Wearing My Kippah Full Time

Jewish Deaf Motorcycling Dad

I’ve been slowly ramping up my level of observance for the past several years. Really, in the past year it has been almost an exponential growth. Each time I added something new (starting to use Tefillin, starting to wear Tzitzits, etc.) I kept wondering what would be the next thing I would do. None of these were preplanned. I would get an inspiration, start reading up on it to understand it better, then pick a day to bite the bullet and start.

Now I have to admit, I just said that none of these were preplanned, but in the back of my mind, I always started to wonder when, if, I would start wearing a kippah all day every day. I figured that would be the ultimate “outting” of myself. Everything else that I had been doing was pretty much internal, where nobody else would know that I was doing anything different. (except the few times someone walked into my office when I was davening Minchah)

Turns out the inspiration hit me after the Holiday season (Rosh Hashana through Simchat Torah). I think the reason it happened then was I finally went completely kosher outside the home as of Rosh Hashana. (I have been kosher in the home since getting married over 5 years ago) My conscience couldn’t justify me wearing a kippah when still eating non-kosher food. Still, this was the nerve-wracking change for me. This would be the one that shouts out to the world (or at least the people in my office) that hey, I’m Jewish, and I’m not quite as quiet about it as I used to be.

I calculated it carefully. I would begin to wear my kippah in the week between Christmas and New Years. Two reasons for this: 1) I would be in Brooklyn the week before this, and could find a kippah that doesn’t quite stand out, i.e. matches my hair color a little bit. 2) This is usually the time that the least amount of people would be around the office, most were on vacation. I could break this in slowly.

So after returning from Brooklyn, I started wearing my kippah 17/7. (I only get about 7 hrs of sleep a day, and roll around to much to keep one on while sleeping)

For the first two weeks, I was uncomfortable. (Understatement!!) It felt like I was wearing a 50 pound flashing neon arrow pointing directly at my head. I would wear a cap when I went to the cafe downstairs for my daily bottle of orange juice. When I took the cap off and moved around the office, it felt like everyone was staring at me behind my back, I could hear them commenting to each other on it. (For those who don’t know me well enough, I’m deaf/hard-of-hearing, and usually can’t hear people talking unless I’m right in front of them, looking at them; this shows how much my mind was playing with me) When I glanced back, everyone was doing their usual work, talking to each other about business, etc. No one was looking at me, or discussing the kippah at all, it was all in my head. I only received two questions about my kippah; my boss asked how I kept it from falling off (bobby pins or clips, plus now I’m letting my hair grow a little bit longer than I did before, no more buzz cuts), and someone I worked with in a previous project asked if it was called a yarmulke or something else, and was I becoming more religious. Errrr… yes, I guess I am!

I’ve noticed several immediate benefits. Now when I do Minchah in my office, I don’t forget to put a kippah on, nor do I feel guilty taking it off as soon as I’m done. It just stays on the whole time. Also, the other day I found my division head’s ID badge on the floor. That’s a “donut offense” meaning he has to bring in donuts for everyone. So he brought in a box of donuts from Dunkin Donuts. After he showed me the box, he took a closer look at me, and I could see the light bulb come on… He confirmed it when he said “Oh wait, you can’t have these, can you?” Next time I’ll print out a list of where to find kosher donuts in the area!

Really, the only problem I’ve run into with wearing my kippah full time occurred at home. Twice now I reached up when in the shower and realized I still had the kippah on. As Homer Simpson would put it… D’OH!!

Originally posted April 17, 2007

I Really Have to Watch What I Say…

I haven’t been writing recently. Both here and my regular blog. There were several reasons, including the birth of my third daughter, things getting busy at work, getting very active in a new hobby, etc. But I think the one overwhelming reason was an incident I had just before Rosh Hashana last year.

