You’re Covered: God’s Presence is Closer Than You Think

By Allison Josephs

With four kids, ages seven and under, my husband and I have been exhausted for basically seven years straight. We’ve found that the best way to manage our sleep deprivation is by taking shifts and fortunately, the division of labor comes naturally in our house.

When darkness falls on nights that he has nothing in particular to do, the moment my husband stops moving – and this can literally be while he’s standing – the man will fall asleep. If left alone – and I must confess, I have a hard time leaving him alone if it’s before, say, 9pm – he will fall deeper and deeper asleep until he reaches a land that’s far, far away.

In other words, I take the night shift. This works out well, since the sound of a door opening or a kid coughing is enough to stir me. My nighttime duties these days involve nursing a newborn every couple hours, but also sometimes include rocking a toddler back to sleep, getting medicine for a sick five year old, and comforting a seven year old with a bad dream.

By the time morning comes, I dread wakefulness, so my dear husband takes over. The morning shift can sart as early as 5AM at times. Nowadays it often begins something like this: “Daddy, Mommy, I need yaw help…Mommy, Daddy, I’m stuck.” My husband will then stumble down the hall and open our two year old son’s door at which point he’ll declare, “I wanna watch Dora.”

During the periods that I’m nursing a baby, my morning sleep is almost always pierced by the distant sound of crying. At that point I’ll call out to my husband to let him know that I’m awake and that he can bring me the baby.

Many times when this happens the baby is cold to the touch, and there’s nothing I love more than taking my cold, crying baby under my covers and enveloping him in the warmth and the comfort that is his mommy.

While nursing him in bed like this the other day, I started thinking about God’s feminine traits. In Judaism,we believe that God is gender neutral, but has attributes that we can relate to from both genders.

We talk about God as a King when we try to conjure up images of power and majesty in our relationship with Him. But God has a feminine side as well which we refer to as the Shechinah. The Shechinah is the mother-like presence of God that is said to dwell upon us.

The wording used in conjunction with the Shechinah is usually resting “upon us” or being “spread over us,” which I used to picture as having God’s presence be above us like a ceiling. And to tell you the truth, such imagery has always been a bit disappointing to me.

Don’t get me wrong, to merit having God’s presence as close as my ceiling would be a huge deal, but having God’s presence rest only above me seems to lack the nuturing aspect that I assumed would come along with the maternal side of God.

When I brought my baby into bed the other day, though, I realized that my blankets were “spread over” him and “rested upon” him. Suddenly, my ceiling imagery came crashing down and turned into a warm, enveloping blanket.

The next time we are crying out from one of life’s challenges, may we feel God’s comfort and embrace, like a baby snuggling up close to his mother. And the next time a baby snuggles up close to his mother, may that baby let his mother sleep.

Reprinted with permission. Allison writes at Jew in the City.
Allison Josephs was raised as a proud Conservative Jew in a small town in Northern New Jersey, but due to an existential crisis she had as a child, she spent years searching for the meaning of life. At the end of high school she started looking into Judaism more deeply and saw that there was tremendous depth and beauty within Orthodox Judaism, but realized that it was an option that so few Jewish people ever considered, as public opinion of Orthodox Jews is so negative.

Allison has begun a campaign to change the public perception of Orthodox Jews and traditional Judaism through her videos, blogs, and articles. She’s also editing an anthology debunking the most common myths and misconceptions people have about Orthodox Jews. Allison has been involved in the field of Jewish Outreach for over a dozen years, teaching and lecturing, and has worked for Partners in Torah, Sinai Retreats, NCSY and Stars of David.

Life In The Fast Lane

In a blur of colors and a roar of engines, the Formula Ford race cars sped around the race track at the Riverside International Raceway in California. Hitting 125 miles an hour, George Gottlieb* pulled his car away from the pack. Lap after lap, the other cars tried to keep up with him but to no avail. After ten laps the checkered flag waved as he crossed the finish line, far ahead of his competitors. The thrill of his first victory filled his body as he jumped out of his car in a high.

