Fit to Fight Israeli-developed Krav Maga self-defense and fitness training packs a punch

Krav Maga Maryland offers its annual Rape Prevention Seminar next week at its Columbia training facility. (Photos provided)

Krav Maga Maryland offers its annual Rape Prevention Seminar next week at its Columbia training facility. (Photos provided)

When Rebecca McHugh’s husband physically attacked her in front of her 15-year-old daughter, she knew something had to change; she didn’t want her child to grow up thinking it was acceptable for a man to abuse a woman.

“Doing Krav Maga changed my life,” McHugh says. “I was able to leave him and move on with my life.”

Developed by Israeli Imi Lichtenfeld, Krav Maga is a self-defense and physical fitness system for men and women (ages 14 and older) that teaches instinctive movement and practical techniques using intense lifelike training scenarios. Students learn to respond quickly — physically and mentally — in life- or safety-threatening situations. Lichtenfeld began developing what became Krav Maga in 1948 while serving in the Israel Defense Forces and has roots in his boxing, wrestling, gymnastic and military training.

Elisabeth Green, 26, general manager and instructor at Krav Maga Maryland, says she is inspired each time she witnesses “the change” in her students.

As girls and women, it’s as if “we’re taught to apologize for the space we occupy in life,” asserts Green. The transition that happens during training, she says, comes across in a physical and mental confidence, even visible as a change in someone’s posture and often noticeable after a single class.

It’s when a girl or woman internalizes the belief that “I’m valuable, and I’m worth my own effort to fight for, and knowing, for a fact, that by myself I could do whatever it takes to get home safely.”

052915_insider_krav2Green is leading the four-hour eighth annual Rape Prevention Seminar for women only on June 6 at the Columbia training facility. All proceeds from registration go to a scholarship fund for women who have experienced violence and want to train but are unable to cover the costs.

The seminar will focus on some of the most common dangerous situations in which a woman might find herself. There will be discussion of how to avoid those situations and to identify risk factors that will improve one’s safety. “People are surprised” by some of the simpletactics they learn, says Green. “They don’t think in these terms on a regular basis.”

Physically, the seminar will cover punches, palm strikes — a safer way to strike without using knuckles — elbow strikes and kicking.

Self-defense, says Green, means “having to respond to someone’s violent attack on you.” So the training will also cover choke defenses, headlock and groundwork. “We’ll spend a lot time on this, I want them to know how to do it in their bones.”

Class size has been about 75 people, from teens to seniors and all fitness levels. The seminar, as well as the continued Krav Maga training, includes realistic scenarios and high-paced drills to increase the stress level of the situation. Attending the seminar will give participants proficiency in techniques they could use immediately if necessary.

052915_insider_krav3“Toward the end of class, people are more tired,” says Green, “so they must rely on training and the reflexes they’ve built. What comes out of you under stress is what we’re looking for.”

For continued Krav Maga training, Green emphasizes that instructors meet the students at their level and pace. They want to make participants feel safe, comfortable and successful, but they push the edge too. Even though the 50-minute classes are physically and mentally intense there are breaks, time for questions, discussion and plenty of support from teachers and classmates.

McHugh, who has trained for six years and is now married to a firefighter and Krav Maga instructor, remembers a class where she was dragged out and thrown into the back of the van.

“It’s terrifying even though I know everyone there. You still have a primordial response when your body recognizes that this person isn’t friendly and I have to do something now. It’s instinctual.

“But [it’s about] getting that feeling and then you know inside, you’re not going to lose your mind if something were to happen for real.”

McHugh grew up in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Baltimore and says she had many scuffles growing up, even into her 20s “where people wanted to hurt me. That fear, that feeling, is the same as you get when you’re training. I don’t think you can control that response.”

Krav Maga is about defense, but many men and women also train for fitness.

“You don’t have to be in great shape,” says McHugh, 40, and a high school teacher. “At any fitness level you can defend yourself, but your tail is going to fit get doing it. So fitness is a byproduct of the training. In order to fight you have to be fit, you have to be able to finish the fight.”

McHugh says she hasn’t used Krav Maga in a real defense situation, “but what it has done for me is to become aware of what’s going on around me. It’s given me the confidence and situational awareness to follow my instincts and to understand when something is wrong.”

But at 5 feet and 135 pounds, she says, “I feel sorry for anyone I’d have to get ahold of, it’s going to be a bad day for them. I’m an old lady that can whip your ass, whether you’re male or female.”

Krav Maga Maryland Rape Prevention Seminar
For more information visit kravmd.com

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Single and Childless Demographics have shifted as more Jewishwomen pursue things other than having a family

Melanie Notkin (Ana Schechter)

Melanie Notkin (Photo by Ana Schechter)

In recent decades, the number of women of child-bearing ages who are childless has gone up significantly.

