Posted on

Mikvah Meets My Phobia!

Note: This article is in no way a general Halachic leniency, as it is about a specific individual with her own Psak. Please consult your personal Rav for any Halachic questions regarding your own Mikvah experience. 

If you are anything like me, and nearly 86% of American Adults, you likely have some sort of aqua-phobia. Like any phobia, there are different levels for a fear-of-water. Some people just cannot get water in their eyes and ears, whilst others have it so severe that they cannot even see a full bathtub without quaking.

But no one has a bigger problem with this phobia than the monthly Mikvah-go-er. And if ever there was something that ruined your day, this would probably top the charts.

HillsideMikva

Now I swim. In fact I love swimming…up until the water gets in my face. Funny in fact, is how I can swim a good 40 laps in a pool, but I cannot face the flow of water when I am in the shower. The slightest feeling that there is water on my eyes and near my nose makes me panic – cue nausea, sweaty palms, pounding heart and intense shakes.

But it never caused many problems until I started going to the Mikvah. At this point in my life, I have found several things that help keep me calm to be able to fulfill this Mitzvah, but it has not always been easy.

I used to just ‘sweat it out’ like many women. I am very open about my fear and you would be surprised by how many women I talk to, that actually confess to having this same problem.

Mikvah night used to mean a day of stress – including not being able to eat, nausea and shaking. But like any good Jewish wife, I had to do what had to be done. Until the time when I went to Mikvah and Hatzolah almost had to be called because I was hyperventilating….IN the water. That is right. 20 minutes to get 1 kosher dip (and there were 2 left to go). I had never cried so hard. I could barely choke out the Bracha. It took my husband hours to get me to calm down and I had nightmares for weeks.

That was when I got a hold of myself and said that is it. I put together a plan and spoke to my Rav and some kallah teachers and I cannot tell you in any words how different my Mikvah experience is now. But I hate keeping things to myself, so I want to share some tips with you now because although many of you might not have such severe fears, I am sure there are some of you who still shake and fast on the day of Mikvah, and not for religious purposes!

1:  CALL YOUR RAV or your kallah teacher. I was told that if for any reason a lady cannot dip 3 times (cold water, ear infection, phobia!) she only needs to do it twice. And I was told by another person that if I cannot even face 2, I only need to do it once. But again, of course you need a Psak for this.

Many times, I end up dipping 3 or 4 times but only 1 or 2 of those are kosher dips. Which brings me to…

2: Talk talk talk to your Mikvah lady. Tell her you have a phobia. Tell her what your Rav told you. Tell her that you will try to do 2 but you may only do 1 and that it may take a while to get those but she should please understand.

When I told this to the Mikvah lady the first time, she looked at me and said “so many people are scared, take your time for I am in no rush.”  She even took the time to show me how to stand to make it easier for me, how to put my hair and how to bend my knees efficiently.

3: Find a Mikvah that you are comfortable in. One of the reasons I had that major, life changing, panic attack was because I was in a new Mikvah and the lady had no time or patience. In fact, after 15 minutes she went to call another lady to ask her to ‘help’ me.

After that, I looked into Mikvah’s in the area and found one that had great reviews. I went there and have since, never gone elsewhere. The Mikvah Ladies are relaxed, calm and so helpful. In the water, they have a little hole in the wall that is filled with water so you can place your hand in there loosely and it supports you enough so that you do not feel like you are drowning.

4:  Take small sips of water whilst you are in the preparation room, as your mouth and throat can get dry and that can make you feel more nauseous and can make it harder to dip.

5: Invest in some bachs rescue remedy. It is an herbal remedy and, say what you want, it works! Whether it is just psychological or actually healing, it helps you to calm down. It relaxes you and stops the shakes.

And finally…

6:  Take your time! No one is rushing you. Not even your husband outside waiting in the car. Not the Mikvah lady, not the ladies in the waiting room and not G-d. You can be there for 10 minutes or 30 minutes. It is your Mitzvah, you have to feel comfortable and you have to do it in the one and only way that Hashem wants you to and that is for it to be Kosher.

So take a deep breath, you will be fine. And after this, it is over for a whole month!

Posted on

Homeopathy: What is it and How Does it Work? (Continued)

By Sara Chana, IBCLC, RH (AHG)

This is an exclusive article that was first published in the SELECT magazine. We reached out to Sara Chana to shed some light on this discussion that we had on the Forum: Do You Believe in Homeopathy? and she sent us this to publish here. This is part two, you can find part one here. You can hear more from Sara Chana on her Facebook and Twitter. You can also browse her website for more information about homeopathy. 

SaraChana

Homeopathic Remedies: What Are They Made From and What Do the Numbers Refer To?

Homeopathy takes different properties from nature (plants, minerals, bacteria and so on) and converts them into healing remedies.  For example, Belladonna is a poisonous plant that if ingested in its natural form, would cause the symptoms of fever, sweating, and dilated pupils; but if diluted and ingested in microscopic amounts, a person’s fever will subside and the person will get better. It is thought that the energy of the remedy collides with the energy of the illness and dissipates the imbalance.

