Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day.

Lest I forgot to call my mother, I had quite a few reminders:

  1. Driving to work on Thursday, the radio reminded me to order flowers, and save 20% by entering their “secret code”.
  2. As I was leaving work on Friday, no less than three strangers said “don’t forget to call your mother” in the ten minutes that it took for me to gather my belongings and walk from my desk to the elevator. Strangers. Think about that for a moment.
  3. Driving to the gym on Sunday, a big, flashy billboard screamed “Call your mother”. It was sponsored  by a local hospital.
  4. At the gym, the TVs on the wall played a commercial approximately once every 13 minutes featuring a celebrity talking about their positive motherly relationships and ending with a message to “call your mother”.
  5. Facebook wished me happy mother’s day when I logged on.
  6. Snapchat sent a special notification to me with a video featuring flowers and music and a special “happy mother’s day” message at the end.

Luckily, my mother and I have a decently okay relationship. I call her weekly, sometimes more if there’s something special going on. She lives a few states away, but I get to see her several times a year. She’s my number one cheerleader and I appreciate that about her. Still…the inundation of mothering messages was still almost too much to take. I kept thinking about what if it hadn’t been this way. What if my mother passed away? What if I was estranged from her? What if she was sick and unresponsive.

It’s hard enough losing a parent and having to deal with major calendar milestones, like birthdays or anniversaries. But this would be too much. I know that if I no longer had my mother in my life, I would just want to crawl under a rock for the week leading up to Mother’s Day and turn off anything which connects me to society in any way. But that’s not realistic.

Maybe, just maybe, we as a society could just be a little more sympathetic and a little more understanding of the varied family structures around us. We could also be a little more trusting–if I need a reminder to call my mother, I’ll set one up in my phone, no need for the hospital to tell me to do so.

On Being a Guest

“What would you do?” the post began. It was a question posed in a private Facebook group comprised almost entirely of Orthodox Jewish women. The poster explained that she and her husband were staying with a family for shabbos and were put up in a guest room with a Queen-sized bed. The woman was apparently niddah that weekend and as such would not sleep in the same bed as her husband.

The women that responded to this post all seemed to be of the same mind. “How could they call themselves Orthodox and not offer separate beds to a married couple?” one wondered. Another went so far as to say that she hoped that the original poster wasn’t also eating with that family, as any family that didn’t know the laws of family purity most certainly could not be trusted to keep the fullest standards of kashrut. One brave soul suggested that separate beds is not a widespread custom and in many out-of-town communities, it is rarely practiced. This person was very quickly shot down though, with loads of other women jumping in to say that they live “out of town” yet would never think of sharing a bed while niddah.

In response to “what would you do”, the women offered many suggestions. The most common seemed to be to make the husband sleep on the floor, while many others suggested that they would probably volunteer to be the ones to sleep on the floor. Someone suggested, half in jest, to build a pillow wall between the spouses, but she was quickly informed that this would still be a violation of niddah.

While reading through this thread, I kept thinking about the many times that my husband and I have spent nights at other people’s homes and have been given a room with two twin beds. At home we sleep in one bed all month long, and typically fall asleep cuddling. When we’re forced to sleep in two beds, the quality of our sleep drastically diminishes. I feel like our host is, unintentionally, driving a figurative if not literal wedge down the middle of our marriage.

I found it strange that the essence of “making guests feel comfortable” was to offer two beds–and the consensus being that if you could not offer such accommodations, you should either not have married couples stay over or should make it clear in advance that there will be only one bed.

I, for one, feel much more comfortable in one bed. My parents are God-fearing, fully observant, orthodox Jews and they only have one bed. In their community, I would guest that most people with guest rooms also only have one large bed in the guest room, that’s just “what’s done.”

Furthermore, as a guest, my philosophy has always been to not assume anything as a given and take things as they come. I pretty much don’t expect anything and am usually pleasantly surprised to learn that in fact my hosts did provide whatever they provided. If there’s only one bed, then fine, sleep in the one bed that night.