In 1976, 35 percent of American women of fertility age, 15 to 34, were childless. In 2012, that number jumped to about 46 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you break the 2012 number down to women between ages 20 and 44, it’s 38 percent, or about 19 million American women. And in the Jewish community?

“There’s a rise in single and childless Jewish women,” says Melanie Notkin, an entrepreneur, author, public speaker and self-proclaimed “leading voice of childless, often single, women.”

The reasons behind the increase vary — an emphasis on education and careers, not being in a rush to get married and have kids and simply letting life happen.

“I’m happy for the people who are already there, but I’m not really stressed out that I’m not there,” says Amanda Friedman, a 28-year-old Owings Mills native. “It seems a lot more normal and acceptable in our generation.”

For others, it’s in the cards when the time is right.

“I always thought I would be married with children by 30, but it’s not looking like that anymore,” says Reisterstown native and Washington, D.C., resident Jolie Gendler, 28. “It’s probably that I haven’t met the right person yet and I’m waiting to find him.”

But Notkin, who is 46, explains that for some college-educated women, having children gets harder in the 30s and 40s.

“College-educated people tend to want to marry and partner with other college-education people,” she says. “As women get older and men date younger, it becomes much more difficult for a college-educated woman to find a college-educated man who is single and available.”

Still, for some, not having a family has meant freedom to pursue education beyond college.

Gendler earned her master’s degree in publications design; she attended school full time without the time constraints of raising children.

“Many people in my program were parents or they were going through all the other stages in life where they were buying houses and planning weddings,” Gendler says. “For me, I went to school and had all the time in the world to do my work and I was able to finish quickly and I was able to focus and get it done.”

Freedom, for Friedman, has meant being able to travel.

“I’ve gotten to go on a lot of trips that I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise and [made] a lot of decisions pretty impulsively because I don’t have to consider other people,” she says.

Still others report that marriage needn’t hinder major life events.

Becky Hackerman, 29, recently bought a house with her boyfriend, Scott Brenner. The two don’t have plans to get married.

“Both Scott and I are the children of divorces, and we both felt pretty similarly that neither of us is really ever expecting to get married,” she says.

Although she’d eventually like to have kids, she adds, “I want to wait until I’ve finished doing all the things I want to do before my entire life needs to be devoted to a tiny screaming person.”

There is the societal pressures to deal with, however.

“The majority of American women want and expect or hope to be mothers,” Notkin says. “Jewish women tend to, expect, to be mothers. It’s part of our tradition, it’s part of who we are.”

Friedman acknowledges some pressure from her grandparents.

“There’s less pressure to get married, funny enough,” she says, “but they just want great-grandkids.”

Gendler tries not to let such concerns affect her.

“It still feels like some people are just in a rush and I’m trying not to let that pressure rush me into making any decision that I might regret,” she says. “There’s almost like [an expectation] to live up to, to be the perfect Jewish mom and wife.”

For Notkin, there is a freedom in the path of the childless and unmarried.

“We’re not waiting for life to happen to us,” she affirms. “We’re making life happen.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Kathy Fried

Kathy Fried was born and raised in Baltimore with an education from the University of Pennsylvania. She knows what it’s like to start at the bottom and work up the corporate ladder. She is now a managing partner for the Lindler Fried Group, a marketing and communications firm based in Baltimore, with two decades of experience and longstanding relationships with clients to prove it.

What has your career path been like?
I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1985 with a degree in international relations and economics. My first job out of school was with a corporate communications firm, Ashton Worthington, and it specialized in corporate communications for academic and medical institutions. I was there for about a year, and learned a lot about the industry. I went to a small design firm called Graffito. I did sales and account management with them for four years. When I left Graffito I started to pursue my M.B.A. full time at what was then Loyola College. Eventually I met up with my current partner, Bob Lindler, through a photographer and friend of his. We worked together informally for two years before incorporating in 1994.

What made you — and your partner — go out on your own as opposed to working with an established company?
I thought I could. When I was in college, I sold advertisement for the school paper, and as a sales person you are measured against yourself. You set your own goals, and you meet them or exceed them. I was
accustomed to working in a flexible environment. Until it was proven otherwise or it was proven to me, I stuck with it.

Can you describe a moment in your career that defines you?
I don’t think I can pick one moment. Over the thousands of days and tens of thousands of hours that I’ve been doing this, it’s the aggregate of all of the time and all of the moments and all of the obstacles we’ve overcome that has defined us.

What’s your advice to someone who is trying to start his or her own business?
Be honest to themselves and their clients. Be respectful of their talents and their client’s needs. Work really hard and throw in a little luck.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Influential Marylander Monroe, Weinberg Foundation head, has her priorities in order

 Rachel Garbow Monroe

Rachel Garbow Monroe

Rachel Garbow Monroe has been repeatedly named one of the most influential women in Maryland and in the philanthropic world by the Baltimore Sun Magazine, Forward and The Daily Record.