A group I belong to has an email list, and we began sending each other “Shana Tova” greetings. One person sent out “Have an easy fast!” Now let me back up a little bit here. I’m sometimes a bit of a jokester. I like making people laugh, usually with light teasing, with emphasis on the light, I never try for mean humor, demeaning someone.

So I sent an e-mail out pointing out that Yom Kippur was in 10 days, and tonight (it was the day of Erev Rosh Hashana) “I plan to Feast, not Fast!” I had just meant it as a joke in the similarity between, yet totally opposite meanings of, the words ‘Feast’ and ‘Fast.’ However, while the group I belong to is a Jewish group, I’m the only observant member, and most of them know I became observant a few years ago (I was a member before I became observant).

My friend took my message not as a joke, but as if I was scolding him about not knowing the difference between the holidays, and also protested that because he was diabetic, he doesn’t fast as it causes medical problems for him. While his message wasn’t scathing, it was harsh enough that I knew I must have really hurt him and led him to think I was telling him he needed to fast. I quickly sent him an apology, and told him I was only joking, again, about the ‘fast’ and ‘feast’ thing, I knew about his medical issues, and that I was by no means telling him what he should or shouldn’t do, nor did I have any right or desire to do so. I worried about it all during the Yom Tov, and quickly checked my email after it was over. He had replied back that he understood, and probably took it the wrong way, and there were no hard feelings.

However, it still really struck me that a casual remark, meant to be a joke, brought such a reaction. I have tried very hard to be sure I was not judging others, not making them feel they should become more observant as well, etc. But I guess there’s always the underlying feeling that someone more observant is trying to force others to be as well.

Applying Metrics to Increased Observance

The past several months I have been taking some intensive classes for my job. I’m working on Black Belt level certification for Lean Six Sigma (LSS). It’s not some new form of Karate, it’s a process improvement methodology. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_six_sigma)

One of the principles involved in LSS is that you can’t tell if your process is improving if you don’t have a way to measure it. (The cover of our text book states “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it!”) In fact, that’s one of my LSS projects for my job. My office will be undergoing major changes in the next few years, and we know we’ll be losing people. I’ve developed a way to capture a measurement of skill levels in the workforce currently, and we’ll be making measurements periodically to see if we are losing skills, or if we have enough skills in reserve so when we lose people, we’ll still be able to continue our function.

So what does all this have to do with BeyondBT? In my classes we’ve discussed different metrics to measure for different situations. So I’ve been wondering… are there metrics I can use to measure my growth in increased levels of observance? I can think of various elements, such as now keeping completely kosher, being Shomer Shabbos, etc. But for the most parts they are either/or. I’m doing it or I’m not doing it. (although I did build my way up to them in some cases) Maybe learning? Learning X amount of material one year, Y amount the next year.

Ultimately though, I couldn’t come up with a satisfactory metric to measure this. At least not so far. The closest I’ve been able to come is the feeling in my heart… feeling closer to Hashem, closer to Judaism, closer to feeling “right.” However, none of those are
measurable by any yardstick I’m familiar with. Maybe some things just aren’t meant to be measured; as measurements result in cold, hard numbers, rather than more subjective results. Still, if you have any thoughts on metrics, I’d like to hear them.

Dealing With Doubts on the Teshuva Process

I recently read a D’var Torah that really spoke to me. Part of it focused on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 25: 17-19

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt. That he encountered you on the way and cut off those lagging to your rear, when you were tired and exhausted; he did not fear G-d. Therefore… you must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget.”

It then brought us back to Shemoth (Exodus) 17:1-8, when the Jewish people just left Egypt and camped in Rephidim. There was no water to drink. The people questioned “Is G-d in our midst or not?” This was right after departing Egypt, after the 10 plagues, the miracle of the parting of the Reed Sea, etc. After such miraculous events, how could they question “Is G-d with us?” Moses is so annoyed that he names the place “Challenge and Strife.” Then, right after the Jews showed doubt in Hashem, the nation of Amalek attacked from the rear, picking out the weakest and destroying them.

