eaten in shul, on Shabbos afternoon) as I have done in the past (when I make challah, I think of Sarah; it is more than flour, water and yeast). Several people came up to me and told me they had no idea I was a convert.

On the other hand, I was completely ignored by one person who is normally very friendly to me. I learned she had left a very nasty comment on the page of another convert (making the individual cry). The comment was something to the effect of “you don’t agree with me, therefore I deem you not to be Jewish.” Sometimes people have problems that are theirs and theirs alone, and you can’t fix stupid.

It is this attitude that one can independently determine who is and who not a Jew that was the subject of a phone call I had with my Rav. He told me that people who are born into the Jewish religion have to rely on their mother’s word that they are Jews. I on the other hand, he said, am without a doubt a Jew. I have the Rav, witnesses and schtar (document) that prove it. He also told me that prejudice and stupidity are independent of religion. He is spot on there. We talked about our personal struggles as Jews that exist no matter how you come into the religion. He also told me that I am a leader, not just a participant.

The comments I received fell into two distinct camps. Some people felt that I had been treated badly because I am a strong woman and had nothing to do with my status as a Jew. I do not consider myself a particularly strong woman. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who (to my complete embarrassment) was recently denied an honorary degree from Brandeis University, is a strong woman. I am a shrinking violet.

The other comments were from people who were either converts or married to converts. They confided to me what they or their loved ones have been through. I can understand.

I received pleas from several people encouraging me to make Aliyah. They felt things are different if Israel. I doubt this. Israeli’s are like the French. They do not hide their opinions, and if you get two of them together, you get at least three opinions and when the third person shows up, you need an intervention.

I remember being told that, “there are only three things I require from a convert: they must keep Shabbat, keep kosher and provide their children with a Jewish education.” These are the cornerstones of Judaism. In other words, with these three requirements, everything falls into place. They are magnets for Jewish existence. I get really hot under the collar when a person, who has properly converted, through a proper Beit Din, under the supervision of a competent rabbi should continue to be questioned. Several people who contacted me told me they had been asked to undergo subsequent visits to the mikvah, because Rabbi Ploni2 didn’t trust Rabbi Ploni1. A rabbi who felt that I made rabbis into “the enemy” contacted me. He told me he requires a three-year commitment as part of the conversion process. He had been burned. I can understand that. Several people told me their own conversions had taken several years to complete. We should not be performing drive-through conversions. G-d placed many tests on those who became the first Jews. He made the Hebrews wander for 40 years before they could immerse and accept the Torah at Mt. Sinai (please, do not make the process take 40 years!) My first conversion through the RCA took over a year, and my second took two additional years. This included weekly meetings in which I had to learn Shulchan Aruch, and be able to field whatever questions I was asked.

I do not wish to blog a book here, but an individual from Belgium contacted me. A few weeks ago, four innocent people were gunned down at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. This event has left the Jewish community reeling and he asked me is being Jewish was “worth” all of this. It is, but I will write about this in the future.

Jews are facing several crises, but conversion isn’t one of them. The constant threat of annihilation from those who wish to physically destroy us remains. The destruction from within through intermarriage has destroyed more Jews than Hitler and his minions ever imagined. We are being loved to death by those who have traditional sought to destroy us. “Messianic Judaism” is seeking to become the fifth movement of the Jewish community. They are watching us, studying us and they are coming into our shuls and schools. They are incredibly well funded. They are taught to lie and “fit in.” They want to convert us, not through the sword, but through “love,” (when that doesn’t work, they will return to the sword), because they believe that the Jewish remnant must exist to welcome their “messiah.” I was walking down a street in old town Alexandria, when a young chap who was wearing a kippa and tizizit handed me a flyer. I looked at it and immediately confronted him. The flyer was all about how the Jewish messiah had already come, and was waiting for us. I flayed every “proof” he gave me. He in the end, he admitted he was not Jewish (despite the kippa and tzizit), but he was attending a local shul, and was appalled that I didn’t embrace him, because he “loves” us and had been welcomed by the community. I was stunned. He admitted he didn’t tell anyone his motives, because “Jews are still looking for the messiah.” He looked “right,” he was a nice guy, but no one in the shul had ever really talked or questioned him. He learned to “fit in.” Unlike a convert who wishes to become a part of the Jewish people, and is willing to go to unbelievable means to accomplish this, he just slid under the wire. This is a crisis we cannot ignore. We continually question the motives of people who properly convert, but we say nothing to a boy whose church has sent him to become a part of our community? We are ignoring a crisis that is not at our doorstep; it is sitting next to us.

