A New Year’s Resolution at the Wall by Judy Bolton-Fasman

Hallel Abramowitz-Silverman has a fervent wish—to see her younger sister Ashira celebrate her bat mitzvah at the Wailing Wall—the kotel. At just eighteen years-old, Hallel is one of the very public faces of Women of the Wall (WoW). For nearly a quarter of a century, the group has been advocating for women to pray as they see fit at the Wall—whether it be wearing tallitot—prayer shawls—or tefillin, or both. The founder of the group, Anat Hoffman, has consistently said that WoW’s goal is not to desegregate the Wall, but to make it a venue for all Jews.

Hallel Abramowitz-Silverman

Hallel Abramowitz-Silverman

In the coming new year Hallel, who lives in Jerusalem, has her work cut out for her. The Israeli government has approved a plan set forth by cabinet secretary Avichai Mendelblit that effectively exiles women to pray “according to their custom” only in the Robinson’s Arch area, a small 400 square-meter space near the southern end of the Wall. Israel’s leading daily newspaper, Haaretz, reports that the proposal departs from Natan Sharansky’s plan to set aside an egalitarian space at the Wall. It also snubs a court ruling, which effectively allows women to read Torah and wear tallitot and tefillin at the Wall

In the interest of full disclosure, I have loved Hallel since the moment I met her. Two years-old at the time, she was an adorable, mischievous tot with outsized glasses that matched her outsized personality. As passionate as I am about the issues attached to WoW, I am equally fascinated by how a young adult grows up to become an outspoken activist. I recently sat down with Hallel while she was visiting Newton. Upon her return to Jerusalem she will serve two years in the Israeli army. College is on the horizon as are opportunities she’ll seek out to help people in Africa.

As Hallel explains, “I’m from an activist family.” She and her family moved to Israel in 2006 from Newton where Hallel had attended the Jewish Community Day School. The family first settled on Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava desert and then moved to Jerusalem three years later where Hallel just completed high school. Her interest in WoW was piqued.

 

 

When I heard that women were not allowed to pray their own way at Judaism’s holiest site, I decided to go and pray with WoW. That was in Adar—last March just before Purim. I fully understood what was happening to Jewish women at the Wall when I saw the violence and the cruelty fellow Jews did to one another. All of this was happening in a Jewish country because Jewish women wanted to wear a tallit.

 

 Hallel has clear role models for her activism. Her father Yosef Abramowitz is an advocate for global solar power through his company Energiya Global. Abramowitz’s own fight for social justice goes back to his days at Boston University when he urged the administration to divest its investments in companies doing business in South Africa. He was also a student leader in the Soviet Jewry movement in the early ‘80s. Hallel’s mother is Rabbi Susan Silverman, who is an international advocate for adoption and has written a memoir about the spirituality of adoption. Rabbi Silverman is one of the faces of WoW, and she and Hallel were among the ten women arrested at the Wall for refusing to take off their tallitot.

 

The women were eventually released and Hallel got to work on brokering a solution for all women who worship at the Wall. “I knew I couldn’t see my nine year-old sister get spat on again. Nor could I allow another friend to get hit with a rock.” She took her fight to the Israeli Parliament and to the press. She wrote an open letter to Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet refusenik and a member of Israel’s cabinet, who was appointed by the prime minister to find a way for peaceful prayer at the Wall. “I am a stakeholder in your decision,” Hallel wrote to Sharansky. “In other words, I am a Jew. A Jew who prays with other women at the Kotel.”

Among Hallel’s solutions was to establish a tri-chitzah. Derived from the word mechitza or divider, Hallel suggested that,

 

 

It only seems fair to divide the Wall into three equal sections; men, mixed and women. And since there is no Jewish ritual for which men get arrested then clearly equality mandates that there should be no Jewish ritual that should land any woman in prison.