In her role as president and CEO of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, she oversees a staff of more than 30 who are responsible for managing roughly $100 million in grants awarded to more than 300 organizations each year.

“Working at the foundation combines my commitment to the Jewish community and to social justice more broadly stated, my academic background at Northwestern and Kellogg School of Business and my professional experience in both the public and private sectors,” Monroe said via email.

She first began at Weinberg as its chief operating officer in 2005 and was named its top executive five years later.

During her tenure, she has launched new initiatives, including the Weinberg Foundation Annual Community Gathering, the Israel Mission Alumni Scholars Program, the Annual Employee Giving Program and the Maryland Small Grants Program.

Monroe is particularly proud of the foundation’s commitment to Holocaust survivors, having distributed more than $24 million to 62 organizations serving Holocaust survivors over the past two decades, and to childhood literacy through the Baltimore Elementary and Middle School Library Project (Weinberg Library Project), for which the foundation committed $10 million in funding for up to 24 new public school libraries in Baltimore. She noted that more than 30 government, nonprofit and community partners support the effort that began in 2011.

In addition to her work at Weinberg, Monroe serves as co-chair of Baltimore’s Promise, “a citywide partnership of public, business, higher education, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders that serves as a catalyst for organizing efforts and resources around a shared community vision that all Baltimore City youth will travel a safe, healthy and successful educational path from cradle to career,” according to the organization’s mission statement.

“Given the events of the past month, this work is even more timely and important,” Monroe said, referencing the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody and the riots and protests that followed. “The Weinberg Foundation is proud to be one of many partners at the table working on this agenda for our city.”

Monroe also serves as chair of the Jewish Leadership Pipelines Alliance, a new coalition of nonprofits and foundations that is seeking to ready the next generation of senior leadership. Within the next five to seven years, the coalition estimates tremendous turnover in Jewish nonprofit leadership.

A strong CEO, Monroe explained, is one of the best indicators of an organization’s projected success.

“If the board and the senior staff are strong, then the organization is strong,” she said. “We need to  ensure that the next generation” is prepared.

Throughout her career, which includes time at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago, Monroe described great camaraderie with her colleagues.

“I have had the opportunity to work with, listen to and learn from a large number of incredible women and men in Baltimore, the U.S. and Israel. The field of philanthropy includes many dedicated professionals, some of whom are close colleagues and friends as well as thought partners,” said Monroe.

She names her parents, Mel and Dene Garbow, who still reside in her hometown of Alexandria, Va., as inspirations for her Jewish and philanthropic career path.

“I was raised by parents who were deeply committed to the Jewish community and Israel and to social justice for our country and community,” said Monroe.

It was her parents who brought her to Israel for her first visit at age 5 and she has been back “dozens of times” since.

Monroe is married to Joel Monroe, and together they have three teenage children. They belong to Beth El Congregation and recently celebrated the bar mitzvah of their youngest son.

Midlife Health Clinics allow for whole health approach to women’s care

052915_insider_healthYounger women typically rely on their gynecologist as their only physician, says Dr. Katharine Taber, director of the Women’s Wellness Center at Northwest Hospital, “but at midlife that really changes.”

A single doctor can’t realistically provide all of the specialized services needed for midlife health, she explains, but women’s clinics have a network of expertise to draw upon, “and we try to work together and communicate well, so that the whole patient is really addressed and taken care of.”

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), by 2020 approximately 46 million women in the U.S. will be older than 55, and an estimated 6,000 women will reach menopause every day, the average age of which is 51.

It’s no surprise then that Taber cites some of the top concern of patients, ages 45 to 65, visiting the Women’s Wellness Center, are about perimenopause and menopause transition.

Dr. Neil Rosenshein, medical director of the Weinberg Center for Women’s Health and Medicine at Mercy Hospital agrees.

“This is a dramatic change for the individual and for the family, and I think that’s an important life landmark for these women,” says Rosenshein. “This is one of the more common issues our group deals with, and there are a variety of issues [that arise with menopause]. But the most important thing we try to relay is that this [life transition] is normal, this is natural.”

Since about half of all women who reach age 50 are expected to live to age 80 or even older according to ACOG, women may spend 40 percent of their lifetime in a post-menopausal stage.

“So when you have someone in their 60s and they have potentially 20 good years” and good quality health is their desire, says Rosenshein, “our job is, to the best of our ability, to make sure they achieve that.”

Which is another reason why Taber likes to take a holistic approach to health.

Though women may initially visit a women’s clinic to voice concerns about menopausal symptoms, she says, doctors also look at the patient’s weight, blood pressure and whether they’ve kept up with health screenings such as mammography, colonoscopy, Pap smears and  routine blood work.

