Just Ten Minutes?

“Take ten minutes out of your day,
To do what you enjoy,” the “experts” now say.
Ten whole minutes? Is that all we get?
Nearly twenty-four hours with pleasures unmet?
Has it come down to this? Must we settle so low?
Our foremother knew more than today’s “experts” know.
“All her days were good,” our Torah makes clear.
Sarah enjoyed every minute – each year.
And within our souls, her dormant trait lies,
An innate potential that need only arise,
To extract out life’s pleasures, and feel ecstasy,
Not just for ten minutes – for an eternity!

Bracha Goetz is a Mentoring Coordinator in Baltimore, Maryland and the author of eleven children’s books, including The Happiness Box, The Invisible Book, and What Do You See At Home? For Bracha’s presentations, you’re welcome to email bgoetzster@gmail.com.

Dealing With the Loneliness of an Older BT Mother.

My wife is in her late forties and finds that she has no one to relate to.

We have a 3, 5, 7 , 11 , 13 and 15 year old.

She finds that all of the ladies her age are grandmas and all of the ladies in her situation are much younger.

How do women deal with the special challenges and difficulties of the BT Mommy and housewife?

In addition, how do you deal with the difficulties of coming from a small secular family to trying to raise your own large orthodox family?


Torah Homeschooling

Homeschooling is beginning to boom amongst Orthodox Jews. Last summer, a Baltimore woman, Mrs. Avivah Werner, organized The First Annual Torah Homeschool Conference along with other local homeschooling parents. People came from as far away as New York, Michigan, and Sharon, MA to attend the conference. Presenters spoke on subjects ranging from different homeschooling philosophies and methodologies to practical issues such as dealing with state regulations. It was so successful that this summer, on Sunday June 13th, Mrs. Werner has organized the Second Annual Torah Homeschool Conference, to take place at the Park Heights JCC in Baltimore. Rabbi Daniel Lapin will be one of the featured speakers. (Schedule, speakers and registration info: http://jewishhomeschooling.wordpress.com/ )

The phenomena of homeschooling has exploded in America in the past decade, growing 12 times faster than public school enrollments. As of 2007, 2.2 percent of American children were being homeschooled, 1,508,000 all told. While its modern roots are in progressive alternative educational theory, its biggest practitioners are committed conservative Christians, who often reject public school for its ostensibly decadent secular program of indoctrination, and whose vision of an ideal pedagogy often harks back to very traditional methods. That homeschooling isn’t big yet amongst Orthodox Jews is surprising given that many Orthodox families are dissatisfied with the secular academics in yeshivas (associated with traditional Orthodoxy), and often with the religious studies in day schools (associated with Modern Orthodoxy), and that some children fail to thrive and even suffer socially, intellectually, and even spiritually in these institutions, and that this can contribute to children “going off the derech” (becoming alienated and non-observant), a trend that yeshiva education doesn’t seem able to fully stem, and in some instances, may accelerate. Consider too that yeshivas and day schools can cost significantly more than $10,000 per child per year, a very daunting figure for even relatively small Orthodox families, which are still significantly larger than the average American family. Given all these factors, and considering homeschooling’s deep roots in Jewish tradition prior to the industrial revolution, it would seem like a natural fit for significant parts of the Orthodox Jewish community.
Read more Torah Homeschooling

A Glimpse of Redemption

By Michael Freund

This past Tuesday night, at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, I think I may have witnessed a foretaste of the Messianic era.

It was the eve of Yom Yerushalayim, the day marking the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War, when young Jewish paratroopers armed as much with faith as with firearms stormed through the enemy’s positions and unshackled the Temple Mount from nearly two millennia of incarceration under foreign control.

From across the country, thousands of Israelis streamed into the square in front of the Wall, anxious to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of this historic event and to bask in the aura of this holy place.

