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Shiva is Scary

            A friend from my synagogue suffered a loss recently and, of course, I needed to go to her house for a Shiva visit. Traditionally, Shiva (which means “seven” in Hebrew) is the seven days of mourning after the funeral, when people bring food to the mourner’s home and stay for services so the mourner won’t have to leave their house in order to say the Mourner’s Kaddish in community. In our progressive synagogue the amount of time spent in Shiva is usually shorter, often only one or two days, because seven days of sitting is a lot, and because the short time period makes it easier to be sure the house will be full of guests each night, instead of having nights when no one but the rabbi shows up.

“If they offered chicken treats they’d get a crowd every day.”

            Shiva visits make me anxious though, especially if I get there too long before the evening service, and have a lot of free time to sit around and chat with the other visitors while waiting for a chance to speak to the mourners. There are people who are good at these sorts of things: people who know what food to bring, or if they should even bring food at all, and know what to say to the mourner, and where to sit, and how to offer help, and how to talk to whoever else is around. That is not me.

“Me neither.”

            I have social anxiety (along with Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder and a few hundred other things), so the idea of walking into a private house, full of mostly strangers, is already a big deal. There are also, usually, a lot of family members I don’t know, and friends and neighbors I’ve never met, and fellow congregants who I may have seen once or twice before, and I’m supposed to be able to navigate through the crowd, making polite conversation, until I reach the mourner to say, what? “I’m so sorry for your loss” is the most common and reliable thing to say, and I am sorry and it is a loss. But I tend to feel like I should suddenly be the most outgoing person on the planet, and ease the mourner’s grief in some brilliant way, and offer insight and comfort and support and …. I expect a lot of myself. I think that’s part of why being a social worker didn’t fit me. I often got home at the end of the day of field work with a long list of things I hadn’t accomplished, or didn’t understand, or couldn’t manage, or didn’t have time to do, and the guilt was unbearable.

            Given all of that, I felt a strong impulse to skip this Shiva visit altogether; to pull the covers over my head and pretend it wasn’t happening and that no one would miss me. And the fact is, no one would have criticized me, or even commented, if I hadn’t gone, but I knew I would feel awful, so I had to go.

            To make the visit more manageable I went as close as possible to the start of the evening service, to limit the chat time. The prayer service at Shiva is pretty short and is mostly there to facilitate the saying of the Mourner’s Kaddish, but even those few familiar prayers can be comforting in the midst of all of that grief and pain.

            In a regular service, at my synagogue, the Mourner’s Kaddish is said by those who are in mourning, or remembering a loss, and only the mourners will stand, but at Shiva we all stand, and we focus our attention on these particular mourners, in this particular house, rather than on mourners in general.

            I like that idea, because then, at least for the first week of mourning, you can think only of your own pain and loss, and know that others are thinking of you and praying with you; and only after that week do you go back to seeing yourself as part of the community of mourners, all mourning different losses.

            In the end, the Shiva visit went fine. The mourner hugged me as soon as I arrived, and when I asked about her loss she was able to tell me, and those around us, about the last days of her loved one’s life. She did all of the work; I just showed up, sat down, and listened. And I realized that I was proud of myself for just showing up. I didn’t change the world with the few words I said, but I was there for her and I said and did what I could. And that felt good.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Passover is Almost Here

I’m not in the mood for Passover this year, especially because my health has been getting worse and Passover is one of the most preparation heavy holidays on the Jewish calendar, not just because you have to change your entire diet for a week (Matza instead of leavened bread, or anything with leavening in it, or anything with beans or corn or rice in it, if you are of Ashkenazi descent and Orthodox), but you also have to clean the whole house to make sure there’s no leavened bread hidden behind the sofa or between the cushions (Cricket likes to bury her treats for later), and then you have to find a Seder to go to and/or cook for a Seder.

“Wait a minute, were you watching me hide that piece of bread?”

            For most of my adult life I’ve been Passover-averse, in large part because my father made a mess of it. As a little kid, I loved Passover, especially going to Seders at my grandfather’s house (Mom’s father). But as my father became more religious he decided that everything my brother and I had been taught about Judaism was wrong. His new rules were demeaning and punitive and took the joy out of all the holidays, but especially Passover, which, if the rules are followed rigidly, can be something of a nightmare. As an adult, it took me a long time to even be able to walk into a synagogue, let alone go to services again. And even after we joined our current synagogue, eleven years ago, and I started to go to services every week, I still mostly pretended that Passover was just another week of the year. But as a synagogue school teacher, I can’t ignore it, because I have to teach it.

Part of me wishes I had the time to teach my students about Passover the way I learned it as a kid at my Jewish Day School. In first grade, we learned Echad Mi Yodea (Who Knows One?) in Yiddish, and each year we had a model Seder and learned tons of songs and prayers and stories and traditions. And then classes ended a few days before Passover so we could be home to help with the special food shopping, and changing over the dishes, and searching for chametz (leavened bread, like bread crumbs or cereal) with a kit we got from school, made of a small white paper bag, a feather, a wooden spoon, and a candle. The search for chametz is a kid-friendly ritual done in the dark on the night before the first Seder, where the adults hide little piles of chametz for the kids to find (with a candle to see by, and a feather and spoon for collecting the chametz into the paper bag, and then the whole kit is burned), all to symbolize the official transition from a house full of chametz to a house that is kosher for Passover.

