Saturday, September 22, 2012

Observing School

This past summer i worked as a counselor for eight whole long weeks. At first when i was given my bunk, i saw a bunch of adorable little fourth graders. As i got to know them better, and observed their behavior at different times, and different activities, i started to develop a definite, confident theory about roles in social settings. Now i am working as a counselor with a non religious middle school. I cant help but compare that in every class, starting from nursery till high school (at least) there is a same formula. What do i mean? A class is a puzzle that is made up of four pieces. 1)Popular-> the kid who dominates, often mean, arrogant(not always) but usually funny, street smart, social, bossy and outgoing. 2)Hassidim-> those are the popular kid's followers. They are on the quieter side, a bit insecure. In most cases they are either a close friend of the rebbe (but lack the bossiness or there cant be two rebbes in one chasidus are reasons for being on the lower step of the ladder.) Unfortunately,they agree with the rebbe on everything, they follow her command and its actually pretty funny if you are observing from a detached point of view. 3)Outcasts->those vary. Misfits either think for themselves and therefore dont fit in, are a bit off on social Que, or are just different. Last but not least, 4)live-thy-own-life-> self confident kids who feel its beneath them to be a chassid, but are not exactly the bossy type, and are not outcasts either. This group swims around between social clicks and are not committed to any one sort of friends. I have observed and been part of this puzzle so many times and in so many different places. Whether it was in Israel, America, or other places, whether it was in kindergarten, elementary, middle or high school. Most often i completed the puzzle as the fourth piece. Now as a counselor, when i walk into the classroom i immediately apply my "puzzle" formula and am able to differentiate which girl plays which role in the class. Also, as a counselor it is smart to become good friends with the rebbe, then the chassidim immediately love you, and having that part of the puzzle on your good side is the best thing you can do in order to successfully achieve the goals of your programs. Social life isn't so technical, simple and clear cut. Of course there are exceptions to everything, however, this "puzzle" formula has never failed to show up in a social setting.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Observing My Own Feelings On....

My sister, Rigina, got married this past week. mazal tov! I am so so happy for her. She married an angel, she is an angel and looking at them, you feel that you are peeking into a happy, deep, meaningful and magical fairy tale. But selfish me, i am depressed, because she is moving so far away. i just got home from the last sheva brachos i would attend, and i cried. (in front of my sister) i doubt that is considered mesameach chatan ve kalah. but i couldn't help it. Many years ago, after my oldest sister left the house, Rigina and i got extremely close. She became my best friend, my spiritual role model, my fashion role model, my teacher, therapist, personal body guard and the best sister i could have had wished for. but then the time came, and Rigina had to leave for seminary. I remember vividly the pain of feeling her absence. Whenever Rigina was at home, the piano was always producing beautiful music. But then all of a sudden, the piano died. There was no music. Everything was still. I remember climbing into Rigina's bed in attempt to smell her scent, and saturating her sheets with my bitter, pain stricken, salty tears. The pain was extreme. But after a year and a half we reunited and i thought i healed from it. both my sister and i changed a lot since before her seminary experience, but despite our new developments, our relationship has stayed one of the most meaningful ones in my life. But now she is leaving again, and the pain feels so raw all over again. you want the people you love next to you, not so far away. this keyboard that i am using now is wet with my tears and i feel so sad. I want to go now, get into my pajamas, sit down on the front porch, stare at the stars and contemplate about life and the beauty and pain of it all. You think you mature, and someone you love leaving you wont be as hard as when you were in seventh grade. but homesickness never fails to surprise you. It never fails to show up at your doorstep and torture you

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Observing a Snob

This morning i took the SAT's. Longest test in the world. It amazes me how CollegeBoard expects students to concentrate for so long. i felt extremely drained. I met a girl i used to be friendly with when i was a child. I came over to her and in a friendly manner asked her what is she up to, weather she remembers me and that sort. During breaks i got more into a conversation with her and everything about her screamed, "JAP!!!" Her pretty pink linen dress, her straightened hair, her squeaky voice, her money, her brains. I honestly didnt know she had any, but she is scoring for a merit scholarship. How do i know that? She was flaunting it in my face. She attends the "harvard" of girls high schools, that only the smart ones get into. Anyone i know from that school is a brat. They are all judgmental, superior and "normal." And you, yes you and me, we are weird. That's just the way it is. Now i thought i matured, i started feeling comfortable with myself, my own sense of fashion, ideas, personality. The fact that i am not exactly the "noamal" type (note the lack of "r" in the word normal), and that i dont obey society's expectations, dutifully. I am telling you that girl has no personality. She has like a robot inside her answering questions, or something. Why do i get so insecure around people like that? Every time i meet girls from that school, i squirm away, shrink into my shirt, want to run away. Anyway, i found out we are applying to the same seminary, which is our only choice. Yeppee!!! I literally cannot wait!!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Observing a Halakha Class Gone CREYZEY!