Next, the D’var torah pointed out that the Hebrew word for doubt (safek) has a gematria, or numerical value of 240. This is the same numerical value for Amalek. And when words have the same value, it shows they are interconnected. Thus the fight against Amalek can also be seen as a fight against doubt.

For me as someone trying to become more observant, this is something I constantly face. Why do I try so hard to keep kosher? It would be so much easier for me if I went back to only keeping kosher in the home, but eating anything, or even just “vegetarian” outside the home. Why do I bother being Shomor Shabbos? Does it really make that much of an impact that I don’t check my email, or watch TV? After all, I survived for many years not keeping it. Why keep struggling?

And the biggest doubt of all. Why am I becoming observant at all? Is it really worth doing? Who the heck am I doing it for anyway? Does G-d really care what I do? Little ol’ me? After all, I’m just a speck in the grand scheme of everything.

The D’var torah ends by talking about how to defeat Amalek, and thus doubt. It points out that Amalek is irrational and counterintuitive. To overcome him, we need Faith/Emunah. It is not something we develop, but rather it’s something already inside of us that needs to be unveiled.

And subconsciously, that’s what I’ve been using most of the time to quell these doubts. I’m doing it because I’m seeing the truth in the Torah, and how it relates to all people, even little ol’ me. And if that’s true, then the Torah as a whole shouldn’t be treated as a “Chinese Menu” (e.g. I’ll take two from column A, and 1 from column B, I don’t need anything from column C.) I have faith that there is a reason for everything, even if I don’t yet know what it is. Seeing it spelled out, especially with the allegory of Amalek helps to strengthen my faith even more. Will I ever completely defeat doubt? Probably not. Like all epic battles, it’ll probably be one fought through the ages (at least until the Moshiach comes). But at least the tools to fight it off are more clear.

Transitioning to Shabbos

Jacob Da Jew recently wrote a post about how his brother-in-law recently joined the workforce, and now truly appreciates the “rest” you take on Shabbos.

For me, it was the opposite. I wasn’t Shabbos observant until about 2-3 years ago (I never did mark down the exact day I started). Before that, I couldn’t figure out how people could observe Shabbos. After working all week, I eagerly awaited the weekend to do all the other things that needed doing. Shopping, going out, having fun, taking rides, etc.

When I married my observant wife, she said she accepted me as I was, and would not change me to try to make me Shomer Shabbos, kosher, etc. And for the first year or so, that’s what it was. In fact I used to teach motorcycle classes once a month over the whole weekend. But something happened. I began to miss the Friday night Shabbos dinner. Eventually I made arrangements so I could be home on Friday night, but still teach Saturday and Sunday. But then something else happened. Now I was missing going to Shul! Huh? Where did this come from? I used to only go to Friday night services a few times a year. Now I’m disappointed that I’m not at services on Shabbos? Hmmmmm. Okay, so now I don’t teach on the weekends anymore. But still, gotta have my e-mail! I check it several times an hour when awake! Well, hmmm, I guess I really don’t get all that much email on Saturday. Maybe I don’t need to check that often. You know what, I don’t need to check at all. Let’s just turn the computer off before we light the candles. Give the hard drive a rest from its constant spinning.

Boy, this is really going to be boring. For over 24 hours, no TV, no computer, no driving around and shopping. What the heck will we do anyway? Well, Shabbos dinner on Friday night is nice. Good family time. Saturday morning I get the kids up and let my wife sleep in a little bit. Then when she’s up (maybe with a little nudging from me) I go to shul (the wife and kids will join me later) and I really enjoy davening there. In the afternoon, I play with the kids, or they go to a neighbor’s house and run around wild there, and I get to take something I haven’t taken since Kindergarten… a nice nap. Some dinner, then if Shabbos ends early enough, Havdalah for the whole family, otherwise we put the kids to bed, and a little private time to talk with my wife before Shabbos ends.

