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"I can be a modern woman, and still find power and meaning in connecting to the rituals of the past" - Emily
  • 1. How can I integrate this mitzvah into my life as a single woman, who is not yet going to the mikvah?"
    The underlying message of this mitzvah (practice) is infusing your marriage with holiness, mindfulness and Divinely endowed endurance. If you want to build an eternal bond with your soulmate in a marriage that has these qualities, you've got to start way before! The work is inwards, outwards and upwards. Firstly, inwards: Work on your own self-perception. You are a queen! You are royalty. You are a beautiful and powerful Jewish woman. Secondly, outwards: Before any guy approaches your body, he needs to feel that royalty radiating from you. So, before you enter into a relationship or experience with a guy, make sure that he is good enough for you and that he will give you the respect that you deserve. Find out if he shares similar values, will appreciate your uniqueness and is willing to commit to building a meaningful relationship. That way, you drastically lessen your chances of falling into a degrading situation where you walk away feeling like a body, used for momentary pleasure, rather than the queen that you are. And thirdly, upwards: Cultivate a connection with the Divine. Pray. Learn. Deepen your Jewish identity. Adding a little bit of light, banishes a lot of darkness.
  • 2. Do you feel that the source of the not touching during the period is because you are considered unclean?
    Let's dispel this myth, once and for all. NO. The practice of mikvah is not based on physical manifestations of cleanliness or dirtiness. So, what are the underlying principles? Well, according to the ancient wisdom of the Torah, the definition of "impurity" is: a brush with death, or a brush with the loss of potential for life. In Temple times, if anyone, man or woman, were to come in contact with a dead body, he or she would become "tamei," or ritually impure. They had a brush with death and would undergo a process of returning to a place of purity-i.e. life. When a person comes in contact with death they are existentially changed. The Torah laws of purity create the space for mindfulness through this delicate human experience. What happens when a woman menstruates? She had an egg that could have been born into a totally new human being. It wasn't, and that's okay. But she’s bleeding. Blood is a sign of loss of life. She feels it emotionally as well. Just seeing an old lady cross the street, she may be brought to tears. Mikvah grants the Jewish woman the space to wax and wane through her subtle, yet oh-so-real physiological fluxes- like the moon. "Tamei" is connected to the word "atoom," or closed off. When she is in this place, she is not reaching out to connect with the world, or her husband in the same way. She and her husband take a step back from each other. She steps into a more inward focused place. She then counts her seven days and returns to a place of life, of connectivity, and of openness, which in Hebrew is called "tahara, or "purity."
  • 3. What about men and mikvah?
    For men, mikvah is Jewish custom, whereas for women mikvah is Jewish law. Customs differ across community lines, whereas law is more uniform. Therefore, you find some men who go to mikvah once a year before Yom Kippur, you find some men who go once a week before Shabbat, and other men who go every day. Men definitely access a level of renewal in the mikvah waters, but not on the level that a Jewish woman, who is going in her right time, experiences. She holds the key to the nucleus of power in this mitzvah.
  • 4. What if a trauma happens in a woman's life? Isn’t it hard for her to not be able to be physically comforted by her husband? Can't this practice put stress on a relationship?
    Yes, sometimes it is hard. After a hard day at work, I may just want that hug or hand squeeze from my husband, and I can't get it, because both he and I are devoted to this practice. My experience is that these challenges serve as catapults of growth for my husband and I. When I come home and need a hug, and can't get it, I find myself faced with a challenge. How else can he comfort me, besides for touch? How can I find comfort in myself in a new way? I end up discovering new aspects of myself and new layers of my husband, of our connection, that I never knew existed! Rooted in the Divine origin of this mitzvah, I find that the challenges that it may pose ultimately bring us closer together.
  • 5. Is this practice to encourage having as many babies as possible, because ovulation usually occurs on or around the mikvah night?"
    The Jewish tradition (the Torah) encourages having children. We have fought for over three thousand years for our mere survival; so simply bringing the next generation of the tribe into the world is definitely encouraged. It is important to mention, that if a couple is feeling that they are not in a place to bring a child into the world, then after conferring with their Rabbi, they can be permitted to use birth control. Certain types are more acceptable than others. It is also important to note, that sexual intimacy between a Jewish man and a Jewish woman in the context of a Jewish marriage is considered a mitzvah even if there is no chance of pregnancy… for example if she is already pregnant, or post-menopausal.
