Our Meah Shearim Fiasco

Our Meah Shearim Fiasco

We were going to Meah Shearim for Shabbat lunch, and I really didn’t want to do anything sore-thumb-ish that would make our hosts rue the day they invited the Weisberg clan.

That meant that all of my girls, from the fourteen-year-old all the way down to the seven-year-old would have to wear tights (I made an allowance for 2-year-old Tsofia: she would just have to wear ankle socks.)

But getting my garbion-phobic daughters into tights is easier said than done. Just finding stockings in the back of the storage closet took about half an hour. And even after I’d tracked down the tights, convincing my daughters to wear them despite the 85 degree heat was like coaxing a cat into a swimming pool.

But by 11 AM, all my Weisberg-ettes were ready. We still did look sore-thumbish, but at least no Meah Shearim-ites would faint due to our blaring immodesty.

We were half way there when Tsofia started complaining…. “Carry me!” she begged.

So 14-year-old Hadas picked up her little sister, and when she did I saw that a bit to the north of Tsofia’s ultra-modest ankle socks was a completely naked tushy.
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Yesterday, I arrived about a half-an-hour late at this year’s Jerusalem Writers’ Seminar for religious women. I found a single empty seat at a table with 5 elegant Chassidishe women from Kiryat Belz (Hamodia). To my left I noticed a table of smiling kollel wives from Beitar (Binah/Family First). And to my right there was a table of tichl-wearing Litvishe bubbies from Har Nof (Horizons, before it closed).

And there I was, Chana Jenny, the one-woman delegation from Nachlaot (JewishMOM.com), reflecting for the umpteenth time since I became religious 20 years ago that I don’t really fit in anywhere.

My son attends an Litvish-Charedi cheider, but I’m not really Litvish Charedi.
My younger daughters attend a National-Religious elementary school, but I’m not really “kippa sruga.”
My oldest daughter attends a National-Charedi high school, but I’m not really Charda”l.
My husband teaches part time at a Chassidic yeshiva and davens at a Chassidic shul (thus the Meah Shearim Shabbos invitation), but I’m not really Chassidish.

Author Sara Shapiro, the matriarch of frum women writers, spoke at the conference. And she told a story I loved with all my heart.

Sara reminisced, “I once accompanied a single girl in need of dating advice to Rabbi Bulman zt”l. The girl told the rabbi that someone had suggested a match for her: a boy who was learning full-time in yeshiva. She told the rabbi, ‘I don’t think I want to date somebody who is learning full-time, that is just not for me! It’s not who I am…’ And the rabbi said to her, ‘I know, Israel has such an extremely polarized society. It’s so hard to find your place where you belong. But you should go out with him…’ And I told the Rabbi, ‘I know! I’ve lived here for 20 years, and I still haven’t found my place…’ And the rabbi looked up at me, and with a dismissive wave of his hand, he said, “You?! Your place is with your typewriter!”

(A side note: The girl married him).

Ahhh, the only place where I fit in 100%…here, at my computer. Where the woman who fits in nowhere can be exactly who she is.
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Twice a week I speak on the phone with other women to do a spiritual accounting for our week. Sunday nights I have a wonderful conference call with an FFB Kollel Wife from Ramat Shlomo and a Gush-Katif expellee turned Breslover from Yavniel. On Wednesday nights I speak with a Yeshivish life-coach and teacher from Milwaukee.

In each phone call, we take turns sharing how we coped with the major challenges in our lives that week. We then brainstorm to get ideas about how to deal better with those challenges in the future.

What is always striking to me about these calls is how we women and the struggles we face are as different as could be, but how all of us are really exactly the same. Deep down, we are all women who are struggling and struggling to fix what needs fixing within our souls.

And that makes me think of myself very differently than I usually do…

I’m not just the eternal “outsider with access…” The woman who has a foot in many different communities, but truly fits in nowhere. When I get off the phone on Sunday and Wednesday nights I feel like just another Jewish woman with a soul that needs fixing, just like you and you and you.

And that makes me feel like, in fact, Chana Jenny of Nachlaot (JewishMOM.com) doesn’t fit in nowhere. In fact, Chana Jenny (and her Divine and aching soul) fit in everywhere.