I suppose there are those who will see my response as closed-minded, that I fail to value the opinions of those who will not sleep in the same bed as their spouse while in niddah. I want to be clear that I hold nothing against such folks. If one or the other spouse wishes to sleep on the floor in such a situation, go ahead, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s actually probably the exact appropriate response for a couple in such a predicament.

My problem is with the lack of hakarat hatov  to the family that graciously opened up their home and offered sleeping accommodations to strangers over shabbat, and the assumption that if a family cannot offer separate beds for a married couple, they are better off not hosting at all.

So, what would I do? I would look my hosts straight in the eye and say “Thank you,” as all hosts deserve.

Hair Covering Revisited: Sheva Brachot

I’ve written on this blog before about my relationship with hair covering. Readers know that I planned not to cover my hair at all after I got married, other than in synagogue. I wrote about how I woke up the day after my wedding feeling like nothing had changed but knowing that everything had changed and wanting a physical indication of such. Since that point, I’ve grappled with decisions about when and where to cover my hair: I covered my hair every time I was out in public during the sheva brachot week. I covered my hair at some, but not all, weddings. I covered my hair at shul, except that one time when I went away for shabbat and forgot to bring a head covering with me. Sometimes I leave the hair covering on after shul, other times I take it off immediately. Most times I leave it on atleast during kiddush.

Mayim Bialik, one of my favorite celebrities to follow, just started a new blog site, GrokNation. I have high hopes for the future of the site. She reposted some of her older articles that previously appeared on One such article was her piece on covering her hair after her divorce. I remember reading that article shortly after she originally published it, and thinking that it was interesting but not too applicable to my life, as I’m not divorced and (thankfully) don’t have to struggle with that particular question.

Upon re-reading the article, however, something jumped out at me. Mayim wrote about her own relationship with hair covering during the course of her marriage, and mentioned how excited she was to wear all her brand new hats and scarves during the shave brachot week. Like me, Mayim didn’t cover her hair all the time, but there were certain times when she did. Shea Brachot was one such time.

This is important. Before my marriage, I was so adamant that I wasn’t going to cover my hair outside of synagogue at all. I read all sorts of halachic analyses of the practice and determined that it was no longer necessary. I knew many of my peers still covered their hair, for various reasons, but I thought they were foolish and encouraging a practice that is no longer applicable.

But that day after my wedding I was shocked at how “undifferent” I felt. I was still the same me, wearing my same clothes and driving my same car and hanging out with my same partner, whose title had changed from boyfriend to finance to husband but who was essentially the same person. But we WERE different. We were MARRIED. I wanted to walk out of that honeymoon suite and announce to the world: We are no longer two individuals, we are one unit.

In Judaism, we utilize the physical to represent the spiritual all the time. Kiddush is a prayer that sanctifies the specialness of the sabbath with wine and bread. Tfilin are prayer garments, worn for no other purpose than to physically connect with prayer. After my wedding, I needed to physically represent the new me. My new ring wasn’t enough. I wanted something to say, look at me, I’m married. A hair covering would do that.

So I went to the hotel gift shop and bought a scarf and wrapped it around my hair. I wore all sorts of hair coverings during that week, but then sheva brachot ended and life went back to normal. I didn’t need a hair covering anymore, I knew who I was and that was enough. I took it off. I wore my hats and scarves on shabbat at synagogue but not during when I was at school or work.

The important thing is, I don’t feel that I was inconsistent with myself. I needed the transition period of sheva brachot to feel like I was transitioning into marriage, but once I made the transition, I could let things go back to “normal”.

There has been a lot written about hair covering: Applicable today or not? All hair or partial hair? Wig or hat? I think that something that’s been overlooked is the acknowledgement that there’s not just before-marriage and after-marriage, there are a lot more grey areas. Sheva Brachot serves an important transitional function: One’s life does change, dramatically, with marriage. By taking a week to focus solely on being married, Judaism and halacha recognize that a transition period is necessary.

