Marching for My Mom, the Agunah

1617106_10153211091314711_5279245602611725887_oLast Sunday, March 22nd, a march was held in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY in order to raise awareness of the ever growing agunah crisis in our communities. I was honored to be one of the speakers at the march. Before I discuss whether or not the march was a success, I’d like to talk about why I spoke.

Thirteen years ago, when I was only seven years old, my parents got a civil divorce. To this day, my father has still not given my mother a gett, a religious divorce. His reasons for withholding a gett have changed over the years—he wants a different custody agreement, more money, he still loves her–but his attitude has not. Growing up, my siblings and I were constantly caught in between our parents. My mother tried very hard to never speak ill of my father when we were nearby. My father on the other hand, would go out of his way to put our mother down when we were with him. There were several times my father was even overheard threatening our lives if my mother continued to fight for full custody! Becoming involved with the Agunah march, and defiantly speaking out against my father, was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

11045438_10153214638699711_6822481123520697818_nSo why did I agree to speak? I agreed because it was necessary. The world needs to understand that gett refusal is a real issue, and we can’t keep sweeping it under the rug. I agreed to speak so that other agunot, chained women, will find the courage to reach out for help. I agreed so that other children of agunot will know that they are not alone, that there are others like themselves, who can help them make the right choices, especially when they are difficult choices to make.

Initially, many, many people seemed to be against the actual march, arguing that we were only marching to further our “personal agendas.” Well, they were actually correct. Since all Jews are brothers and sisters, if one Jew is in pain, it becomes every Jewish person’s personal agenda to relieve him or her of said pain. The challenge is that people don’t enjoy stepping out of their “happy little bubble” to see that there is pain. They would rather sweep it all under the rug, and pretend it doesn’t exist.

I, along with many other brave people, realized that the rug has gotten too small for all the dirt. So we organized a march to bring awareness to the agunah crisis. To force people to understand that it cannot continue, to “pop the bubbles” so to speak. And to do it all in a nice, peaceful way. Maybe the march was the right way to go about it, maybe it wasn’t. But it was something. That is all that mattered.

Did it succeed the way we expected, or hoped, it would? No, it didn’t. We hoped to have hundreds of men, women, children, and rabbis marching together as one. We hoped the march would be broadcasted on all the news stations. We hoped every single Jew would hear our voice and join us. Unfortunately, that did not happen. For a while, it seemed like we had failed in our mission.

However, we did not fail! We succeeded in more ways than we could have possibly imagined. It was because people fought us every step of the way that we managed to make global news. We succeeded in making every person who is interested in truth, able to hear our voice. We succeeded in making sure every Chabad rabbi is now aware of the crisis among us. We succeeded in informing the younger generation about the solution of the halakhic prenup, a document couples can sign before their wedding that prevents the agunah crisis.

Since last week’s march, many other agunot have gathered the amazing courage to reach out and ask for help. Since my speech went viral, two couples have already contacted me, (probably more without my knowledge) telling me they will look into signing the prenup.

For the reasons stated above, I would say that our march was a complete success, even if we achieved it through ways we did not anticipate. God runs the world, and we are only God’s messengers. No one can predict how something will happen. We can only try our best and hope God grants us success, even if that path was not the one we had intended to march.

Posted on March 31, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Megillah, Matzah, and Equality

This is an exciting time of the year to be an observant Jew. The religious momentum in the months of Adar and Nisan begins to build up two weeks before Purim with Parshat Shekalim and culminates at the night of the first Seder. What makes the spring time so special is that the central mitzvah of each holiday – the public reading of the megillah on Purim and the private eating of matzah on Passover – are among the few time-bound commandments that apply equally to men and women.