Its 1:00 A.M. in the middle of the night now, i should be long asleep, but i couldnt fall asleep. I was too busy playing over an argument in my head that i had today with my halaha teacher. I was coming up with better and better arguments, but the problem is halaha class is over. so i will take it out on you, dear blog. In halakha class we entered a discussion of halakhic prenuptial agreement. "Rabbi Goldberg? So there is this yeshivish opposition against a halakhic prenup..." "Yes, like me?" R' G interrupted as he took his seat by the teachers desk. R' G is short, bearded, funny, knows his halakha (very hashkafically) and the girls love him. After hearing his answers today, my respect for him gradually dwindled down with every close minded statement he made. Hello! "the halakha does not obligate a man to give a get. It is mentchlichkeit and common sense to do so when a wife asks for one, but the halaha does not obligate him." I noticed my fingers were starting to shake with anger, irritation and impatience. "If a man wants custody over his children and the wife is making it impossible, or she is poisoning the children against the husband, the sane thing would do would be for him to use the get as a tool to get custody." I almost puked right there and then. You know sometimes people say things and you have to play it over in your head, cuz it makes absolutely no sense! He finally let me talk, "Rachel is itching to answer." I hate his snide comments! I hope i was not being too disrespectful. But it is difficult to have an equal argument when you are not allowed to interrupt. "A get should not be used as any tool for anything, that's not a gets point! he has problems, so take care of it in court, not through the refusal of a get. That's insane!" He had his reasons for opposition, sources he refused to cite. And the reasons were not valid, i tell you. "In certain circles the prenup is common," "Yes, in the YU world." I added R' Goldberg looked at me, "But that is a very small world, indeed." He continued, "The hassidic community is much much bigger." Well, duh! they have a system, they beat the guy up till he consents to grant a get, and therefore the agunah issue is not so grand there. in israel men are imprisoned, or even locked up in solitary confinement unless they give a get. by the modern people they date for centuries so they often avoid the problem altogether. It is actually a small circle, us yeshivish litvaks that are victimized to this issue, and you seem to be ignoring the solution. I didn't say any of this because i havent thought of it then. only after processing it with a close friend, she verbalized this. "I got a letter asking to convince my rosh yeshiva's grandson to give a get. I threw that letter in the trash, and so would my parents and anyone else who got the letter. We dont know the insides of the story, and just because he wont give a get right away, doesnt give everyone a right to call her an agunah." (i know, right? can you believe he actually said that?) I was bouncing in my chair, sweating, angry and shocked. "A man deserves custody, and he should use a get as a tool to get that." "But Rabbi Goldberg! When i will iy"h walk down my chuppah, i dont want the threat of the potential eventuality of my becoming an agunah! And this prenup can help! It's like a vaccine! And its not like when you are signing it you are suspecting your future husband of refusing a get, you are doing it for the better good so it will be standard procedure. But if you are with someone who for some reason does not want to sign it then you dont want to marry him!" "Well then, Rachel. When you will iy"h get married, with the permission of your parents and the mechutonim, sign that prenup." I was glad he said that. Anyway, i feel much better now and am pretty sure my insomnia disturbance is gone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Observing Satmar Williamsburg

