The Jewish Woman and Chanukah

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Women are powerful. They have such a wealth of wisdom embedded inside of them, it is incredible. In the story of Creation, women were created last. It is explained that, each new creation was on a higher level than the ones preceding it. As Hashem’s final creation, women are the most closely connected to G-d. Within a women, is great potential and great kedushah (holiness), if only she knew it…

I am currently attending graduate school in New York, on a campus with lots of observant and nonobservant, Jewish undergrads. It happens to be that this week I finally found the kosher paradise that lies inside this international college bubble. I was so excited- sushi, pizza, deli! What more could I want? And on top of that, loads of Jewish undergrads filling the room. How nice! I got my kosher sushi and chopsticks and took a seat at one of the empty cafeteria tables. It was placed not too far from a boy in a kippa sitting next to a girl in leggings, schmoozing over this and that. I was at first, glad to be in proximity of them, enjoying any prospect of being around Jews when in a mixed environment. However, as I sat there, enjoying my food and my break from class, I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. The boy was rattling on about this relationship and that “hook-up” in an ever-so disgraceful language, to the girl sitting next to him. When he quoted an inappropriate line from a movie, (one I assure you my life would be enhanced by having never heard), she just laughed, allowing the negative usage of female anatomy wash over her. Surely, she could tell this was inappropriate? Surely, she didn’t think it was funny?

Here’s the thing though, I knew that laugh. I knew it well. I went to a big university for college, one with parties and clubbing- the full college scene. There were sororities and keggers, tailgates and mixers. It was a breeding ground for that laugh. But what is that laugh? It comes from the way it feels when a girl wants a guy to like her, or when she wants him to think she’s cool. It comes when one falls prey to being told they’re “too serious” or “too prude.” It comes from being seen as boring or nerdy.

So, I knew that laugh. I’d heard it before. It was the “I don’t want you to think I’m not cool and laid back,” laugh. The one most girls have adopted. The one that makes them pretend that they’re O.K. with the ads of them half-naked, the movies with suggestive humor, and the use of language that was at one time only used by the lowest of low. It was a laugh that let them be “as tough as men,” or as “strong as men,” or as “thick-skinned as men.” It’s the laugh that’s projecting “we are feminist and therefore not weak” onto the world. Here’s the other thing though, standing up for what is right, saying what one really thinks, expressing how one truly feels, is not weak, is it?

Many people don’t know that the story of Chanukah had a heroine. Her name was Yehudis. The story goes, that in the midst of all the disaster being faced by the Jews, with killings and beatings by the Hasmoneans, the Jewish men finally decided the end had arrived. They were ready to give up, for in their minds, there was nothing left to do. When Yehudis heard this, she decided to do something about it. So, she devised a plan. She brought wine and food to the Greek general, got him drunk, and when he fell asleep, she cut off his head. She brought his head out for all to see, after which, the Greeks were distraught and felt defeated.

It was because of this and many other stories of women in Jewish history, that the Jews have continued to exist. These brave Jewish women who fought for the Jewish people when the men gave up, keep us alive today. However, had these Jewish women given in when the men felt it was time to, had they thrown in their caps with the mens, had they “laughed” along with them, the Jewish people as we know it would not exist today.

G-d gave women a special power. This power is binah. Binah is the special intuitive, innate wisdom that women have. And if you’re a woman, you know that innate, intuitive wisdom that I’m talking about. My husband always refers to this binah and says, “what does your binah tell you? You have this gift which will show us what to do.” It is this same binah that Sarah had when she told Avraham to banish Yishmael for fear he would negatively affect Yitchak. It was this same binah that Rivkah had when she told Yaakov to take the birthright from Esav. It was this same binah that Miriam had when she told her father not to separate from her mother and Moshe was born. Without the binah of the Jewish women, the Jewish people would not exist.

Unfortunately, many women today, are ignoring that binah. They are laughing along with the men instead of standing up to them. They are going along with their plans, instead of devising new ones. They are ignoring their own innate wisdom, and perhaps losing a bit of their femininity with that as well. If only they knew of their innate power then they could change the world. If only that girl at that table and all the other girls at similar tables, stood up and said, “I’m a strong Jewish women, and I don’t like that,” then perhaps the world we know would be a little brighter.