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45 comments

  1. just like there are 70 interpretations to every letter and every “tag” (crowns of the letters) there are different ways to interpret life for ourselves. i once heard an explanation of the crossing of the red sea after leaving Mitzraim—why did the twelve tribes cross simultaneously but walked through 12 different “splits” of the sea? why couldn’t we all just cross thru in one line? the answer is that there are many different roads through life, but they all lead to the same place: Torah and Eretz Yisrael. we are all different and need different ways to speak to G-d and to express ourselves. the main point is not the journey and the differences. the main thing is to keep focusing on our goal: living a life of Torah and making a Kiddush Hashem.

  2. I love your revelation. Thank you for the reminder.

  3. I walk your talk too. And am finally making peace with it. Wonder if FFBs feel like this or if it’s much more of a BT thing?

    • JewishMom

      I also wonder…

      • As an FFB – I think it can happen when an FFB feels a lack in the community they grew up in. Then you start searching other communities. You can sometimes feel that you just can’t find what you’re looking for.

        I think that fitting into a community is a conscience decision. The decision entails giving up on some aspects of your individualism for the sake of BELONGING. It’s a price to pay, and each person has to decide what’s more important to them. I know that I decided to “conform” in order to “belong”, and 20 years later, I am very happy.

      • A sephardic Rabbi once said in response to a Baal Teshuva, “We are ALL Baalei Teshuva”. And it is so true. I think ‘fitting in’ is overrated. If you like the idea of fitting in, I’m sure you would have found a mode of dress / a look / a shul / a school etc..and ran with it. But you didn’t. It’s nice to be unique. Its All Jewish and all good. Love you!
        andrea

  4. Don’t leave us hanging! What happened when you made the discovery about your daughter’s ‘predicament’?

  5. Chaya Rivka Carasso

    Dear Chana Jenny,

    I am a writer from California and I would not fit in either. When I visit my children in Ramat Bet Shemesh I am told that “You have your own style.” That means I dressed tzinus and do mitzvot, etc., but I don’t fit in with a particular dress. My hats come from Laguna Beach. They are beautiful and artistic as is my simple clothing. I know I can go any where in the Jewish world, but you cannot nail me as a this type or that type.

    I think people like yourself, who make Hashem proud of you as a Jewish woman and mom, are leading the way, making what is great about being Jewish clearer to all. The world sees the woman following Hashem’s laws in her individual way.

    Thank you,
    Chaya Rivka

  6. Dear Chana Jenny,
    I am awed by the fact that you do a weekly spiritual accounting. How does it work? do you critique each other, or serve as sounding boards for one another?
    It sounds like such a growth-inducing phenomenon!
    Please tell me more.
    Thanks, Karen

  7. Nechama Koren

    I see I am not the only one! Thank you for writing this. It definitely helps and gave me food for thought. I really do think it is a BT thing but also I think a lot of olim to Israel feel that way too.

    • JewishMom

      so those of us who don’t fit into a community are a community unto ourselves! What should we call ourselves? Any ideas?

      • we should call ourselves….spiritual women!

        • and this is the best way to the geoula since you banish all barriers between religious styles! this can lead to true AHAVAT HINAM !!!
          thank you for this beautiful post and for the hizouk!!

  8. JewishMom

    hi karen, On wednesday, we just talk about our week. We are both in rabbi nivin’s personal development chabura and graduates of Dina Friedman’s courses, so we often talk about applying the concepts from those courses to improve our lives. On sundays we are all working on a personal goal we are struggling with, so we talk about how that week went in terms of that goal and then we brainstorm together to help each other achieve our goals.

    I recommend this kind of partnership HIGHLY, if you can find somebody to do it with.

  9. Jenny, what I like about your posts is that you are truly an “everyone” person – you identify with many stripes and anyone can relate to you, and you never point fingers at “those people” or put down anyone’s choice of life. We can read here about Zionists, Misnagdim and everything in between, and never feel like you are judging anyone.
    Thanks again.

