Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Throughout our lives, we find ourselves experiencing regret, often in spite of ourselves and even despite our best efforts.

Regret is a compelling emotion, for several reasons. First, unlike most other emotions, regret can be spawned by both the passive and the active: we can feel it due to something we said or did not say, actions we did or did not do, words or actions said or done but with the wrong inflection or timing, etc. So in a sense regret encompasses both the positive and the negative.

Yet what I find even more interesting is the fact that regret is experienced subsequent to a given event. It is an emotion that links that past to the present. And it can inform the future.

So regret carries a lot of power, which like all forms of power can be used for good or the opposite.

Since my father's passing a year and a half ago, I have felt more strongly than ever my tie to those who preceded me. Experiencing my father's absence constantly, I have been unexpectedly thrust into a new mode of living, one defined each moment by the fact that I now have to wait until Moshiach comes to speak to my father again, to hear his voice aloud again, and so on. Existing in this way, the time I did have with him has become magnified.

We all take our parents for granted to a degree. I say this because it is very difficult for any child to truly accept that one day our parents will no longer be with us in this world. And so, unable to completely acknowledge that fact consciously, our savouring of them while they are in this world is ever so slightly diminished.

Throughout my life, I always loved hearing my father tell stories of his family before they came to Canada. I remember one visit in particular as an adult where I spent an entire afternoon sitting with both of my parents just listening to him tell stories and asking questions. Since both of his parents had passed away before I was born, the only way I knew them was through these stories. But also, by hearing the stories I got to appreciate a different man than my father as I always knew him: my father as a boy in Germany, as a preteen fleeing the Nazis on the years-long journey to Canada, as a rambunctious teenager in Canada, as a young man before he me my mother.

Yet with all that knowledge, I never truly appreciated who and what my father was until now. I realize, in hindsight, that I did not appreciate the strong sense of yiddishkeit he instilled in me, the torahdik mindset he possessed and how it imbued all that he did. I did not acknowledge the truly exceptional person he was, in his own quiet way. Because as boisterous and Germanic as my father was on the surface, in the end he was always a man guided by the teachings he learned in the Mir back in Germany. Instead, it has only been since I began cherishing my memories of my father that he has come into sharp focus for me, only now that I have been granted a full view of him as a person, not just as my father.

The thing about regret is that we can either let it consume us or instruct us. I am happy to say that I have been fortunate enough to generally experience regret in the latter way, B'H'. Especially as of late. Feeling that sense of the past and consequently feeling its connection through me to both the present and the future, I try to honour my father every day by being the type of daughter he will continue to be proud of. And, by remembering that I perhaps took him for granted a bit too often, I cherish every conversation I have with my mother that much more. I try and learn from my previous mistakes, which I made at his expense.

So Daddy, I hope that I continue to remember that instead of being consumed by a sense of should of, would of, could of, I will continue to instead exemplify a sense of I should, I will, I can. Just like you taught me through your example.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Seductive Anonymity

Let me tell you, I've very much enjoyed reading everyone's comments on this blog. I've learned a lot from them, and have enjoyed the debates that have sprung up. (It's always nice to see people who are impassioned, especially over Torah. )

However, after deliberating for several days, I decided last weekend to disable any further anonymous comments. Basically, the vast majority of comments being left were anonymous, which resulted in the comments section becoming unwieldy. It became difficult for others to reference a given comment when responding, which I felt detracted from the whole "discussion" element of the posts. So I made the said change. However, since then nobody has left any comments! So I assume that people are concerned about being "identifiable" online. And that brings me to an interesting point about the internet.

First, I understand that there is a tremendous divide in the frum community over the internet and its use. And I empathize with both sides of the argument. Because, as a medium of communication, the internet has both good and bad elements to it, like everything else. So, I realize that certain frum individuals may be concerned about the chance, albeit minute, that someone in their given community could find out that the given individual has internet and that their children may consequently encounter problems with getting into yeshiva, shidduchim, and so forth. I have heard many people voice such fears.

However, I hope that people realize that even when leaving anonymous comments, those comments are never truly anonymous. If you know anything about internet protocols, you'll know that anyone can find out who sent what when. EVERYTHING, in other words, is traceable, whether you use a pseudonym, your real name, or select to be "anonymous". Don't believe otherwise.

