The Dark Side of Social Media

There’s a definite downside to being good with social media. You get to see all the things you’re not supposed to see; the pictures of your friends having a laugh together, all those times they “forgot” to invite you, the beautiful women your ex “likes” photos of on Facebook, the women you compare yourself to on a daily basis without their- or his- knowledge, because you know what buttons to press, what keys to click, to trigger that magical formula and see the things you’re not supposed to see. Photos hidden from timelines. Photos someone liked in 2016. Photos from people who- with good reason- aren’t your friends.

Yes, I think it’s fair to say that social media is a little invasive.

Normally, when I conduct these sort of searches, I feel guilty. I feel guilty for invading someone else’s privacy- whether it’s that of an ex, a fake friend, a potential partner or some girl I’ve never even met. I sometimes think about the halachos of this sort of thing, and wonder if my social media searches are ‘kosher’, so to speak, or if I’m breaking laws about privacy and respect- things which are very important in halacha.

But today, I felt a different sort of guilty. I felt guilty for what I was doing to myself. I tell myself that I’d sooner know the truth about all those times my friends excluded me, saying I probably wouldn’t enjoy whatever they’d planned, and that there’s no harm in scrolling through the photos of other girls which he has liked on Facebook. It’s just some harmless fun, they’re none the wiser- who’s hurt by it? The answer is: I am. My hobby (or perhaps addiction) has become a way of hurting myself over and over again, presenting my consciousness with a series of images with no context, torturing myself with fictitious stories of how, why and when, and leaving me feeling emotionally battered and bruised, even more unpopular than I was before I started searching.

I’m not one of those people who thinks social media is totally evil. Actually, I quite like it, and before I learned how to unearth all those things I wasn’t supposed to see, I think it did good things for me. It’s a place for me to share articles, thoughts, divrei Torah, and photos. It’s a way to connect with old friends, meet new ones, and keep in touch with some of my favourite people on earth. Not a day goes by when I don’t feel thankful for the beautiful photos, inspiration and messages I receive from the select few who make the whole going online thing worthwhile.

But then I come back to the point I made earlier, about privacy and respect in Jewish tradition and law. One of the most famous Jewish prayers is called Ma Tovu, meaning “How good”. Many have the minhag to recite this prayer upon entering a Shul, and growing up, despite my lack of Jewish education, I remember learning how to sing the prayer in the tradition of many Liberal and Reform shuls. The text of Ma Tovu begins with a line from Parshas Balak, which reads “How good are your tents, oh Yaakov, your dwelling places, oh Israel!”, before continuing with quotations from Tehillim.

Quite often, this raises a question: what was so good about the tents and dwelling places of the Israelites?

The answer is pretty simple. The tents were positioned as to give their occupants privacy, carefully aligning the openings so that inquisitive neighbours- the Israelite equivalent, perhaps, of me sitting in front of the computer, conducting Facebook searches on people who’d really rather be left alone- couldn’t see in. This was admirable, as it gave a sense of privacy and dignity to the Chosen People, which is why we laud their tents with lavish praise.

But today, I started thinking about the flip side of this issue. I think curiosity is a part of the human nature; we all have that underlying desire to know what’s going on in other’s lives, starting with reading our sibling’s diaries, and gradually progressing to stalking our exes on Facebook and Instagram (unless that’s just me). And consequently, I think that the set-up of the Israelite tents, so that prying eyes were physically unable to see in, was really rather clever. It didn’t just protect those who were inside- it protected the outsiders, too, from seeing things they weren’t supposed to see.

In many ways, social media is the opposite. What seemed like a blessing- my ability to find anyone and anything on Facebook- actually turned out to be a curse, as there was very little in place to protect myself- let alone the other person- from what I was doing. I think that in the back of my mind, I’ve known this for a long time, but it only came to the forefront of my consciousness today, when I saw a post from a Rabbi I follow (I may or may not be adding this in to prove that I use social media for “good” things, too), entitled “The Grass is Greener & Social Media”. He spoke about how his neighbour’s grass seems much greener than his, and it stays that way all year round, for the simple reason that it’s artificial. It’s the shrubbery equivalent of the Instagram filters and Snapchat stickers we use to mask our realities- the filters which I can spot from a mile away and yet which still fool me.