I think that it is important to understand the value in a transition period. I think that sheva brachot is an excellent opportunity to explore one’s relationship with hair covering and to try out different practices before fully deciding on something. And just like in every other religious decision, it does not have to be a final decision. People’s thoughts and views are always evolving, and they will change with time and experience, and sheva brachot is the perfect time to explore those different perspectives.

Four Five Seconds to Domestic Violence

Sometimes, when you spend eight ten twelve hours a day working on something, you start to see that thing everywhere, even when other people might not.

For me, that thing is domestic violence. As an attorney who works on child abuse and neglect cases, I get more than a few cases a day that involve domestic violence (because hey, if you’re going to beat up your kid, you may also be beating up your partner).

So as I was driving into work the other day, I heard Rihanna and Kanye West’s new single, Four Five Seconds. For the unfamiliar, here are the lyrics:

Four Five Seconds (Lyrics from

I think I’ve had enough
I might get a little drunk
I say what’s on my mind
I might do a little time
‘Cause all of my kindness
Is taken for weakness

Now I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m just tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

Woke up an optimist
Sun was shinin’, I’m positive
Then I heard you was talkin’ trash
Hold me back, I’m ’bout to spaz

I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

And I know that you’re up tonight
Thinkin’, “How could I be so selfish?”
But you called ’bout a thousand times
Wondering where I’ve been
Now I know that you’re up tonight
Thinkin’ “How could I be so reckless?”
But I just can’t apologize
I hope you can understand

If I go to jail tonight
Promise you’ll pay my bail
See they want to buy my pride
But that just ain’t up for sale
See all of my kindness
Is taken for weakness

Now I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m just tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
That’s all I want

Mccartney, Paul / Fenty, Robyn Rihanna / Omari, Kanye West

Published by
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

The radio show hosts couldn’t figure out what it meant. They spent a long time discussing what “Four Five Seconds” means–is it forty five seconds? Four, five? Four “five seconds”?

They did not talk about the heart of the song, which is, to me, obviously about domestic violence. At least, I thought it was obvious. Apparently the internet doesn’t think so. I googled “Four Five Seconds meaning”, and didn’t find anything about domestic violence, other than one article that simply hints at “ins and outs” that Rihanna and Chris Brown have gone through. Wikipedia had this to say about the meaning of the song:

Lyrically, it “express emotions ranging from the flip to the resigned”.[9] Sharan Shetty of Slate stated that the song is about “heartbreak and redemption”,[17] while a Yahoo! Newsreviewer noted that it is about “personal travails and confusion”.[18] Nora Crotty of Elle magazine described the single as an “ode to repenting in the morning for the foolish mistakes you made the night before”.[4] -Wikipedia “FourFiveSeconds”

Baffled that that nothing explicitly mentioned the clear domestic violence message of the song, I tried googling “Four Five Seconds domestic violence”. Nothing. There were some sites about the song and some sites about domestic violence, but really nothing that linked the two. So, dear internet, let me tell you. “FourFive Seconds is a song about domestic violence, told both from the perspective of the abuser and the victim. It attempts to go beyond the surface level discussions that so often surround these debates, and get into the heart and souls of people in such relationships.

All of My Kindness is Taken for Weakness

Rihanna doesn’t waste any time getting into the heart of domestic violence. Survivors might feel like they’ve had enough, but they’re willing to give their abusers one more chance, out of the kindness of their hearts. Over and over again survivors talk about not wanting to give up on their abusers. They love their abusers, and so, even while recognizing that they’re not being treated as they should be they bestow “kindness” on the abuser, giving the abuser a chance to redeem themselves.