On Chanukah, women have been given a special present of sitting with the candlelight for 40 minutes while only the men work. Women are blessed with this gift because of their brave acts in the past. Since, women have an internal light, they sit with the light of Chanukah candles, the light of divination, and let it pour over them. While sitting with this light, they regain their strength, intensify their connection, and hopefully with renewed power, give this light back to the world. Hopefully with this revived light, women can find their femininity, the kind our Jewish foremothers had, and once again change the world. Happy Chanukah.

Searching for Meaning in the Har Nof Terror Attack

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It breaks my heart to think such terrible things, such evil, could happen in a place I consider a home. It’s the place I became who I am today, where I grew into a Jewish woman who loves Torah and miztvos. Where I found families who offered nothing but love and openness. This place called Har Nof, where I lived for two years.

It is a place of loving-kindness and warmth. A place of hospitality and growth. Its a place that invites in students from all over the world, to learn and inspire. In Har Nof, the community is rich, as one person can rely on another, as they are all united through the love of Torah and chessed(loving-kindness). They embrace one another, as brothers, united like family.

In a place filled with so much good, how could there be such an act of evil.

Now there are families that must go without fathers and wives without husbands.

Now Yeshivos go without Rosh Yeshivas and communities without leaders.

Har Nof, a place of love, a place that breeds only goodness, is now a place with a void as it longs for those holy men who have been taken away.

Har Nof is a place where the purpose of life is crystalized before our eyes, with holy people demonstrating through their daily acts why it is exactly that we are in this world in the first place. One of the few places in this world where I can say this is true, and yet, here in G-d’s holy place, there was evil.

This contradiction is what haunted me first, not understanding how a place of only good, could be a place that saw terror. Terrorists of this sort are afraid of that good, of that holiness of that connection to Hashem. “People” of such evil fear our Kiddush Hashem. My question is not on them, but on Hashem. How can Hashem allow such a thing? Why in our place that we praise Hashem, in our synagogue, in the holiest city in the world, does Hashem allow evil?

It’s not an easy answer, and since our eyes are dimmed in this concealed world and the lack of clarity leaves us wondering, none of us can say we really know the answer. We are not Hashem, and we have only but the sprinkles of truth he leaves us with here on this earth to determine our answer. In reality, we do not know the ways of Hashem, nor can we make sense of this crippling tragedy. Hashem is too great, too well-beyond our comprehension for us to understand. We as mere humans, we cannot understand the reasons for his ways. We can not understand why our Father has left us handicapped with pain, allowing someone to kick down our family again.

But that’s just it. It is the undeniable feeling we are all left with, that not just anyone was hurt or killed, but that it was actually our family.

It is this realization that comes up when I say Modim (thanks). The realization that I do not know what I am grateful for today. I cannot say, I’m grateful it wasn’t me, because was it not? Is not the pain of our Jewish friends and family in Har Nof our pain? I feel it is, in fact, and that for every single Jew we would be far off in saying: I’m glad it wasn’t our family, because in fact it was. In the search for what to be grateful for I struggle today. How can I be grateful for anything when there is this? But alas, I have one answer on the heels of that realization. I am grateful to Hashem for our unity.

Hashem Echad- G-d is One. His Jewish people are One. And as we mourn the painful loss of our family, as we lean on each other to get through these painful days and weeks, we at least go through the pain together, as One.

I don’t begin to presume to know why evil is done in this world, or what Hashem wants us to gain from it. And my heart aches as I write this, knowing we will never know truth or at least not until the days of Moshiach, but perhaps with a little strength and a lot of emunah, we can at least persevere, being a little better to our fellow Jews today than we were the last. And the terrorists who live among us can know that each time they try to tear us down, bringing us further from connection, they just leave us more connected to one another and to Hashem.

So, in our little quaint haven of love for our Creator, in Har Nof that rises above looking over the rest of the world, where the light of Torah illuminates the night, terror cannot stand. With the devastating acts done to our holy Jewish men, we can only ask that Hashem bring us comfort in this terrible time, that he help those wives and children get through this tragedy and that we as a Jewish people rise again, tightening our bond, forbidding evil to break the link we have created between each other and our Creator.

