Singing a New Song

I know I owe many posts about many topics and answering many questions, but right now, this just had to be said first. As we overcome the many obstacles of moving to a new country, the owed posts will slowly but surely make their appearances on both blogs.


Post by Melissa

Over the years, I have heard many people wax poetic about the great Shira Hadasha in Jerusalem. People told me all sorts of amazing things about it which intrigued me and had me looking forward to experiencing it. So much so, that with two Shabbatot behind us in Jerusalem, it is the only place we have gone to services.

There is nothing anyone could have said to truly prepare us for the experience of being in such an amazing space.

Shira Hadasha, which translates to “New Song,” lives up to its name, and more.

As I prayed on Friday night, I continually found myself in complete and utter awe that such a place could exist.  It felt to me like we had finally found a place which fit us. A place in which we were truly comfortable. Here we were, in a mechitza minyan where an educated and rational group of people had found the balance between women’s inclusion, feminism, and halacha. A woman was leading Kabbalat Shabbat, and then a man led Ma’ariv. On Shabbat morning a woman led Psukei and the Torah service and a man led Shacharit and Musaf. Aliyot and leyning were divided between men and women. The amud and mechitza are right in the middle of the room with a gabbai on each side. The mechitza is a sheer-ish curtain which is pulled back at the appropriate times for all to be able to see (i.e. during the d’var torah and announcements), but people are steadfast about keeping it closed during services.

Beyond the logistics, it is filled with beauty. There is a warmth which radiates from the entire room and songs are filled with avodat Ha’shem. Over these two Shabbatot we have been present for the celebration of a Bat Mitzvah, aufruf, and baby naming. Each time the community sang and wrapped up the families in so much love, that I (a complete outsider) was brought to tears. The joy in the room for each family was truly palpable.

I wish there were more places with such a simultaneously grounded and uplifting service. Both D and I hope and pray that minyanim like this will continue to grow worldwide and will have a communal place in the future of Jewish religious life.

While it is a bit of a walk for us to attend (and truly up hill both ways), we intend to regularly attend services at Shira Hadasha on Shabbat mornings and would love to introduce any of our friends to it as well. Even if it is not what you would normally seek out, I think it would be hard not to have an appreciation for the unique (and extremely hamish) community.


(This post is cross-posted to our family blog. For more updates about life in Israel, subscribe there too.)


Have no fear, Hashem is here

Post by Melissa

I love change. I accept that the only constant in life is change. I can sing “ch-ch-ch-changes” with the best of them.  But sometimes it is just too much too soon with too little mental preparation.  Thats how I felt throughout this very tumultuous week.  So going into Shabbat, I knew I had to let it go or the anger, insult, and fear that had dominated my life would win and the optimistic Mel would lose.

So, as I lit my candles I took an extra moment to get into the spirit. I prayed that I could find the light in Shabbat and gain a fresh perspective. I knew that I needed to shift over Shabbat, or my “fake it til you make it” was going to fail.

As I read the parsha during Shabbat morning services, three little words struck me “ehyeh asher ehyeh” which translates to “I will be what I will be.”  This is what Hashem says to Moshe when he asks how to tell the people of their interaction at the burning bush.  If that is good enough for Hashem,  it should be good enough for me.

Perhaps these changes are Hashem’s way of helping me overcome my struggle to find a work-life balance.  Perhaps it is a hand up in regaining my focus on the more important parts of my life, instead of only being focused on my career.  Perhaps it is a slight push to help me on my way to being the best future rebbetzin I can be.

Perhaps what is most important in life is to be able to say I will be what I will be and to sit back and watch it fall into place.  To give up the control and the need to know, and just take a seat on the journey that is life.  To trust that Hashem has a plan for me, and I have nothing to fear.

For now, all I know is that giving up and stepping back seems like the best option to be happy, so its what I’m going to have to do. Time to just hand it to Hashem – again.

Shabbos Makeup?

Ok, this may seem frivolous

Post by Melissa

compared to most of my posts, but I just need to say it.

I don’t get “Shabbos Makeup.”

Aliza Hausman posted this recently and its been on my mind ever since.  If I wear powder makeup normally, can I wear that on Shabbat? What makes this powder special? Why does it matter? Why is this powder different from all other powder?