Some wore jeans, others wore dark suits or black caftans. But whatever their choice of outer attire, all were drawn to this spot for the same inner reason: to affirm our indestructible bond to Jewish history as well as our unshakeable faith in Jewish destiny.

The Wall stood there in all its grandeur and I could only marvel at the thought of all the despair and dreams, the hopes and the horrors that it must have beheld over the course of the centuries.

Indeed, the jagged grooves and soft cool crevices in the Wall seem to have been chiseled not by the hands of ancient workmen, but by the generations of tears that surely streamed down its façade.

But on this very special night, the massive stones would shine with sheer delight, as a remarkable and uplifting scene rapidly unfolded.

A large group of yeshiva students hailing from the Maarava high school near Modi’in swayed back and forth, deeply ensconced in the evening prayers with their black hats deftly perched atop their heads and dress jackets clinging tenaciously to their shoulders.

At the conclusion of the service, they began to sing, forming a series of concentric circles which slowly shuffled about, revolving in loop-like fashion with solemn intensity.

Nearby, a crowd of students from the capital’s religious-Zionist Horev school made their way towards the Wall, and the contrast between the two could not have been more striking.

With their knitted kipot and sandals, and slightly disheveled teenage look, the Horev boys looked ever so informal. They proudly sported white T-shirts with slogans on the back in Hebrew that said, “there is no Zionism without Zion”, and they were aflame with patriotic fervor.

The Maarava students, by contrast, projected formality and reserve, with their dress shoes, white button-down shirts and dark slacks conveying a seriousness of purpose and resolve.

And then, it happened.

As if by some unexplainable force, the two groups were drawn together. Enlarging the circles and joining hands, they proceeded to dance, and sing, and celebrate in unison.

All the ideological and theological disagreements, all the politics and mutual suspicion were cast aside, as the young scholars of Horev and Maarava joined arms – literally and figuratively – to thank G-d and rejoice in Jerusalem.

Faster and faster they went, picking up speed with each circuit, as their voices rose in a thunderous crescendo. “May this be an hour of mercy,” they pleaded with the Creator, “and a moment of acceptance before You”, as the seemingly myriad schisms that routinely divide our people melted away in the heat of Jewish harmony.

Onlookers stared in amazement at this scene, as Haredim and Religious Zionists, “black hats” and “knitted yarmulkes”, held onto each other firmly and with a familial grip, revealing the brotherly instinct that lay within.

Suddenly, the circles converged, enveloping two men at their center: Rabbi Baruch Chait, the founder of Maarava, and Rabbi Yitzhak Dor, the Rosh Yeshiva of Horev.

They reached across the divide, and toward one another, and started dancing with all the passion and zeal of two young grooms on their wedding day.

Their faces ablaze with joy, these two spiritual teachers gave all those present a tangible lesson in Jewish unity.

Inspired by the scene, their students began chanting a paraphrase of the words traditionally recited in the Sabbath Mussaf prayers by Sephardim: “Together, together, all of them together, shall thrice repeat with one accord the holy praise unto Thee”, with a clear and very vocal emphasis on the word “together”.

The purity of the moment was overwhelming, and I have no doubt that G-d looked down from Heaven like a proud Father enjoying the sight of His children bonding collectively in one accord.

Herein lies one of Jerusalem’s greatest and most intimate of secrets: its ability to unite Jews from across the widest of spectrums.

In just a few years from now, the bulk of those Horev students will be donning green uniforms and taking up arms to defend the state, while many of those in Maarava devote themselves to the study of our people’s ancient texts.

They will vote for different parties, live in different communities, and largely refrain from marrying into one another’s families.

But for a brief instant this past Tuesday, all that seemed very remote.

At the sight of such overwhelming Jewish fraternity, I was sure that the long-awaited Redeemer was about to arrive. Senseless love took the place of senseless hatred beneath the silhouette of where our Temple once stood.

Yet there was no sounding of the great Shofar that night, nor did the Messiah abruptly appear. The dancing eventually faded out, and people inevitably went home, going their separate ways.