The Brand We Like to Call: YOU

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You are part of a major company. In the meeting today, the CEO says, we have a huge problem. We are not working up to our full potential as a company. We are behind the other competing companies and our ratings are behind the forecasted results. Something needs to be done. You start coming up with a new marketing campaign to one up the competitors. After $1 million dollars spent in marketing and 1 month of hard work, your company has finally produced a new a marketing campaign, only to find that after you launch, your CEO is displeased with it. “Something is still missing,” he says. He wants you to find a new solution. What do you do?

This is us on Facebook. After discovering our friends, co-workers, and peers have better looking cover photos and profile pictures, status’ and images than we do, we decide we need to “rebrand” and start again. But just weeks after doing it, we once again find something’s missing, something’s lacking, from our personal brand. We once again feel dissatisfied and start looking for a new image.

Who is the CEO of our brand? It’s our souls telling us to wake up and make a change! The problem is, sometimes we hear this message wrong, and instead of working on our product we work on the packaging. We update our cover photo, we change our profile picture. We do just about anything we can to make our brand newer and shinier. Problem? What about our actual product?!

Our product is ourselves and ourselves might need a little more work than would a profile picture change. We might want to ask ourselves, who do I want to be? What are my goals and am I living up to them? What do I spend my time doing and what should I spend my time doing? Do I like myself? My choices? My actions?

How else can we improve our product? We can challenge ourselves to do one thing thats difficult for us- stand for someone on the bus to have a seat even if its hard, resist the chocolate cake even if you’re craving it, call your grandma even if your tired. Each time we push ourselves a little bit out of our comfort zones, we build our product muscles and make a stronger product.

And what lasts longer? Good marketing or a fabulous product? The more time you spend on refining who you are on the inside, the longer it’ll last. Your CEO will keep quiet longer, give you more freedom to enjoy your new change before insisting on an update. A good product goes a long way.

So, next time we feel that little CEO saying WAKE UP-CHANGE TIME, maybe its time to do a little soul-searching. Resist the Facebook marketing campaign! Imagine how much more time you’ll have to refine the edges of your product when you’re Facebook marketing department is out to lunch!

Q & A: Tznius

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Dear Inside Out,

I was just wondering what you think the right approach is in talking to girls who are frum girls, but can’t seem to find the beautiful meaning in tznius? How should one explain to them these important things?

-Yosef

Dear Yosef,

So good of you to write. Good question! Of course, both frum girls and not frum girls alike struggle with the mitvah of tznius (modesty). It is indeed a difficult mitzvah.

In my opinion the message is the same. If girls, whether frum or not, recognize that they are ultimately a soul and that the truest, deepest part of who they are is hidden within, then they should be aware of the need to emphasize the inside over the outside.

There is a very strong yetzer hara (evil inclination or non-mitzvah doing pull) against dressing tznius. With fashions being what they are and with a girls need to fit in and to express herself, it is very difficult to dress modestly and put ones looks to the side. I also love fashion and it can be hard for me at times too, with all the styles seen on the streets.  However there is something to be said about making tznius personal and that’s what I advise girls to do.

I would say to these girls to take one small step at a time. Not to become a long black skirt, turtleneck wearing Rebbetzin that they can’t relate to, but to take on one thing. If they could commit to just wearing a skirt instead of pants, maybe they would see that they still feel like themselves and fashionable in a skirt they like! Too many times girls think dressing tznius means dressing ugly, but it doesn’t have to. There are so many ways to make a “regular skirt” a tznius one and there are so many fashionable skirts and tops on the market that just happen to be tznius.

The last thing I would say is: this is what G-d wants from us. At the end if the day, we want a relationship with G-d. Just like we can’t have a good relationship with our spouse if we constantly ignore his request to keep our alarm clocks on vibrate or to take out the trash in the evenings, we can’t have a good relationship with G-d if we ignore his heed to cover our bodies and focus on our souls. Hashem does for us constantly and this is what he asks of us. The least we can do is try. Any steps we make towards tznius is a step we make closer to our ultimate goal of coming close to our Creator.

Let me know of anything else I can do to help! I’m happy to speak with or shop with any girls who would like!

From my soul to yours,

Ashley

Our Everlasting Soul: Connecting with the Mikveh during the High Holidays

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Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are a time for refreshing. They mark the start of the new Jewish year and they give us an opportunity to wipe away our sins and reconnect to the Creator.