You know what? I like this! I don’t miss the Saturday hullabaloo I used to participate in. It’s nice to get a rest in, take a break from the average week. I’ve turned 180 degrees, now instead of being annoyed with Shabbos “interfering” with my schedule, I actually look forward to it and the break it gives me every week.

Originally posted here.

When Your Choices Hit On All Four Cylinders

Once again, our esteemed BeyondBT hosts sent out a plea for posts, and sent out some suggested topics. Two of the topics recently hit home with me, so I’ll blend them a bit and see how it comes out. The topics were: “Kosher Entertainment, where to turn?” and “Am I really glad that I’m a BT?”

A few days ago (or a few weeks ago, depending on when this actually gets posted), I went, along with several other Jewish motorcyclists to the Virginia Holocaust Museum. Although our group was all Jewish, I’m the only one who keeps strictly kosher, both at home and out. I researched it a little bit, and there was only one kosher restaurant in the area, and they had a limited menu. I mentioned it as an option for lunch, and everyone else agreed to go there. I was touched because there have been other Jewish events where the basic message seemed to be “if you keep kosher, then just brown bag it, we’re going to Pizza Hut (or similar, non-kosher type venue).” For more info about my trip to the museum, click here.

In fact, I’m seeing this even in my non-Jewish friends. For example, before I started keeping kosher, I used to eat out with other deaf employees in my company about once a month. Once I started keeping kosher, I pretty much dropped out of that. However, they asked me if there were any kosher places they could go to once in a while. There is one kosher restaurant that is a little ways off. Basically a “long lunch” but not so long that we’d have to stay too late to make up the time. They said they wanted to go and “try it out.” Turns out they enjoyed the restaurant. (One quote really made my day, “THIS is what pastrami is supposed to taste like!”) Now every few months we go over there, so I’m still able to participate in get-togethers.

Another example happened in a week long training event I was at recently. The rule was that if your phone rang in class, you had to buy donuts the next day. One person at my table forgot to turn the ringer off after a break, and her phone rang. The instructor started listing off all the donut places. When he mentioned a Krispy Kreme up the road, I mentioned “Oh, that one is Kosher, I could eat those donuts!” (My rabbi is a mashgiach there.) Later I told her that it was out of her way (there was a Dunkin Donuts a block away from the class) and not to bother, I was just teasing. But the next day she brought in 3 boxes of Dunkin Donuts and one bag from the Krispy Kreme just for me! I was flabbergasted, but she said she wanted me to enjoy the sugar high that everyone else was getting as well.

When I first started keeping more and more Mitzvot, and made the decision that I would keep strictly kosher, I thought to myself, “I’ll do it, but boy, it’s going to be a pain, I hope I don’t wind up regretting it.” Instead, it seems to have brought out the flexibility in more folks, whether they fully understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it or not. This reinforced to me that 1) I made the right choice, and 2) I’m glad I made the commitment, because I’m not only seeing an improvement in myself and what I’m capable of, I’m seeing my friends, co-workers, and even people I’ve just met in an even more positive light.


After I finished writing the above, yet one more example happened. I went to a dinner last night for blood donors in my area. I ate a small meal at home before going, because I figured there’d be nothing there for me. The dinner was held at a local hotel. I saw a basket of oranges on the hotel desk, and asked if I could have one, explaining I wouldn’t be eating anything at the dinner. The desk clerk said that they keep kosher meals in the kitchen, and could heat one up and serve it to me at the dinner. I most definitely was not expecting that! I wound up having a nice (wrapped and sealed by the local Vaad) chicken dinner. More details here.

Maybe I should stop being surprised when things like this happen. But then again, the surprise, and the good feeling that comes with it, almost feels like a reward for following the commitment I made and not taking the easy way out.

