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I have been begging begging begging my Nachlaot buddy Chaya Houpt for several months now to start a blog. Chaya is a very thoughtful, very smart, and very funny mom of 3 kids ages 3 and under. She’s also a really great writer. Well, my nudging finally paid off and Chaya finally agreed to start a new blog called AllVictories. I read it and was truly blown away. This totally surpassed my expectations. Definitely check it out.

Here’s a recent post from Chaya’s new blog. This brought tears to my eyes…Chaya, please keep writing!!!!

Elevating the Pink by Chaya Houpt

The discussion around Peggy Orenstein’s new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter caught my attention. See, I have young girls, and there’s a lot of princess talk in my house, too. And most of it is coming from me.

I tell my young daughters to sit like princesses, no feet on the table. Meals are served in “princess portions,” and if they finish that, they can ask for seconds. When they behave in a way that is beneath their station, I tell them, “You are princesses; I expect more of you.”

I encourage my girls to see themselves as princesses, but I’m not talking Disney. Orenstein describes the effect of the princess culture as creating a reality where “how a girl feels about her appearance – particularly whether she is thin enough, pretty enough, and hot enough – has become the single most important determinant of her self-esteem.” That is not my aim. With all the princess chatter, I’m pushing for something a little deeper and more ancient than Grimm.

I am an Orthodox Jew. My concept of a princess comes from Psalms: “Kol kevuda bat melech penima—all the glory of a princess is within.” This is the opposite of the image of a pretty princess all in pink. The true value of a princess, according to the Psalms, is her internal reality, her essential self. Her image, her physical appearance does not define her. It is not here that her value lies. She is not rescued by the prince; she builds her relationships and her family through her greatness and nobility.

According to the mystical tradition, royalty (malchut) is a feminine trait. The Jewish concept of regality implies both grandeur and dignified humility. This is the royalty I desire for my daughters, this is what I am trying to teach them. The glittering tiara, the pink everything—this is not what it means to be a princess. A princess is someone so confident in herself that she can make space for other people. A princess radiates majesty and self-possession that come from within.

My twin girls are three-and-a-half. They love trucks, construction work and dinosaurs. But soon they will enter preschool, and all of that is likely to change. They will be assaulted by the “girlie-girl” ridiculousness that Orenstein critiques. My hope is that I can inoculate them by painting an alternate picture of what a princess is, so that when they hear, “You are such a pretty little princess,” they will recall that they are capable of true greatness. I hope they won’t be blinded by the sparkle. I can’t push back against the pink entirely, but I can try to rechannel it and elevate it.

Last Friday morning, I visited an exhibit called “Jewish Magic through the Ages” at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum. It was a totally fascinating exhibit, featuring dozens of rare Kabbalistic amulets and parchments from all across the Jewish world.

I absolutely hated, of course, that the museum refers to these objects as “magic” because the word “magic” makes me think of ridiculous trickery like white rabbits popping out of top hats and children being cut and half and magically made whole a minute later. This exhibit, in contrast, featured many objects created over the past 2500 years by Divinely-inspired mystics and rabbis and rebbes well-versed in the secrets of the Kabbalah.

From the exhibit: Kabbalistic blessings for protection of a newborn

The truth is that even though it was totally intriguing, this exhibit was an incredibly deflating and sad one to visit. These objects contain unfathomably holy names of angels and names of Hashem and were treasured so intensely by believing Jewish men and women for so many generations. And now they are stuck behind glass at the secular Bible Lands Museum, like pinned, formaldehyde-d butterflies at a high-school science fair.

But what was even more depressing than seeing these holy objects behind glass was the fact that Tsofia (my baby) and I showed up at the exhibit exactly at the same time that a special guided tour of the exhibit was beginning. The tone of the tour was very academic, and the participants were actually laughing out loud as they looked at these sacred objects, as though these wonders of Jewish mysticism were the most hilarious thing they had seen since Seinfeld went off the air.

On my way out of the museum, I realized that this depressing exhibit reminded me of something equally upsetting that I saw 20 years ago at a performance of the Moscow circus. The circus featured a scrawny, forelorn, declawed, detoothed bear, and as one of the acts in the circus, a clown threw plastic rings around its neck while the bear just stood there hunched over and long-suffering. 2 decades later it is still difficult for me to think of that poor, humiliated bear, transformed from a proud, roaring, invincible king of the forest into the punchline of a bad joke.