The reason is well known. In the language of the Rabbis, women must hear the megillah and eat matzah because “af hein hayu b’nes” – women too were included in the miracle of the rescue in Shushan and the exodus from Egypt. In the Rabbinic mind, salvation from the mortal danger which threatened the entire community rendered all Jews equal. Eve, the primordial woman, was cursed with dependence on her husband when she was banished from the Garden of Eden. But, when Pharaoh and Haman threatened the Jewish people, equality between husbands and wives, men and women, was at least partially restored. Essentialist differences based on gender are erased on Purim and Passover.

It is becoming a widespread practice among Open Orthodox think tanks like Beit Hillel to publish responsa engaging with contemporary issues relating to gender in modern Jewish life, including the questions of women’s obligation in time-bound commandments. One discomforting aspect of these well-intentioned papers is a reliance on standard halakhic categories. Much of the discussion focuses on personal status rather than the performance of the mitzvah itself. The point of departure is invariably the relative rank of men versus women rather than the intrinsic capacity of the person to fulfill the mitzvah. For example, when considering women’s participation in prayer services, the discussion hinges on the position of women in the hierarchy of obligation (slaves, children, deaf people, mentally incompetent people, women and men) and this determines whether or not women can fulfill specific roles such as reading from the Torah or leading prayers for the congregation. The same logic prevails even in the laws relating to the reading of the megillah. Some halakhic authorities persist in affording women a lower status than men and do not permit women to read on behalf of men. There have also been attempts to support specific practices with innovative applications of established halakhic principles that transcend gender status. A good illustration is Rabbi Sperber’s invocation of the principle of kvod ha’briyot, “human dignity,” to enable greater participation by women in communal prayer and Torah reading. But this is a notable exception. Usually the think tank responsa compile a list of lenient positions without establishing an underling legal basis and, as such, are unconvincing.

Back to megillah and matzah. If an external military or political threat provided a sound rationale for full equality in the requirement to perform these two mitzvot, can this model be extended to internal existential threats to Jewish survival? The notion of mortal threat to the Jewish people could be expanded to include the internal peril of inter-marriage and assimilation that is fostered by persistent gender inequality in defining status and requirement to perform mitzvot. Women and men who are fully engaged in the modern world may find Orthodoxy’s adherence to traditional gender roles, with its limitation of women’s involvement in all of the commandments, increasingly untenable and drift away from Orthodoxy. Alternatively, internal threat could be viewed on an individual level in which a person’s inner motivation to grow and thrive religiously is stymied by perceived gender inequality. This, too, might cause talented and committed men and women to abandon Orthodoxy for more egalitarian alternatives. This threat would represent a new point of departure for developing a gender neutral assessment of who should be obligated to perform all time-bound mitzvot.

Based on this reasoning, the requirement to eat, sleep, and sit in a sukkah or to participate in a daily minyan, prayer service, would be equally incumbent upon men and women. Instead of finding a reason to mandate performance of a specific time-bound mitzvah as an exception to the rule, this reformulation of the meaning of “af hein hayu b’nes” would assume that men and women are equally responsible for fulfilling this category of commandments. Rather than representing a betrayal of the Rabbinic tradition, it would remain integrally linked to classical legal texts by reformulating a concept that the Rabbis used to promote the observance by women of two specific commandments, reading the megillah and eating matzah at the Seder, to a wider context. Perhaps, looking to the future, the arrival of Adar 5776 and the change of seasons can serve as a springboard to broaden the halakhic discourse to one that emphasizes the essential equality of men and women in performing time-bound mitzvot.

Posted on March 29, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Brave Chabad Woman Speaks Out Against Childhood Abuser

On March 23, Sima Yarmush, the daughter of Chabad Shlichim, emissaries, in Santa Monica, California, shared her story of childhood abuse. Ten years after she reported her experiences to four prominent rabbis, who falsely promised to help her navigate this trauma, she stood up to share her dark story with the public. She withheld most of the details about the abuse, but shared some of the grooming techniques her predator employed. For years she had been scared to tell anyone about her abuser, even her parents.

