Who is Chana Jenny Weisberg, Anyhow?

Have you ever wondered who is this Chana Jenny Weisberg, anyhow? And why does she write all these JewishMOM articles and make all these JewishMOM videos and send me all these inspirational JewishMom newsletters? If you’ve ever asked yourself these questions, here you go:  Everything you ever wanted to know about me, but were afraid to ask…ENJOY!

Reprinted with permission from the newly-released book Women Talk: Jewish Women around the World Speak about their Lives, Challenges, and Accomplishments by Debbie Shapiro (Shaar Press)

ONE DIAPER AT A TIME by Debbie Shapiro

I looked in the mirror and saw a
loser: nothing but a simple housewife. I
had been brainwashed to believe that if a
woman is not making money and working
outside the home, she’s just wasting
her life.”
Chana Jenny Weisberg

The first time I met Chana Jenny Weisberg was at a N’shei evening
that she was hosting in her home — a century-old historic building in
the center of Jerusalem. I had read several of her articles and seen her
Expecting Miracles and One Baby Step at a Time, on display
at the local bookstores. I was thrilled to meet another writer and to
have an opportunity to “talk shop.” I discovered a young woman with
a clear mission in life: to make women aware that motherhood is an
accomplishment. Or, to put it humorously, “Mothers are changing the
world — one diaper at a time!”

I was thrilled at the opportunity to interview Chana. I found myself
naturally gravitating toward her; despite the age difference, I felt
a strong affinity with her. I truly admire the way she’s making women
aware that the floors can wait, the laundry can wait, the cake for
Shabbos can wait, but the time spent with a child will never wait. It’s
like a rainbow or a ray of sunlight, which can never be captured and
stored away for a more convenient time. And those precious moments
are creating something much more significant than anything else we
can do. (I had to remind myself of this when my daughter asked me to
pleeeeease watch my granddaughter tomorrow morning, during my
precious writing time). Yes, we are privileged to know this intellectually,
but we need to be reminded of it again and again — and again. This
is especially true in today’s world, in which motherhood is frowned
upon and intelligent women focus on professional advancement while
leaving their children with a babysitter, who, however well qualified,
will never substitute (and what mother would want them to?) for a
mother’s love and care.

[Chana explains]

I grew up in a high-powered family. Both of my parents are doctors;
I went to a private school; I grew up knowing that someday
I would have a career. My brother graduated from Harvard Law at
the top of his class, [and my sister received a PhD in chemistry from University of Chicago, and I, like my siblings,  had sky-high high career aspirations for myself.] Instead, five years after my college graduation, I found myself a mother.

How did your life path take you from future career woman to full-time

I didn’t grow up in a religious home. I wasn’t interested in traveling
to Israel; I wanted to go someplace exotic, like Nepal. In college,
I majored in the Russian language and political science, and
was planning to spend my junior year in the Soviet Union. But that
year, 1991, the political situation in the Soviet Union was extremely
unstable and my mother strongly suggested that I change my plans.
My grandmother had put aside money for each of her grandchildren
to travel to Israel. She was a devoted Zionist — in the thirties,
she’d taught Hebrew in the New York City public-school system —
and wanted us to be connected Jewishly. I thought that if I were to
go to Israel, I could use my Russian to work with the new Russian
immigrants. I came to Israel and immediately fell in love with the

At first I lived with a family friend, but eventually I had to find
another place to stay. I went to the Old City and saw a sign for the
Jewish Student Information Center — Jeff Seidel’s place. I wasn’t
at all religious at the time, but I thought, “Well, I’m a Jewish student.
Maybe they can give me information.” I told them that I was

looking for a place to live, and they told me that I could stay at Neve Yerushalayim. I was suspicious about studying in an Orthodox place , so I said, “Well, I can’t go to any classes. I’m very busy. I

go to ulpan and I do volunteer work with the Russians.” They said that I could live at Neve without taking classes, so I agreed. But once I moved there, I was fascinated — and enrolled as a full-time student.

I eventually met my husband through a mutual friend, and two
years after we were married I became a mother. But although I was
religious and creating a family, I still very much had the mindset of
a professional. I had no idea how to view what I was doing; I felt as
if I were a total loser. I looked in the mirror and saw a loser: nothing
but a simple housewife. I had been brainwashed to believe that if a
woman is not making money and working outside the home, she’s
just wasting her life.

Interestingly enough, my parents really approve of what I am
doing. A few years ago, my mother said to me, “Maybe you’ll stay at
home until all your children are in first grade.” My mother sees that
my staying at home is good for my children, and for me too.
To strengthen myself, I became fixated on the topic of motherhood.
I began attending lots of classes and reading anything I could
get my hands on about the subject. I was totally focused on this one
topic, and I still am. Because of that, I started producing articles, and
later short videos, to spread the things that I learned.