On my way home from the museum, I decided to stop by the grave of the Zviller Rebbe zt”l which is located right underneath the Israeli Supreme Court. Up until a few years ago, pretty much the only people who visited this grave were Zviller Chassidim, but over the past 3 years or so, this grave has been transformed into one of the more popular holy sites in Jerusalem. Busloads of visitors read specific psalms at the gravesite on a Monday, Thursday, and then Monday, and the wall of the gravesite is plastered with miracle stories from people who did these Monday-Thursday-Monday prayers and their prayers were answered. (See photos below)

Even though I’ve been hearing for years about this now-famous grave and the miracles surrounding it from friends who prayed there, I’d never actually been there until this past Friday. Once I found the grave, I lit a candle and read a few psalms and prayed for my very ill friend Hagit bat Leah whom I had visited that morning, and for a few other people in need. Next to me, an older Sephardic woman wept as she leaned over the grave. When she left, I touched the grave stone, and I felt a charge, like electricity.

I cannot tell you how happy, how relieved I felt to be in that holy place. A place where the spiritual world feels as close and as real and as clear as looking down and seeing your five figures.

And I remembered, as I stood there, that I spent half my life laughing at that bear. Not because I was bad or mean, just because I didn’t know any better. Thank God, I thought, that I lived to see that bear roaring with all of its might and glory–with my own eyes.

The grave of the Zviller Rebbe zt"l


A few of the letters posted at the gravesite thanking God for miracles that occurred after praying there.


The view of Nachlaot from the gravesite

An Israeli research team from the prestigious Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center discovered that among menopausal women the most important factor contributing to quality of life is number of children. In other words, researchers were surprised to find that bigger families mean happier and more satisfied moms.

The research team interviewed 151 women between the ages of 45-55 and at various stages of menopause. Researchers asked the women about the severity of their menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes. They also asked the women to rate their quality of life in terms of employment, health, intimacy, and emotional well-being. The researchers had thought they would find a correlation between the severity of menopausal symptoms and lower quality of life. To their surprise, they found that there is actually very little connection between menopausal symptoms and quality of life.

It turned out, instead, that the biggest factor contributing to quality of life among menopausal women is the number of children they have. Menopausal women with two or less children rated their quality of life as 91. In contrast, women with three or more children ranked their quality of life at 99.

Dr. Chaimov-Kuchman attempted to explain the research team’s unexpected findings, “One of our hypotheses is that women in Israel view menopause as the beginning of infertility…It could be that women who gave birth to 2 or less children feel that maybe that is not sufficient, and that they did not actualize their potential, and it’s possible that that has an impact on their quality of life.”

Read the original Hebrew article on this groundbreaking research

Special thanks to Rachel Reinfeld-Wachtfogel for sending this article my way!

“Are you buying those potatoes for tomorrow’s lunch or for tomorrow’s dinner?” my friend Leah innocently inquired last night at the vegetable stand in the market.

I hesitated for a nanosecond, and then chose to swallow my pride and confess: “I’m actually buying these for the soup that we will be eating for the whole week…”

Leah’s eyes narrowed, her head turned ever-so-slightly, and her jaw dropped exactly as though she had just sighted a rare species that she had read about, but never actually encountered before. An albino turtle. A 3-humped camel. A sub-standard balabusta.

Her kids, Leah went on to tell me, expect home-made meals for lunch and then something entirely different for dinner every single day. If she ever serves leftovers, she explained, she has to whip up a whole new dish based on the leftovers so that her kids don’t throw a fit that she is serving the same meal twice. She was in shock to hear that my children gobble down leftovers the whole week. In fact, my kids are so used to this reality that they don’t even REALIZE that what they are eating would be considered leftovers by their better-fed classmates.

I decided not to tell Leah what my family USED to eat before I started making our gigantic weekly pot of something accompanied by a weekly monster-quantity of a grain of some sort. Until about a year ago, the Weisberg weekly menu consisted of Monday: french fries, Tuesday:scrambled eggs, Wednesday: oatmeal, Thursday: spaghetti.* Which explains why our current two huge pot solution is a major step up for the Weisbergs and their domestically-challenged Eema.

Of course, during this conversation with Leah I felt badly about myself, as I usually do on those rare occasions when I actually open up about my domestic dyslexia with other moms, especially baalabusta moms. You know the type. The kind of moms who not only bake challah for Shabbat, but who actually look forward to baking challah for Shabbat. The kind of moms who actually fold laundry a la The Gap instead of just balling it up and stuffing it into a child’s drawer. The kind of moms, like Leah, who are frying onions and garlic with thyme and taking fresh-baked spelt rolls out of the oven when you stop by their house at 1 PM.

