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Am I missing something?

December 26, 2010 3 comments

Raising two kids and being married is hard.

Add to this the fact that I live in what could be considered the middle of nowhere, certainly a far cry from metro-NY where I grew up and where most of my friends and family are located, and you can understand why sometimes I could find this difficult.

Occasionally, I find myself feeling like I’m missing out.  It’s really hard to reconnect with college friends and relive those good ole days when you don’t even live in the same city.  I can’t just call someone up and take a night out with the girls to a nice lounge in NYC or one of our old high school haunts on the Island.  And it doesn’t even have to be about going out with the girls… The only kosher restaurants here in Cleveland are open pretty much until 9pm when the whole city shuts down and the choices are far from spectacular.  Compare that to my friend who lives on the upper west side and has the opportunity to go out to dinner or a drink with her husband to one of the close to one hundred kosher restaurants and eateries/bars in the City.  blah, it makes me feel… just blah.

But tonight I found myself wondering: why do I miss that?  Do I really feel that deprived?

And I don’t really know if I have an answer.  I’m hoping writing this helps me find one.

I wasn’t the type of person who liked going out with friends to skeevy, sweaty, icky bars.. .maybe because me and my friends all had the same kinda taste – nice, upscale, modern (read: pricey) lounge-type places where the drinks and the ambiance were as classy as we thought we were.  (I must mention here a place that embodies this description – POD, right by UPenn, and one of my friends knows exactly what i’m talking about! ;))

So why those? Was it because I liked the illusion of being fancier and richer than I really was?  Was it just a comfortable way to spend an evening with friends?  Was it an atmosphere that allowed my friends and I to open up and really grow as people and in our friendships?

I think maybe the last is the closest understanding.  And maybe that’s what I am really missing most…

Yes, I do have friends but the conversation inevitable centers around kids, whether it be the latest antics or the latest in age-appropriate milestones.  Gossip, while inevitable, is usually limited because, hey we shouldn’t be talking about other people anyway…  And lots of times we are talking just about how we are handling life… juggling maintaining a good marriage, raising our kids in a crazy world, most of us are working at least part-time if not full, and keeping our houses as well.  Who has time to think or deal with anything else?
And as I’m writing now I’m thinking that’s the major problem.  Maybe what I’m really missing is the growth that comes with having smart conversations with smart friends.  The intellectual stimulation that was ‘de rigueur’ in college.  Where we sat around debating the moral rightness of  the “veil of ignorance” and the brilliance of the Federalist Papers.   That was refreshing.  That was reviving.  And just maybe that’s what I feel I’m missing?

It’s a bit difficult to debate political thought with your 21 month old while you’re trying to convince her to simultaneously not stand on the couch (because she will get a boo boo) and to pick up all the Baby Einstein flash cards she has covered the living room with.  And difficult to have a meaningful conversation with your husband while trying to convince him that your toddler scratching, pinching and hitting isn’t just a “phase.”

This is FOR SURE not to say that my Cleveland circle  lacks the capability – I think what we all lack is time and energy.  We desperately need to relate to each other about our children because we need the advice and answers that come with it – that’s the urgency of it all.  We don’t desperately need to spend hours in high philosophical debate, about politics, religious or anything else.

So maybe now coming to this realization I need to be the change I want to see in my world (so to speak) and I’m open to suggestions on how to do this.  Maybe living outside my “box” for bit would start to chip away at the feelings of slight deprivation that have started to crop up.

Just cause I’m a mom doesn’t mean I have to give up my sense of self and what I find fulfilling does it?  It just means I have less time to embrace it.

Right?

Categories: Me

Where did I go to high school you ask?

December 22, 2010 8 comments

It’s the question that, interestingly enough, has a variety of answers – depending on who’s asking.

You see – it’s the I’m a Baal Tshuvah* giveaway and usually happens within the first few minutes of introducing myself.  The answer can instantly reveal a person’s origins.  If you say Bais Yaakov*then obviously you’re Frum From Birth (FFB).  Public school, not FFB.

