More Tough Questions from Family: Thoughts or Actions

Last year I wrote a post on a question my mother asked me on shomer negia and why some Orthodox Jews hold to these laws more strictly than others. This post generated some really good discussion and I’m hoping that this next post will do the same.

The question I am about to pose came from my father this time. I guess my mom took a break : ) After we got home from Kol Nidre last Yom Kippur, my dad asked me if G-d prefers someone who observes all the laws of Shabbas and kashrus yet acts immorally in dealings with people, ie in the workplace, or someone who is a good person, acts ethically in business, yet does not observe Shabbas or kashrus.

This question reminded me of a discussion that took place in a class I took at my shul a couple years ago. The topic we discusses was whether a) G-d prefers you to observe mitzvos but have no faith in G-d or to b) believe in G-d in your heart but not observe mitzvos. Initially, you would think that it is better to believe in G-d but not observe mitzvos. I know that is what I thought 2 years ago. The rabbi said the first option is better; he stated that even if you start out observing mitzvos and not believing in G-d, eventually your heart will catch up.

This is what I had in mind when my dad asked me that question. I explained that first of all, there is no easy answer to that question. I told him my opinion that G-d judges each person based on his/her potential, there is no comparison to your neighbor. I summed it up to my dad by saying that he should do the best he can with his potential, and not to worry about what goes on in other peoples’ backyards (I know, easier said than done). My parents mentioned that they would like to start lighting Shabbas candles consistently.

To summarize, I am grateful that I am able to have such honest discussions with my parents on religion. One of my main concerns about becoming more observant was that my relationship with my parents would undergo some major friction and that our relationship would suffer. With a little work on both my part and my parents’ part, it is not a concern anymore. In fact, I find that becoming more observant actually improved my relationship with my parents. It is okay to pave your own path and you can do so in a way that is true to yourself and also honors where you came from.

Do I Attend my College Reunion?

Recently, I received a letter in the mail from the alumna association of my college for the 10 year reunion. It will be held over a summer weekend, which means that I will not be able to go to any events on Friday night. As for Saturday night, I would most likely be late to the class dinner because I couldn’t leave for the event until 9:30. One might think if I won’t be able to go to most of the events, why bother going?

Well, I disagree with that reasoning. I have many fond memories of college, some of my longest standing friendships are with people I met during that time of my life. Even though my Jewish observance didn’t grow until several years after college, I have great memories of the dinners and events I went to at Hillel and Chabad. I also have not seen some of my college friends in many years so it would be a wonderful opportunity to catch up and talk about how much our lives have changed.

Besides getting to see the college campus again and schmoozing with old and new friends, there is one other reason why I want to go. When I first started learning at Aish, I remember reading an article that stated that we are meant to fully embrace the pleasures of this world but with deliberation. This is why we say a blessing before everything we eat, and say the bircas hamazon after we eat. There are blessings we say when we see lightning, when we see a rainbow, when we see the ocean, etc. We are not supposed to run from the world and live in isolation, we are supposed to be part of the world. That includes high school and college reunions. If only my next high school reunion would fall on a Saturday night instead of a Friday night…

Attention: New BTs

On the road to learning more about Judaism, you are likely to encounter some obstacles. Having traveled on this road for 5 years and experiencing some highs and lows, I feel that I am in an excellent position to assist those of you who are currently struggling with issues and maybe even prevent some problems from coming up.

1. You will most definitely have to field questions from family and/or friends who are not observant. The best way to approach the situation is to always be respectful and honest. If they ask you a question to which you don’t know the answer, admit you don’t know the answer, tell them you will find an answer, and then call your rabbi as soon as you can to get that answer. If you hear things that frustrate or upset you, bite your toungue. As tempting as it is to want to talk back, now is not the time to do it. Remember that your family is most likely worried that you will reject them. Keep that in mind when they ask you questions that you are uncomfortable with. To your family, you are representing observant Judaism.

2. One day your family asks you a question that you are just stumped on and you don’t have someone to talk to about that. That’s where your rabbi comes in. If you don’t have a rabbi that you can talk to, find one ASAP. If it means you have to shul-shop all over town, do it. Your rabbi should be knowledgable in obeying Jewish law yet maintaining relationships with non-observant family.

3. You might wonder where all your interests fit in this new lifestyle of yours, you could ask yourself “Can I still listen to 80’s hair band music?”, “Can I still go see concerts?” If you liked taking ballet classes or jazz classes before you became observant, you can still do so within reason. If you made a living as a singer or an actor before becoming observant, you can still sing and/or act. There are all women for women shows, especially if you are lucky enough to live in New York. If there are no opportunities for such shows, make one of your own. Bottom line, you should not change so much who you are that you wake up one day in the future and you don’t recognize yourself.