During the process of making a homeopathic remedy, the natural ‘substance’—plant, mineral, bacteria and so on—is diluted many times and shaken repeatedly—succussed.  This liquid dilution is then poured over sugar pellets, which absorb the liquid, and when dried, they are put into a vial and labeled. On this label, you will find the name of the remedy, i.e., Belladonna and then a number and letter. The number and letter correspond to the remedy’s strength, or potency. The numbers range from 6x, 6c, 12c, 15c, 30c, 200c, 1M, to 10M. The number represents the amount of times the remedy was diluted and succussed. Although it is certainly counter-intuitive, the philosophy in homeopathy is that the more the substance is diluted the stronger it becomes. So, diluting the substance 200 times makes it stronger than diluting it 6 times. This means that a homeopathic remedy at 200c is stronger than one at 6c. The frequency for taking any given remedy will depend both on the issue being treated and on the potency of the selected remedy. Therefore, the job of the homeopath is to match not only the homeopathic substance, but also the potency and the frequency of the dosage. These lower number remedies, or ‘lower potencies’, are used for conditions that are visible to the naked eye, or that affect the skin or mouth. So, for a canker sore, which affects the mouth, a homeopath might recommend the remedy called Borax 6x. And since this remedy is relatively weak—in a low potency—it can be repeated up to four times a day, until the canker sore is resolved. However, if a person experienced a trauma, like witnessing a terrible car accident, and is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, then that individual would require a remedy at a ‘higher potency’ that is given less often. In this case, the homeopath may prescribe a remedy called Aconite 1M, which is used for emotional shock. Since the ‘potency’ is higher, the patient is advised to only take the remedy one time and then wait a week or a month to see how he or she responds to it.

Homeopathy Vital Force: What Is It?

To explain further, the goal of a homeopath is to restore balance to the person’s vital force. Homeopaths believe that the vital force is what gives life to a person. But what is the vital force? The vital force is what makes flesh, blood, bones, cytoplasm, mitochondria, Golgi bodies, DNA, and RNA work together to create a life. The vital force is energy, an invisible energy that gives the person his or her own unique qualities and personal drive to live. Homeopaths describe the vital force as an energy that not only pushes the living body in the direction toward health, but also in the direction toward disease- depending on the individual’s orientation. This vital force or energy force is what people carry within them from the moment they are conceived until their death. Its energy must flow uninterruptedly. Otherwise, negative symptoms can develop. Blocked energy creates stagnation, allowing illnesses to take hold of the tissues or organs in the body. There are viruses, bacteria and parasites around us all the time, but they can only affect a weakened vital force. When the vital force is strong and unencumbered, these intruders have no effect on the body. Conversely, if the energy is blocked and stagnant, they may take hold and make the person ill. The bacteria, virus and parasites only affect an already unbalanced vital force to cause the disease. Simply stated, homoeopaths believe that this vital force determines our state of health throughout a person’s entire life. A healthy vital force maintains a healthy mind and body while a weakened or blocked vital force will allow illness to enter the person. This explains why we feel some mental and physical uneasiness days before an attack of a cold or fever, when all modern investigations and examinations cannot detect anything wrong in our bodies in terms of vital signs and organ structures. Since the homeopath’s goal is to find the correct homeopathic remedy for the patient, this means that the energy of the homeopathic remedy has to match the energy of the person’s vital force. The homeopathic remedy’s job is to help initiate movement of the person’s energy when it is slow or stagnant, and unblock the energy if it is blocked.

Homeopaths believe that the body is a self-healing mechanism and given the right environment, healthy foods, correct nutrients, exercise and mental stability, the body has the ability to heal itself. The body was created with everything it needs to heal itself if something goes wrong, but sometimes the body needs that energetic push to remind itself of its own strength and ability. Homeopathic medicine’s goal in treating illness is to stimulate the person’s own vital force and bring it back into balance, so that the person’s own body will be able to ultimately heal itself.

Homeopathic remedies are safe, easy to administer, and most often without side effects. They are healthful choices for people of all ages from birth to geriatric. There are a great number of children who yearly avoid tubes in their ears thanks to the wonders of homeopathy.  Adult arthritis sufferers have stopped taking inflammatory medications once they’ve found the remedy best suited for them. Adults and children alike who have suffered from chronic eczema have been greatly helped with homeopathy, after all other medicines have failed them. These are merely a few examples of where homeopathy can really be a savior.

If you are new to homeopathy and want to test its efficacy, you can start with a basic and easy- to-use remedy called Arnica.  I recommend purchasing the Arnica at a dose of 30c. Arnica 30c is for bumps, bruises, or muscle pain. This is really a universally beneficial remedy that is great to have in your first aid kit at all times. It can be used for pain caused by a strained muscle after an intense workout or for pain suffered after dental work.  Arnica is great to have at Little League games for kids, or if you go on a family hike!  Let this remedy be your first taste into the world of homeopathy.

This is the final post.