I get wanting to find a way to wear makeup.  I love to wear makeup when I want to look a bit prettier, and know many women who wear sheitels on Shabbat specifically because of the inability to wear makeup.  But how does that create a need for a whole industry of halachically approved makeup? There are multiple websites which sell it, and every major frum website has insights about wearing makeup.  Clearly its a thing, but it is beyond my comprehension.

Someone please enlighten me on this phenomena!

Trying the Trichitza

I recently spent a Shabbat morning with a self-described “grassroots, lay-led, independent, progressive, pluralistic, traditional minyan (prayer community).”  I have gone to some of their more social events and had had a great time getting to know some of the people involved – but this was my first time really davening (praying) with them and I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

We arrived to find that there was a trichitza! I have heard of this phenomena before, but had never actually witnessed it in usage.  For those who have not heard of this before, it is a unique option for segregated seating which is adapted from the word mechitza (which literally means “separation” and refers to the physical divider traditionally used to separate men and women during prayer services), a trichitza divides the prayer space into three sections though instead of the two of a mechitza.  To one side there was a section for mixed seating, and to the other a divided section for men and women.

It was quite a pleasant surprise for me, though I was a bit skeptical as to how this would really feel and work.  Would it really feel like I was in a women’s section? Would everyone feel engaged in the service? Would everyone feel like they had a space, or would it feel like it was forced?  To be honest, it was surprisingly natural.  People gravitated to where they felt comfortable and everything happened in the middle.  The torah was walked all through the space so that anyone who wanted to kiss it could, and people were called to the torah from all sections.  The service flowed, there was a great drash, and there was abundant natural ruach (spirit/energy) to the day.

I think part of why it worked, is that it was natural to the community.  One of their board members and I were speaking during the lunch that followed, and he told me more about the growth of the community and its trichitza.  Apparently, it started as only mixed seating and as the minyan grew, so did the needs of the community.  People began to pull chairs away from the mixed section to sit seperate.  At some point, the minyan as a whole noticed that this was a part of where they were and decided to incorporate this into its set-up.  Now, at every service people can feel like they have a space to sit which is consistent with their ideals. (Even if, like this week, it means chairs are being moved about constantly to ensure there are enough in each area for all participants to be comfortable.)

It was just one part of what makes this a really special minyan that I look forward to learning and praying with more.  I feel there are more blog posts on this unique community to come!

(For the record, I did attempt to find a picture but short of doing my own illustration it just wasn’t happening.)

Shabbat Street Lights?

Before I get to writing my post for today I just want to reiterate that my thoughts and prayers are with everyone on the East Coast dealing with Hurricaine/Tropical Storm Irene and the flooding, power outtages, and flying debris I’m seeing on The Weather Channel.  Please stay safe out there friends!


Post by Melissa

As I have briefly mentioned, D and I recently moved about 5 miles across our town into a new community.  There are many more religious Jews living in this area, and as such a totally different vibe on Shabbat.

Yesterday,we went to an Ice Cream Social in a neighborhood park with some lovely young families, and noticed something while walking home.  The stoplight at our corner turned and the walk signal was activated as we approached.  There was no one else waiting to cross the street who may have pushed the button, and not even any cars who would have triggered the light to change.

D and I looked at each other in awe, as we know that normally you have to push the button, and beyond that, the walk signal on that side of the street hasn’t been working lately even when you push the button.  On past Shabbatot (plural of Shabbat) we had just crossed the street when there weren’t cars, which can be tricky given that it is a major street and just a block up from a very busy intersection.

Our best understanding of this occurance is that the city has knowledge of the number of religious Jews in the area and has thus set the walk signals to go automatically on Saturdays.  While I have never heard of this before and it seems kind of crazy for a relatively small community, it is the best answer we could come up with.  I think its pretty cool!  Now that I know, I will always wait for the light, as it is clearly not safe to try to hustle across the street. (I can only imagine trying to do it with little legs like so many of the families here would have to do.)

Have you ever encountered cool things that help protect religious Jews on Shabbat?


Half-Shabbos, Half-Hearted

Post by Melissa

Today I saw this article (care of twitter, which I am quickly learning to love, so you should all follow the blog!) and while I want to say it surprised me, it didn’t.  However, the idea that texting has been deemed keeping “Half-Shabbos” is disappointing to me.

