The Tides we Don’t Follow

Our families have been pretty accepting of our decisions. There has been an unspoken rule that we basically just don’t talk about it. While that is probably for the best, it does leave us on our own.

Recently we’ve been preparing for next year. We’re moving to a secular city and enrolling our kids in new schools. Until now, we kept our kids in their religious schools because we felt too much change at once would be difficult for them. Our friends and neighbors are mostly religious and we weren’t ready to start over.

At this point, we’ve begun to feel like we’ve overstayed. Even though we’re sticking to our plans, we’ve started moving things along officially and it’s been a relief to feel like we’re finally moving.

In becoming real, it’s become apparent that this is something that is more difficult for our families to deal with. Sending our kids to secular schools is a nail in the coffin. I think deep down, there was hope that loving us no matter what would lead us back to their beliefs. While I understand the sentiment, it was painful to acknowledge what that means to us.

They still accept us. They have no other choice. But we are more alone than ever knowing that we don’t have that sort of support to lean on and that the decisions we make for our children will always be cause for disappointment to our parents.

Such is the path we walk, such is the life we choose.

* * * * * * * * * *

It’s not a religious school.

For a while, we brushed it off as addressing our daughter’s creative needs. It was easier to say that we were looking for a music school and it didn’t matter if it happens to be secular.

But really, we were looking for a secular school.

I’ve always believed there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between school and home. If we are 80% aligned, we are better equipped to raise my kids to be healthy adults.

For the last two years, we were slipping into the dangerous percentages. And the kids felt it.

“Ima, I hate being yotzei dofen (misfit). Everyone in my class is dati (religious) except me.”

We knew it wasn’t good, but we were still waiting…

Waiting for my husband to tell his family, for our daughter to finish elementary school, for things to settle down, but mostly waiting for the courage to break out of a system we know and face a world far bigger than our experiences.

We stuck a toe in, then a leg, and still couldn’t manage to let go. We moved forward anyway. We went to check out a school, we applied, and we showed up for an audition.

“Ima, I’m scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared, sweetie. You just have to try your best.”

I was terrified. I was trying my best. But there is a separation now between me and those I used to look towards for support. There is a distance, a wall that formed with each step I took on this different path, this path I was warned against, this path I believe in, this path I am alone in.

We are first man and woman. We have created ourselves from the ribs of non-believers. We have no original sin to dictate our morals, no code passed down for generations. The string we hang from frays with every step towards the edge of this puppet stage. And this step, this leap away from tradition, this will cut the cord.

It’s not a religious school.

Our children will not be educated in the ways of our fathers. They will be educated in our ways.

Her voice thundered out into the hall. I could hear the trembling channeled into vibrato and it was magnificent.

There will always be a part of me that seeks approval from others. It’s taken me a while to embrace that very human trait of mine and recognize it for the natural feeling it is.

I need my own way. I need to do the things that fit me, that settle me, that let me be me.

My path is made of water. It ebbs and flows and changes all the time.

Peeking through the door where the microphone was lowered to meet my tiny sixth grader’s big voice, I finally found myself swimming.

Skin Deep

“Imma,” she says in her ‘I’m going to tell you something incredibly insightful now so you better stop what you’re doing and focus and make sure your phone is on hand to record this’ voice, so naturally, I turn.

“I know you’re not going to believe this, so I’m telling you now you have to trust me that it’s true.”

I nod and put the phone down.  I’m pretty sure this is going to be one of those ‘let me tell you what happened on the way home from school’ stories, maybe a bit Mulberry Street-isque, but nothing I can’t breeze through on this typical, absolutely ordinary day.

“My friend told me white people are better than black people.”



I know she’s looking at me, expecting some sort of response…and I know she thinks this an important conversation based on how she prefaced it…but I am stuck with her words swarming through my mind because for some reason…I AM NOT PREPARED.


My first clear understanding of how white people who aren’t racist can sometimes get stuck staring down the barrel of racism came from an incident involving my little sister, my mother and the neighbor one lovely afternoon on our front stoop.

The neighborly conversation was interrupted by my sister’s investigative reporting on the color of skin.

“Mommy,” she said in all her innocent glory as she scrutinized the neighbor, “Why is her skin brown?”

My mother froze.

There was only a slight pause before the neighbor very gently squeezed my mother’s hand and took over.

She said something or other about the color of blood and how it’s all the same on the inside.

I don’t really remember that.

But I can still feel that pause.

And here I am in that same damn pause.


I must have gasped because she’s assuring me that she knows…but like, really knows, that this girl is wrong.

She knows that people are people and we are all part of the human race.

She knows that what makes you better are your actions and what makes you above are your reactions.

She was really asking me why people are racists…more importantly, why a fellow second grader who is her friend, is a racist, and I have so many answers and all of them are sort of my fault because I have not done enough to fight it.