I can’t imagine the pain inflicted on Sima and her family. What I found both compelling and devastating was the community’s reaction once the abuser had finally been exposed. How callously her neighbors and other Chabad rabbis reacted, and the attacks that her parents endured for doing what they believed was in the interest of protecting children.

The responsibility of exposing abusers and keeping children safe is ours – all of ours. We can realize this responsibility by creating an environment that would have allowed Sima to speak up when the abuse first occurred, and for swift and effective action to be taken. We need to have clear and blunt conversations with children of all ages about the dangers in the world and who to contact if your space or body is violated. When Sima did have the courage to share her story with those rabbis empowered with protecting her, they did next to nothing.

It is our responsibility to share her story, educate our children, and not to tolerate abuse in the community. It exists in every community, regardless of religion or denomination, and it is our job to protect children and expose the abusers. Listen to Sima’s story and share it – send a message loud and clear that this will not be tolerated.

Posted on March 27, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Can Modesty Be A Feminist Choice?


By the time I finally bought my first bikini, I was sixteen years old. As a chubby kid who had grown into a young adult with a curvy figure, I had never felt that my body deserved to be seen. I grew into a tendency to hide myself underneath baggy jeans and shapeless one-piece bathing suits, until my body grew into something that I thought that society would approve of. Once it did, I felt proud to parade it around in all of its glory. After all, I had made it. I was part of the club.

A year ago, when I began to live my life in a manner which more closely followed Jewish religious observance, I immediately tweaked my dress to appear more modest. I began to scan the aisles for knee-length black skirts and long shirts with a high neckline instead of short-shorts and miniskirts. Immediately, it became apparent that my feelings about my new self-imposed dress code were mixed. On one hand, I personally loved the way my body felt in the modest clothing, the way in which the clothes that I chose covered me while simultaneously flattering my figure. I also appreciated the manner in which the dress code acted as a social signifier, sending a message about my religious affiliation to other religious Jews and to society at large.

However, there was one challenge which nagged at me whenever I stepped out in my new manner of dress. I wish I could say that this issue was based on some lofty feminist goal which sought to challenge the innate patriarchal system inherent in Jewish standards of modesty. I wish that it bothered me more that women are perceived to have a responsibility to cover themselves up for the sake of preventing men from exciting their yetzer hara, sexual inclination. I wish I felt more guilty that I was implicit in the victim-blaming which is rampant in religious circles, by implying that I was somehow more ‘holy’ or ‘worthy’ than girls who choose to wear less.

No. I am embarrassed to say it, but my biggest issue was that I missed the gaze of men. I don’t claim to speak for anyone else, but personally, I have found that however much you might feel good about yourself in a knee-length skirt, no matter how much it may enrich your neshama, soul, you attract significantly fewer car horns and up-and-down stares on the street. In these first few months of dressing modestly, I felt my self-esteem plummet. In the absence of the same degree of external validation and day-to-day objectification which I had enjoyed since I began to show myself off, I was at a loss of how to love myself. I was convinced that my days of being desirable were over, and I began to make half-sincere jokes about being ”past my prime.”

My confusion climaxed one day when I burst into tears and confided in a colleague with training in mental health. He suggested that I write a letter to myself detailing the issues I was undergoing. I sat down, dried my tears, and entitled the letter: “Dear Thirteen Year-Old Me…” I wrote about how since I was that age, I hadn’t felt so uncomfortable in my own body, and how I wished to regain the sense of self which I seemed to have lost.

It was at that moment that I realized that for the last seven years, I had let the patriarchy define my very self-worth. Instead of valuing myself for my wit, my intelligence, and my charm, I had let the winks and stares of random men boost my spirits. I realized that far from being an obstacle to self-love and finding validation, modest dress posed itself as an invaluable gift. Instead of relying on the lust of strangers to define myself as a desirable person worthy of love and attention, I had the power to attract people through whatever means I chose to do so. Far from causing me to lose control of my sexual power, my choice to dress modestly gave me more autonomy than ever before.