Minutes later, George stood atop the winner’s podium clutching his trophy. It was a moment he had waited for literally his entire life. This was just the beginning of his career and he could already picture himself on the podium many more times after future successful races.

However as he basked in his victory, a feeling nagged at him.

“I was very excited that I had just won, but as I was standing there holding the trophy I realized something was missing,” George said. “I ended up feeling empty. I thought there had to be more to life than just this.”

George stepped down from the platform and slowly walked away from the track. Since a young boy he had dreamed about becoming a racecar driver. He had planned his whole life towards that goal, but now he just walked away from it.

“Being a professional racecar driver, it’s like any athlete. It’s totally consuming. You’re always thinking, going over tracks. It’s a 24-7 job,” George explained. “If you’re not completely 110% in it, you’ll never make it. I realized at that moment it just wasn’t what I wanted in life.”

George grew up as a Reform Jew in California, surrounded by many other non-observant Jews. Even as a teenager he felt that there had to be an order to the world and a higher divine purpose. He looked deeply into his Reform Judaism but felt that it lacked the answers he pursued. He investigated nearly every other religious system he could find. He explored parts of Christianity, looked into Native American beliefs and tried Eastern religions. Nothing rang true.

“I kept finding castles in the sky that didn’t turn out to be anything,” George said. “I was always searching for truth. I knew there was something out there.”

George was at a loss for answers to his religious questions, but applied his energy towards his goal of racing. As a child he constantly watched races on television and daydreamed about races. Once he learned to drive, he tried to race whenever he could. As a teenager he begged his parents to let him become a professional racecar drive, but they repeatedly refused.

But the years of nagging paid off. At age 18 when he was a freshman in college, he convinced his parents to let him attend the Bob Bondurant Driving School in California for one day of advanced driving training. George drove exceptionally well on the course. His instructors told him that he would make an excellent driver and that he had a successful career ahead of him. But again his parents refused.

“Over our dead bodies,” they told him. But realizing that they could not limit his choices forever, they added, “But if you really still want it, when you graduate college you can do it.”

After graduation George found a job in commercial real estate. He saved up enough money to travel to France to attend a two-week session at an elite racing school. He raced Formula Renault Turbo Martinis and absolutely loved it.

George returned to America and started working for the Skip Barber Racing School in California. It was in that job that he raced on the nearby racetrack and had his epiphany on the winner’s podium.

After realizing that his lifelong dreams were over, George began looking for other outlets for his energy and new paths to pursue in life. Soon after, a friend told him about a local class hosted by the Jewish outreach organization Aish HaTorah. He attended it and was hooked. In the class a rabbi presented popular secular topics and solicited feedback and discussion from the attendees. At the end of the class he provided the Jewish outlook on the topics. Every answer hit home with George.

“Every time I noticed how right [the Jewish perspective] was. I knew I was going on the correct path.”

With his interest lit, George began attending more local classes and then decided to attend a six-week Aish HaTorah summer program in Israel. This program solidified his realization that Orthodox Judaism held the answers to his questions. He came back for another year to learn.

Throughout his religious growth, George shared some of what he was learning with this sister and parents. During his year in Israel George’s sister graduated college, and he convinced her to try an Aish program in Israel. She loved it and stayed on to learn. Their parents had retired at a young age, and so came to visit George and his sister in Israel. They attended a handful of classes at Aish, spent time in the Aish community, and decided that this was for them as well.

Now the entire Gottlieb family is observant, all thanks to George’s constant curiosity. The fervor and dedication that he had applied towards his earlier goal of becoming a successful racecar driver led him and family towards the correct course on the racetrack of life.

* Not his real name

Michael Gros is the former Chief Operating Officer of the outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. He writes from Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. The Teshuva Journey column chronicles uplifting teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. Send comments to More articles at

Published in The Jewish Press in June 2010

What Should Baalei Teshuvah Do To Increase Their Chances of Acceptance?

Acceptance and Rejection are big concerns of Baalei Teshuva.

What should Baalei Teshuvah do to increase their chances of acceptance?

What should Baalei Teshuvah avoid doing to minimize the chances of rejection?