Everyone handles this question differently.  Some are upfront.  Some hem and haw.  And others just outright lie.   My answer usually depends on my mood and what reaction I want to elicit.

There’s the outright admission… goes like this:

Oh Chavi Cohen… Where are you from?

New York.  Long Island.

Oh really?  What high school did you go to? (no really, the question really does come up right there!)

Public school actually.

And then the fun begins as the frum person looks at me with a dropped jaw and wide open eyes, as if to say, but your snood is so perfectly askew, and your yinglish* has just the perfect lilt, and you just look so… so… heimish*!  How could you have gone to public school and, for that matter, not have grown up frum?

huh.. i guess you just never know do you?  
Then there’s the I’m trying to avoid lying but I’m really not interested in giving you my whole life’s story or I just don’t feel like giving you the impression that I’m any different from you.

Option #2

Long Island? Wow. What high school did you go to?

Oh… A co-ed school. (Brilliant Chavi.  Alluding to a modern-orthodox upbringing and implying just a slight shift to the right.  Totally normal.)

Ohhhh… very nice.  Nice to meet you.

Then there’s option #2b.

Oh… a co-ed school.  You know, all the all-girls schools were a really long commute from my parents’ house. (in an effort to be appear less mod-ox and more mainstream).

You know – because not everyone always needs to know your whole background.  But unfortunately, this question and some other things like for example your parents showing up at a family simcha (event), tatoos, even a second pierced hole in your ears (also guilty!) can give it away.

I guess the real question is – what do we have to hide?  Like some people contest, not only did we make a conscious decision to make a positive change in our lives and to live as truthseekers at the very least, but also we, with our varied skills and backgrounds enhance a world where social norms and limitations run the risk of limiting the very quality of our communities. (This is a very big topic, not to be explored in this post.)

I don’t even have to toot my own horn.  There are plenty of baalei tshuva who are doctors, lawyers, writers, and a million other things that add a vibrancy and diversity to the community.

Shouldn’t we be proud of our contributions?  Of our skills and our journey?  Or our newfound commitment and beautiful families?  Of our ability to live in a world where we never quite fit in?  Of facing each and every challenge of being frum with family that’s not – from eating with them to having them know exactly what type of vort/l’chaim to throw you when you get engaged to and having nowhere (not even in your first year of marriage) to go for yuntif*?

But then, every time I think I’ve convinced myself that I’m properly “integrated” and duly initiated, there comes that question again.  And the look that says it all and wonders how did you ever make it here??  The look that says you’re not 100% like us and that’s something you just can’t erase.  The look that is most of the time, but not all, a combination of mild shock and almost completely concealed disdain. But you look so frum.. they seem to be thinking.

Oh…. they say.  Nice to meet you.

Glossary:

*Baal Tshuvah – someone who became religious later in life, Yinglish – the combination of English and Yiddish, Heimish – Yiddish word used to describe someone who looks frum (among other things not relevant to that particular sentence), Bais Yaakov – the general name of most all girls Orthodox Jewish schools, Yuntif – Yiddish for Yom Tov or holiday, used to describe the holidays like Passover and the Tabernacles and Rosh HaShanah.

Categories: Me

What are the perks you ask?

December 21, 2010 1 comment

I wear a wig.

This might come as a major revelation to my college friends who I hope are reading this.  Now, don’t get worried, it’s not for health or hair-issue reasons… its (not a surprise) religious!

And honestly, how else did you think my hair looked so perfect in all those pictures I post – did you see my hair in college?  I was lucky it made it into a ponytail!  Most of the time it was a curly, knotty mess.. let’s be honest.

While most people outside “frum” circles might think that wearing a wig or covering your hair all the time is restricting or limits creativity (others might think it’s fun but only for once in a while and not because you have to…), I say it’s one of the perks of living a religious life.

Perk #1: Wearing a wig/covering my hair.  Sure, I don’t have the wind in my hair anymore, but it takes me two seconds to get all dolled up!  And I have two instant styles, short, perky and layered and mid-length straight and ready to be flipped out of my eyes with that all-too-subtle hand motion.