A few moments before I read his article, I’d been conducting those addictive Facebook searches, only to find a picture which upset me deeply, showing several of my friends at an event I hadn’t been invited to. And I commented on the rabbi’s insightful, thoughtful piece that I’d just been thinking about exactly the same topic, not realising that mere hours later I’d be revealing my social media habits to the whole wide world. Simply put, I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe in hashgocho protis- Divine providence. I think that these events collided for a very good reason, sending me a signal too strong to ignore. Maybe I’ve seen enough. Maybe it’s time to stop. Maybe I’m at a point in my life where I don’t need to chase after things which will never be mine, because I’m only making myself sadder and lonelier, and tearing myself away from those who truly care.

If all those years of saying “Mah Tovu ohelacha Yaakov, mishkenosecha Yisroel,” taught me anything, it’s that sometimes, privacy can be a good thing. Not just for those who are shielded by it, but for those who go searching. Those who, like me, will inevitably see things that make them wish they hadn’t started looking in the first place.

Parshas Yisro: Reading the Commandments

In this week’s Parsha, Yisro, we read about the Asares HaDibros, the Ten Commandments which make up perhaps the best known part of the entire Torah. These ten laws, inscribed upon the two tablets which Moshe Rabbenu brought down from Sinai, form basic moral guidelines which almost everyone is familiar with; even those who had no Jewish education. But the commandments aren’t quite as simple as that; when we look to the wisdom of the Chazal, we find out that the two tablets actually contain a little known secret.

To discover this secret, we simply read the two tablets horizontally, as opposed to looking at one tablet at a time. When we do this, we are left with five pairings of commandments, each providing us with both a mitzvah and a reason for it. If this doesn’t make much sense, we need only look at these five pairs to understand what the Midrash is trying to tell us.

The very first commandment- telling us that Hashem is the L-rd our G-d- is paired with the sixth commandment, prohibiting murder. The Chazal teach us that this is because each human being is created in G-d’s image, and is deserving of love and respect. If we are to murder another human being, we are essentially murdering G-d. Then we have the second pair, containing two negative commandments; the prohibitions against idolatry and adultery. This teaches us that marriage is a Holy union, and when we transgress its boundaries, our actions are akin to idolatry.

The third pair is very similar to the first- it contains the prohibitions against taking G-d’s name in vain and stealing. Just as murdering someone is an affront to G-d, as a murderer destroys one of His precious creations, stealing from someone shows a lack of respect and love, and we know that when we treat our fellow man this way, we hurt G-d too, as if we have used His name in vain. The fourth and ninth commandments are also paired together, telling us that keeping Shabbes is a testimony to the Creation story, and G-d’s soevreignty over the world. This is why we stand when we make Kiddush; we stand as witnesses before G-d, and his Creation of the seventh day, and by breaking Shabbes, we are essentially bearing false witness.

Finally, we are left with the fifth commandment- honouring parents- and the tenth, which tells us not to covet our neighbour’s belongings. The Midrash tells us that just as the reward for honouring parents is long life, the punishment for not doing so is to raise children who turn away from their parents and act jealously- coveting, as we are commanded not to do in the tenth commandment.

As we read about these pairings of the Commandments, one message is repeated time after time; in order to honour G-d, we must honour those around us, and treat them with the respect and kindness they deserve. After all, every human being is one of G-d’s creations, and we can never truly serve Him if we are hurting those around us.

The Lesson of the Manna

In Parshas Beshaloch, we read about the manna which descended from heaven and sustained the Israelites as they lived in the desert. For forty years, this manna fed them, without the need for them to do any work. Every man had the same alloted amount of manna, and no matter how much one man toiled, or how little another did, they all remained equal.

This system was designed to remind the Israelites that their sustenance always comes from Hashem, but- understandably- it’s difficult to keep this mindset in the present day, when inequality is rife and we have to work for what we eat. The Rebbe reminds us that even though things seem very different nowadays, they’re in fact exactly the same: no one receives any more of less than what is allotted by G-d.

The Rebbe reminds us that the mitzvah of Shabbes contains a similar lesson to that of the manna. Initially, keeping Shabbes seems like a bad business decision, and a way to lose one’s income, but in fact, keeping Shabbes is an exercise in recognising our true source of sustenance- Hashem. Even if we have to work for a living in this day and age, we must always remember the lesson which the manna taught us, about our one true provider.