Is it even possible for Baalei Teshuvah to increase their chances of acceptance?

Submitted by Derech Emet

BT Martyrdom: There’s Really A Name For It!

My personal life calendar operates around the great upheaval through my discovery of Yiddishkeit. If that is “year 1”, then 10BC (Before Change) was my Bar Mitzvah, and 5AD (After Discovery) was when I got married. This being the case, there were other notable events which had far reaching consequences as well. And, like they say, timing is everything.

In 2BC, my father was remarried, this time to a non-Jewish woman. I secretly would have preferred that he marry the Jewish woman he had been dating a few years back, but, alas, he decided this wasn’t to be. (She was quite upset, I happen to know.) Nevertheless, he’s my dad, so I celebrated with him in the Hall on the lake, and I wondered what was going through my grandmother’s mind as her siblings paraded around her. Perhaps it made no difference, since her husband, my grandfather, had done the same thing.

In 1BC, my brother, faithful to the ways of his avos, became engaged to a non-Jewish woman as well. A very nice lady, she was, and I congratulated him on his choice and wished him the best. However, as he was making his plans, my life went on, and the wedding wouldn’t be until 2AD.

In 1AD, my brother announced he was to be wed in a church (they liked the stained-glass windows, they said). Already I had a bad feeling about this, since in 8BC, I attended a cousin’s wedding in a church, and felt quite nauseous while sitting in there. (Perhaps it was that statue on the wall accusingly staring at me.) But now, more than ever, I was quite troubled. When I asked our local posuk about going into a church, he answered that he would think that if an Arab is chasing me with a knife it might be permissible, but probably not. The strong language was so I would get the picture.

In 2AD, life was so confusing. Despite knowing the direction I wanted to go, I still had so much to sort out. Did I really care if my brother married someone not Jewish? Really really? None of the terutzim regarding intermarriage sat well with me at that early stage, but I had to chose a derech…and stick with it. I understood what the rabbis say, and felt they were right, but what about my family?

I told my brother I wasn’t going. He thought I was joking…I wouldn’t be best man at his wedding?? I’ll skip the blood and gore…it was awful. Devastation doesn’t even come close. My father’s blood pressure became a steady 400/200. It was actually a relief when he stopped talking to me (although perhaps five years was overdoing it a bit.) My mother did understand to some extent, but cried anyway. And now, in 20AD, my brother still hasn’t said a word to me, despite numerous attempts to reach out.

My extended family was horrified. I could not help but think that this was some sort of chillul H-Shem, despite the rabbis telling me it was the opposite. But how could that be? What does my family think about orthodox Jews now? They’re not exactly running to their local kiruv center. How could I have answered my father’s main objection: “You danced at my wedding, didn’t you?! What happened since then?” See? Timing is everything.

I was alone. I just threw my family over a bridge. Goodbye family. And did the rabbis understand? I wondered. So there I was at 2AD, thousands of miles away and nothing to say. Looking back, I know that not going was the right thing. I bet, though, that it could’ve and should’ve been handled much differently, but that’s in the past. But what I didn’t know is that my whole experience had a name!

Have You Dealt With Relatives Trying to Make Your Kids Less Observant?

A recent article in the new Torah oriented magazine, Ami had an article about a BT family, where the children we’re drawn off-the-derech by the wife’s parents.

Have you ever heard of similar situations?

Have you ever heard of or dealt with parents who try to influence their grandchildren to be less observant?

How would/did you handle either of the above scenarios?

Three on Kiruv and Ba’alei Teshuva

By Jonathan Rosenblum

This year’s Association of Jewish Outreach Programs (AJOP) convention included a broader than usual spectrum of kiruv workers across the Orthodox spectrum. For instance, Hart Levine, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, described in one session a project he initiated while an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania of Orthodox students on the Penn campus inviting fellow Jewish students for Shabbat meals, Sedarim, to learn Hebrew and text study. Since graduating, Levine has worked to spread this initiative on nine other campuses with a significant cohort of modern Orthodox students, with day school backgrounds and often one or two years of post-high school learning in Israel. As campus kiruv becomes an ever larger slice of the overall kiruv budget, Levine’s initiative raises the question of whether and how the student efforts could be combined with those of full-time kiruv workers on campus.

