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Preview of Aish.com article

March 2, 2011 2 comments

Hello everyone. I have submitted my article to aish.com – I’m hoping they publish it without too much editing.  But I’m posting the original article here as a preview.  Spoiler:  There’s a shout out to In Harmony here!!!

Untitled Aish.com Article:

Becoming an observant Jew was occasionally a scary undertaking.

When I was on the road to Orthodox Judaism, I would sometimes worry that I didn’t know enough and would embarrass myself while at the homes of observant Jews.  Although to the community’s credit they took any mistakes in stride and made me feel completely comfortable.

I would think a lot about all the stereotypes I had heard about Orthodox women.  I would think even more about it when I met women who didn’t fit that stereotype at all!

And I wondered if I, then an Ivy League student with grand ambitions, would find my place in a world that revolved around family, motherhood and exacting parameters for how to live one’s life.

Well, it’s been almost seven years now since I made the leap.  And not only have I been able to find my own niche, but I continue to be impressed at the versatility and ingenuity the members of the broad Orthodox community possess.

Rather than the monolithic character that people might perceive when encountering the Orthodox community, underneath the surface lies a vibrant and colorful core.
Case in point.  I live in Cleveland, Ohio.  We have four major Orthodox Jewish communities and the city is home to about 1000 Orthodox families. The community was recently privileged to host a brilliant performance of song, spirit and flair led by the all-women band In Harmony.

In Harmony was formed after two women in the community, each possessing a beautiful, clarion singing voice (and one with a drum set!) decided they wanted to express themselves and use the talent that G-d had given them.  They found a few other like-minded (and like-talented) women and the band was bor

Made up of members who had become religious later in life and those who were born into a religious family, the group breaks down all those barriers I worried about along my own journey. And their performance recently, in front of hundreds of women and girls in the Cleveland community, is proof.

So often, when a woman breaches the first few barriers into the frum world, she is bombarded with the importance of finding a suitable partner, being a wonderful wife and mothering precious children.  This is very true.  I have two children of my own and really have to work to follow the Torah’s expectations of me when it comes to my family.  There is a deep satisfaction in knowing I am, in this respect, doing what Hashem wants from me.

But I also have unique skills and talents – abilities that when activated, make me feel accomplished and fulfilled.  At the beginning of my journey, with all the talk of family and mortherhood, I thought I would have to give that up.  That working full-time and doing what I love just wasn’t going to mesh with the big family I dreamt of having and the children I wanted to raise in this beautiful lifestyle I chose.

The reality is, though, that the talents that each woman possesses just adds to the quality and beauty of our community.  Groups like In Harmony add song and joy, talented women who offer classes for women and girls in dance, art, and music add variety and color, and people like me and my peers whose strength is found in writing, verbal expression and navigating the corporate world can provide professional services and advice to frum organizations who need that to continue their worthy missions.

In living in the frum world I have gotten to truly see the beauty of it.  There is no need to suppress or hide one’s talents just because the stereotype might be that you are a wife and mother and nothing more.  Every frum woman I know is that AND so much more.  Hashem has given us all unique talents and abilities – and His Torah, while exacting in its expectations of us, also provides the space within which we can express those talents.

I am a full-time professional, a wife, a mother and a Torah Jew.  And I’m grateful (and relieved) that my identity is in no way a contradiction – rather a beautiful expression of who Hashem meant me to be.

 

 

 

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Categories: Life in General, Me Tags: , ,

Education – a right or a privilege?

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

First – just a note that I am featured today on cookingmanager.com in an interview about food, family and all those wonderful things!  Yay for the great blog over there; I’m very excited to be featured.

Next – the real subject of this entry: Education. Or lack thereof.