Although women have been granted the right to wear tallitot at the Wall, the future for a pluralistic Judaism there is dubious in light of the Mendelblit plan. Yet Hallel is optimistic. “We are a colorful circle among a sea of monochromatic black and white,” Hallel notes. “After the first month it was legal to wear our tallitot, two [ultra-Orthodox] seminary girls came up to me and said we really appreciate what you are doing. If I had a doubt in my mind, it was squashed. I need to keep fighting for these girls.”

 

 

 

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Coffin Shopping for Mom by Judy Bolton-Fasman

I have recently planned my mother’s funeral with the clear-eyed precision of an accountant and the organizational skills of the activities director at the assisted-living facility where she lives. And I have done it within a budget where there are no line items for grand final wishes.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/20/booming/deciding-on-immortal-indulgences-for-mom.html?ref=booming

Should I Stay or Should I Go? by Judy Bolton-Fasman

My husband and I are folding clothes on a Sunday night. Bless him for helping me tackle the mountain of wrinkled shirts and pants. Not to mention that we were running out of underwear. And bless him for not blaming me for letting the laundry get so out of control; I blame myself enough for the two of us. It’s all bound up in my underlying confusion with regard to work and child rearing.

What prompted me to think about whether I’m actually in or out of the workforce is a recent cover story in the New York Times Magazine by Judith Warner on women who opted out of working outside the home in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Mostly these women—and it’s a very select group—left lucrative jobs to stay home and raise children.

opt in

 

Reevaluating their decision almost two decades out, these women have decided to go back to work. For some, it was figuring out what to do with too much time on their hands now that their children were older. For others, it was the only option after divorce or other economic difficulties. For example, one woman’s husband had been a higher earner who was adversely affected by the 2008 recession. In any case, Warner asserts that, “the culture of motherhood, post-recession, had altered considerably too. The women of the opt-out revolution left the work force at a time when the prevailing ideas about motherhood idealized full-time round-the-clock, child-centered devotion.”

I mention that the group Warner’s research is based on is select because, for the most part, these women are well off and well educated. The majority of them are white and live in affluent neighborhoods. Her article doesn’t touch on women for whom staying at home was an economic sacrifice—women whose net pay would appreciably shrink when childcare became a line item in the budget. As far as I could tell the women in Warner’s article did not significantly alter their lifestyle when they initially left the workforce. But they had measured their worth by their paychecks and ten or fifteen years out, they were unable to assess that worth without a dollar sign in front of it.

I suspect that my situation is more typical of the women who opted out of the formal workforce. I can pinpoint the exact moment I knew that I would stay home with my kids while they were babies. My first-born was a couple of months old and we had had a difficult, colicky night. I was up every couple of hours with her. After her five A.M. feeding I brought her into bed and we fell asleep until nine in the morning. That’s when I knew that I didn’t have the fortitude or the organizational skills to balance a job outside the home with new motherhood. I’m in awe of women who have done both. I know it’s not easy. I know it’s not magic.

But I also knew I wasn’t a 24/7 type of mother. I wanted to write. And so I began to freelance with an eye toward going back to work when my children were in school all day. When they were, I went back part-time as an Internet magazine editor until I was laid off. That was ten years ago. At the time, my husband and I decided that it didn’t make economic sense for me to pursue full-time employment. He was able to support us and our version of luxury was having me at the ready for our children.

I became a full-time writer seven years ago. My income is not that significant. But working from home or the library, I’m always around even if mountains of unfolded laundry surround me. I’m working on a book that may or may not get published, but my husband understands that I’m driven to do it if only for the accomplishment of telling my family story.

Which brings me to the crux of the problem with women who opt in or out. The husbands portrayed in Warner’s article sounded unreasonably difficult. One woman complained that as her kids grew older, her husband’s role as the wage earner and hers as the de-facto housekeeper became problematic. Warner quotes her as asserting that, “I had the sense of being in an unequal marriage. I think he preferred the house to be ‘kept’ in a different kind of way than I was prepared to do it. If I had any angst about being an overeducated stay-at-home mom, it was not about raising kids, but it was about sweeping.”

Raising children is an art, a soul-giving endeavor. Housework is drudgery. These high-flying husbands didn’t appreciate that cleaning was their responsibility too and if they didn’t like it they should hire a house cleaner.