So in future, if you don't have one already and want to leave a comment, please create a screen name for yourself. It literally takes less than a minute to create one. This way you'll still be "anonymous", but easier to reference with your chosen moniker.

As for ripples in the community based on how the community feels about media, etc.- more on that to come.

Shavua tov!

Thursday, January 24, 2008


It was a windy -6 Celsius/ 20 Fahrenheit as I made my trek to work today. I've noticed that the NYC weather people are particularly gleeful when the weather varies at all during the winter, since it gives them a chance to use mad terms like "chilly", "unseasonably cold", etc. in their weather reports. "Unseasonably cold" in particular always reduces me to hysterics, because NYC is balmy by Canadian winter standards. But that's the whole point; part of what I enjoy about these reports is the enthusiasm of the delivery. You can appreciate that the weather person has been waiting for a chance to report on weather that is extreme to any degree, since the NY area does tend to be a rather moderate climate. I can just imagine him or her waiting for a day like today in order to summon up the appropriate emotion.

It was this morning that I started saying Perek Shirah during my commute. And it occurred to me, while I watched everyone in that fascinating display of territorial stakeout that still bewilders me about NYC public transit, that you can choose to live your life enthusiastically and positively...or the opposite. This morning while I was reading, I tried to really drink in the beauty of Hashem's world. There I was reciting a phenomenally humble song of gratitude, and it reminded me how grateful I should be for this day, and every day. And yet what reminded me that I should display such gratitude, ironically, was the disparity between the words I was saying and the fact that I was slightly annoyed that I was sliding half off my seat, because my neighbour was taking up a full seat and a half of our two-seater. In other words, I noted that I was myself lacking enthusiasm for the given situation, when I should be like the elements in Perek Shirah and be oblivious to all but my happy place in the world. Because I'm here, and I'm here only to serve Hashem. Versus here to be annoyed by being pushed out of my much coveted seat!

Some days you can be filled with much emotion while davening, but that emotion doesn't translate into emotional davening. Instead, you're so preoccupied with your emotion that you end up being distracted. On such days, your emotion paradoxically disconnects you from Hashem. And yet, on other days, that same emotion can be the conduit for bringing you closer to the Creator. I was glad that while my davening this morning was initially distracted, I was able to do an about-face and channel my emotion into a positive connection to Hashem.

So with Perek Shirah, I'm trying to make every day an opportunity for positive enthusiasm for Hashem's world, in all its glory. Sort of like the weather people. And Hashem should please help make me capable of always translating that awareness, enthusiasm, and gratitude into the proper, positive connection with my Creator.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New Year for the Trees

Since there is about a half hour left of Tu B'Shevat, I figured I'll wish everyone a Happy "New Year of the Trees" while there's still time. :=)

I've always loved this day, even as a child. We used to mark it by eating figs, of course, which I admit to only developing a taste for in the last few years; I was definitely more into fighting off the other kids to obtain a date or olive. But we also bought trees from JNF, and I still remember to this day how impossibly proud I was each time I received that certificate (with my name on it!) showing that somewhere in Eretz Yisroel there was a tree because of my contribution.

While on the topic of trees, and nature in general, I've been getting psyched up to start saying Perek Shira. Being Ms. Friend-of-Nature, I figured that saying it would remind me of my place in the universe, not to mention remember to be extremely grateful to Hashem for the incredible beauty and purpose of His World. For all of you fellow nature lovers out there, I would definitely recommend it.

So that's the story for now. A Guten Tu B'Shevat to everyone, and let's all go eat some more boxer (and enjoy another beautiful sunset, courtesy of Hashem)!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Chassidishe Dating- A Responsa

I was very happy to receive the comment about Chassidishe dating for my last post; it raised a point that I now feel prompted to comment upon.

Most shidduchim are made in attempt to maximize success. To this end, couples are often assembled based on the boy and girl:
  • Sharing nusach and/or hashkafah
  • Being from a family that knows or knows of the other family
Such criteria results in certain families being deemed "good families", i.e. families whose children would be considered suitable for marriage. While I acquiesce that this criteria can increase the probability that the given children share common ground upon which to build a life together, I tend to also recognize that other factors play into whether or not a marriage is ultimately successful.