Book Review: Shidduch Secrets

I was browsing the Aish website one day when I came across an article called “The Pickiness Factor”, the article was a shorter version of the first half of the book “Shidduch Secrets” written by Leah Jacobs and Shaindy Marks. I found certain aspects of this article to ring true to me and I decided to order the book.

The first part of the book focuses on blocks that might be getting in the way of someone trying to find his/her soulmate. At the end of each chapter, the authors list four or five questions that pertain to a particular block. The reader is supposed to think carefully about whether each question applies to him/her. There are no right or wrong answers, as long as you are honest. You could find that one or two blocks completely apply to you or you might find that you have elements of more than 1-2 blocks that you have to work on. It is important to keep these blocks in mind for the 2nd part of the book.

In the 2nd part of the book, the authors ask you to write down a list of what you want in your soulmate, you can write down anything that comes to mind. Eventually, you will have your list of Top 10 character traits that you are looking for in a potential spouse. The authors go over ways to decide which traits are the most important on your list. After the list, the final chapters focus on: how to date using your Top 10 list; how to naviagate going to a matchmaker;, what questions you should ask of your dates in the beginning stages; how to proceed if you come across issues in the dating process (if you find out something not so nice about your date).

Throughout the book, the authors use stories from their clients to illustrate their points. I like that approach because in most cases you can relate to these stories and you have an easier time understanding the ideas behind the book. Anyone who is dating for the purpoes of marriage or who knows of anyone dating for the purpose of marriage should read this book.

A Tough Question

A Tough Question

Being the only observant Jew in my immediate family, I get asked many questions about Orthodox Judaism. Some are very straightforward questions about keeping shabbat and kosher and other questions are more difficult to answer. The last time I visited my parents, my mom asked me why there are some observant Jews that are very strict about keeping shabbat and kosher but not so strict about keeping the laws of shomer negia.

My first reaction about hearing this question was “Do I really have to answer this?”, I don’t like being put into the position of spokesperson for Orthodox Judiasm, especially since I am very uncomfortable labeling how I practice Judaism.

After that initial thought, I decided to give it a shot. First I mentioned to my mom that people are putting off marriage for a variety of reasons, wanting to establish careers, live on their own before being married, etc. There is less of a stigma in society these days when it comes to premarital sex and living together before marriage, ie the popularity of “Sex and the City”.

When you get married young, you don’t have to struggle so much when it comes to shomer negia, although there are different struggles to be faced. In my neighborhood, I see people who are single well into their 30s and 40s and even though times have changed, the urges for physical contact have not changed. Everyone gets lonely, even in the city that never sleeps. It takes a herculean amount of self-discipline and self-confidence in order to remain shomer negia. When you live in a city with so many options at your door, it is a wonder that any adults are shomer negia today. I summed up the discussion by saying that some people are stronger at controlling these urges and are able to wait until they get married. Regardless, no one has the right to judge. We all have our own struggles to deal with and it is better to focus on yourself and how you can be a better person rather than tearing people down.

Has anyone ever had to answer these type of questions before? How would you have handled the situation?

Every Today is Another Chance to Get Things Right

I saw this slogan on a bus while walking to work. Often, you don’t find interesting slogans like this on a bus. Where did the quote come from? You might be surprised if I tell you it’s from a TV show. The TV show is called ‘Daybreak’ and recently premiered on. The premise of the show is that the main character is framed for a murder and his family is in danger. Every morning he wakes up and has to repeat the same day and has to find out who framed him for the murder and he has to keep his family safe. Until he solves the mystery, the day will keep repeating itself.Upon further reflection, this quote is a great way to approach tefilla. After almost 5 years of taking classes at various Jewish outreach groups in the city, I made some breakthroughs this year and decided it was time to take some steps towards becoming more observant than in previous years when I had balked at such an idea (perhaps this will be the subject of a future post). One of the things I did was go to Israel for two weeks in July and learn at She’arim, one of the wonderful womens’ seminaries in Jerusalem. It was a transformative two weeks and the only regret I have was that I wished I had stayed a little longer. After coming back from Israel, I started davening twice a day. Before Israel (BI), I prayed for 15-20 minutes in the morning, semi-rushed because I slept in until 8:00, sometimes 8:15 and I needed to be at work at 9:00. After Israel (AI), I find myself getting up at 7:20-7:30, and davening for 30-40 minutes (my mornings are so much calmer now) and also davening Mincha. Read more Every Today is Another Chance to Get Things Right