Posted on

An Old Poem, in Honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah)

Authors note: this poem was written when I was 16 years old. Therefore, please do not mind the amateur vocabulary or grammar. When I was younger, I wanted to submit this to Yad Vashem but never got around to it. I never thought I would have my own blog to publish it on. Well, here it is. In loving memory to all those who passed away, including family. Please say a Psalm or do a good deed in their honor. Hashem Yinkom Damam.

Holocaust_Memorial
Holocaust remembrance at the JCC of Clifton NJ.

trudging through ghetto street
hollow stomach, heavy feet
words telling, ‘you have to move’
searching for a scrap of food

I can’t go home empty handed
a child of eight had already abandoned
the innocent childhood, way of life
weighed with adult burdens and strife

a blood boiling, burning sensation
the posted words bolded: Liquidation
shoving us into those cattle cars
like a criminal behind jail bars

pulling us off one-by-one
I try to scram, but my body’s numb
mother said they are Jew-haters
but some of them, were Jewish traitors

it felt like unlimited amount of time
standing like dummies in a long line
those who couldn’t bear, would simply fall
as they went through our daily roll call

after that blow, came yet another
shocking separation from baby brother
I saw few teardrops in his eye
never a chance for final goodbye

huddling like herded horses in a barn
as though it were but thread and yarn
they chopped away our strands of hair
oppressive shame hovered in the air

robbing us of something so sacred
stripping our bodies, stark naked
soap provided made of human flesh
can such a shower make one feel fresh?

numbered prison clothes for our bare backs
ordering us out, toward the train tracks
day and night my bones would warily toil
for more blood to shed on German soil

napping on wood planks with 20 neighbors
was the break for us, poor tortured laborers
lucky if you got but a stale piece of bread
those were our ‘meals’, that’s what was fed

hunted as a youngster, I frequently did hide
other girls my age–ended life with suicide
some had no strength to put up their defenses
and ended their lives, on barbed wire fences

those alive then, developed a temporary maim
of forgetting in the moment, what’s normal? what sane?
some days—were no feelings, awfully strange
yet on others, every fiber was bursting with rage

unknown to us, was decreed a cruel resolution
as we struggled for a path, out of brutal confusion
filthy hands would naturally mask the eyes on our face
desperately avoiding truth, shielding vulnerable disgrace

withering slowly with each passing season
we were fewer and fewer…for we were the reason
that the world was drowning in its pollution
thus was Hitler’s, “Final Solution”

mercilessly murdering, is his claim to fame
for his deepest desire was to proclaim: Judenrein
a nation made of souls so determined to survive
showed him the answer would not be genocide

Dr. Mangele’s wavering finger, pointed to the right or left
the infamous man was granted, to choose on life or death
I miraculously endured the unspeakable possible dangers
of being sentenced to expire in those evil gas-chambers

surmounting trauma, in each survivors brains
witnessing wind fighting with furious–fiery flames
the thickening clouds, of the blackest black smoke
inhaling and exhaling, but trying not to choke

denied of any hope left, shattered anticipation
they continued their process of mass extermination
a complete population, group raped and mutilated
the whole Jewish people enslaved, to be annihilated

to the almighty lord, some turned to with tears
praying hard that g-d, not establish their fears
mothers cried for lost babies in their wombs
other hearts were broken over the myriads of tombs

after those few elongate, but bloody murderous years
it seemed that heaven opened its previously deafened ears
by word of ear, out there…new lives have begun…?
rumors began spreading of promising…freedom?!

overwhelming flow of emotions express jubilation
we tasted our first breath of liberty and salvation
it was true, true at last! The moment has arrived!
the allied forces tore down, ‘Big Germany’s’ Pride

no SS guards over you, stationed to control
there wasn’t any swastika positioned to patrol
away went uniforms, polished and pressed in starch
gone was a way of death that formed into a march

we could now eulogize all those that perished
new lives were to begin and children to be cherished
we were really free, the pleasure could burst
we lived beyond disease, starvation and thirst

maltreatment was a wicked technique that was used
our bodies had to heal for they were physically abused
each and every one of us weighed as light as a feather
in those moments we learned, time serves as a mender

as my mouth watered, the stomach butterflies sang
a country full of citizens, with a throbbing hunger pang
unfortunately at the sight of food, some people splurged
nevertheless, healthiness had gradually surged

regrettably, so many were left with scars bodily painted
hundreds of thousands were psychologically tainted
shrunken hearts were broken, and our spirit was tattered
from young to old, we looked exhausted and haggard

constant looming shadows gaze back at my stares
all alone in the dark with unending nightmares
survival is a skill, we had to work on each day
striving to do the best, in our own unique way

dealing with everything, from mental health to nutrition
made the battle to healing, an excruciating mission
withdrawn from feelings, that were forcefully suppressed
would make any normal being, miserably depressed

yet Life from that day was about reaping fresh seeds
and awakening those dormant, childhood memories
sometimes I can’t trust that I was of the few that escaped
and for all those that died we have a day to commemorate

all the recollections of tragic days in the bitter winter’s cold
and the soldiers scornful laugh when our heads were shaved bold
each and every corpse, so impossible to “just get over”
remembering remains evaporate from the chimneys crematoria

how can anyone describe, an immeasurably deep hurt?
or the stench of incalculable persons, bodies being burnt?
the terminology of this world, cannot express infinite pain
or portray engulfing sadness as my brethren’s ashes…fell as rain

