How a Planned Cremation was Changed to a Proper Jewish Burial

By Miriam Sidell
This post is a follow up to a Question of the week from Dec 2, 2008 titled How Can I Prevent a Cremation?

This is the story of how a planned cremation was changed to a proper Jewish burial, chasdei Hashem. Two years ago when my grandmother passed away at the age of 100 and had a proper, preplanned Jewish burial, my parents informed me that they had prepaid for cremations for when their time would come. Both my sister and I were shocked and totally distraught over this. We tried to change our parents’ view about this, but were not successful. We brought it up several times over the next two years but couldn’t seem to change their minds. My sister finally told our Dad several more ideas about the issue ,and asked him not to answer, but to just think about it. (Which he did: for several months.) This was shortly after Pesach when I last visited our Mom. Fast forward to Shavous, when a dear friend of our family, an older Russian man who davened at Rabbi Taub’s shul was nifter.

I attended his levaya the Sunday right after Shavuous. As there were only a few women there, I was asked to help the almonah tear kriah, which I did. The kevurah was at a bais olam where Rebbetzin Taub (who was nifteress in 1964) was buried. I had heard that she was a big tzadekes (righteous woman) . After the kevurah, I decided to go to her kever. There I davened fervently to Hashem that my mother (who had been quite ill for the past 3 years; the doctor saying she could pass at any time) would merit a kevura according to halacha when the time would come.

That Friday, my mom was moved to a hospice in Florida, where she lived. I spoke to her erev Shabbos and told her I loved her. She sounded very weak but was able to speak to me. Shortly before Shabbos, my father called my sister and said that he thought about what she told him, and decided that he was willing for our mom to have a Jewish burial in Baltimore when the time would come. My sister then called me, and as soon as I heard the news, a tremendous burden was lifted off of me. Motzi Shabbos, when I called the hospice at 10:30pm, they reported that that her death was imminent. I then gave them the name and phone number of Sol Levinsons and Bros, the Jewish Funeral Home in Baltimore. At 11:30pm, my mother was nifteres. The hospice called my father and called Levinsons. I wasn’t called until the next morning. Because the hospice knew to call Levinsons, things moved very quickly and the nifteress was brought to Baltimore late Sunday night. Two burial plots were purchased and all arrangements were made on Sunday. Our mother had a kosher tahara and kevurah that Monday morning. Afterwards our father thanked us profusely for taking care of all the arrangements.

Our father’s change of heart was erev Shabbos. Our mother was nifteres motzi Shabbos. One of my dear friends suggested that maybe the neshuma could not leave the guf until proper kevurah was assured. Boruch Hashem, through the zechus (merit) of our tefillos and those of Rebbetzin Taub, of blessed memory, our mother merited a tahara and kevurah al pi halacha (according to Jewish law). We are eternally grateful. Out tefillos were answered.

The Complexities of Eating Kosher at the Family Time Share

I am writing this from the condo, having just polished off the kosher dinner that I cooked and shlepped to the annual time share vacation that we participate in every year with my parents and brothers and their wives and children. The family rents the time share location for a full week but we ( me and the kids) come for the Sunday – Tuesday of the week – after Shabbos, and returning on Wednesday so that a) I have time to prepare for the next Shabbos at home, and b) because it’s too onerous for me to even think about preparing all of the food for the family for longer than three days.

Over the years, we’ve become accustomed to bringing our own kosher food and trying to ignore the non-kosher food the rest of the family brought, or buys, and eats alongside of ours. Over time, I’ve more often elected to cook so much food, everyone can eat kosher and we don’t end up in this weird divided place with the “kosher eaters” and “the non-kosher eaters.” It also gives me a small degree of pleasure to see my family eating kosher food, which isn’t the case the rest of the year.

This year I was placed in a particular dilemma, which I thought I’d share with you, because I bet many of you will relate.

I just celebrated my 50th birthday. At the time share, the family got together and decided to offer me the gift of everyone being taken out for dinner at the local kosher restaurant that was within a few miles of the time share.

Normally, I would have snapped up the opportunity to get a paid-for kosher meal I didn’t have to cook. But this time, before going to this time share, I went online and found mostly very negative reviews for the only kosher restaurant that was a realistic alternative. It was way over priced, and service was notoriously slow. So, now I had a big problem. If we went out as a family (a whole lot of us) and my father treated everyone to the meal ( as would happen), the bill would be enormous. If the food was just okay and not amazing (which is what online reviews said), and the service was terribly slow to boot, I would be feeling responsible for the quality of every bite they ate, and every nickel my father spent, worried that he’d be thinking, “Geez, if I have to spend all this money for it to be kosher, does it have to be this bad?”, or, “You know, if I didn’t have to take the whole family out to a kosher meal, it would have been a third of the price to just order pizza!” Although I appreciated the offer for a meal out, instead, I insisted that I had brought enough food to amply feed everyone ( true) and we could use his money for other purposes.