Not my picture

            I’d love to share these rituals with my students, but I can’t figure out how to do it in our small classroom and the few minutes we have available between all of the other things they need to learn. I’m hoping that some of the girls in my class will come to the Women’s Seder at the synagogue, which is kind of like a grown-up Model Seder, with all of the handwashing and singing and blessings and rituals you could ask for. It’s scheduled ahead of Passover on the assumption that the actual family Seders will require women to do the cooking and cleaning and serving and therefore not really get the chance to focus on the meaning of the holiday itself. And because it’s a Seder for women, the pronouns in the blessings will be changed (because in the traditional blessings the pronouns are all male), and we will consider the female characters in the story who have generally been left out, and we’ll eat food prepared by someone else and sing songs written by women.

            If I had the energy, and the time, and the money, I would love to have a Model Seder with my students, where we could try dishes from Jewish communities around the world: like Moroccan Dafina stew, and Italian fried artichokes, and Turkish leek meatballs, and especially Ethiopian Matzah made with chickpea flour. And then we could try out different kinds of rituals, like the way the Ethiopians break their dishes before Passover (to avoid any chance of having chametz in their food over Passover), and some Sephardi Jews hit each other with scallions to simulate the way the slaves were beaten (well, maybe not that one), or the tradition where the Seder participants carry a heavy bag around the table to remind them of the burdens of slavery. And then, of course, the kids would obsess together over what they should ask for from their parents as rewards for finding the hidden piece of Matza (the Afikomen) at their own Seders.

“What will you give me for this Matzah thing?”

            That’s what I’d like to do, but I don’t have the classroom time to do it. And, more importantly, I really don’t have the energy. When I’m not in school with my students lately, I’m generally home in my pajamas, resting, or at least trying to. To be honest, I’ve spent most of my time recently binging past seasons of the Great British Baking Show on Netflix (because I finally have access to all of the seasons I missed after they moved from PBS to Netflix in the States).

            If I get a magical spurt of energy before Passover, I might do some vacuuming and search through the couch cushions for Cricket’s hidden crumbs, but once synagogue school goes on vacation, it’s likely that I will spend most of the holiday just resting, and hoping that that will be enough to give me the strength to finish out the synagogue school year with my kids.

            And, really, if I can do that, I’ll be happy.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Singing the Psalms

            The part-time musical director/rabbinical student at our synagogue decided to do something different for our monthly musical services this year. Usually we would have a Shabbat band, made up of professionals and congregants, set up next to the Cantor, and making the service feel like a rousing concert. But this year, the sanctuary has been set up in concentric circles, with the congregant singers and musicians in the middle and the rest of the congregation spreading out from there. It’s more intimate without the professional musicians, and there’s more of a focus on meditation and silence between the songs. And, maybe most important, the new songs we learned for these services were from the Book of Psalms, excerpted and used like chants, with lots of repetition and rhythm.

            It’s been an interesting experiment, especially for me as one of the singers, because it’s made me feel more like a participant in making the music, instead of an observer on the sidelines. And it feels really good to sing again, even though I’m still struggling with my breathing. It feels good to be a part of a whole group making music together.

“But we want to sing too!”

            The Psalms have always been a part of the traditional Friday night service, but we haven’t always sung them at my synagogue, and certainly not all six of the Psalms that are included in the prayer book as part of Kabbalat Shabbat (the Welcoming of Shabbat, or the warm up before the official evening service).

We studied the book of Psalms a few years ago in Bible Study, but I don’t think I paid a lot of attention. I was probably still in graduate school for social work at that point, and struggling to pay attention to anything other than school, but I do remember the Rabbi saying that many of the Psalms are “macaroni songs,” or songs that can easily be sung to different tunes, and that opens them up to many different musical interpretations that can give a whole new energy to familiar words.

“I like macaroni!”

            The Psalms, as opposed to most of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, were created to be sung by the Levites in the Temple in Jerusalem. Some of the Psalms even tell you which instruments you should play to accompany them. The Greek word Psalmos means “a song accompanied by a stringed instrument,” and the Hebrew word for the Book of Psalms is Tehillim, which means “songs of praise,” though not all of the Psalms are about praising God. There are one hundred and fifty individual Psalms, and some are communal laments, and others express individual grief and anger at God, and some are thanksgiving and praise songs, but the value of the Psalms is that they give voice to a range of emotions, like joy and fear and rage and gratitude, and they appear in daily and weekly Jewish services, and holidays and funerals, because they can help us to express things when we have no words of our own.

            The Psalms used for Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday night are Psalms 95-99, plus Psalm 29, and there are a few versions that I really like:

            (From Psalm 96) Shiru L’Adonai by Nigunim Ensemble https://youtu.be/yM6_49gQmXw

       (Also from Psalm 96) Ya'aloz Sadai by Nava Tehilla https://youtu.be/QwGksNJixtc
       (From Psalm 98) Zamru L’Adonai by Nava Tehila - https://youtu.be/XQe7vqnCZmU
 

            One of the Psalms we sang all the time, without realizing it was a Psalm, was By the Waters of Babylon. I think we first learned it to sing at a school concert, or maybe at camp, but I knew an English version and a Hebrew version and only in my research for this essay did I realize it came from Psalm 137: By the waters of Babylon, there we sat, sat and wept, as we remembered Zion. It’s a communal lament at the loss of home after the first Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the Israelites were exiled to Babylon. We always sang the first lines, but the Psalm goes on to another saying we learned in school: If I forget you, or Jerusalem, let my right hand wither. It always sounded so strange to me, especially on it’s own, because I was clearly an American kid, not longing to go anywhere else, and yet I was supposed to feel so guilty at not longing for Jerusalem that I would lose my right hand. And I’m a righty, so it bothered me a lot. The Psalm also includes a revenge fantasy against the enemies of Israel, and we can read it as literal – that we want to kill those who wronged us or took things from us, or we can read it as a moment of catharsis, to get our yayas out, that is not meant to be acted upon. I guess we get to choose how we read it, like a choose-your-own-adventure story. But the song I learned as a child focused only on the grief, not on the guilt or the desire for revenge, and I wonder if we excerpt these Psalms as a way to avoid the more complicated parts of who we are and how we feel, or the more complicated parts of peoplehood, so that we can just focus on the joy for a little while.