“We look at those because most women will die from heart attack or stroke, so these are the risk factors,” that we want to see maintained at normal levels, says Taber.

A significant decrease in estrogen hormone — a common signal of menopause — can cause myriad changes in a woman’s health ranging from libido fluctuations to hot flashes to depression. During menopause, women may also become more susceptible to some cancers, which, after heart disease, is the second most common cause of death for women.

“Part of the overall process as women get into this [life stage] is also cancer awareness, says Rosenshein, who is also director of the Institute for Gynecologic Care and the Lya Segall Ovarian Cancer Institute at Mercy. He stresses the importance of cancer screenings and “paying much more attention to family history.” In some cases, he says, a patient may be advised to get genetic testing or evaluation, which he asserts, will become more important in cancer prevention and early detection.

Taber cannot stress enough that for women at midlife or any age, “it’s about maintaining a good weight, exercising, eating healthy and getting enough sleep,” which she outlines, along with other health tips that range from daily flossing and laughing to bladder control advice, in a comprehensive pamphlet she designed for patients. “Those are really the fundamentals.”

But, she admits, “health education is complicated,” and though she lauds the knowledge some patients acquire, she warned that the Internet can provide unreliable information.

“I think that women who come in [to the clinic] in this age group are much more informed and savvy about their health issues,” says Rosenshein.

“But there are many messages out there that are conflicting,” says Taber, “so it’s important to have a good physician you can trust to get accurate and up-to-date information.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Young and Full of Hustle Two Baltimore natives prove age is just a number

Haley Raphael and Jesse Mates are making a sweet success of Pops by Haley. For the fashionistas, check out clothing at Leah Pruzansky’s new store, Sheek.

Union Kitchen, a food incubator in Washington, D.C., hums with activity day and night as nearly 50 food companies prep, cook, bake and package their wares.

Working diligently in the upstairs bakery layering cake cutouts and frosting is Haley Raphael, the 23-year-old founder of Pops by Haley, a baked-goods company that specializes in push-up cake pops. (The Flintstones push-up ice cream pops from Raphael’s childhood served as inspiration.)

Raphael, who grew up in Owings Mills, graduated cum laude from the University of Maryland’s business school last May with a double major in marketing and supply chain management. She took a job with Sweetgreen and began working on her cake pop creations as a side project in November 2014 with her boyfriend, Jesse Mates — whose family founded Katz’s kosher supermarket — handling social media.

Less than a year into the corporate world, Raphael took the plunge. She quit her job, wrote up a business plan, found some financial backing and began to pursue Pops by Haley full time.

Given the explosion of business, it appears that Raphael made the right move. She’s done events for Washingtonian Magazine, Macy’s and The Fillmore Silver Spring. Her customizable labels and delectable flavors — vanilla birthday cake, red velvet, s’mores and chocolate peanut butter — are a hit at bar mitzvah parties, weddings and bachelorette parties.

Haley Raphael and Jesse Mates are making a sweet success of Pops by Haley. For the fashionistas, check out clothing at Leah Pruzansky’s new store, Sheek.

Haley Raphael and Jesse Mates are making a sweet success of Pops by Haley. For the fashionistas, check out clothing at Leah Pruzansky’s new store, Sheek.

Though she has a reciprocal relationship with another baker who rents space in Union Kitchen, Raphael knows that “every CEO has to do every job.” For her that means baking, creating custom labels, building the website, taking and fulfilling orders, making local delivery runs and shipping her goods across the country.

Already she has received requests from  Instagram followers requesting international shipping and franchising opportunities, not realizing that Pops — the product is available online at pops byhaley.com — is largely a one-woman show.

She eventually hopes to expand into permanent retail space and is already researching the next steps.

An hour away in Baltimore, Leah Pruzansky has likewise accomplished much at just 21 years old. She’s married with a family and is nearing completion of a bachelor’s degree in psychology through a partnership with Maalot Baltimore and Thomas Edison State University. On top of her family and school commitments, she found time to launch Sheek, an exclusive women and teen boutique filled with fashion-forward modest clothing at affordable prices.

Sheek opened at 303 Reisterstown Road, one block north of Seven Mile Market this past February.

“I found myself traveling to New York before the holidays to get modest and trendy clothing,” said Pruzansky. “I saw there was a need, and it was such a good opportunity. I was surprised no one had done it.”

Thus far, Pruzansky characterizes the community’s response as overwhelmingly positive.

“Every day people thank me. [They’ll say,] ‘You saved me and my daughter a trip to New York. You’re doing such a service to our community,’” she said.
052915_insider_entreprenuer3
At the shop, Pruzansky plays many roles. In addition to the clerical work, Pruzansky and her two staff members handpick outfits for their clientele from the merchandise that Pruzansky scopes out when she travels to New York every two months for exclusive fashion industry events.

