Is it possible to raise modern kids with a less gendered tone? And other thoughts on my tzitzit-wearing daughter

Here’s how my kids tell it:

This morning, Koala offered Bebe a pair of tzitzit to wear today. Note that this on the heels of last week’s Bebe deciding to wear a kippa to gan (and actually doing it the whole day – I was more impressed hair-wise!).

So Bebe accepted his offer. I walked into their bedroom and found her putting them on, over an undershirt, before her sweatshirt. She looked up, beaming.

“I’m wearing tzitzit!”

And I was beaming too, and kinda chuckling, and before I could say anything, she was blessing them. Correctly. Standing there, shuckling, holding the strings in both hands.

I dutifully replied, “Amen!”

The rest of the morning I waited for her to ask to take them off. When we got downstairs she was only emboldened. She took out one of Koala’s old kippot and put it on. She repeated the blessing for the tzitzit and danced around the room. Somewhere between walking Koala to gan and following Bebe to hers, the kippa came off – it was too big and bothersome. But I watched Bebe stride into her gan, greet her teachers, and walk off to see her friends. Confidently.

Later, I asked her – very delicately – if during gan prayers she had said the bracha on the tzitzit. This orthodox-religious gan is located in a very secular-traditional town, with a generally pluralistic (for national religious lite) religious community. The staff are either dati leumi or traditional mizrahi.

I was trying not to put a spin on her experience. She reported matter-of-factly that she had said the bracha – and proceeded to recite it again. I asked, “with the boys?” She replied, “the boys said [insert mumble mumble ‘mitzvat tzitzit’] and then the girls said [insert mumble mumble ‘k’riztono’] and I said the bracha on the tzitzit.”

So let’s get this out right here: This is way less about religion for me than it is about gendered experiences. I don’t wear a talit, I don’t wear a kippa, hell, I barely pray and when I do it’s not to who you might think.

My three-year-old daughter, any way you slice it, is not considering God’s law when she is trying out new things. She’s curious about clothing and ritual. She’s testing out what other kids do. She’s figuring out boys and girls. She wants to be like her older brother. She’s heard me say boys can have ponytails and girls can have short haircuts.

She wants to be involved.

So she’s feeling it out.

That’s how I see it. Is it a sign that my attempts at toning down gender expectations are working?

I mean, there is so much to beat back. So much, it hurts. The colors, from birth. The clothing that reads ‘Daddy’s little girl!’ or ‘Boys get dirty!’ The behavior expectations. The princesses and ninjas. The kinds of activities on offer. The words directed at them. The way we praise. The way we criticize.

Involvement. Involvement in ritual, in activities, in anything we desire to try.

How much of kids is who they were born as, and how much is the way we’ve sorted them into genderized compartments?

I don’t think we should ban princesses or force boys to take ballet. I wouldn’t deny my son the opportunity to be a Ninja Turtle on Purim and, gulp, my daughter to try her hand at princessing any given year. Turns out, of all the chugim I offered them for the year, Koala wanted soccer and Bebe absolutely loves her ballet class.

So it’s in the little things – the things they ask about, the things they want to try, the questions they ask – that I try my hardest to leave it objective. So they can choose their involvement.

And are my tiny efforts going to make a difference?

Perhaps now that I have children – or perhaps the times I’m parenting in – probably both – I can’t help but see instances, trends, expectations in my childhood that molded me to be a certain way. They were everywhere then. And they are everywhere now.

Sometimes it makes me sick.

So while maybe my son’s ‘black velvet kippa’ phase was more about religion (for adults) than anything else, I really believe Bebe’s tzitzit-wearing is more about gender. And for her, it’s more about being involved. She’s asked to wear them on shabbat for tefillot.

I don’t know where it will go religiously. It’s actually more shocking that my son still wears his tzitzit than that my daughter is interested in being involved in a daily activity.

But this should be about gender expectations. We should talk about gender expectations. When applicable, there are actions to take to break down some gender expectations.

And, c’mon, little girls in tzitzit is just as freakin cute as little boys in tzitzit.

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…



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)

Finally nailed it: This is where I am religiously.

For years – maybe forever – I never really mentioned here my religious affiliation outright. Part of it was because I didn’t want to be placed in a box. Part of it was because I found it so hard to define. Part of it was because I honestly didn’t know.

In an article published today in Jewish Ideas Daily, author Yehudah Mirsky nails it:

…while Datlashim are no longer halakhically observant or formally religious, they have not merged into the secular majority.  Rather, they maintain a complex relationship with Jewish texts and spirituality, bringing much of their past into their new, present lives.  As the popular quip has it, the difference between Datlashim and ordinary religious defectors is that Datlashim want their children to be Datlashim, too.

Really, it’s my exact profile: I came to Israel, where we are honestly able to question, move around, disconnect, reconnect, with greater fluidity than I’ve found in other places. Or as the author describes it:  “a gigantic open-air laboratory for experiments in Judaism and Jewish identity, mixing and matching old and new forms, deliberately and on the fly, with vision and no little improvisation.”

And so many of my friends who have made aliyah seem to be in the same exact way. I was recently talking to my brother about it while we were visiting New York last month. Something about being ‘home again’ makes you wonder who you are and where you’ve gone.

Well, I concluded then that today, certainly in diaspora, it seems you’re either going towards the right or left, towards the hyper-halachically observant or the culturally-open traditional. Modern Orthodoxy is not sustainable – especially financially – so as I put it, “basically, pretty soon, we’re all either Herzl or Vilna Gaon.”

And that’s a major turn-off for me about living outside Israel, though I do see some of my friends back in New York going the same route. But what community will sustain them there? How will they remember the holidays if they’re not national culture? Stay away from seafood if it’s not hidden from view?

On the other hand – the quote above is not just a ‘popular quip.’  It’s my concern. I don’t know what will happen to my children if I continue this way. Can I provide a strong enough bond to the texts, to halacha, to tradition, if I’m not bound completely to it?

I feel my generation/community’s parents weren’t necessarily educated by the book the way we were – the gift they gave us in the Diaspora, post-Holocaust, was the gift of an academic Jewish education. We know halachot, we know the words of the ravs, we know too much. We know enough to ask digging questions that uncover dysfunction.

So here we are, with too much knowledge. What are we going to give our kids?

I highly recommend reading the article.

Protesting violence and extremism in Beit Shemesh.

The House of Sun has been pretty dark lately. And by pretty dark, I mean as dark as a ten-layer burqa on a Jewish woman.

I  haven’t written about it here, but you can learn more about the abuse of 8-year-old dati leumi Na’ama Margolies, signs ordering women how to modestly walk the streets, and the  whole drama that erupted because of the Orot Banot elementary school that opened in Ramat Beit Shemesh this year.

Well, tonight is the public, national beginning/culmination of the Jew vs Jew misfortune in Beit Shemesh with an expected 10,000-person protest outside the girls’ school. People from all across the country, from all stripes, are expected to join together against the violence and extremism that has grown from the extreme Haredi sector here.

I think this is messy. Jew vs Jew is  bound to be. But even within the protesting camp, where there will inevitably be plenty of Beit Shemesh haredim opposed to the extremism (finally) – will the secular folks from out of town get that? Will they assume they are the evil ones? Will they begin to see the difference between dati leumi, haredi lite and haredi? Are secular people from across Israel prepared to learn that there are plenty of peaceful, respectful haredim out there? Among us? That they are related to us, married to our family members, that they hold jobs AND learn Torah, that they want to live and let live?

The protest is scheduled for 6pm on Sderot Herzog, Beit Shemesh.

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.