            But the Psalms are everywhere, not just in the Friday night service, and I never really noticed them before. I don’t think we studied the book of Psalms, either in elementary school or high school, probably because we were saying them daily in our prayers and our teachers assumed we knew them and understood them already. But we didn’t. Or, I didn’t.

               Psalm 137- Waters of Babylon by Don McLean - https://youtu.be/uTnspbSjKVc
               Psalm 137 - By the Waters of Babylon by Joey Weisenberg https://youtu.be/24SJuRGPpTI

            The Psalms can also be downright hopeless at times, like Psalm 90 – We spend our years like a sigh; the span of our life is seventy years, or given the strength, eighty years, but the best of them are trouble and sorrow, they pass by speedily and we are in darkness. It’s depressing, sure, but it’s also a chance to acknowledge the dark places in our lives, and in our world, and show them to God, and ask God to care that we are suffering, and, most importantly, to give ourselves permission to care that we are suffering.

“Hey! I suffer too!”

            The most famous Psalm I know of is Psalm 23 – The lord is my shepherd I shall not want. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. I like to think of it as an aspirational Psalm, a Psalm describing how we want life to be and to feel. It’s phrased in the present tense, as if all of these good things are already here, and I am already comforted, and I already feel safe, and will only experience goodness and love from now on. But I think the idea of a prayer like this is to help us hold onto a vision of a better world, even when that’s not how things are for us right now, which is why it’s often said at funerals. I found a really beautiful version of this one, in Hebrew and English, by one of the Jewish-male-acapella groups who usually sing silly holiday songs to the tunes of popular American music.

            Psalm 23 – Gam Ki Elech – Six13 –  https://youtu.be/bezjJbBkWkg

            But along with the pain, the Psalms can also teach us how to celebrate when things go right, and how to express our gratitude for answered prayers – not because we’re ungrateful creeps who wouldn’t thinking to say thank you on our own, but because celebration and expressing gratitude is just as cathartic as expressing doubt and pain and anger. These Psalms allow us to feel like what we feel and say and do in the world has inherent value, not just to us but to God, who is our clearest personification of the world at large.

            The last of the one hundred and fifty Psalms is Hallelujah and it’s all about praising God, here and there, for his acts and greatness, with horn and lyre and dance and lute and pipe and cymbals. There are a lot of beautiful versions of this one, but I picked two of my favorites.

            Psalm 150 – Halleluya – by Nava Tehilla - https://youtu.be/RV3xV9NJgss
            Psalm 150 – Halleluya – by Nigunim Ensemble - https://youtu.be/ngybRjtv-dk

            Some people learn best through reading, or doing; I learn best through music. So getting the chance to hear the Psalms, and feel them, through music, finally made them seem like more than just words on a page. My hope is that even when we go back to the rowdier version of musical services at my synagogue next year, we can keep the new takes on the Psalms, and add more as they are created, because each new variation seems to capture another feeling that I didn’t notice before, adding more joy and insight and space without ever taking anything away.

Some more songs I love that are taken from the Psalms:

Psalm 92 - Tov L'Hodot by Joey Weisenberg - https://youtu.be/cXwoXKDDGmw

Psalm 118 – Min Hameitzar by Deborah Sacks Mintz – https://youtu.be/EMe4-ggSkdY

Psalm 121 – Esa Einai by Nefesh Mountain – https://youtu.be/aLTt2HytfXQ

“Can you please turn the music down? We’re trying to sleep over here.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Chutzpah

            Just the other day, someone described me as having chutzpah, because of some small thing I said in a meeting that no one else seemed willing to say. I wasn’t sure if I was being complimented or not, or even if chutzpah was the right word for such a small thing, but the moment stuck with me.

            According to Wikipedia, chutzpah is a Yiddish word meaning audacity. It has strong negative connotations, but can also be interpreted in a positive way, as courage or guts. It’s originally from the Aramaic/Hebrew root word “Chataph,” meaning insolent or impudent, and is often used to refer to someone who has overstepped the boundaries of polite behavior.

And I can see that in myself, because I’m not especially good at being polite. I’ve often gotten in trouble for saying things I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to say. Chutzpah, even the saying of it, requires impoliteness, like coughing up phlegm, and not being so lady-like or quiet.

“You should have named me Chutzpah instead of Cricket. This is me!”

            If we stick with the root word, chataph, and define chutzpah as insolence or impudence, both of those words describe the behavior of someone with less power towards someone with more power, and that fits with the origin of my impolite behavior, in childhood. A parent can’t be impudent or insolent towards their child; they can be mean, insensitive, hurtful, etc., but a child can be impudent or insolent towards a parent or other adult, breaking the rules of conduct and risking punishment by ignoring the rules imposed on them.

