Advice Five (Plus) Years In

post by Jessica

post by Jessica

In honor of a friend’s engagement (mazal tov!), I decided to write a post that I have been thinking about for ages, even before our five year anniversary. That’s right, R and I have been married for five years (and 4 months), and it’s been kind of a wild ride. Another friend, when talking about our marriage so far, said, well, you haven’t had a chance to get bored!  I think part of my reservation about writing this is knowing that not all advice is useful in every situation, and that my situation and relationship is different from yours. Not only that, this is clearly formed with the understanding that we are, as a family, very involved Jewishly. So, basically, your mileage might vary, but maybe this will be useful.

Dating and Engagement

You never know where you will find your person. And that person might not be exactly what you expect. We met because we were both Jewish students at school, but on the surface, we were not particularly compatible. We saw things in common that seemed to enable us to overcome our differences – one of which was our commitment to Judaism, living a Jewish life and raising a Jewish family. When we met, our definitions of those were different, but we knew it was important so we dealt with it – many difficult conversations followed. And once we decided we were going to go for it, we sought experiences that would help us become more like one another. Beyond our story, how many stories do you know that begin with “I never thought I’d marry someone who/like/etc.”

That doesn’t mean don’t be looking. Just be aware that it might not look like what you were expecting. Life is exciting and surprising.

I’m not sure if you “just know” that he or she is your person. But I did. I get this question regularly, and while being confident seems to be the norm, it doesn’t seem to be the only answer. But truly, the only person who can answer the question about your relationship is you. And it is a leap of faith. Lots of things in life worth doing are.

Engagement means things are real. Expect that the relationship will suddenly be much different very quickly. The stakes are much higher (even if the relationship was serious beforehand) and it will strain your relationship. Not only that, but it is the first declaration to the world and your family – which brings a lot of stress. Don’t be surprised, and don’t let it shake the foundation of your relationship – even as you are working towards understanding each other better.

Marrying Young v. Marrying Later

There is no magic age. R and I met ten years ago, and started dating almost eight years ago. Because of that, we have become grown-ups together. And that has had it’s difficult moments – we grow and change and have to figure out what comes next, together. We literally don’t know what our lives would be like without each other. And we’re okay with that. People who met later have to figure out how to mesh established patterns together. There is no magic age – just different issues and problems.

Creating Traditions

Understand where you both come from. Things that seem obvious to you can cause problems. For my parents, birthdays and holidays are something special – whereas, R’s family generally was much more relaxed about celebrating. Therefore, it was important for R to know what I expected, because it was so different from his family. And knowing what it meant in each family made it easier to plan joint events as well – fewer surprises for everyone.

Don’t wait, but don’t be afraid to change. That is, start figuring out your ways of doing things. For us, in particular, this means how we do Shabbat and holidays. This has changed with every year and every new living situation, but figuring out what makes us happy has really helped create meaningful traditions.

The Day-to-Day

Make time for each other. And choose to, again and again. Part of this “not being bored” thing I mentioned above means that our life together has changed a lot since we first got married. Each time, we have had to make the conscious decision about spending time together – either when we were working at Hillel and it was about making sure we had personal time and professional time, even as we were working together, or now, when we struggle through the difficulties of both being full-time students. More than that, it’s about making that decision every day, as new things come up. It’s always a balancing act, but an important one.


Digital and Physical

I feel like rebelling against my elders. Seriously, stomping my feet and crossing my arms and shouting “You don’t understand!”

Why? People proclaiming that technology will eat us. We have been afraid of it, as the article that is prompting this blog post declares, since before there was barely any technology. Our Media, Ourselves: Are we Headed for a Matrix? points out that the first technological room that disconnects us and reconnects us was imagined at a time when there were barely electric lights. Some of what is mentioned has come to pass – we certainly can teleconference with family and friends, seemingly made easier every year. But – how will our lives really be effected by technology?