Holocaust_Hand
Memorial Hand in The Garden of Meditation: “The Sculpture of Love and Anguish” at the Miami Holocaust Memorial

Photos by Rivka Bauman Photography

Posted on

My Favorite Jewish Holiday

PassoverHoliday

There’s an extremist in me. I aim for the Maimonidean golden medium for my character and temperament, but underneath it is raving Baal Teshuva. I think that’s why the old joke matching Jewish holidays to psychological disorders spoke to me. Pesach is the outlet for those who get a spiritual satisfaction of being relentlessly thorough, and Pesach takes this urge to a tangible crescendo.

The great thing about Judaism, though, is that there is an inherent balance. For every law that seems extreme or regimented, there is a delicious freedom attached. My search, then, (my avodah), is to find the balance in Passover. In some senses, the holiday has a similar payoff to those who value a throwback to the simple life before preservatives and corn syrup. The freedom is found in the minimalism; imagine a table set with fresh unseasoned fish, fresh vegetables, and simplified home with the superfluous nonsense locked away, the floors gleaming from being freshly scrubbed with lemon juice. There is a breathtaking purity in the rigidity of the Pesach restrictions, that leaves so much mental room open to processing our ancestor’s freedom.

The seder may have a strict time limit in order to get to the afikomen by midnight, but this setup lends itself to focus and intensity. During the intermediate days of Pesach, family time and festive adventures are encouraged, all while dressed slightly nicer and still sticking to the simple foods.

Last Pesach, I hosted my first sedarim and cleaned my own apartment for the first time. It was right before I got engaged to my now-husband, and thoughts were on my mind of my future as a builder of a Jewish home. A Jewish home is the most sacred place in Jewish life, and this was my first apartment with my name on the lease. It was mine, and it became Pesachdik. I hosted sedarim with friends and coworkers, making the components of the seder plate with intent and concentration. That Pesach, I became a generational link. Now that I am married and am spending the holiday with my husband’s family, I look forward to being a link among a new extended family as well as a link through time.

That is my own personal balance I make for myself. As a self-proclaimed extremist blazing ahead on my spiritual path, the human connections I have to develop ground me. Pesach is the most intense time for spiritual growth and the most intense time for family bonding. I will always remember the jarred gefilte fish, Passover dishes, my dad’s theatrical reading of the Haggadah, the frog dance of my sisters during the 10 plagues, and my mother’s matzah brei from my traditional upbringing. Now, with a new husband and new group of in-laws, I can create new memories. The interpersonal and the intrapersonal are interwoven in Jewish life, and Pesach takes this to their most elevated heights.

That is why Pesach is my favorite Jewish holiday.

Posted on

I am a Cleaner After All

My friend changed her Facebook status [around 3 minutes after she finished her Purim Seudah] to “wake me up after Pesach!”

I felt the same. At the end of Purim, I say (with fear in my voice) “4 weeks to pesach!” Motzei Pesach I say “4 months to Tisha Be’Av” and as I break my fast “8 weeks to Yom Kippur” and then “2 months to Chanukah” and on the 8th day I start planning my Mishloach Manot, after all it is “3 months to Purim!”

Am I not the happiest person ever? I am always counting down to the next Jewish Day.

As Jewish women, we spend our lives planning and preparing for the next occasion, the next Simcha, and/or the next Yom Tov. We always have something to do that involves panic and often a fear or two as well. Let me introduce you to some of my choice phrases that come to mind for said times of the year:

“Oh my g-d did you really just ask me for a cookie? Do you really think I will bake so close to Pesach? If you are hungry eat the dust mites that need to be gone anyway!”

“Of course the Menorah looks shiny I spent 3 days scrubbing it. You helped? Yes you turned off the water when I couldn’t move my hands anymore!”

“If you get drunk, I will not clean up your vomit! You will sleep outside and will not come into my house until you are sober and showered! Take point, do not get drunk on Purim!”

And so they go on.  I really am a nice person, but there are some things about certain times in the Jewish calendar that get my ‘yiddisher mama’ instincts out and put my girly-moody-terror swings into full force. And Pesach is not only one of them, it is the main one.

I grew up with a real Jewish mother who would pester my father from Chanukah to Chanukah “spider webs are Chametz, they must not be seen on Pesach and you must take them down before next Pesach!” So you can see why I get this fear when someone mentions the “P” word, I mean how am I meant to have a house so clean for Pesach that there are no cobwebs, when there are no cobwebs to begin with?! How will I know when I am done?!

Or maybe I am never done because as soon as I am done ‘Pesach cleaning’ away the Chametz, I must clean up the Pesach food and dishes, and then change back to Chametz and then clean up the crumbs from the pizza and then make shabbos and clean up again and clean and clean….

SoapyWater

I just realized the point of what I am trying to say.