Parshas Bo: The Secret of Success

People often ask me why so many successful and intelligent people are Jewish. They aren’t always quite so sensitive; indeed, I’m very aware of the accusations that we control the banks, media, government and education system. Needless to say, these myths are no more than age-old attempts to stir up anti-Semitism, but the stereotype of Jews as highly educated and intelligent remains, and the more I thought about it, the more I began to realise that perhaps there’s a grain of truth in this stereotype. Indeed, 22.5% of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish- that’s despite the fact that Jews make up 0.2% of the world’s population, giving us a 112.5% above average proportion of Nobel Prizes, and in-depth studies have been conducted by respectable publications in an attempt to work out exactly why Ashkenazi Jews have such a high average IQ. There’s no denying it; the statistics back up the hypothesis that Jews are proportionately more likely to be intelligent. But why?

I glanced briefly at the scientific attempts to explain this extraordinary phenomenon, before turning to something a little different; a kind of wisdom which, I believe, contains the answer to Jewish genius. It’s this week’s Parsha, Parshas Bo, in which we continue reading the story of the exodus from Mitzrayim. We learn about the plagues of locusts, darkness and the death of the Egyptian firstborns, and then we are given the commandments of consecrating the firstborn, wearing tefillin and commemorating the Exodus.

Alongside the mitzvos of removing all traces of leaven from our houses (the reason why we clean for Pesach) and eating unleavened bread named matzah, we are commanded to tell the Pesach story to our children. This isn’t the only time that the importance of education is emphasised in Jewish texts. The first paragraph of the Shema- arguably the most central Jewish prayer- reads “You shall teach them [the mitzvos] thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road”. It’s clear that Judaism doesn’t take education lightly. On the contrary, in the Shema, the importance of education comes before the mention of learning Torah at home and in the streets- something which is hugely important for the Jewish neshomo.

Parents aren’t just commanded to teach their children the exodus story, and the wisdom of the Torah. We are also required to teach our children how to swim. And I believe that the secret to Jewish wisdom and success lies in these laws, and our rich educational heritage. Metaphorically, the Jewish method of education is a lot like the swimming lessons we have to give our children. We present them with a pool of knowledge- the Torah, Talmud, Midrashim, and countless other texts- and teach them how to ‘swim’ in it- how to immerse themselves in the knowledge, how to work their way through it; how to live it.

When we read this week’s Parsha, and when we hear the rumour and hypotheses about Jewish intelligence, we need to remember our duty to our children. They are the future of this planet, and the Jewish mission is to leave the world in a better state than it was when we found it. This principle- Tikkun Olam- is one of the reasons why we must dedicate ourselves to the intellectual and emotional education of our children, something which has formed the backbone of Jewish life throughout history, and something which continues to make us a ‘light among the nations’ to this very day.

On Hair Covering and Hate Speech

There’s a disturbing picture doing the rounds on social media, showing a collage of women’s photos. These photos show frum Jewish women with beautiful shaytelach, along with a shocking caption calling these women sinners, and making some disgusting comparisons which I don’t intend to repeat. This collage shows real women, with real faces- not blurred or covered- whose images were used without their consent as part of a piece of propaganda which breaks every rule in the book.

It upset me deeply.

Not only did this person use horrible, stomach churning language, and steal women’s photos without their permission, but they completely forgot about the difficulty of the mitzvah which is hair covering. Simply put, it is hard. It makes your hair thinner and duller, it’s expensive (sometimes), and on a hot day it’s pretty much unbearable. And yet these women throw themselves into it, and buy beautiful wigs to make themselves and their husbands happy.

And then someone goes and calls them prostitutes.

After all the money spent, all the sacrifices made, all the frustration and doubt- they get slandered for their efforts and described using words which shouldn’t be applied to any women, never mind extremely modest ones such as these. Whoever created this photo should realise that they’re driving women away from a beautiful mitzvah; in fact, they’re driving women away, full stop.

There’s a saying that “he who is overly stringent on one mitzvah [in this case, tznius], forgets another mitzvah- that of Ahavos Yisroel”. It means that whenever we take halachos to the extreme, we risk hurting others. It’s perfectly fine for us to be extremely tzniusdik or keep kosher to a very strict level- but when we start imposing our guidelines on others- especially when we use disgusting language as used on this poster- we fail to fulfil the biggest mitzvah of all.