  10. Honored Sunday night partner

    Chana Jenny, I also come off of the phone with a lot of chizuk!
    I think everyone (FFB, baal tshuva, and everything else) can feel part of the whole, but can also feel different. Every person is unique. I can either feel the underlying connection, love, shared experiences, or feel alone and different. I don’t think we are ever similar enough to anyone, even family, to only feel belonging.
    Maybe the reason our calls work is that we are interested in feeling connected, and accessing those feelings. I try to walk through life like that whenever I can: it is hard, but the other parties (ie Meah shearim hosts) are feeling just as disconnected and are craving your acceptance just as you want their acceptance! Try to drop the doubts and just feel the connection, they will probably reciprocate.

  11. I was once at a family wedding when I realized that my 3yo had not put panties on under her skirt. We just carried on and I kept an eye on her. I don’t think anyone noticed.

    • Every time we leave the house I ask my little boys if they are wearing underwear. I have one with sensory issues and he hates wearing them, so I’ve just made it a habit to ask. The things we must do …

      BTW, MotherinIsrael, you helped my daughter when she was ostracized in our community for public breastfeeding, and I want to thank you for the support you gave her!

  12. you know, there’s so much talk about how polarized this country is, we forget to notice how truly individual everyone is. If you look close enough, no one really fits all criteria of this or that community…

  13. yehudit chana

    Such a great post, Chana Jenny! I’m one of you. 27 years into this, and still “different.” Since the beginning of my teshuva journey, I refused to be boxed in and labeled. I was the Universal Jew. Thank G-d my 7 kids, 13-24, also in every kind of yeshiva ( whatever works!), are proud of their parents, who, within a halachic framework, strive for authenticity and truth. Sometimes it’s lonely (I am usually the only one at Monsey events with the hat/tichel) or empowering (I’ve been approached by rebbitzens for headcovering, ideas, and quinoa recipes). Let’s celebrate ourselves and the nachas we give to Hashem!
    GO UNIVERSAL NESHAMAS (The Holy UNs)!!

  14. yehudit chana

    P.S. We are UNique!

  15. Chana Jenny, my husband and one of my daughters has almost the same birthday. Back in the old days, we used to get a dollar and a special blessing from the Lubavitcher Rebbe on our birthdays. So in 1988 (my daughter was turning two and already toilet trained) on a Sunday morning my husband came rushing into the house calling, “The Rebbe’s giving dollars! Is she ready?” I didn’t realize I was supposed to have her ready so she was napping. And as a child so young and already toilet trained, you know they need to feel the air, not underwear or tights, in order to remember not to just let loose anywhere. so she was napping, shall we say, in an undressed state. My husband went in to her room, did something to her which I assumed including dressing her, and carried her out the door. Years later the photos came back… (i had the photo retouched)

  16. I identify so with this! I remember the day my six year old came home from school and asked me “what kind of Jews are we, mommy?” Hard to explain to a child when I don’t have the words for myself.

  17. Devorah Fish

    I really appreciated and loved what you wrote. How refreshing.

    Devorah
    Ramat Beit Shemesh

  18. to me, the meaning of Ahavas Yisrael is loving and accepting every jew. the best way to access that love and acceptance is to reach inside yourself and see the other jew with your Nefesh HaElokis (your G-dly soul) — as opposed to seeing them with your Nefesh HaBehamis (your animal/physical soul). your nefesh haelokis recognizes the nefesh haelokis of another jew because we are all made in the image of Hashem. if we focus on the G-dly soul within each jew, we are able to see the similarities and work with that.

    i vote to call our “group” Universal Neshamas—–totally inclusive and elevating at the same time!

  19. Hi Chana Jenny

    I love the concept of the Weisberg-ettes so adorable!

    I feel that you demonstrated a very great principle- respect.

    When people show mutual respect for each other and the differences in their lifestyles we all lead Klal Yisroel can achieve tikkun.

    May this experience be a Tikkun for us all during this time of Sefira- Your actions were just what we needed!

    Enjoy your column!

  20. Chana Rivka

    I had a marvelous eclectic day a while back…learning at 770 in the morning, Soho area in lower Manhattan meeting with a prospective store who was interested in my aromatic product line; lunch with a friend (not Jewish, kosher restaurant of course)in the Upper West Side,back to Crown Hts,for a farbrengen. This was two days off from work where I was working as a RN at Beth Israel Hospital in the NICU…bottom line, felt at home everywhere and I am thankful for the variety of people and experiences in my life; I am not a clone, not predictable, I feel blessed.