“What really makes the store is our customer service,” she said. “It feels good when people compliment you, you feel like you’re making a difference.”

Wearing so many hats can be stressful, she conceded, “but when you’re doing something that you love it makes it so worth it.”

Given her young age, it is not surprising that this is Pruzansky’s first foray into business, but she credits her determination to succeed and the support of her husband, Moshe, and parents for helping her fulfill her passion for modest fashion.

Pruzansky does not see her age as an impediment to her entrepreneurial success.

“[Our vendors] find it refreshing and a joy working with someone young,” said Pruzansky. “I don’t think that there’s any more challenges being a young entrepreneur than anyone else. If you show you’re determined, then the industry will take you seriously.

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

Fitness Appeal Jewish women find strength, confidence on a pole

Gabi Faye Levin, a Beth Tfiloh graduate, has taught and performed pole dancing. (Photo provided)

Gabi Faye Levin, a Beth Tfiloh graduate,
has taught and performed pole dancing. (Photo provided)

When Gabi Faye Levin graduated college, she wasn’t satisfied with her dance skills even though she minored in the subject.

She did some research on local studios while living at home in Pikesville, and found pole dancing classes at Xpose Fitness.

“I was like, ‘Hmm, why have I never considered this? I’m really good at climbing trees and things like that so I could probably climb a pole,’” the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School graduate said.

Within a few classes, she was hooked.

“When I do it, I feel extremely powerful and strong,” Levin, 24, said. “In the pole world, there’s so many different things that you can conquer and improve upon. When I’d see these teachers doing new moves, I’d say, ‘OK, I need to get there.’”

Levin is not the only one who got hooked on pole fitness; like many others, she found physical strength, self-confidence and a community of like-minded women.

Samantha Hodge, a 28-year-old Pikesville native who lives in Hanover, Md., said she got interested in pole fitness, because “it sounded like a fun and sexy way to stay in shape.”

She’s gotten much more than a workout.

“I now have more confidence in myself and my body,” she said via email. “When I go out, I stand up taller and prouder. To me, that is what stands out as ‘sexy.’”

For Owings Mills native Erin Resnick, learning new tricks and moves was a fun way to be active. She also took classes at Xpose Fitness, where she did pole dancing and a “floor chair” class, which involved using a chair and a mat on the floor for exercise.

“The two of those classes combined was a fully body workout,” the 25-year-old New York City resident said. “My upper-body strength was insane at the time.”

Resnick took the classes for about three years from the time she was 19 until 22 but stopped when she broke her collar bone after falling off the pole. While the injury initially scared her off, she’s thinking about getting back into it since there are a lot of pole dancing studios in New York.

Those who take the classes do acknowledge some stigma from the outside world — pole dancing has more traditionally been seen as more of an activity for booze-soaked late-night locales — but none of that concern creeps into the classes.

“It wasn’t about learning how to dance on the pole to go to a strip club and dance, it was strictly fitness,” said Jodi Pozanek, who used to teach pole dancing and floor chair classes at an Xpose Fitness franchise and now teaches yoga at her Reisterstown studio, Pink Lotus Yoga. “I think it was empowering for a lot of women too, to feel sexy. There was a part of them they haven’t been able to connect with in a long time, with little children and everything; it was a release for them.”

Pozanek said she’s taught classes for women in their 80s and women from religious backgrounds and is doing a floor chair class at a membership meeting for Hadassah in the near future.

“It’s kind of like teaching women to feel sexy,” she said. “And all women are sexy.”

Resnick said she would get a lot of questions from people and some light-hearted jokes from her family, but ultimately when she’d show people her tricks — she had a pole at home — they were impressed.

Women who take pole dancing classes find renewed physical strength, increased
confidence and a supportive community of women.

For Levin, who has put on pole dancing performances and taught classes, her family has been nothing but supportive.

“My parents are very proud that I pole dance, which is kind of awesome because most parents would be horrified,” she said. “My dad installed my pole in my room. Best dad ever.”

Her parents show off pictures of videos of her performance, one of which landed her a role in a feature film.

“My father actually brags to people, ‘This is what my daughter does,’ and shows them pictures,” she said. “It’s such a good feeling to have that support because I realized it’s very risqué, especially for a nice Jewish girl.”

Levin, who co-founded the West Village Moishe House with a friend, gets some reactions when they have events and people see the pole in her room.

“People call it a stripper pole, which really annoys me,” she said. “It’s not a stripper pole, it’s just a pole.”

Hodge noted that the teachers at her Xpose studio are “amazing and supportive role models,” including a teacher with a math education degree, one who works in health and human services and another pursuing a doctorate in cellular and molecular medicine.

And with the studios being open to women only, with no one allowed to watch classes, it becomes a supportive, welcoming environment.