Our school organizes chessed trips, for us to get inspired. So this year, my whole class was taken to the center of chesed, to the senter of chassidus, to the center of satmar. The weather today was rainy, humid and utterly gross. As each girl in my class steeped off the yellow school bus, onto the Brooklyn ground, with our long, black skirts trailing behind, we were led to the center of the satmar bikur cholim kitchen. The place smelled like a heilege Friday afternoon. Cholent, kugel, cakes, chicken, soups, maemesh delicious! I testify that this organization (founded by the Satmerr Rebbe) is absolutely excellent. Two years ago, when my grandfather, alav hashalom, was very sick, he was hospitalized in Cleveland Clinic. My mother, aunt, cousin and i shlepped eight hours to Cleveland to visit him. There was a special bikur cholim room in the hospital with a code of gematria, open to any Jew. The walls and fridge were filled with tons of food. The bikur cholim house was also like a heimeshe 5 star hotel. Every need was taken care of, and it definitely made our stay much much easier. Today, we had a Satmar lady talk to us a little about the chessed in Williamsburg. It was easy for me to say this community is bad because of this issue they have, and that issue they have... But after lots of observing today, my judgments on the chassidish community became less cler cut, and much more complicated. What these chessed organizations in Williamsburg have to offer... is simple Kiddush Hashem. There are issues in their community (as there are everywhere else), but the amount of expected ahavas yisrael the chassidishe people have to offer is truly awesome. So much volunteering, chessed drivers (regular men who offer rides to people to and from hospitals, where the driver never looks at the passengers for privacy reasons,) hilpf (health is yiddish, that covers medical expenses), food that is made every night for dinner in families where a mother is busy with a sick child. (these dinners are offered for months at a time.) i was astounded at the amount of chessed i saw today. One girl asked the lady today, "how do you treat children who feel resentful growing up in this community?" This satmar lady replied, "it happens, as in many other places. Some parents accept their children for who they become and some don't. My friend's son, Avruymi, joined a rock band, has a long pony tail and lives with a girlfriend. His mother is just glad that thanks to his ponytail he never cut off his payos. She accepted him for who he is, he comes back home and his family loves him and his girlfriend. But then, my other friend whose daughter has gone off, and her mother did not let her daughter come back unless she became more tzniustig." I lump all chassidim into a kugel pan, all charedim into a cholent pot, and all Modern Orthodox into a sesame chicken pan, and all "modern" yeshivish into a fake pot. but the truth is, when you meet someone individually from any part of the "yiddishe kitchen", you have more things in common than you thought. And after reading "Unorthodox" and "Hush" and articles from "Failed Messiah" i almost started really looking down on the whole chassidishe, hareidi and whatnot community. I dont want to become Satmar, or any other chassid. Ha! I can hardly handle my own "modern" bais yaakov rules, but after what i saw today i was inspired. How much a person can give. There is no end. After the trip, i stopped in 7/11 and got a free Slurpee, as i was leaving the place, i saw a girl who was expelled from my school last year. She was wearing tight pants, and smoking a cigarette. I judged her immediately, wow, the girl is ruined! But after what i saw today, it's not fair to judge and label so effortlessly and confidently, so now i am taking my judgement back.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Observing Agunah Today