Please daven for the safe return of:

Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah

Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim

Eyal ben Iris Teshura

Please recite Tehillim 120 and 130.


Judaism, Uncategorized

Never Jewish Enough: Reflections of the neighborhood Shiksa

Never Jewish Enough: Reflections of the neighborhood Shiksa


One of the stark realities of being a convert to the Jewish faith is you are never really Jewish.  In spite of having two conversions (through the RCA and through a Chassidic Rav, who felt my RCA conversion might not be universally accepted), I found out again this week, that I am just the Shiksa in the neighborhood.

Last year, the Jewish community of Richmond participated in a program to Israel for Jewish women whose children were under 18.  There were no other requirements.  The women who were handpicked by our rabbi ran the gamut of the Jewish spectrum.  I was not asked to participate even though I met all of the requirements.  When I confronted the rabbi, he apologized, told me he made a “big mistake” and that if he “had it to do all over again, you would have been the first person I would have invited.” I told him I expected to be included in the upcoming trip, and his reply was, “you got it!”

This has been an unbelievably difficult school year.  Failure rates are up, despite watering down the curriculum.  When I was contacted by the school district about teaching summer school because, “we need a really good math teacher who can deal with these kids,” I declined because I would be in Israel during the summer session.

Stupid me.  A few weeks ago a member of our community came to me and said, “I thought you were going on “the” trip this summer.”  I replied that I was, and they told me that my name was not mentioned (did I mention that the participants are hand-picked?).  When my name was brought up not only as a participant, but also as part of the leadership, the rabbi replied, “I have someone else in mind.”  It was clear, once the rabbi apologized, and I had accepted his apology, he forgot about the commitment he made to me.

The women who were offered leadership positions have something I will never have, a Jewish mother (my mum is a French Protestant).  It did not matter that I have two degrees, speak several languages, have been involved in kiruv or in my former community gave weekly parsha shiurs that grew so large they had to be moved from homes to a shul.  It did not matter that I have been published and have given lectures to hundreds of people.  The women chosen have never been outside of their cloistered Jewish homes, but it was clear, they are real Jews.  I am not.

I don’t mind stepping up to the plate.  I work a midnight bingo game to help fund my daughter’s school, a kiruv organization and local food bank.  I bring meals to people in the community who are ill, in mourning or have just had a child.  I am thrilled to host a family who realizes at 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, they will make it to Brooklyn in time for Shabbos.   I enjoy working with every kind of Jew from every kind of background because it gives me an opportunity to share that Jews should be inclusive.

This week however, it was made clear to me that our community is exclusive, and I am not a part of it.  I am not welcome or wanted.  I will not be a part of a community whose rabbi thinks I am their Shiksa.

I went to the summer school director and groveled for a position.  After having my head handed back to me, “We really needed you to teach math! We had to find someone else.  We count on you….” I received a contract to teach English (I have multiple endorsements).  I also signed up to take a class that will be taught entirely in French.

I want to leave, I want to move. I know I will face the same prejudice in any community.   When I told my daughters what happened, they cried with me.  Of course, they wonder if their mom is not considered Jewish, are they? The Orthodox Jewish world is the only world they have ever known.  I hate the thought that their identity as Jews will be questioned.  They are really good girls, but I wonder if they ever be anything more than bastards at the family reunion?



Pew and Us: What does Look have to say?