I wonder about the experiences of others who are reading this essay. Have you ever felt that you were defending all of kashrus when going out to a kosher restaurant with non-kosher eating relatives? Do you shlep along enough kosher food for not just you but for the rest of the family when you go to a mixed family vacation? Do you think there’s anything to be said for the one or two kosher meals that you manage to get your family to eat when the rest of the year they are eating trafe? Does it give you pain to see your family eating non kosher food without a second thought? These are the thoughts on my mind this evening

Fresh from the trenches –


A kosher Jewish mother and wife, and also a daughter, a sister, a sister-in law and an aunt to those who are not. . . . complicated business, isn’t it?

Azriela Jaffe

A Palm Beach Thanksgiving: Fear and Self-Loathing in South Florida

By Adam Hilliard

My family is very un-frum. I am, while very un-frum by the standards of most of the readers of these boards, what my family calls a religious maniac because I keep a kosher kitchen, daven, and manage to light Shabbat candles on occasion.

My brother Aaron and his gentile wife live in Florida and have just had their second daughter in 12 ½ months. Our mother wished to fly down to visit and asked me to accompany her. Hmmm, a weekend in late November spent in Cleveland versus one spent in Palm Beach… OK, I guess I’ll go, Mom.

Friday morning we went to a restaurant for breakfast and I got a good lesson in why the Midwest believes South Florida is peopled entirely with retired transplanted New York Jews: Because it is.

Waiting for a table in a crowded foyer, I found myself surrounded by impatient, heavily jeweled, gaudily attired older whiners, all complaining about the wait or the service or the bill…

“We had to wait over ten minutes for the check. I mean, we’re in here every week.”

“The toast was cold. We should have something taken off the bill.”

One old man was attired in hip-hop style saggy blue jeans and a matching shirt. He and his mummified wife appeared to be breakfasting with their daughter and her husband. “What kind of muffin do you want, Steve?” Pop asked his goyish son-in-law.

“He doesn’t eat muffins,” snapped Steve’s wife with a biting tone that made me feel sorry for his miserable home life. Poor Steve probably hasn’t gotten to answer such a question himself in years.

One heavily gilded older lady with a stiff helmet of blue hair referred my shiksa-in-law to shop at a discount store for baby clothes, where, “they’re in the back, only twelve ninety-nine.” (Like the princess would be caught dead in T. J. Maxx.)

As I took it all in I was feeling superior and then guilty for feeling superior. These were my people, even if they were very over-adorned, tackily dressed, embarrassingly demanding, sending the bacon back because it wasn’t crispy enough (no lie). And after all, I was eating here in a very non-kosher breakfast joint, and I had no intention of observing Shabbat that evening.

Driving to dinner that Friday evening, yes, driving, after dark, we passed a group of black-hatted men leaving services at Etz Chaim; passed them while they waited for the traffic light to change of its own accord so they could cross the wide, busy street and walk home for a Shabbos repast.

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Mom tried to be cute and asked if I had some secret hi-sign I was supposed to flash them. I explained that if there was such a thing, they wouldn’t approve of me speeding past in an automobile. A little less superiority then. And a little more guilt.

And then the story out of Mumbai.

The Chabad House, the only Jewish center in a city of 12 million people, was targeted by Islamofascist murderers, and the news media were befuddled at the ‘coincidence’. These monsters were described as “nationalists who were sending a message that they didn’t want foreigners in their country.” Then they were called “militants”, then “teenage gunmen”. Thus this absurd opening line in an Australian report: “An Adelaide woman in India for her wedding is lucky to be alive after teenage gunmen ran amok…” As Mark Steyn mocked, “Kids today, eh? Always running amok in an aimless fashion.”

The New York Times complied with the cover-up: “It is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen, or if it was an accidental hostage scene.” Yes, I said The New York Times.

And then the pictures of the Holtzbergs and news of their murdered unborn baby and of their orphaned son. A lot less superiority then, did I feel, and a lot of shame.

And still the news tells us how little is known about these mysterious terrorists and their incomprehensible reasons for killing innocents.

There’s a lot we don’t know about ourselves too, and events like these can help us to learn more, sometimes more than we care to, about ourselves.

As I reflected on my Thanksgiving weekend, a theme of contrasts, of extremes kept recurring to me, and I reminded myself of what I like to answer to people who ask me why do I bother to observe some mitzvot, or why don’t I yet observe more. And I say that I’ve learned that Judaism is on a scale, a range with two ends. Wherever you find yourself on the scale of Jewish observance, you’re bound to find people on both sides of you telling you you’re doing it wrong.