I think there is a clear expectation that there will come a point where in person interaction will be entirely replaced by interface through technology. This was clarified for me by a professor, who wanted us to talk about how we thought technology would shape the future. We talked about how it would probably change a lot of things, but that there would still be a need for face-to-face time. This was clearly not the response he expected. Weren’t we the generation that was so comfortable with technology? Didn’t we think it’d take over and be everything. I explained two things: first, we’re a generation that has been from tape decks to iPods. That has been our shaping technological experience. We have no idea how to predict the future, since what we have seems totally crazy if you look at what we started with. Second, we’re also a generation that has learned that meeting someone face-to-face is irreplaceable. If online-only were okay, wouldn’t the relationships that formed online just stay there? We use the net to meet, to stay in touch, but ultimately, I think we use it to get together in real life too.

Here’s the thing, and it’s happened before: we’re slowly learning how to not let the technology eat us. And we’re trying to get intentional about it (Google the phone stack if you’re looking for an example). We learn and we adapt and we figure out rules of etiquette. Remember the early days of cell phones? When everyone was stunningly stupid about turning off their ringer? About 95% of us have figured that out, and we’ll figure out etiquette of text and how to limit when we have to answer email. All sorts of things. Not that it’s not something to worry about and think about. But it’s not inevitable. All of this stuff is about how and when you use it (or don’t).

The NPR article added something my professor didn’t, but something that we hear a lot about in predictions for the future. Remember in Back to the Future II (which you should watch, because 2015 is HILARIOUS) how the house was all fancy futuristic (while still managing to look like 1985!)? Yeah. We somehow expect that houses of the future will immediately replace those that are in existence now. I’m currently sitting in a living room that is almost 100 years old, but even my friend who is moving into her new-construction house this week didn’t build a white box. And I don’t expect to see them either, unless we’re all boarding spaceships to find a new ‘Verse in which case, all best are off.

There’s the aspect that housing styles won’t change that dramatically, that quickly. Even if, as the story predicted, we’re losing the ability to learn about our friends from glancing at their bookshelves and their CD collections, I don’t think material culture is going to disappear that quickly. In fact, I think there’s been something of a revival in the last little while – Pinterest and Etsy being heralds and harbingers. That blank space where there was a bookshelf? Now covered in some DIY decor project or something great from an Etsy seller that your host is dying to tell you about. So no, I’m not worried, but I am aware.

And don’t worry too – if the books do disappear, I’m sure they’ll be retro again in another 15 or 20 years give or take.

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.

A Simple Sukkot

Happy holidays, everyone! At this point in the cycle, I’m trying my best to continue to enjoy them, but it gets rough, especially as midterms approach.

pic from interwebs - post by Jessica

It’s been a crazy time in our household. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were spent travelling halfway across the country and back, but everything went off without a hitch despite my getting a horrendous cold the Sunday after Rosh Hashanah. Since we were with family, the day after Yom Kippur my mom held her birthday party. It was a few weeks early, but what better time to celebrate than when we could all be together? Besides, with turning 60, it needed to be special!

With all the travelling and staying a little extra for the party, we arrived home just 24 hours before Sukkot would start, and pretty stressed out. Sukkot had kind of fallen off the radar and now it was upon us, with no formal plans. I was worried it might turn out to be kind of a lame chag, but that’s not what happened. Instead, we were able to make it special, although pretty different from what we’re both used to.

Wednesday was rushed. I had made a meal plan the night we arrived home, but I was at school all day until almost 4pm. R, since the rabbinical school has Sukkot break, got the apartment ready for the holiday and went grocery shopping. With me still fighting the end of my cold and the weather report in NYC being pretty cold and damp, we planned to eat most of our meals indoors, hopefully after saying kiddush in the Sukkah at synagogue. We didn’t have guests or invitations.

