Around Our House

In honor of our new look, just some fun little tidbits from around our house:

After R talked about textual difficulties between versions of the Yerushalmi:

Jessica: There we go! We don’t argue, we have girsa issues!

At the beginning of the school year:

R: You know you’re going to the right school when you get cool points for having borrowed your wife’s Mishna Berura for class

At Shabbat dinner with R’s chevruta:

Me: I end up getting 30 minutes of backstory to explain the puns.
Chevruta: I feel your pain, I’m there when he makes the puns.

In my Medieval Jewry class:

Professor: I thought about bringing my [medieval] Kabbalistic sex manual, but decided that would be too much.
Student: Oh man, that sounds like fun!

A friend, after a management class:

Friend: I met my friend for coffee the other day, and she’s having trouble at her job. I was able to give her advice, and know what I was talking about. GRAD SCHOOL WORKS! *high five*


On Being Frum and an Ally

marriage equality rings

Post by Melissa

I initially wrote this post about two years ago and it has lived in draft form with periodic edits ever since. At the time I wrote it, “gay marriage” was a hotbed issue in CO and was gaining national attention, I’ve edited it as it has been revisited time and again in CO and CA and now, with the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) hearing cases about whether or not both Proposition 8 (a CA state amendment which legally defined marriage as being between one man and one woman) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA – which restricts both federal marriage benefits and inter-state marriage recognition to opposite-sex marriages) are in fact constitutional.

In this moment, it feels like the time is absolutely right to finally post my very emotionally charged attempt at rationally explaining my views and how I reconcile being a frum (religious/Orthodox) Jew and a straight ally for gay rights.

I support the rights of all consenting adults to have a civil marriage which is recognized to the fullest extent of the law.

To explain what it really means requires a bit more explanation.

Quite simply, I have two separate marriage documents: a civil one and a religious one. The first was issued to me by the State of Colorado. It was signed by two friends in my synagogue on my wedding day, but it just as easily could have been signed in the city and county office building or on a mountaintop. This says that D and I are married in the eyes of the law. I can change my name to his, add him to my health insurance, get the tax benefits both on a state and federal level, and make medical decisions for him should he ever need me to. The second was issued to me by my religious institution. My ketubah was signed by two kosher witnesses (men who keep the laws of Shabbat and Kashrut) under my chuppah. This document recognizes my marriage in the Jewish community and affords me a few specific rights as such. So while it is very important to me that I have them both, neither has any bearing on the other.

So why does religion become a component of civil marriage? My best guess is that for many, it is harder to see this clear distinction. My two documents were signed by different people (spouses actually) at different times, and are handled in a very different way. My ketubah is also a piece of art which hangs on my wall and my civil marriage license (which is how we refer to it) is in a pocket on the back of it. (Ironically, we brought a copy of only the civil one to Israel with us.) I know that both are important to me, but neither one is more or less important to me. They grant me separate but equal things which I as a heterosexual, religious, married woman am blessed to be able to sometimes take for granted. To me, they are the quintessential statement of the separation of church and state.

Basically, my theory is that first part, the part I had to go to the courthouse to get and affords me legal rights, not only in the state I live in but also in any state I ever travel through or move to and also on a federal level, should be available to consenting adults – regardless of who they are marrying. (Lets not get too much into the nuances there.) That should be the only component which is handled legally, and in a way which carries inter-state legal weight also. Then if you so desire, you can have another ceremony and/or celebration with any religious, spiritual, or other special rituals which are relevant to you and your community. The couple can seek out a way to embrace it in their own way, with as much or as little religion as is appropriate in each unique relationship. I truly believe that this is the only way to secure civil rights for all, while also maintaining the religious freedoms so many in the United States of America cherish.


Melissa’s current profile photo

So yes, I changed my profile picture for these two days of the hearing to one of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) red equality symbol spinoffs and while I know it won’t actually make a difference to SCOTUS just how many of us did and they won’t make their decision for months – it makes a difference to my friends and family. For those for whom this isn’t a hypothetical question, for those who  are not able to have their marriages recognized, for those who can’t file taxes jointly or legally change their names, for those who want the chance to have what so many of us take for granted – to all those people in my life, it makes a difference that I stand with them. I am not in DC. I cannot stand up and share my thoughts at SCOTUS. But I can change my profile photo for two days (though, I think I’m going to keep it all week), I can publish this blog post, and I can continue to hope and pray that those in the position to make the change can see this as the civil rights issue it should be and not the religious issue it has become.