  • 6. How did you find the strength to make a life change like this - to opt out of the popular views on intimacy and sexuality and to adopt the traditional Jewish view?
    For me, the strength welled up from a place of truth. I felt so deeply that the way of casual sexuality was one that cheapened the oh-so-sensitive act of intimate physical touch. As time when on, I began to connect the dots and notice that I was feeling increasingly less empowered by my experiences. When I began learning about the Jewish traditional practice of shomer negiah, where the guys and girls wait to find their soulmates before getting physically involved, it resonated with me so much! I decided to try it, and found that not only did I find the practice liberating, but I also got a lot of respect from the people around me. When you live your truth, everything becomes aligned.
  • 7. Do you have any suggestions if my husband is not into mikvah, but I want to practice it?"
    It definitely may take him some time to get used to the idea. So, let it percolate. Respectfully and lovingly explain to him that you feel that this mitzvah will infuse you personally and therefore your relationship with a renewed passion and connection. Maybe you can invite him to talk to other husbands who have recently become devoted to this practice, thus allowing him to alleviate his concerns. Ensure him that the health of your relationship-physical, emotional and spiritual is your first priority, and that you are hoping that Mikvah will only enhance that.
  • 8. Don't you find the laws on mikvah and niddah degrading? How do you reconcile this?
    Far from degrading, I honestly find that this practice grants jewish women with dignity, privacy and autonomy on her body. Now, the word “niddah”, which you used in your question to describe the time when a woman is having her period, comes from the Hebrew word “nadad” which means ‘separated’ . The word though does not refer to actual menstruation, but to the necessary physical separation between wife and husband that takes place during her “time,” her cycle. Everything in the universe has cycles of growth and decline; the waxing and waning of the moon, the seed of a plant decomposing before a new flower buds, it is the necessary process of universal growth, of renewal. During this “nidda” time, it is my opportunity to reconnect with my body, my cycle, my space, my individuality, as a woman. I reconnect with my “source of life,” for my physical emotional and spiritual renewal. There is no “claim” on my body where I have to be available “all the time”. I have “my time”. I can snuggle up in bed with a good book and not “feel guilty”. Although it is the woman’s body which signals the time to separate, the separation needs to come from both man and woman. I really find that this “nidda” time really strengthens my relationship with my husband, my partner in life , we have the time and space to grow together with the more emotional and spiritual dimensions and to deeply appreciate the things usually taken for granted… It is the emotions and attitude around the experience of separation that gives the laws of nidda a positive or negative wrap, not the menstrual cycle itself. And remember, the goal is not separation, but separation is one of the means to coming closer to making a marriage a constant growth towards living heaven on earth. So if we could reframe your question: “How do you reconcile the law to separate from your husband during menstruation with the desire not to?” Well….that ‘s a whole other schmooze….
  • 9. How can I bring my Jewishness into a relationship with a non-Jewish partner?
    Before you can bring Jewishness into a relationship, I would suggest first thinking about bringing a little Jewishness into yourself. You can perhaps think about all the infinite blessings in your life and say “thanks!” See if you can verbalize your needs through contemplation and prayer while paying attention to how you are answered. You might want to read and learn more about Jewish thought and practice. You might feel like a “relationship” is starting to develop in an unexpected place – between yourself and your creator! When you are able to truly deepen and appreciate your relationship with Judaism you will find how then all of your other “ relationships,” will have a sort of divine guidance that will make it all fall into the right place at the right time.
  • 10. How do they keep the mikvah water clean? How often is the Mikvah water changed?
    Great question. Everyone keeps asking it! First of all there have been studies done where the Israeli Health Department tested the water of swimming pools, drinking water and mikvah waters, and found the mikveh waters to be the cleanest by far! Most Mikvah’s use a special machine everyday to clean the mikvah walls. The water has a chemical added which is a form of chlorine to sterilize the water (similar to what is used in swimming pools). The frequency of changing of the water depends on the place and the use, on average it is about once or twice a week.
  • 11. Does going to the mikvah ever feel like a chore or get annoying/repetitive?Does it ever feel tedious to have such a strict routine?