When I stated in my last post that "you knew your spouse very well before marriage", I was being extreme to make a point. However, my tactic appears to have backfired and the point was missed, for which I apologize. So, let me rephrase: while we attempt to minimize the risk involved in choosing a shidduch, all of us take a leap of faith when we decide to get married. We assume, based on either the agreed-upon criteria for compatibility (see above) or for any other number of reasons that draw us to the other person (they seem happy/ stable/giving/intelligent/ fun-loving, etc.) that they will be a good match for us. And really, that's all we can do: first form an opinion of the person and then make that critical decision. Because, irregardless of the length of time that you date and/or of how well you may know a given family and its values, you can never truly predict what the dynamic will be between two people once they are married. So you just do your best to garner a positive outcome and go from there.

I know couples with similar backgrounds who both did and did not work out, as well as couples with disparate backgrounds who are, B'H', happily married. I knew my second husband for three weeks before we got engaged; he proposed on our 10th date. This dating pattern was in contrast to my first husband, who I knew for several months. (I was formally introduced to my first husband by a shadchan at the shul we both attended , but he and I were both initially uninterested in each other. Suffice it to say that our view of each other changed.) My first husband and I had very different upbringings, but a similar mindset; my current husband and I have many cultural differences, but similar upbringings. So I have followed dissimilar paths to marriage, both in terms of length and "type" of partner. And while you could perhaps make the case that I knew my first husband better than my second before marriage, due the length of time that we took to get to know each other, time does not, in my experience, equal quality or insight. Although time did help to grow the bond between my first husband and myself, time did not leave me any better informed about how he would be in marriage. Because such insight about a person's ability to be married comes only after marriage.

And so it would seem, as I mentioned last night, that the mazel rests not in how long or even how well a couple knows each other; as the adage goes, we can never truly know someone until we live with them. Instead, it is how well each member of the couple is prepared to navigate differences and differing expectations post-marriage, and how adept they are at compromising that determines the final outcome. How well, in other words, are the boy and girl prepared for the responsibilities of marriage?

I have very personally experienced the havoc that divorce wreaks on individuals, their families, and the community. It is a tragedy all around- physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. I would never wish the experience on anyone. And so I write these posts in the hope that somehow, some way, by sharing my little thoughts I may help even one yid find and retain a successful marriage.

Hashem should help us so that we should all only know Shalom Bayis always.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Shalom Bayis

After receiving the comment that I did on Shidduchim, Part 1, which wished me better mazel with my second marriage than my first, I figured it was prime time to briefly discuss my perspective on marriage and its associated challenges.

I'm sure that everyone has heard the joke that the reason why our families can push our buttons so well is that they installed the buttons! I believe that marriage is two separate people coming together and creating a new entity, and in turn, a life together. In the course of our pre-marriage incarnations, we experienced different childhoods, different family structures, different life events. Those incarnations consequently resulted in each person entering the marriage with differing ways of reacting and processing experiences. Call them patterns, call them "issues", call them filters for dealing with various situations. But we all have them. I know I certainly do.

The main challenge then is finding a way to merge with someone who is not only completely separate from you (and who is the opposite gender and therefore possesses different priorities and coping mechanisms) but also has different expectations. Each person enters marriage expecting marriage to be a certain way, for each situation that arises to be handled a particular way, for each conversation to go a particular way. And those expectations need to be adjusted because the other person almost never possesses expectations identical to ours. We need to learn, if you will, to accommodate and respect these differences, to each of us adjust our preexisting patterns so that we can co-exist.

I also firmly believe, as unpopular a view as it is, that a woman's role in marriage is to help her husband. That does not mean acting as a shmata, tolerating abuse (has ve'shaom), or in any other way being subordinate to him. Rather, it means that as a wife, the primary focus in my life is my marriage, and my primary objective is to support and help my husband in any way that he requires it. I try, in other words, to give my husband what he needs. I will admit to occasionally overextending myself in order to fulfill this objective. But I know that he does the same. Moreover, I am diligent to not lose myself; by retaining my identity, I further our marriage, since you need two complete halves in order to make a whole.

