Originally published in In Jerusalem, March 10, 2017

 

Noam and Noa wanted to marry according to Jewish law and tradition, but wanted nothing to do with the Chief Rabbinate. Both felt that, with its stranglehold on marriage and more importantly, divorce, where the rabbinate must approve a couple’s desire to divorce before it can be implemented, the institution does more harm than good.

They searched high and low for a way that would enable them to marry according to Halacha, without having to encounter the rabbinate at all.

Why would a young couple on the verge of starting a new life together be thinking of the end of their marriage?

Jewish law mandates that when a couple seeks divorce, it is the husband who must give the bill of divorce (get) to his wife, and she must accept it. Aguna is the term used to describe a woman trapped in marriage, while she awaits the delivery of a get from her husband. According to traditional Jewish sources, the classic case of an aguna was a woman whose husband
could not be found. One whose husband was lost at sea, did not return from a journey, or was missing in action; those are the traditional agunot. Continue reading

Originally published in the In Jerusalem, December 9, 2016

When I was 17, my mother sent me to Auschwitz. Now that my son is 17, my husband and I sent him too.
I was a teenager living in the US. He is a teenager living in Israel. I went with the March of the Living because my mother (God bless her) insisted upon it. He went through school with nearly all of his classmates as many Israelis do in the 12th grade.

I went knowing that my grandparents had watched their children murdered before their eyes. I had sat with them as they cried, lost in memories I never heard from their own lips.My son was shipped off with a binder full of his family history. His paternal great-grandfather never stopped bearing witness in video, written, and photographic testimony.

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Testimony and history of Mordechai Topel zt’l in the Holocaust.

My grandparents hid. In barns, woods, wherever they could, trying to keep their remaining relatives alive. My grandmother became a partisan when all her siblings, children, nieces and nephews had been lost to her.
My husband’s grandparents survived multiple camps and death marches and became nearly the sole survivors of their previously large families.

 

As I walked through the silent forest, with Polish police surrounding us, I imaged my grandparents hiding from the Nazis under fallen trees and in ditches. My son stood in a gas chamber similar to the one his zaide (Yiddish for grandfather) stood in as he waited to die like his parents and siblings before him, but was saved when water rained down instead of gas.

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In a gas chamber next to the destroyed one that held his great grandfather

The school asked all of the parents to write letters which would be given to the boys after they visited Yaar Hayeladim, a forest site where hundreds of Jewish children, as well as hundred of others, lay in several mass graves. We did not know what he would be thinking, or what he would want to hear, so we said the things we most wanted him to gain from his experience.

This is the letter we wrote:
“As parents, all we want to do is protect our children. We sooth your scrapes and work hard to put you in places where you will grow and learn and be safe and protected. We fight bullies and we kiss away your tears. But, at some point, we must stop shielding you and let you learn about the evils of the world and all that man is capable of. It is a lesson you must learn so that you can do your part to make sure that it never happens again, not on a large scale and not on a small scale.

Continue reading

Originally published in In Jerusalem, The Jerusalem Post, September 30, 2016

‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ has long been the policy of the Haredi parties when it comes to how the State deals with public works on Shabbat. As long as the work was kept quiet, the Haredi parties did too. However, as was recently the case with rail work on Shabbat, as soon as the Haredi media reported it, the politicians had to protest publicly. And they did. And work was halted, stranding thousands.

Since its founding, the State of Israel has had to maintain the delicate balance of being both a Jewish and democratic country. While Jewish and democratic values often align, when the two clash– they do so with vigor.

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MK Rachel Azaria

For much of the State’s history, religious matters have been the domain of the ultra-Orthodox, the legacy of David Ben Gurion, to ensure unity and support for a Jewish state. The “status quo” arrangement Ben Gurion made remains in effect. 

And it worked — for a long time. Matters of religion used to be black and white, as MK Rachel Azaria of Kulanu explains it. People were religious or they weren’t. They kept kosher, or they didn’t. Over the past 20 years, however, many Israelis have taken on an in-between ideology, one that incorporates religious observance with democratic values, and therefore conflicts with the strict ultra-Orthodox approach that has governed the Jewish identity of the state.

At the same time, Israeli society has absorbed more than a million immigrants from countries where Jewish family lines had been blurred, leaving many unable to prove their Jewish roots. Thus, they are sociologically Jewish, but not necessarily as far as traditional law is concerned. Continue reading

Inevitably, when I post about something wrong in the religious world I get accusations such as, “You hate Haredim! You’re Anti Religious! You have an agenda!”  Gloriously, it’s less often now that more people ‘know’ me, but they still come.