So what made it so great? The simple things. First, we had a slew of new recipes to try out, all of which turned out wonderfully. From Thai Chicken Salad and Kashi Veggie Pilaf to Minestrone Soup, everything was delicious, and included a lot of fall vegetables, which helped us get into the “harvest” spirit, even though we were indoors and New York City doesn’t have a lot of fall foliage to speak of. Second, we spent the time to cook our meals together, enjoying the time as a couple, to reconnect after the hectic travel schedule and even just being away from each other for 10 hours at a time during our regular schedule. Third, because of the new recipes and the fact that we set the table the way we would if there were more than just the two of use, it felt special together and we made the meals last by talking or singing together, and teaching each other songs. I think it was the fact that we just took the pressure off. So what if dinner is at 9pm? We took our time cooking and it was fun, rather than a chore.

It was not the most traditional way to have Sukkot – afterall, there’s usually at least guests – but it was exactly what we needed.

Work-Life Balance?

I have a work-life balance. I swear. Work is my life. That counts right?

Post by Melissa

Seriously though, this is a big problem for me right now.  I know myself well enough to know that if I keep doing this I will make myself very ill, my body has this funny way of forcing me to slow down when I fail to do it for myself, so I need to learn how to balance the see-saw, or to play on other things at the park.  Well, playing in general would be a good start 😉

I’ve been talking with my good friend Talia about this a lot lately, as it is something she is also struggling with.  We’ve both been working late hours in our offices and taking work home too.  My office has an official 37.5 hour work week, and lately I’ve been averaging a 45 hour week in the office, and an additional 10-15 hours from home.  That’s ridiculous.  (And while I knew it was a lot, when I stopped to think it out to type the numbers it disgusts me.)  I have no life right now.  Seriously, even my dreams are about my work, work events, and my colleagues.

This weekend I had the opportunity to spend some quality time with great friends, and I felt guilty for the fact that I wasn’t working!  I was having an amazing time with phenomenal women, and each time I made the choice to continue spending time with them, I felt a nagging in my gut that I should be going home to do work.  I checked my BlackBerry and was responding to emails – rather than being 100% present for these women. (Though to be fair, we all were checking our phones/emails/social media – but that’s a different issue.)

While I know rationally that my work is of the nature that it will never go away and even if I got everything done every day, there would be new things added to my plate – and I feel compelled to keep up the tunnel vision and slave away at the expense of all else.  I know that by doing this I set the expectation that I will continue to do so – and I don’t want that to be my continued reality! So dear readers, I come to you in need!  What do you do to help establish clear boundaries? Who do you enlist to help you maintain focus on your priorities?  Where do you post reminders and affirmations of your goals and daily tasks?

How do you keep the see-saw even and make sure you have time to play on the other equipment sometimes too?

I need to shift now and learn these lessons, because someday I will have a family (ih”H) and I want to be able to be present for them!

{I think this post makes some sense, but I’m writing it quickly so I can set it to post and then go to bed because for once I didn’t bring work home and I am exhausted! And truly, I think at this point my brain is a pile of mush somewhere on the floor of my office.}

Making Room for “Ima”

After writing about gender and children, I ran into two blog posts about the other end of the debate – the work-life balance that it takes to be mother and have a career. They come from two very different sources, which I think highlights how prevalent this issue is in society. The first article is from Sisterhood, a blog run by the Forward newspaper (to which we subscribe), entitled “Making Room for Ima on the Bima”. A recent graduate from JTS Rabbinical School laments the difficulty (and outright chauvinism) she experienced during her job search – questions asked about whether she could handle being a mother and being a rabbi, which she suspects prevented both her and her female colleagues from getting jobs at the same rate as their male colleagues, despite being in similar life stages (i.e. with small children). More importantly, she proposed the life experience of being a mother would undoubtedly be helpful in a profession that requires compassion, sympathy and patience, all of which are increased by parenthood. The comments on the post were also particularly interesting – one pointing out that perhaps she would benefit from talking to female Reform rabbis, the earliest of whom are now getting toward the end of their careers, and another pointing out that life experience in general, not just parenthood, should be considered an asset for rabbis joining congregations.