            Yiddish as a language overall has chutzpah. It’s heretical, and powerful, and antagonistic to the norm, and in my quiet way I am all of these things; not because I want to be, but because my reality is so different from what I’ve been told to expect.

Yiddish almost became a dead language, when the majority of Yiddish speakers were killed in the Holocaust, but it’s coming back to life, and I think that’s because it serves a much needed purpose. Yiddish is about seeing the world from an outsider’s perspective, and poking a finger at those in power, and being subversive, and funny. It’s a language that is used to talk behind someone else’s back (preferably someone who doesn’t understand Yiddish), or to take the stuffing out of a person (who does understand Yiddish), or to complain about a frustrating reality, or to do some truth telling instead of trying to calm the waters.

            As I said in the beginning, my form of chutzpah is generally a willingness to say what no one else in the room will say: that the emperor has no clothes on, or that the elephant in the room is starting to smell. I’ve done that from early childhood, not because I wanted to be disruptive or rude or audacious, but because I couldn’t figure out why no one else was acknowledging the obvious, and it hurt my brain to try to pretend things weren’t happening when they were. I don’t mind politeness in general, I just mind it when it is hiding important truths. Like, let’s not pretend that the guy in the doorway with a gun is just coming over for tea, okay?

“But are there snacks to go with the tea?”

            I read another definition of chutzpah, though, that said that someone with chutzpah is someone who ignores what others think, and denies personal responsibility for their actions, and lacks remorse, regret, guilt, or sympathy. And that’s not me at all. But it’s hard to get a handle on a word that means so many different things to different people. It’s not a word like, say, light bulb, which everyone will understand in pretty much the same way.

            I had an English teacher in High School who made us memorize definitions for our vocabulary words, and if even one word varied from the exact definition she’d given us, we’d lose points. She didn’t test us on our ability to comprehend the word in context, or to use it in a sentence, instead she treated every word as if it had an exact and unchanging meaning. Except, words aren’t like that. Words are adopted and adapted to fit the current needs of the speakers of the language. I see this every week in my online Hebrew class, where words I learned thirty years ago have gone out of style, or picked up new baggage from how they’ve been used on the street or in business or in politics in Israel.

            I’d like to think that if I do have chutzpah, it’s the good kind and not the sociopathic kind, but most of the time I feel like I don’t have enough chutzpah, or self-confidence, or whatever it takes to really make a mark in the world, and make change. It takes so much energy to speak up in a discussion, and argue against the speaker’s certainty, only to find out later that mine was actually the majority opinion in the room but no one else felt free to say anything. I’d rather not have to fight at all, honestly, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. So, maybe next time I have to be chutzpahdik and speak an impolite truth, someone else will stand up and be chutzpahdik with me. God, that would be so much better.

“We’re with you!

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The B’nei Mitzvah

            My first students ever in synagogue school are now old enough to be getting ready for their B’nei Mitzvah, the ritual celebration of leading a prayer service on turning thirteen to mark becoming a full member of the community. I haven’t seen much of these kinds so far this year, because they come to school just as I’m leaving for the day, so I only glimpse them here or there, or hear about them from their younger siblings. I don’t even know if they remember me (though, because they were my first class, they probably remember the candy I used to use to bribe them into paying attention). When I saw them last year, the boys still looked mostly the same and the girls looked ten years older, but I don’t know if they’ve changed in other ways: if they are calmer or angrier, sadder or happier, more cautious or more curious. I don’t know if they’ve learned everything they need to learn for their B’nei Mitzvah services or if they’re struggling. I don’t even know if they are still connected to each other the way they used to be or if they’ve grown apart.

            Last year, when I started to realize that this milestone was coming up, I had all kinds of plans to go to every single B’nei Mitzvah service, two and a half hours on consecutive Saturday mornings for months, to show my support (and not just to share in the snacks afterward). But now, because of my health, that doesn’t feel possible. The idea of getting up early enough to be at the synagogue by 9:45 AM, and standing and praying and socializing for hours, week after week, just seems so unlikely. But maybe I can make a commitment to go to each of their Friday Night services in person, instead of just on Zoom.

“But I love watching on Zoom!”

            At our synagogue, we start celebrating the B’nei Mitzvah at the communal Friday night services the night before the big day, where the kids lead a few important prayers and tell us about their mitzvah (service) projects, like walking dogs at the local animal shelter, or raising money for school supplies for underprivileged kids, or coaching developmentally disabled kids in soccer, or anything else that interests them and feels doable for a thirteen year old, with some help. The parents also go up and tell us about their children through a collection of books they’ve chosen as gifts – books connected to both being Jewish and loving sports, or cooking, or history, or art, or theater. It’s a chance for the rest of the community to celebrate with the family, and get to know them better, especially if we’ve never met them before.

“So where are my books?”

            Right now, though, even that commitment feels like more than I can handle. But it’s really important to me to be there, in person, where my former students can see me, and their other teachers, and know that we care about them and their journeys and their futures. I remember my own Bat Mitzvah so vividly and how most of my religious classmates couldn’t be there because it was on Shabbat and they couldn’t travel. And I remember how the rabbis at my orthodox Jewish day school disapproved of a girl leading services at all. It would have been so validating to have had all of those people there in the room with me, to see what I’d accomplished and to see what I could become. It would have meant the world to me.

            So I have until March to figure out how to make those Friday nights possible. Maybe some of my upcoming doctor visits will lead to progress in my health, or if that doesn’t pan out, maybe I can just plan to rest all day on Fridays, with no errands, no appointments, and no lesson planning, in order to have energy left at the end of the day to get to the synagogue in person. Wish me luck!