    Sometimes a woman wants to go to the mikvah and she feels something deep inside her that fights against her desire to go, that fights her yearning to connect to herself and her Higher self in such a profound way. But each time it’s a new opportunity to contemplate this place and awaken the desire in ourselves as women to connect to our essence, harnessing our spiritual energy and in the end illuminating and enhancing the true union of a woman with her husband. The repetition can actually help us get past this barrier and strengthen us in our journey of renewal. However we don’t always identify this combating feeling as one of spiritual energy, it can also feel to us as one of repetition. And whether you are a pianist, runner, dancer or have any other skill which you want to achieve your best in it, at times it can be also feel like a chore or get annoying/repetitive. True accomplishment, mastery in anything takes commitment. And inherent in achieving true mastery are moments of continuing forward even if there is no thrill or sense of ahhh. If you keep practicing piano, no matter what, it will bring you to the next level of mastering, and advancing levels brings great pleasure. And so it is with mikveh. Acknowledging the difficulties and embracing them helps you work through your layers bringing us to new and beautiful levels.
  • 12. What does a woman do if she has irregular periods?
    A woman's inner cycle determines her frequency of visits to the mikveh and therefore guides the rythms of the relationship. These are completely dependent on her and her internal flow. How powerful! Incidentally, it has happened on MANY occassions that once a woman has begun to become more aware of her cycle by keeping the practice of mikveh, her cycle begins to regulate.
  • 13. Why is a woman considered impure during her menstrual cycle?
    טומאה (Impurity) reflects a loss of potential. The greater the loss, the greater the (impurity) טומאה. A dead human body has greater טומאה (impurity) than that of an animal. A woman's menstruation is a signal of the loss of potential fertilization of that month's egg cell, which could have led to another human life. When a woman goes to the מקוה Mikvah (a ritual purification and cleansing bath) at the end of this period, she is renewing her creative energies for the coming month. Pure טהרה (purity) is the highest stage of דעת, i.e. the ability to connect with something or someone in a totally integrated way. Similarly, pure טומאה (impurity) represents the furthest from קדושה (holiness) conceivable. Therefore, a dead corpse, even of an animal or an insect, is a source of (impurity) טומאה. Touching such a corpse transmits that טומאה (impurity) to a person (but not to a live animal who will touch it). This is because it is we humans who have a finely tuned sensitivity to spiritual realities. טומאה (impurity) always reflects a loss of potential. Our contact with such loss effects our own spiritual realities to some degree. “An analysis of the various species of tumah (impurity) reveals that what they have in common is the awareness of death. The most potent source of impurity is, indeed, a corpse or a part thereof. The other kinds of tumah (impurity) imply, indirectly, the suggestion of death, even if only the loss of potential life. … The Metzora … includes the withering and dying of the limbs of the leper. … the Rabbis taught that a leper is considered as if he were dead. … [So too] semen …is the loss of potential life. … A nidah (a women during her menstrual cycle) …loses an unfertilized ovum, … a whisper of death.” (Norman Lam – A Hedge of Roses, pg. 84) All forms of טומאה (impurity) have purification, even the impurity of a dead person טומאת מת] A woman's menstruation is a signal of the loss of potential fertilization of that months egg cell or ovum, which could have led to another human life[60]. This loss, is a kind of distancing, reflected in the (impurity of a women during her menstrual cycle) Tumas Nidah[61]. A woman during her menstrual flow, is focused on re-preparing her body for a new cycle, a kind of healing process. Since her bodily energies are more focused on this, she is less available for the kind of holistic spiritual, intellectual and emotional unity which ought to accompany relations with her husband. Hence relations during this time would become more of a base, physical act. This is the very opposite of the marital union, whose whole essence is purity. Hence the Torah prohibited it, as it did other forms of illicit unions. While a woman is still a נדה (in her menstrual cycle) until after she goes to the Mikvah (a ritual purification and cleansing bath) מקוה, the שבעה נקיים is a part of the process of purification and not just in anticipation of it. Counting is done in Judaism to show that something is dear to us. For example, we count with joy towards מתן תורה "receiving of the Torah" with ספירת העומר. When a woman goes to the mikvah (a ritual purification and cleansing bath) at the end of this period, she is dipping, so to speak, in the primordial waters at the beginning of creation, thereby renewing her creative energies for the coming month. Although the way a mikvah purifies is ultimately a mystery, we understand that, as primordial waters, it has to be מים חיים, waters connected to an ongoing, fresh source of water. Such water is called מים חיים because water is the source of all life. (In fact most of our body is comprised of water, about 60%.). That is why Mikvah always comes as a transition from a lower to a higher state, such as that of a non-Jew to becoming a Jew or just before Shabbos and the Holidays. Source: Simple to - For footnotes see link below
  • 14. How do you know if you connect physically before committing to marriage?