But that evening, I am certain, I caught a powerful glimpse of our redemption, when all Jews will unite to serve G-d and embrace one another as brothers.

If we could just translate that moment from passing to permanent, if we could simply gaze beyond all the disparities. Then, perhaps, that glimpse just might finally become transformed into the enduring fixture we all long to see.

Originally posted in The Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2010

The Holy Potato

The state of Idaho is not a place where one would expect to find many Jews, but that hasn’t stopped Chabad Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz and his wife Esther. They moved to Boise, Idaho five and a half years ago with the goal of building up the local Jewish community. When they arrived, they were greeted by fields upon fields of potatoes, but little else. The state had only a single synagogue, a Reform congregation, but virtually no other organized Jewish community resources. However that’s exactly the environment that the Lifshitzes were looking for.

“I was working as a rabbi in Bal Harbor, Florida when we got married. Esther and I decided we wanted to do something special for other Yidden and help them,” Rabbi Lifshitz said. “I was doing kiruv work out there and helping them, I was very involved, but I realized as much as we were doing, we wanted to be in a place where we were really needed.

“In Florida or New York, rabbis are a dime a dozen. There are plenty of Jews that need to be reached out to, but we wanted to be in place where there’s not much going on and our presence would be crucial. We started looking into different options through Chabad. The name Idaho came up. The first time it came up, we didn’t know what to make of it. People hear Idaho and think of potatoes, not Jews.”

The Lifshitzes took an exploratory trip to Idaho to gauge whether they could make it work. They traveled the state, met with the few Jews they could find, and scoped out the Jewish resources. The low cost of living has attracted newcomers and even major corporations to the state over the last several years, and handfuls of Jews have been moving in. The Lifshitzes decided that Idaho was exactly what they were looking for. So immediately after Pesach, they packed up their bags and moved out west.

As soon as the Lifshitzes arrived, they began looking to meet local Jews. One day, Rabbi Lifshitz walked into a local office to meet a Jewish man whom he had heard worked there. Suddenly the man burst out of his office with a look of horror on his face. When he was told by the receptionist that a Rabbi had come to see him, he immediately assumed that there had been a death in his family, because he didn’t know any other reason why a rabbi would be visiting him!

Another time, Rabbi Lifshitz was shopping in a supermarket in Boise with his son. The two were speaking to each other in Yiddish when a man approached them. He introduced himself and said he was also Jewish. He had read an article about Rabbi Lifshitz in the local paper. The man said he grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in California and had moved from there to Idaho three years earlier. Having not heard Yiddish in years, his ears perked up when he heard it. Rabbi Lifshitz schmoozed with him and invited him for Shabbat dinner. The man took him up on his offer several weeks later.

“You never know what type of yid a person is and what will inspire him,” Rabbi Lifshitz said. “He’s looking for chicken soup and kneidilach, but his neshama is looking for a connection to Yiddishkeit.”

The Lifshitzes had several such experiences of Jews coming out of the woodwork to introduce themselves, but it was difficult when they first arrived. The challenge was compounded by the fact that Esther gave birth to a baby boy soon after they moved in and they were making a bris. They needed to invite ten Jews to the bris to make a minyan, but how could they go about finding them?

Their challenge was solved just in time, literally by a knock on the door. Rabbi Lifshitz opened the door, to find the local mailman hand-delivering his mail. The Lifshitz’s house had a mailbox by the street, but the mailman decided to bring the mail to the door to welcome the new family to Idaho.

The mailman stuck out his hand and introduced himself.

“I’m Hershel the mailman.”

Rabbi Lifshitz was too shocked to answer.

“Your name is really Hershel?” Rabbi Lifshitz finally stammered. “I’m Mendel. I wasn’t expecting to find a Hershel in Idaho.”