No mitzvah is so important that it overrides Ahavos Yisroel, and certainly no chumra. We need to remember this when we interact with others, especially when we consider ourselves “more observant” than them, because at the end of the day, our strictly kosher kitchens and bulletproof stockings aren’t going to distract G-d from the actions we take and the words we speak.

Converts and How We View Them

Everyone has certain issues which are especially close to their heart. It might be a particular area of halacha, or a social issue; perhaps you are an advocate for furthering women’s involvement in communal life, or for eliminating child abuse in the Jewish community. For me, the issue is the treatment of geirim (converts).

The Torah is very clear about how we should treat gerim. We are not only commanded to love every Jew, but there is an additional commandment to love converts. We’re forbidden to remind them of their past, and in fact, we aren’t even supposed to remind them that they are converts. Their Hebrew names, ‘child of Avrohom v’Soroh’ remind us that they, too, are the children of our ancestors, and they, too, where there when the exodus from Mitzrayim took place.

So why is the reality so different for many geirim?

A part of my life in the Jewish community involves meeting and working with geirim. Many of my closest friends were not, in fact, born Jewish, and a number of others whom I have met have spoken to me about the struggles they face. Those undergoing a reform conversion often feel pushed away by orthodoxy. “I wish I could be modern Orthodox,” one friend told me. “But they’d never accept me as I am. My Jewish status is never going to be accepted by everybody, now”. Reform conversions are not halachically accepted. Although reform converts can make aaliyah, they cannot get married in Israel, or marry orthodox Jews.

I spoke to reform converts about how they feel about this. “I would never want to move to Israel, anyway,” one told me. “Why would I want to go there if they aren’t going to treat me as a Jew?”. Another told me that the issue of their Jewish status plagued them every day, and a third began an orthodox conversion, even though she disagreed with some social elements of orthodoxy. “I wanted to do a ‘proper’ conversion,” she told me, but she ended up quitting the conversion due to the shul’s treatment of her.

It’s easy for me, as someone who was born into this religion, to say that they aren’t dedicated enough. This is an exclusive club, and if people aren’t even willing to sacrifice corporeal pleasures, why should we be expected to accept them? But is that the reality- or are we making conversion unnecessarily hard?

When we look at Megillas Rus, the story of Judaism’s most famous convert, and the commentaries surrounding it, we find that conversion was probably a lot simpler ‘back then’. By today’s standards, it is unlikely that Rus would be accepted as a Jew! Understandably, things are different nowadays, and conversion requires a lot of dedication. This means years spent studying, shul attendance, and, of course, keeping the mitzvos. We also know that it’s forbidden to encourage conversion, and that it’s customary to discourage converts- but do we go too far in discouraging them?

The orthodox converts whom I have met largely agree. One told me that they are anxious every time they have a meeting or receive an email from the Beis Din, as they ‘just know’ that they will be rejected. I happen to know that they are extremely dedicated, but the fear remains. Another has been offered next to no support from their sponsoring rabbi, who seems to take discouraging conversion to an entirely new level. They shared their fears about what will happen after conversion, as well; “People have refused to accept me as a Jew, even though I converted Orthodox,” one told me. “I’ll never get married,” another wrote. “Who would want to marry a convert?”.

I think about some of the converts I know. Not only are they close friends, but many are, in fact, role models. They have endured not only the gruelling conversion process, but the ups and downs of difficult lives- and they have remained faithful throughout. They inspire me, but they also make me wonder if I could ever endure the prejudice they have faced. The most recent generation of converts, and those in the conversion process, seem worried about their future. They feel that people are not only making conversion as hard as possible- something they can almost understand- but they completely forget the mitzvah of never reminding a convert of their past, and allow prejudice to seep into their interactions with converts. Almost all of the people I have spoken to faced discrimination at some point, and others reported physical attacks in supposedly ‘frum’ areas.

So what exactly should we do?

I’m not asking for us to start encouraging people to convert. That would be forbidden. But I am asking us to look critically at the conversion process and ask ourselves, and our dayanim, if it is really necessary to make it so gruelling and drawn out, and so filled with discouragement and difficulty. Is this really what G-d would want us to do, when the potential convert already has a Jewish neshomo?

