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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.

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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

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“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.

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

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page 241 Internal Earphoto © 2009 Sue Clark | more info (via: Wylio)
Follow these instructions:
1. Say the word “Hello”
2. Hear yourself say the word “Hello”
3. Read the description below of what just happened inside your ear.

“The outer ear, known as the pinna, collects sound waves and directs them into the ear canal, which carries the sound waves to the eardrum. In turn, the eardrum vibrates, and these tremors are picked up by the three tiny bones in the middle ear: the malleus (resembling a club), the incus (shaped like an anvil), and the stapes (similar to a stirrup.) These bones amplify the sound vibrations and transmit them to the inner ear, where the cochlea converts the vibrations into electrical impulses, which travel from the acoustic nerve to the part of the brain that processes sound, the auditory cortex.”*

I feel awe for G-d when I encounter the vast magnificence and beauty of the world He created—the Mitzpe Ramon crater, the vulture-diving cliffs of the Golan, the fireball of Sun going to sleep behind the Mediterranean. But I could feel that same awe every time I see or feel or smell or hear anything. I should feel awe for my Creator, who created the unfathomable, intricate wonder that is the human body.

* Taken from “That Buzzing Sound” by Jerome Groopman, February 9, ’09, The New Yorker

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Timephoto © 2010 Robbert van der Steeg | more info (via: Wylio)
The following is a fantastic response by writer Liza Mundy to British researchers who claim that the average working mom has 90 minutes of spare time a day. I could so relate to Mundy’s description of the non-stop life of a mom of young children, though I personally take refuge not at the pool but at the gym (which, among its abundant positive qualities, also has free babysitting)… Every time I leave my kids at the gym babysitter and pass through that beloved turnstile I feel like Atlas putting down the Heavens for the 1st time since, well…the last time I was at the gym…Enjoy! (Thanks to my buddy Chaya Houpt for sending me this article!)

The Strands of Time by Liza Mundy

Over at Motherlode, Lisa Belkin highlights a British survey which found that “working parents have 90 minutes” of spare time, each day, to themselves. The study for some reason was done by a supermarket chain–perhaps wanting to know how much time busy customers have for food-shopping and cooking. Or maybe the store just wanted to perform a public service. Maybe some parent in management was curious. Who knows?

Anyway, 90 minutes sounds generous to me, unless you count things like feeding the cats or taking out the recycling as “spare” time. But the piece got me thinking about how the time and place of parental free time changes as kids’ needs evolve. When my children were very little, and being at home meant for me (or my husband) that some small body was constantly needing to be lifted or put down or herded or rescued or fed or bathed or clothed or ferried, the only place I remember experiencing free time was in the shower of the public indoor swimming pool near our house. I would slip out to do some laps, then luxuriate in that crummy collective shower, where there was no privacy and the water was never quite warm enough, but on the other hand, there was nobody who needed anything and I could just stand there and exist, amongst strangers and running water, without any limbs being tugged. Showers in general are one place I think parents often escape for a small window of free time, though even there, if you are at home, you are never safe. I know one woman who–on a particularly excruciating day when her 5-year-old son was following her around the house singing some kindergarten song at the top of his voice while she tried to get her house ready for a dinner party–attempted to lock herself in the bathroom for a quick shower and some peace and quiet. Her son picked the lock with a hairpin, flung open the door, and announced “Great news! I am here!”

In fact, so little free time does one have, when the kids are little…
Click here to read the rest of The Strands of Time by Liza Mundy

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Lorraine Candy, the Editor-in-Chief of Elle Magazine, is currently expecting her 4th child, and she is under heavy attack on all fronts for it. In a recent editorial, Candy attempted to defend her decision to continue reproducing beyond the 2.2 kids norm:

“…of course we will be (and have been) criticised for being selfish, environmentally irresponsible and naïve.

It’s your right to think what you think, but I really don’t care. We’re not trying to prove anything or expecting anyone to make our choice any easier. It will be what it will be…

But I also know how much more love we will have in our lives, how much happiness we can look forward to and how long it will last…

I think life is supposed to be an adventure — and this is the next part of ours.”

Pretty eye-opening to be reading Candy’s self-defense against her critics as well as the hostile comments against her at the end of the article. When I walk down the street with my crowd of kids in Jerusalem, Israelis of all shapes and sizes greet me with wistful smiles. I had pretty much forgotten that anybody is still ANTI big families!

Yet another reminder to thank God that I’m living in this world and not that one! Thanks for Rena Lewis of Jerusalem for sending this my way!

I would be interested to hear from moms with big families living outside of Israel. What kinds of reactions have you received to your bigger-than-average family?
Read the rest of Why do Other Women Resent me for having a 4th Child?

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