And so it begins…

My oldest daughter, turns 5 this summer. That means it’s time to start kindergarten. Before we were married, my wife and I had discussed schooling. I was raised in public schools and thought they were excellent. She was raised in private schools, and the only thing she had heard about public schools were all the problems reported on the news. Still, I had told her at the time that I wasn’t saying ‘No’ to private school, I just wanted to consider all the options. Especially since we now live in an area that has excellent (nationally ranked) public schools. People move to our neighborhood so that their kids will go to the local elementary, junior, and senior high schools.

After we were married and had our current two daughters, and I started becoming more religious, I saw more value in the private schools. Not so much because of problems with public schools (I still think they are very good), but because I wanted my girls to get a richer Jewish education than I had received. They are both in the local Chabad preschool, and are quickly absorbing material that I’m still struggling with myself. (e.g. http://jdmdad.blogspot.com/2007/11/who-knows-one.html)

So now come the hard decisions. Where we are located, there are basically 4 choices for schooling:

1) Public school – No Jewish education, and would have to do the “Kids need Yom Tovs off, no food other than what we provide, etc.” dance pretty often.

2) Local Jewish Day School – There is a local Jewish Day School. However, it was developed by many people in the area and while it’s a good school, it’s not at as high a religious level as what we wanted for our kids.

3) Send to more religious Jewish Day Schools – There are a few Jewish Day Schools that are more religious, but they are not as local. The travel time during “rush hour” is about an hour each way, assuming no major incidents. Our neighbor does this with their current kindergartener, but others in our community wait until the kids are a little older before putting them through such a commute. On the other hand, the neighbor’s son does seem to learn a great deal there.

4) A new school – A few families in our community are working with our shul to see if we can start up a new program, initially at the kindergarten level, maybe to go up to first or second grade. It would be a more religious focus than the local JDS, but a smaller group of people, an untested program, and is currently still struggling to get organized.

We are still working on deciding what we will do. The application for the local JDS is due this month. We haven’t even checked when applications are due at the schools farther away, but really don’t want to see our 5 year old commuting that long. Our best hope is with the new school, and we are participating in meetings and all, but are afraid of putting all our eggs in one incomplete, untested basket. We’ll probably apply for the local JDS, but if the new school does fly, go over there. Hopefully we would know before the various payments are due.

I usually try to have a nice neat conclusion/learning experience at the end of my write ups, but this one is still very open ended. However, if anyone has suggestions/comments, I welcome them.

How Becoming More Observant Helped Me Beat the Xmas blahs.

By Jewish Deaf Motorcycle Dad

Every year I used to start getting depressed after Thanksgiving. The kids in school would be excitedly talking about Xmas, the teachers would put up Xmas decorations, and we’d always have assemblies to watch various Xmas movies. Sure, they would toss a dreidle or menorah in with the decorations, or tell me if I didn’t want to watch the movie, I could go to the school library, but I always got a real “outside the group” feeling. This just continued on through high school, college and early in my work career. Sure, there was no one rubbing it in, but when you go to the malls and see all the candy canes, Xmas trees, etc., you still get that “everyone but me” thing going.

Then one year I went to Friday night services, on what happened to be Xmas Eve. While I wasn’t a member of the synagogue, I lived nearby and just had the urge to attend. The rabbi said something that gave me some perspective of this. He said that we shouldn’t be envious of those who made such a big deal out of Xmas, because for a vast majority of them, Xmas was their one religious holiday (leave out the secularization of the holiday for now) of the year that they celebrated, so they were packing as much of a punch into it as they could. On the other hands, Jews had holidays spread throughout the year, so the sense of being in touch with our religious side was more constant and spread out, so we didn’t need to throw everything into one day. Thinking about that for a while, it made a lot of sense to me, and did help me to feel better about the situation. I still wasn’t overly thrilled about it, but I could rationalize and accept it.