But above all, I’m asking us to look at the way we treat converts. If you’re reading this article right now, it’s unlikely that you contribute greatly to the issue, but the problem of discrimination against converts is very real, very widespread, and very ossur. Converts already have challenges. Many spend festivals alone, without families to go to; others lose their jobs for taking time off. Lots of them face anti-Semitism from family and old friends, and throughout, many feel that they lack a support system. We need to be that support system. Not just because it’s a mitzvah, but because the prejudice is real, and if we want to be good Jews, we need to recognise that, and counter it with true ahavos Yisroel.

Gut Yontiff!

As soon as Yom Kippur finished, many of us began preparing for Sukkos, by building (and in some cases, decorating) the Sukkah, purchasing the four species, and, of course, cooking special meals for the yontiff. Sukkos is an extremely joyous holiday, and after the solemnity of Yom Kippur (and to an extent, Rosh Hashono), the happiness of the festival is especially welcome.

The first and last two days of Sukkos are like Shabbes, on which we may not perform any work. The two exceptions are cooking and carrying, which are permitted if they are necessary. On the intermediate days- chol hamoyed- necessary work is permissible, but generally avoided in favour of taking pleasurable trips.

In London, candles can be lit tonight at 6:13 PM, and after 7:18 PM tomorrow evening. Shabbes starts at 6:09 PM on Friday, and ends at 7:14 PM on Saturday night. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Shmuel Yosef ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Chashachana bas Bryna, Chana bas Mushka and Rivka Miriam bas Tsivia Bina. Thank you, and gut yontiff!

Gut Shabbes (And Gmar Chasima Toyvoh)!

Tonight, we enter what is known as the Shabbes of Shabbeses- Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the second holiest day on the calendar, after the little known Tu B’Av. We abstain from physical pleasure, in lieu of a lofty spiritual pleasure, and unlike Tisha B’Av, this is not a day of mourning, which is why it can occur on Shabbes. Starting tonight, we do not eat or drink, wear leather shoes, apply creams or lotions, engage in marital relations or bathe. Additionally, all of the Shabbes laws are observed- this means no writing, using electricity, or carrying.

Fasting is considered more important than davening in shul, so this should take precedence if you feel that you cannot get to shul. However, if you are ill, pregnant, or elderly, please consult with a doctor to see whether it is safe to fast or not. In London, the fast starts at 6:24 PM, when yontiff and Shabbes candles are lit. It ends tomorrow at 7:29 PM.

I would like to wish each and every one of my readers and friends an easy and meaningful fast, a gut shabbes and a gut yontiff. May Yom Kippur be filled with introspection and meaning, and may Hashem inscribe us all in the Book of Good life. Gmar Chasima Toyvoh!

Lessons Learned From Waiting

One of my very favourite blogs is Safek, written by a woman who is currently enduring the process of conversion to Orthodox Judaism, and who transcribes her experiences and what she’s learned from them in beautiful and transfixing articles. Today, I want to share her blog post, “What You Get With Waiting”. If you enjoy it, please follow the link to her blog and check out the rest of her work: I can recommend it to anyone!

“We had a good meeting with our sponsoring Rabbi last night who reassured us that he still plans on us converting in April 2018. He has plans and is confident that they will work out. So, we have only to trust him and continue doing what we’re doing.

While this has all been playing out, I have been thinking a lot about our process, now entering its 7th year and I’ve been looking at what we have gained by having a longer conversion process than is usual in the US. I think a lot of these benefits could apply to anyone who is going through a long process without a clear timeline to reach any goal, but perhaps they will be of particular comfort to anyone who is going through a prolonged Orthodox Jewish conversion.

My Children Will Be Unlikely to Take Their Judaism For Granted.

In our Chabad house, there are often teenagers who breeze in and out, the girls wearing leggings as pants, the boys casually taking an aliyah, grabbing some kiddush, and then breezing out. For these young people, Judaism is just one small part of who they are and often more of a burden to them than a blessing. Because our children have worked and waited to be Jews for most of their young lives, I have less fear that they will take being Jewish for granted. I can’t guarantee any more than any other parent that my children will always be observant, but I think the odds are probably better because of the process we’ve been through. It’s harder to walk away from something you’ve spent years working hard to earn.