The advice I would give my daughter is not whether or not she should opt-out and then back in when she has children.  It’s to marry a partner who will fold clothes with her while watching reruns on a Sunday night with nary a complaint.

 

 

 

 

 

The Calendar Year by Judy Bolton-Fasman

I’ve just bought a new calendar that spans from August to August. August is my Rosh Hashana—the head of a new year that holds milestones and obligations. But before I stash my 2012-2013 calendar in the recycling bin, I want to trace the arc of my ordinary extraordinary life over the past year.

calendar

Amidst the panoply of doctors’ appointments and deadlines there is one entry last August that stands out for me—the day we brought Anna to college for her freshman year. I noted it on August 17. Just a quick note to remind me (as if I could forget) that we’d be headed up and out of town. No details of how tightly the car was packed, how my freshman-to-be was so nervous she barely said anything during the six hour ride. There is no mention that on the return trip home, I cried for hours, Ken drove in a funk and Adam was too stunned to talk.

Then in September the world jolts back to life from the summer and there are dates with friends, book readings and more work deadlines. Sandwiched in between spurts of activity is a weekend trip put of town. Other than that brief mention, there is nothing about Anna’s homesickness and our family’s adjustment to Anna away at college. The high holidays are penciled in, but there is no way to infer that Anna would be at school for the holidays—her first time away from us on Rosh Hashana.

Last Rosh Hashana also marked the first time we allowed Adam to go to school albeit for only the second day. That decision was a momentous one for Ken and me. Neither of us had ever attended school on the high holidays under our parents’ roofs. Adam’s well-reasoned request begged the question of whether we had done the right thing to send him to a preparatory school where he bears the workload much like Atlas holds up the world.

October and November blur together except for one bright spot where we go back to college again for an official parents’ weekend. In less than two months our girl has carved out a lovely niche for herself in a big university. She gives us a lengthy tour of the campus and we walk through her busy schedule. Ken and I breathe a sigh of relief. She loves school. She has wonderful friends.

In December we learn to live with Anna all over again. It’s been over four months since she left for school. She has her own way of doing things and we have ours. Life is a series of adjustments and malleable curfews. Adam leapfrogs over the December dilemma in school—Hanukkah blending into Christmas—and all is well in preparation for the New Year. But I have a note in my calendar—Newtown, December 14. Small children gunned down in their classrooms. What my calendar doesn’t reflect is that I’ve carried images of these children in my heart alongside memories of my own children at that age.

By the middle of January Anna is ready to go back to school and we are more than happy to support her return. The past month has been cold and dark and very, very busy. Anna’s high school friends have been ringing the doorbell late in the evening and their powwows go on and on into the night. My girl regularly sleeps until eleven in the morning. And Adam complains about returning back to school from his relatively short vacation.

In my calendar the death of a young family friend will disrupt February forever. In March there is another school vacation for Anna. More late night powwows in our den until Anna finally leaves for school the day before Passover. My Gregorian calendar records an early Passover and my heart is slightly cracked when Anna decides she can’t miss a day of school and stay on for the Seders. Her reasons for finding a Seder at school are sound and sensible. My mind tiptoes around the question that if she were closer geographically, would we have had her for the first night at least.

In May Anna comes home and there is a flurry of activity, which somehow doesn’t include her replacing her expired learner’s permit. The calendar records her appointments and duties to which I must drive her. I secretly love this busyness. I’m a juggler by nature and parenthood has always been the perfect venue for me. By June we have our summer schedule in place. Adam masters the T and my girl finds a dependable ride to work.  The calendar goes quiet for weeks until Anna’s July birthday.

I’ve already filled in the new calendar a bit. Appointments, deadlines and social engagements—yet I very much live the solitary life of a writer. We’re up to year two of college for Anna and that ever-busy junior year of high school for Adam. As I flip through the still blank months, I’m reminded that I am no longer that younger self who can squander time. And no matter how much time fate has in store for me it will never be enough.