I am not a racist, yet I hear racist conversation in the park and don’t respond loudly enough.

I am not a racist, yet I live in a community where the ethnic diversity is mind-boggling nonexistent.

I am not a racist, yet my city segregates residents and calls it ‘absorption’.

I am not a racist, yet I say nothing when my son’s ganennet mixes up the names of the children of Ethiopian descent and laughs it off because she “can’t tell them apart”.

Oh, I cringe.

I cringe when I hear complaints that “Ethiopians” are hanging out in the park and breaking ‘our’ public benches.

I cringe when my son asks if the street cleaner who greets us every morning lives where all the brown people live.

I cringe when my daughter and her friends refer to children born in Israeli hospitals to immigrant parents, (just as she was), as Ethiopians.

And I cringe when I find myself pausing that long, uncomfortable pause.

I don’t want to cringe.

I want to shout.

For some reason, I haven’t had the urgent need to shout because I somehow thought this was not my problem because I am not a racist.

I have the ‘right’ color skin so I never really felt racism.

I never had to fight for the right to be treated as just another human being.

I need to start fighting and it needs to start with that pause.

Because what I remember most about that day when my neighbor stood up for herself was that it felt like she was defending something.

The color of skin is not something we need to defend.

The answer to a little girl’s question should not have so much weighing on it.

And I will start right now.

For Baltimore.

For Tel-Aviv.

For the world we all share.


I guess I’m a grown-up now, I think, as I sit here translating her words in my head, then translating my words before I stumble them out of my mouth and into the air where they embarrass me by screaming out “FOREIGNER” in this big room that can’t possibly hold the emotions she so casually throws at me with each word I am poorly translating in my overwhelmed brain.

I guess I’m a grown-up now.

Grown-ups sit in chairs built for little girls and stare across a giant desk and listen politely as big things are said.

Grown-ups can handle acronyms with A’s and D’s and H’s Boggled together with the shake of a wrist.

Grown-ups don’t think anything is wrong or that it’s anyone’s fault.

Grown-ups can be parents first and people wracked by guilt second.

Grown-ups can accept.

Grown-ups can get up and walk home briskly, make pizza for their children, reach out to another grown-up for help, and use the entire World Wide Web to understand exactly what it all means.

So here I am.

A Grown-up.

A gut-wrenching, soul-ripping, broken-hearted Grown-up.

Here lies a Grown-up…curled up on the couch…surrounded by crumpled tissues and words like psycho-didactic and evaluation and letters like MOXO and ADHD…

Here lies a Grown-up…feeling defeated by a system…mocked by fate…winded by the constant curveballs she always seems to miss…

Here lies a Grown-up…wishing with all her might that her not-yet-grown little vulnerable girl…could have been handed the card that this grown-up never knew…the one that didn’t make things difficult…the one that paves the path with rainbows and unicorns and never gets so dark and so scary that she hesitates…

Here lies a Grown-up…trying to breathe…to get the air she needs…so that she can open the door with a smile…and greet her wonderful, beautiful baby girl…with all the grown-up things…that will turn her into…the best kind of grown-up…any grown-up can be.

When The Tigers Broke Free

“Are you excited that gan is almost over?” I ask my little girl as she cuddles up to me.

“Umm…yes…no…no!”  She’s uncertain and for a moment I think she doesn’t really understand what summer vacation is.

Her face scrunches up as she digs into her mind for the words to express what she means.

“I’m really not excited because I don’t want to say goodbye to Gila.  Cause I love Gila and Yochi.  They come every day…so I love them the best.  The other gannenot only come a little and also Ayala already isn’t coming anymore and we clapped for her….but I’m gonna miss Gila.”

She rambles on a bit more as I brush her hair.  And then she’s out the door and I am left reflecting on the experience we all had this year at her kindergarten.


She wasn’t yet three when we put her in a gan in the chareidi (ultra-orthodox) area we were living in.  Kindergarten is kindergarten; I didn’t think I should care too much about the religious level of the gan she was going to.  All I knew was that it was an all girls gan and the mothers were asked to wear socks.  To me that wasn’t a big deal.

She went every morning cheerfully enough and I was satisfied.

Then we got the call around Channukah time that our daughter, while lovable and sweet, wasn’t actually communicating in gan and was speaking gibberish to the teacher.  They were convinced she had difficulty picking up Hebrew and that she had major sensory issues that were inhibiting her development.  It didn’t make sense.  She was speaking Hebrew in the parks with her friends.  Everywhere I went people commented on how flawless her Hebrew was.  I couldn’t understand so I went along with their suggestions and tried to register her for a special gan for the following year.

In February my request was denied unless I would go to a few different evaluations with her to confirm other learning issues.  They wanted her exposed to Hebrew for at least another year before they approved a special gan for language issues.  I wasn’t going to start looking for problems I knew didn’t exist, so I decided that we’d wait another year.