Before I had my first child, I realized that although I was taking
care of my physical needs — taking all the proper blood tests,
ingesting the right amount of vitamins — I had no idea of the Jewish
way to anticipate a new family member. I looked at other Jewish
mothers and thought, “Those women must know something that
I don’t.” So I interviewed women about their experiences. Expecting
was the product of those interviews. It’s a very popular
book and has sold a lot of copies.

What did you glean from the interviews?
Many women spoke about how a woman should work hard on
her middos [being a better person] and do extra mitzvos, because in that way she impacts
her future children’s neshamos [souls]. One of the women I interviewed, a
very high- powered Yale graduate and a former lawyer, said that she
realized that in becoming a mother, she was more powerful than she
had ever been, because she had become a vessel of the A-lmighty.
When I first began writing this book, I was working toward a Master’s
degree from Hebrew University. I viewed this work as something
like a sociological study: I was an outsider looking in. I was
an observer, interviewing these curious specimens of a religious
society. But as I continued working on the project, I realized that I
was getting pulled into it. I realized that I am a frum woman, and
that these women are me! This totally changed the outlook of the
book. It was a very important transition for me, personally. I began
to identify myself as part of the community, rather than as an outsider
looking in. I learned that my very being is a religious person,
not just a person who does the mitzvos and wears the long skirts.

After Expecting Miracles was published, the natural progression
was for me to write about motherhood, the parenting process. I
went to parenting classes. That was a whole new world for me. I
learned that a mother is a mother forever.

A wise Rebbetzin once told me that a person must do whatever
she needs to do to be a better mother. Some women need to get out
to work. They need to feel fulfilled in the workplace. Other women
are at their best staying home with the children. But whether a
woman works or stays home, the main focus should be her family.
It’s very important for me to have my creative time in the morning,
the few hours that I spend writing my articles or books, or producing
the motherhood videos…

How did you become involved in producing videos?

I’ve been working on producing videos for the last two and a half years, and I’ve received tremendous feedback. One Rebbetzin in
New York told me that she had been working with a baalas teshuvah
who was ambivalent to the idea of having a family. The Rebbetzin
told her to watch my videos, and after that, her entire outlook
changed! I recently met a mother on the street, and she told me,

“We always think that being a mother is just something that we do. But when I watch your movies, I realize that I’m doing something

very, very important!”

These films have been viewed over 200,000 times! I don’t know
if the viewers are religious or not, but even religious people need
validation that what they’re doing is very, very important. Motherhood
needs good PR; after all, it’s received terrible PR in the secular
world. When most people hear the term “Jewish mother” they think
of jokes about an overprotective, bossy woman whose greatest joy is

making her children feel guilty. I want to change that. I want people
to understand that a Jewish mother is creating a mikdash me’at [The Holy Temple in miniature], and through that she is doing the most important thing in the whole wide world!

What are your plans for the future?

I’m not sure, but above my computer I wrote a three-point mission
statement: my three goals.

I’ll start with the last one first. I want to use my different creative
projects to be a shlichah [agent] for Hashem. I feel that Hashem guides me
in the most unforeseen ways. Who would have thought that I would
produce videos? But Hashem guided me to it, and it’s a wonderful
kiruv [Jewish outreach] tool.

My second goal it to be connected with those things that are eternal:
Am Yisrael [the Jewish people], Toras Yisrael [the Torah], and Hashem. I am constantly asking
Hashem to guide me. I try to figure out what He wants from me;
does He want me to write that article? Am I more interested in making
a lot of money or in helping people come close to Hashem?

And my first and foremost goal is to create a thriving, happy,
close, and healthy family.

How do you plan to accomplish that?

The most important thing for a happy family is a happy mother.
It is crucial that a mother take care of herself; that she figure out
what she needs to be happy and to thrive, and then get it [within
reason, of course!]. Women sometimes feel that, to be good mothers,
they must be martyrs. Instead, they should take a step back and ask,
“What do I need to be healthy? What do I need to thrive?” When you
enter a home with a thriving mother, the atmosphere is positive. But
imagine entering a home where the mother is miserable and feels
like a victim, like the family servant. What a terrible atmosphere for
the children to grow up in! In one of my videos, the mother being
interviewed quoted a famous expression, “If Mommy’s unhappy, no
one is happy.” I truly believe that.

We need to take responsibility for our own happiness. That
means putting our lives in order and then deciding what we need to
be happy. Instead of complaining, “My husband doesn’t help me,”
or “My boss dislikes me,” we have to stand up and state what we
need, and then make it happen. Make a list of the ten things you
need to thrive, and then make every effort to get them!
In raising our families, in doing all the mundane things that we do over
and over and over again to keep our homes running smoothly, we are
creating something eternal!…

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