  21. Savta Ima

    This situation in Israel of feeling obligated to identify yourself as affiliated with a certain “machaneh” – or to figure out what camp the other guy belongs to, and then to decide if you “like” him, is foreign, tribal, and difficult, to Americans especially, where the idea of being a rung higher just because you were born a Cohen is even weird and hard for some equal-rights babies to accept!

    Still, at a visceral level this all seems wrong anyway, and I think I have hit upon one underlying factor. Allow me a double story: My son-in-law began a conversation in the street recently (Jerusalem)with someone he hardly knew, who immediately wanted to classify him. It was frustrating for the guy: “You are not exactly an xx Jew, or a YYY Jew or an abc Jew (fill in the various blanks) – “I know! You are Chareidi-Lite!” Followed by a triumphant smile. Why does this even matter!?
    Second story: I was driving towards my daughter’s home – a certain Yishuv in Gush Etzion, and passed a crowded “trempiada,” the one after Gilo, for those to whom this would be familiar. We did our obligatory slow-down to see who we would pick up, and without so much as rolling down the window to ask the hitchers if they were going where we were going, my daughter began sagaciously commenting, “Not him; he’s going to Beitar. Not her, she’s going to Efrat, not those boys, they are on their way to Yeshiva X.” It wasn’t their subtle hand signalling that told her. It was the way they were dressed. In Israel, even how you dress makes a declaration of identity. It cannot be for the mere sake of taste, or some personal calculation. At least officially 🙂 I will be a rebel in this department forever IYH! And may it become a more prevalent mode of rebellion! Anyway, it hit me that the reason behind this is very Jewish, though not particularly American. An Israeli Jew wants to know WHAT YOU BELIEVE! And he would like to know right away, So he can decide right away if he is “fer you” or “agin you.” So it is convenient to make the statement with the external trappings. It is probably a little self-protective and certainly smacks a bit of the old satan, Sinat Chinam. Nevertheless, it seems also tied in with the Jewish personality since Avraham Avinu. Contemplate what you believe, make a decision on it, defend it to the death, and cross the River to the other side if need be, to preserve it. Sad, though, that this leads to deciding if you “like” the other guy/gal, or believe their daughter should attend your school, as soon as you see the shirt/hat/kippah/tichel/sheitel/socks they are wearing.

  22. I enjoyed your article; it definitely touched a chord. You mentioned that you are “nowhere,” but if you look at the word differently you will see that you are really “now here.” In other words wherever you find yourself, that is where you are. If we were truly comfortable in our own skin, with whoever we have become over the years, it doesn’t matter what group of people we are among, because we are present in the moment and “now here” and happy to be our own selves.

    • JewishMom

      love it, thanks!

    • Savta Ima

      Yes, that’s me, PLL! The only thing to take into consideration is tzniut, which has some leeway and options in ways to fulfill this according to halacha, and minhag. But nevertheless, don’t get hung up on fitting in; just recognize the reality for what it is and yet be true to yourself. You WILL be accepted (usually) and when not, it tain’t your problem, Honey!

  23. I think that you would fit in fine in an out of town community in America. There is generally a great deal of polarity in Israel and other major centers of Jewish life, but out of town there is more room for diversity and individuality even within the mainstream “yeshivish” setting.

    • Hadassah

      I agree as far as diversity is concerned, but for someone who is so planted in our Holy land, going to out-of-town community in USA would be quite a yerida in many ways. Having grown up ‘out of town’ studied and lived in New York, and been on Shelichus in Berkeley (home of the rebelious 60’s and 70’s), Los Angeles, Lomita, California and now Miami Florida, I think the most important thing is not fitting in but feeling that who ever you are and whatever style and creativity you have can all be elevated to make your Yiddishkeit better. If a person becomes a baalas Teshuva she doesn’t have to give up her talents of playing a flute, weaving, sewing, basket making, etc. The real tricky one is the talented ballerina, or opera singer/lady chazan being able to find her niche within the confines of halacha. We all need to remember that we are works in progress and those of us that have the illusion that we are finished have even more work than others in becoming tolerant and understanding!