“Harrumph.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

What Were the Rabbis Thinking?

            In Bible Study, a few weeks ago, we read one of the multiple mentions of the prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, and it hit me, once again, what a strange law that is. First, because who would even think to do such a thing? And second, why did the rabbis interpret that line to mean don’t eat meat with milk at all?

            In the research for my Jews Around the World curriculum, for my synagogue school students, I found out that Ethiopians Jews, who went into exile before the Talmud was written, interpreted the prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk to mean don’t eat a young goat until after it has been weaned. And that made so much more sense to me! It made the dietary laws resonate with the lesson Abraham learned in Genesis: that it was no longer cool to sacrifice your children to the gods, or even to the God.

“Humans are weird.”

            One explanation given for the original prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, is that the pagans who lived near the Ancient Israelites would literally boil a young goat in its mother’s milk as a fertility ritual to encourage better harvests, and the Israelites, in order to avoid the temptation of being like the pagans, were prohibited from doing that ritual in particular.

            Another explanation I read recently was that “do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” was an idiom of the day, that we no longer understand out of context, that meant: don’t mix the newest and best of the harvest with last year’s leftovers, because the first fruits, of the harvest and of the womb, were traditionally treated as special.

“Does being first adopted count as special?”

            None of this was discussed back in my eighth grade Jewish law class in Yeshiva, in large part because the prohibition against eating milk and meat together was so taken for granted that it wouldn’t have occurred to any of us to ask where it came from. And it has become such a point of identity for many Jews, second only to avoiding pigs and shellfish, that no matter what the source of the law, changing it now would feel like cutting ties with our ancestors.

“Like when you tell me not to chase squirrels?”

            We don’t really know when the Israelites adopted the stricter prohibition against eating milk and meat together (as opposed to not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, or not eating a goat until it has been weaned), because even though the stricter prohibition was first written down in the second century of the Common Era, the tradition says that the rabbis were collecting the wisdom that had existed for generations, finally seeing the need to write it down because the Israelites had been exiled from the land of Israel and scattered around the world. We do know that the rabbis who wrote the Talmud liked to create a fence around a fence around the law, to avoid even accidental sins, so they may have seen the blanket rule against mixing any milk with any meat as a necessary safeguard once they could no longer be sure which goat had provided their meat or their milk.

“I hate fences. I like freedom!”

The prohibition against mixing meat and milk would have been much easier to maintain in the ancient world, though, because the Israelites were sacrificing their goats and sheep and cows at the Temple maybe three times a year, if that. They weren’t going to the supermarket for meat every week, so the temptation to sprinkle some parmesan on their meatballs and spaghetti wouldn’t have come up very often, either in Ancient Israel, or when the rabbis were finalizing the Talmud in the first few centuries of the Common Era. Maybe if the Rabbis had been able to envision our lives today they would have gone with the Ethiopian interpretation way back when, or just stuck with the literal meaning of the law, which would have become as irrelevant as many other laws in the Hebrew Bible once the Jews were exiled from the land of Israel and could no longer make sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem. But who knows, the rabbis were an obsessive bunch and they liked to create complicated rules for just about everything, so they may have stuck to their guns even if they could have seen the difficulties Jews would face in the future.

            The rabbis also had a mandate to continue the Israelite tradition of using rituals and laws to keep the Jewish people separate from their neighbors, in order to maintain their belief in one God, and having such different eating habits could certainly keep people separated from each other. I have a notebook full of the rabbis’ strictures from my eighth grade Jewish Law class, where I learned that most of what we did at my house wasn’t kosher enough, and therefore I could never invite my school friends over, so I know how well it works.

There are Jews who ignore all of these rules and traditions as out of date and unnecessary, and others who think that these strict rules around food are meant to ritualize eating and therefore infuse it with holiness. Others say that the kashrut laws in general were specifically created to make it difficult to eat meat, so that we would avoid that temptation as much as possible, and there are yet others who say that the rules make no sense, but you should still follow them anyway, because…God.

“You mean, because I said so!”

            Often we search for logical reasons to do the things that have emotional meaning for us, and at this point in my life it would feel more meaningful to avoid eating lamb, or kid, or veal, than to avoid eating a cheeseburger. But it’s possible that if my grandfather, who loved being Jewish and felt strongly about keeping kosher, were still alive, the act of carefully waiting hours after eating brisket before even thinking about a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream would have more meaning for me, because it would strengthen my connection with him. I don’t know. A lot of the rules still grate on me, as triggers for bad memories from my childhood and adolescence with my father. But feelings can change over time. Who knows what the future will bring?

“Chicken Parmesan?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Comfort of the Chanukah Lights

            The word Chanukah means dedication, and refers to the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, in the 2nd century BCE, after it had been won back from the Seleucid Greeks. So, to get my synagogue school students into the spirit of the holiday, we created a Human Chanukiah (complete with dance moves to represent each candle being lit), and I asked each of them what they wanted to dedicate themselves to this year, for Chanukah, or, given the time of year, for the New Year. And for the most part, they wanted to dedicate themselves to fun things: like sports, and candy, and getting more presents, and playing with their friends. Not one of them said they wanted to dedicate themselves to getting good grades, or doing their homework, or eating healthier food; they just wanted to live in the moment and live well, on their own terms.

“Sounds good to me.”