    In our e-mails and in our Tsfat Mikveh talks we talk about the importance of finding a soul mate that you first connect with emotionally and spiritually and then only after marriage connecting physically. It can be explained like this - Someone that you can deeply connect with emotionally, and can “hold” you on an emotional and spiritual level will most certainly be able to connect deeply and know how to hold you a physical level. We have personally seen, and some of us know about how confusing it is for someone to jump into a physical relationship without first “ knowing” the other person. Once physical touch is introduced into a relationship the true feelings between the partners becomes clouded with the feelings of fake intimacy that physical touch provides. When you take the time to get to know your future partner and then make a commitment based on a true connection (ie emotional and spiritual) then the physical part of the relationship can flourish, being that it is based on a truly holistic connection on the physical, spiritual and emotional levels. If you’ve found someone that you can share the secrets of your heart and share the secrets of your soul with , then together you can most certainly share the secrets of your bodies.
  • 15. What about tattoos? Can you still go into the mikvah?
    So let’s define what it is exactly that separates a person from the restorative powers of the mikvah waters. A blockage between your body and the water is called a chatzitza. This is anything that is not part of the body and easily removable from the body. Some examples are: dead skin, a hair stuck to the body that is not attached to the body anymore, dirt, a dangling hangnail, boogers, leftovers in the teeth, earwax, etc…. The point is that, to repeat, nothing should come between the body and the water and we therefore must remove all that can be removed in order to achieve this. So a tattoo is not considered a chatzitza because is it not easily removable – meaning you can’t shake, scrub or shimmy it off. This is chatzitza on a physical level and it is the only part that the law mentions. Don’t forget how we spoke about emotional and mental blockages that also can get in the way. These, however, are a lifetime of personal work between yourself, your partner and G-D.
  • 16. What about a woman who never gets married, because she doesn't want to or for any other reason? Can she never go to the mikvah?"
    When someone can’t go to the mikvah – they still can take a mikveh moment: Channel the essence of what mikvah is about. Be present in the moment and know what ever is happening in this moment is what G-d wants from you (dealing with traffic, tantrums and troubles). Close your eyes, know everything I have right now is everything I need - I’m in the womb. I don’t have to hold myself in the water – the waters (G-d and the Torah) are supporting me. I can start anew. You can do this in one moment and you can do this throughout the day. You don’t need M&Ms when you have your MM (Mikvah Moment). Every time you bring G-d into your life- it’s a mini-mikvah. Letting it go and letting it flow, acknowledging a Higher Power, gives you a purity of heart and soul. Being in this awareness gives you access to the true depths of mikvah. It’s important to know that there are 613 Mitzot and they are all interconnected - every mitzvah connects you to the entire gamut of mitzvot. Each mitzvah has a piece of all the other mitzvahs in it. Don’t focus on what you can’t do when there is so much you can do – just do it.
  • 17. My friend told me that all my pots and dishes need to be dunked in a mikvah! Don't tell me that's the same Mikveh that us women go in to? I’ve never heard about this. Please tell me why is that and what are the rules.
