Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

The Debate Continues

February 28, 2011 7 comments

I’m happy to share with you my open letter to the editors at

Dear Aish editor,

My name is Chavi Cohen and I am both a graduate of Harvard University and of EYAHT.  I have been a long-time supporter of Aish and worked for Rabbi Gluckin and Aish Boston when I was in college.

I am writing now in response to an article posted on “Mommy Detour” by Rachel Barmatz.

Although it was easy for me to become frum while in high school and then college, after being frum for a few years I began to feel like I was submerging parts of myself that needed to be expressed.  This feeling became particularly acute when I got married about a year after graduating from college and had my first child about 10 months later.  Adding to my angst was the intense pressure that the frum community exerts that being a stay-at-home mom is the only option – or for second best, one should teach or find a job that allows them to be home as much as possible.  This was clearly Rachel’s perspective.

I want to strongly urge to go the extra mile and start either a column or a series to present the opposite side of things.  There are so many truly talented and brilliant women who need the support of the frum community to develop themselves in many different ways.  While, yes, many women might need the chizuk to step away from the career track, there are just as many woman who need the encouragement, support and role-modeling to do the exact opposite.  And outside of careers, there are also women who need to be encouraged to continue playing music, speaking in public, or any other skill they developed before becoming frum.

We do our entire community a disservice if we continue to promote only one right way to be a frum Jewish woman.

I wholly support Rachel’s decisions, but I hope that there is not a woman reading her article out there and being weighed down by the guilt she perceives from making different decisions.

I would appreciate a response.  Furthermore, I would be happy to contribute my perspective on this issue in an article for or in whatever forum deemed appropriate.

I urge the editors of to learn more about me and my personal struggles and challenges of being a frum woman on my blog –

Thank you,
Chavi Cohen


Use the comments to tell me what YOU think!

Categories: Family, Me, Work

Education – a right or a privilege?

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

First – just a note that I am featured today on 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

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