The mailman explained that he was originally from Long Island, New York. Other than knowing that his first name was Jewish, he had little other connection to Judaism. He had grown up in a mixed-marriage home, and when he was 11 and his parents got divorced, he moved with his non-Jewish father to Idaho. After that he had no other Jewish connections until Rabbi Lifshitz arrived.

Rabbi Lifshitz points out the clear Hand of G-d present in the story. This wasn’t Hershel’s normal route as he was just filling in for another mail carrier who was on vacation that week. However he knew of other Jews in the area, which helped the Lifshitzes to gather a minyan together for the bris.

The morning of the bris arrived, and the Lifshitzes were surrounded by an unexpected group of new Jewish friends. That group has grown significantly in the few years since then, and many people have taken on new mitzvot and other observances. The Lifshitzes have also brought many new Jewish resources to the state, from kosher food to Jewish education. Now when people think of Idaho, they don’t just think of potatoes, but they think of Jews too!

Michael Gros is the former Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He writes from Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. Send comments to michaelgros@gmail.com To receive the column via email or see Michael’s articles published in other publications, visit http://www.michaelgros.com

Published in The Jewish Press January 2010

Yom Yerushalayim

Tonight starts the date of 28 Iyar. This is the date that the holy city of Jerusalem was reunited, and her children who had longed for her were finally able to return to the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and all of the Old City and Mount of Olives.

The Arabs had for 19 years prevented Jews from visiting these holy sites, and had desecrated places of worship and Torah study, and the even the ancient Jewish cemetery. On this day, Zion’s children returned to her. Within another 24 hours, longing children would also return to Gush Etzion and Hevron.

To tell the truth, one shouldn’t have to say anything about Jerusalem and Jerusalem Day. Devoted Jews have faced Jerusalem in prayer daily since the time of King Solomon. All over the world and all throughout our history, our eyes and hearts have been turned only to the place the Torah calls ‘the place God chooses’.

But something must be said.

So I will refer us to a famous narrative concerning Rav AY Kook, when the nations of the world questioned the Jewish place in Jerusalem, and the place of Jerusalem in Jewish hearts and Judaism.

“Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook recalled the tremendous pressures placed upon his father that evening in 1930 in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“How intense, how grave, how terrible were the threats and intimidations at that time, with all of their bitter pressure, from two nations [the Arabs and the British] goading us with lies and murderous traps for the sake of an agreement to relinquish ownership over the Kotel, the remaining wall of our Holy Temple…” (LeNetivot Yisrael vol. I, p. 65)

The infamous Hajj Amin al-Husseini was appointed Mufti of Jerusalem — the spiritual and national leader of the Arabs — already in the days of the first British High Commissioner. One of the many devices that he and his cohorts employed in their struggle against the Jewish Settlement was the repudiation of all Jewish rights to the Kotel HaMa’aravi, the Western Wall.

The Arabs gained a partial victory in 1922, when the Mandatory Government issued a ban against placing benches near the Wall. In 1928, British officers interrupted the Yom Kippur service and forcibly dismantled the mechitzah separating men and women during prayer. A few months later, the Mufti and his cohorts devised a new provocation. They began holding Muslim religious ceremonies opposite theKotel, precisely when the Jews were praying. To make matters worse, the British authorities granted the Arabs permission to transform the building adjacent to theKotel into a mosque, complete with a tower for themuezzin (the crier who calls Moslems to prayer five times a day). The muezzin’s vociferous trills were sure to disturb the Jewish prayers.”

The rest may be read here: www.ravkooktorah.org/YOM_YER65.htm

See too this excellent and unique post with photos from shortly after the liberation: www.templeinstitute.org/temple_mount_liberation.htm

Also posted at www.kolberamah.org.

Memories to Truly Cherish

Seth Clyman

I will never forget it. As I was driving that early Jerusalem morning I noticed the roads were empty. Where was everyone at eight thirty in the morning? The air was clean and crisp and it was strangely quiet. No one was on the streets, no buses, trucks or taxis. What a breeze. If only it was like this all the time. Then it hit me that this must be what it feels like for someone driving their car early in the morning on Shabbat.