Every once in a while I take notice of where I stand on that scale, and I notice that I have progressed slightly towards a more observant life. To keep moving in the right direction is all we can ask of anybody.


By “From Within”

I am going to live forever.

No one told me this. In fact, there have been enough hints dropped, here and there, over the years, to make me believe that not everyone thinks so.

But I know that other people believe they will live forever, too. They say they don’t – sometimes – but really they also believe that they are here to stay.

If we didn’t believe this, we wouldn’t be so spooked when we come into contact with death. It shakes us to the core because mortality – even the mortality of the old woman down the block – moves forever just a bit further out of our reach.

And when the loss is not an old person, who I didn’t identify with anyway, to be truthful because they were old (translation: belonging to a different species than me) – but the loss of a young person (translation: someone like me, with a job, who likes chocolate, takes early morning walks), it feels like someone has changed the rules. She wasn’t supposed to die! She was like me! …Well, at least I thought she was like me, but she turned out to be one of those just-here-for-a-while ones…

What is forever?

I know that there was intelligent life before I became so smart. Because I am proud of my children, I can agree to the possibility that they will continue the chain. But do I really have a concept of what forever is?

I know all the right answers. Rationally I understand that, in the scheme of things, my expected lifetime is just a small fraction of the huge number of years the world has been in existence thus far.

I think I know what forever feels like when I’m waiting in line, falling off my feet, and have been there far too long. I think I know what it sounds like when the baby is crying and the ear infection has been bothering him for two long days now and he just won’t stop. I think I know what forever looks like when I see her davening in shul, still single after all these years. But these are all so subjective! I think…I know…And who am I? Someone who came in during the last act. So what are my thoughts worth?

Oddly enough, the best illustration of forever I can conjure up is in the cemetery – the place that signifies the end to so many. But we call it the Bais Hachayim – referencing it not to death but rather to life – or Bais Olam, where man’s finite existence leads into the eternal..

My great-great-grandparents are buried in Brooklyn. The graves date back to the 1880’s. They were the generation who came to America. Beside them lie the remains of their children, and their grandchildren – one of whom was my grandfather. Visiting these graves as an adult has been extremely meaningful for me. Forever is planted, not buried, in that Bais Hachayim. I saw it there myself, and this I do know.

My ancestors came to the United States from England, and were most likely not frum Jews. There was evidence of growing assimilation on the gravestones themselves; successive generations had less and less Hebrew lettering on the stones – though even the earliest graves had no mention of Hebrew names. Tradition was obviously important to them, but they had deviated somewhat from what came before. By the time my mother was born, there was only a Chanuka bush representing the family tree, and although she grew up in Brooklyn, she never heard the word “kosher” until meeting up with my father.

I pictured the funeral processions. There surely were tearful relatives on hand, sobering moments coming to grips with the finality of all flesh and blood. They said goodbye and left, alone, saddened, and they thought it was all over.

Yet there I was, the first woman in the family in 100 years to cover her hair, right alongside the graves. My husband and children accompanied me. There was renewal, emancipation, right there, as we placed the stone markers, lit the candles, and said some Tehillim. No end, here, but continuity with what had come before. At the graveside, I pray for my children – their children.

I know that I am who I am because I come from them. They are part of me, although even my grandfather was gone well before I was born. Our story is the story of Klall Yisrael as we make our way through this physical existence. Nothing is irrelevant, nothing insignificant. They are links in the chain that connect what was to what will be.


Sometimes I Hate Being a Baalas Teshuva

Hi, I am very upset right now with being a Baalas Teshuva.

I have had it with having no frum relatives who understand what planet I fell off of.

My siblings have married goyim, so that curtails a lot of family functions where my siblings children are coming with their goyish boyfriends all over them.

Now my sister in law wants to come on Sunday with her husband and kids. How to explain that we are fasting this Sunday and not really allowed to entertain?

If a genie popped out of this computer this second do you know what I would wish for? To have frum family! Yes, I am sick and tired of bringing my double wrapped food from noah’s ark to the table.

I want to be able to spend a shabbos or a pesach sedar with frum relatives. And not be
different than everybody else. Is this too much to ask for genie?

Sometimes I feel like an orphan! They think we are crazy frum, and do not really understand us or appreciate that they have frum grandchildren.

I should have gone to the Beyond BT shabbaton and finally spend shabbos with people who understand me!!!

Thanks for listening…-I feel better already!

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.