Similarly, the mikveh is a refreshing for our souls. When a woman goes to the mikveh each month, she has the opportunity to look within and analyze herself. She asks herself questions, such as, did I improve myself this month? Have I focused more on what is important to me this month? Have I worked on my marriage? On my relationship with my children? With G-d?

When a woman goes to the mikveh, it is a time to spiritually wipe away sins and hit the refresh button. She hits the refresh button on herself, on her marriage, and on her relationship with G-d. In this experience, she gets to start again. She gets to re-experience herself as a woman, as a Jew, and as a wife and mother. She gets to re-relate to herself and her essence. It is a day for inner revitalizing.

I am recently married and when I first learned of the mikveh experience I was a little hesitant. I would have to dip into a pool of natural waters each month completely naked?! It seemed unconscionable and contradictory to what it meant to be a Jewish woman. However, it is very much so in line with being a Jewish woman. A Jewish woman is primarily and constantly focused inward and on her soul. She recognizes she is a divine being with a divine mission in this world. She knows her body and her clothes are just externals and temporary- but her soul, her essence, is real and everlasting.

When I experience the mikveh, I remember this- my body is temporary, my soul is eternal. My first few experiences have been deeply spiritual and overall self-awakening. Each time at the mikveh I have a chance to introspect and connect. I take time just to myself, and remember who I am and what I am doing here. I am a soul.

On the High Holidays, we also have this chance. We reconnect and realign ourselves with who we are and what we’re doing here. We ask for a relationship with King of the World and we make sure we are worthy of one as well. It is in this time of the year, we remember: I am a soul. I have a mission in this world; a purpose. On these days, we concentrate on our actions and recognize a moment with a potential for spiritual change is upon us. We want to take advantage of these opportunities to enhance ourselves and our relationships. We want to make this special moment (the one of the High Holidays and the one of the mikveh day) everlasting.

May we use these opportunities to reconnect to ourselves, to our spouses, and to our Creator and may we remember, forever, we are a soul.

Finding Freedom On Pesach

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Part 2 of Why I Dress Modestly

 

How does dressing tznius make me feel more free than dressing “freely”?

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G-d commanded us to cover up, to hide ourselves, just as He is hidden in this world. To be like G-d is to exalt one’s physical self to a spiritual level; to the level that G-d is on. G-d transcends physical reality and asks of us that we do the same. By connecting to G-d, to a force greater than myself I give my life more meaning, purpose, and energy. By being connected to the Creator, I am being connected to the origination of creation.

Imagine being sent to a new job. You are put in a room with a computer, desk, and chair. No one is there to tell you what to do, but beforehand you were told that if you complete the first week’s work, you will receive $5 million dollars. However, if the work is not completed at the end of the first week, you will not be paid and will ultimately lose your job. Imagine the panic you would feel in that office-alone-with no one to ask what to do and $5 million dollars on the line. Imagine the lengths you would go to to find out your task, to find out your role.

That is life without Torah. It’s as though coming into the job with no roadmap as to how to receive the “paycheck” at the end.

When I discovered Torah, my task, my roadmap, was opened up to me and I was free. My decisions are made easier, my trials are more manageable, and my perceptive is clearer. That to me, is freedom. Dressing tzniusly each day reminds me, I am connected to the Creator and I have a job to do. I know my job and I am free.

I’m Selfish. And Proud.

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Part 1 of Why I Dress Modestly

“I’m happy to share my jewelry, my books, my thoughts, my time…but let me keep one thing though. Just let me keep my pride.”selfish girl

Growing up as a middle child, I was told I had to share. Chinese food containers were put in the center of the table, drinks were pulled out of my hand and slurped on by my sister, fries were snuck off my plate and eaten by my brother.  The remote control was often a pawn in a tug-of-war game and chocolate was always gone before I could finish opening the wrapper. Like I said, I had to share.

And then, when I got older, I shared a house with 100 sorority sisters, a dorm room with 50 and a shower with 20. I went off to Israel and shared an apartment with 6, a bedroom with 3 and breathing room on the train with 100s. I share my secrets all too often and my time is up for grabs. I write a blog about my thoughts and a Facebook shared with plenty…but I wear a long sleeve shirt, a skirt and tights. Finally, a place not shared.

So, why do I dress modestly? Because, I’m selfish with my body. And proud.

 

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