But it wasn’t until after I got married and became more observant that things really started to shift. I started out by fully observing one day of each Jewish holiday, then both days (or more for those like Passover!). And it wasn’t the superficial observance either. Instead of just not eating bread on Passover, I was watching everything I ate, talking with my kids about it, getting fully involved in the Seder. I was waving the lulav and esrog in the sukkah, fasting the full 25 hours on Yom Kippur, listening to the full Megillah twice on Purim, keeping each and every Shabbos, etc. Now that I was really giving my all to Judaism, I noticed something… I no longer had the holiday blahs at the end of December, not even a little.

Those who only celebrate Xmas have 24 hours to pack in all their feelings for the year. No wonder they start as early as they can! We have about 1300 hours of Shabbos a year (25*52), plus how many hours for all the Yom Tovs and Festivals? No contest! I’m happy they enjoy their 24 hours (plus all the “prep” time starting around Halloween), but I’ll stick with celebrating Judaism all year long.

Thanksgiving – The Holiday where Turnabout is Fair Play

Today I got an email from Mark and David, with a call for more posts. Among the suggested headings was: Thanksgiving – the official holiday of BTs.

Hmmm, I didn’t realize it was “The” official holiday! But then again, I get it. For me, it’s more a matter of it being: “Thanksgiving – The Holiday where Turnabout is Fair Play.” When we got married, my wife and
her wonderful (FFB) family helped me with many of the Jewish holidays. I knew the basics of many of them, especially the major ones, but not the full details, and some I really had no clue about. But then I learned that they never celebrated Thanksgiving (other than my father-in-law having a turkey drumstick on the Friday following Thanksgiving). This was my one chance a year to show and explain to them information about a holiday they know very little about!

The first year or two, my wife and I didn’t really do much. But then my wife’s brother and sister, having some vacation time available around Thanksgiving, came down various years. So they, and my wife, wanted to
learn more about Thanksgiving. It gave me a chance to play a little turnabout and teach them about a holiday for a change. (I guess doing all those plays in elementary school paid off!!) My wife even went on the internet to research how to cook a turkey. It came out well, too! The following years I was able to add to the meals, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie (why is it hard to find parve pumpkin pie??), stuffing (also hard to find kosher stuffing!), etc.

It also felt nice because we had family with us, had a great dinner together, and didn’t have to worry about breaking Shabbos or Yom Tov rules. This year will be different, as my sister-in-law and her familyare now in Israel, and my brother-in-law won’t be able to make it down. But now my kids are old enough that I can start explaining some of the things to them. I already started talking to my 4 year old daughter about Thanksgiving over the weekend. We both came to the realization that this is the first non-Jewish holiday that we’ve discussed! And so the learning goes on for another generation.

Readjusting the Scales

Readjusting the scales.

The other day my wife and I were sorting through our “mailbox.” This literally is a box we keep all the “non-immediate” mail that we need or want to look at, but not necessarily “must do now!” mail. I noticed that I have a lot of motorcycle magazines in the box that I still have not read. I used to read them all, cover to cover, within a few days of getting a new issue. Now I see several issues from the past few months that I never even cracked open. What’s been going on??

Hmmm, well, I started getting Art Scroll’s “A Daily Dose of Torah,” and have been trying to keep up in that. I also have “The Mishna Says” series, which I also try to read on a regular basis. Last week I started a Hebrew class. CConversational Hebrew, not necessarily what I’ll see in the Torah/siddur, but hopefully will help my pronunciation, and help me to learn more about the language anyway, plus I have family in Israel that I hope to visit again within a few years.)

After thinking about all that, an analogy suddenly flashed in my mind. During the 10 days of Repentance, we say that Hashem is looking through His book of names, deciding who will live and who will die, etc. I’m going to have to go through my reading list (magazines, books, different study material, etc.) and decide what will stay and what will be removed. Not that I’d cancel all of the motorcycle magazines and fun reading material. But instead of 4 magazines, maybe 2 will be enough. I need to set more realistic expectations.