You may note that I did not address the “biblical issues” around homosexuality, and that is on purpose. I think it is very deep, dark, muddled waters which I am in no way prepared to address in such a public way. [And even if I was, who am I (or any of us really) to say that every American should be held to my understanding of religious texts? I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that is protected by the First Amendment.] It is because of this that I am turning off comments on this post. If you have something to say, you may email me directly and if you like the post, feel free to share it or simply “like” it via the built in WordPress function below.

Rules for Raising Girls

post by Jessica

Courtesy of Facebook (where I seem to get most of my news, sports updates, engagement, wedding and birth announcements, etc), I read a series of articles that I have really found interesting about rules for raising boys and girls. Given some of my previous posts, I’m sure none of our readers are particularly surprised by that.

In general, I thought her rules were really good. For instance, for boys “Relationships are important and he needs to be faithful and monogamous.” and “Teach your son laundry, vacuuming, dishes and dusting.” My personal favorite though, was teaching him to dance…and letting him dance in a pink tutu if he feels like it. Her reasoning was great “Either he’ll grow out of it or he’ll never struggle with his identity.”  And for girls, they’re all fabulous, until, of course, you get to number 19.

 19.  Don’t let your daughter marry young.  Encourage her to get out and see the world, live on her own and figure out who she is and what she wants in a partner before she settles down.

I don’t think she meant it as an attack, but I think she might be reacting to something else.

Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand her fears. In general, I think people unconsciously have some old fashioned expectations about marriage, left over, I suspect, from a time when you started having sex when you got married and there was no such thing as birth control. If you get married, you must immediately settle down, buy a house (or move into a bigger apartment), and start pumping out your 2.5 kids. Yesterday, if not sooner. No matter how old you are. So, this reasoning goes, if you get married young, you’ll be saddled with all of that immediately. I have friends who did that – and it’s particularly hard on the wife. Just out of school, small child in tow, very little work experience and struggling to establish themselves in any kind of profession. Possible, of course, just hard.

But that’s not the only model of marriage. I found my partner early, and we understand this part of our life as exploring together. Figuring out who we are and what we want out of our lives. And we made a commitment to do it together. Is it hard? Sure! Is it harder than figuring out all of that stuff and then trying to find someone who fits into your 1200 routines that you’ve developed? I don’t think so. My husband and I have talked about this a lot. When we got married, he hadn’t thought about being a rabbi very seriously. I had a vague idea that I wanted to go back to school. So, we’ve been working to figure all of that out together. And eventually, in a while, we’ll probably start looking for a slightly bigger apartment for a slightly bigger family. Are my experiences different than if I stayed single? Absolutely. But I do think it was the right thing for us. .

Getting married young isn’t for everyone. But I think age shouldn’t disqualify someone from marriage. So, my rule 19 would read something like this.

19. Don’t let your daughter get married before she’s out of college. And encourage her to see the world and find herself before she starts obsessively looking for a mate. But, if she finds someone in college (like lots of us do), make sure they plan on having time together as a couple to live their lives before they bring children into the picture. And for heaven’s sake, make sure they’ve been dating for at least a year before they get married!

So, what do you think? Other rules that need changed? Rules you’d add?

The Myth of the Rude New Yorker

post by Jessica

When R and I moved here, we weren’t totally sure what to expect. On the one hand, we had a set of friends that hated living in the city and were keen to point out how miserable it can be. On the other hand,  most of what they complained about is true of many cities (rats, crime, lack of personal space, bad landlords).  I do have friends who are currently having trouble with their landlords (a common complaint here) and ours is sometimes less than attentive, but he’s been great with the big things – like making sure the exterminator came ASAP when we saw a mouse.

