I Never Thought I Would Love Pink

maayan_jaffe_squareWhen my husband and I were married 12 years ago, I had a dog named Sami. She was the cutest little 8-pound Papillon-Labrador mix. I would put her in my briefcase and hide her under my desk at work at the Jerusalem Post.

Then one day I found out I was pregnant. It took me about two weeks after giving birth to no longer have the time or space for that dog. To be fair, we lived in a tiny trailer in Gush Etzion, but suddenly my every thought was about how to teach my 2-week-old to read and whether he was eating enough, sleeping comfortably and achieving the perfect balance between tummy and back time. My parents adopted Sami, who we flew all the way from Israel to her new home in Kansas City.

I loved having a boy. I used to say I related to boys better than to girls; who has time for all of the emotion, I would smile. Boys are simple. I like to play with trucks, to run around and get muddy. I never liked dollhouses. And pink — ooh.

But then I had a girl. And another girl. And another girl. I can’t say it took me all of two weeks to have no time or space for my boy; he’s still as important as he ever was. Yet, it took me all of two minutes to make room for my daughter.

And that was despite the fact that she was everything I expected from a young woman. On Monday, she liked peas. On Tuesday, she spit them out all over her tray … and my walls! She didn’t like the feel of certain fabrics. She never could decide in which position she wanted to lie. One day she needed hugs. The next she squirmed as if to say, “Get off of me. I need my space.”

But she also totally transformed me. By 4, Netanya had already grown into the little lady she is today. And I, who swore I would never buy my daughter toy jewelry or fuss over lace skirts and pink sweaters, snaps pictures every time she gets dressed for Shabbat.

Every time we walk into Target together, Netanya and I head right for the shoes. “Mom, Netanya has 10 pairs of shoes,” my son moans.

My daughter and I just roll our eyes and check out the latest arrivals. Then we check out headbands and hair bows. We hold hands and talk about the manicure we hope to get later in the afternoon.

When I’m getting dressed for work, I spritz my perfume behind her ears. And I love it when she says, “Mommy, you look beautiful. I hope someday I can dress like you.”

I never thought I would wear pink. But two of my daughters have penchants for pink and purple (and all things poofy and sparkly). And sometimes we coordinate our outfits. No longer do I see pink as a “girly” sign of weakness, but as a pretty color — that women make the choice to wear. And I am proud to be a woman.

This morning, my 3-year-old came downstairs asking for a bottle.

“I want a pink top,” she said. “I don’t like blue.”

Does pink really make the milk taste better?

You know what, I think it does.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief — mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

Rushing To Help: Abraham’s Model

This week we read parshat Vayera. The parsha opens with three guests visiting Abraham in his tent. Abraham greets the guests and feeds them, also giving them milk to drink. Abraham didn’t know that the guests were angels sent to tell Abraham that Sarah would have a baby.

One thing that I found interesting was that Abraham rushes to greet his guests. He also washes their feet for them, even though he has never met them. He rushes his wife, Sarah, into making them a meal. He also rushes to make them feel comfortable, which shows he has a lot of hospitality. In the Hebrew text, this “rushing” is shown by the use of verbs. Action after action after action shows Abraham’s focus on — and eagerness for — doing things for his guests. Some examples of his actions are “hastened,” “ran,” “took,” “prepared” and “waited on.”

There are many things that we can learn from this, one of them being hospitality. We should all be like Abraham and be more hospitable to our guests. In today’s world, we aren’t exactly rushing to wash our guests’ feet, but we could do other things to show hospitality, such as showing some kindness by having a smile on our face when we greet guests. We could also make food that our guests will enjoy and sit them in chairs that are comfortable.

These guidelines for hospitality are great today when we invite guests we know. What’s amazing about Abraham’s actions is that he did all these things for strangers. Maybe the parsha teaches us also about how to care for people we don’t know personally. Abraham becomes a role model for the way we are expected to treat strangers. In the Bible, there are many references to remind us that we, the Jewish people, were also strangers in the land of Egypt. The Torah instructs us to provide food and shelter for the stranger. In fact, because of this time of slavery, we are commanded to take care of others who might be suffering. Every Shabbat and holiday, we are commanded to remember the stranger because we were strangers in Egypt. Abraham’s actions in parshat Vayera give us an early model of how our entire people should learn to behave.