The Invisible Curtain

“I just can’t understand it!’ my father said as he shook his handsome round face back and forth in bewilderment. He was in his mid 50’s and his luxurious full head of hair had been transformed from jet lack to distinguished salt and pepper. “We sent you to Temple Emanuel Hebrew school every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday for years. ” He pointed his finger in the air to punctuate, ‘and you grew up to become religious!’ Dad sneered and shook his head in incredulity. ‘We tried to raise you right. I just don’t understand how this happened,’ he muttered as if defeated.

Even though I was sitting on in the living room couch of the large comfortable suburban family home I grew up in, I suddenly felt like an alien. Milling about were a dozen or so curious relatives peering at me as if I had grown horns.

‘I like the Lubavitchers,’ one of my aunts chimed in to defend me; ‘they gave us Chanukah candles last year with chocolate coins. That was sweet of them.”

‘I never dreamed that you of all people would become religious. Are you really religious? Come on! I remember you in high school!’ my younger sister could hardly contain her laughter.

‘Well, I think it’s wonderful that she found something that is meaningful for her.’ She spoke as if I weren’t in the room but at least I thought this cousin understood, until she added,’ after all, she was so mixed up and unhappy before, at least now she will do something with her life. I’m glad she found something that’s good for her.”

It was true that I had misspent my early 20’s drifting and wandering in and out of universities without direction, but why did she have to show me pity as if I were a hopeless nebach? None of them understood me.

How could I describe my spiritual epiphany? Could they ever imagine how it felt to discover the joys of Yiddishkite? Would I ever be able to explain that even though I missed the long lazy days at the beach club, my faded jeans, dancing in night clubs, and eating moo goo gai pan, that none of it could hold a candle to what if feels like when my neshoma soars. Suddenly I felt as if I spoke a different language from my family, was living in a different dimension in time and space than them.

“Uh, um….you should see the Rebbe, I mean he’s amazing, a genius…and keeping Shabbos is not a burden at all, in fact it is so relaxing…and I don’t really mind living in a dorm with only girls and not dating right now…..,” my voice sounded as if it was coming from someone else and as I looked at their blank faces I realized they were listening politely, almost condescendingly, without the slightest comprehension of what I had experienced.

That moment I experienced another realization. At that instant I knew an invisible curtain had fallen between me and the rest of my family. It was not an iron curtain of oppression, but impenetrable nonetheless, a result of my choosing to live a life on a different spiritual plane. We didn’t share any common language that could bridge the gap between their modernity and my traditionalism, between their values which were the ones I was raised with, and my new found values, as timeless as they may be. For my family, Torah values were new, foreign, strange and represented an unattractive lifestyle.

Knowing I would have to embark on my new journey without my family was made less daunting by my obsession with running after kedusha. For almost three years I pursued my singular goal of shedding the old and taking on the new. No sacrifice was too great, the materialism of this world become subsumed by my focus on Torah and mitzvos. Throw away my pants? No problem! Give up eating in non-kosher restaurants or my parents’ house! Easy! No more dating, TV, movies, theatre, secular novels, magazines, rock and roll, and even cigarettes. All of it was left behind on the heap of my past personal secular history, shed like a caterpillar sheds its skin to become a butterfly.

Admin’s note. Shoshanna from Melbourne, Austrailia was one of our earliest Beyond BT contributors and we want to wish her a big WELCOME BACK. You can read her earlier posts here.

Thanksgiving – Sanctifying Hashem By Being a Mentsch

This article was originally posted on November 19th, 2006.

For many BTs, Thanksgiving can be an easy or tortuous day to negotiate. R Gil Student posted a link to an article by R’ Michael Broyde that set forth the various views of Gdolim on the issue of partcicipating in the celebration and related issues such as the Mesorah of the Kashrus of turkey. I reccomend the article for anyone seeking a guide to the halachic issues.

We have always “celebrated” by having a shiur in the morning followed by getting together with relatives for a sumptuous repast. Assuming that one accepts the view that one should celebrate the day as a form of Hakaras HaTov for the amazing religious liberties and freedoms that Jews enjoy here, as opposed to any country,excluding Israel, , it can be an easy way of spending time with relatives if one utilizes a great natural resource-common sense.

Assuming that there are no kashrus problems, it is a great opportunity to show all of those relatives and assorted guests that a Torah observant Jew can interact with all sorts of people and engage in social chit chat, etc. Obviously, in such a context, your goal is to appear as a mentsch at all times. I would counsel against engaging in any conversation that even remotely touches on Torah and mitzos unless someone asks you directly for your point of view and you calculate that you can answer the query without sounding like you are on a soap box or being defensive in any way. It is almost like an office outing-politics and religion, among other issues, are not just issues to be discussed at such an occassion, unless you are directly asked a question.For instance, I was once directly asked how one could educate one’s children to avoid intermarriage.Once I realized that the question was meant as an openning to a discussion, I then proceeded to give a time honored answer-If one views every opportunity with one’s family to educate them on the supremacy of Torah and Mitzvos and does not rely on the formal educational processs-your children will have a much stronger probablity of marrying a Jewish partner as opposed to constantly harping on the negatives.On another occassion, I was asked about the interaction of the First Amendment and property rights vis a vis the erection of a sukkah in a coop. That led to an email correspondence on recent cases that dealt with that issue.