The best part – after years of battling the curl and straightening my hair, I battle no more!  I can run my hands through my straight hair and flip away! 🙂

Perk #2: A tight communal structure that’s at your service.

Whether you need a place to stay in any corner of the world, or you’ve just had a baby and don’t feel like cooking for the next two weeks, living in a frum community makes that all happen.  I didn’t have to make dinner for two weeks straight after Munchkin # 2, we always have a place to spend Shabbos (the Sabbath) when visiting family in NY and random strangers across the country offer to host you or give you information on kosher food and nearby shuls (synagogues) when traveling the U.S. – amazing!

Perk #3: Wearing skirts.

It may seem a little limiting at first, but you start to love it when you put one just a few extra lbs and hey, no need to buy new clothes cause most skirts have a little give in them – not like those jeans that require buttoning and zipping!

Perk #4: Separate social spheres for men and women.

In the secular world there’s not only a lot of interaction between men and women but there’s also a lot of affection being thrown around.  And sometimes that affection hurts relationships, like when you see a boyfriend kissing another girl on the cheek and giving lots of hugs.. it’s just hard to see that even if there’s tremendous trust between two people.

Well, in the frum world this doesn’t exist.  Once you’re married, no touching the other gender.. nope, not at all.  And furthermore, when you socialize it’s almost always with only your same gender, making it like being in a constant sorority!  Definitely this structure offers you the empowered, beautiful environment my sorority always did… being among strong amazing women and growing because of it!

 

Those are a few perks of living in one of my worlds (just in case people might get the impression that I was complaining too much) but really, the most valuable “perk” of all is finding a system of living that gives one meaning.  There’s an order to the madness and a philosophy under the trimmings.  There’s a Higher Being to answer to and there’s a responsibility to do so.

So although my wig might be oh so trendy and while my skirts might not be, nevertheless, being enveloped in a worldview that strives for greatness and a community that tries to hit the mark (although it sometimes doesn’t) is really the biggest perk of all.

Categories: Me

When your age doesn’t match your stage of life…

December 16, 2010 4 comments

I’ve found that there’s a disconnect between the secular world and the Orthodox Jewish world.

An understatement you say? Let me be more specific…

It seems that there is a secular life trajectory and the “frum” life trajectory.  What follows is a gross over-generalization but I think you’ll agree with me.

Secular: High School, College, Job/Graduate School, Job/Graduate School, Find/Date/Live with significant other, Marry significant other, Enjoy being married to said significant other, Enjoy being married to said significant other some more, Talk about having kids, Have a kid, Consider having another kid, Maybe have another kid… cue settling down into domesticity.

Frum: High School, Seminary, Leave seminary to date, Date as quickly as possible, Enter some sort of profession, Date and Get Married (note they follow one another so quickly as to be in the same time period!), Have first kid, Have second kid, Have third kid, Have fourth kid, Have Husband enter some sort of profession, Have fifth kid etc etc… You get the picture. Domesticity from the get go.

I have fallen somewhere in between – broken the mold so to speak.  Spending years gearing up for a professional career with all the right high school jobs, college academics, college internships and work experience to mold me into the consummate young professional.  I was aiming to be THE young Jewish professional, probably an upper west sider, living the dream.

And then I went WAAAAYYYY off track.  Graduated college, traveled for a summer while attending seminary, came home, met my husband one month later, dated for one month, got engaged, got married and had Munchkin #1 10 months later – phew.  Munchkin #2 came exactly 19.5 months later.

Definitely not what most people expect from a 25 year old.

Case in point::

I’ve been going on some informational interviews lately to learn more about the development field and just generally get some ideas for fundraising best practices etc.  Today, I was fortunate to maximize my time by having two meetings with two seasoned development professionals in the same organization.  I always try to keep the personal information to a minimum, no mention of family or religion.. just professional.  I got dressed in my best suit (well, honestly the only one that barely fits after having two kids and spending most of the last two years in maternity clothes) and put my best foot forward.

