So that controversial Tzur Hadassah mikvah grand opening happened.

So many mixed feelings.

We moved here knowing there was no working mikva, and it may or may not get fixed one day. I’d say the same of most of the people who will end up using the now open-to-public-but-still-waiting-on-a-few-details Tzur Hadassah mikva. And it’s a pretty diverse but reasonable bunch – I’m guessing mostly traditional sephardi women, plenty of dati lights like myself, the dati leumis like much of my shul, and others.

It’s not half of Tzur Hadassah women. It might be a quarter. Very possibly less. I guess we’ll know more later on. But it’s a decent part of our so-called pluralistic community.

And apparently this fact is tearing us apart.

Let’s be honest – whether you believe it’s paranoia or fair concern, the bottom line of what’s causing the mikva drama is the perceived end-game – the mikva is one more (possibly the most powerful) step towards being able to advertise the NINE HUNDRED new units being built as ‘religious-friendly – – sukkot mirpeset-friendly – in a yishuv with dati kindergardens, dati schools, and a mikvah!’ #truestory

(Seriously. I mean, NINE HUNDRED UNITS – if you think – without religion as a factor – the yishuv won’t change in character from nearly doubling, you’re as naive as people who think ‘charediazation’ is not a thing. Shouldn’t we be complaining about nine hundred units as the bigger picture here?)

The end-game being that Tzur Hadassah goes the way of Beit Shemesh. Ramat Eshkol. And so many other once-moderate communities that are now predominantly or completely charedi.

It’s a valid fear, then, since we’ve seen/are seeing it happen. On the other hand, we do live here now, have certain needs, and it would be nice to live in peace in a truly pluralistic yishuv.

Do we pay in advance for a potential problem?

Or do all of us in Tzur Hadassah say, screw it, this is who we are – we accept one another in tolerance – we’re proud of our character – and we will stand strong to continue that way?

That’s what Matte Yehuda regional councilman Moshe Dadon said in his opening ceremony speech.

“I drive on shabbat. My wife drives on shabbat. But she goes to the mikvah.”

Why can’t that be an acceptable form of Jew? Why can’t we keep working to make the middle road the main road?

A peek at Tzur Hadassah’s first and only mikvah [PHOTOS]

It’s been nearly a decade, I believe, but here it is – started with allotted government funds, ended with a generous donation – the long-despised, the long-awaited, Tzur Hadassah mikvah.

The ‘grand opening’ ceremony was earlier this evening. I was totally surprised to find a facility on par with American/Australian counterparts:

The reception:

The bridal mikvah – with its own personal mikvah in the room. Where was this when I was getting married and went to Katamon’s shteiblach?!

The outside is fancy too:

Some important details:

Did I personally desire a swanky mikvah? I’m just happy to not have to go to Beitar Illit anymore. Am I a bit of a mikvah apologist because of how it’s making the wider community feel? Perhaps. Is it nice for good people to get something they felt they needed for so long, despite the controversy? Sure, I think a true pluralistic community would feel that way.

Mazal tov and תתחדשו!


Fifty-Two Frames: Portrait

The one day my son did not wear his beloved black kippa to kindergarten was the one day I needed to take a portrait shot for Fifty-Two Frames.

Divine intervention?

Since living in Israel, never has it been more trendy to debate religious practice, engage or disengage from extremism, ritually cross-dress, or hate people you don’t actually know in real life.

Personally, I think it would be healthiest for us all to stand back and examine the big picture more often. And then turn to the person on our left or right and offer a compliment. And a listening ear.

What does the portrait mean? Is it cynical, is it thoughtful, is it offensive?

Portrait of a misguided Jewish nation.

(Hope I don’t get in Rav Ovadia Yosef’s way any time soon.)

Week 24: Portrait

Don’t judge a man until you’ve thought a mile under his head gear.

Getting your feet (ritually) wet: An American-Israeli’s mikvah story

Perhaps, for a taharat-mishpacha-keeping American-Israeli olah (female American immigrant to Israel who keeps laws of family purity), nothing else can quite epitomize the cultural differences of here and there better than… the mikvah.