Like it or not, the currentlty prevailing ethos of pluralism and secular ethics allows Torah Judaism to compete with any and all humanly created ethical and moral systems. In that sense, while your family and friends are great that you can get together without any of the “stress” of a Shabbos or Yom Tov, IMO, Thanksgiving is not a day for kiruv based activities or engaging in any heavy discussions about different lifestyles. However, it is a day whereby you can be Mkadesh HaShem Brabim simply by being a mentsch.

It goes without saying that issues of kashrus, etc should be discussed and that not all issues in this regard can be easily negotiated,Yet, if these issue do not present a problem, then a social gathering has the potential to be a huge Kiddush HaShem.

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.

Negotiating Family Dynamics

I apologize for my long absence from this blog. I will use the excuse that I have had no time to write anything meaningful, but below are my reasons:

1. I graduated, moved to Houston, and began a new consulting job in summer 2006.
2. My husband stayed at Penn State to finish his degree. This necessitated lots of logistics planning for holidays and weekend visits.
3. My job required me to travel to exotic locales such as Paducah, Kentucky and Birmingham, Alabama and most recently, to New Orleans on a relatively long engagement (which continues today).
4. We joined a shul, about which I posted earlier, and somehow I coordinated the shul’s annual gala in March.
5. We bought a house.
6. My sister had her baby a week before the gala, at the same time when I found out I am pregnant.
7. My husband graduated and moved down and has now started his new job.
8. Our lovely house needs a new kitchen and new windows, all of which will happen before the baby arrives.

That being said, it has been quite the year. But the most challenging aspect of it all has been negotiating family dynamics. Much has been written on this topic, some good and some bad, and I have had both experiences. I live within walking distance (by design) to my sister’s house and my parents’ house, neither of whom are kosher houses or observant in any way. However, it was important for me to raise my family near my family so I knew that compromises had to be reached. Perhaps some readers will not like my decisions so far, but I base all of my decisions on shalom bayit, both within my home with my husband and outside my home with my family. Some examples:

1. My mother and my sister buy kosher meat for us when they are expecting us, for which I am grateful. However, their dishes and their ovens are not kosher, and I suppose that once the dish is cooked, it is no longer kosher. Nevertheless, my husband and I eat their meals and appreciate their efforts. I am hoping to progress on this issue through conversation and by providing them with kosher utensils.
2. My family respects my refusal to eat in non-kosher restaurants. However, one time when I showed up at a non-kosher restaurant with a container of mac and cheese, my mom got offended and was vehement that I not pull it out. I learned the power of compromise – instead of bringing the box, I could order tea. I cannot make my mother uncomfortable and alienate her.
3. My family understands that we celebrate Shabbat. When we sing Shalom Aleichem at my house, it’s a beautiful thing. At our house, Friday night is more than just dinner. My parents love the peace that comes with it.

It is very hard for parents to not understand their child, and that is how my parents feel about me. They have not had good past experiences with observant people, both in the States and in Israel. Nevertheless, they respect me, and it is my responsibility not to push my boundaries too much too fast with them in fear of pushing them away.

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!)

Conflicting Emotions

On Sunday afternoon, I stood on a hillside in a cemetery as my great aunt’s coffin was lowered into the earth. At 93 years-old, she was the last of her siblings to pass away and thereby close a chapter in our family’s history.

I have such conflicting emotions about the events on Sunday because I was very close to my great aunt who was an exemplar of kindness and hakaras hatov. She was a person who was a source of encouragement to others because she was continually happy and only spoke about the good points of others.

I think, however, that my conflicting emotions about Sunday stem from the fact that I cannot simply go to a funeral without becoming extremely agitated with the unconventional way funerals are handled in my family. Five years ago, one of my great-aunt’s older brothers passed away, was cremated, and his ashes were scatted in a Jewish cemetery on the graves of his parents and brother and sister. I was so incensed about this idea at the time and felt helpless because I had absolutely no say in what happened. This pain was coupled with the knowledge that my own grandfather had been cremated as well.