Sarah Rosenthal is a seventh-grader at Krieger Schechter Day School.

Celebration Of A 100-Year Legacy

The voice of the Conservative movement and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism was heard loud and clear at its Centennial convention celebration in Baltimore this past week.

I heard the voices that spoke of positive Jewish identity, that link valued traditions of our collective past to our present actions in personal and communal life. I heard the expressive voices of high school and college-aged youth contribute with singing, dancing and renewed friendship. I heard many conversations at thought-provoking sessions, and I heard the visionary messages that challenge the Conservative movement to engage the creativity of its members and leaders to build upon the strengths evolved from 100 years of communal experience.

I am attracted to the Conservative movement because it includes many diverse voices that celebrate various traditional and new approaches to Jewish expression.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Conservative movement is to maintain a pluralistic and centralist position supported by leadership that offers guidelines for religious practice. Another challenge is to serve a diverse membership that reflects various backgrounds and experiences.  This is happening during a time of great change in the identity, attitudes, observance level and demographics of Jews involved in synagogue settings. The recent Pew Research Center study of U.S. Jews substantiates the struggle that all liberal Jewish synagogue movements are experiencing.

I support the USCJ’s efforts to “conserve” the essence of Judaism in our modern age. USCJ is to be applauded for pursuing a new model of governance, for developing regional interactions that strengthen and transform synagogue community and for supporting the efforts of its auxiliary organizations.

It is crucial that we reflect upon the following questions and work toward successful outcomes for the Conservative movement:

> How do we define, practice and protect from loss or harm our movement’s vital, centralist approach to Jewish life?

> How do we sustain and improve our movement’s approach to scholarship, teaching and the practice of our sacred heritage in the face of bewildering change in Jewish communities today?

> How do we foster the civility of conversations and pursue nurturing relationships that support the growth and health of the Conservative movement, its leaders and members?

> How will the Conservative movement, its synagogues, seminaries, schools and programs demonstrate derech eretz (exemplary conduct) and kavod (respect) to the rabbis, chazzanim, professionals and lay leaders and many volunteers who offer much of their time and attention to guarantee a beautiful heritage for future generations?

Any conservatory of value needs commitment, tending and guarding to survive.  The USCJ and the Conservative movement care for a conservatory full of Jewish treasures that includes its own narrative of an impressive 100 year voyage.

The Conservative movement legacy is conserved by community study and involvement. It is conserved by its sincere communal spirit before God. And it is conserved by its mitzvot, shared through deeds of loving kindness serving our Jewish community and the nations of the world.

The Conservative movement provides a valued Jewish voice that resonates to all who gain from its devoted service and sacred mission.

Odessa Hosts 2013 Limmud Conference

2013 LimmudBy: Marina Moldavanskaya

For the third time, Odessa was proud to host this month’s Limmud Conference. Limmud is a celebration of Jewish education and relationship building through unique lectures, trainings, workshops, discussions, meetings, concerts, discos, night gatherings and more.

This year, the Limmud Conference was dedicated to the connections between Odessa and Tel Aviv as well as the 140th anniversary of Chaim Nahman Bialik. Many families from Odessa moved to Israel and ultimately settled in Tel Aviv; therefore, the city has absorbed Odessa architecture and culture. The first mayor of Tel Aviv was Meir Dizengoff who lived, studied and joined the Zionist movement in Odessa. After Dizengoff became the head of the town planning in 1911, Dizengoff was elected mayor when Tel Aviv was recognized as a city. Chaim Nahman Bialik is a very important model for the Jewish people in Odessa and worldwide. A Jewish poet who wrote both in Hebrew and Yiddish, Bialik was one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry and was eventually recognized as Israel’s national poet. Limmud 2013

Four hundred people from the former Soviet Union took part in the conference. The participants had the wonderful opportunity to attend lectures of many outstanding scientists, artists, journalists and politicians from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Belarussia and Israel.

Jewish organizations in Odessa actively participated in the Limmud conference. JCC Migdal was a key partner of the conference as their staff was responsible for the logistics of the program. They coordinated the participants of the southern region and provided many of the speakers. JCC Beit Grand offered the Limmud conference participants many interesting hand-on projects in their studios and organized the Klezmer musical and stand-up comic event, all of which highlighted Odessa’s thriving community and proud Jewish history.