Our Family Knows How to Be Observant

For better or worse, conversion candidates are required to really study the ins and outs of Orthodox Judaism, often in a more structured way than born Jews are given. In some ways, I feel like it might actually be harder for aspiring BT’s to become observant because there is less pressure from outside of them, at least in some of the communities I’ve been a part of. Because kiruv organizations are eager to make sure that newer BT’s feel welcomed, they often don’t tell them what they may be doing “wrong” or don’t feel like they can give too much direction at one time. Since Judaism is not obligated to accept converts and doesn’t seek them, there is no real fear of driving them away to hinder giving them direction when it comes to study or observance or giving them correction.

In many, many ways, this has been a great gift to our family in that we’ve been taught what we need to do in order to take on mitzvos and we were able to learn all that before we were obligated. We got years of practice time. 3 day yom tovim coming up? No worries, we’ve been through them before. Weird kashrus situation? Odds are that I’ve either been through it or I already know who best to ask. My husband who was raised in Orthodox day schools even learned a lot he didn’t know through this process, often when it comes to things that to him were things you “just do.” When I would ask “ok, why?” then we’d find ourselves going down a rabbit hole that led to us both learning a lot more. We wouldn’t have this kind of experience and confidence if we’d converted in just a year and we would have faced having to learn and make mistakes as we went along.

We Know Orthodoxy Is Where We Best Fit

Many converts wander through different streams of Judaism. In most cases, they convert Reform or Conservative and then later pursue an Orthodox conversion, often after they’ve discovered that an Orthodox community is a better fit for them. Sometimes, though, they wander in the other direction, which is more problematic from an Orthodox perspective. Our family has spent time in several different Orthodox communities as well as visited a Conservative community and spent a year in a Reform community. I actually recommend to people interested in conversion that they first visit as many different streams as they can before speaking to any Rabbi about the conversion process so that they can know where they will most likely be happy and only need to convert once. It also helps later no matter which stream of Judaism you choose because in smaller communities, you will often encounter and interact with people from all the major streams and it’s good to understand their perspectives a little better.

Every time we visited a Conservative or Reform Synagogue…it only made us want to go back to an Orthodox Synagogue more. It was like visiting a place that was close enough to home to remind you of home but just different enough to make you miss home. I would guess that Reform or Conservative Jews probably feel similar when they visit an Orthodox Synagogue. We also found that what we believed just fit so much better with Orthodoxy. I really think it’s so much better to take the time to make sure that you’ve found the right fit BEFORE you’ve converted and made a commitment!

In addition, we’ve gotten to experience different Orthodox communities. We’ve been to a more Modern Orthodox shul, a more religious Zionist shul, a Yeshivish shul, and plenty of different Chabad shuls as well as Dati Leumi shuls in Israel and seen how each different flavor has its own distinctive spin on Orthodox Judaism. On the plus side, we’ve found something to admire in all of them and I think we could find a home in almost any of them, except perhaps a really Modern shul. On the downside, I’m not sure I can give up some of the amazing things I’ve found in each of them. I love reading Rav Soloveitchik and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, but I also enjoy mind blowing Tanya classes, and I really get into studying Mussar. I might not have been exposed to such a wide swath of Orthodox Judaism if we had simply stayed in one community and easily converted there and I feel like I might have missed out.

We’re Past Our Awkward Stage (Ok, Mostly)

All conversion candidates go through awkward stages. I’m sure BT’s also do, but maybe it’s less noticeable to me? I see a conversion candidate struggling to know what they should do in a situation and I try to quietly reach out and help because I know that feeling. There is an initial awkward stage around basic observance, but there are other awkward stages as well. There’s mispronouncing basic Hebrew and Yiddish words, the cringe inducing attempts to shake hands with the opposite sex, figuring out how to dress tznius in a way that is comfortable for you, and then those fits and starts of sometimes going too far in observance too fast. There’s also learning how to navigate Jewish culture and growing in confidence that yes, you belong here.

I could probably tell a dozen embarrassing stories from my own family’s experiences, just off the top of my head.