Of course, in a city with this many people, the nature of the people in general can help or hurt your experience. For instance, if, at every turn, someone is being nasty or rude, that will negatively effect your experience. Many people have the impression that all New Yorkers are like that, without exception – loud, rude, nasty for the sake of elbowing you in the stomach. Admit it – as you read that, you were able to conjure the perfect image in your head, whether aided by media or not.

The reality? A lot of that went out as the city grew more livable in the nineties, at least from conversations I have had with people who’ve lived here much longer than I. The new model New Yorker is less stressed out, less hassled by crime, and therefore, more friendly. However, there are a lot of things about city culture that could be interpreted as unfriendly – on the subway, for instance, I spend the majority of my time NOT looking at people, ignoring the fact that rush hour traffic has me squished up against a person I’ve never met (and will likely never see again) and then, a few minutes later, squished up against an entirely different person whom I’ve never met (and will likely not see again). Ask a New Yorker – they admit freely the attitude “if I’m not looking at you, you don’t exist.” This attitude can stray into the times when the subway isn’t that busy, or just onto the street in general, and can be perceived as being ignored or being unfriendly. Fair enough – but it’s part of city life.

At the same time, I hear people talking about giving directions to tourists and trying to help out as best they can. I even helped an older British duo (brother and sister) get to where they were going one evening on the 1 train, and a friend saw a woman go out of her way to help a foreign gentleman get to the right subway station for the hospital where his sister was being treated.

Are there those people you conjured above? The angry New Yorkers who hate everyone for no reason? Of course. A city of this size, this squished together and you’re bound to come into contact with them more often than even in a city like Chicago. But the old guy running people down in the grocery store with his shopping cart, the lady yelling randomly at me on the sidewalk for being surprised at a siren and the guys making rude comments about each other on the subway are the exception to the rule – three or four incidents since we moved here in August. We’ve also been lucky, I’m sure, and open to the city in the way that comes of knowing we have to be here, so why make it miserable for ourselves? Still, the fact that we can do that proves that it’s not such a bad place to live.

That’s not to say that the city has no failings: the trains are unreliable when you really need them to be on time, the cost of living can be astounding and everyone does have that one DOOZY of a story, but as far as the unrelentingly terrible New Yorkers? I get the feeling that that went out of style in the 90s…

There is Pain and There is Joy

I’ve been trying to write about the budget tips we’ve learned in New York since Wednesday(which are numerous and interesting, at least in my opinion) but my mind keeps wandering and when that happens, I’ve been moving on to other projects. I couldn’t figure out what was going on until I read a friend’s status message on facebook.

It’s been kind of a rough week – R & I are still adjusting to a very different schedule. This is more different, I think, than at any point in our relationship up until now. To go from last year where it was the most similar to the most different is a pretty big shift, even if we did have six or eight weeks of transition. Things that don’t seem like a big deal become a bigger deal. That’s just the way these things work. For now, we’re back on track and looking forward to celebrating R’s birthday on Sunday, plus heading back home for Rosh Hashanah since R is leading services for the Hillel.

So, with that background, I have seen both the most uplifting joy and heartcrushing pain come to friends around me. Divorce, serious marital trouble, health problems, and the thing that prompted this message – an old friend is burying her sister today, who died by her own hand. This friend was the one who helped me get involved in Hillel almost 9 years ago – by sending me a thank you note for helping her lead an event that made me feel appreciated and welcomed. I found that note when we were moving and sent her a note about it – and now this event that breaks my heart for her.

As is true in life though, there is joy. Another friend from the interwebs found out that she is incredibly unexpectedly pregnant. After failed attempt after failed attempt at pregnancy, she finally had a baby using IVF – and as they were about to start again to attempt a sibling – she found out she was pregnant. And it seems to be sticking! And the joys of everyday things, from discovering lovely Rosh Hashanah videos (my favorite is Ein Prat Fountainhead’s Dip Your Apple versus the more popular Maccabeats Good Life) to making progress through the ever shifting pile of things to do.

Just something going through my head as we are plowing along in this season of introspection.