Because I got married in Israel, my mikva knowledge and experiences have been molded here. The closest I got in the States before emigrating was a very swanky, fancy Sephardic mikvah in Brooklyn, that my high school class was taken to on a school trip while learning the halachot (laws) in our senior year. A gorgeous facility, including pre- and post- manicure, robes, blow driers, and made-up balaniyot.

The idea to me seemed, pretty clearly, to make the practice more attractive.

Fast forward to 2006, when I became engaged in the monthly ritual in an old, very ‘Jerusalem’ mikva facility tucked into a shoddy building behind a meat market in Katamonim.

Out of any of the mikvot I’ve been to, I came to love it the most.

I hated going, but I loved coming out. I loved the sound of Kaaaaasherrrr rolling off the tongue of the elderly Mizrachi balanit. Deep, warm, the rrrrrr is what made me really feel purified. I loved that she wished me the best of luck, speedy pregnancies, a million children, a good life. I loved believing her, that it would all come true this month, even though the next set of birth control pills were somewhere in the depths of my handbag.

To contrast that, there were the few times I’ve gone in New York during visits. It was my hometown mikva, a place I had passed a billion times during childhood, the heavy red door shut tight during the day. I had known what it was, but I had never been inside.

It was classy enough, comfortable, even kind of PC.

And it was home. Imagine my delight when the first time I lifted my head out of the water, the middle-aged New Yawka balanit was shrilly calling, KOH-shuuuh!

I’ve even been to the mikvah in Melbourne, Australia. This was by far the most comfortable, beautiful facility I’ve dunked in yet. Everything was provided; everything was just right.

Later, when I moved to Tzur Hadassah, I experimented before settling on a permanent mikvah. I tried what seemed like a tiny pre-1967 free-standing stone room in Bar Giora. I visited Efrat, where I felt I had entered an alternative universe (we spoke in English of course). I’ve been to the small but equipped mikvah in Nes Harim.

But where I’ve mostly settled, and returned to every month, are the mega-mikvot in Beitar Illit.

Israeli mikvah: Beitar Illit

These are free-standing buildings with their own identities; secret entrances shield visitors from publicity. A reception desk greets you. Corridors of prep rooms are available. Two mikvot are rotated inside, available depending on your tradition.

And the pre-check questions, oh, the questions.

It’s a personal challenge. I don’t love it like I was able to come to love my elderly Sephardi balanit in Jerusalem. I’ve had to make the experience completely separate and personal so as not to claw at the kisui rosh of an unassuming ‘just doing my charedi job’ Beitar Illit balanit, who to her credit, as she checks the length of my too-long nails, never fails to ask,

‘So, are you from around here?’


P.S. I have it on good faith that I’ll be able to report on the ever-in progress Tzur Hadassah mikvah very soon. It’s been completed and waiting for electricity, so they say. Stay tuned…



On Jews, Jerusalem, Women and Walls

Note: Reflections based on my rare February and March 2013 trips to the Kotel. Based on today’s news, I figured today’s as good as any to post. 

I’ve been to the Kotel, the Western Wall, way too many times in the past year. Previously, I had a comfortable average of maybe once every two or three years. Maybe less. It felt long enough between trips. And the trips are always for the sake and pleasure of other people.

But throughout the last year, I’ve accompanied various visiting family members through the Old City, the pathway inevitably leading to the token Kotel visit. Some pray, some don’t. I never do.

The Kotel, the Old City, and even Jerusalem for that matter have come to symbolize discomfort, pain, ambivalence, shame, conflict. I don’t want to pray in those places. I don’t want to pray alongside people I can’t trust. I don’t want to reach deep into myself and summon a spiritual presence in such a political place.

You know where it’s lovely to pray? In a forest. There’s plenty of forest around Jerusalem. I live in it. I think it’s a not-so-big-secret that many other ancient sects of humanity get that we don’t. Man-made holiness hurts. Holiness existed before we did. Why wouldn’t we jump over each other to access that?