One topic I’m desperate to find out more about is can you have a career that’s professional rewarding while having a family life?  Aka is flex time a possibility in the non-profit world?

To feel this out, I asked the first woman if her job brought her to a lot of travel and would jobs similar to my skill set require lots of travel.  She started talking about all the opportunities for overnight trips in the US and abroad and how pursuing the donor and being willing to travel was a great asset to my profile.

And then I realized… she’s seen my resume and met me.  Her impression was not married woman, mother of two.  She saw, young professional, seeking exciting experiences, travel on my employer’s dime, and a young woman looking to advance herself and her career.

ok.  then my second meeting.

We got to talking, he kept referencing my resume and saying you graduated recently in 2007 right?  As if confirming that I was the youngster he was expecting.  And then the conversation turned to salary negotiations and how one would negotiate for flex-time.  He asked me, well what kind of flex-time are you interested in?  Then I dropped the bomb…

Well I have children so I am trying to find out about flex-time that would accommodate that.

His response was not normal.

You have children? More than one? [long pause]  ARE THEY YOURS?

I tried to contain myself.  Did I look like the person who would have stepchildren at the age of 25? Did he want to see my c-section scar for proof? And lastly, is it THAT strange a situation?

So I just politely responded, with a rueful smile, yup, they’re both mine!

And then he continued as if my confirmation still really didn’t make it true.  So let me see, he said, you got married in 2008 and have children already? And more than one.  You must have had them right away.

Well sir for someone who raises millions of dollars, it seems like your math skills when it comes to months and years need a little bit of time to kick in!  But thanks for playing the let-me-figure-out-when-you-conceived-your-children-game! oy.

This experience just convinced me that I’m living outside the mold.  And these people are also parents!  It even made me a bit defensive.  But I love my kids.  And I always wanted kids and to be a young mother. And my children are adorable and enrich my life in so many ways.

It just seems like I should have had them 10 years from now.

Just another example of living in two worlds…

to be continued…

Categories: Family, Me, Work

The beginning of the middle of my journey!

December 15, 2010 2 comments

Well, I did it.  Here it is.  My first blog.
I’ve been contemplating this move for a while.  I’ve kept journals for most of my teenage life but, understandably, couldn’t keep up with it after I got married.  Plus, growing up in the computer age, for the last few years of my traditional journaling I found that my pen couldn’t keep up with my thoughts.  In fact, my typing can barely keep up!

As an introduction, a little bit about me.

First, I hope that I’ll get readers from both my lives, i.e. those who know me as Jessica (circa pre-2004) and those who know me as Chavi (2004 and onward).  It was about in 2004 that I started pursuing the “frum” life, or becoming an observant Jew.  I made some mature and immature decisions during the process and am excited about analyzing those here.  That major life decision also changed the trajectory of my professional life.  In high school and college I was a staunch New Yorker on the fast track to becoming one of those brilliant politicos, a political junkie that knows every member of Congress and how they voted on the last omnibus bill.  I wanted to work in politics, breathe politics and drink up the glory that is Washington DC and the political process.  I was a Harvard student exposed to the brightest and best contacts in the world, lodged in the heart of academia, just begging to be used to my own advantage.

So how did I get here – Cleveland, Ohio of all places, raising money for an Orthodox Jewish non-profit, working from home and raising two little kids (only 19 months apart) all by the age of 25?  While my friends are a) working in the White House b) pursuing their first or second graduate degree or c) making tons of money consulting, ibanking or the like in the grand city of their choice while traveling the country and the world at will, all only responsible to a significant other and maybe a puppy?  Also, to be discussed here.

This blog is my way of reconciling the past 6 or 7 years.  Making up for a shortfall of journal entries if you will.  I hope to be honest (with myself and my readers), open about the challenges I’m facing (philosophically and realistically) and engage all aspects of my own personal community.  That personal community is one that has been fragmented by my own doing in my effort to keep the ones who knew me before becoming religious separate from those who met me after.  But in fragmenting my friends, professional contacts and family, I think I’ve done myself a disservice by fragmenting myself.

This is my way of putting everything back together.

Categories: Me