I'd like to note that while we need to modify ourselves in order to accommodate the other person, this does not give us license to try to force the other person to fundamentally change themselves. We married someone, we chose them from millions of potential spouses, and we knew very well who they were before we married them. Why try then to change the essence of their personality after marriage?

So, in my humble opinion, we should cultivate in our marriage the sense that our spouse is our primary responsibility, and that their happiness is our goal and our privilege. As a wife, I try to create a supportive environment, a comfortable and tranquil home imbued with respect in order to protect my husband from the ills of his day. And by doing so, I believe that I am furthering him, myself, and our combined relationship with Hashem.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


While recently walking in Manhattan following a business meeting, I began reflecting upon previous waves of feminism. Yes, feminism. And it was interesting to me that most of feminism has been reactionary, despite attempts by third-wave feminists to construct a "true", global dialectic based on the real experiences of women. This failure to accurately reflect the day-to-day lives of women has resulted in a fracturing of the ideology, since that ideology is predicated on the notion that the role of the family is oppressive to women, that it robs women of respect and financial independence. Rooted as it is in a Western, socialist mindset, a mindset that separates identity and life in general from religion, feminism responds to the question of gender by answering that women's minds must be changed in order to understand that the world and their identity therein is political, that their sense of self is rooted in an economic model that is imbalanced and must be balanced- by feminism. This model, you'll note, makes no mention of Hashem.

Yet if feminism balances the enslavement caused by consumerist, capitalist economics, then why do so many people still chose to have a family? Why, moreover, do so many women now work to the point of exhaustion in order to have both a family and work outside of the home? If the feminist ideology states that gender is a construct, that children are a consumer item that feeds the capitalist economy, then what has that ideology been successful in changing?

One could find fodder for the opinion then, that feminism has not really addressed the universal desire amongst people to have, as my husband puts it, a legacy. Canadian economist Harold Innis coined the theory that cultures are either spatial or temporal; spatial cultures are ones that focus on geography (i.e. this land is my heritage and constructs my identity) versus temporal cultures, which focus on establishing continuity across time (i.e. my culture and identity is rooted in the morality of my predecessors). Under this concept of cultures then, children are rooted in economics for spatial cultures (my child supports the economy of the given country and, in turn world) and in continuity for temporal cultures (my child will carry on the name and morality of my fore bearers). While feminism has attempted to address the former reason for children, the ideology has not made room for the latter.

Women have, in frumkeit, always been defined as equal to men. Moreover, women have always been granted financial rights: they can possess property, are entitled to retaining their earnings, etc. It is the acknowledgment of women's traditional role in the home that is precisely the reason for women's exclusion from performing certain mitzvot; such an exclusion, in other words, is due to the equal respect and consideration given to the role of women, not because women are deemed incapable or unworthy. They are simply released from the obligation to perform those mitzvot. Feminism fails to take into account these disparities of economics and identity between feminism and frumkeit.

Why am I devoting so much verbiage to an ideology that is irrelevant to yiddishkeit, that cannot accurately represent the reality of frum women? First, I mention this gap because I believe that feminism has infiltrated the frum community. It could stem from the rise of Baalei Teshuvah in North America, or from the increasing number of frum people who are seeking a secular education in order to further their economic status, or from many other reasons. Regardless, it is this conflicting ideology that is helping convince singles to stay single, this ideology that is convincing both young men and young women to contemplate alternate versions of yiddishkeit.

The Harold Innis theory leaves out a third type of culture, which I am now charting, namely a hybrid culture that I will label spatial/temporal. In this third type, of which yiddishkeit is an example, the given culture gives equal emphasis to the temporal (i.e. Torah) and spatial (i.e. Eretz Yisrael). How does this labelling of yiddishkeit as a hybrid culture affect gender and economics? Under this label, gender is based on the examples of the matriarchs and patriarchs, on living your life as exemplified by those individuals. Identity and economics become rooted in turn in the concepts and laws documented in the Torah- the word of Hashem. That is why yiddishkeit is a "world religion"; yiddin can live their lives in Asia the same as they do in Florida, or anywhere else. Until gallus ends anyway.