The Journey That Matters

Lech Lecha is a Torah portion of journeys, of beginnings. It is a portion dedicated to setting the course of history.

Avram is commanded to go forth from his ancestral home. Together with Sarai and Lot, he travels as far as the land of Canaan and receives God’s blessing that the land will belong to his seed in perpetuity. Although they arrive together in the land, they don’t stay still long; in this portion alone, their wanderings continue through Egypt, around the land of Canaan, facing famine and war, infertility and conflict, evil leaders and righteous kings, name changes and eternal covenants.

In order to understand the journey of Abraham, we must look back before the journey to see what set the stage.

Abraham is the first Torah personality for whom we know much of the life of his father. At the end of last week’s portion, we read of the line of Shem, Noah’s son. Issuing from that line, we learn of Terach, the father of Avram, Nahor and Haran. The narrative shifts suddenly from recording births and deaths to the question of journeys. Parshat Noach concludes:

“Terach took his son Avram, his grandson Lot, son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, wife of his son Avram, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans for the land of Canaan; but when they had come as far as Haran, they settled there. The days of Terach came to 205 years; and Terach died in Haran.”

This yields a clear contradiction in the Biblical text.

Lech Lecha sees God commanding Abraham to leave his “native land” and “father’s house” to set out toward Canaan. What we find is that Avram actually begins this journey together with Terach.

Abraham is not created out of a void. His journey does not begin from a blank slate. He is a product of his father.

What can we say about Terach?  Some recall the story of Abraham’s father being an idol maker, the young iconoclast smashing the statues. But that is Midrash, a story intended to yield an important lesson, not a Biblical “truth.”

Terach, we learn from the Torah, began the journey toward the land of Canaan; he left his home, brought Avram, Sarai and Lot along, but in Haran his journey ends.

Tradition speaks of the 10 trials of Abraham.  Most will say the greatest trial is the binding of Isaac, the Akedah. The exact list of what constitutes the 10 trials is a source of debate, but I would like to assert that beginning this journey, following God’s call, is perhaps the most significant — because from it, the entire rest of the story flows.

To understand Abraham’s journey, to understand our collective journey and the individual journeys that each of us is on, they must be seen in context. Pulling the lens back on Abraham, we see the greater picture of his journey. Terach takes steps of faith toward a brighter future.  Though he never makes it there, Abraham continues that journey. We see beyond the journey of Abraham, as Isaac continues that path, charts his own road but unquestionably extends his father’s journey. With the lens pulled back even further, we see ourselves in this journey, this ongoing quest to fulfill the mandate of Abraham — to make of our journey a blessing.

Rabbi Craig Axler is spiritual leader of Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Md.

Not Up For Negotiation

The four points these J Street nut jobs make comes right out of the PLO handbook (“Our Time To Lead,” Oct. 4).  Point 1:  The 1967 borders.  This is the best example.  Land for peace has never worked and never will.  What J Street doesn’t understand is that wiping Israel off the map is the PLO’s only goal. … Like former Prime Minister Golda Meir said, “When Arabs love their children more then they hate ours, there may be peace.”

Norman Wolfe

A Diplomatic Revolution In The Middle East?

The rapid development of events in the Middle East over the last several months has persuaded some observers that a diplomatic revolution is under way. For the first time in many years, serious negotiations are taking place between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that could bring about a peace settlement. In addition, a process is now under way that not only may deprive the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons, but also may lead to peace talks in Geneva that could end a civil war that has already cost 115,000 lives. Finally, a rapprochement is under way between the U.S. and Iran that could lead to the elimination of the possibility that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.

Each of these three developments, if they were to come to fruition, would greatly enhance Israel’s security. However, despite some optimistic forecasts, it is necessary to take a hard look at whether success in any of the three will be achieved.

There are some promising signs in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. First, the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appears to have come around to the view that a two-state solution is the only path to follow. In addition, some Likud hard-liners, such as Tzahi Hanegbi, seem willing to make concessions on Jerusalem, one of five final status issues that must be negotiated. Third, President Barack Obama has made solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of his two foreign policy priorities; the other is Iran. Secretary of State John Kerry is devoting a considerable amount of his time to the issue. Finally, a nine-month time limit has been set for the completion of negotiations.