When someone tells you “such a true yiddisher mama” or “you are a real Balaboosta” or (best one ever said to me) “your house is always so clean and you always have such good food!” what do they really mean?

“Hey you are such a great cleaning lady!!!”

And we are right?  After all, everything we do involves cleaning or cooking or looking after the kids, or cleaning some more.

So I sign off with the following:

If Pesach starts getting you down, just think it as 6 months to Tishrei (3 times 3 day Yom Tovs!) and that has to be harder than this. If you think your house isn’t clean enough, it obviously isn’t! Find your husband and get him to help. If you don’t think you will be able to clean everything and shop for food, wash dishes and kids clothes, and then cook and dress the kids – then go have a cup of tea. G-d will help you figure it out eventually. After all, no one ever came to Seder night and had to eat challah!

Happy Pesach Cleaning  🙂

Photohraph by Rivka Bauman Photography

Posted on

“The Road Less Traveled” – A Baal Teshuva and a Ger’s Love Story

By: Jillian/Yosefa Gross

I was born and raised in a Philadelphia, PA suburb, where you were either Jewish, Catholic or plain gentile. I was one of three children who went to public school Mondays through Fridays, Hebrew School on Sunday mornings, as well as on Monday and Wednesday nights at our local “Conservadox/Traditional” synagogue, and I loved it. This was where I learned about my Jewish history, how to daven, and how to live as a Jew. Being that my Hebrew teacher taught everyone in the school, we all learned to pray the same, and we all thought everyone around the world prayed as our synagogue did. It was not until years later when I visited a Shiva home, that I learned the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic praying, as I was taught Sephardic and that is how the families in our synagogue had prayed.

As I grew older, there was a fire in my soul to learn more and to be something more, especially when I attended my first and only NCSY Shabbaton. Something about the lifestyle and shutting the world out for 25 whole hours a week, put me at peace and gave me a new happiness that I could not put my finger on. We prayed, ate, sang, danced, learned, and I floated home in a bubble of bliss. This bubble did not last very long, as it burst when I walked through the door of my parents’ home wearing a long skirt and a long sleeve shirt. My parents told me that they did not approve of an observant lifestyle in any way. No help. No support. I cried, begged, and pleaded, for I felt that the fire in my soul refused to dwindle and turn to embers. I wept for my mother’s childhood, as I remember her telling me how she herself was raised in an Orthodox home. At the immature age of twelve, I felt as though she had betrayed her faith. Life went back to normal for the next six years…well as normal as any Jewish teenager in a public Philadelphia High School. After all I was also the artsy type, not very popular if you catch my drift.

When I was eighteen, I graduated high school and I decided that I would go to college all the way in Nashville, TN. It was me starting my life over and getting the chance to be popular in a state where nobody knew me or my helicopter parents. Two weeks into the semester, I met my soul mate. He was 5”11 in height, with a high and tight Marine Corps haircut. He was shy, and alone, just like me. We were introduced by a mutual friend and we became best friends. I instantly fell in love. The year ended and we parted ways to be back at home for summer holidays. He told me that absence makes the heart grow fonder and that he thought of nobody but me all summer. He then asked me to be his girlfriend. My heart leaped and I immediately told him yes! Two months later, on October 15, 1999, he asked me to marry him. He said to me that he had dreamt of me since he was nine years old, but his heart had forgotten that dream until I came along. On October 15, 2005, I became his wife. We got married under a Chuppah, with an interfaith wedding Rabbi officiating. To fully grasp our dynamic and special relationship, I need to backtrack a little bit.

During the six years that we were engaged, we fought through many challenges including but not limited to; him being raised in the Lutheran Church (and trying to “save my soul” LOL), being in the Marine Corps and deployed (my father made him promise to wait until he was done before marrying me for personal family reasons), alcoholism (now he is over 10 years sober), physical abuse (he was abusive for the first year that we dated; however, we went to therapy and Thank G-d he has not been violent in over 9 years), self-mutilation due to depression (he has not cut himself in 5 years), his family not liking me originally because I was not a Christian, and some other “minor” issues. But on our wedding day, I stood under the Chuppah with my Marine in full uniform, I took my vows seriously, and drank from the Kiddush cup of my maternal grandmother – which was passed to my mother and that I will pass on to my children for theirs in the future, G-d willing. I carried my mother’s white leather bound Torah and married the man of my dreams. Eighteen months later my company transferred me to Nashville, TN, back to where we met. Ironical? I think not! And thus, we began our spiritual journey.

Punch

I found a Conservative synagogue that would welcome me for being married to a non-Jew even though I am a Bat Kohen and started attending there. At this time, I had no what Chabad was, or even that there was a Chabad House that started in Nashville a year into my college education, years before. My husband joined a church and we were happy… at least we thought. We had been back in Nashville for three years when my husband starting attending a “Bible Study” with some male church friends and he kept coming home with questions that he could not find sufficient answers to. By this time we were occasionally attending Chabad events, as I had found them through some type of online search. When we attended a Friday night service and dinner, a change occurred in my husband. As to how and why, you would have to ask him. My husband was working nights at this point and went to work that Friday night. He came home Saturday morning and he did not go directly to sleep. Instead, he went back to the synagogue for services, came home and read his Bible cover to cover, and only then did he take a nap because he had to. He returned to work that night, came home Sunday morning and DID NOT go to church. Instead he said to me that he no longer believed in the religion of his childhood and family, and that he knew in the bottom of his soul that Judaism was right for him. He asked me if I would help him find a Rabbi that would convert him.