“I have seen women of all races, religions, ages, shapes and sizes in classes,” Hodge said. “The studio makes you feel like you are in a safe place, where no one will judge you.”

For Pozanek, “it’s all about combining the sexy aspect with the fitness,” she said.

“It’s a fun way to get in shape. You’re having fun,” she added. “It’s not like being in on a treadmill or running five miles.”

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Take 2 How Jews juggle the various challenges of second marriages

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin

Mazal tov! You’re getting married … again.

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a certified practitioner in Imago Relationship Therapy and author of “The Marriage Restoration Project: The Five Step Plan to Saving Your Marriage,” notes that around 50 percent of married adults in America get divorced at least once, meaning the likelihood of being a stepparent is becoming increasingly high. It can work—but it takes tremendous commitment and communication, Slatkin says.

Raising someone else’s children poses uncharted challenges and opportunities for couples who must balance their own relationship with the relationships they must form with their stepchildren. It isn’t easy to create a blended and successful family unit. Chayim Lando, who is now on his third marriage and has 19 children and stepchildren between the ages of 5 and 28, has dealt with a number of “stepparenting” issues over the years such as: What should the children call the stepparent? Who is allowed to discipline the stepchildren? How can you ensure that the stepchildren don’t feel like you have usurped their biological parent?

“You have to figure out the appropriate thing for each child,” Lando says.

For example, this time around, Lando has asked that his older children from previous marriages call his new wife by her first name.

“The children are older, and we don’t want them to feel like someone is [swooping in] to be a new parent,” Lando explains. “It’s a message of, ‘You have a father and a mother. I am just here to help out, make your life better.’”

Melinda Greenberg and Keith Michel are handling their second marriage similarly. Each has two children in high school or older. Greenberg says Michel’s kids call her by her first name, and vice versa.

“We are both really respectful of the fact that the biological parents are very much involved in their children’s lives, and neither of us wants to do anything to usurp that role,” Greenberg says.

When Greenberg and Michel discussed moving in with each other, they talked about the need for father-children time and mother-children time and about how to be comfortable with the fact that “just because we are all moving in together and living in one house doesn’t mean we have to do everything together,” Greenberg says.

Daniel, Greenberg’s second son, has Asperger syndrome, which can lead to some communication challenges. There are times with Daniel and his stepfather are alone in the house, and Michel wants to correct some behavior. What happens if Daniel is not receptive?

“Keith has prepared himself for Daniel to say, ‘You are not my father,’” Greenberg says, noting that the couple role-played these scenarios. “Keith will respond, ‘I am an adult who cares about you, and I see you doing something wrong, a problem, and I want to be able to address that with you.’”

Lando says some stepparents make the mistake of saying, “I am the new sheriff in town” and that it rarely goes over well. Slatkin similarly notes that it’s important not to make too many demands on stepchildren, but rather to recognize that they will need time to transition to this new life and to build trust with their stepparent.

“It is important to discuss how you will co-parent,” Slatkin says. “While you want to run the family together,” he says, you should be cognizant that the children of the other parent might not feel comfortable with a stepparent administering discipline.

One thing to keep in mind is how in-laws deal with stepchildren. Slatkin says he has seen situations in which in-laws favor the biological children or get gifts for those children but not for the stepchildren. He says parents shouldn’t be shy about talking to grandparents about this scenario, to ensure that they don’t play into strained family dynamics.

Blended families also need to work out how to share simchas (happy occasions). Judaism has more holidays and get-togethers than many other religions, so working out a cordial celebration plan can be key.

For United Kingdom-based Rabbi Michael Rosenfeld-Schueler, there were additional items to consider. He won sole custody of his daughter, Shalva, just a few months after he and his second wife, Tracey, were married.

“Were there challenges? Yes, there were most definitely challenges,” Rosenfeld-Schueler says, noting that today the situation is “very positive indeed.”

Rosenfeld-Schueler says he and Tracey worked with professionals and read several books together to help smooth the transition. Among his top picks are “Blessing of a Skinned Knee” by Wendy Mogel? and “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. He explains there’s a “massive lacking” of Jewish books on related subjects but that he found the aforementioned works to have universal messages.

Tracey’s approach to being a stepmom was very much led by daughter Shalva and what she wanted. For
example, Tracey only offered affection if Shalva initiated it, and then she reciprocated warmly.

“We found this approach built up trust,” says Rabbi Rosenfeld-Schueler.

Shalva’s biological mother chose not to have contact with her daughter soon after the court made the
custody decision. Within a year, Shalva started calling Tracey “mum,” “mummy,” or “ima,” which was
welcomed by the stepmother — but not ever suggested or requested. From there, the relationship has
continued to deepen.

“Day-to-day it is a mother-daughter relationship. That’s what’s happened,” Rabbi Rosenfeld-Schueler says, noting strong and open communication between him and his wife was essential to making the transition work. He also says that keeping in mind what is best for the child is “ultimately the most important thing” that helps the couple make decisions.