Nonetheless, there are several serious problems that must be surmounted. Are the Palestinians willing to make concessions on the so-called right of return of Palestinian refugees, now numbering more than five million? That’s not clear yet.

Problems remain on the Israeli side. There are die-hard Israeli settlers who, either for nationalistic or religious reasons, will violently resist giving up major portions of the West Bank and who will have to be evacuated for any peace agreement to take place.

Even if this problem is solved and a peace agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel isachieved, the problem of Hamas-ruled Gaza remains. With the ouster of Mohamed Morsi as Egypt’s president, Hamas lost its main ally in the region, and it is currently being squeezed hard by the new military-led regime in Egypt.

This poses a rather stark choice for Hamas. Either it will modify its Islamist program, which calls for the destruction of Israel, and move toward a rapprochement with Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, or it can move back toward the so-called “resistance” front of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. The recent decision by the Hamas leadership to form a joint front with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad — an Iranian-supported terrorist organization — may indicate the direction in which Hamas is moving … and it’s not favorable toward peace.

Dr. Robert O. Freedman is the Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone professor of political science emeritus at Baltimore Hebrew University and visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches courses on the Arab-Israeli conflict and on Russian foreign policy.

Who Is An Israeli?

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founder, may have inadvertently complicated things when he gave the name Israel to new the Jewish state. Had he chosen Judea instead, the citizens of the country would have been known as Jews, and their connection with their kin in the Diaspora would have been obvious. As it is, Israel’s population registry lists the national or ethnic identity of citizens, among them Jew, Arab, Druze and more.

Last week, Israel’s Supreme Court struck down an attempt to unite citizenship and nationality when it ruled that the country’s residents cannot identify themselves in the registry as Israelis. The court noted the “weighty implications” of such a change — that it threatened to sever Israel from its role as the homeland of the Jewish people. The connection between world Jewry and Israel is a central tenet of Zionism, and in our view, worthy of preservation.

The 21 Israeli Jews and Arabs who petitioned the court had other concerns. They argued that without a secular Israeli category, the country’s Jews are guaranteed preferential treatment, and the country’s national minorities — Arab, Druze etc. — will be permanent second-class citizens. Such discrimination is undemocratic, they argued.

In some respects, the petitioners have a valid point. Israel’s minorities do get a smaller slice of the national pie. But the reason has little to do with what the minority groups are called. Indeed, all would likely agree that a simple change of identity in the national registry will not solve the issues that challenge Israel’s minorities.

In making its ruling, the Israeli Supreme Court noted, among other things, that “there is no proof of a uniquely Israeli people.” At least from the perspective of the Diaspora, that conclusion is not obvious. Indeed, most of us can rather quickly bring to mind a view of the unique qualities of Sabras and other citizens of Israel and can identify numerous cultural and social differences between Israelis and, for example, American Jews.

We further acknowledge that over the course of the state’s development and growth, the land of Israel, with its Hebrew-speaking majority, has fostered its own unique culture. So we understand the perspective of one critic of the ruling who was quoted as saying that he has more in common with the Israeli Arab petitioners “than with a Jew in Finland or Seattle.” But perhaps that’s not the point.

While it is possible that if Ben-Gurion had picked another name for the country, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, we think not. The Israel we know and admire has become an elastic term for a rich, complex, innovative and evolving society. And the characterization of the country’s citizenry on the world Jewish stage is an important element of international Jewish identification. By insisting on continuing to call a Jew living in Israel a Jew, the court has allowed that society to keep developing while maintaining vital links to the Jewish world outside of the state’s boundaries. We can live with that.

Tyranny Of The Minority

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) watches as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) addresses the press following a House Republican party meeting on Capitol Hill earlier this week. (JASON REED/REUTERS/Newscom)

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) watches as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) addresses the press following a House Republican party meeting on Capitol Hill earlier this week. (JASON REED/REUTERS/Newscom)

The government shutdown, which is now in its second week, is an outrage. And the continued dysfunctionality of the legislative branch of our federal government is an embarrassment. With accusations, threats and sound bites being exchanged by frustrated leadership on both sides, one sometimes loses focus on the real culprits in this sad story.