Although Jewish norms of modest dress are indeed based on a patriarchal system, many modern fashion standards are as well, because they are designed to excite the attention of the opposite sex, and thus deem its wearers worthy of sexual attention. This is why I have decided to continue following the norms associated with modest dress – because I now know that I am worthy of that attention without the ‘help’ of eye-catching clothing and I shall receive it, with the help of God, from the right person whenever he may come into my life. I will receive this love and attention, and indeed I deserve it, because I believe that I am intelligent, funny, insightful, patient, caring, compassionate, and loving.

Oh yes, I mustn’t forget…and beautiful.

Posted on March 25, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Maternity Leave Mitzvah


The details may vary from patient to patient, but the scenario is usually the same. A mother and newborn baby come to my pediatric office for their first doctor’s visit when the newborn is three or four days old. As I speak to the mother, I always ask her if she has any questions or concerns. Even though her newborn is only a few days old, often the mother would like to discuss daycare options, or how she could pump and store breast milk for her anticipated return to work in a few short weeks. The first weeks and even months after a new baby is born should be spent with the mother, partner, and siblings bonding, but all too often, families use their limited time at home worrying about and preparing arrangements for when they return to work rather than relaxing with their newborn.

The United States has one of the poorest maternity leave policies in the world. In fact it is the only industrialized country with no law requiring paid parental leave. Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), mothers are entitled to take off up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave after giving birth, as long as the company employs a minimum number of people and the mother has been employed there for at least one year. Many women use saved sick and vacation days to supplement the unpaid leave. According to the United Nations, the United States is so far behind that it is one of only two countries in the world (the other being Papua New Guinea) that does not have paid maternity leave. Many of these statistics are well known and thankfully there are many legislators and organizations working hard to rectify this situation.

Sadly, I have observed that many of the mothers and fathers in my office, and many of my friends who have unpaid, short, or no family leave work for Jewish organizations. Some of these organizations provide only four to six weeks of unpaid maternity leave, forcing many mothers to make a choice to return to work only a few short weeks after giving birth. Other organizations require new mothers to apply for short-term disability benefits, which provide only a percentage of one’s regular pay, in lieu of paying for maternity leave. Many fathers are eligible for only a few days off, if any. Even though these policies may be on par with other organizations and companies in the United States, Jewish organizations must consider whether these types of paltry parental leave policies are really in keeping with Jewish values. Aren’t we constantly praising our community’s emphasis on Jewish family life and the importance of raising and educating our own children? Yet do our own non-profits, federations, day schools, and other Jewish organizations really model these values? Do we show parents that time spent with their newborns is important and necessary? As a pediatrician, I see many mothers who have to give up breastfeeding earlier than they would like to because of an early return to work, fathers who feel stressed that they are given only a few paid days to be home with their families, and families who do not have the time needed to bond with their newborn. It is clear that Jewish organizations are not modeling the values that they preach.

To be fair, the primary reason many Jewish organizations give for offering only unpaid parental leave is that they are non-profits, so by definition have limited funds, and therefore cannot afford to pay employees during parental leave. Also, many organizations argue that they are unsure what standards should be included in an equitable parental leave policy and how to craft one. But this should not deter our community from finding a solution.

Through their “Better Work, Better Life campaign,” Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community (AWP) provides comprehensive recommendations, guidelines, and standards to help organizations develop equitable parental leave policies for their workplaces. Nearly one hundred organizations have joined the campaign and established family leave policies using AWP’s standards. Unfortunately, there are few Orthodox organizations represented on this list and it is time that the Orthodox community begins to examine their own attitudes and standards towards family leave. Women and men in the Orthodox community can begin by asking to meet with their synagogue, school, and communal leaders to ask if their organizations have an equitable family leave policy and if not, offer to help implement one. Additionally, organizations need to think creatively and consider increased work and job flexibility for returning parents.