When I relayed this to my wife, she felt bad as she thought I was sacrificing something I enjoyed reading. But as I thought about it more, I realized there’s no one holding a gun to my head, saying I must read about the next parsha, and forget reading about the flashy new motorcycle that Kawasaki is developing right now. Rather, I WANT to study the next parsha. When the bike comes out, I can still give it a spin and see if it’s what I want as well. :-)

Am I More Judgmental of the Non-Observant Since Becoming a BT?

Am I more judgmental of the non-observant since becoming a BT?

This was a question posted by David & Mark to BeyondBT contributors. It’s a good question. One that I constantly ask myself. I feel especially sensitive to this question because before I started becoming more observant, there were several people (both BTs and FFBs) who I felt were judgmental towards me and it was a definite turn off. At one point I even sent in a letter of resignation to an organization I was working with when the coordinators sent me what I felt was an extremely insulting e-mail about my eating at a non-kosher restaurant after an event was over. After that incident, and a few other interactions with people in an orthodox environment who questioned me and put me on the defensive, I pretty much ruled out becoming more observant, in fact, I became almost non-practicing (e.g. High Holidays and Passover only). I didn’t want to be in an environment where I always felt judged.

It wasn’t until years later when I began dating the woman who would become my wife, and being welcomed by her Modern Orthodox family that I again thought of being more observant. This time most of the reaction was positive. Her family never flinched when I made a mistake, or when I spoke of things I did that were not things an observant person does. I also began going to my local Chabad and was welcomed with no questions asked, and no patronizing lectures directed at me. I was told that when I was ready to move up, they were there to help me, and when the time really did come, they were the ones who did help. There were still a few incidents where someone else (usually not in the family, or in Chabad) would overzealously push me before I felt ready (for example, keeping kosher outside the home, which I was working up to) but by this point I had learned to tune them out. I honestly think if others hadn’t made me feel so judged in the past, and instead had helped me to feel welcome and worked with me, I would have become more observant earlier in life. I still regret those years in-between that were full of wasted opportunities.

Now on the occasions when my wife and I have non-observant friends, or family over, I sometimes feel that they are waiting for me to start judging them and tell them what they are doing wrong. However, after my experiences when I was the one being judged, I could never do that to another. Instead, I simply try to make them feel as welcome as people had finally made me feel. As Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.”

You’re the Inspiration…

My oldest child recently turned 4 years old. I’ve been thinking about her growth in life, and my own growth in observance. And this refrain from a Chicago song kept repeating in my head:

You’re the meaning in my life
you’re the inspiration.
You bring feeling to my life
you’re the inspiration.
Wanna have you near me
I wanna have you hear me sayin’:
No one needs you more than I need you.

Before we started having children, my wife and I had discussed how we would raise them. They would be raised keeping kosher, observing Shabbos, etc. At that time though, I was not observing a lot of those myself. It’s only after she was born that I was able to look at our family life using a different set of lenses. It certainly wasn’t an overnight process, but I started to see things that I realized would be sending her confusing messages. For example, on one trip to visit family, we stopped at a rest stop on the NJ Turnpike. My wife pulled out a sandwich she made at home that morning. I went in and bought a beef hot dog. Even though she was only about a year or so old at the time, it struck me that we couldn’t keep doing it this way, we’d be sending a mixed message. Eventually I went completely kosher. (I have a few things to say about that… hopefully my next write up.)