For those who acknowledge Hashem, and the role of Torah, there should be no confusion then. Gender roles are acknowledged, respect is equally granted, and economics open to all. Now that's a culture I can be thrilled as a woman to belong to.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Proud Humility

While reading last week's parshah (Bo), I asked myself: why didn't Hashem just bring the makkot right way? Why the delay? I figured it must be in order to allow Pharoah to do teshuvah. Turns out, my artscroll confirmed my hunch. Then, since I was already unconciously mulling over the issue of timing, something hit me while I was reading in this week's parshah (B'Shlach) about the Bnai Yisrael complaining, as usual, to Moshe.

How dare we complain, I muttered. Here Hashem is continually performing open miracles, sparing us from the makkot as they befell the mitzrim. And how do we repay His mercy? Did we show gratitude? No! Rather, we put our foot in our mouths and whined to Moshe so that he entreated on our behalf. Which makes you wonder what the heck is wrong with us.

I started thinking about the trajectory of the Torah last week, as I was discussing Dinah yet again with my husband. I said that Dinah had a lot on her shoulders, being the only direct female descendant of Avraham Aveinu in her generation. As I was speaking, it occurred to me that the entire first sections of the Torah are discussing lineage in order to both set up the lessons of the Exodus, as well as demonstrate how Hashem controls everything.

The Torah begins with Hashem creating the world. Very promptly thereafter, in prime human fashion, Adam and Chava mess up and get expelled from Gan Eden. The story is repeated, in miniature, with Cain and Hevel, and Noach, and basically every generation through to Moshe. Over and over, while we had in each generation individuals who provided examples of middot to emulate and/or examples of teshuvah for inspiration, the vast majority of people evidenced an inability to serve Hashem as He wanted us to serve him, namely by following his instructions, e.g. Don't eat from that tree. Don't kill. Don't steal, etc. etc.

The Bnai Yisrael at the time of the Exodus evidence this behaviour, this imperfect servitude. But there is an interesting twist, which is why so many words are devoted to the Exodus itself. The Exodus underscores that the Bnai Yisrael were enslaved mentally. Their mentality was mitigated by 210 years of enslavement, which robbed them of their sense of self, of their awareness that they were here solely to serve Hashem. This mentality is understandable, since during those years the Bnai Yisrael lost their mental grasp of free choice, and were subjugated to the whims of their human masters. Once freed, they could not immediately shift their thoughts appropriately. Such a shift requires time.

Change is a typically a gradual, steady process, even when it is precipitated by a defining moment. That is why the Bnai Yisrael had to wander about for 40 years; it took them a full 4 decades before they could restore the necessary pride and sense of self-worth that would enable them to serve Hashem completely. Hashem wants us to have choice and choose His path. Therefore, the Bnai Yisrael had to recover the sense that they were completely human in order to serve Hashem with all of their will. After 40 years, free from the whims and demands of foreign peoples, free from being preoccupied with the will of others, and consequently completely independent both mentally as well as physically, the Bnai Yisrael were finally ready to be put to test and truly act as Hashem's people. And so, it was only then that they could enter the land and follow His ways as He intended.

Despite the existence of the State of Israel, we are still in gallus. In gallus, we are constantly exposed to alien ideologies (consumerism, capitalism, other belief systems, and so forth). These ideologies are just as powerful due to their pervasiveness as the ideology of Mitzraim that infiltrated the Bnai Yisrael and robbed the klal of their self-respect. We can therefore still learn much from this week's parshah and the mentality evidenced therein.

As Hashem's people, who exist solely to serve Him, we must retain our sense of self-worth in order to serve, as commanded, with all of our hearts, souls, and resources- physical, emotional, and spiritual. And, by retaining that pride, we can be strong enough in our sense of self that we can consequently remain humble, which is a formidable spiritual force as demonstrated by none other than Moshe Rabbeinu himself.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why are you dating?

Let's face it: New York is indisputably the largest market for Jewish singles. Period. That market breaks down, as does everything else here, into different flavours. The Upper West Side, the KGH singles, BP/Williamsburg, Flatbush, and of course, Passaic girls. To name but a few.