After having an argument with a haredi rabbi, i realized that the ultra orthodox community is ignoring a major problem, which is currently plaguing the Jewish world. Rabbis representing the Modern Orthodox community have come up with a solution that will hopefully help prevent future agunot. However, the rabbinical leadership of the haredi world is choosing to bury their heads in the sand and ignore this issue. The definition of agunah is a woman who is chained to a dead marriage. Her husband is missing, not known to be dead or alive, or simply refuses, as a form of domestic abuse, to grant his wife a get, a Jewish divorce document. The problem with being an agunah is that the woman cannot marry anyone else, or she will be considered an adulteress and any children born of the new union will be considered mamzerim. When a woman enters the chupah ceremony on her wedding day, she voluntarily confines herself to the potential eventuality of becoming an agunah . How can this be prevented? How can a woman get married without worrying about becoming an agunah. Unfortunately, within the realms of the halachic code, there is no answer. There is however, a measure of protection that can be taken. Before a man and a woman marry, they can sign a legal document, a halakhic prenuptial agreement, in which the husband promises to give a get on demand. If he refuses, he will have to pay a certain amount of money for every day he refuses to give the get. This agreement is binding in secular court. Is this a solution? No, but it is a step in the right direction. Throughout history, Jewish marriage laws have evolved. The ketuba, Jewish marriage contract, was a modern concept in the ancient and medieval times when it was introduced. The mere fact that the ketuba granted the woman rights, such as obligations upon the husband to feed and clothe her was unheard of in the rest of the world. This contract was in a sense a prenuptial agreement. If a man refused to adhere to the contract, the woman could use it to sue her husband in court. Rabeinu Gershom, who lived in the late 900's and early 1000's further advanced the rights of women. He established takanot that effect the Jewish woman until the present day. He forbade polygamy, and made it illegal for a man to give his wife a get without her consent. The issue of the agunah is not a new one. During the times of the prophets, men would issue their wives a get before leaving to war as a preventative measure. When Jews lived under the rule of foreign governments centuries later, other issues arose pertaining to agunot. For example, during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, people were forcibly converted. But what should a woman do if she stayed Jewish but her husband became Catholic? Is she now free to marry or is she an agunah ? During the pogroms of Tach Ve Tat, when a husband went missing, there were many possibilities as to his whereabouts. He could have been butchered somewhere in a Polish forest by the Cossacks or he could have been taken captive and held for ransom, or he might have been sold into slavery in Turkey. How was a woman in the 1600's able to find out whether she was agunah or free? One of the reasons why obtaining a get can be so difficult is because Jewish law stipulates that a get must be given voluntarily. According to Rambam, it is permissible for the Jewish court to beat the man until he gives the get. In his words, “kofin oso ad sheyomar rotzeh ani.” We can beat him until he says that he wants to give the get. Why is this allowed? Because, according to Rambam, a man really does want to give his wife a get, but his yetzerhara, is preventing him from doing so. By beating him, we are freeing him from his evil inclination. This explanation permitted rabbinic courts to hurt a man in order to get a get from him. In the Russian shtetles, whenever a man refused to give a get for unimportant reasons, the Rabbi of the shul ordered that he be beaten up, until he consented to free his wife. This solution does not work in the United States. Jews do not function autonomously. We are bound by American law which does not permit violence in the name of religion. In Israel, however, “get-refusers” are imprisoned, even put in solitary confinement until they grant a get. I have heard stories of certain communities even in America using Rambam's tactics. The issue is big and worldwide. “Get-refusers” are walking the streets in Zurich, Paris, Peru, Canada, Israel, America, Russia, Ukraine, England and unfortunately too many other places. Organizations, speeches and rallies for the “agunah cause” are becoming quite commonplace. The most famous organization dealing with this issue is ORA, Organization for Resolution for agunah. This organization “assists divorcing couples, and promotes the goal that the get must be given unconditionally and in a timely fashion.” Through rallies and other campaigns, they help the “get-refuser” to give in. They have had success but unfortunately not always. One of the projects that ORA has undertaken is sending speakers from the organization to speak in high schools, and inform high school girls of the potential of their becoming agunot. A solution that is halakhakly permitted and advised by many great rabbis including Rabbi Herschel Shechter and Rabbi Mordechai Willig, is to sign a prenuptial agreement. I will illustrate how this prenup works. Chaim and Malka want to get married and they sign a “prenup.” A few years down the road, Malka wants a divorce, but Chaim does not. He refuses to give Malka a get. However he signed this document, and now he owes her $200 for every day he doesn't give her a get, by Jewish law as well as by New York State Law. Many people oppose the prenuptial agreement. They feel that when they are getting married, they are celebrating the happiest of times. They do not want to suspect their future spouse of ever refusing to, G-D forbid, give a get. However, the head of ORA, Jeremy Stern said, “Signing this “prenup” is not for you, as much it is for the communal standard. This “prenup” is like a vaccine, which will help us eradicate the agunah problem. Divorces are a reality in our community. We must do everything we can and make “prenups” acceptable. “Modern Agunah” is a new concept, since previously, a man was either beaten up or put in cherem. Beit Din was much more easily able to free the woman. Today, however, with the lack of central Rabbinical authority, cherem is a weak and ineffective tactic. Another difference between the old agunah and the modern agunah, is that in the last 50 years divorce rates have increased, and so too has the agunah issue.” The two, unfortunately, go hand in hand, where yesterday divorces were uncommon, so were the agunahs uncommon. But today, we live in a new reality. In order for every Jewish girl to have the option of walking to her chuppah without the threat of “agunaism” hovering over her head, every Jewish girl must demand that her chatan sign this prenuptial agreement. Maybe people are afraid because this sounds like something new, and Jews are not apt to change. However, times have changed. Too many men abuse halacha. They try to squeeze every penny from the wives' side, demand abnormal custody over the children, or punish their wives by withholding the get. It is important to note that there is no downside to signing the prenup. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain. Since the prenup has been instituted it has had a one hundred percent success rate. May we never need it.   

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Observing the Tough Decision

Today our school took us to a college in order to see what this educational institution has in store for us. Next year, when i am going to be in twelfth grade i have an option of taking many courses that i would receive credits for specifically for this college. It is a worthwhile investment if you want to go there, but i really wanted to make aliya all along. In never really mattered, yea i had my idealistic ideas, vague plans for my future, not bothering being practical and whatnot. But suddenly, after my college guidance counselor told me i needed to seriously consider what my options are for after high school, my aliya idea became a scary idea. I started feeling afraid. "Wait a second, i dont know if i want to do it yet. I mean, I do. of course i do. If i am going to spend my whole life fighting for the right of Israel, wishing i was there, feeling the need to teach my children Hebrew, wanting to have a say in the Israeli affairs, i might as well live there. But, i dont speak Hebrew well, how am i going to attend college there? Maybe it would be worthwhile to finish up my higher education in the States. It't much harder to live in Israel. A lot of my closest family members live in New York. And is this idealistic ME or the real ME? Or some passing teenager state. How do i know what is the right decision? I am afraid. I do not like the weight of this decision. Heck, i am only 17! How is it okay to take the matter of moving into the midst of the Middle East, into my inexperienced hands?" i feel confused, and undecided. And i do not like the feeling.