It certainly may take some creative efforts to allow for better paid parental leave and more flexibility but as Jews, we should hold ourselves to our own standards that reflect our own values and beliefs and not simply provide our families and communities with the bare minimum that has become accepted as the norm in this country. Supporting Jewish families through strong parental leave policies provides an opportunity to model Jewish values and more importantly, directly impact the health and well-being of our individual members.

For more on this topic, you can watch a recording of a recent JOFA webinar titled “Work-Life Balance, Equal Pay, and Staying on the Promotion Track: Advocating for Yourself in the Workplace” or follow part II of the conversation that can be found at

Posted on March 23, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

My #OrthodoxFeministMoment

Shaw Frank family“Ima, can you help me with my chapter of megillah?” My thirteen-year old son Davi, who recently became a Bar Mitzvah, has volunteered to leyn a chapter of megillah at his school’s megillah reading on Purim morning. “My teacher gave us recordings,” he tells me, “but I want to learn it the REAL way—with the trop.” I smile. He reminds me of myself as a young teenager: eager, passionate about his Judaism, yearning for authenticity.

So, we sit together and begin to learn. We discuss the places where the trop turns to Eicha trop and why that is. We discuss where to pause for the congregation to recite a verse out loud. His prepubescent soprano voice rings out clear and sweet as a bell. We laugh together when a trop comes out sounding funny. We sit together at the dining room table, cozy and happy, learning together and enjoying each other’s company.

The only remarkable thing about this scene is that it is utterly unremarkable in our home. My son did not think twice before heading straight to me when he needed help with leyning. He didn’t even consider going to my husband. Trust me, he goes to my husband for help with lots of other things, including leading prayer services, gemara homework, and lots more. But, in our home, Ima is the leyning expert, the one who teaches the kids their parasha for their Bat and Bar Mitzvahs and who leyns the megillahs on Purim, Tisha B’Av, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Davi doesn’t know any different. In his experience, moms are the ones who leyn.

Our lived experience is immeasurably important to how we see the world. Perhaps nothing brought that home to me as vividly as the day, years ago, when Davi came home from preschool before Presidents’ Day and exclaimed, “IMA! GUESS WHAT?! Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer! I thought only girls could be lawyers!” The only lawyer Davi knew at age four was his mother. Why should he possibly think that the law could be a career for men too?

So, part of my goal as an Orthodox feminist is to transform our community’s lived experience, and, in so doing, reform our unconscious expectations and preconceived notions about gender in Judaism. Each time my children see a Rabba or a Maharat in front of their synagogue, their automatic association between rabbi and male is challenged. Each time my children sit in a gemara class taught by a woman, their brains are being patterned to see women as Talmud scholars. As we all know, once those connections are made and once old patterns of thinking are broken, change comes more quickly and more easily. It’s a lot easier to make the case for hiring a Maharat in a synagogue whose congregants have long had experience with female religious leadership!

All of this was swirling around in my head as I sat at my dining room table learning megillah with Davi. I felt my heart swell with contentment and hope for the future. I yearned to share my moment with my community of friends, so I decided to share it on Facebook. “Teaching my son to read megillah,” I wrote—and then, in an attempt to explain why this act felt so much bigger to me than it might have appeared on its face, I hashtagged my post: #OrthodoxFeministMoment. It was my Orthodox feminist moment—a moment of poignancy and meaning in which my dreams for the future of Orthodox Judaism seemed possible and attainable.

Imagine if we all posted, tweeted and proclaimed our #OrthodoxFeministMoments. Maybe our collective voices swirling through cyberspace would help shape a new reality for the future.

Did you have an #OrthodoxFeministMoment today?

Posted on March 18, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Challenging our Assumptions about Women’s Inclusion

shutterstock_18132598“You should volunteer to lead the Orthodox minyan, prayer services, you have the opportunity to make a Kiddush HaShem, sanctification of God’s name,” my friend told me before the Limmud NY 2015 conference. What he meant was that having someone sensitive to gender issues leading the Orthodox minyan would be an opportunity to promote the value of inclusion within the Orthodox community.