However, regardless of location, I have personally met scores of men and women who have evidenced a shared, blatant resistance to marrying. Blame it on the enormous pressure to marry, blame it on the seemingly endless pool of potential partners, blame it on the increasing numbers of divorced singles, or simply blame it on the burnout that accompanies the process of meeting people, meeting people yet not meeting "The One". But in New York, as elsewhere, there is a sizable percentage of singles who give ardent lip service to having dated nothing but a succession of dogs or superior divas during their desperate, valiant attempt to find someone. Which begs the question: Why are you dating?

I am probably in the minority, but I do believe that there is a very small percentage of people who perhaps should not marry; they simply do not possess and, for various reasons are incapable of learning, the skills that make a productive marriage. Most singles though do not fall in to this category. Why then, are there so many singles who cannot find someone suitable to share their lives with?

Many years ago, single and newly immigrated to this country, I was working out one afternoon next to an older woman who struck up a conversation with me. She proceeded to bemoan her history of dating louses, and listed her lengthy criteria for potential dates- tall, dark, handsome (and several other physical descriptions that I will not enumerate here), funny, rich, etc. To which I mentally responded, "But what do you have to offer"?

B'H', we all have something to offer a potential spouse, all have good qualities...but also shortcomings. I am painfully aware of my shortcomings, and see them as primary fodder for personal refinement. Regardless, while single I had the self-awareness to realize my strengths and weaknesses, and devoted mental energy to determining a few key qualities that my future mate should possess in order to complement me and push me to improve myself. By finding someone who could complement me, and vice versa, I figured we might have a chance of coming together and building a solid, productive future.

Many of us are either unable to identify or simply too afraid to identify what we really need. By afraid, I mean we would have to take stock of ourselves, which is an uncomfortable process, to say the least. Instead, we focus on what we want, which 99% of the time is the antithesis to what we need. The end result is frustration, because we do not find what deep down we know is what what we should want. Our shortcomings, in other words, write our laundry list of expectations for a potential shidduch when, if we focussed on one or two middot and determined how far we're willing to compromise in terms of hashkafah, we might actually find a pool of acceptable shidduchim.

There is nothing wrong with dating to date, if you:
  1. do so in order to determine what you need, i.e. create your list of desirable middot, etc.
  2. acknowledge that you are doing so to suitors so that they are not mislead
But please, be fair to everyone, yourself included, and admit whether you truly want to be married or not. Many people are mistrustful, having had bad experiences in the past, and shy away from taking another chance at happiness. If you fall into this group, then work on yourself so that you can move on. Because, like it or not, as a frum Jew, Hashem wants us to marry. The reasons for this are manifold, but it is important to remember that marriage offers the opportunity for tremendous spiritual and personal growth. It's difficult, and challenging, and yes, painful sometimes. But, and this is a big but, there is no justification for viewing marriage as a burdensome obligation that is optional. Such a viewpoint stems, to say it plainly, from a selfishness that runs counter to the essence of frumkeit.

So work on yourself. Learn to be less self-centred. Learn to contemplate the positives of opening yourself up to another person and putting them first. Because, as Hashem's people, we shouldn't live our lives any other way.

May all the singles currently seeking shidduchim find their bashert and their way to chuppah immediately.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Too much?

A brief observation about tznius in New York.

To be fair, I had heard Brooklyn-style fashion talk among ex-Brooklynites before I moved to New York. Yet my first Shabbos/Shabbat in Flatbush, I was flabbergasted by the spectacle at shul: women who took care to dress in otherwise tznius fashion (no colour, no slits in skirts, no collarlines of any sort) felt it perfectly acceptable to display jewelry the size and volume of which was colossal. And their sheitels were of course custom-designed just for them.