Turning off my phone was the single hardest thing for me when I become Shomer Shabbat. I know many people who hold out on fully diving into this mitzvah because letting go of their phone feels so isolating.  I know that’s how it felt for me. It was almost three years before I finally let go of the cell phone, and that was as a 20-something without a smart phone. I can only imagine how much harder it would be with a smart phone as an older 20-something, or as a teen with non-religious friends who all want to be texting.

That said, when I did give it up – Shabbat became so much more powerful.  I had to surround myself with live people and have real live conversations if I wanted to engage.  If I wasn’t with people, I had to find ways to be comfortable being alone with myself.  I went for walks, read books, studied Jewish texts, and learned to appreciate the infamous “Shabbos Schluff” (a Saturday afternoon nap).  Now, I have a group of friends who are all checked into Shabbat who enjoy spending time together in the afternoons.  And while some may go home to their electronics eventually, while we’re together – its a full-Shabbos environment.  We talk about anything that comes to mind without anyone checking their texts or emails.  We eat and drink and laugh and argue and just enjoy spending relaxed time together.

How often do you really get the chance to spend time with your friends or family without any other distractions? I get it 25 hours a week and wouldn’t give it up for anything.

To think that by texting you’re keeping half of Shabbat, is a very half-hearted reality.  By texting people you are opting out of being in the moment with those you are with.  You lose the opportunity to bond in a real way with those you share the incredible bond of Shabbat with.  While its hard to start, its worth engaging Shabbat with your whole heart.


Falling in love….

Post by Melissa

This past week, I had the opportunity to house-sit for a close friend who lives in a different neighborhood than D and me.  Within just a few miles of her house are synagogues of every denomination, as well as the Federation, JCC, kosher restaurants, mikvah, and nice parks.  Basically, everything I could want out of life.  Over the course of this week, and especially Shabbat I found myself falling in love time and again.

The first time was early in the week when I learned just how lovely it is to walk to work every day.  I was living about a mile and a half from my office, and even on the bitter cold mornings it was a lively walk and it really jump-started my day. I fell in love with walking to work.

A few days later there was a panel discussion I was interested in hearing.  It featured 6 local Rabbi’s speaking about a semi-controversial topic of inclusion (which I do not want to get into in this post) which was really interesting to me.  Being in this other neighborhood in the evening, I would normally not have been able to attend, however since I was house-sitting I could.  It was so wonderful to meet a friend and walk to and from the event together.  The same day I learned that a rabbi I admire would be speaking about his work at Seudah Shlishit that Shabbat. Luckily, I was already up on the right side of town so I was able to go! It was way too short of notice for me to have made plans to be here, but since I already was – I was good to go.  I fell in love with being able to go to (read: walk to) dynamic events.

On Shabbat we had the opportunity to daven (pray) with two different Orthodox minyanim (prayer groups). Friday night services were dynamic.  They were led by a friend of ours* who has a beautiful voice and there was such kavanah (spirit) throughout the entire room.  From my side of the mechitza, I felt enveloped in the energy of the moment.  This was only more intense with the fuller room on Shabbat morning as I could hear the men’s voices drift over the partition.  I fell in love with the mechitza.  Though what I really fell in love with at that minyan was how strictly everyone takes the no talking policy and how focused they are on their own davening. The kids step outside to talk and women will simply exchange a quiet hello as they come in and go to the back of the room to begin their own davening.

We also had the opportunity to have wonderful meals and walks and talks with wonderful people.  While walking between our various friends places, we also got to say Shabbat Shalom to people we didn’t know who were also out and about, walking through the neighborhood.  There is just such a dynamic Shabbat observant community there, it was phenomenal.  Everyone is out and about, walking to and fro, and enjoying the holy day of rest with whomever they may encounter. I fell in love with the community.

I know this whole post sounds so idyllic, but coming from a great but small community which is very insular, it was a wonderful change. I left the house yesterday, and while it was nice to get home and sleep in my own bed without a wandering dog – I already miss it and am looking forward to the next time I get to spend time in the community.

*A Yid of No Despair in the World (so good to see you A!)