The first thing that struck me about Limmud was its impressive schedule, diverse both in the content and styles of the presentations. Most interesting was the choice of prayer options. On Friday night and Shabbat day we could choose from the following options: Orthodox (with a mechitza, a divider separating men and women and male leaders), partnership (with a mechitza and both male and female leaders), Renewal (a Jewish spiritual movement that uses musical instruments on Shabbat), and egalitarian (with no mechitza). As an Orthodox person who believes in expanded roles for women in the synagogue, I chose to attend the partnership option.

One thing I like about partnership minyans is that, in addition to women and men sharing the prayer leading, almost all the other aspects of the minyan are also equal (or close to). Partnership minyans usually have mechitzas that participants can see over or through, and that divide the room in half length-wise, so that neither side is obviously primary. For whatever reason, the non-partnership Orthodox minyan at Limmud had a large mechitza, with the ark and bima, podium, placed squarely on the men’s side, which I found odd. Considering the progressive ideological makeup of the conference, I had expected a less stringent set up.

For afternoon services on Shabbat, however, there were only two prayer options scheduled — Orthodox and egalitarian. I chose the former. As the time for services arrived I volunteered to lead the community. When it came time for the Torah reading, I was instructed by the gabbai to simply remove the Torah from the ark and to place it on the bima, without taking it around to be kissed, due to time constraints. Following the Torah reading, the gabbai instructed me to take the Torah around to allow people to kiss it, before returning the Torah to the ark. I whispered to the gabbai “women?” inquiring as to whether I should take the Torah to the women’s side. He shrugged his shoulders (the gabbai was a student volunteer, so I do not think he felt comfortable making this decision). So I did what my conscious told me to do and paraded the Torah around both the men’s and women’s sections. I would have preferred to hand the Torah off to a woman, but as we had not coordinated this in advance, I thought it would be best to just go into the women’s section myself.

As I entered the women’s section I wondered if everyone on the men’s side, and even on the women’s side, approved of what I was doing. I thought it best to keep my gaze forward and deal with any consequences afterwards. I received no complaints, and even received compliments from a couple of women, including Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, JOFA’s Executive Director, so I guess everything worked out well in the end.

I would never advocate for anyone unilaterally deciding to go against the established custom of a prayer community. However, in the absence of an established custom, such as at a temporary minyan (like at LimmudNY or another conference), a minyan at a house where there is no formal leadership, or when we simply do not know the established custom, what should we assume? Should we assume that women should have the opportunity to kiss the Torah — a position that has ample halakhic support — or should we assume that women have no active role in the service and are simply observers unless told otherwise? Is the default that women cannot participate, until male rabbis formally decide they can, or that they can participate, unless there are sufficient halakhic or sociological reasons why they cannot? The answer to that question is fundamental in understanding gender issues in the Orthodox world.

Personally, I believe in the latter option. I will not assume that women are excluded from anything and everything unless told otherwise. Inclusion should be the default.

In some ways I feel like I was—perhaps subconsciously—trying to bring the ethos of the partnership minyan—that men and women are working together in praying to God—into the traditional Orthodox minyan. I understand why there are people who aren’t comfortable with women’s leadership and active participation. However, there are still plenty of opportunities for men and women to be in partnership during the prayer services, leadership notwithstanding, and one method of attaining this unity is by challenging the default assumptions about inclusion.

My friend was correct. Simply bringing this ethos of inclusion into traditional Orthodoxy, even without creating radical change, is truly an opportunity for Kiddush HaShem.

Posted on March 16, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Listen to Your Head and Your Heart When You Make the Next Change in your Professional Career

shutterstock_183125153Two years ago, I ignored every rational and logical thought in my head.

I was completing the twentieth year of a wonderful career in academic leadership at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.  I had recently been appointed the Executive Vice Provost (one of the top leadership positions in the University) and was in charge of strategic planning and growth of online education and a variety of entrepreneurial educational opportunities being pursued by Hopkins. I was in a great place.