    No , No ! Don’t worry! No pots in the Mikvah here! Yes, pots do need to be immersed, No, not in the same Mikvah as Us women go to.There are separate immersion pools for both (sometimes in the same location but not necassarily). Why do metal utensils (pots) need to be immersed? Here's a deep answer from Aryeh Kaplan's book waters of eden (a must read!): As humans, we are pulled in two directions. We are pulled upwards, toward creativity and giving. From this standpoint, we show a mastery over nature, to use our surroundings for these higher purposes. In the other direction, we are pulled downward, by our more animalistic urges for bodily pleasure and mere survival, like eating and drinking. As Jews, we immerse our metal and glass vessels (ie, pots, pans, cups…) in the mikvah. Metal pots and glass vessels represent our mastery over nature, in that we can form raw ore into pots, and melt glass into usable vessels. Amazing. The mikveh represents our higher, Divine consciousness. So, when we immerse our vessels in the mikvah, we are saying "I hope to use my power of master over nature for a higher purpose, for a lofty cause. For connection, between me and my own soul, me and the people I love, and me and the Infinite. The rules: Metal or glass utensils must be immersed in a mikveh. However, wood and plastic utensils do not require immersion. Regarding porcelain, china and Corningware, some have the custom to immerse these without a blessing. Disposable utensils (even metal and glass) do not require immersion. This obligation only applies to utensils that come into contact with food during normal use, either in preparation of the food or in its consumption. If the vessel was manufactured by a Jew, then it does not require dunking. (This is one advantage of buying Israeli products!) Regarding utensils with electric components, only the part that comes into contact with the food needs to be immersed. How to: The vessels can be dunked in any bona fide mikveh, or in a large body of natural water such as a lake or river. A swimming pool, bathtub, etc. do not qualify. The utensil should be cleaned before immersion – i.e. rust, labels, price tags and anything which does not allow the waters of the mikvah to come into contact with all the parts of the utensil must be removed. Before immersing utensils, recite the blessing: "Boruch Ata Ado-noy, Elohenu Melech Ha'Olam, asher kideshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al tevilat keilim." The entire utensil must be immersed at one time, including the handles. So you must let go of the utensil for even a split second in the water. The lid of a pot must also be immersed but not necessarily at the same time as the pot. ENJOY!
  • 18. Why do you cover your hair?
    Hair is the only part of a woman’s body, which seems to have no other function other than to add to her beauty. Women cover their hair because it is a part of their inner beauty, which only their husbands, who can get to know that inner beauty intimately, can perceive correctly. Jewish women through the ages have therefore come to perceive covering their hair as the essence of being an inner defined person. Strictly speaking, women need not cover their hair from other women, only from other men. But many women feel that their own internal sense of Tznius (Modesty) is breached when they keep their head uncovered even where it is halachikally (legally) permissible. “The head; being the part of the body encasing the mind, represents our exalted status as human beings. By emphasizing the head, we are emphasizing this statement of humanity that we emanate (i.e. graduates wear distinctive four cornered tasseled caps, Indian chiefs wear special headdresses, the High Priest in the Temple wore a distinctive hat called the mitznefet).” (Gila Manelson, Inside/Outside) The covering of a woman's hair is akin to including her aura within her inner essence (סוד המקיף) similar to a man's covering his head with his טלית (tallis) while praying. When a married woman covers her hair, she is making a statement: " You can see me and of me only what I choose. Covering one’s hair has a sub-conscious effect. It creates a distance between me and those around me. I am here, I am attractive, but I am unavailable.
  • 19. Why did G-d send the Jews, his beloved people, into a bitter, traumatic slavery?"
    The Ramban, a major kabbalist, writes that the purpose of a challenge in life is to help bring our latent potential into reality. When backed into a corner, pressed against the wall or in a terrible bind, we find capacity that we had never fully realized before and may not have even known we have. In April of 2013 in Oregon, two teenage girls saved their father’s life when they lifted a 3,000-pound tractor off their father’s chest. If asked to lift a tenth of that, they likely would say it’s impossible. However, when faced with no other option, they discovered strength they never knew they had. After surviving the difficulties of slavery and the glory of redemption two things became ingrained in the Jewish people: the first, the knowledge that they could survive and grow through difficulties without being overcome by them and the second, a special yearning for redemption. These two traits have been passed down through the generations from our mothers and fathers of old and infuse us today firstly, with the insight to recognize our challenges as powerful opportunities for growth, and secondly, with an insatiable yearning to lead humanity toward a real cultural and spiritual redemption.
  • 20. I've heard there was once a Jewish Temple and that Jews have always prayed that it should be rebuilt. I was wondering what's this all about and how does it relate to me?