By all means, if the Kotel means something to you, enjoy it. Women of the Wall, Women for the Wall, women who wear falls, women who wear shawls. Men who throw garbage, men who who wear jeans, men who think learning is working, men who think working is earning.

When I’m standing in the Kotel plaza, I’m filled with anger and pain. So please, count me out. Take my spot. I hope though that between me and you and everyone else, some kind of spirituality will eventually solve our crisis.


Things I can’t handle #745873: Beit Shemesh Taliban mother and daughters. Visiting the Kotel in March 2013.


Where I am religiously. Part 2.

So – did you smile?

I guess I’m feeling a bit philosophical lately because today alone I managed to get myself into a gun control debate that, ahem, triggered… well… no resolutions for me… as well as a different thread about religious observance, pride, and – yeah – Rashi.

Basically, a friend posted the above image on her Facebook profile, and it gave me a good laugh – I haven’t read Rashi in years, but man that handwriting sticks with you. So I shared it again on mine, with the caption ‘and proud!’

It spurred an interesting thread, raising points I hadn’t at all considered when I had first found the humor in the picture. I’m not going to copy/paste for privacy’s sake, (and keep in mind it was more than two people), but in summary:

  • Why would I be proud to have shed my observance (which is actually not completely true) and be able to read Rashi script?
  • Actually clarified that my statement of pride was for being able to read Rashi. In my words: “as Facebook might say, for a lot of us, ‘it’s complicated with Religion.’ actually, probably for everyone ever. anyway – yes, I’m proud I learned this. I’m proud of the education I got. I’m proud I have a ton of info with which to use as the background for making life choices. for many people, staying as observant as they were growing up might be obvious. for me, it isn’t.”
  • And still for others, it is pride in no longer being observant, after a lifetime of being exposed to some ways, and then being able to make choices about going outside the box.
  • But why do you have to be datlash to read Rashi? What about everyone else? And why flaunt your non observance to everyone else? To, for instance, baalai tshuva who have chosen to embrace observance? And during the 9 Days we shouldn’t be flaunting our divisions, but focusing on unity.
  • My response to some of it: “I’m not really sure how any of this was flaunting or division… the way I took this light hearted attempt to make (some of) us smile is that, as someone who’s in the middle of a process, I might forget day to day where I come from, but it’s things like reading Rashi that remind me of where I came from… I have a sort of baal tshuva background within a modern orthodox mold. I’ve never felt I fit in anywhere. and a testament to that is the fact that along with abc which I do, and xyz which I question, and 123 that I’ve left behind, there’s… Rashi. which I can still read when I’m reviewing the parsha. that makes me smile. on top of that, I feel absolutely lucky (or maybe the word is blessed) that I was given the opportunity to study. that I gained this form of education relatively early on. for myself. so it’s not taken for granted, if that’s a concern.”
  • More talk of flaunting observance/non observance.

I couldn’t understand where the idea of flaunting came from. Divisions. This was a harmless joke. Why did it offend some, and rally others? I actually turned it over and over in my head. And after going out for a night walk in Tzur Hadassah – where both tank topped me and my Beitar Illit neighbors passed each other on the same road twice – I came back with this:

ok I’ve been puzzling over what I saw as a disconnect. does this help? (excuse the english-major worthy deconstruction) – I think the point of this image was to be humorous as long as the right type of person is sharing it. I think in the beginning of the thread, folks seemed to take it as ‘why would reading rashi only make you datlash?’ but if you’re less observant or no longer observant, it’s funny since that always stays with you; that’s the punchline – you may no longer be observant, but you can still read rashi. I’m not sure where this became about divisions. I also don’t think because someone is proud of the state of their observance or non observance, after years of consideration, that should be an offense to those who are observant. if we’re going to make it as a nation, I think a basic truth we have to come to accept is that after years of diaspora and challenge, bnei yisroel is going to be diverse. forever. and because of the world we live in today – one where democracy is embraced by much of it, education and enlightenment are long ‘rights’ – well, we’re all individually going to be different as well. forever. and there’s the 9 days lesson for me. yasher koach.