The second article, from the NY Times, intentionally provocatively titled “Should Women Be Doctors?” talks, among other things, about the rising incidence of part-time doctors. The article is particularly interesting because discusses two different conclusions reached by bringing the same data. On the one hand, medical school is an investment both by the schools and by the students, and perhaps we’re not getting our “worth” out of the doctors if they choose to work part-time for any part of their career. It gets pretty deep – should the women have become doctors in the first place, if they can’t or won’t be doctors full-time for their entire career. Should they, instead, let someone else (i.e. male or a woman not wanting to have children) take their spots at schools and in jobs? On the other hand, perhaps part of what’s going on is that the old model was not sustainable. Is it fair on anyone to make them work 100 hours a week? Or to put the pressure on that if they don’t do it, they are somehow misusing their education? My own father is a physician, and the demands on his time have been numerous and varied. Only in the last few years has he stopped having to make hospital calls. My parents plan their vacations months ahead, and when they decide to move or he retires, he is required to give at least three months notice. The first comment to the article also points out something important – since 80% of women become mothers, to discriminate against them in this way is basically to discriminate against women. Consider then, that each of the viewpoints laid out were espoused by women, and you add yet another layer.

I found these articles and the questions they particularly interesting as I am starting grad school in a few months, and preparing to spend a fair amount of money on it. Knowing that there will likely be a period of time in which I won’t be working as well as a period in which I might work part-time, I have asked myself a couple of times if it’s worth it, especially since it’s likely that this might happen fairly soon after I get my degree. The answer, since I’m still going to grad school, is yes. Even if I didn’t work a day in my life after school, it would probably still be worth it for having fulfilled a dream of mine. However, I think I have more to offer than being a mom. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not anti-mom, but I want to keep contributing as an individual as well, in a professional sense. I can’t see what the future will bring, exactly, or what my professional contribution will be exactly. I want to help fix non-profit organizations, and I want to do it well – whether that will be full-time or part-time, it’s hard to say.  It will likely be complicated, especially in the world of non-profits that often expects miracles from three full-time employees doing the work of five. Maybe I will be in the position to make a difference – to help figure out how to get the most from people while still getting what we need from life.

Oh, and one last article that I saw on this subject – Our Lefty Military. I admire the military for a lot of things, and this is definitely one of them.

So, female professionals and family concerns – what’re your thoughts?

Picking a Life

Post by Jessica

There are moments in life when you know that the decision you are making will probably impact your life for a long time. The past few weeks have contained a lot of those moments for me. And it has panicked me a lot, for all of those weeks. Things are better today, though.

We’ve been trying to decide what kind of graduate school I will attend when R begins rabbinical school in the fall. We decided that we’d go the starving student route, rather than the domino route, because it seemed to make sense to us. It will be difficult financially, but I think we can manage. We’ve saved quite a bit here, so that’ll help us avoid “starving student” status  for a while. Hopefully, anyway.  In any case, I originally had a very clear picture of where I wanted to be, and what I needed to do to get there. Things were becoming less clear as reality kicked in.

What was the big dilemma? Mostly, it was to do with the intersection of work and family. Could a family survive with two people in high-powered careers? Could it survive if one changed their dream to accomodate family more? Was the change necessary? What if debt from school prevented us from starting a family when we wanted to? Which, in turn, prevented us from having as many children as we’d like (not that many, but maybe more than two?) A tumble of what ifs? were racing around, muddying the waters of decision.

I pretty much had no idea what to think. I thought I might have an answer ( a less demanding program, costing less money, for a different degree). When I asked my boss for a reference, he sat me down and asked me what was going on. Having given me references previously, this was clearly a totally different thing. We talked through some of my concerns, and the only ones he couldn’t fully address were the challenges of being a woman in a demanding career (for obvious reasons). He also reminded me that, no matter what, this isn’t the only choice I’ll make. I make the choice every semester, every little while, to stay with what I’m doing or move on. It was cathartic in a way, and I wish I had talked to him sooner. Someone who had way less of  a stake in things talking me through things was important. It also didn’t hurt that my program of choice offered me a significant amount of money almost the next day.