            I keep forgetting how much wisdom the kids have to share with us. As a teacher, I keep judging myself by my success at getting them to focus on Hebrew and prayers, and being good and generous and charitable, but that’s not what they want most for themselves. Just because their parents want them to do well in school, and be good at sports, and end up in successful careers that earn them enough money to send their own kids to synagogue school, that doesn’t mean that that’s what motivates the kids to get up each morning. And I think the most important thing I can do for them is to focus on what they really want and who they really are, so they know that they matter to the people around them. Because if, someday, they feel motivated to work hard and be kind and accomplish great things for society, it needs to come from their own values and feelings and beliefs, and not just from the hope of pleasing other people. When things get hard, which they always do, the thing that will keep them going in the midst of all of that work is the ability to find joy and meaning in who they actually are, and the light they have inside of them.

Miss Ellie, full of light

            I struggle with this all the time, because I keep getting confused about whose goals I should be working towards, mine, or the people who are judging my accomplishments or lack thereof. And I thought about this a lot this past week when I heard that Stephen “Twitch” Boss, a dancer and judge from So You Think You Can Dance and DJ on The Ellen Show, had killed himself, at age forty, leaving behind a wife and three children. I don’t know why he did it. There seems to have been a suicide note mentioning past challenges, but I don’t know if that made things clear to his family and close friends or if it was too vague even for them to understand. So, of course, I’ve been trying to process the loss in my own way.

            I felt a lot of different things at the news: disbelief, of course, because he was such a passionate, charming, talented, and seemingly happy person; grief, because even though I never met him, his dancing and his humor and his kindness and his patience with other people all made him seem like someone I’d want to know; anger, at him, for choosing to go and not to continue to share his love and talent and light with us; sadness, at how much pain he must have been in to see suicide as the only answer, and to so completely prevent anyone from stopping him once he’d decided to die; and anger again, that he had a gun, because guns are the most efficient way to kill yourself, and maybe if he’d used another method he could have been reached in time to receive the life-saving help he didn’t know how to ask for; and then I felt fear, that if he could be overcome by his darkest emotions, despite all of his talent and love and resources and friends, what’s going to save me if I fall into the deep dark again? And then I felt survivor’s guilt, for being so lucky as to have found the right kind of support, and medication, and therapy, to not be in the place he was in.

I’ve been comforted by how many people loved him, and cared about him, and were deeply impacted by his death. Grief is easier to bear when it’s shared, and when the value of the lost one is so completely acknowledged and understood.

            And I’ve also seen a lot of posts and videos on social media professing knowledge about why he killed himself, looking for clues and conspiracies or people to blame. It’s his wife’s fault, or Ellen DeGeneres’ fault, or he was in a financial hole because someone cheated him, or he didn’t kill himself, he was murdered. And I understand the impulse, the need, to make sense of a loss that is so hard to accept. I want something to grab hold of too. I want an explanation. Most of all I want it to not have happened. Even if he never danced again or never showed himself in the public eye, it would be better to be able to think of him as alive, and living the life he wanted for himself.

But I’ve also been watching his old dance routines on YouTube, and I can’t help wishing that he could have been given more opportunities to share his gifts, more time on stage and screen, more time with great choreographers. His dancing reminded me of Gene Kelly, with the charismatic full body presence he had, and the humor and warmth and energy that filled every step, and I could picture him in those MGM musicals, dancing on the ceilings and singing in the rain, because he was the kind of leading man you could believe in, and love, and root for. And he was a dancer who could capture your heart no matter what style of dance he tried. But maybe that’s just me wishing for things for him that he didn’t want for himself.

            What I want to learn from his death, and what I want to make sure my students know, is that even when you don’t achieve all of the goals you set for yourself, or the goals others set for you, you still matter and you still deserve to take up space in the world. And if you can hold onto who you really are, and the things that bring you joy, that can be what brings you back from the brink when the darkness sneaks up and tries to convince you that life isn’t worth living anymore. We all deserve joy, and love, and time to play with our friends, and all of the presents we want, even if we can’t always get those things.

            After a Jewish funeral, and then yearly on the anniversary of the death, Jews light a memorial candle, a yahrzeit candle, that is meant to last twenty four hours, to mark the memory of the loved one and the light they brought to the world, and I feel like Chanukah, with its eight days of light, came at just the right time to support me through the loss of Twitch and his light; eight days of manufactured light, to fill the void left by the passing of his natural bright light. It’s a small comfort, a metaphorical comfort, but it is real.

            I feel so lucky that Twitch existed and had a platform to share his light for as long as he was able. I wished for more for him, and from him, but what a gift he already was! I hope that his friends can bring light into the lives of his wife and children, and his mother and grandfather, for as long as they need it in order to get to a place where their own light can shine again, and when the memory of Twitch can bring them more light than grief.

            Zichrono livracha, may his memory be a blessing.

Here are some clips to watch, if you want to share some of the light Twitch brought to the world:

Katee and Twitch – Mercy - https://youtu.be/nhrxfHCtMJA
Alex and Twitch – Outta Your Mind - https://youtu.be/TLtSfYX8tJk
Kherington & Twitch - Dreaming With a Broken Heart - https://youtu.be/cufPoqE21ko
Sasha and Twitch - Misty Blue - https://youtu.be/l4cbpCs_E9g
SYTYCD Stephen "Twitch" Boss solos - https://youtu.be/3KlCG9OpWNM
Twitch and Allison dance to "Bebot" by the Black Eyed Peas - https://youtu.be/giqyscyp9XY

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Power of Magical Thinking

            In this season of miracles (for Hanukah) and magic (for Christmas) I’m always inspired, and a little bit confused, about what’s possible and what’s not. I don’t think Santa is going to come down my chimney, wearing a blue suit covered in Stars of David, with a bag of presents just for me; if only because I don’t have a chimney of my own. And I don’t think my Chanukiah (a menorah with an extra candle for Chanukah) is going to stay lit for eight days; in fact, I’ve never had candles that lasted more than half an hour at a time. But there’s something in the air, and in the lights and presents and TV movies and special foods and decorations, that makes it feel like anything is possible.