    Once the Divine Connection was clear, so apparent and so real, once…. The Jewish Temple stood and was the source of inspiration, spiritual fulfillment, and vision. There the presence of Divinity was actually clear in a way like nowhere else. The meaning behind the small actions of everyday took on a higher dimension, a living communication between ourselves and G-d, and suffering was understood to be a form of rectification that only helped us grow as people. In the old days, when we felt down or disconnected from our Source, all a Jew needed to do was to trek up the mountain to the Temple in Jerusalem. Stepping into a magnified vibration of Divine Presence, one needed only to take a deep, deep whiff of the incense burning, listen closely to the music and one’s heart and soul would be reignited. The biggest calamity that occurred with the destruction of the Temple was that the Divine Force of Life went into a state of hiddeness, causing one to easily believe that there is no meaning in life and that all suffering is for absolutely nothing. And when we slip into that fallen consciousness, hope is nowhere in the vicinity. And if hope is missing within ourselves, how can we have hope for others? How can we really hear each other if we don’t have the greatest hope, belief in each other? We are in the midst of the nine days of focus on feeling the lack of the Temple, the lack of inspiration, the hiding of the Light/ But the Holy One always gives us a spark of hope. As women we can immerse into the supernal Mikveh without even getting wet (remember mikvah and mikavah – Hebrew for a female actively having hope- are the same letters). Torah wisdom says that God is the mikveh of the People of Israel. In the midst of a test, in the midst of the pain and confusion, we immerse, find refuge in God, through hope. “Gevalt, never give up! There is always hope” Rebbe Nachman says. Hope to Rebuild. To rebuild our home, our lives, our families, our relationships, and how? By rebuilding our hope in our Divine Connection. So when you hear about the loss of the Jewish Temple and the hope that it will be rebuilt - you can connect into that part of your heart that knows there is always hope in every situation and you too can offer a prayer for the rebuilding of the Temple, soon and in our days.
  • 21. Do you ever regret becoming Orthodox?
    I don't consider myself "Orthodox." This label assumes uniformity, conformism, complacency with having reached a definite truth in terms of belief and practice. I am a baalat Teshuva- The word teshuva means, "return". I am constantly returning to a more real expression of my own soul, to a deeper connection with the people around me, and with an ever more actual relationship with my Creator. Being a baalat Teshuva, challenges me to constantly have the mindset of "I am ready to be." About seven years ago, when I came to the realization that the happenings of my life and the world at large are not simply spilled ink on a page, rather, that every subtle detail is handcrafted with Infinite wisdom, I began to live. I began to experience the happenings of my life as expressions of relationship, G-d whispering into my ear, I'm here. For me, this came with responsibility. If I want to be in relationship with the Divine, I had to find out what He wanted from me. I quickly learned that the ancient wisdom of the Torah is an articulation of the Divine will. So, with a bit of trepidation, caution and thrill, I answered back, "I will do. I am ready to be." Is it easy to keep all of the laws? Sometimes yes, and sometimes not. That’s how it is in all relationships. Do I really feel like making my husband a snack after I fed the children, and put them to bed? Usually not. But do I do it anyway? Yes. Because connection to my husband overrides my desire to sit down and rest. Being a baalat teshuva is intense. I have moments of being totally inspired, flying on revelation, love and awe. And, I have moments of darkness, concealment of Divine light, and eclipse of His love. In those moments I call out from the dark. A voice emerges from that little part of me that knows He is always listening, and I ask "where are You?" Speaking a word of truth always draws His light back into my life, and everything again becomes illuminated. I feel His love again permeating, even the pain, and I see how every subtle detail of my life, is a Divine gift, handcrafted to help me return. I am constantly in the process of becoming. COMMENTS
  • 22. How can I strengthen my Jewish identity in the US? What are some simple first steps?
    When we do a Jewish action, a mitzvah, everyday, we reconnect and re-establish our Jewish identity. I am doing this because I’m a Jew. As human beings and particularly as Jews, we are born with a mandate to find the particular mission we were created for. We carve this out using the tools of a Jew, mitzvot. I once heard a great metaphor based on Michelangelo the famous sculptor. Michelangelo said about his work that he has never created anything new. He simply takes that beauty which is in the stone and brings it out. The stone, before Michelangelo, is just a stone, after Michelangelo, it is a priceless piece of art. In the case of the sculpture it is very uninteresting how many strikes of the chisel were made, how many mistakes and how many corrections. No one is interested in keeping score. What is important is the final product. (from Rabbi Yaacov Haber). It doesn’t matter the wrong turns we have made . The mitvot (commandments and good deeds) are the tools we have to find the Jewish beauty in ourselves and to bring it out. A deeper meaning of the word mitzvah is ztavta- connection. When I do this Jewish action - I connect Upward with my Creator, Outward with the world and Inward with myself as a Jew. So as a simple first step in strengthening your Jewish identity in the U.S. we would suggest taking one mitzvah such as the mini-mikveh of washing your hands in the morning – (Click Here for more info.), saying shema at night (and with your children) or any other mitzvah that speaks to you, doing a concrete action.
  • 23. After growing up secular, how did you become more traditionally Jewish? What were the difficulties? How do you adapt to such a different culture?"