But it wasn’t Shabbat. It was Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day, the 5th of Iyar. Everyone was sleeping. They were all up till the wee hours of the night celebrating. That’s why the roads were empty.

I remember those “all night” bonfires we would have on Yom Ha’atzma’ut thirty some odd years ago. Those great teen years, the good old ’70’s. I can still taste the potatoes and onions that we dug out from under the coals before the sun came up.

One day after all those years I finally went back to that field with the cave where we would spend those nights. I was met with disappointment. I found instead that someone had built a housing complex and a parking lot. No more field, no more cave. Just left with the memories.

I did three years in the army. I was in Lebanon before these precious kids who are in the army today were born. Buried my best friend. Gave them “the best years” of my life. Three good years, the best of friends, and truly many unforgettable moments. I wouldn’t give them back for anything.

The only things I have left from those years are the memories, a country to live in and my cracked army boots.

Traveled through Europe way back when, but didn’t make it to South America, New Zealand or India like they do today. Got married, have children and grandchildren. Can’t get enough of them.

I’ve changed over the years…we all do. Life sort of does it to you.

My father told me that before going off to World War II he proudly stated to his parents, “we are going to straighten out the mess your generation made”. Yes, he fought for four years. His theatre of war makes Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan all together look like a playground. Now look at the mess his generation left us!

Who is going to straighten things up now? Who is going to fix up our mess? One thing I know for sure is that I don’t think we can do it alone. Humanity hasn’t been able till now and I think we all may need the assistance of a Higher Authority.

Let me leave you with a thought.

The next time it is Shabbat/Saturday morning and you happen to notice how peaceful it all seems, consider this. I am home with my family and guests making kiddush over a cup of wine proclaiming an eternal deal that we the Jewish people made with God.

We will watch over Your Shabbat ….and You and Your Shabbat will watch over us.
That is definitely a memory worth cherishing.

Recognizing the Greatness of a Small Act of Kindness

I’m not exactly sure why I was so struck by this act.

There are many times when we play the equivalent of musical chairs at Mincha. We’re all listening to the Chazzan repeat the Shmoneh Esrai and then it’s time to put our heads down for Tachanun, the next part of the prayer service. And often we find there are more men then chairs and somebody is left without a chair and has to improvise by putting his head on his arm standing up or waiting for a chair.

At the Yeshiva, where I usually daven Mincha, the guys will often give up their chair. But today it seemed different. The young man didn’t know me and the chair was right next to him and a short distance from me. But when it was time to say Tachanun he motioned for me to take the chair. I signaled that he should go first and I would use it afterwords and that’s what we did.

After davening I followed him out of shul and introduced myself and asked him his name. I told him his small gesture was an Act of Geulah, an Act of Redemption. When I related the story to my son, he said I shouldn’t have said anything. But the young man seemed to appreciate my appreciation and we went our separate ways.

From one point of view, what’s the big deal. I’m sure the majority of readers of Beyond BT would have done and probably have done this or something similar. And people have certainly done many small acts of kindness for me which I didn’t acknowledge in this way. But for some reason this act created a connection, and perhaps it wasn’t so much the act, but the recognition of it. I was able to put aside my own preoccupations and see the greatness of this fellow Jew doing the right thing and in the process create a bond between us.

There are three laws of Ahavas Yisroel
1) Speak well of your fellow Jew
2) Respect your fellow Jew
3) Care about their material and physical needs

The reason I’m relating this small story is because it showed me the power of Ahavas Yisroel and how it is the key to redemption. We have so many opportunities every day to fulfill this mitzvah and in the process become greater, not just because we did the mitzvah, but because we have created a bond and helped to add another brick to the building of a greater Klal Yisroel.