Wives Club

post by Jessica

About a week ago, we had the first meeting of the wives club for the rabbinical school. Clearly the experience of my fellow wives is something that I’m interested in, but I wasn’t sure exactly what the meeting would be. It was a small group, mostly because there are only about 15 wives total, so miss just a few of them and it’s a small group. Still, it was nice to talk about the issues of the day, and especially to talk to the wife of one of the students who is farther along at the yeshiva, and get her perspective on marriage and family while in yeshiva.

It’s part support group and part discussion group, so there were actually a few questions passed around for discussion. They were really interesting, a sort of check-in with where we are and I thought I’d share some of them and my answers now that I’ve had a little while to think about them. The subject was religious differences, which is something that R and I have been navigating since we started dating.

1. Do you anticipate conflict between your own religious beliefs and practices and the expectations of that others (including your spouse) have of you?

Lately, there hasn’t been too much conflict between the two of us about religious practice/belief. Most of the conflict is me being conflicted about my own level of observance. However, my conflict is largely stemming from what I anticipate will be the expectations of me when we are in a community and he is the rabbi and separating that from what I feel committed to. I anticipate that conflict, and I’m not sure how it will play out.

2. Are R & I on the same page religiously? How are we the same/different?

We are probably more similar now than we have been in a while, but there are definitely areas of difference. We consciously strive to make sure that it’s not in areas of communal need (i.e. not interfering with one another’s practice), and in general it’s that I’m more liberal than he is. I do think that we’ve both been consciously getting back into some traditions that we got out of while we were being crazy with Hillel.

3. Are you comfortable having differences in belief and practices?

When our relationship was founded, we knew there were differences, and likely always would be. We’ve gotten closer and farther and closer again over the years, but it’s always been something to be talked about and understood together. I do know that when we have kids it’ll be something that we’ll have to be even more clear about – never mind figuring out what we want to teach them and how.

4. Do you think rabbinical school has had/will have an effect on any of the things mentioned?

I’m not sure yet, clearly. I sort of imagine we might end up incorporating things that he learns in school into our daily practice, or that as he learns things we may have more information to make different decisions in our lives. The thing I do know is that we spend a lot of time talking about both rabbinical school and NYU, trying to share as much as we can. We have really different experiences on a day to day basis, and I think it’s been important to really actively keep those lines of communication open. Hopefully those will help us if any of these issues come up.

On another note, it was really great to meet a few wives and get to talk about these things for a few hours. I’m looking forward to doing it again soon, and I’m grateful that the school supports these kinds of things for us!

Reaching in while reaching out

Post by Melissa

There is a huge push in the organized Jewish community towards more outreach.  Outreach to disengaged Jews, outreach to young adults, outreach to college students, outreach to young families, out – out – out.  While I clearly agree that we need to outreach to all of these populations, I think there is something which is getting pushed aside in the process — reaching in.

There are far too many people who have gotten lost.  Who were engaged until something came up and they got less focused and don’t know how to jump back in.  Who landed in one place that maybe wasn’t their ideal fit.  Who are going through the motions but don’t feel connected.  Who are on the periphery and searching for ways to get to the middle.  These people need our community to reach out to them even more.

As a Jewish communal professional, I see the outreach every day.  As the author of this blog and a social worker, I see the people who need the inreach also.  The outreach is what garners attention, while the inreach often gets pushed aside.  Its not the award winning projects, but it is what can make a difference in our communities in a real and tangible way.  It is where each of us, without any funders or organizational support, can make a difference in the lives of those around us.

Just this week, I had a friend express that she was struggling, all it took was inviting her to come to services with me on Friday night and to join us for dinner to get her reconnected and reengaged.  We discussed some of her interests and how she can get involved in those parts of our community – and it made a difference.  These aren’t big things, but they make a big difference.

So today’s post is a plea and a call to action.  Take notice of who you used to see at shul and haven’t in awhile and see what is going on with them.  Check in with friends who don’t seem to be out and about like they have been in the past.  Make yourself available.  Learn about the places in your community where individuals can get involved, and share them.  Don’t be afraid to make shidduchs (matches) between people with like interests, or people and agencies where they can get involved.

Step up and step outside of your box to help someone else find the next step in their Jewish journey.