    I grew up in a mostly secular home with a sprinkling of Jewish traditions surrounding Shabbat and the holidays. Occasionally I would hear my overgrown hippy parents talking about spirituality, and while some of it tripped me out, I was aware that I have a soul, and that it’s an essential part of who I am. As a kid I felt that nobody would take me seriously if I asked questions about spirituality. In my teens when I had some opportunities to speak to adults about some of my spiritual questions, for the most part I was not impressed with their answers. Sometimes the secular dogma that was spouted was downright stupid, and I wondered how people so intelligent and successful could be so dumb when it came to perhaps the most important area of life – the life of the soul. Were there any real answers out there? Was humanity doomed to idiocy when it came to matters of the spirit? Where I grew up it was expected that I would do well in school, get a scholarship to college, and eventually find work that would keep me comfortably middle class. I remember once in a high school Spanish class we had a discussion about what we wanted to be when we grew up. After giving it some thought I realized that there wasn’t anything past college that I really wanted to do, no adult life that held any appeal to me. I had not met any adults that that I felt inclined to model my life on. Chasing money, fame and boys seemed futile, and what else could life offer me? I was used to having a strong sense of will and knowing my own desires, so I found my lack of will for the future disconcerting. I even wondered if the fact that I couldn’t imagine myself over the age of 25 meant that I just might not live that long. At the time, that thought didn’t bother me much. What would I be missing anyhow? Perhaps because I never felt at home in the secular world, my transition to a religious lifestyle was kind of like the moment in the ugly duckling story when that ugly little guy discovers that he’s actually a swan. I knew that I didn’t belong in the world where I had grown up. Discovering that I am a ‘swan,’ and even more exciting, that there is a whole breed of humans similar to myself, was a very freeing experience. Finally I found intelligent answers to my spiritual questions and found a community of seekers with whom I would happily live past 25. I found role models and families that inspired me to build my own home. It wasn’t an overnight transformation. The first few times I experienced Shabbos I stepped out for a cigarette when I felt the need. Each summer season, my tan line would migrate. The first summer there was evidence of a standard bathing suit. The next summer the tan line was above my elbow, and the next summer it was below the elbow. When I realized a few years later that my tan lines outlined only my watch and sunglasses I couldn’t help but chuckle. The same was true with keeping kosher; I took it one step at a time. It took about a year before I was fully keeping my hands off guys, but eventually it just felt right; anything less was demeaning to the woman that I was becoming. In high school, I ran to band practice in purple combat boots, a black leather jacket and ripped jeans, as my long purple curls blew in the wind. At first I felt that the orthodox culture was very different from what I was used to – and at least on the outside, it was. I found that people were open minded in accepting someone from outside; I was probably more judgmental of them than they were of me, but with time, I came to value individuality as an expression of personality, and not something that needs to be flaunted externally. I can’t say that it was always easy. Like anything important in life, there were struggles and hardships. In high school, most of my friends had been guys. I found the girls competitive and fickle. Why hang out with girls and talk about guys when you can just hang out with guys? In my new religious lifestyle the standard was separation between guys and girls, and it took me some time to learn to build friendships with other women and not get stuck in the competitive nonsense that I had seen so much of in the past. Eventually I connected with others like myself, strong minded spiritual searchers who had left much behind to go on the pilgrimage of life. Twenty years later these are still my closest friends. One of the things that I love about living in the Tsfat community is that everyone is striving to grow spiritually. We have gathered from all corners of the earth – literally – in order to find a Torah lifestyle and a supportive community here together. Another challenge for me was integrating the creative parts of me into my spiritual lifestyle. At first, all I wanted to do was learn Torah, but eventually it became important for me to express myself musically, as I had in high school, and at the time there weren’t many opportunities. I got together with a powerhouse woman violinist whose last performance had been a one woman show where she played her violin while hangin upside down from a trapeze! We put on concerts togetherthat met our needs and were an inspiration to others. Sometimes I missed my jeans, but I managed with a jean skirt. Nothing has ever matched the non-kosher Chinese food that I used to love, but its okay, I’m not starving! And my neighborhood supermarket stocks kosher Ben & Jerry’s, so I’m good… Becoming religious didn’t make me into a different person. I may dress differently and do a lot of things differently, but it’s still me, with my strong will and a streak of creativity trying to suck all of the juice out of life at any given moment.
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