Rabbi Shimon Green on Loving to Learn Torah

Rabbi Shimon Green gave a unique shiur on loving Torah and helping our children love Torah. You can download it here.

True Torah is pleasant to learn. Locking our children into Torah is not a true path. Torah is sweet and pleasant when properly taught and understood.

Humility is the starting point of learning. When somebody disagrees with our ideas, our starting must be to try and understand that person’s point of view. A true ben Torah is always interested in what the other person has to say.

Torah has the ability to connect us with that which is greater than us, namely Hashem. Torah can constantly expand us.

Please listen to the entire shiur.

How Much Time Daily Should I Spend on My Purpose in Life?

I recently received the e-mail below from a friend, asking for my thoughts on how he should allocate his time for a certain aspect of what he feels is perhaps his “life’s work,” the reason why he was placed on this earth. If you can, think about his question and my response to him. Perhaps you would have answered differently. Is there anything you would like to add? How do you approach the issue in your own life?

Here’s his question:

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to whether I am spending enough time each day working on [a certain] project. On one hand, I am working on it at least 30 minutes a day/5 days a week. However, on the other hand, if this project is one of the reasons Hashem put me on the earth, then 30 minutes is certainly not enough.
Any thoughts?

And here was my response:

I don’t know know if there’s any connection between the thoughts that if something is one of the reasons one is created that one necessarily has to spend more than half an hour a day on that thing. Is it ratzon Hashem for you to spend more than 1/2 an hour a day on it? Well that would depend. What are the alternatives? If you did spend more time, would you not have enough time to be ma’avir sedra or to learn Gemara or halacha or whatever your other sedorim are? If spending more time on it would mean doing something that you have reason to believe is against ratzon Hashem, then that would imply that spending “only” 1/2 an hour a day on your project is ratzon Hashem.

And also, what do you mean by saying that the project is “one of the reasons why Hashem put you on earth?” If you mean that on its literal level (that it is one of many reasons why Hashem created you), then what about the example of politely smiling and thanking the check-out person at the grocery store? If it’s ratzon Hashem for you to do that at the moment you finish your transaction with her, then that too is “one of the reasons Hashem put you on earth.” Does that mean that you should davka spend more than 1/2 an hour smiling at check out girls? Obviously not.

Everything that it is ratzon Hashem for one to do at any given moment is “one” of the reasons why Hashem created him. But the amount of time one should spend on that thing depends on what ratzon Hashem says is the appropriate amount of time to be spent on that thing. For pleasantly thanking check out clerks, that’s probably about 1 second. For learning kitzur shulchan aruch yomi, it’s probably the amount of time it takes to learn that, let’s say 10 minutes.

For your project, my personal opinion on how to “divine” what the amount of time is that Hashem wants you to spend on it is: See how much time you have after all of the other things you have to do. And then ask yourself where you would get the time from if you increased how much time you spent on it. (e.g., some other learning seder, sleep time, family time, work time…) Then ask yourself whether, in the aggregate, you’d be failing to fulfill what Hashem wants of you in those other areas of life. If so, then perhaps 1/2 an hour a day *is* what Hashem wants from you. If not, then you know you should increase the time since it sounds like you feel a pull to increase the time.

Make any sense?

Originally posted here.

Rabbi Shimon Green of Bircas HaTorah is Speaking in KGH on Wed, May 5th

Rabbi Shimon Green of Bircas Hatorah in Yerushalayim, will be giving a shiur for men and women
on Wednesday – May 5th, 2010 at 8:30 AM at
at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel 147-02 73rd Avenue
titled “The Essentials Needed for a Lifetime of Learning for You and Your Children”

Rabbi Green is Rosh Yeshiva and co-founded Bircas Hatorah in 1989. In addition to teaching at the Yeshiva, Rabbi Green travels widely in Israel and abroad, giving seminars, lectures and shabbatonim to audiences that range from the totally secular to very observant. His exciting presentations are famous for their depth, clarity, humor, and inspiration. Rabbi Green strives to help every Jew achieve the ecstatic Torah experience that he believes is their birthright.