From an outsider’s perspective, this “kindness” is so many times called “weakness”. We often hear things like “Why can’t she just leave that guy–he’s always beating her and slapping her, she’s just too weak to leave”. Rihanna herself suffered such victimization. After Chris Brown famously assaulted her in 2009, Rihanna left him. After many rumors that they were back together, she announced in 2013 that they had reunited. Commenters on a Rolling Stone article about the reconciliation had this to say about that decision:

“I love seeing someone like her run back to her abuser-she looks like the idiot she is by her actions.” Hook UK

“Rihanna is a role model for young women. By staying with her abuser, she is encouraging other women to stay in abusive, dangerous relationships. It’s only a matter of time before one of those women ends up battered, maimed, or dead. As far as I’m concerned, Rihanna has or will have blood on her hands. Shame on her.” Robotclam

So many times victims say that they want to give their abusers “one more chance”. It is an important step. While so many people view it as weakness or idiocy, it is not meaningless. It is an important step that a victim takes towards recognizing that there is a problem in the first place.

Four Five Seconds from Wildin’

I absolutely love the chorus of the song. It evokes so much emotion. The pouty, slow breaths of the lines bring up feelings of struggle. The references to Friday and Monday make one remember that personal struggles are not just about these lofty ideals of “what type of person is right for me” and “what do I want out of life”, but rather are often much more finite–“how will I pay the rent this week” or “my child is sick but I can’t take any more time off of work” or “we don’t have any more chicken in the freezer but I don’t get paid until Thursday”.

I remember one night in college, I was all stressed out because I had a big paper due that I wasn’t nearly ready to turn in, along with some other finals and shifts at my part time job. I called a friend, who told me that she was also feeling stressed. We decided to meet up and talk about our issues. I remember feeling almost angry with her when she told me that the problems that were keeping her up at night were “what type of person do I want to be” and “where do I see myself in 10 years?”. Of course those are important questions to answer, but you can’t really deal with them until you turn in that final paper, which is due no matter what type of person you are.

While a relationship can give people joy and love and safety, there are also practical benefits. There’s housing, there’s shared finances, there’s co-parenting. I know someone who has been separated from his wife for years, but still hasn’t signed the final divorce papers because he and his daughter are benefitting from being under his wife’s insurance. This arrangement works for him, but if his wife was abusive, it may not be practical. There’s a lot of extortion that happens: Sleep with me and be my partner, or you can’t stay in my house anymore. If you leave, you’ll have no where to go. Your job (if you even have one) won’t be enough to pay for an apartment and living expenses all on your own. Stay with me, where it’s safe.

If I Go To Jail Tonight, Promise You’ll Pay My Bail

If my husband needed to be bailed out of jail, I would march over there and bring every single penny in my account to help him out. Because I love him and he’s good to me and he deserves my help. Even if he did something foolish and stupid–he might have to deal with the consequences later, but I’d help him out in the moment because, love.

For so many victims, the sentiment is the same despite years of being treated badly. There is still love. There is still affection. There is still a very real feeling that the abuser deserves to be loved, despite whatever may have happened in the past, because, love.

This can’t be dismissed very easily.

There are no easy answers. We can educate boys and girls how to behave in relationships and what is healthy and what is unhealthy, but at the end of the day, every individual has to make the choice that is right for him or her. There are so many nuances involved in the decision that an outsider can’t see. All that an outsider can do is offer assistance and support, and most importantly, to be there, no matter what.

“He put me in the hospital when I was pregnant with her. The next day he started crying, begging for forgiveness. He said: ‘I’m so sorry, I was drunk, I need you so much.’ So I took him back. The next time it happened, he managed to convince me that it was my fault. He said that he wouldn’t have gotten so angry if I had paid more attention to him. So I started thinking that I could be better. Then it happened again. Honestly, I stayed with him so much longer than I should have because I was afraid of becoming the stereotype of a single black mother.”

Pornography and Premarital Sex

….And we’re back.

Back to the blog after a short hiatus, and back to talking about premarital sex and porn, because we just can’t talk about those things enough.

I’ve been thinking about a conversation that my friends and I had over shabbat. Someone posed the question “would you be okay with marrying a woman who used to act in pornographic movies, assuming she no longer does that work?”