One of the featured speakers at the AJOP convention was Rabbi Steven Burg, the national director of NCSY. He told a story of tracking down a blogger who was consistently posting highly critical remarks about Orthodox kiruv. The young man was thrilled that anyone had taken note of his complaints, and told Rabbi Burg that he had once been a student in a ba’al teshuva yeshiva. As long as he learned in the yeshiva, he related, all he heard from his rabbis was how great he was. But when he decided to leave because he was not yet prepared to take on a life of full observance, he was dropped like a sack of potatoes (or at least that’s how he perceived it.)

As far as that young man was concerned, the message was: You are only of interest as long as you seem headed in the desired direction. The effect of such an attitude is to turn the would-be ba’al teshuva into the chafetz shel mitzvah (the object with which the mitzvah is performed) of the one who seeks to draw him close to Torah. No one wants to feel like someone else’s chafetz shel mitzvah.

Even with the best of intentions it is possible for kiruv professionals to slip into such a mindset. Campus kiruv workers, for instance, who are constantly pushed by funders’ demands to enroll new students in programs, may find themselves shortchanging those who have already gone through programs and denying them the ongoing attention they need.

Whenever one hears the ugly phrase, “I made so-and-so frum,” one should beware of the attitude that those who become frum are notches in the gun of those who helped them along their path. No one can “make” someone else frum, just as there are no formulas for mass producing ba’alei teshuva.

When someone in whom one has invested much effort and developed a relationship does not become fully observant, disappointment is natural. But that does not mean that the efforts were worthless or that one is a failure. For one thing, one never knows what the impact of that investment will prove to be years later. NCSY, for instance, works primarily with Jewish public school students from non-observant homes. Historically, no more than forty percent of those students will become shomrei Torah u’mitzvos. But beyond the fact that it is impossible to know in advance which ones will fall into which group, it is a mistake to feel that nothing was achieved with respect to the other sixty percent. As Rabbi Burg pointed out, NCSY graduates will rarely be found among those Jewish students leading campus coalitions against Israel.

Of course, as in every other field, there are those who are more successful in facilitating growth and those who are less. But the key determinant, over the long run, is likely to be the commitment to sharing Torah with one’s fellow Jews and the ability to establish deep personal attachments.

I once asked a ba’al teshuva from Detroit what was the secret of the phenomenal success of Rabbi Avraham Jacobowitz in drawing close so many Jews over the years. He replied, “It’s simple, he loves every Jew.” Recently, I had the opportunity to spend five days in the home of two others who have that quality of loving every other Jew, Rabbi Doniel and Esti Deutsch. Rabbi Deutsch founded Chicago Torah Network (CTN), together with Rabbi Moshe Katz, over twenty years ago.

CTN is not so much a kiruv organization as an extended family, and like a family those who enter through any of its various portals are members forever. CTN deals in individuals, not numbers. Over the years, I have spent a number of Shabbos meals at the Deutsch’s overflowing Shabbos table. The recent Shabbos meal included a young widow and her high school age daughter, a recently married couple just back from a few years of study in Eretz Yisrael, and two university students at different stages of their religious development and in need of a religious family with which to connect. By the time I returned on Motzaei Shabbos, the Deutschs were already working on their Shabbos list for the next week, just as parents figure out which of their children will be with them the next Shabbos.

It is comforting to know that at least with respect to Chicago there is always an address to which any newcomer to the city can be sent with confidence that they will receive all the love and attention they need.

Originally Published in Mishpacha Magazine

The Challenge of Learning Time Allocation

By Ilene Rosenblum

Compared with 2009, in 2010 I was a total Torah study slacker. On the one hand, I know that I need to, well, cut myself slack. I’m a working woman, and a kallah at that! It would seem though, that now, more than ever, would I need some structure and guidance that I’ve found in the past from the wisdom of tradition.