The teacher had a baby and a substitute teacher finished the last few months of the year with the kids.  She was young and loving…and she though my little girl was so smart and advanced.  She even walked her home every day and whenever she saw her on the street she’d give her a treat.  My daughter suddenly started talking. It turned out that she had been acting like a baby with the gannenet that treated her like one.  Babies speak gibberish.

Then we moved and registered her in a public gan.  Religious…not Chareidi…

Guess what?

No problems.

She had a great year.  She speaks Hebrew like a purebred Israeli.

But that’s not all.

Last year she had a party to celebrate all that she learned.  It was called a Mesibat Shabbat.  It was all about what you can and cannot do on Shabbat.  The girls did projects with their mothers depicting the Lamed Tet Melachot (39 Laws of Shabbat).  We did Borer.  We wrote out the word with beads…the first letter was all three colors, the next three letters were each color separated.  We showed how you can’t separate things on Shabbat.

Borer is a complicated law.  You can take the good from the bad, but not the bad from the good…but that’s just for food.  When it comes to organizing and putting things away, it gets confusing.  I mess up with that most of the time.
She was three.

She also learned about death.  And she learned about reward and punishments.  She talked about Mitzvot (commandments) and Aveirot (transgressions).  She was told complex stories about Rabbis that didn’t make sense.  She was taught the kind of Judaism that ties you down and beats you for being human.

This year she had a party too.  And they sang songs about Hillel and Akiva…and about Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers).  She sang V’Ahavta Le’reiacha Kamocha…love your friend like yourself…and they chanted “Ezeh Hu Ashir?  HaSameach B’Chelko…Ezeh Hu Chacham?  Halomeid Mi’Kol Adam”  (Who is rich?  One who is happy with his lot…Who is smart?  One who learns from everyone…)

Then they danced and sang and ate breakfast with all the parents.

We used to think that we wanted to raise our kids in the Chareidi system and that we could teach them to chill out a little.  That was before we had this year.


I watch my daughter skip off happily to her third-to-last day of gan.  She knows a different Judaism now.  She loves Hashem and knows that He loves her.  Yesterday she told me how much she loves this ‘Aretz’ (land).  She sees things in brilliant colors and although she’s still afraid of death, she is no longer scared of growing up.  Cause when she gets big she wants to be an Imma and then a Savta, and maybe even a Gannenet.
And I…I am different now.  I see the world the way she is being taught to see it.  I am no longer resentful of Chareidi society.  I don’t judge them, but I no longer care to join them.

Mistakes are hard to acknowledge…embracing them and learning from them is even harder…but when the greatest changes come from the worst mistakes…we somehow begin to appreciate how wrong we were…because it makes everything we are doing now seem so incredibly right.



I Am Doubt, Hear Me Roar

It was about bechira, naturally.

I was in third grade.  I asked the usual question and got called an apikorus because I said it didn’t make sense.

In fourth grade it was about nevuah in fifth grade, har sinai, in sixth, yetzer hara, and in seventh I got tired so I stopped asking with my voice.

Instead, I would roll my eyes or grunt in utter annoyance and get the same comments about my obviously heretic ways.

I was mocking the very core of our religion.  I was juvenile in my beliefs.  I was looking for a way out.  I had a lack of faith.

Ah, but they didn’t know wherein lay the real issue.

Call me what you will, I would think in that defiant inner voice of mine.  You know nothing of my beliefs.  My beliefs were formed when you refused to answer.  My distrust became apparent when you showed yourselves to me.  For I, I do not believe in YOU!

Well, I grew up, grew out and moved on.

I have a very strong belief in God, the Torah and how that translates into practical living.

But that niggling voice in my mind, that girl they called heretic, speaks up every once in a while.

She screams at me.


I give her all the answers and she still persists.

Take it with a grain of salt, you can’t believe him, he has faults.

I proceed with caution.  She’s not satisfied.

Can’t you hear me?  Do you even listen to me at all?

I stop.  I listen.  I hear.

I am doubt, hear me roar.

But, no one can.  No one can.

Her voice is getting smaller, and in the distance, I hear her say, I don’t believe in YOU, I don’t believe in you…


Today, we met with a panel of fierce-looking Israeli professional women with thick eyebrows.

They are going to decide what to do with our daughter.

They asked us to describe her.

We did.

They asked the gannenet to describe her.

She did.

And then they deliberated in front of us.

Bewildered is not enough of a word to convey the feeling I am left with, but it’s something along those lines.

Their decision was that they can’t make a decision.

So they’re going to be passing the decision stick to the next set of evaluators.

I wonder if they’ll be bothered to meet the subject of their discussion, or if it will be another panel of fierce-looking Israeli professional women with thick eyebrows and scribbled notes that make up my little girl.