As many of you know I hail from the only mildly diverse suburbia of Long Island.  I grew up in an upper-middle class home where there was money (not a lot, but some) for extras like vacations, some name brand clothes and accessories, all the extracurricular activities a child could want, and lots of recreation like movies, day trips and the like.  And for those of you who don’t know Long Island very well… it’s… well… let’s just say its pretty posh overall.  It has its icky spots (like Hempstead and Roosevelt.  Hempstead has the distinction of having the first public school named after President Obama – they have about a 98% African American population – and Roosevelt School District was taken over years ago by the state for performing way under failing) but generally, when you think Long Island, you think Great Gatsby, Billy Joel, the Hamptons, rich white Jewish kids with expensive cars, and the usual ethnic mix of middle class communities.

Then I moved to Cleveland where there is a whole other universe.

I like to think that I don’t live in a suburban community so unlike my parents’ and where I grew up.  However, the truth is that it IS quite different.  In our community, the houses might be similar but the population is quite different.  But even more of a contrast is the town/city/community that’s right up the road.  Sure if you head southeast you’ll end up in an area filled with million dollar mansions and ritzy parks and shops (Shaker Heights).

But if you head northeast about 10 mins you’ll find what I consider the worst urban blight I’ve ever seen.

Broken windows, dilapidated buildings, boarded up houses.  Rows and rows of commercial buildings vacant and depressed.  Even on the sunniest day with the most upbeat music on in the car, you can’t help but feel the greatest empathy and compassion for your fellow citizens forced to live in such a bleak environment.  Is there hope for anyone or anything there?

Well the neighborhood is East Cleveland and my exposure to it came in two forms.  One, through a drive on my way to visit a local charter school as part of my work on School Choice and two, through a Harvard alumni interview I did with an aspiring Harvard student from there.

Both experiences left me hopeful, if not seriously contemplating the future for the majority of the residents there are society’s responsibility to them.

My interviewee – let’s call him Will – grew up in a house with just his mom, surrounded by the poverty, drugs and miscreants that inhabit his community.  His mom, through tremendous foresight and sacrifice, got him involved in dramatic performance, and honestly I think that saved his life.  He went on to attend an arts magnet high school and has above a 4.0 gpa and obviously enough talent that he was recommended to apply to Harvard.  He knows what a tremendous opportunity college will be for him.  The most wrenching part of the interview – when he told me that he doesn’t want to be stuck in East Cleveland forever. I want to get out of there and make a better life for myself, he told me.

That broke my heart.  I hope this kid gets into college, Harvard or any other, and really rises up to the top.  This is a kid who has really struggled.

Then there’s my tour of E Prep and Village Prep Academies, smack in the middle of blight-city.  They are charter schools, public schools run by private companies and supplemented by donations to offer children an education that far exceeds what their public school can offer in a million years.

These kids enter school sometimes as much as three grade levels below where they should be in reading and math.  The school has a beautiful way of tracking progress.  Every 6 weeks every child is assessed.  Each child has a gumball on a hallway bulletin board.  When you’re below your grade level, the gumball is on the border of the board.  Then there are four gumball machines.  One for the kids current grade level and one for each grade level higher up to three grade levels.  After every assessment, the hope is that the child’s gumball moves one machine more to the right – and their chance for success in the world gets a little bit brighter.  By the end of one year in this school, every gumball is in a machine.  And every child is in their element.

At the public schools in East Cleveland, failure is the only thing that’s in the lesson plan.

These two experiences just brought up so many different emotions for me – gratitude for where and in what socioeconomic class I was born, and even MORE gratitude for the Harvard education I was able to receive.  I also felt an overwhelming sense of shock and confusion that in this day and age people still have to struggle to raise their children out of poverty and poor public education – something I thought had ended when my grandparents were raising their family, in a time when every subsequent generation got a little bit smarter, a little bit richer and a little bit higher in the class of opportunity America offered.  How is it part of the American dream that the free and glorious education these East Clevelanders are receiving is really worth absolutely nothing at all because the majority of students are failing and/or dropping out?

The fact that there was such a place like East Cleveland still boggles my mind.  Even more perplexing, is what responsibility I have for that community and its residents, after all it’s practically in my backyard, I’m just 10 mins up the road.  But then again, shouldn’t we think of every fellow American, nay, every global citizen as being our neighbor?

What can we do? What should we do?  Must we do anything at all?

Categories: Life in General, Work