Part of it is also burnout. At the end of a long day in front of a computer screen, I don’t want to stress my brain more by pulling apart some text, or listen to a shiur. In fact, even when reading an interesting novel or non-fiction book in English, I find myself dozing off, usually after no more than 10 minutes. Blame it on insufficient sleep or an inability to sit in front of a book and concentrate on that one task, in the age of internet interactivity, but it’s my reality.

There’s another issue at stake too. Given the time crunch and lack of focus/sleepiness, what do I do with my limited resource for printed media consumption in my spare time. Part of me feels that I should study some more Torah, as part of my wanting to become more knowledgeable about Jewish practice and being able to make educated decisions about what I do or don’t do. Another part of me says די כבר, enough already. You went and made some pretty drastic lifestyle changes and live in an environment with mostly observant Jews. Shouldn’t you learn about something else?

The question is “why?” My secular, liberal arts education would tell me that it’s important to understand and appreciate people of different cultures, who live differently than you do, and to have a working knowledge of politics, literature and science. But, day-to-day, it doesn’t matter to me much whether I can tell you about the British government or have read One Hundred Years of Solitude (I tried, but boy was it difficult keeping track of multiple characters with the same name!)

If I want to study Torah, and only Torah, why not? In fact, there are those who claim that the knowledge and wisdom imparted in the Torah is so vast that it is all-encompassing. That is in part why ultra-Orthodox men will sometimes not learn more than a rudimentary level of mathematics, science, foreign languages, and so on (Women are not obligated to learn Torah and some need to learn secular work skills in order to find jobs to support the family.) Learning something else would be bittul Torah, wasting time better spent in Torah study.

To what extent do we learn something new from reading the Torah through each year and bring something new to it ourselves? And to what extent should we be spending time spreading our reading wings to texts never encountered before?

Our sages teach that there is endless wisdom in the Torah. A section of the Talmud, Pirkei Avot, Ethics of Our Fathers, says that you can find countless chiddushim in the Torah.

בן בג בג אומר הפוך בה והפוך בה דכולה בה (פרק ה משנה כב)א

It’s true that many of the laws and stories encompassed in the Torah’s teachings, particularly in the Gemara, seem to impart a much more advanced level of knowledge about human biology, psychology, and even hard science than contemporary documents and that they might be considered even “progressive” by the standards of non-Jewish cultures at the time they were penned. But are we not supposed to explore God’s creation for ourselves?

There is so much Torah I wish to study. I haven’t even gone through what I consider to be the very basics of studying the books of the Tanach. But at the same time, delving into minutiae of halachic debate or reading ancient stories doesn’t always seem like the most valuable use of my time. Were I to only study Torah, I would be ignorant of a lot of the world around me. Some would find that to be a good thing.

I’ve wondered quite a bit how much the experience of growing up in Israel is different than growing up in the United States. For one thing, how is it that all of your schoolmates and neighbors are Jewish? If you study Judaism all day long, are around Jews all day long, and you’re hardly exposed to other types of people, or at least people of other races and religions, what happens when you go abroad? What happens to your intellectual development and decision making? Is your religious faith and observance strengthened or weakened?

I’m really grateful to be living in a country and a more specifically a city where I can easily meet friends for a kosher lunch and the buses wish you a Purim Sameach during the month of Adar. It’s hard to ignore the Jewish cycle here. But I’m also thankful for having the experience of having to make a real sacrifice in order to find kosher food, go store-to-store hunting down candles, and to incorporate Judaism into my life when the world around me doesn’t stand still on Friday night.

Ilene writes at

Teleconference: Thurs. Feb. 10th – Safe and Secure; Keeping Your Children Protected from Pedophiles

Join Rabbi Yakov Horowitz and Rabbi Avraham Mifsud for a 30 minute live telephone parenting conference call entitled:

Safe and Secure: Keeping Your Children Protected From Pedophiles

In this call, you will learn practical and age appropriate ways to teach your children about safety and personal space. Helping your children understand appropriate personal boundaries is one of the most effective tools you can give them to help ensure their safety. At the most recent Agudath Israel convention, the Novominsker Rebbe, שליט״א said that we have an obligation to make sure our children understand what are appropriate physical boundaries. Listen in to learn how to have these important discussions with your children.

