Love the picture, right? Sooooo dated! I mean, I don't know what's more ancient--the hourglass or...the paper! :-) Wait--maybe it's...the camera? :-)
This blogpost happens to be quite huge. It's a rescucitation of sorts, a literary CPR performed on the long-dormant blog I abandoned about six years ago. The reason I let my blog--and my website--lay fallow for so long is a story unto itself. It was a spiritual decision I made in the wake of the Citifield gathering where internet was strongly discouraged by the Gedolim, the leading Torah Sages of our generation.
It is always interesting to see how constructs and idealogies and perspectives change as we come to understand them better. In a world where internet has dug in its heels and become the means to fulfilling an overwhelming plethora of needs in our lives, the internet conundrum has changed from a resounding "No" to a cautious "This is how."
When I wrote my first book, Breaking Point, nearly twenty years ago (Yeah. Old. Like the camera. I mean, I can even remember paper!), it was probably the most sublime writing experience of my life. I had just had my first baby (Um, she's nineteen-and-a-half now. Gulp!) and we were living in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood of Jerusalem but it was nothing like the Americanyeshivishtrendyville it is today. My husband, Joel, was learning for Semicha, rabbinical ordination, which meant he was gone till late at night, and talking on the phone cost money, even sending emails cost money (Yes, VERY old.), so being budget-conscious, I did the most logical thing imaginable: I wrote a novel. Er, rather, the novel wrote itself.
It was magic. Every evening, I sat down at the computer and let my fingers fly. In the morning, I'd read over the chapter from the night before and it was almost surreal. I couldn't even remember writing that stuff! Did I mention the experience was sublime? Did I mention it hasn't happened ever again since? :-)
So here I had this amazing novel about a subject that touched me deeply: teens leaving Torah and mitzvos. Families struggling to understand each other and connect. Relationships. Parenting. Values. Yum! Naturally, I was very eager to get this wonderful story into the hands of my readers. Pretty convenient that I happened to be working for Feldheim Publishers at the time. So I sneaked my manuscript onto the desk of the Big Boss and hardly ate-slept-talked-breathed until he gave me his thumbs-up.
Yes, he liked the book. Yes, he thought it was great. But there was a problem. A BIG problem. The topic. The content. Basically every word I had written. It was way too controversial. The frum world was definitely not ready to talk about this stuff. Whew! Explosive! The proverbial carpet was not ready to be rolled up to facilitate a good sweep.
Guess how long it took for my book to see the light of day? A week? A month? A year?
In those two years, my book was reviewed and fine-tuned by several prominent rabbis until was deemed worthy of publication. But it still was not published, because there was tremendous fear of public reaction. Neither Feldheim nor Yours Truly were super interested in taking a stab at being tarred-and-feathered.
Then, a national magazine, The Jewish Observer, published a ground-breaking piece on the phenomenon of teenagers leaving their heritage . The story broke wide open. The whole thing exploded. And overnight, my manuscript went from being Untouchable to becoming Hot Stuff.
Our world is special. Our outlook is unique. We value what’s right over what’s sensational. In my work, I have come to see, over and over again, how every story has its time and place and it can't be rushed or pushed or forced any earlier or later. Kind of like this blogpost. This is its time and this is its place.
And how wonderful it is that you are here to read it!
Thanks for coming along for the ride.
I'm feeling pretty technologically advanced these days. Yup, not enough my house is on Googlemaps and I shop for groceries online and my children have little microchips embedded into them so I can track their every movement (Kidding...but that's probably the next trend!), but now my books have flown off the paper page and into cyberspace. Yup, I've gone e-booky and now Breaking Point, Breaking Free, and Green Fences are all available in e-form, and at half the price!
I'm excited about it because it means that a)my books are more accessible to people who love reading on e-readers but wouldn't necessarily lug around a hardback book, and b)my books are more accessible to people who love reading but don't want to plunk down $20+ for a book.
Check them out here, at Jewish e-Books:
They're right on the homepage, and they're selling right now AT HALF PRICE! (This is why they call us starving artists! :-))
I'm in my second teenagehood, minus the pimples, thank G-d. When my two oldest kids stepped up to the plate for braces, I decided to join them. BAD idea! :-) Now I know why you do these things when you're young and stupid! Seriously, it hurts, it's annoying as anything, and I'm stuck with this for about a year!