Since then, the Rosenfeld-Schuelers have welcomed a new baby to the family and that, too, has been a wonderful gift for their older daughter. Shalva says she is happy “because I got a baby brother and it doesn’t really matter [that he is from another mother]. I call them my family because … they are my family!”

Slatkin says that to make the transition to a second marriage easier, it’s important that when divorced parents are dating, the kids are part of the equation from early on. He says individuals need to remember that when you marry a mother or father, you aren’t just marrying that person, but also his or her children.

According to Slatkin, it’s also important to take trips together and incorporate other bonding activities before and after the marriage, to encourage additional connection between stepchildren and stepparent. Simultaneously, he notes, having children can make it challenging for the parents to prioritize their own relationship and find time for private bonding, which is also essential.

Chayim Lando and his third wife, Lea Sternbach. Lando has 19  children and stepchildren between the ages of 5 and 28 from his three marriages.

Chayim Lando and his third wife, Lea Sternbach. Lando has 19
children and stepchildren between the ages of 5 and 28 from his three marriages.

Lando says it’s imperative not to let outside influences, stigmas or statistics stand in the way of a new healthy relationship. In the Jewish community — and more acutely in the Orthodox community — there
remains a tremendous stigma against divorce, Lando points out. Rosenfeld-Schueler says that stigma can be “isolating” at times and emphasizes the importance of looking for a support network of people who have gone through similar situations.

Slatkin says that roughly 70 percent of second marriages end in divorce but that he has nonetheless witnessed many successes firsthand. Remarried couples may be more motivated to make their union work because they have already seen a failed relationship, he says. Whether it be a first or second marriage, in Slatkin’s estimation, it all depends on “how committed they are to working on the relationship no matter what.”

Is it worth all the work?

“It is always worth it to be in a healthy relationship,” says Lando.

Looking Good Wedding gown styles for the Jewish bride in 2015

With the spring and summer months being the most popular time of year for weddings, many brides are now beginning to search for their ideal gown.

“Today’s modern wedding gowns appear to be trending toward more simplistic and classic silhouettes, while elaborate and luxurious fabrics, laces, and adornments are becoming more significant
in the design,” says Sharon Langert, who runs Fashion-Isha.com, a blog dedicated to fashion for Orthodox Jewish women.

“One of the most current and popular wedding gown styles is the flattering fit and flare, a style that softly hugs a woman’s curves while gently flaring out at the hips,” she says.

But for Jewish brides, depending on their religious denomination, there are special considerations of modesty to take into account.

“Modesty is not about being oppressed, but just the opposite—an opportunity to fully express the inner light and beauty of the divine and refine woman through fabric, silhouette and texture,” says Langert.

“Trends aside,” she addes, “choosing the perfect wedding gown style is always a very personal and individual decision. There will always be those girls who dream of a tulle-infused Cinderella ball gown or a simple and modern sheath, and the most important factor in choosing a gown is how it makes the bride look and feel.”

In “Wedding Wednesday: The Real Wedding Dresses of the Frum and Fabulous,” a recent post on Langert’s blog dedicated to the gown search and featuring photos of the author’s favorite bridal styles, she writes that “through necessity, many Jewish brides become their own designers. We are the queens of creativity when it comes to designing and modifying previously non-modest gowns.”

With that principle in mind, Rachel Leonard, fashion director for Brides.com, makes the following suggestions on bridal fashion in 2015 — tips that can apply to Jewish brides of all denominations. For those who do not wish to purchase these specific styles of gowns, use them for inspiration.

General 2015 Trends

❖ High-low hemlines – “There are two variations of this trend,” says Leonard. “It can be a subtle high-low, where the dress hits at the ankle, or more dramatic, in which case it hits at the knee. It’s a great way to show off fabulous shoes.”

❖ Cutouts – “Reveal a hint of skin with side cutouts. We’re also seeing this trend in deep V necklines and open backs.”

❖ Classic lady – “You can never go wrong with pretty and timeless silhouettes. (Think Grace Kelly style.)”

❖ Slits – “Sexy, glamorous slits are perfect for an evening reception.”

❖ “Allover lace with long sleeves is a great way to look elegant and conservative.”

❖ “This Audrey Hepburn-inspired style features a crop top with a removable bolero jacket that you can take off for the reception. (It’s strapless underneath.)”

❖ “A tulle wrap is a chic way to cover up. The soft pastel color with beaded floral tulle is so gorgeous and ethereal.”

❖ “1970s-inspired bohemian-chic looks are having a huge moment right now.”


Created with flickr slideshow.