What was funny about our conversation was that when I told Leah how much I admire Balabusta moms, like her, she didn’t really get why. And, in fact, what surprised me was that she actually seemed to admire me, and how I was handling the whole hyper-simplified cooking-for-the-family aspect of my JewishMOM life…

And then Leah said something really obvious and wise that I have been thinking about ever since. She said, “I am a very goal-focused person. My goal is children who will grow up to be good, curious, passionate, amazing, Torah-loving Jews. The rest of the stuff, the food, the spotless house, the externals, it truly does not matter so much. Every mom needs to find an arrangement that works for her and that works for her kids. That’s all. There are SO many different ways to be a good mom.”

After she stated her JewishMOM manifesto, it seemed as clear as a crisp, cloudless, starry Jerusalem night. A mother’s ultimate, central goal needs to be raising her children as best she can. The elaborate menu plans, the blinding bathtub faucet, and the homemade cookies vs. Entenmanns are the rainbow sprinkles on top of the icecream cone.

These external niceties are a great added touch, but not the point—-AT ALL.

Some mothers are more domestically inclined than others, and some are less domestically inclined. And that’s perfectly OK and not something for me to get all worked up and feeling inferior about every time the subject comes up. In fact, after this conversation with Leah, this point seems so incredibly obvious that I’m surprised that a short 18 hours ago I was foolish enough as to have feared otherwise.

*In self defense, I want to explain that this seemingly unhealthy menu plan was prompted by an appointment with a dietician who told me that in order to ensure that my kids have a balanced diet, they should eat three food groups at every meal. So even at my lowest culinary points, I would always make sure to do that. For example, I would serve oatmeal with a fruit, so that that meal contained three food groups: grain, dairy, and fruit. Lame, but not unhealthy.

“I am ahead of some people in life, and behind some others, but I’m not superior or inferior.” –Dina Friedman

The Road Not Taken

For some reason, out of the blue this week I found myself singing a song that I haven’t sung in over 2 decades. I learned the song “The Road Not Taken” by Randall Thompson (based on the poem by Robert Frost) as a 7th grader at Friends School of Baltimore. As I sang this stirring song in my kitchen this past week, I realized that more than any of my classmates who stood next to me on the bleachers in the Friends School auditorium performing this song– I have lived this song. In fact, as a baalat teshuva, a newly religious Jew, this song is the story of my life.

Safephoto © 2008 Mark Evans | more info (via: Wylio)
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Last week’s post “3 Surefire Ways to Get Babies and Toddlers to Sleep” was one of my most widely-read posts of all time. It was also maybe the most controversial, bringing in 25 comments ranging in response from lukewarm to livid. This week I asked one of women who commented on the post, Hannah Katsman from AMotherinIsrael.com, to write something up about her cry-free approach to getting babies and toddlers to sleep…

When it comes to night-waking, parents are led to believe that it’s all or nothing: You have a choice between total sleep deprivation until your children grow up, or train your children to sleep through the night. But that’s simply not true.

Sleep experts encourage this attitude by promoting the idea that parents are negligent if they don’t teach their children to “self-soothe.” And how are parents to “teach” this skill? By leaving the baby alone to cry.

There is plenty of research about the risk of excessive crying. But my problem with “crying it out” is more ideological. Forcing ourselves not to respond to crying desensitizes parents, Leaving babies alone to cry goes against our instincts—we’ve all heard about one parent blocking the bedroom door so the other won’t run in and ruin the experiment.

We should be wary of methods that ask us to ignore babies, even if only for a few minutes. Maybe the baby doesn’t technically “need” to wake up at night, but at that moment he’s in distress. Responding is the right thing to do. Babies are social creatures and like all mammals, they want to be with their own kind. They’re not designed to cope on their own, and we shouldn’t expect it from them. We don’t teach children by withholding love and comfort until they “learn” what we want from them.

All children will sleep through the night and learn “self-soothing” on their own. I know it’s not for everyone, but I co-slept and nursed my younger children at night as long as they asked. The advantages are many: Just going with the flow. No worries about “self-soothing.” Simplicity. It’s the “lazy” mother’s way to a good night’s sleep. Most of my kids stopped waking at night, without intervention, at about two and a half years.

Nursing mothers do get better quality sleep, even though their babies wake more frequently than their bottle-fed counterparts. That’s because the mothers are able to respond to their baby quickly. Co-sleeping moms share sleep cycles with their babies, so when baby wakes up it’s not in the middle of Mom’s deep sleep. Nursing at night prevents post-partum depression, and extends breastfeeding infertility.

Lactation experts have learned that there are great differences among women’s breasts regarding milk storage capacity. Some women can store only 80 cc. (2.75 ounces) of milk in their breasts at any one time, while others can store 600 cc. or over 20 ounces. The mother with low milk storage capacity will need to nurse very frequently, but over the course of the day the baby will get enough milk. So it’s quite possible that a baby is waking at night because he is really hungry, especially the kind of baby who nurses frequently during the day. And despite the comment parenting expert quoted in the original post, it’s not the kind of thing your doctor is likely to know about. The only thing most doctors learn about breastfeeding in medical school is that it’s “best.” Older babies and toddlers may be too busy to eat enough during the day. Moms, not doctors, know best about when their babies are hungry.