A close friend called me one day to say, “I know you are never going to leave Hopkins, but I know of a great opportunity and you are the perfect candidate.”  I innocently asked for more information and soon learned that ShalomLearning, a small start-up offering an online and blended learning option to pre-B’nai Mitzvah kids, was looking for a CEO to take the organization to the next level.  What a great opportunity to combine my knowledge and skills in education and technology with my lifetime passion for Judaism and Jewish education.  My brain was saying, “Stop and think this through,” but my heart was saying, “Go for it and worry about the details later.”

I leapt with my heart and left my professional comfort zone (built up over twenty years) for an entirely new world of work. I jumped into the proverbial deep end of the pool. Why did I shake up this world of comfort – and would I recommend anyone else do the same?

Let’s assume you have a good job and are perfectly satisfied with your current position. The work-life balance is good, your boss is supportive, and your colleagues are enjoyable. But let’s also assume that the challenge of the job has disappeared. You can do your work with one hand tied behind your back.

Nothing is wrong, but nothing is really right.

shutterstock_176716529It might be time to Assess, Review, and Match (ARM).  Either with the help of a mentor or coach, or just by yourself, examine your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  The best time to focus on yourself is when there is no pressure to do so.  Your job is not in jeopardy and time is on your side.

Assess.  Take stock of your passions and your goals.

Review.  Do an accounting of any issues that may be holding you back.

Match.  Pair-up your skills and knowledge with potential opportunities for advancement.

Get started by putting four tasks on your to-do list:

  1. Schedule regular updates of your resume and your LinkedIn profile. It takes just a few minutes to jot down an accomplishment from last week. But it takes several hours to reconstruct a project that you finished last year.
  2. Seek advice from trusted friends and mentors in your professional world.  Chances are the perfect mentor is nearby and interested in sharing their experiences and knowledge. You can have one mentor or you can have many mentors. There are no rules. The most important criterion is that you share a mutual respect for one another.
  3. Network and stay current. Read a book on a subject that you’re not familiar with, attend a lecture, listen to a podcast that is related to your field of work, or just pick up a copy of the Harvard Business Review (one of my personal favorites).
  4. Join the JOFA Webinar on Tuesday, March 17 as I moderate a discussion with two outstanding Jewish women professionals Shifra Bronznick and Ariela Migdal on the topic of “Work-Life Balance, Equal Pay, and Staying on the Promotion Track: Advocating for Yourself in the Workplace.”

These kinds of activities will ensure that you are ready for your next move – even if a job search is not on the horizon just yet. When you are ARMed – you are ready.

Posted on March 12, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Torah Costume, One Size Fits All

By | Tagged , ,

Liat dressed as TorahAs a high school student, finding the right Purim costume can be rather stressful. There are so many factors to consider: Should I dress up thematically with my family or a group of friends?  Does my costume conform to my yeshiva day school’s dress code? Can I repeat a costume from one year to the next?

One night before Purim, I spent a couple of hours scouring the internet for a new dress-up idea. Then, in perusing one of the sites geared towards Jewish consumers, I found this: “Boy’s Torah Costume, size 12-14.” I Googled the more general “Torah Costume” and was dismayed to find out that the item was called “Boy’s Torah Costume” on every website I visited. Despite the fact that it was not intended for me, I knew that I had found the costume that truly spoke to me. I love studying Torah. I love reading from the Torah in Women’s Tefillah services. I love incorporating the Torah into my ritual life.

As a petite woman, I knew that the costume would fit and I ordered it immediately. But I had to make one addition so that the costume would truly be appropriate. Many Orthodox rabbis suggest that a woman cannot touch a Torah scroll because she might be “temeah,” that is, in a ritually impure state, and she might transfer that status to the sacred Torah. Despite the many sources that clearly allow a woman to hold a Sefer Torah, this precludes women from participating in many synagogue activities, including dancing with a Torah on Simchat Torah. In order to take ownership of this costume, I added a quotation from the Talmud in tractate Brachot to the back. In English, the quotation means, “The words of Torah cannot take on impurity.”