Wikipedia points out that:

Yeshivas Bircas HaTorah uses a unique methodology for studying Talmud developed by Rabbi Green.

This methodology is based on a combination of the teachings found in the works “The Ways of the Gemara” by medieval Spanish scholar Rabbi Yitzchak Kanfanton, and “The Way of Understanding” and “The Book of Logic” by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto.

Rabbi Green developed this system at the behest of Rabbi Mordechai Goldstein of Jerusalem. Rabbi Goldstein felt that there was an urgent need for a systematic approach to the teaching of Talmud, and urged Rabbi Green to invest effort into its development.

In this article from Mispacha Magazine Rabbi Green says:
“Most people learn through intuition. However, many of us can make even more progress if we know how to learn consciously, following a consistent method. The Shulchan Aruch says that every Jew must study Torah, whether he is rich or poor, a genius or of minimal intelligence.”

Rabbi Green believes that serious learning doesn’t need to end after two years of yeshivah gedolah, or after a man is married. “It’s terrible that in our day and age, anyone over twenty who isn’t sitting in kollel isn’t taken seriously when it comes to Torah. Can’s such a person go to work every day and still be a ben Torah?”

Come join us on Wednesday to listen to Rabbi Green.

Waking Up Is Hard To Do

Silly me! It took me so long to open my eyes to the fact that we could have religious leaders who appear outwardly very pious and above reproach, but really aren’t. Waking up is a struggle alright.

Over thirty years ago, after searching for spirituality in many religions, reading the book, A Tzaddik in Our Times, had such a powerful effect on me. I saw for the first time that a pure, simple, kind and spiritual life could be found within my own religion. It seemed like a way of life that most valued those who courageously cared about the downtrodden. If this was the way a true Jewish hero could be identified, this was the kind of Judaism about which I wanted to learn. And, thank G-d, I got to do that. The teachers in the women’s division of Ohr Someyach, at Neve Yerushalayim and at Aish Ha Torah all seemed to embody these kind of beliefs as well. They offered such a wonderful world view, an idealistic and yet practical one that I was so grateful to finally find.

Getting married and leaving the baal teshuva yeshivas to settle in an apartment and find work, was sort of like landing with a thud, though. We discovered that the real Orthodox world we moved into wasn’t all that much like the idyllic picture that had been painted, but we were determined, with G-d’s help, to make our own beautiful world within it. With tapes and seforim and shiurim as encouragement to stay on course through the years, we were able to keep on overlooking all the behavior that didn’t seem to fit in with the lifestyle we’d chosen. And we were OK with making excuses for each seemingly crooked, arrogant or illegal action we’d encounter. As baalei teshuvas, we figured that we probably just didn’t get the whole picture. They must have great reasons, based on the Torah, for doing what they were doing – and we just probably didn’t understand them yet.

For many years we were blessed to cultivate a genuinely happy frum home, thank G-d, just overlooking what we thought were a few “bad apples” or seemingly wrong behavior that we couldn’t understand fully. But then something hit us in the face that was so traumatic, we couldn’t look away anymore. The intimidating cover-up that followed was probably even more shocking and horrifying than the initial trauma, however. We learned overnight that we were trying to be dan l’chaf zechus (giving the benefit of the doubt) too often, even when it wasn’t appropriate. We found out that could sometimes be extremely dangerous.

Naïve and way too trusting, we were hurt to the core of our beings, but not disillusioned enough to leave. We knew there was nothing better out there anyway– we’d been there and done that already. And checking out would just give the frum perpetrators and their Mafia-style supporters, that much more power and free rein as well. So we came to see that what we needed to do was ask Hashem for help to try to encourage others like us who lack the confidence and courage as we did, to work on addressing the denial and strive to actually implement improvements. Everybody has to pick and choose what they are willing to stand up for, but if frum people are less fearful of standing up when they see smaller wrongs, they hopefully won’t have to get a brick thrown in their face to wake up, like we needed.