Children’s night-waking is a big problem for some moms. The moms can’t function well, or are prone to illness, and they don’t enjoy co-sleeping either. (For the record, I used to be a restless sleeper and hated co-sleeping at first.) Here are some suggestions I give to moms in that situation. Maybe one or two will work for you.
• Rest at other times. Sleep when the baby sleeps. This can mean a nap, or getting to bed at the beginning of the baby’s longest stretch of sleep at night. Try a mother’s helper if you have toddlers. Or ask your husband to take over the morning or evening chores so you can extend your sleep time.
• Cut back on other activities. Can you eliminate paid or volunteer work, carpooling, or social events? The baby is just doing what comes naturally, when our busy schedules are really the problem (Facebook, anyone?). But make at least one favorite activity a priority.
• Stick it out. Frequent night waking is often temporary and caused by teething, illness or a new developmental stage. Try not to make important decisions about night-waking or weaning during stressful periods.
• Rule out physical problems. One friend realized that her 2-year-old’s frequent wakings were accompanies by gassiness. When she eliminated a particular food, he slept all night for the first time in his life. Pay attention: Children may be scared or thirsty, but they don’t usually wake up in the middle of the night just for fun.
• Take a step back. It’s not wise to start a battle over physical functions like eating, sleeping or using the toilet. When we are anxious, the child feels insecure. She then more attention and comfort, and will increase whatever activity we are trying to stop.
• Look at the baby’s eating habits. Nursing more frequently in the evening, or adding a healthy snack, sometimes helps.
• Clarify your motivation. Often mothers start weaning or weaning from night-waking because of outside pressure, whether from health professionals, friends, or family members. If the mother or baby is not really ready, the baby may pick up on parental ambivalence. Then the weaning becomes much more difficult.
• Read The No-Cry Sleep Solution. Elizabeth Pantley’s book gives excellent suggestions for gently teaching babies and toddlers to fall asleep on their own without a breast, bottle or pacifier.

I like Pantley’s child-centered approach. But when reviewing the book for this post, I recalled some points that bothered me. Pantley recommends letting a newborn fall asleep without nursing some of the time. Following this tip, she writes, will ensure that you don’t have to reread the book at 18 months. In the next paragraph she admits that this goes against a mother’s instinct, and she wouldn’t do it with her next baby!

When my youngest was born, I treasured every nursing that ended with her releasing the nipple on her own, satisfied. Then there were the nursing that ended by my getting up to wipe off a tush. Just like I advise moms not to spend their maternity leave worrying about whether their baby will take a bottle, moms of newborns don’t need to stress about sleeping habits 18 months from now.

Here’s my own bonus tip for nursing moms: The next time you find yourself drifting off during the day, take the baby into your bed and nurse him. Both of you will fall asleep nearly instantly, even if your baby just woke from a nap. This worked for me the better part of the first year. Breastmilk makes babies drowsy, and nursing releases hormones that relax the mother as well.

I loved nursing my babies to sleep. Ninety percent of the time, it’s the most convenient thing to do. If you lose that tool, it becomes more difficult to put baby to sleep when you’re in an unfamiliar place. I found that the few times when I needed to be out of the house at bedtime, my husband or the babysitter managed to find ways to get the baby to sleep.

I’ll close with a weaning story. My son was two years old, and I was pregnant. Because nursing was so painful, I had stopped except before bed and in the middle of the night. One evening, I put on a nursing jumper so he wouldn’t have access to my breasts. I turned off all the lights, and sat with him in the rocking chair. I held him or walked with him until he fell asleep. Later he woke up and wanted to nurse, but fell asleep after a few minutes of comforting. It only took a couple of nights until he stopped waking up at night. But that didn’t mean he fell asleep easily. For a long period, my husband or I lay down with him for a half hour at bedtime. What can you do? Children need attention, and some need more than others.

Every child will be ready to sleep alone and through the night at a different age. Our role is to be sensitive to our children’s needs throughout the day and night. When our children’s needs conflict with ours, we don’t have to take it lying down—we can look for solutions that respect our role as nurturing parents.

Hannah Katsman is a mom of six, including two soldiers, and has counseled nursing mothers for over ten years. Her work with young families inspired her websites: A Mother in Israel on parenting, and Cooking Manager to help home cooks save time and money. Click here to see Hannah’s 9 Reasons to cook with your kids as well as more about co-sleeping here: Should Co-Sleeping Be Outlawed?

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