So I’m glad I was able to sneak in some 9 Days relevance before this weekend. I’m usually embarrassingly late to that game.

(And it’s ‘part 2’ because…)

Segulah this.

Shared with me by an old colleague, I thought it timely to post now after yesterday’s  religion rambles and rants.

Definition of segulah ranges from folk remedy to supernatural cure.

Best Time Tested Segulos

Segulah for recovery from illness: Go to a doctor (Berachot 60a, Bava Kamma 46b)

Segulah for longevity: Lead a healthy lifestyle (Rambam, Deos 4:20)

Segulah for marriage: Look for a suitable wife (Kiddushin 2b)

Segulah for shalom bayis: Love and forbearance (Sanhedrin 7a, Bava Metzia 59a)

Segulah for Kavanna in prayer: Take it seriously (Berachot 5:1)

Segulah to prevent drowning: Learn how to swim (Kiddushin 30a)

Segulah for honest Paranasa: Learn a profession (ibid)

Segulah for pure faith: Don’t believe in segulot (Devarim 18:13)

It’s nice to see practical Judaism once in a while.

(via Danny)

Religious views: Lazy.

I’m in a new place. It’s a place I’ve heard about, but never dwelled within. A place in time. I’ve known it’s been creeping up, have been expecting its tap on the shoulder… and here it is, plunked down and landed at my feet.

Not enough is spoken about this place. I wish more people would engage in conversation about it.

It’s like this:

I grew up ‘baal tshuva.’ That term has been impacting my life since I was in first grade and started to realize the difference between my family and other families at the ‘yeshiva’ (modern orthodox day school) I went to. That term haunted me as a child. I felt less-than, I felt unkosher. I felt, always, that I didn’t belong in the world I lived in.

There are milestones of traumas I went through as a kid in the modern orthodox ‘yeshiva’ system. Being called out in the hallway between classes, by the so-called rabbi principal of my elementary school. Lying about just how we got to shul every week, even as we lived 5 miles away from it. Getting caught not knowing certain terms, not having embedded rituals. In high school, never being ‘religious’ enough for my first love.

Attempting compensation, after compensation, after compensation.

Which is why, somewhere during- and post-college, this became my life ‘philosophy,’ (as Facebook gently puts it):

And it was then, the halachic nod-off post-institutional life, that I entered the next place – the placeless place. The lazy Jew who left home to see the world. Who moved to Israel to be more Jewish, and realized a country filled with Jews can be the most secular place you’ve ever been. The lazy Jew who wants to do more, but has spent too much time picking apart rituals that seem like they just shouldn’t be. The self-labeled community Jew, who, perhaps sloppily, observes the Big Three in private no-matter-what.

And now… Aside from this being an expose on my ‘religious state’ – it’s about my son. And pretty soon, my daughter.

I thought I had ’til age three. That was the magic number; that’s when I’d have choices to make. That’s when we could stop relaxing and start ‘educating’ and ‘leading by example.’ Somehow, our asses would get kicked into gear. Somehow, I’d have the balls to unlazy my ‘religious view.’

But it’s happening for us before three. Last Shabbat, my son asked to wear a kippah. And to humor him, I put it on his head. And then he insisted on wearing it to shul. I figured by the time I met up with him and his father there, it’d have fallen off. But it didn’t. Then he wore it through lunch. Then he wore it all day. Then he went to bed with it on.

And then, it hit me. I’m in a new place now. I’m in the zone. It’s happening, and I have choices to make.

For a kid this small, there’s no lazy or unlazy. There’s doing and not doing. Religious or not religious. Tradition A or tradition B. They don’t even realize until later what the other side is, what they’re missing by being one way.

Birthing my kids, I’m learning, was the easy part. Educating them – I imagine – will be a lot easier when I do the hardest thing I have to do: decide what kind of life I want to show them.