  24. Chana Jenny, thank you. I’m an FFB, but my hashkafot have continued to grow and change and develop – and still are. i don;t think i fit in anywhere, either. your words nad your non-judgemental attitude give me alot of inspiration and optimism.

  25. Hadassah

    I loved your story and felt sad that you felt you didn’t belong anywhere. Your universality (if there is such a work) transcends all boundaries and endears you to many people. You don’t need to make yourself different to fit in. The fact that you are working on improving yourself and striving to grow is the most important fact. It is sad that Jews are so polarized in Israel and judgmental too, I felt it as a tourist even though I was only there for 10 days twenty two years ago. The main thing is being comfortable in your own skin, proud to be a Bas Yisroel and willing to live up to the challenges that Hashem sends our way. Much Hatzlocha.

    • JewishMom

      thank you hadassah. Your words mean a lot to me… “The main thing is being comfortable in your own skin, proud to be a Bas Yisroel and willing to live up to the challenges that Hashem sends our way.”

  26. I love it! The Holy UN’s!

  27. Bracha Goetz

    My guess is that nobody feels that they perfectly fit in anyplace – and that’s really perfect – ’cause we’re all in the process of becoming.

  28. after reading all these comments i had to make an observation for all of us who think we don’t fit in:

    We actually fit in very well: with each other!!!! It seems to me after reading this post and all the reactions that us “nowhere” people are actually quite a large group, maybe even larger than the “one-sizers”!!

    Ironically, even though every Jew has an individual mission based on their individual circumstances that Hashem gave them to accomplish this mission, it seems that too many of us are forgetting this and searching to forge similarities rather than celebrate our uniqueness, and the uniqueness of others. If we are too busy fitting in, we may be missing our mark…. the main thing is to be happy with where we are, and who we are, and to hope that everyone else is as well.

    BTW: I love the way you took a little naked tooshie and dressed it up into a wonderful post ….. Just shows you right there: HAKOL LETOVA!!!!!!!

  29. OMG..i have to say Thank You to.everyone and to chana Jenny for this post. I have been from yavniel to.nitivot looking for a place to fit in..and coming from LA 5 yeats ago I am at the end of my rope..but now I see that no mayyet where I am I can just be me..becuz when I need to feel at home I can always loginto jewishmom.com..and unite with the UN moms!..we should have a once a year gettogether..like byol…bring your own lunch to gan sacher and have a meet and greet!

  30. Hindel

    Dear Chana Jenny,

    I thought I sent this to you when you first posted this, but I guess I got distracted.

    I am what you would call an “FFB” and grew up with many friends, my family was known in the community and no matter where I went, I always fit in. Still do when I’m back in my hometown or any town with a community like the one I grew up in. I feel at home, without even having to think about it.

    Now, I am on shlichus with my husband and my children, spreading Yiddishkeit as chassidim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and I live in a town with mostly secular Jews, over an hour away from a frum community (we do the travelling to school, hours a day in the car, because the chinuch of our kids is top priority) and living here I am suddenly the outsider and… I don’t fit in!

    I walk in and out of Publix with my shopping cart and people are staring at my skirt or maybe it’s my large brood of kids. I get a pedicure and am struggling to get my skirt in just the right spot because I am not wearing pants and flip flops like the woman next to me. My kids and I are eating a sandwich from foil, rather than grabbing a slice of the non-kosher pizza being served at a birthday party for one of the local members of our Chabad House.

    I don’t fit in and I love it! I get questions and comments left and right. We have discussions, I meet Jewish people and interesting people that I otherwise never would have met. They stop me in the street. They pull over their cars. Sometimes I’m jealous of my husband that he has a black hat and beard because he meets even more Jews than me, probably because he stands out even more than I do.

    I pray that one day we will fit in only because our Jewish neighbors and friends will be doing so many mitzvos that we won’t feel or look any different.

    I hope that you, Chana Jenny, will slowly feel more comfortable and realize that you fit in, and I’m the outsider… and both of us for the right reasons!

    Thanks for your emails and excellent posts, they are inspiring and well written every time.

    Love,
    Hindel

    • JewishMom

      thanks hindel…I think that you feel proud of being different since you understand that your differentness enables you to make a unique and significant contribution to others. And a similar understanding of my own contribution on account of my differentness is what I need to work on developing:)

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