My parents had their Orthodox Rabbi, who was a pulpit in their Conservative congregation, call my husband. They spoke for a very long time and the next time we visited my family, they met and agreed to perform the conversion. Due to distance, however, it was advised that it would be easier to find someone in Nashville. This was easier said than done. My husband asked the Rabbi of the Orthodox synagogue of Nashville, if he would perform his conversion and the Rabbi accepted, based on what he had already learned on his own. At this point, my husband had taught himself Hebrew and he was able daven in Hebrew, as well as effectively being able to follow the Torah portion in his stone Chumash. He also knew many of the laws of Kashrut; however, we would have to move to a very expensive part of town to become Shomer Shabbat and we could not afford that. He then went to the Chabad Rabbi and asked for a referral to a Rabbi that would do it, as after attending Chabad Nashville for over two years, the Rabbi was very familiar with us and loved us. My husband was told to have a private meeting with the Rabbi the very next day, and so he went. As my husband reminisced, he described it to me – how walking through the door was like walking on air, and after talking to the Rabbi for about an hour, he said that not only would he refer him to a Beit Din, but that he would also vouch for my husband the whole way!  He said that a Jewish soul is a Jewish soul no matter what it is born into and it sounded like he was just born into the wrong body this lifetime. Later he we would learn through a class, that it may not have been the wrong body, but a soul with more T’Shuava completed in this lifetime.

During this transition, the fire in my belly burned again and I made the decision that this time, because I was now a married adult, I would not let anything stand in my way to becoming the “Orthodox Jew” that I felt I was born to be. Feeling this strong passion for a destiny that I thought was mine, did not make the process any easier. The first issue that we battled through was when we were becoming Shomer Shabbat. Being that we were not officially considered Shomer Shabbat, as we have not yet moved to a home with walking distance from the Shul, we would stay with different friends of ours so that we could attend Shul. When we stayed at home, we would try to keep Shabbat to the best of our ability. It was during this challenge that I learned two valuable lessons in my life. The first was how to ask friends for the favor of letting us stay with them on Shabbat, which at first, I felt awkward doing so. The second was how to stand up for my marriage. It had not occurred to me that in Orthodox Judaism, my Ketubah was not Halachically recognized because my husband was not Jewish at the time we married. It brought on some hurt feelings when it was brought to my attention, thus for sleeping arrangements, we were placed separate in some homes. However, in the long run, it made our marriage and our friendship with each other stronger. While it also challenged some of those other friendships, it made them stronger in ways as well.

Now we live in our townhome .2 miles from our synagogue and have a little (ok tiny, but who cares?) kosher kitchen and we are happy! The only thing that would make it more perfect is if my family was more supportive.

My parents and siblings were happy and proud with the original announcement that my husband, whom they adore, was converting to Judaism. However, when I announced that it would be an Orthodox conversion and that I was becoming more observant as well, the happiness ended and the disappointment poured in. My mother again said that she did not support it because she was raised in Orthodox Judaism and she did not like it, as she felt that “it is a very narrow minded and secluded way to live”. My father felt that many of the commandments that the Orthodox practices today are not only no longer necessary, but also financially strapping. Thus, he said that it is shunned by society and resulting in the seclusion of Judaism in the secular world, and forces Jews to live in their Shtetl. When I announced to my parents that I would no longer be answering my cell phone to them on Shabbat, as they were the only call I took and I did drive, shop or even leave my home when I was home with them on Shabbat, they were disappointed and asked how would they get in touch with me if there was an emergency? I explained to them that even if there was an emergency on Shabbat (1,000 miles away), I would not be able to do anything anyway until I got there. The disappointment lasted for a little while but I am happy to relay that as I write now, things have gotten significantly better. My mother and I have an agreement that if I leave the cell phone plugged in and on, she will not call and she has kept her word.  She even helped me when it was time to replace my kitchen items by reminding me that I had to get rid of all my glass that had been heated at any time, including all my Tupperware, etc. I think that while they may not agree, like or even support our choice, they have definitely gotten to a place of respect and that is enough for me so far. While this may be the case, it is still hard because no matter the age, we all want to make our parents happy.

It was not any easier with my husband’s parents, as they show that they do not truly understand what it means to convert. I believe that his father knows and understands, as he is very worldly and has made some comments in the past that show some level of understanding, but I think his mother may honestly be in some sort of denial (not like the river in Egypt LOL). When he told her that he was converting to Judaism, she told him to make sure that with everything he learns, he should still “read his Bible.” Over some years, things have gotten a little easier with them, and they now understand some things about keeping Kosher. We are now embracing the challenge of how to address the fact they cannot bring food that they made at their house into our home. Wish us luck and give us Blessings!