With these experiences in my past, I walked into the Jewish funeral home on Sunday to be greeted with a funeral featuring an open casket. To make things worse, there was a half-hour before the service began and family members and friends gathered around the open casket cried, hugged, and even engaged in idle chit chat. I was horrified at the sight of people standing with their backs to an open casket and laughing with their friends. I wanted to scream at the lack of respect these people were displaying. But, I remained silent. Who was I, only a grand-nephew, to make a scene in front my great-aunt’s children and grand-children while she lay in the room before us? In reality, what could I have done?

At the cemetery, I helped carry her coffin. My great aunt’s son was across from me on the other side and began to ask me about my family; making me uncomfortable as we carried his mother to her final resting place. Once again, this sacred moment was shattered by small talk.

I threw a shovel full of earth on my great-aunt’s coffin, as is tradition, and went over to give words of comfort to her son. I told him that not only is his mother now together with his father, but that I also remembered that there were other family members buried in this cemetery. I told him that that now she is also together with her parents and her brothers and sister; that she has left one family and has returned to another. He responded, “They are also buried here?” When I explained that they are buried at another cemetery, he quickly added, “Oh, you mean together in a metaphysical way.”

I drove home with this comment echoing in my mind since I perceived that he used the word “metaphysical” in place of “make believe” or “hocus pocus”. I lamented the fact that in today’s society that many people have lost the ability to take the concept of a neshoma returning to its source in a literal manner. I reflected on how many sacred moments that I have witnessed in recent months that were marred by unthinking people; a bris in which people stood taking pictures with their camera phones over the mohel’s shoulders; a wedding where members of the wedding party complained about being hungry and continually inquired when they would get to eat; and now this, sons standing with their backs to their mother’s body while they laughed and engaged in small talk.

I have no more words. Perhaps I do not belong on this planet any more.

This article was first posted on A Simple Jew’s site.

On Having Married Off Our First FFB Child

Marrying off our daughter was a thrilling experience but one that, as a BT, was not without its challenging moments. But before addressing the challenges, I would like to mention something very positive: my mechutanim (parents of the boy), very established FFBs, were dafka looking for the daughter of a BT couple for their son. This boy, full of talent, middos, and “out of the box” intelligence (OK, I’m biased), was looking for a girl serious about her yiddishkeit, but did not want to be part of a judgmental, restrictive sort of family. So when looking for prospective shidduchim, his parents sought out those in the BT world. Here, in our world, as the shadchan said, they believed they would find the “real deal”: real Torah without the shtick. I take this as a personal compliment, but it is also a compliment to our entire BT community. I mention this in case anyone was worried that all children of BTs will necessarily face an uphill battle in the parsha of shidduchim. You never know. What you think is a liability may turn out to be an asset.

But being a BT “in the parsha” did carry with it a different challenge: mainly the resurrection of all of my parents negative feelings about orthodoxy. They had a laundry list of objections to this marriage and, frankly, from their point of view, I can’t blame them: she was too young to get married (almost 19); she hadn’t been to college yet (she is going now, but it wasn’t our first priority); why do they have to live in Israel (they can’t appreciate the kedushah, only the bombs); they knew each other such a short time (frum shidduch dating); she seemed too subservient to him (she let him take the lead, like a Bais Yaakov girl naturally does). My parents were outraged that he came from such a large family (let’s just say more than 10 children) and feared that she would spend the rest of her life pregnant and washing baby bottles, never “fulfilling her potential.” Her chassan had no “degree” of any sort, and my parents believe that knowing gemora will not earn them a living. “Rabbis are a dime a dozen in Israel!” they accurately screamed. Although they had always been generous with us, they resented the idea of our (even partially) supporting them, stating that if they can’t support themselves or he’s not professionally directed, they shouldn’t get married (they couldn’t appreciate the teaching opportunities he had with his connections).

Basically, they listed all the differences between the secular and the (more right-wing) frum points of view about dating and marriage, albeit in a loud and emotionally charged way. Why did I feel a sense of déjà vu? Hadn’t I gone through all this before, perhaps around 20 years ago?!

The hardest part for me about this parsha, therefore, was reliving all the fights I thought were behind us. Now I am more mature, of course, so I restrained myself much, much more, and I was not nearly as shaken in my beliefs and determination to do what I thought best as when I was young. However, the grief of the ongoing acrimony with my parents accompanied the joy, and it significantly marred what “should” have been a purely joyous time. It also took me by surprise that we couldn’t get through this easily, that my parents hadn’t yet given up and mellowed at all about my “orthodox lifestyle.”

Although some parents do come around, not all do; some BTs experience a wonderful rapprochement with their parents, but others, like myself, have to slog along for over 20 years continuing to fight the good fight. With love, of course, but with heartache.

My Sister’s Wedding

Baruch Hashem, on Sunday, December 3 in a sunny loft in midtown Manhattan, I was zoche to take part in something very precious – a kosher chuppah between two irreligious Jews, my sister Nora and her new husband Jeff.