The sense of tznius evidenced that Shabbos permeates the thoughts and speech here in Brooklyn. When I had the tremendous mazel to get engaged soon after my move here, many women seemed most interested in seeing my engagement ring, which I admittedly would have probably never even given a thought to receiving if I hadn't been firmly ensconced by that point in frummie Brooklyn. More infuriating though, was my having endure the ever-present question: So, what's the name (of my chassan)? A question which, to my delicate Canadian ears, was incredibly degrading. We're people after all, right? Being reduced to a name in order to demonstrate some tangential connection, such as your brother's chevrutah's father was the rosh yeshiva where the chassan got smicha was, simply put, beyond my comprehension. The first question I try to ask kallahs is generally along the lines of "are you happy", or "when is the wedding", or even "will the wedding be in New York" (since I'm from out of town, I recognize that a wedding could theoretically occur outside the 5 boroughs). Versus "let's see the ring", for example.

My father, olev hashalom, was born into a cultured, successful family in Germany, where he studied in the Mir. When I wanted even simple details for my first wedding (which was incredibly modest by any standards, consisting of a backyard wedding attended by 30 of our closest friends and family), such as makeup for pictures, my father wondered disapprovingly aloud why I wanted (what he termed) a "peasant" wedding. Only people with something to prove socially (aka peasants) were concerned with appearances, and would in turn want to have anything beyond a very modest affair.

Being yekka, my father was being extreme in order to make a point. There is no need to make shows for anyone, no need to display for all to see what you have. Because, his point was, the thing is to get married and have a simcha, not to show off and meet other people's expectations. Be happy with what Hashem has given you, be modest about it, and don't flaunt.

Overall then, it's that sense of not flaunting that directs my sense of, well, everything. It certainly is what informs my sense of what constitutes tznius. While I have always had a preference for black, I also have a love of classic colours (brown, taupe, navy, steel grey, eggplant, forest green); while I have many suits hanging in my closet that I love to wear and trot out frequently, I don't feel it necessary to buy designer frummie clothing. Instead, I shop online from a catalogue, as do many of my friends. I can find, despite being close friends with some wonderful women who happen to be in the sheitel business, virtues in a synthetic sheitel beyond simply cost (easy to wash/set, immune to rain/sleet/snow, etc.). And, despite some tisk-tisking by other friends of mine, I believe it's okay to wear a skirt with a kickpleat if the pleat is located several inches below the back of my knees.

I don't need to scream Boro Park/Flatbush/Williamsburg by how I dress: I just need to blend in enough that I don't stand out. B'H', I've managed to continue to eschew displays of materialism even in Brooklyn. Because that mentality of humility in external appearances, of "don't embarrass others (and yourself)" with displays of what you have is, I believe, what true tznius is all about.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Mirage

Growing up back in Canada, we had a modest frum infrastructure. We certainly were blessed with kosher food and even restaurants, since most major Canadian cities (Toronto and Montreal especially) have kashrut organizations. And we of course had all different types of frum yiddin, and in turn yeshivas, shuls, and mikvahs enough for everyone.

More to the point though, we had a sense of solidarity. While most cities were broken down into frummie subtype neighbourhoods (the modern orthodox area, the yeshivish area, the Sephardi area, the Satmyr area, etc.), with most members of a given area sticking to their given neighbourhood, there was a definite sense of comraderie. Maybe it was due to the history of anti-semitism in Canada, but yiddin stuck together, and remembered that they were Jewish first, Canadian second. The result was tolerance for variation in frumkeit, because the prevailing mentality was/is that we had to present a united front to the non-Jewish and non-frum worlds.

When I moved to the United States, I lived in various suburbs, and in such places, as in Canada, you found a sensibility of everyone having to get along. There was even less infrastructure in such places, with often only one kosher shop, one mikvah, one shul (and in turn, only one minyan and one school). The mikvah and shop were generally not near the shul/school either, so you were required to drive to obtain kosher products or to go to mikvah. You certainly had to drive to get to the handful of kosher restaurants (1 milichig and 1 fleischig, if you were lucky). Imagine-if you had to go to mikvah on Shabbos or Yom Tov, then you had to wait.

One thing that attracted me to Brooklyn was the incredible abundance of resources. I mean you have gemachs, you have institutes with learning for adult women, you have choices for mikvahs, restaurants, kosher shops, tznius clothing vendors. The list is incredibly long and encompasses every aspect of frumkeit. And yet, the reason for this amazing infrastructure, namely the mind-boggling variety and number of frum yiddin, seems to net an odd result, i.e. a vague callousness in attitude.