I also used to use the computer and turn on the TV on Shabbos (usually putting in an “Einstein” kids’ DVD to keep her occupied for a little while). However, the same thing struck me, eventually she would learn that these types of activities are not supposed to occur on Shabbos, and question my doing so. I phased this out, and eventually became Shomer Shabbos myself. Soon after this (when she was two), she started attending a pre-school at our local Chabad. It suddenly felt like she was rocketing ahead of me. She wanted to start saying brachas (when she remembered), saying the Shema at bedtime (with me helping her remember the words), etc. Sometimes I feel like I’m racing to keep up with her. There are things we learn together. For example, I never got the hand washing prayer quite memorized, I used to have to check to make sure I got the words right. Then she wanted to say it and I had to learn and do it word by word with her so she would get it right (otherwise she would wind up saying Motzi when washing, oops!) I still get excited watching her learn more and more. Now at her pre-school (and camp) they bake challos on Fridays to bring home. When I do Motzi over the big challos, and distribute the pieces, she then wants to divide up her little challah, and share that with the family as well.

My growth isn’t entirely because of her, nor because of my second daughter (now 2), not even because of my wife (who worries occasionally that I do things only because I think I *have* to do them for her, or for the kids). Rather it is because I realize the beauty of what I am raising in my kids, and I want to be a part of it too! Thus my kids truly are my inspiration. And I hope that never ends “’til the end of time.”

The Niddah Difference

By Jewish Deaf Motorcycling Dad

Since most of you probably aren’t familiar with Deaf culture, let me begin by explaining that the Deaf community is a very touchy (physically) community. I’ve heard various reasons for this. Part of it seems to be the loss of one sense, sound; so we make it up by using more of another sense, in this case touch. There are lots of hugs, pats, nudges, etc. Another reason for this is that we, of course, can’t hear. Say you need to get by John Doe, but he’s in your way. A simple “excuse me” won’t do much good, it’s noisy and his hearing aids are overwhelmed (or he can’t hear anything at all). How do you get by? Sometimes it only takes a light tap on the shoulder, sometimes it’s a little bit more of a moving of the other person’s body (giving a slight push to the side, or putting hands on the shoulder and moving them over a little). Now, all this isn’t to say that the Deaf are a community of people constantly groping at each other, not by a long shot. But I’ve seen that people who aren’t comfortable with touching are often unnerved when around a lot of Deaf people. For Deaf folks though, this is the norm.

Now let’s add in the Jewish concept of Niddah. Ah, now things become more complex! I see this often with one rabbi I know. He’s a Baal Teshuva, a hearing, religious son of deaf, non-religious parents. But he’s very active in the deaf community. I sometimes see that he makes a slight move, as if he is about to hug someone, then suddenly remembers and stops himself.

That’s the general picture. Now it’s on to my own experiences. Before we were married, my wife (modern orthodox her whole life, also deaf) and I really didn’t get into a deep discussion on Niddah issues; and after the wedding, sort of fumbled a bit to figure it all out. During the times of Niddah, we still touched to alert each other to things, plus a quick hug hello and good bye, and after a, shall we say, heated discussion, to signal that we are okay again.

But as I began to become more religious myself, we started re-evaluating things, and decided to try and completely keep from touching during this time period. There were some small challenges. For example, I could no longer just tap on her shoulder if I wanted her attention and she didn’t have her hearing aids on. Instead, I would now stomp on the floor (for the vibrations), or reach around and wave to her if I was close enough. Those were easily overcome.

No, the place where I noticed it took the most analyzing and adjusting, for me, was the “after heated discussion hug.” I came to realize that I was using this as a crutch to calm my wife (and myself) down. Maybe even unfairly. It seemed that if I hugged her tight enough, or long enough, the tears would soon dry up and she’d be feeling better. But now there were times I couldn’t give the hug. Now what to do??

I soon learned that when the occasional flare ups would occur (nothing MAJOR, just the usual issues here and there that all married couples with active kids face) that I would need to talk and discuss the issue completely in full length and depth until it was truly resolved for both of us, and we were both feeling better. While this approach takes much longer than the “hug-the-problem-away,” I think the solution we come up with is better and longer lasting, not another temporary patch. Now even when it’s not a period of Niddah, we do spend more time talking about the issues in detail until they really are resolved, and only then do we close things up with a hug. (After all, they are still nice!)