“Can we plant chicken trees this year?”

            I don’t really believe in magic, though I really, really, want to, but I’m intrigued by it and by all of the things we’ve called magic in the past that turned out to have understandable, if complicated, causes.

            Recently, my rabbi talked about how, when the ancient Israelites first entered the Land of Canaan, the Canaanites taught them all of the latest agricultural science, including the rule that you should only make unleavened bread in the spring, so that all of the leavening (AKA fertility) could go to the land itself. As a result, we have a Jewish holiday each spring which features unleavened bread, or matzah (at some point, the holiday of unleavened bread was combined with the celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, to become the single week long holiday of Passover). Over time we gave new meaning to the ritual of eating unleavened bread in the spring, combining it with the memory of the way the Israelites had to escape from Egypt quickly and therefore had no time to let their bread rise, but the ritual is the same and its source is a belief in sympathetic magic.

“Matzah does not count as food.

Sympathetic magic is magic that derives its power from a connection between similar objects, like a voodoo doll, with a lock of the enemy’s hair on the doll to create a link, so that whatever happens to the doll happens to the enemy. You don’t have to believe that this is magic in order to understand the metaphoric value of a ritual like this: the voodoo doll creates a catharsis, so that an individual can cause harm to a lookalike doll instead of going out and physically harming their enemy, allowing the person to work through their pain, and the fantasy of killing the other, without actually hurting someone else or putting themselves in danger. Isn’t that an incredibly powerful, and even magical, thing for a ritual to be able to do?

The Jewish ritual of Tashlich, where we throw our sins into the water (in the form of bread or birdseed) on Rosh Hashanah, has power because it offers us the chance to feel unburdened, as if we’ve really released a weight from our lives. It’s similar to the therapeutic practice of having a patient who has lost a limb use a mirror to create the illusion of two healthy limbs, so that she is then able to relax the muscles and nerve endings leading to the missing limb, creating real change in the body as the result of an illusion.

Some sympathetic magic hasn’t aged quite as well, like using herbs with yellow sap to cure jaundice, or eating walnuts to strengthen the brain (because walnuts look like miniature brains), or drinking red beet juice to benefit the blood. And yet, at the time that these cures were used they must have seemed like powerful magic, or even the science of the day.

            And that makes me wonder, what if the ideas we call magical thinking are simply hypotheses we’ve come up with over time to explain phenomena we don’t yet understand? When there is proof that a hypothesis is wrong then it would be delusional to continue to hold onto that theory, like eating walnuts because they look like brains rather than because of their actual nutrients, but when there is no means to prove or disprove a hypothesis then is it really so unreasonable to hold onto these magical ideas if they offer us comfort?

            Another example of sympathetic magic that resonates for me is the horcruxes from Harry Potter, where part of the person has been transferred into an object, and therefore the person can’t be killed until the object is destroyed. J.K. Rowling made this concrete in her books, to prolong the life of Voldemort and make him that much more dangerous, but don’t we often use works of art, or clothing, or photographs, to represent our connection to the person who owned them, allowing us to feel their presence even when they are gone?

Miss Butterfly
Miss Dina

            There’s a reason why the Harry Potter books were so successful with adults, as well as with children: because the magical logic resonates. Magic is a powerful metaphor for the things we struggle to give full weight in our emotional lives. It is often used in fantasy stories and superhero movies to bring hard-to-explain feelings to the surface, like the Dementors in Harry Potter who represent the unbearable feelings of grief in physical form, so that they can be seen and fought off. Or like Superman’s one weakness being kryptonite, because it is the raw material of his home planet; this is powerful sympathetic magic and deep psychological truth all at once.

In Harry Potter, Voldemort’s name was replaced with he-who-must-not-be-named, because they believed that saying his name would make him appear, and we have this in Judaism too. We are never supposed to say the “true” name of God, the unpronounceable four letter name in the Torah – the Tetragrammaton – that some pronounce as Yahweh, and we are supposed to save the other names of God only for prayers and blessings, because we’re not supposed to say God’s name in vain, or for no meaningful purpose. All of this is because we recognize that words have power: to create, to shame, to guide, to honor, to express love.

            There are lots of things that I don’t believe in literally that bring me comfort and allow me to keep going, even when reality is deeply disappointing, and I think that’s often the purpose of magic, and religion too. And sometimes, inexplicably, the magic works: a call comes just when you prayed for it, you wish on a star and the wish comes true, or you get a feeling about someone you love far away, and it turns out to be true. Maybe it’s a coincidence, or an educated guess based on deep knowledge of the other person, but it feels magical, as in, unexplained and powerful. And who’s to say it’s not? Especially at this time of year.

“If we put our heads together and think hard, maybe the chicken will come!”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?         