An inspiring, divine providence tale: a friend of my husband’s from college, whom we have not seen in over seven years, had found us on Facebook about a year ago and has been following our journey. She is the mother of somebody that we went to college with and she is Native American. Well, over the past few months, she has studied and has become very familiar with laws of Kashrut. Last week, she privately messaged me with an amazing offer, and a true blessing. Around two years ago, she bought her new house and she was going to renovate the kitchen. She purchased some countertop appliances and never ended up using two of them, and they were sitting in her garage untouched and unopened. She saw my Facebook posts and she offered me a new toaster oven, a new roaster, and other goodies for my new kitchen. As she was unable to get them to me, I was welcome to them free of charge if I would just come get them and stay for a visit. I immediately jumped at this amazing opportunity. Hashem really has his way of providing for my mitzvah! We went over  to her one Sunday evening, for a four hour visit. It was wonderful. She believes in and supports what we are doing. She was full of nothing but love for us, just as we remembered her! She even joked with my husband and told him that moving onward, she would happily eat all of his pork chops and shell fish. When I came home and opened the toaster oven to remove the insides to be Toiveled, I was amazed! This thing was huge!! It can bake two 12 inch pizzas or roast meat on a rotation, like a rotisserie. Well, being that we now keep Kosher, it has become my new dairy oven.

RoadLessTraveled

Well, this is our journey thus far! I would be honored to share more with you – my wonderful, balaboostas women!

Photo by Rivka Bauman Photography and Other

Posted on

Every Wedding Night

I wanted to write about this topic for a long time. Mikvah is something that we can all relate to as a Jewish women and it is a topic that is often discussed between us. There was a recent thread on the forum, “Is your wedding night really that hard?“, that got me thinking and I decided to scratch my other notes on Mikvah and write this one. An anonymous poster wrote that the “wedding night is supposed to be the best night of your life”. It does not matter in what context it was written in, although I am sure you all know (or you can go read). But that sentence really got me thinking.

EveryWeddingNightFlower

Every observant Jewish woman knows about Niddah. She knows that there will be times as a wife that she will not be able to be affectionate toward her husband. She will not be able to kiss him, hug him, or even pass him a plate of food. Forget about being intimate. Sometimes it will last two weeks, other times, three, and at times, like post partum, about six to ten weeks. It is hard. No one would deny that. You love the person you are living with, yet you cannot physically express it.

After the bleeding, there is a process. There is the checking, the 7 clean days, the preparing for the Mikvah and finally, the dipping. Mikvah. You prepare for 7 days for 3 (or in some cases 1, 2 or 9) dips in holy water. There are many reasons why the water is holy and special, but the main reason being, is that it makes you Tahor, spiritually pure. This water that covers your body from head to toe, renders you Halachically permissible for your husband.

There is that feeling of euphoria as you walk out of the Mikvah. Bag in hand, spotlessly clean, fresh makeup, and in some cases, wet hair. You have to talk to your feet to walk and not run as you make your way home so that you do not get hurt on the way. And whether or not you actually get to see your husband right away or two hours later, you run into each other’s arms and that feeling is exhilarating. No one can deny it. However tired, moody or stressed you are, your husband’s arm around your waist melts everything around you and all you want is him. Suddenly, you can have each other again, romantically. You can pass him a cup of water after two weeks of not being allowed to. Suddenly, the most mundane little action seems like the only thing you want to do. Kissing and hugging and finally, being intimate.

So is that not really the best night of your life?

Of course your life is so long Baruch Hashem, and you have many many best nights. Your wedding is a fabulous, fun night. The night your child is born, the night you go on an amazing date to the Eiffel Towers, the night your child comes home from school with top grades…and Mikvah night.

I am sure many of you will agree that the more you get to know your husband, the more you live with him and spend time with him, there is more to love and more to cherish. No one can disagree that however long you dated, however long you spoke and touched and kissed when you were engaged, the longer you are married, the more real your love gets for him.

A psychologist by the name of Elaine Hatfield said there are two kinds of love – passionate and compassionate. Passionate is that burning crazy fiery feeling of lust, longing, attraction and desire. Eventually that leads to compassionate love. The kind where you have a mutual feeling of respect and understanding for each other, inner and deep feelings of wanting to protect and care for one another.

The longer you are married, the longer you are together, the more compassionate you will get, the more real your love is…a deep down carved-on-your-heart feeling of love. And who can say that making love to your husband, compassionate, honest, attracting real caring love, after two weeks of being apart, is not going to be the best night of your life?

As Jewish women, we get that every month, assuming you have an average cycle. Look at the rate of divorce and separation in the secular world, and their excuses “we got bored”, “he forgot about me”, “she found someone else”. We (usually) cannot say that. Of course there is divorce, but these are hardly ever the reasons. We cannot get bored. G-d made sure of that. He made sure that once a month, a Jewish man and woman will have their real wedding night all over again.

So yes, I guess I am saying that the wedding night is the best night of your life, but not the one where you are all dressed up in a white gown. It’s the one where you count down the days, go to the Mikvah, and then come home to your husband – to hold and to love.