This week, I have an article in the main Mishpacha magazine that tells the amazing story of Rabbi Yehuda Simes and his family, who were involved in a terrible car accident on their way home to Ottawa. I don't want to give away too many details, but suffice it to say that Rabbi Simes was injured to a very great degree, and parts of the article focus on his gratitude for the "simpler" things in life--uh, like breathing on your own, and like swallowing.
Well, braces has been a good lesson a la Rabbi Simes, in appreciating the gift of...chewing. Who knew how much effort it actually takes to chew, when you've got wires prodding into your gums and your teeth all feel loose!
Thank you, Hashem, for the gift of chewing. And for the gift of straightening out my teeth. My kids are thrilled--at least I can empathize with them all the way through! :-)
This is a short post about a long topic but I'm running out for a breakfast date with my sisters (Yay!), but didn't want to lose the inspiration.
I often find myself in a place where I WANT to do G-d's will. I WANT to surrender to whatever His plan is for me. But I feel unsure and stuck. When I looked at the parashah (weekly Torah portion) this week, Lech Lecha, I was struck by G-d's commandment to Avraham. "Lech Lecha--" Just go. Now. No questions asked. Follow Me to an unknown destination.
What did Avraham do when he came to a fork in the road? How did he know whether to turn left or right? Maybe he didn't. Maybe he just said a little prayer and did whatever seemed right to him. Maybe the lesson of Lech Lecha is that in doing G-d's will, we don't need to know--maybe even that it's best that we don't know. Maybe uncertainty is exactly that which will develop us into true ovdei Hashem, servants of G-d.
For today, my Lech Lecha means go out with my sisters even though I don't know how my work will get done. ;-)
What's your Lech Lecha? And what do you do when you come to a fork in the road?
I'm moved to write about something that I haven't sorted out yet. Perhaps you'll be moved to help me come to clarity. To jump right in, the crux of my question is this: Do the laws of supply and demand apply to valuable, essential services in the Jewish community?
Yeah, I know, it sounds a little weird. Like am I wondering if milk should go down in price in Orthodox supermarkets, or if computer technicians should give away their services free. Okay, let me try this again. It's like this:
My ten-month-old baby is a serious impediment to my nighttime sleep. One morning, I woke up and decided that enough was enough; I needed help. So who does a savvy 21-st century woman ask when she needs help? Mr. Google, of course! In my search, I came across my potential savior, a "baby sleep trainer" who promised to put my worries to rest and have my little one sleeping sweetly in no time at all with no more input than a simple hour-long phone session. The cost? $180!
One hundred and eighty dollars for one hour of phone time, plus a week of email followup, which tacks on, say, another hour of Mary Poppins' time. That means that this woman is charging approximately $90 (315 shekels) an hour for a skill she has acquired through no formal training, for a service that could literally change an entire family's life! My PLUMBER charges 180 SHEKELS an hour, and toilets are really, really important. A personal trainer charges the same. Sleep is a basic need like food and shelter--lack of it drives parents to desperation (not me, obviously, just other people! :-)). Does that mean the cost for restoring sleep should skyrocket and a person who has a wonderful service to offer others should charge an astronomical fee for it?
Is it okay?
My husband is a psychologist with lots of degrees and talent and experience. He purposely charges 200 shekels a session, which is at least a hundred shekels less than anyone else I have ever heard of in our city, simply because he knows it's hard for people to pay. The going rate is between 300-400 shekels, with some charging even more. I heard about an "expert" psychologist who charges upward of 800 shekels a session. And he gives no breaks. Again, is it okay to charge a lot of money for a life-changing, life-saving service when it might deter people from availing themselves of it? Is it morally okay to take a service that people desperately need and milk that need for a lot of money?
I recently read an article about an implant dentist who was candid about the fact that he charges less to patients who can't afford his regular prices. I applaud this doctor. I think that the line between chessed and profit has become much too blurry. If you have a service that will change people's lives for the better, why not give it to them at a price which you can profit from but don't have to get rich off of. If G-d wants you rich, He'll make sure you get there even without skinning others.
But that's just my opinion. What's yours?
Okay, I'm not going to take up a lot of your valuable time with a string of excuses for why, exactly, I've neglected this blog for an undisclosed number of months. Suffice it to say a few keywords: "Baby". "Pesach". "Bat mitzvah for my daughter". "Life". "Overwhelmed". There. Short, sweet, and to the point.
