Sunday, March 24, 2013

Doublelife: A Book Review


I received a copy of Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope by Harold Berman and Gayle Redlingshafer Berman in the mail the other day. I had heard of the book through various social media channels, but I didn't remember ordering it. This, in and of itself, is not that unusual for me since I have a very bad case of book addiction. When we made aliyah, my husband (who is also a book addict) and I brought well over a thousand books with us. And that was after we sold off at least an equal quantity.

Turns out, I was sent a review copy by the book's publicist. I cracked it open and, despite the escalating pace of Pesach preparations going on in my home, no less than in Jewish households across the world, I finished the book over Shabbat.

I generally like books that are first-person accounts and Doublelife falls into that category. The book is written as a series of letters between Harold, a secular Jew from New York and Gayle, the Minister of Music in a mega-church in Texas. Herein lies my major criticism of the book. I found the format much too contrived, particularly after the couple married and began living together.

Having said that, I was struck with the self-congratulatory tone that the couple expresses as the book opens about how they are not going to fall prey to the difficulties of intermarriage. Through the years (and it's important for the reader to note the dates of the "letters" in order to understand the passage of time in the story), religion becomes a central issue in their marriage, and that's where the story becomes much more interesting.

First Harold, in response to his inability to answer challenges from a Christian colleague about why Jews don't believe in Jesus, begins to learn about his own Jewish heritage. Later, the obvious spiritual sensitivity of the child they have agreed to raise as a Jew, pushes the family closer to Torah observance. Indeed, these are some of the most moving passages in the book.

The reader is carried through the inevitable hurdles - finding the right community, the challenges of Gayle's conversion, the need for careers that are compatible with a Torah life - that the family faces. I found this the most interesting part of the book.

I knew, from before I opened to the very first page, that Gayle and Harold made aliyah at some point and are raising their children in Israel. But there is not a hint of that part of their story in this book.

I'm anxiously awaiting the sequel. I love hearing people's aliyah stories. And this untold part of the Bermans' story adds support to my contention that ba'alei teshuva and converts make aliyah out of proportion to our numbers in the general Jewish population.

The awkwardness of the format aside, it's an engaging story and one that has a happy ending for the Bermans and for the greater Jewish community. Another Jewish family finds their way home. What's not to love?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Not Exactly Kisei HaKavod

Item: In an Orthodox shul I attended while visiting friends in another community for a simcha, the men sat in beautifully constructed synagogue furniture from Kibbutz Lavi...

http://furniture.lavi.co.il
...while the women sat in Keter chairs that had been stacked in a corner.



Item: I attended a lecture on Derech Eretz held in an Orthodox shul. Separate seating was set up for men and women. The men sat in the regular men's section and the women were seated in rows of folding chairs that began behind the end of the men's section. I arrived on time and paid the same price for admission to the lecture as men were charged, yet the very best seat I could get was further away from the speaker and less comfortable than the seating available for men, including those men who came late.

Did I mention the topic of the lecture was Derech Eretz?

Item: Praying in a certain Orthodox shul for Yom Kippur, it is impossible for me to see when the aron kodesh is open. The only way I know to stand is from the scraping of chairs and the rustling I hear coming from the men's section.

Item: In an Orthodox shul I attended while visiting family in another community, the men's entrance was through decorative double doors in the front of the building. The women's entrance required me to pass by the shul's dumpsters, enter an unmarked door on the side of the building and climb two flights of stairs.

Item: The blogger A Mother in Israel recently hosted a guest photoblog by photographer Rahel Jaskow which chronicles the many ways in which the space for women at the Kotel is compromised.

Item: Though my husband and I were the first ones at a concert of Jewish music being held in an Orthodox shul, and despite the fact that I was charged the same ticket price as the men, I was told I must sit in the cramped women's section behind tables two rows deep and to the left of the performer. Men had their choice of  seats facing the performer and had plenty of room to dance. A man who came 45 minutes late was able to sit two rows from the performer.