One of my teachers said, “statistics do not apply to Jews.”  This is why we should not pay much attention to the Pew study.  In 1966, Look magazine published an article based on research that the American Jewish community was disappearing and by 1980, there would be fewer than 10,000 Jews in the U.S.  Of course, Look is a defunct magazine and American Jews are alive and well.

After the publication of the Pew study on American Jewry, one intermarried writer (whose knowledge of Judaism could sit on the head of a pin) wrote that it is better for the Jewish community to disappear than promote “racial purity.”  Seriously?  If ignorance is bliss, this chap is the happiest fellow on the planet.  It amazes me when intermarried Jews, who have made a personal choice to become the proverbial “Jew in the woodpile” instead of a link in the chain think they have a message to give the rest of us about Judaism.  You don’t buddy.  It is over for you. You are nothing more than a statistic.

If you take a good look at world Jewry, there are Jews of every color, background.  I have met Korean, African, Chinese and South American Jews.  None of us look the same.  Jews are about as different as a people come.  Judaism has never been about race.  It is about personal, moral and collective responsibility and developing a personal relationship with G-d.  When Abraham and Sarah left their village and traveled to the land of Israel, they shared their religion.  Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women.  This has continued through the millennia.  Most of these people went on to raise families, support the community and if need be died a martyr’s death.  Judaism is an open religion.   Only a short sighted biggot could conclude that there is a “Jewish race” or that Jews believe in some sort of “racial purity.”

Why is the Pew study important?  It reinforces the reality that Jewish education promotes Jewish survival, and because it shows how American Jewry has changed. Over 50% of the Jews who are getting married are Orthodox.  Traditional Judaism is growing.  Traditional Jews are not easy to stereotype.  They do not speak in heavy Yiddish accents. They are not illiterate.   They have brought new life into dying communities.  They have established Jewish schools in places like Palo Alto.  They have large families (I have four children and that is a “small” family in the frum community).  They come from all backgrounds.  They graduate from Ivy League schools and are in all facets of American life.  They serve in the armed forces both here and in Israel.

What sets them apart is they are active in their community, but their community   revolves around Jewish life.  Because of this, they have a low intermarriage rate, estimated at about 1%.

Over the past three decades, leaders of traditional Jewry have followed the example set by Chabad in reaching out to assimilated and unaffiliated Jews.  Thousands of people have attended Shabbaton’s or studied a little Torah or enjoyed a Sabbath or Holiday meal.

The ability to open up one’s home and heart will trump another study, speech or panel.  The leadership of America’s Federations could learn a lot by following their example.  A little study of Torah and a well baked challah helps sustain the Jewish soul.

Judaism, Uncategorized

Pew and Me, The Wringing of Hands Begins

The Jewish world is a buzz with the recently released Pew research study on American Jews. Pulpits are on fire and “Jewish leaders are worried.”  The study is being quoted far and wide in our community.  It breaks down like this: 71% of American Jews are intermarrying and 1/3 of American Jews below the age of 30 have no Jewish identity at all. No doubt these numbers are tragic, but the response is worse.

In the mid 1980’s, a study announced that 50% of American Jews were choosing to intermarry.  Several researchers also reported that the best way to stem this tide was to provide children with a Jewish education (no Virginia, afternoon Hebrew school does not qualify as Jewish education).  That makes sense.  Young Jews learn about their unique religion, heritage, language and culture, and they grow up with and socialize with other Jews. The more they learn, the more likely they are to remain with and want to marry people of their own background. Wow! what a revelation!

Federations across the country announced they were going to do everything possible to stem the tide of intermarriage.  They held panels, discussion groups and stood by as their own children made the same choice.  The Federation of New York (and its sister Federations across the country) continued to give most of the billion dollars raised to “Jewish” hospitals that served mostly non-Jews.  The mighty minds who were so upset by the data, refused to acknowledge the companion data that Jewish education is the most important response our community can offer. Jewish education costs money.  I watched an interaction (late 1980’s) between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and a high ranking official of the NY Federation.  He proudly told the Rebbe that the Federation had given “a quarter of a million dollars” to Lubavitch educational institutions (mind you, the Federation gave hundreds of millions of dollars to institutions that did not serve the Jewish community).  With his cutting wit, the Rebbe replied, “Why should I be satisfied with just a quarter of a million?”