And then there's always that perfectionism thing. Like, "Hmmmm....I'd really like to start up that blog again, but the first blogpost back after such an extended leave has to be really AMAZING! Ugh. I don't have anything that amazing to say. Oh well, I'll try again...tomorrow. Uh, make that a month from now. THEN I'll REALLY have amazing things to write!" :-) Sound familiar, perhaps? Well, guess what? Today I celebrate freedom from perfectionism. I don't have anything particularly amazing to write about, but I'm blogging anyway. Just because.
Actually, today I'd like to talk about my closet. Yeah, the overstuffed, underappreciated, cramped space in my home that I turn to in abject worship each and every morning, with the heartfelt prayer, "Dress me!" Well, something like that at least. Now, my closet features matching hangers. Yup, all matching. None of that motley collection of cheapo store hangers that you begged the saleslady for before she snatched them away, or those half-broken plastic things that your neighbor was throwing out. All MY hangers are a velvety beige, really quite pretty. For those of you who know me, you're already getting little sensations that I'm foreshadowing something here. I mean, my house is pretty rugged; my fashion sense is confined purely to my own attire and possibly a slight influence on my children's. If I had a top 100 list of priorities, Matching Hangers would probably be, like, number 19959, right below designer toilet paper.
My mother-in-law bought me those hangers. Yup, one visit she decided that wouldn't it be nice if all my hangers matched? I nodded my head and said thank you very much. And now all my hangers match. Thanks, Mom! Okay, Riva, what's your point? My point, my friends, is this: Raise your hand if you've heard your fair share of Wicked Mother-in-Law Takeovers. Y'know, the kind that always start with, "You'll never believe what SHE did this time." There's this acrid, nauseated, cynical, totally unmistakable emphasis on the "she" that there's no doubt in ANYONE'S mind about who, exactly, SHE is. She's that evil nemesis who comes into your home and begins, immediately, to, gasp!, CLEAN UP! SHE organizes the linen closet. SHE grooms the children and makes them wash their hands. SHE takes over your kitchen, your laundry room, your, eep, bathroom! Isn't it just horrible?
It's actually quite wonderful. Out of the Wicked, Critical Mother-in-Law Takeover, you get: a neat, organized linen closet, a surgically scrubbed bathroom, well-dressed, well-fed kids, and more tips and tricks than you've get reading Ann Landers for five decades. Even better, you get a happy, contented mother-in-law who feels so good to be able to help out! And, if you're me, you get matching hangers! :-)
The magic is in the perspective. It's the loud, rude voices clamoring in our heads and hearts that get in the way of us enjoying the perks of mother-in-lawship. It's not about THEM; it's about US! She thinks I'm a slob! She's just trying to show me what a bad housekeeper I am! Look at how she disapproves of my mothering! I'm such a neb! Those voices are all OURS. They seep out of our insecurities, fester and swell, until we project them onto others. They obliterate the good and turn everything sour. An offer to help becomes a point-blank rejection. A loving smile becomes a contemptuous, patronizing glare.
Methinks the key lies in challenging these negative voices. Maybe my mother-in-law is just trying to give me a well-deserved break. Maybe she's trying to keep herself from being bored. Maybe SHE'S trying to prove herself to ME by cleaning out my closets!
When my mother-in-law visits, I put my raging, self-deprecating thoughts on hold with this very powerful, very compelling thought: She's saving you a mint in cleaning help. Feel free to wallow in your miserable thoughts of being less-than and judged another time. For now, just shut up and enjoy. You have new HANGERS, for goodness sake! Adorable!
Funny thing, women, no? We're so...female. We like jewelry and clothing and purses and...helping people.
Do you detect a faint note of...cynicism, perhaps? How astute! Okay, here's the scoop: I was out with hubby when I spotted an able-bodied young man, struggling valiantly against an enormous load of cartons on one of those wheeled things I'd call a dolly if it didn't sound quite so...girlish! ;-). Well, what's a girl to do when she sees a fellow human in distress?
"Help him!" I commanded my husband.
I mean, he was really struggling.
Tell me something: If you were a woman, struggling to move some heavy boxes, and a passerby moved in to give you a hand, what would you do? Smile with relief and say something polite like, perhaps, "Thank you!"?
OR WOULD YOU GIVE THE GOOD SAMARITAN A DIRTY LOOK THAT SAID, "SCRAM!" AND GRUMBLE, "I'M FINE!"?
"What did you think, Riva?" My husband gently snorted. "You insulted him!"