My response at the time was that the question is, really, the same as “would you be okay marrying someone who used to sleep around?”. At first, there was an uneasiness with my response, people seemed to be more okay with having a spouse who used to have sex with other people than they were with having a spouse who used to be a porn actress. (I say “actress” because no one seemed to even bring up the possibility that the man could have been the one in the porno, but whatever). I get that some people want to save the sanctity of sex for marriage. And I get that it’s extremely hard to share that with someone who does not have those same values. But, I don’t really see any difference between that and porn. Porn, in this context, should only be a problem in as much as sex is a problem. But then came the expected “It’s different, because with porn, it’s public. Your random uncle could recognize her.”

My response? Who freaking cares if your random uncle recognizes your porn-actress wife? Whatever shame you feel should be attributed to a woman who works in porn should be EXACTLY THE SAME as the shame you feel should be attributed to those who watch porn. In my opinion, there should be no shame in watching or acting in porn, but that’s me and I’m a flaming liberal. I’ll allow for the possibility that there are those who are opposed to pornography on moral grounds, but here’s the kicker: that stance only make sense if the same morality judgment is applied to both the actors and the viewers. In fact, the viewers are the ones supporting the industry, they’re the ones who make acting in porn such a lucrative position, so shouldn’t they have MORE responsibility towards whatever moral indecency occurs through porn?

The fact that your uncle (or aunt or cousin or random neighbor) might have watched porn that was made by your spouse should only be a problem IF YOU THINK IT IS A PROBLEM THAT SAID VIEWER WATCHES PORN. And if they choose to call your spouse out on his or her choices, go right ahead and call them out on their life choice to watch porn. I’m sure you’ll go far with that one.

To end, I’ll remind you about Miriam Weeks, aka Belle Knox, who got bullied from her classmates after they saw her in a pornographic film (How much sense does that make? None.) And then there’s Alyssa Funke, who actually committed suicide as a result of the cyberbullying she endured when her classmates at University of Wisconsin-River falls found out that she was a porn actress. Situations like these remind us that we need to reevaluate the dangerous, life-threatening, double standard that we hold for actors and viewers of porn.


Random Thoughts: New Job Edition

I just started a new job, details of which I really can’t discuss in public. Suffice it to say that I am an attorney at a public interest organization, and I am in family court every day. I love it.

Some random thoughts on the new job that I can share:

*My office is predominantly female. It was the first time in a really long time that I noticed a male co-worker of mine looking uncomfortable because he is working in a female-dominated field. This doesn’t happen too much in law. I also noticed that although we all wear suits, his suit was the only suit with a pocket. When all the attorneys were given USB drives, he was the only one who had a place to put it (our purses and briefcases were at our desks in a different room). Sigh, female suit makers. If we’re going to dress like men, we should at least get the pockets that they get.

*I really, really, really hate the subway.

*It seems like all the women at the office are either going on maternity leave or just coming back from maternity leave. I appreciate that this is a culture where having children and working is encouraged. I wish more men went on paternity leave, though. For a lot of reasons. One, because I want fathers to be just as involved with their children as mothers. Two, because it de-stigmatizes women for going on leave. Three, it encourages a culture where parenthood isn’t automatically assumed to be a female role.

*It’s really hard to avoid sounding like a religious nut when you start right before passover, have to take off four days for your holiday, can’t eat any of the office food, can’t go out to eat with your co-workers, can’t use the microwave, and can easily explain to your co-worker why the Jews won’t push the buttons on the elevators in her building on Saturdays. I WISH I could find a way to avoid talking religion at work, but it’s really impossible.

*What the heck does “business casual” mean?

*I apparently fit into plus size clothing now. I have newfound understanding of the discrimination that plus-size women have. Their departments seem to always be hidden in a back corner of a basement in the department stores, and only feature a fraction of the selection for twice the price. Since I’m just on the border, I can wear both regular sizes and plus sizes, but man, do I feel bad for those women who only wear plus clothing. I sense a new campaign coming on.