So, let me tell you a little bit about myself.

I grew up in Lakewood, back before it was Brooklyn. Then, the trails around the lake were clean and empty, Central Avenue always had parking, I knew the owners of Friedman’s and Gelbstein’s, there was still a co-ed Day School and a Modern Orthodox shul, and large swaths of forest outnumbered the homes.

In the Hebrew Day School, all of my Jewish subject teachers were Haredi though I did not know that word back then. I knew that there were women who wore wigs and that they were ‘more’ religious than than my Orthodox cousins, and far more religious than myself (who was not very).  And they were smart and bright and some had far more patience than others for my questions.  In fact, Reb. Nechama Reich, Rav Kotler’s daughter, never let me get away with anything, but she never shied away from my questions either, and it was an honor to have her at my wedding. So too, Reb. Shulamis Rozansky (sister to Rav Malinowitz of Bet Shemesh fame/infamy).

I never knew of “Haredim” until I moved to Israel. I only knew of “Jews”.

It is true that here, one must choose a camp. And for me this is the saddest part of Aliya. I never wanted to choose a camp within Judaism. I really don’t believe in it.

Since we believe in the State and the Army and God’s hand in both, we were decidedly out of the Haredi camp, though we did live happily in snood and hat for a while in Har Nof (no, you cannot see pictures).  A short move back to the US and then a second aliya brought us to Bet Shemesh. I had heard rumors about a repressive society, an author being banned for books on science and dinosaurs, a gym being hassled for having TVs. But I dismissed them as fanatics.

Well, I have learned over the years that when fanatics are not stopped, they take over. I can hardly believe what I have seen with my own eyes. Women and girls erased from books and magazines. Jewish mothers and daughters removed from scenes of Shabbat tables. My own daughters told to move to the back of the bus. Spit flying at my face by a man calling elementary school girls whores. Burning garbages and throwing trash. Rabbis refusing to denounce the garbage burners and spitters despite being begged to for unity. Hiding sexual abusers. Calling Jewish police officers Nazis. Beating soldiers. Inciting to hatred.

They look like the men I grew up seeing in Lakewood, but they are not them. Their souls are not Yiddish souls. They have traded the crown of Hashem for the coat of self righteousness.

All of them? Chas V Shalom.

But, as I said, fanaticism seeps.

When I walked down the street in Lakewood, walking the mile to shul, every Jew said “Good Shabbas,” man or woman, ‘Haredi’ or not. This does not happen so much anymore.

I don’t go to Lakewood now. It is too painful. It is the land of huge houses and $5,ooo sheitels. It is a place where kids are refused from schools, and the individual can no longer be found.  Do these things eclipse all the wondrous chesed done? No, but they do dull it to a point where it is not the thing that shines through any longer. Modesty is gone and I’m not speaking of skirt length…

Here, in Israel, everything is political and that includes religion. While Haredim may not equal Haredi parties, the damage is often done before that statement can be made. In the interests of keeping control of finances and people, deals are made that are not in the best interests of wider society. This is not exclusive to Haredim but their deals affect areas that affect many people outside of their numbers.

When I take on corruption in the courts, when I rail about Haredi women dying of breast cancer, when I agonize over agunot, this is not me being anti Haredi. This is me wanting the ideals and justice I was taught directly from the mouths of Haredi women.

When I speak against the regulation of religion and the alienation of Jews from Judaism, it is not me being anti-religious, it is me understanding that forcing religion down someone’s throat only sends them running.

So, when you accuse me of having an agenda, you are right. My agenda is justice for those who are being oppressed or harmed in the name of ‘Torah’, to call out those who use Judaism as a shield and cudgel for their oppression of others.

I have never been one who can walk away when someone is being hurt. From standing up to elementary school bullies who picked on a girl mercilessly, to nearly getting knifed for taking a teen’s anti-semitic idea of a joke (he put ‘curls of a Jew’ on the list of things to gather in the high school scavenger hunt and I got him suspended),  I’m simply doing the same things now except the bullies are different and the stakes are higher.

People are people and people do horrible things. But people who do horrible things and use the good name of Judaism and Torah to do so are the worst of all.

I hope that explains why I do what I do.  I hope that if you hear someone say I have an agenda or I hate Haredim, you will tell them, her agenda is to fight the good fight where it needs to be fought, no matter who needs justice, Haredi or not.