The truth is, we are being held hostage by some 40 Tea Party Republicans, whose allegiance to their ideology surpasses their interest in democracy or the public good. So, with their narrow focus on the evils of the Affordable Care Act and their commitment to stymy anything associated with President Barack Obama, the Tea Party faithful have forced what the local media has labeled a “shutdown breakdown.”

Government funding bills are not rocket science. And in the absence of a manufactured crisis, a “clean bill” would have sailed through Congress this year, as it does almost every year. Thus, while politicians may have legitimate differences of opinion on programs, focus and the proper functioning of government, all used to agree that it was best to argue about those things while the government was actually still operating. Not so for the Tea Party faithful. They saw an opportunity for making another grand statement and grabbed it. And in the process they have caused more hardship, displacement and waste than even they likely imagined.

Our Jewish community has made the best of the situation by offering financial help for those who need it and by opening synagogue doors and school study halls for those affected to gather socially or to use the extra time for Torah study. While these responses are constructive, they should not lull us into forgetting how nearly unprecedented the situation is. In very simple terms — the shutdown is a mess.

Next up is the Oct. 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling. Will this piece of routine business be turned into another manufactured crisis? In addition to hurting or inconveniencing roughly 320 million Americans, the Tea Party minority is forcing attention and time away from the serious work the government should be doing.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. Some see a revolt brewing within Republican ranks against the Tea Party. That would be a good thing — for Democrats and Republicans alike. The two parties need to be able to do business with one another and to work through issues with good faith, compassion and reasonableness. That’s never been more clear than today.

The Reality Of Modern Woman

maayan_jaffe_square“How are you handling it?”

It’s the first question people ask me now, referring to my every-other-week commute from Kansas City to Baltimore.

I smile and say how fortunate I am and that it all works out. Except when it doesn’t. Like when my flight was delayed for seven hours and then canceled on erev, Yom Kippur. Or when my son, stirred by a farewell kiss two weeks ago, awoke and wrapped his arms around me so tight I thought I’d suffocate. He pleaded, “Mommy, please don’t go.”

I cried the whole way to the airport.

But then I got on the plane and I started reading through my notes about the new Chizuk Amuno executive director, Glenn Easton, for an article I was working on, and I was instantly moved by his mission. When I landed at Reagan National Airport, I went straight to the J Street Conference and networked with the thought-leaders there. Later in the week, I had the privilege of sitting in on a program through the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds about the plight of Israeli-Arabs. I had coffee and interviews with the people we report about … and those got me fired up. I instantly remembered how much I love my job. And I really do.

But no, it’s not easy. It’s not easy for any mother who chooses to work.

Working moms live their lives in a state of perpetual guilt. If you spend too much time at work, you feel guilty about not being with your children. If you take time to go to a school play or Google a good lasagna recipe, you feel guilty about the time taken away from your job.

Did feminism really help us females? Is it a misunderstanding of the feminist agenda that’s left women feeling overwhelmed and under-accomplished?

I don’t believe that gender is solely a social construction. While environment/socialization do play a significant role in human life, research in neuroscience, endocrinology and psychology suggests there is a biological basis for many sex differences in aptitudes and preferences. In general, males have better spatial reasoning skills; females have better verbal skills. Males are greater risk takers; females are more nurturing. This doesn’t mean that women should be prevented from pursuing their dreams in any field or in any way they choose. It just suggests that women who make the choice to stay at home with their kids aren’t deprived, and their decision should be celebrated, too.

During each of my pregnancies, I toyed with the idea of working less, but I could never pull the trigger. Who/what impacted that decision? My husband? He couldn’t care less how many days I work. He has always been supportive of my choices. My employers? Always they have been benevolent and supportive, too. The answer is me.

I want to stay home with my children, and I also want to work like a fiend. It is complicated and confusing, it’s the reality of a workaholic perfectionist in a deadline-driven newsroom.

It’s the reality of modern woman.

Society may expect certain things from us, but we are the ones who choose whether or not we internalize external social values and make them our own.

The goal is to determine and trust in our own value system, to know that all of our values are not as important to us at the same time — to challenge the all-or-nothing thinking — and to remember that things also shift over time. I’m finding this easier as I get older.

Still, when something is important — go for it!

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief mjaffe@jewishtimes.com