Now comes the Pew study.  Once again, Federations across the country have sprung into action announcing their panels and projects.  They are going to tackle the intermarriage and assimilation problem.  The reality is they will do what they do best, wring their hands, hold another junket in a nice resort and do absolutely nothing.

Judaism, Uncategorized

Pew and Me (part 1)

When I met my husband, I was astonished when he told me his sisters were intermarried.  I loved being Jewish, and as far as I am concerned, becoming a Jew is the best thing I have ever done.  However I did not realize how badly many Jews felt about their own religion.  As someone on the outside, I thought that Jews had this great pride and belief in themselves and G-d, and as such would never consider a non-Jewish spouse. I believed that the Jews had the box seats and the rest of us had general admission.  I was raised that the Jews had a special relationship with G-d and the rest of us should be so lucky.

When I met his family, it was a rude awakening.  My mother in law had sent all of her kids to “Hebrew school,” and my husband and his brothers had Bar Mitzvah’s, but she refused to educate herself about her religion.  She was “too educated” to worry about religion.  It was something she didn’t need. She was a “happy” assimilated Jew, and her harshest words were for Jews and the religion she knew nothing about. never educated herself.  That is something she has in common with every assimilated Jew I have ever met. 

I didn’t visit my in-laws in California very often.  I knew I was not welcome. We kept kosher and she went out of her way to serve pork when I was there.  It bothered her that I had found something in “her” religion that was special, and wanted a closer relationship with G-d.   She caused unbelievable fights between my husband and I and she enjoyed it.  She made him choose between her and me, and without exception, he chose her.  However, she was upset when I finally threw in the towel and told her she could have her son.  I no longer wanted him.  After that she left us alone.   When my husband realized she just wanted to control him, he became a better husband.  This is not an indictment of Jewish mothers.  She didn’t want him married to someone who who was more Jewish than she. 

As distant as we were, she would confide to me her feelings about her family.  I think it was because she didn’t have anyone Jewish to talk to.  She told me that her grandmother, Sarah, was the most religious woman she knew.  She adored her, and spoke of her with pride.  She gave me an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle that was an interview of her father.  In the article, she pointed out that her great-grandmother, Leah, would go to a frozen river in Latvia, and her son, (my mil’s father) would punch a hole in the ice so she could use it as a mikveh.  She showed me the sentence where her Leah wore a sheitel (wig), because “as a married woman,” she said, “she covered her hair.”  Then she told me how it broke her heart that her daughters had married out.  I was stunned.  I thought she was a self hating Jew.  She went on about how she never thought it would happen to her.  “I raised them better than that. I sent them to afternoon Hebrew school and gave them a good Jewish education. My boys had Bar Mitzvahs.”  Then she went on to recite the mantra of millions of Jewish parents  with her last comment in our conversation, “at least their children will be Jewish.”  When I got up the nerve to ask her why she didn’t make her expectations clear, she replied, “I thought they knew what was important to me.”  When I asked why she participated in the marriages, she replied, “I didn’t want to lose my daughters.”  What she didn’t (or refuse to) understand, was that by marrying out, she had already lost them.  They didn’t give a rip about their parents.  She raised her baby boomer children to be selfish and spoiled.

She felt she really tried.  She had received no Jewish education at all. It was hard to feel bad for my mother in law, but as she emptied her heart out to me, mine broke for her.  She would spin a cartwheel in her grave if she could read the Facebook page of her granddaughter. “Having a Christmas tree makes me happy!” My niece (her granddaughter) announced that each year, her sons get a new ornament they will hand down to their own children.  So much for “at least the grandchildren will be Jewish.”

Next the Pew study.