Blessed Beginnings Where to say ‘I do’ in Israel

With destination weddings a popular option of late, why not tie the proverbial knot in Israel? It turns out that this tiny country (roughly the size of New Jersey) has it all: natural beauty, scrumptious food and fine wines, affordable facilities to rent and the magical ambiance of starting your life together in the Jewish state.

050815_weddings_destination1“Getting married [in Israel] is a total spiritual experience, even if it’s in Tel Aviv,” says Osnat Eldar, a Tel Aviv-based event planner who has put together countless weddings for Israelis and others. “And it supports Israel’s economy and brings over families and friends who may think we live in a war zone until they come over and see what it’s really like here.”

Nevertheless, Eldar admits that it can be challenging to work through the marriage license process in Israel, especially from a distance. Multiple document requirements can prove frustrating to even the most determined couples. (Note: The nonprofit Itim helps both Israelis and Diaspora Jews navigate the bureaucracy.) Therefore, many couples opt to first get their marriage license in their home country and then have the ceremony in Israel. “But don’t worry,” says Eldar. “The marriage is valid in Israel anyway.”

Another heads-up from Eldar: While many of Israeli wedding halls provide kosher catering, others do not, and many traditional rabbis will not perform weddings in nonkosher halls — either due to the food or the fact that the venues are open on Shabbat. “Check with your rabbi,” Eldar advises.

Logistics aside, there is certainly a wide array of venue options to choose from in Israel, where it sometimes seems that every kibbutz and restaurant wants a piece of the wedding cake. Here is a just a sampling:
Lauren’s Gallery in Old Jaffa
The wedding party follows the bough-covered winding path up the hill to the chuppah. There, laid out behind the bride and groom, is a dazzling scene: a light-spattered view of Tel Aviv’s beachfront and city skyline. Afterward, amid happy music, everyone follows the happy couple back down the hill to the
reception in the trendy Lauren’s Gallery, where dancing and dining await.

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Hilton Eilat Queen of Sheba Hotel
Once in Israel, just point yourself south and travel all the way through the desert until you can’t go any farther without swimming in the Red Sea. You’ve reached the popular resort city of Eilat. Having a wedding at the Queen of Sheba means a chuppah with stunning vistas of the Red Sea and Jordan, a seafront pool and an in-house spa. A bonus: Time-crunched guests will be relieved to hear the Eilat airport is merely a five-mile drive away.

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Nof Hayarden
A short drive from Ma’ale Adumim and less than an hour from Jerusalem, this wedding hall in Mitzpe Jericho offers breathtaking views of rolling desert hills, the Dead Sea and Jordan. Guests can take it all in through both the glass-walled interior and the outdoor chuppah spot. Look for a variety of wedding packages that include catering and bar service. Note: The management is also happy to help arrange buses for guests coming from Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel.
Yam Carmel
For a dazzling 360-degree panorama of the Mediterranean shore and the Carmel Heights, you might want to consider having your wedding at Yam Carmel, which is nestled in the Ofer Forest near Haifa. In addition to its stupendous view, Yam Carmel boasts an open-air amphitheater for wedding ceremonies between April and late October. A bonus for outdoorsy couples: Yam Carmel is located very near an “extreme park” that features a ropes course, rappelling, bungee trampolines and a tube slide.
The Green Beach
For those who prefer their water up close, The Green Beach offers an event garden where countless couples have tied the knot. Perched on a private shore of the Sea of Galilee near the northern city of Tiberias, the coastal nature reserve offers an
impressive view of the Golan Heights and the Hermon mountain range. With capacity for up to 550 guests, a Green Beach wedding includes gourmet Mediterranean cuisine, plenty of room for music and dancing and an after-party option.
The Sephardic House
Location, location, location. Start your wedding day with a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall), then walk up with your wedding party to the hall, a short stroll away in Jerusalem’s Old City. There, you’ll find your chuppah awaits in the recently renovated open-air atrium. Afterward, enjoy an array of fresh foods cooked on the premises. Note: This space accommodates smaller weddings of up to 150 guests and includes a number of hotel rooms available for members of the wedding party.

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Bamboo Village
Beach-combing couples will thrive at this beachside wedding locale in Netanya. With its panoramic view of the Mediterranean, Bamboo Village hosts as many as 400 guests to witness the outdoor chuppah. Specialties of the house include barbecues and fresh fish from the sea. A perk: In true after-party style, the guests — mostly young ones who don’t need much sleep — can spend the night near the beach in big tents. Older guests typically prefer one of two nearby hotels.
Barkan Winery
Hulda Kibbutz in the Judean Plain is home to Barkan, Israel’s second-largest winery. Like all the world’s wine countries, the area is regularly bathed with a gentle golden sunlight and just enough rain to grow perfect grapes. The winery — situated southeast of Rehovot and Mazkeret Batya, near the picturesque Hulda National Forest — has long hosted weddings known for their relaxed charm and pristine setting.