Authors note: there may be women whom this article is not applicable to for various reasons. Please do not take this blogpost personally if it doesn’t apply to you. Thank you!

Photo by Rivka Bauman Photography

Posted on

Yours, Mine, and Our Judaism

I asked one of my frequent writers to consider the objections some people (examples here and here) have to some certain topics on Balaboostas. Some people on the discussion forum were worried the knowledge that other Frum women get different Psakim would be too threatening to their Judaism and that’s why the forum is dangerous. Ilana strongly disagreed.

I had a teacher in seminary who said that everyone has to have a “Baal Teshuvah” moment at some point in their life. She recommended to my fellow frum-frum-birth classmates (I was only one of a few Baal-Teshuvahs) that if this hadn’t happened yet, seminary was a good time for it to occur. What she meant by this was that at some point, in order to be a fully functional, happy adult, your way of life has to be a conscious choice. Indeed, the Tanya, a Sefer that is very important to my life and my take on Judaism, speaks extensively about Mitzvos that are done by route, or by habit. Although this is better than not doing Mitzvos at all, it is by no way the way Judaism is meant to be practiced. It is supposed to be an alive, precious thing that incorporates our hearts and intellects fully.

This involves more of an emphasis on the individual than we are accustomed to in day-to-day frum life, which focuses on the communal or family good rather than the individual good. However, what I have learned as a Baal Teshuvah is that individual life is at least as important as communal life. One cannot be a member of the community and contribute their unique G-dly spark to the world if they haven’t realized themselves as individuals. And most importantly, one’s connection to G-d must be personalized and personally confirmed. This is why we Daven Shemoneh Esrei alone, even while standing among a Minyan. My individual journey to Judaism, what made me devoted and committed to a Torah way of life, are necessary parts of my daily observance. Because what connects me is real and internal, I remain committed and engaged throughout all the different cycles of my life’s journey. The experiences I went through are personal, and actually don’t involve anyone but my own self. There’s not really some fantastic story with a plot and a happy, neat ending I can tell at farbrengens for high school girls.

So it puzzles me when people seem to encourage others to go through life, not to mention committed observant life, without the introspection necessary to make it meaningful and real. How is that a permanent solution to people who struggle because they never decided to be religious but are repeating habits that were ingrained in them? All of this applies, by the way, to the Derech one chooses within Judaism. If it is not one that resonates with you, and if your Rav is not someone whose opinion and knowledge you respect above all other temptations of laxity or freedom, then what are you doing in your Derech of Judaism? It is a dangerous question to ask, but the answers will inspire growth, like a jog where you run just a little faster than you think you can manage or do a math problem slightly above your level of comprehension. It is something hard, and something scary, but something so worth doing that it might not be worth long-term halachic observance without these questions being broached. Is it better than completely abandoning Halacha? Sure! But it’s no place in which to feel secure and complacent.

In light of this view on life and religion, I don’t understand in the least why someone would think a discussion group about how different people within Halachic Judaism practice or Pasken. If the way other Jews live makes someone feel malcontent or disrupts their Shalom Bayis, what was their Judaism and Shalom Bayis about besides for their habits? Was it ever something they chose and feel committed to beyond the call of inertia? If it isn’t, well, it’s time to Chozer B’teshuvah.

Posted on

After the Kallah Class – The Turnout with Photos

By Devorah Ascher

The first official Balaboostas.com event, “After the Kallah Class“, took place Thursday evening in the Crown Heights community. It was a lecture on intimacy by psychotherapist, Rivka Sidorsky, LCSW-C. The crowd of 70 women listened on intently, as she spoke about issues and topics that concern married Jewish women.

The sensitive and crucial topic of intimacy was discussed from a psychological, as well as a physiological standpoint. Starting out with basic information on healthy intimacy, and ending with frequently asked questions in the Frum community, Rivka Sidorsky was engaging and comfortable to listen to. After an hour and half of lecturing, women got to ask questions, discuss, and mingle around the refreshment table. “The lecture was conducted in such a modest manner. For the subject content, that was really impressive”, said some women who attended. “There should definitely be more events like this!”, others added.

“This was an exciting moment for the Balaboostas community. For its first official event, the feedback from the women who attended was superb and it was a great success! I hope that this is a start of many more in the future”, said Bracha Bard-Wigdor, creator of Balaboostas.com. Introducing the event was Mrs. Fraidy Yanover, a certified LifeCoach and it was hosted in the Gutnick residence.

For the readers who want to attend the next lecture, you can subscribe to the emails on Balaboostas.com main page to be notified on future blogposts and events.

Photographs by Chana Lewis

*As promised, photos of attendants are not included for privacy protection.

This article was also published on COLlive and CrownHeights.info

Posted on

After the Kallah Class

First official Balaboostas event has finally arrived! Don’t miss out on this crucial topic. You can RSVP on Facebook, or comment on this blog post or message me here. Space is limited, so if you would like to bring friends, please let me know as soon as possible (but they can just show up too).  Looking forward to meeting you!

Flyer by Miriam Hammer Designs