We can’t blame our rabbis or the institutions and organizations they lead for not having courage if we don’t have it. As we take on the responsibility to clean up the dirty business we encounter, their actions will reflect ours. We initially were drawn to Torah Judaism because it seemed so sweet, and for so many of us, it really is. At the same time, we need to accept the difficult truth that power corrupts in this way of life too. We really thought that in this more spiritual lifestyle, money, power and political machinations would not sway our community’s leaders. We were taught stories about great rabbis in the past who wouldn’t take one coin for a yeshiva if the funding might have been somewhat tainted from some unsavory source. And since it is emphasized repeatedly in the Torah that bribes are strictly forbidden, we actually thought that those in positions of authority who dressed like they believed in these precepts, would actually be scrupulous about following them.

To take just one area in critical need of improvement as an example: we can wait for the administrators of our schools to create basic safety plans and written policies for dealing with sexual predators. We can wait for community leaders to demand that our day schools conduct background checks and fingerprinting of their employees, just as public schools do. We can wait for somebody harmful to teach our children about inappropriate touching. Or, each one of us can decide to take responsibility when our children are being left unprotected. We can “vote with our dollars” if that’s all that will get our administrators to pay attention. But first we have to stop fearing them.

Before the destruction of our Second Beis Hamikdash, corruption was widespread among the Kohanim Gedolim. Much more recently, in the past generation, there were many Jewish people that turned away from Orthodoxy after widespread corruption in the kashrus industry became apparent. The corrupt flaws proliferating in our midst now involving financial scandals, prostitution and abuse are being highlighted, so that we can remove them. We have a lot of work to do on ourselves if we really want to be shining lights to the world, and not just dim bulbs.

The Vilna Gaon reminds us that just as water (which is often compared to Torah) helps plants to grow, it also helps weeds to grow. Alongside the wondrous blossoming of our Torah communities, abusive and corrupt behavior can also grow, strangling what is most valuable, if left unchecked. In order to have a beautiful garden, we can really never become complacent about the weeding that goes along with it. The weeds look so much like the real thing, but they are out to strangle all that is good.

Scandals are G-d’s way of nudging us to get weeding. So after the denial, the shock, and the disillusionment have passed, we can be grateful that G-d still thinks we are up for the job.

Abuse causes agony not just for the victim, but for the victim’s family members as well, who are shunned and silenced, while well-connected perpetrators are supported. And yet, when I asked my husband just last week, what he would say if he had to tell a person in one sentence why this way of life was valuable, he responded that he would still say, “It brings the deepest pleasure possible.”

What’s different about my family now is that we are finally no longer so complacent. If it feels in some ways like we’re living under an oppressive regime in our midst, we are coming to understand now that we’re the ones responsible for letting that situation develop. Through education, however, we can enlighten each other about the frum-style intimidation and cover-up tactics that have become so successfully entrenched. In the future, things can really be the way we thought they once were.

We want to wear the outer garbs and perform the rituals as long as they are vehicles that can continue to bring us to a higher level of consciousness about G-d. Unwilling to surrender the soul of Judaism, we’re craving integrity. Parents can devote their lives to instilling purity in their children, and then have their efforts destroyed overnight. May Hashem give us all the courage to keep waking up.

Bracha Goetz serves on the Executive Committee of the national organization, Jewish Board of Advocates for Children. She also coordinates a Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters Program in Baltimore, Maryland, and is the Harvard-educated author of eleven children’s books, including Aliza in MitzvahLand, What Do You See in Your Neighborhood? and The Invisible Book. For presentations, you’re welcome to email bgoetzster@gmail.com.
This article originally appeared in the Jewish Press (4/23/10)