Our family has been gifted years to work through all this, sheltered from much judgment as we do and we’ll have few people who remember our awkward stages, at least until we hit our next awkward stage. I like to think we’re kind of at the level now of Jewish adolescents, so I’m sure we’ll make some more mistakes at times that will have our friends and family grimacing for us, but I feel like the worst is probably past us.

We’ve Grown Really Close

I beam with pride when people compliment me on our children and how close-knit our family is, but really…a lot of it is a result of how much we’ve been through together. When you can’t be invited for holidays, you spend them together as a family. There have been many times that the only people who really understood what we were going through…were the people living in our house, our family. We have comforted each other, watched out for each other, and learned with each other. My son has helped me with my Hebrew reading when he’s gone past my level in his studies. My daughter and I have stumbled over words together, learning to read at the same time. My husband and I have had to navigate challenges in our marriage that came from the conversion process and find our way through them together.

Yes, my kids are becoming teenagers and sometimes my son rolls his eyes at me, but he’s also such a thoughtful and kind young man. He’s come over and hugged me to cheer me up when he’s seen me looking down and left out at a holiday party. My daughter may be moody sometimes, but she’s also right there to pitch in and help me when I feel overwhelmed preparing for a holiday or Shabbos. Conversion has put our family in a pressure cooker…and we’ve been tenderized by it.

Judaism Is No Longer Something We Do. It’s What We Are

I think this might be the biggest gift a long conversion process will give you. At some point, when we’re talking just to ourselves, we stopped speaking of being Jewish as if it was something that might happen in the future. We stopped mentally cutting ourselves out of the stories in the parsha, reminding ourselves these weren’t our ancestors. My children, when talking, will say something and explain it as, “Well, we’re Jewish, so…” without any equivocation. We’re all aware that we’re halakhically not Jewish, but that difference begins to mean less and less on a daily basis.

At some point, we stopped striving and learning and studying to BECOME Jews and began just learning and observing because we ARE Jews, except for those parts we still need to keep because, technically, we aren’t. I know it might be a little confusing of a line, but I think it’s an important part of becoming a part of the Jewish people that we no longer stumble over the morning blessing where we thank Hashem for not having been born a non-Jew…because I really do feel like I’m just a Jew that needs some paperwork. When I read the parsha, I feel a connection to the Avos and Imas as real as to my blood ancestors and I read those stories as my history, no longer as the history of my husband’s people.

I do think that our family probably could have been ready to convert years ago and it might have saved us some heartache, but I also think that we have grown a lot through having a longer process. If you’re in the process of conversion and it seems like it’s going to take longer than other converts you have known, please do not lose heart. Hashem has a unique process for each of us and it’s hard to know what twists and turns you might encounter along the way. As hard as it is to wait, it may be exactly what is needed to help you reach where you need to be.”

Parshas Ki Teitzei: I Have No Answers

I am open about finding certain parts of the Torah difficult to understand and reconcile my own viewpoint with. I accept that the Torah is divine, and overrides any other values- but this week in particular, I find that hard to come to terms with. In the past, when dealing with the laws of neyderim (vows) and gender inequality, I was frank. I stated that I thought the laws were unfair, but that all I could do was learn and ask and question until I was satisfied.

What, then, can I write about the parsha which tells us, “if this matter was true, (and) no evidence of the girl’s virginity was found, they shall take the girl out to the entrance of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall pelt her with stones, and she shall die…”? And, even more problematically, “If there is a virgin girl betrothed to a man, and man finds her in the city, and lies with her, you shall take them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall pelt them with stones, and they shall die: the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he violated his neighbor’s wife”.

Dear reader, I have attempted for many years to explain away the things in this week’s Parsha. I have studied, and read commentaries, and all I learnt from sifrei was that in the latter case, it is the girl’s fault, because “she could have stayed at home”. I closed the book, and I tried desperately not to close my mind and turn against Judaism, because, quite frankly, I believe I have a Jewish neshomo. But sometimes, it’s difficult not to feel repulsed when you read such things.

I think a part of being an adult is sometimes accepting that you don’t know the answer, and in this case, that’s what I am doing. All I can say is- I am stepping back from the issue because, simply, I cannot solve it. I just hope that someone else can, and that the disturbing views which we read in tomorrow’s Torah portion are not representative of frum Jewry today.

At the end of the day, G-d knows best, and I know that if He is the G-d I pray to every day, He is not one to blame rape victims.