I could continue with similar examples of a lack of derech eretz I've experienced as a woman over the years, in different communities and in different countries, but I believe the point is clear. We in the Orthodox community have a derech eretz problem when it comes to women in synagogue spaces.

I'd like to assume that it's a problem of oversight rather than of intentionality.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting that I want to wear tefillin or serve as a ba'al tefilla or be called for an aliyah. I'm not inherently opposed to separate seating for tefilla. Please don't conflate and thereby dismiss what I'm saying because my point is based on gender. I'm not revealing my disdain for being a Jewish woman and I have no secret desire to be a Jewish man. I'm a committed, faithful Orthodox woman, married to a former pulpit rabbi, who would like to be treated with dignity whenever I enter an Orthodox synagogue.That hardly seems like a controversial expectation.

I'm speaking here about derech eretz and kavod habriot - the simple human dignity of women that is often violated in public Jewish spaces. No woman should have to feel diminished because of thoughtless spatial planning.

I imagine that most people involved in making decisions that lead to these sorts of circumstances are not intentionally hostile toward women but are rather unaware of the consequences of their actions. I believe these are, in the main, sins of omission rather than of commission. My intention here is to draw attention to the issue in the hope that, by sensitizing more people to the unintended consequences of careless synagogue design, things can change for the better.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Haveil Havalim #401: The Pre-Pesach 5773 Edition



Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by different bloggers each week, jointly coordinated through our Facebook Group. The term 'Haveil Havalim,' which means"Vanity of Vanities," is from Qoheleth, (Ecclesiastes) which was written by King Solomon. King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and later on got all bogged down in materialism and other 'excesses' and realized that it was nothing but 'hevel,' or in English,'vanity.'
          If you're a Jewish blogger, please join our Facebook group and consider sending in your posts and hosting an edition yourself.

Life in Israel

A Mother in Israel, I am very jealous that I didn't get to host this extraordinary guest photo blog by Rahel Jaskow on my blog. Separate and Unequal at the Western Wall. Best not to record my blood pressure after I read this post. I'm a very calm and even-tempered person, but the appropriation of the Kotel by one group infuriates me.

Shlomo Skinner writes about the significance of the Hebrew month of Nisan and the custom of reciting Birkat Ha-Ilanot (the blessing on budding fruit trees)

Mrs. S photoblogs a visit to Hevron.

Real Jerusalem Streets photoblogs a whole different understanding of the BDS strategy (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) and, in so doing, shows the world what the streets of Jerusalem really look like.

What a week for photo blogs. Here, Batya photoblogs about lions in Jerusalem and here about an ordinary walk in Israel.

A mother and a son write movingly about the recent enlistment of the youngest of a crop of brothers into the Israeli Defense Forces. Their words make my heart soar with pride in the Jewish people.

Politics in Israel

Lots of Israelis are none too fond of America's interference in Israeli business. Batya and Esser Agaroth wrote on this theme a lot recently.

A none-too-flattering look at AIPAC by Esser Agaroth.

Batya wants to Keep Barack Hussein Obama Off Our Roads!

Batya explains why the 22 state solution is better than the Two State Solution

Esser Agaroth talks about what connects Obama, Pollard and Passover.

Pesach is Coming

Jacob Richman shares a huge number of educational Passover resources.

Esser Agaroth shares a surprising secret for single men making Pesach.

Inspirational Roundup

A Settler's Dream inspires with The Chassidic Approach to Joy

Mordecai Holtz writes 10 Lessons I've Learned From My Mentor, a moving tribute to the recently deceased Rabbi Dr. Stanley Wagner, A"H, his wife's grandfather, who had a profound impact on his life. My favorite was Tip #2.

Batya writes about a bit of hashgacha pratit on the Jerusalem public transportation system.

May you each be inspired by something you read here.

Chag Sameach.