The Invisible Woman

Last shabbat, I was sitting in shul during mincha, already having finished my private shemona esrai prayer, waiting for the chazzan to begin the public repetition. As is oft to happen, I was the only woman in shul. Now, let’s be honest here, I don’t normally go to shul for mincha, but megilla reading was Saturday night, ten minutes after shabbat ended, and I wanted to make sure I got to shul in time. I sort of figured that other women would have had the same thought, but nope.

But anyway. This particular shul has what I term a “women problem”. By that I mean, women just don’t go to shul. They don’t go on Friday night at ALL and on shabbat morning, there are MAYBE a third of the number of women as there are men. I’m not really sure why this is. The shul is located near an apartment complex where many young, newly married couples live. Some of these couples have children and apparently, once you have children, you become unable to ever leave your house at a reasonable time. I get that. But many of these couples don’t have children. The men go to shul, but the women stay home and read or sleep or set the table.

This is particularly troublesome for me, as one of the things I enjoy about shul is seeing my friends and having a chance to catch up with them on a weekly basis. (Obviously not during davening. Don’t you dare try to talk with me while I’m praying. But afterwards, hello.) If my female friends aren’t there, I feel like shul is lacking.

I’ve thought a lot about why women don’t go to shul, and I’ve spoken to a number of women about it. Although each has their own particular reason it basically comes down to “I’d prefer to stay at home and do X than go to shul”.

I mentioned above that I don’t normally go to shabbat mincha. I did, however, do that while I was in college. In fact, in college I prayed with a minyan three times a day, seven days a week. Sometimes I missed a minyan because I had class or homework or was too exhausted to wake up because I had just pulled an all-nighter, but the goal was there. A lot of that had to do with peer pressure, and the fact that going to minyan meant a chance to see my friends. Maariv was great because it was a short prayer in the middle of the night where I could literally take a 15 minute break and see 50 of my friends, and then go back to whatever I was doing before.

So, that brings me back to my current predicament. I go to shul on Friday night and I see maybe three women there, many weeks I’m the only one. Shabbat morning there are maybe twenty. Shabbat mincha, forget about it. Nothing.

There I was, last week, in shul on shabbat afternoon, davening mincha, when the gabbai starts walking around the shul and collecting the unused siddurim and chumashim to re-shelve. Now, this is totally inappropriate during mincha. He should be davening; he can clean up afterwards. But even more inappropriately, he walked over to the women’s section and started to do the same thing there! I was standing alone, and there he comes, just waltzing in to my section as if he owned the place.

I had many mixed feelings about the occurrence. On the one hand, I felt violated, raped. Who is he to decide he can come over to my section?? On the other hand, I felt like I shouldn’t really mind, because anyways I don’t like mechitzas and I would prefer to daven without them, though I recognize their pseudo-halachic  requirement (really, all that’s needed to satisfy the halacha is a separation, these ridiculous fake walls that people put up are basically just chumras adopted by leading rabbis). So if I would prefer to daven without a mechitza, why should I care that this guy violated the mechitza rule and just waltzed in to my section?

I guess what bothered me was the double standard. He, because of his maleness and sense of owning the shul, could go wherever he wanted whenever he wanted, and no one will say anything. Me, because of my femaleness and otherness, can only go where I am told. I couldn’t just decide to walk over to the men’s section, no, that would make the men feel uncomfortable. Plus, they will say, a man can’t pray in front of a woman, but a woman may pray in front of a man, so if the gabbai was really just walking around and collecting books, no halacha was violated.

Well, you know what? Maybe no halacha was violated, but I was violated. My sense of space was violated. My sense of belonging and sense of welcome was violated. I felt like I didn’t matter, like I was invisible.

And you know what? I was invisible. I, as woman, was invisible. Because there was just me there. The rest of the women were at home taking care of their kids or their house or their friends or their novels. But you know what? That’s not okay. Women, if we don’t want to be invisible, we have to be visible. Come to shul. Pray with me. Take the time out of your day to tell the shuls that we are not the invisible half of your membership, we are here and we are present and we are worth something.

In other words, lean in.