Shabbat is sort of like Christmas once a week

Each year, my synagogue school class has to sing two prayers at a Friday night service, one about the requirement to celebrate Shabbat (the Sabbath), and one hoping for peace (there are many, many prayers hoping for peace, even within a single service). And each year I look at those prayers again, through the eyes of my new class, or through the lens of my ever-changing experience of my own life, and I see new things. This year, after watching dozens of Christmas movies, even before Thanksgiving, I started to think about how celebrating Shabbat is like having Christmas once a week (though when I tried this idea out on my students, they rolled their eyes and said, but we don’t get presents on Shabbat!).

“Where are our presents?”

Shabbat, as the day of rest each week, is, for Jews, about taking a time out to think about how your life is going, and being with family and friends, and singing familiar songs, and eating familiar foods, often to excess, and focusing on joy and connection and comfort instead of on accomplishment and being busy. And those are the goals at the heart of most of the Christmas movies I watch too – along with all of the romance and silly subplots and misunderstandings, of course. Each movie, in the end, is about the search for a version of joy and comfort and love that fits the individual characters in that story. There’s also a lot of family drama, and rigid rules to overcome, and the race to get everything done in time, and awkward socializing, and odd food you don’t really want to eat, just like on Shabbat.

“What’s this food I don’t want to eat?”

It’s possible that I’m just seeing this comparison between Shabbat and Christmas as an excuse for the many many Christmas movies I watch each year, but I think it’s also the reason why I watch the movies in the first place: each one, or at least each of the good ones, is a chance for my soul to reset and refill with hope and wonder, so that I can get through the difficulties of the rest of my life.

When the kids learn the prayers in class they have to do a lot of talking, and writing and drawing, about what they want their own versions of Shabbat to be, and, inevitably at least one of my students tells me that she shouldn’t have to do the work because her family doesn’t celebrate Shabbat, because they don’t celebrate it in the traditional ways. And I tell the kids that, even though I don’t always celebrate Shabbat with all of the rituals, I’ve been able to take things from the tradition that work for me and add my own ideas in order to reach the goal of connection and rest. Shabbat is a weekly holiday of aspiration, as much as of ritual; it’s about finding a way to fill your soul so that you can get through the rest of the week feeling whole, instead of fragmented or out of whack. And really, anything you can do to fill your soul is like your own version of Shabbat. Maybe you meditate or do yoga, maybe you spend time with friends and reconnect with the version of yourself that you can’t be at school or work, or maybe you spend time reading, or talking to your family, or playing board games, or making art, so that you can take a deep breath and feel like yourself again before going back out into the world and doing what’s required of you. To which most of my students roll their eyes, of course.

But I really believe in the power of using Shabbat as a lesson for our lives as well as making it a special day of the week, and the dogs, as always, are great role models for this. For example, I think the dogs have their own mini-Shabbat each time they go outside (unless Kevin is outside, in which case Ellie runs back to our door to wait for us while Cricket plays out her romantic comedy). Even on a bad weather day (though not in the rain), the dogs sniff all of the messages from their friends and neighbors, and they listen to the sounds of the birds and trains and children and buses, and they run and play and scout out good places to pee, and then they go back inside rejuvenated and ready for their next nap. Although, I think Cricket and Ellie would agree with my students that all of this Shabbat stuff would be made much better with presents, preferably food-related. And I can’t disagree.

“We need presents!”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The High Holidays

            I made it through the Jewish high holidays. It was touch and go there for a while, because I couldn’t go to the last few choir rehearsals, and because three of the other synagogue school teachers got Covid at the same time, including the Cantor! So I was relying heavily on my KN95 mask to get me through.

            I made sure to wear my sneakers (because there’s a lot of standing at the high holiday services, especially on Yom Kippur), and I practiced the music as much as possible on my own, and I even started to do breathing exercises (there’s an app for that!), to build up my breath capacity after months of not singing much at all.

“I breathe all the time without an app, Mommy.”

            The surprising thing was how much fun it was to sing with the choir again. I’d forgotten that it was more than just work. When, after missing Rosh Hashana with Covid, the Cantor made his triumphant return for Yom Kippur, it was truly joyous to hear him sing again, and to be able to sing along with all of the tunes the choir doesn’t lead, and realize how much of the music that we only hear once a year is actually familiar and comforting and really powerful.

            It was fun to be with a crowd again; to have so many people in one place, at one time, experiencing the same things, hearing the same stories and singing the same songs and laughing at the same jokes, and it was wonderful to see the children of the congregation (many of whom have been my students over the past few years) go up to the bima and take pride in opening the ark, where the Torah scrolls are kept, but even more so at just being seen.

            The high holidays are still a lot of work, don’t get me wrong. And waking up early, and dressing up, and singing and praying and standing and sitting, over and over and over again, was grueling. And the dogs really hated the constant coming and going (mostly the going), especially when we had more than one service to go to in a single day.

“Harrumph.”

            But it was worth it. Beforehand, I was so focused on how hard it would all be, and how much pain I would be in, and how tired I would get, that I forgot how extraordinary it can feel to be surrounded by a community I truly like, and share history with, and can sing with, and even sometimes dance with.

            I’m sure I will forget all of this again by next summer, when it’s time to rehearse with the choir again and build up to the high holiday services again. I’ll probably spend hours, and days, and weeks, dreading the whole thing and resenting the choir rehearsals and worrying about what to wear, but so far, I can still feel the joy, and it’s wonderful. There are so many difficult things in life that really don’t feel worth all of the effort and pain and anxiety; but some things, like this, are totally worth the effort. Thank God!

“Sleep is always worth the effort.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?