Close Encounters of the Ba’al Teshuvah Kind

BH   “Wait, I think that’s the doctor!” Zev exclaimed as we hurried out of the car to try to stop him. I had never seen the doctor before but I  had heard all about him. He came to shul on Shabbos a few weeks ago for a Bar Mitzvah.  Zev told me how much he enjoyed their conversation, largely because the doctor was so interested in our Jewish journey. That doesn’t happen very often. Then again, the doctor came...

What I Held Back from the Rebbe

BH I sometimes wonder if other people see the color blue, or any color, the same way I do. And then I wonder how I would ever know. Why do I care? Because it boggles my mind how no two people are created exactly alike–right down to their perceptions. We perceive G-d according to who we are. And in the world of Lubavitch, our relationship with the Rebbe depends on who we are too. I didn’t like to admit this,...

My Struggle with Modesty

BH When I tell my daughter-in-law Devorah, who has only known me for five years, that I used to love to shop, she finds it hard to believe. I do, too. But my almost-nothing-new-in-it closet testifies that most of my clothes are hand-me-ups (inherited from my children) or vintage (ten years old or older). The good news is that my closet is full, so I have options. I do wonder though, why it took me so long to realize that just...

Treasures from My Parents’ House

BH I’m learning a lot in the process of reassigning my deceased parents’ material legacy– in other words, figuring out what do with over fifty years of stuff in their house. Every time I’ve gone there since my mother passed away in February, I have accomplished very little towards this end. On one visit, I paged through yearbooks and read my camp letters addressed to “the Fun-lovin’ Fidels.” (I have new respect for my mother for reading them to the...

The Power of a Name

BH A few summers ago, while strolling around the neighborhood with our daughter, Mushkie, and a couple granddaughters, Leah’s daughter Mushka, and Sara’s daughter Moussia, we bumped into an old non-Jewish friend. As I introduced everyone, I joked about the lack of originality in our choice of names. “It’s the Rebbe’s wife’s name,” I continued, my tone turning serious. Thousands upon thousands of Chaya Mushkas have been named after a woman who had no biological children, a phenomenon that gives...

My Son the Rabbi

BH “Okay folks, it looks like we’re delayed here…” Zev and I rolled our eyes as the captain detailed the rainy conditions on the ground. It was a last minute decision for us to go from Pittsburgh to Ft. Lauderdale; our son Mendy had just received smicha, rabbinic ordination, and all the parents were invited to celebrate at Chabad of Boca Raton. When Mendy first told us the date, he understood that we had Shavuos and a new baby in California...

Did I Make the Right Decision?

BH I did something I said I wasn’t going to do anymore: I read an online essay by a woman who left the “ultra-Orthodox” fold. At first I skimmed it, enough to glean that the writer had been brought up being told what to think, and that the Internet led her to freedom, albeit at the cost of her marriage, her family and her community. I try to avoid these tell-alls, but they’re hard to resist. (It’s worth pondering why...

Some Things Are Not Okay

BH “Is it me or is it always either really hot or really cold here?” Zev asked as we walked through Montefiore Cemetery in Queens. There wasn’t a cloud in sight; it was May but it felt like August. The sun was intense, a force to be reckoned with. It was a fitting day for the funeral of Rivky Deren-Berman. Born with Bloom syndrome, pain and challenge were interwoven into Rivky’s life the entire twenty-nine years she was on the...

What Makes the Mikvah So Mysterious?

BH If there’s one mitzvah in Jewish life that swirls with misconceptions, it’s ritual immersion, otherwise known as The Mikvah. The canard is that mikvahs are dirty and that menstruating women are viewed as somehow dirty, but neither of those things matter to the Jewish women committed to this ancient, secret ritual (if this one doesn’t sound pagan, I don’t know what does) that is anathema to everyone who is educated in biology and/or hygiene. True, some 21st-century folks enjoy...

The Commencement Speech I Want to Give

B”H Your birth was your defining moment, yet you didn’t ask to be born at all, much less to the family you were born into. You didn’t get a say in the city (I don’t know how I got Pittsburgh; I’m not interested in sports). Or the times. (If you’re Jewish, you’ve probably learned by now that the Jewish nation has had more bad times than good times–and that history repeats itself. Sorry, I know this is supposed to be...