As has been discussed here many times before, family simchas come with shailos. Had Nora and Jeff chosen a Reform or Conservative ceremony, I would not have attended. Baruch Hashem, my sister loves me so much, she was willing to accept a Halachic ceremony, and Baruch Hashem, Jeff loves her so much, he was willing, too. But the biggest bracha of all is not that “they gave in to us,” but that in the process, they connected with their Yiddishkeit and they liked it. Jeff’s happy “Harei at mekudeshet li b’tabaat zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisroel” was an awesome moment. Talk about kavanah! His Hebrew school years never served him better.

Of course, most of the credit goes to the kiruv couple who became their mesader kadushin and kallah teacher. They guided my sister and her chosson with amazing wisdom and sensitivity, knowing when to be mekarev and when to let things slide. I couldn’t have done it. I’m too emotionally involved. (The Rabbi and Rebbetzin prefer to remain anonymous on this public forum, but they are available for other couples. Email me at

One of the “slide” areas was Jeff’s aufruf, held in Jeff’s father’s non-Orthodox shul. Jeff’s father told me that all the major life cycle events – the brissin and the bar mitzvahs – took place in that shul, and he was especially grateful that Jeff’s aufruf should be there, too. It was decidedly non-Traditional; my sister participated and got an aliyah with the chosson, but I don’t see how any Rabbi could possibly deny Jeff’s father the joy of celebrating his own son’s aufruf amongst his friends. You see, Jeff’s father is a Holocaust survivor. He is quite involved in educating young Jews about his experiences and speaks at youth groups regularly because, as he says, “in a few more years, there will be none of us left.” He asked permission to show my eldest son his number, and though my husband and I consented, my son shied away. So instead, I was the one to listen to his recollections. As a teenage boy, he was conscripted into hard labor, and he watched the Nazis line people up and shoot them dead, one after another. He was crying as he described it, and it occurred to me: this is zecher l’churban, a real breaking of the glass. But while on one hand, his memories and experiences temper the simcha, they also enhance it. Baruch Hashem, the Jewish people survived, and a wedding, of all celebrations, is a promise of our future.

Admittedly, the mixed dancing made for a sticky situation. After having insisted on a kosher chuppah and kosher catering, I felt it would have been too much of an imposition to insist on separate dancing also. After all, the kosher chuppah was performed so that Nora and Jeff could be married k’das Moshe v’Yisroel, which is to their benefit. Kosher catering – well, that’s a snap in New York City. But I couldn’t see depriving Jeff’s family of mixed dancing just because I can’t do it and my husband can’t see it.

While the wedding was in the planning stages, the mixed dancing compromise was probably the shailah that I discussed most with my own Rov. My “frummer than thou” issues popped up then, too, not so much with the Rov but with my friends. One BT friend didn’t bring her kids to her sister’s wedding specifically because of the mixed dancing. “Their neshamos can’t handle it,” she said. My very Chassidishe FFB neighbor advised me to speak to a chinuch expert for the very same reason. Well, I can’t be such a purist. My kids are very close to my sister, and they were excited about her wedding. Yes, they are far more exposed to outside influences than their schoolmates, but that’s just the slippery slope we BTs have to traverse.

Baruch Hashem, the layout of the hall worked in our favor. My husband and the kids sat in a place where they did not have to view any of the dancing. As for me, Nora and Jeff kindly asked that the first hora be in separate circles of men and women, so I sort of stepped-walked my way around the women’s circle. I did pull my sister aside for a private dance, and though I tried, I did not entirely escape the view of the men. But my sister told me it was one of her favorite moments of the wedding. May Hashem forgive me for that.

As to how to negotiate such simchas within your own families, I don’t feel I can offer much advice. The credit goes to Nora and Jeff for being open-minded enough to consider a Halachic ceremony and to the special Rabbi and Rebbetzin for striking a balance which made everybody happy. But I do have one idea, and we may just be the crowd to pull it off. I’m sure that many of us have single, freieh Jewish friends and relatives. Why don’t we pool our resources and add making shidduchim to the missions of Beyond BT? I know a very sweet woman of 36 or 37 who needs a nice, intelligent guy. Email me if you know anyone.

May Hashem continue to bring Yidden together for all kinds of simchas.

Should We Attempt to Make Our Family Frum?

My brother recently has been searching for answers to the age-old questions. Why is life so difficult? Why is he faced with challenges? Why don’t things turn out the way he wants them to? He also wonders about God and religion and his place in the world.

He’s been asking a lot of people these questions. He asked the rabbi of the Reform congregation that my family attends; he talks to my parents and grandparents about it. And recently, he asked me.