What is it about an offer of assistance that ruffles those male feathers so easily? Is it better that he grunt and groan and move the ten-ton box himself? Does that affirm that latent masculinity so prized and...fragile that it crumbles in the face of a little help? Interesting, cuz G-d, who actually created men, commands us, in the book of Shemos (Exodus): "When you see the donkey of your enemy collapsed under its load ... you must raise it with him." Notice that last word: "HIM". As in, uh, a guy. Full of that wonderful, capable male pride that gets our men in and out of all sorts of messes--single-handedly, thank you very much.
So the next time I see a guy who looks like he could use a hand, I will not make the same dumb mistake I made last time. Instead of expressing my annoying female nurturing instinct, I will walk on stoutly by and let those male muscles handle everything with aplomb. Hey, come to think of it, I may even throw on an extra carton or two. Just to up the ante. Wouldn't that feel good!
My neighbor had an urgent request of me early one morning. "Please," she asked breathlessly, "Can I wash my windows?"
No, she is not co-dependent. :-) She is my upstairs' neighbor and when she washes windows she WASHES WINDOWS! We're talkin' buckets and buckets of water thrown at the window until it's sparkling--water that will ultimately land on my patio, which is located right under her windows.
Why is she washing her windows so thoroughly? you might ask. Well, even if you may not ask, I sure did. It isn't even Pesach yet!
"Riva," she gave me a scornful look. "Didn't I tell you my mother-in-law's coming for Purim? I couldn't possibly let her see my windows the way they were--they were horrible!"
When my mother-in-law comes to visit, I make sure the floors are passable, the guest room's clean, and there's a good meal ready for dinner. But windows? Never occurred to me! The mother-in-law factor was cited later that day yet again, by a friend who shared that her sister was coming over to consult with her on...what to make for her mother-in-law for Purim!
Am I out of touch with MIL etiquette? (And she doesn't seem to mind it one bit!) Do YOU wash your windows when your mother-in-law comes to visit?
Yesterday, I did something so shocking, so daring, so absolutely out-of-the-ordinary that I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn't dreaming. I...took the morning off. That's right--off. No work, no deadlines, no pressure, no writing. For that matter, no dishes, no laundry, no sweeping or returning phonecalls. Nope, instead, I went with a friend to...a women's dance festival! Ha! Even today, twenty-four hours later, I'm still atonished at my courage. Leaving those DEADLINES? Those scary, glowering deadlines? When have I ever left them before, completely unattended? When's the last time I audaciously went out to enjoy myself for a change, to spend some time with a friend and just...enjoy?
Uh, can you spell 'never'?
Yep, those deadlines waited very patiently for me to come back. So did the dishes. I greeted them with a naughty grin, completely devoid of guilt. And now I'll have to cram my work into less time-space than if I had knocked some of it back yesterday morning. But was it a worthy investment? Absolutely.
I am slowly learning a beautiful lesson in life: my work is important, yes, but friendship, inspiration, and just plain letting loose is vital. I guess the best way I'd sum it up is with this pithy quote: In earning a living, we often forget to live.
When's the last time you took off for down-time?
If you saw him screaming like I saw him screaming, you would also stare--no, gape!--and hide your eyes in disappointed disbelief.
You would also grab your child with that firm, horrified look that said, "What a nut! Let's get away from him!" and walk away, sneaking a backward glance at the way his eyes bulged out and his voice shook the neighborhood.
"Doesn't he have any shame?" you might say, aloud or to yourself. "To yell like that? And at a young child no less!"
The boy, caught in the crossfire of the angry, bellowing voice, doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry. He stands, almost transfixed, by the raging, smashing anger as the words crash down upon him.
"You leave my wife and kids ALONE! Do you hear me?"
It looks like any moment now, those trembling hands will reach out and strike the slight boy whose eyes are slightly widened now, maybe anticipating the blows.
You would also wonder at the unchecked anger, at the hostility and venomous words.
But I don't.
I sigh. His wife and children are regulalry singled out for mistreatment. He fights an uphill battle every day. For acceptance. For tolerance. For respect. This boy is just one in a hundred boys who has hurled sticks and stones and ugly words. The roiling rage today is just a vented slit in a pot filled with steam that has been simmering since this shaking, aching man met and married the noble woman I am proud to call a friend. Whose skin is black like a midnight that cannot ease into dawn. Until we all wake up.
About Riva Pomerantz
I'm a freelance writer, widely published in several magazines including the internationally-distributed Ami Magazine and Mishpacha Jewish Family Weekly. Riva's work also appears on the award-winning website www.aish.com, amongst others. You can buy my books here.