Now I'm going to stop right now and qualify what I mean by callousness, because I don't want anyone to misinterpret what I mean. People here are doing unbelievable chessed, and are committed to their fellow yid; I see an endless display by my neighbours of fantastic kindness and self-sacrifice daily/nightly for both individual yiddin and the community at large. Rather, what I see evidenced is a kind of oblivious attitude in people's day-to-day dealings with one another. The carts blocking aisles/banging into you without an apology, the ear-pounding honking of the cars who can't wait for you to move at lights or while parking, the young men who don't give up their seats on the metro for pregnant women, the lack of hearing a "please" or "thank you". It is precisely because of the unbelievable chessed that these same people are undoubtedly doing that I have a hard time understanding this lack of common courtesy, of "politesse".

Perhaps it is because there are so many yiddin in New York, people from "in-town" appear, at least on the surface, to take their fellow yid for granted. There will always be another minyan going on, another shop to get goods at, another restaurant to grab a bite. And so, the average person doesn't seem to consider the person right next to them as they go about their business. A dependency on the Brooklyn lifestyle, an inability to contemplate a life "out of town" is coupled with an "I'll pretend I don't see you" attitude.

As I say, it's probably my own status as someone from "out of town" that prevents me from truly appreciating this odd snippet of Brooklyn behaviour. So, as I go about my day, I try to retain my sense of consideration for my fellow human being (frum, fry, or goy), by saying my "please" and "thank you", my "excuse me" and "would you mind" as my mother taught me. Because, I remain confident that, all superficial appearances aside, my fellow Brooklynites are trying as best as they can to create a better world. And so, in my own way, should I.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Brooklyn, eh

Now I know for a fact that I have quite a few posts in me about a favorite saga of mine, namely life in frummie Brooklyn. So I figure maybe I should explain how I wound up here.

I'll start off by admitting a dirty little secret, namely that until a few years ago, I had consciously steered clear of Brooklyn. In all my years of visiting the Big Apple, I had chosen to spend my time in Manhattan, with a day here or there in the Bronx (Zoo/Botanical Gardens) and a few Shabbosim in Queens. I mean, my mental view of Brooklyn was of a place plain and suburbanish, like a lamer version of Jersey. And, as a girl who had grown up and lived almost exclusively in cities, why would I choose to go to a suburb, when I was vacationing and had the city to explore?

It was a series of odd events that introduced me to Brooklyn. One long weekend a few years back, I came for vacation to New York with my girlfriend. We did some shopping, she visited family, and I made the rounds through some shidduchim I had lined up. As Hashem would have it, one guy I liked more than the others (no, he didn't turn out to be my husband), and we ended up seeing each other every day for the rest of my trip. The day my friend and I were scheduled to fly home, the shidduch and I planned to meet in the morning for coffee. But upon ringing him that morning, I was faced with a dilemma: he told me that he was going to Brooklyn to do his weekly shopping. Did I want to accompany him?

What was I going to do? Tell him that I didn't go to Brooklyn? I could imagine my ex-Brooklynite friends back home, laughing their heads off at the thought of me taking the Q train. Of even contemplating the trek out to Flatbush. Wasn't I the girl who, 24 hours before, had told my girlfriend that I wouldn't accompany her to Crown Heights, because I don't do Brooklyn? And yet, when he asked, I said sure, no problem.

Imagine the sweet irony I felt when we got off the train on Avenue J, and I saw all the shops, and all the shuls on Coney Island, and all the restaurants, and I was...hooked. I mean, I didn't delude myself- Brooklyn was no Manhattan, it was not even Toronto or even Vancouver. But it felt like a vanilla milkshake on a summer evening- both rejuvenating and satisfying. It smelled of spiritual opportunity. And what I had been longing for that past year, what I had been sensing deep down in my gut, was my need to live in a place that offered me a chance to continue growing. I felt that the wonderful community I lived in, as very special and unique as it was, did not offer me any more room to grow. I was stagnating, if you will.

And so, like that, I decided to take a chance and move to Brooklyn. Tune in to future postings to hear about how living in Brooklyn has given me an expanded perspective on frumkeit.