When: Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Time: 9:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EST

Conference line: (712) 432-1001

Access code: 482469604#

Time on the conference will be dedicated to YOUR questions! Email your questions for this topic to: by 6:00 p.m. Thursday, February 10th, 2011 or click here to post them online.

This call is sponsored by The Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES and NASO: National Association for Support & Outreach.

To sign up for Rabbi Horowitz’s weekly emails, please click here.

Creating a Consciousness of Connection

One of the problems we face is a lack of support and connection. There are many different needs: jobs, housing, spouses, advice, friendship and in our increasingly busy world there seems to be a shortage of people to turn to.

A first step is to try to create a consciousness of connection and caring. We’re not all in the position to run big projects but we’re all in the position to take small steps to collectively address the problem.

Some of the best advice I’ve heard on this subject is from Rebbetzin Heller, who points out that creating connection involves asking ourselves two questions when we’re talking to someone:
1) What can I learn from this person?
2) What can I give to this person?

Everybody has knowledge, insights and perspectives that we don’t have and that they want to share. All we have to do is listen and learn and in the process we not only gain from what they teach, but we also create a connection to the person.

Giving comes in many shapes and sizes like finding someone a job, making a shidduch, giving advice, giving compliments, building confidence or just having a listening ear. Giving is the great connection generator and if we just raise our awareness of what’s involved, we can create the bonds we all want and need.

One of the foremost experts on behavior change suggests the follow steps to create new habits:
1) Make it tiny – simplify the behavior
2) Find a spot in your routine where this tiny behavior can fit in
3) Train the cycle – do it every day

If once a day we approach a person with the consciousness of learning and/or giving we can grow this habit and create beneficial connections for ourselves and all the people we come in contact with.

One of the things we want to do through Beyond BT is host live events where people can connect with one another. The next one is an Oneg scheduled this Shabbos, February 11 from 8:30 pm to 11:30 pm in Kew Gardens Hills. We encourage everybody in Kew Gardens Hills this Shabbos to stop by. It’ll give you a great opportunity to work on your new learning/giving/connecting habit.

Ten Topics for the Beyond BT Oneg Meet Up

As you know we’re planning a Beyond BT Meet Up on Friday February 11th from 8:30pm to 11:30pm in Kew Gardens Hills at 141-43 72nd Crescent. There will plenty of food, friends, L’Chaims and short divrei Torah. It’s open to BTs, children of BTs and friends of BTs, and people who want to be friends with BTs.

We’re hoping to start discussions so we can identify additional ways that we can support our sub-community.

Here are 10 topics for discussion:

1) What inspired you to become frum?
2) How have your family and friends accepted you becoming observant?
3) Do you currently have a mentor or a Rabbi that you speak with regularly?
4) What resources have you used to help find a Shidduch?
5) Have you been able to address your gaps in Torah education?
6) What would you different in your journey the second time around?
7) Are you a member of a Shul? Are you Active? What attracted you to that Shul?
8) How have you dealt with intermarriage among family and friends?
9) What kind of support programs would you like to see going forward?
10) Do you need a refill? What are you drinking?

What Can We Learn from the Sephardim Regarding BT Acceptance?

David Landau, year 1993, in his Piety and Power in Chapter 28, page 247:

Since the Sephardic society is less rigidly categorized in its observance than Askenazic, the teshuvah phenomenon triggers far less social and familial tension. Most Sephardic families are traditional to some degree, and so Chazara BiTeshuvah does not entail quite so sharp a break for the penitent. The rest of the family does not look upon its newly Haredi member so ambivalently. There is less of the skepticism, cynicism and resentment that Chazara BiTeshuvah often stir among the Askenazim. Sephardic families are usually proud of their Baal Teshuvah relative.

What can we learn from the Sephardim regarding categorization?

Is part of the acceptance due to the fact that the Sefardic BT is less judgmental about the lack of observance than his Ashkenazic counterpart?

Topic submitted by Mr Cohen.
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