He came to me specifically wanting to know why I became Orthodox. My process to becoming frum happened quite a while ago; he was young and didn’t remember the details, but he was certainly puzzled by it considering I’m the only Orthodox Jew he knows (he lives in Birmingham, Alabama, where there is what can definitely be considered a dearth of Orthodox Jews around).

I gave him a brief overview of my journey and process; I told him that, for me, Orthodox Judaism seemed to offer meaning and purpose to an existence that I previously couldn’t figure out, that seemed random and disjointed.
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A Family Simcha

We recently attended a Bas Mitzvah of a very close family relative. The family is traditional, does not work on Yom Tov attends shul on Shabbos and belongs to an Orthodox shul, despite the fact that they are not what we would call Shomer Torah U Mitzvos. The Bas Mitzvah attends a prominent coed yeshiva in Manhattan.We spend Thanksgiving, Chanukah and one meal together during Chol HaMoed Sukkos and celebrate family simchos together.

We spent Shabbos in the immediate vicinity of an Orthodox shul where we attended and enjoyed wonderful davening and fantastic meals that were catered by a very prominent Glatt caterer for both Shabbos dinner and lunch for all attendees. This shul’s mispallelim range from MO of all kinds to Chasidishe to Yeshivish to interns and residents who are working at a nearby prominent hospital . One of the highlights was hearing a Chasidishe Chazan daven Kedusha to Yerushalayim Shel Zahav!
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Who’s Crazy Now?

by Akiva of Mystical Paths (

When I was a bit younger, a year or two from bar mitzvah age, my uncle went crazy. Or, so I was told. You see, he became ‘religious’, and the whole family told me my beloved uncle had gone absolutely bonkers. If he was coming to visit, they’d put their arms around me and say, “Akiva (though they didn’t call me Akiva back then), be careful when your uncle comes over, he’s gone crazy.” And, on a couple of occasions when I went to visit him with my grandmother, a”h, she’d carefully prep me, “Akiva (though she didn’t call me that back then), he and your cousins may act funny on Saturday or have funny food demands, don’t mind them because they’re crazy.”

Now my uncle is a man I greatly respect. He has a certain powerful presence, has done big things and is even a little famous. I respect his opinion and his intellgence, but of course didn’t respect anything about religion becase he was crazy. My cousins are close to my age, we always had fun together. When visiting, when they went to synogogue on Saturday I followed them and went with the flow. But of course, I didn’t pay much attention to what they were actually doing or what it meant, because they were crazy.
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Can You Really Get Everything You Want at Alice’s Restaurant?

Early on in my journey in observance, I realized that Passover was not a holiday I could spend with my family. Every year the first Seder would be at my grandparents’ house and the second Seder would be at my temple. Although my temple was within walking distance of my house, my grandma’s house was not. That, and the fact that my parents weren’t really expecting me to come home in the midst of finals. I’ve accepted not seeing my parents on any Shabbat or yom tov, save when they visit me at Penn. And I’m fine with that.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, was one of the few holidays that I could spend at home with my family. For the past 10 or so years, we’ve hosted our extended family for Thanksgiving, with our cousins from New Jersey, California, and sometimes even Guatemala coming to the meal. Usually there are over 20 people. This was convenient when I started keeping kosher, since my parents started keeping a kosher house and no one had to make any special arrangements for me. Plus, I got to stay in my own home,sleep in my own bed ans see my cats, whom I always miss.
Read more Can You Really Get Everything You Want at Alice’s Restaurant?

Facing the Realities of an Orthodox Conversion

Rishonah recently posted this insightful comment on the Upgrading a Non Orthodox Conversion post.

For 10 years I lived as a Reform Jew (although I didn’t officially “convert” until I was 20 years old). It is one thing for a single ger/giyores to “upgrade” to a halachaic conversion and yet another thing when there is a non-observant partner involved (Jewish or not). When you go before a Beis Din who only follows the laws of the Torah and tell them you wish to convert; you are also implying that you will observe the 613 mitzvot as well as maintaining an optimal environment where you can observe the Torah’s precepts. It is very difficult, if not impossible to have a non-observant mate. I’ve ‘heard’ of stories where someone converted and lived as an Orthodox Jew and either their mate was not observant or went off the derech or something like that. But it becomes very problematic in relation to the validity of the conversion.

Both your cousin and his wife must commit to maintaining a fully kosher home; complete with being located in the community, taharas hamispacha, sending children to Orthodox day schools, etc. In some cases, the Beis Din will not even consider the non-Jew for conversion unless this two-fold commitment can be verified. It is one thing to have “Jewish knowledge” but quite another to be willing to give up many things simply because, “the Torah says so”.
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