On Purim day and on Shushan Purim at my school’s celebration, I wore my costume with pride. Admittedly, I wanted to get people talking. I am sure that some individuals saw my costume as extremely subversive or, perhaps, laughed it off as just another Nahafoch hu–a traditional Purim gag that upsets the natural order of things. But though I enjoyed participating in the lighthearted fun of the holiday, I was very serious about my costume’s message and its intent. I believe that I more truly engage with the stories, commandments and teachings of the Torah because I view the Torah as approachable, because I can open the scroll for myself, kiss the parchment and read the elegant words in their regal columns. I hope that more rabbis will join the ranks of those who already support women’s access to the Torah scroll.

I’m sure you’ll agree that my “Boy’s Torah Costume, size 12-14” looks pretty good as the more generic “Torah Costume, one size fits all.” Generally, I don’t wear a costume more than once, but I think I’ll make an exception next year. I want to keep spreading the message that women and men, girls and boys may approach and embrace the Torah.

Like this post? 
Join the conversation through MyJewishLearning’s weekly blogs newsletter

Posted on March 10, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

For Just Such a Crisis

shutterstock_165527828Purim is behind us. The kitchen counter is littered with nosh from lavish Purim baskets. There’s a lingering ringing in your ear from the boo’s shouted at Haman, and a faint whisper of inspiration lingering in your heart from the heroic acts of Esther and Mordechai.

Perhaps the most pivotal moment in the Megillah story is when Esther is hesitant to approach King Ahasuerus on behalf of the Jewish people because she might be killed for entering the Royal Court uninvited. She is so scared for her own safety that Mordechai must rouse her to action by suggesting that perhaps her whole life was building up to this very moment. Esther is convinced by his argument and three days later she enters the Court to confront the King.

Is she beheaded? No. Burned alive? No. Thrown into a pit of lions, or snakes, or lions that shoot snakes out of their mouths? Nope. She’s warmly greeted by the King. Before she can say a thing he asks, “What troubles you, Queen Esther? And what is your request? Even to half the kingdom it shall be granted you.” He’s magnanimous!

She had vastly underestimated her power and influence with the King. She entered unsure whether he would even spare her life, and discovered that he was prepared to give her half his kingdom! She had been blessed with a life of riches and royal influence that she didn’t fully appreciate, and had to be reminded that “perhaps you have attained this royal position for just such a crisis.”

American Jews today suffer from a similar lack of self-awareness. We too have achieved lofty stations for a purpose, and too frequently we forget how even our smallest actions can have great consequences. The American Jewish community has wealth and political influence that is significantly disproportionate to our population. We have the opportunity to engage in activism and philanthropy that can have a real impact on the world we live in and people who we may not always realize are our global neighbors.

Just such an opportunity is at hand. Today, International Women’s Day, marks the reintroduction to Congress of the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA). While protection of women and girls from gender-based violence is currently a part of US foreign policy by executive order, IVAWA would cement it into law.

There is a narrow window of opportunity for passing this legislation before the next election cycle begins. You can learn more about getting IVAWA passed on the website for the AJWS We Believe campaign. Please take a minute to call your congressional representatives and ask them to support the International Violence Against Women Act.

An estimated one out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime. In some countries, the numbers are even more devastating, with seven in 10 women experiencing significant forms of violence.This legislation would ensure that the US government remains focused on this important issue.

Who knows? Perhaps for just such a crisis you have been elevated  to this position.

Still not sure about why IVAWA is important? Spend 4 minutes watching Theresa’s story and realize that one crucial part of the bill will direct funding to local non-profits like the one that helped her escape an abusive husband.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 12.19.27 PM

Posted on March 8, 2015

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy