Thursday, January 31, 2008

Here comes the bride

It is common knowledge that almost every little girl spends years dreaming about her wedding day, planning it long before she actually meets the man who will win her hand in marriage. She can vividly picture the guests, the ceremony, the cake and flowers and invitations and gifts; but here I would like to address the centerpiece of this dream – the wedding dress.

Every woman is a princess on her wedding day, radiant and glorious. Her dress reflects the way she feels – long and white, flowing and feminine, the symbol of innocence, purity and virtue. She wears it for a holy, sacred moment when her hand and her heart are given to a man who promises to cherish and love and respect her - for the rest of their lives.

Ladies, how many of you attended weddings lately? Or perhaps went to find a wedding gown for you, or your sisters, friends, daughters? Did you, perhaps, notice something unexpected?

Brides are offered provocative, immodest styles. Such styles are becoming normal and popular. Wedding dresses, which for many centuries symbolized the purity and innocence of a bride, nowadays are often anything but innocent.

Some may say I shouldn't be surprised, considering the fashion we usually see these days. And of course, it's always important to dress modestly – not only on one's wedding day. However, even if it sounds like an exaggeration, I think inappropriate and provocative wedding dresses are an extraordinarily striking example of lost respect for the woman, her chastity, the holiness of a wedding ceremony and even marriage itself.

Think about it. Once, a bride would come to her new husband timid and blushing, and her lovely garments only enhanced the true beauty within, the beauty only one man was meant to see. Today, a woman can turn into a display of sexuality even on her wedding day. Divorce rates are climbing up; the difference between today and only a couple of decades ago is undeniable. I'm not saying it all boils down to a wedding dress. It is just a symbol of our society's standards.

This isn't really about slashes in a wedding dress; it is about breaks in the matrimonial stronghold. The bride's naked skin is a sad illustration of her submission to the worldly temptations, rather than to serving God and her family. Her wedding dress is so tight she hardly has room to breathe – or room for holy thoughts on this very special occasion.

So ladies, especially those who are planning their wedding, let's make it a truly beautiful day. This is the most special day in our life, a day we have awaited, a day on which we start a new family union, blessed with love and hope. Let's rejoice in pure thoughts and endless love we feel towards God and our new husbands. Let's dedicate ourselves to our husbands on this wonderful day, to be their faithful helpers and companions. And let's dress in a beautiful, dignified way, in awe and honor of this glorious moment, so that all who set their eye upon us can happily say: "Here comes the bride!"

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wedding plans update

I'm just popping in to give all you ladies a quick update on how things went yesterday. We arrived at the court early, and made it there first, so the meeting with the rabbinical court's expert started around two hours ahead of time. After briefly viewing my documents, he progressed to speaking with my grandmother, which took most of the meeting. They talked a bit in Yiddish, then he asked her about her Hebrew name, her parents' and siblings' names, some family history, etc. When he asked her about what happened to her parents during WW2, poor Grandma started crying (as she always does whenever the subject is brought up) and told that they were killed in Auschwitz. A few minutes later, I already received a positive recommendation along with a "Mazel Tov".

This means things are going well, and we can progress to the next stage - a discussion in front of the dayanim (rabbinical judges), who will give the final verdict (normally in accordance with the expert's recommendation). Hopefully this part will go smoothly as well. The meeting is scheduled two weeks from now, and if you think that's a long time to wait, think again! We would have gotten a much later date, but my dear chatan stepped up and told them the date we planned for the wedding, and boldly stated that rescheduling is absolutely out of the question. He sounded so confident! I could never say something like that. And so they squeezed us in.

Anyway, we're optimistic now. Hearing the expert say, "well, it's obvious to me that you're Jewish" instantly poured more energy into me. Can you imagine how wonderful it felt, after weeks of nerve-wrecking tension?

There's so much to do, as anyone who has ever planned a wedding knows well. We need to make arrangements about the reception; music; food; invitations; I already scheduled a meeting with the seamstress and hairdresser; on top of that, we still need to decide where we're going to live!.. As you can imagine, a million things overflow my mind and I'm running around in a haze of to-do lists and deadlines, with a wide smile on my face.

Oh... and thank you so much, all the dear ones who have been thinking about us and praying for us! Your encouragement and support mean more than words can tell!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tomorrow

The big day is tomorrow. I was a bundle of nerves during the weeks preceding the trial, but all I feel now is uncertainty. I wish it was over already.

I thought this period of preparing to become a kallah would be so joyful, so full of delightful excitement. And so I found myself today, trying out wedding dresses – and you know, this magical moment, when you look in the mirror and ask yourself, "hey, who's this beautiful young woman in the white dress? Oh, yes! It's me! It's really me!" – and all the while, doubts. Nagging doubts. Will the wedding take place on the intended date? Or will all of our plans and preparations be in vain? What will the chatan's parents think if we come to them and say, "Um, we're really sorry… but don't send out invitations to all the extended family yet. You see, maybe we'll need to postpone the wedding because, uh, the rabbinical court isn't quite certain Anna is Jewish…"

Fantastic. A wonderful start to becoming a part of his family.

Some of you might be asking, "But Anna, why didn't you go to the rabbinical court earlier? You had all the time in the world to prove you are Jewish, why did you put it off so long that it actually endangers your wedding plans?"

One, I didn't know the process would be so long and complicated, or that it would involve so much bureaucracy. Sure, technically, I knew I'd have to prove I'm Jewish, because my family is so assimilated. But... I mean, I grew up knowing I'm Jewish, listening to stories of my grandmother about Shabbat, holidays and Jewish rituals in her community prior to World War 2. I thought it would be obvious very quickly. A suggestion that I might not be what I am is absolutely laughable. I mean, imagine trying to gather documents and evidence to prove that you have an arm! Or a leg for that matter.

And two, I had no idea I would need this so soon… I thought to myself, "oh well, I'll deal with it after my professional training is done and I have more time". Now it turns out I don't have time. Conclusion: when you know you have something important to do, don't put it off!

Now that I've rambled long enough, I feel that some of the weight has been lifted off my heart. There's something comforting in putting one's frustrations and fears into written form, even though normally I try to avoid doing this here. I'll make an exception this time because I feel this is a really important message to pass along: if you are an Orthodox Jew but your parents didn't get married through an Orthodox Jewish ceremony and you think you might have to prove you're Jewish in order to get married, do it now. Trust me, you don't want to spend sleepless weeks later, wondering whether all your wedding plans might be suddenly called off.

I hope you ladies are having a wonderful day/evening. I'll keep you posted on how things progress. Not much more on my mind right now…

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Standing before the court

In two days, I'm going to face the rabbinical court and present evidence which will, hopefully, prove beyond doubt that I'm a part of the Jewish people. Because religion in general and Jews in particular were oppressed in the USSR, the Jewish community dwindled almost completely. The rates of intermarriage and assimilation skyrocketed. Thus, we have come to the situation when just about every "Russian Jew" needs to trace his or her ancestry back to the maternal grandmother, to be able to bring some evidence of being Jewish. I know and God knows I'm Jewish, of course, but I need the rabbinical court to recognize me as such, too. I need it to be able to get married by Jewish Law, to have my future children considered Jewish, and to be buried as a Jew.

I spent the last few weeks collecting various documents and family photographs, and talking to my grandmother, helping her revive in her memory childhood events of Jewish life in her community. Grandma's evidence might be of crucial significance in the rabbinical court. I think I did all I could. All that remains now is to pray.

I pray for God to give wisdom to the man who will examine our documents and question us, so he can see that the young woman standing in front of him isn't some sort of impostor; I pray that I can humbly show the sincerity of my soul, that desires nothing but to reconnect with its people and build a faithful home in Israel.

I pray that Grandma feels her best, and that her memory is clear, so she can tell enough to make it impossible for anyone to doubt what she has to say. I also pray that she will be questioned gently and patiently, because often it takes some time and effort for her to remember important details. 92 years isn't a trifle. I hope the expert of the rabbinical court will take this into consideration.

I'm not asking for a favor. I want to claim what's rightfully mine, my heritage. And thus, I pray to be judged justly. But I also ask God for mercy, because I know nothing and no one is perfect on this earth, and I need to remember I'll be in His hands the whole time I stand before the court.

And finally, I pray for a yielding, humble heart that will embrace whatever trials God might have in store for me. I pray to be freed from rebellion, bitterness, quick temper, foolishness and frustration, and to dwell in His house, always.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Is this what women want?

A couple of days ago, when I entered my favorite online forum, I was puzzled to see a topic headline that said literally: "Women, Don't Get Married!". What is this, I asked myself? I knew many of the ladies who participated in the forum were happily married, others were still in search… needless to say, I was surprised, but decided to see what it really was about.

The author of that topic (a young woman, by the way), started with a description of what – in her opinion – was a typical housewife: a tired, ill-dressed, frustrated, uninteresting woman. Having children, she argued, doesn't leave enough free time so that a woman can take proper care of herself – and that includes daily visits to beauty salons, restaurants and shopping centers (without which, of course, no happiness can exist!). Later, she referred to the well-known TV series "Sex and the City" as her ideal of a carefree, liberated lifestyle that suits a modern woman.

The rest of her arguments went like this –

1. If your career doesn't leave you quality time with your children, what's the point of having children (the assumption career is a top priority wasn't even discussed)?
2. A housewife suffers an inevitable process of mental and intellectual degradation.
3. Knowing only one man – one's husband – limits a woman's horizons. And anyway, since a woman can earn enough money to enjoy the previously mentioned lifestyle, a husband is nowadays useless.

I wasn't planning to enter the discussion at all, because that woman's post seemed so radical, so primitive and shallow, and I thought – why waste my breath? What stopped me from walking by was, sadly, the tremendous amount of positive feedback she received from other surfers ("Bravo!", "Every word is truth", "I just got a divorce and I'm so happy"). The last straw was a comment that said: "A woman should get married while she's young, have a baby, give the baby to her parents or in-laws, develop a career while being supported by her husband, and when he runs out of finances, divorce him. Then she can meet other men, enjoy life, and sometimes spend a vacation with her child. This way, a woman has EVERYTHING!". The forum exploded with cheers.

I decided to post a reply. I wrote about the true values that were going to stay with us for as long as we live, unlike momentary pleasures. I wrote about children, who needed a real, loving family to grow up in. About God's will, who chose to make us, women, loving and compassionate, so we can give love and care to our family. I said that the desire to take without giving anything in return, and objectifying men by looking at them as a source of cash was an insult to a woman's dignity. And good looks, I concluded, would count for nothing when a woman grows old and finds out she's all alone, unloved, unsatisfied, bitter.

The feeble voice of support I received was drowned in waves of replies that accused me of being old-fashioned, idealistic, unintelligent, "desperate to get married" and even "too young to understand what true happiness is about". Others called me to "taste the world's goods" before disregarding them.

This didn't make me angry, but I was bewildered. I went offline, but was left with a lot of questions – how could it happen that grown women, with a supposedly mature point of view, aspire for a lifetime of superficial pleasures, vanity, submitting to their bodies' desires and neglecting spiritual growth? How can a woman be so self-centered, instead of giving love and support to others? How can anybody substitute the true love, companionship and care that can be found in marriage, by simply using other people and moving on? Is this what women truly want?

I hope not. I hope I just came across a group of frustrated women who had unhappy personal lives. I chose not to say that in my opinion, it was them – not the previously mentioned housewives! -who suffered from degradation, emotional and spiritual. That it was them who had a distorted view on womanhood, family and happiness. But it still makes me sad that these days a young woman receives a wave of vehemence when she dares to declare family is her top priority. It is sad that wanting to give unconditional love makes people smirk and say – "you don't know what life is about".

(*Originally published on LAF)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why I'm vegetarian

Since the time I started blogging, I mentioned several times that I'm a vegetarian; I've been one for 12 years now, in fact. And each time, someone asked me, "why?" – so I finally decided to sit down and try to write a decent and well-rounded answer.

Because of health reasons

You should know that in the meat industry, like everywhere else, the owners are interested to have as much production in as little time as possible. Cattle and poultry are given unhealthy food that makes the quality of the meat deteriorate. And not just that, but unless you're buying organic, your meat probably contains hormones as well, which are given to animals in order to stimulate growth. That's right – hormones. Many people are concerned because of phytoestrogens in soy, but in my opinion, the hormonal additives to meat are much more dangerous.

Because of the environment

Numerous studies have proved that reducing meat consumption would allow us to reduce waste, and would make us able to use the earth's resources to feed more people who are currently starving. I know this is debatable, but it's definitely food for thought.

Because of frugality

Meat, especially good quality meat, isn't cheap. It usually eats up (no pun intended) a big part of the family grocery budget. Pick up any frugal cookbook, and it will suggest ways to 'stretch' meat, or cut down on meat consumption in other ways. To save money, even the carnivores in our family eat meat only once or twice a week.

Because of how animals are treated

God allows us to slaughter animals and eat meat, but He clearly and explicitly forbids cruel treatment of animals. This doesn't mean that animals are equal to human beings, but their suffering definitely isn't something we are allowed to ignore. Truly, I can't imagine our kind, gentle, merciful and loving God not frowning upon cruel treatment of animals. Let's have a look…

Exodus 23:4-5: "If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him."

Exodus 23:12: "Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed" (emphasis mine).

Deuteronomy 22:10 - "Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together."

Proverbs 12:10 - "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel."

How animals are typically treated in today's meat industry? Often they are unable to even move freely, or breathe fresh air. Again, it's all about reducing costs while producing as much meat as possible.

In my current situation, I'm unable to afford free-range meat, and thus I'm choosing not to eat meat at all, rather than support this cruel industry. I eat well, I'm healthy and I don't feel deprived because of this slight alteration in my menu.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The sins of our feminist mothers

A reader sent me a link to this interesting article .

Women of our generation often experience militant feminist influences not only from the outside, but from women who are supposed to be our closest, most trustworthy mentors:

"As we worked our way through high school and university in the '70s and early '80s, girls like me listened to our mothers, our trailblazing feminist teachers, and the outspoken women who demanded a better deal for all women. They paved the way for us to have rich careers."

While women are young, leading interesting lives with challenging careers, they often brush off the call to home, family and children:

"How dare he - a rich father of two, with perfect wife and perfect life - presume for a moment to tell women, thriving at the peak of our careers, that we should stop, marry, and procreate. The sheer audacity of it."

But what happens to the have-it-all myth after a few years?

"We are the ones, now in our late 30s and early 40s, who are suddenly sitting before a sheepish doctor listening to the words: 'Well, I'm sorry, but you may have left your run too late. Women at your age find it very difficult to get pregnant naturally, and unfortunately the success rate of IVF for a 39-year-old is around one in five - and dropping. In another 12 months you'll only have a 6 per cent chance of having a baby. So given all the effort and expense, do you really want to go through with this? Why don't you go home and think it through? But don't leave it too long - your clock is ticking.' Then he adds for comic value, 'And don't forget, the battery is running low!'"

"The end result: here we are, supposedly "having it all" as we edge 40; excellent education; good qualifications; great jobs; fast-moving careers; good incomes; and many of us own the trendy little inner-city pad we live in. It's a nice caffe-latte kind of life, really."

The price, the terrible price of knowing how cruelly we have been misled, is devastating:

"I am childless and I am angry. Angry that I was so foolish to take the word of my feminist mothers as gospel. Angry that I was daft enough to believe female fulfillment came with a leather briefcase."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sarah – a Mom with a vision

Sarah is a single stay-at-home mother. Her husband left a couple of years ago, and Sarah was left with a toddler and a baby on her hands. Since her husband is broke, she is unable to make him pay child support – and he makes no effort to help her in a non-material way. As a matter of fact, Sarah's children are practically fatherless, except for holiday greetings several times a year.

Sarah always planned to be a stay-at-home wife and mother. When she got married, she was full of hopes for a beautiful, strong family, where the children would have two loving parents, a father who provides for them and a mother who is always there for them, creating a warm and happy home. She always believed nothing is better for a family than a wife and mother who dedicates herself to homemaking.

She never imagined her marriage would fall apart, but it did. Furthermore, she was left with no source of financial support but welfare and occasional help from her relatives. Everybody assumed that now Sarah will start working, to provide more money for her children than welfare could allow. Everybody thought that in her current situation, when she has to provide for her children's basic necessities, staying at home is an impossible luxury.

Sarah, however, had different ideas about what her children truly need. And guess what, it wasn't a bigger apartment, new toys or fancy clothes. Sarah decided that as long as her children are fed, clothed and have a roof over their heads, what they need most is Mom. Mom, at home with them, always there for them, just as she planned and promised them when they were born. What her children need least of all in addition to losing their father, she decided, was losing a big part of their mother's attention and care as well.

I met Sarah at a social gathering. People were having the usual dinner party conversations – about their jobs – and when asked what she was doing, Sarah replied she is a full-time mom. Most of the people looked uncomfortable and quickly changed the subject. One woman, however, responded with indignation. "All the women I know are perfectly capable of having a full-time job while raising children," – she said, - "how come you allow yourself to stay at home? After all the way women went to gain their rights?" - That was the nicest, gentlest comment of all she made later, describing Sarah's as a social parasite who indulges in a carefree and easy life on the decent tax-payer's dime.

Sarah didn't lose her self-respect and terminated the unpleasant conversation in a quick, dignified way. In fact, she looked as though she wasn't the least bit shocked or outraged. Even though we weren't introduced, I took the liberty to approach her and express my admiration of her choice and my dismay about the bitter and vehement attack she suffered that night.

She shrugged. She was used to that kind of reaction, she explained. Then she added, "Occasionally, someone will say 'That's great! I wish I could have afforded to do that.' And I look at their fifty dollar shoes and their hundred dollar hairdos, and then at my five dollar shoes and hair which hasn't seen a pair of scissors for about six years, and I think... I couldn't afford it either, but it's too important a job not to do just because I like pretty dresses."

It's a matter of priorities. It's a matter of understanding what's really important, what's really meaningful in our lives – and however you look at it, there's just no way to give your family the same amount of time and attention they need after coming home from a full-time job. We are not superwomen. We can't be at two places at once. I understand it, Sarah understands it, but apparently, feminists like the one who criticized Sarah for being a lazy bum think they know better.

For Sarah, the choice was obvious. She knew that after children grow up, they won't remember how many pairs of jeans they had, or whose room was bigger, or whose toys were fancier. They will remember afternoons on which they came from school and were greeted by Mom's patient smile. They will remember special moments spent together, affection and care and support when they most needed it.

Sarah is doing important, full-time work to make her community a better place. She is creating human beings who are intelligent, socially aware, friendly, educated and spiritual. This is not a task that can be done by a babysitter or teacher. Only a mother can accomplish this – a Mom with a vision.

(* edited and published with permission)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Back!


jerusalem 002, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

Hello, ladies! I hope everyone had/is having a lovely weekend. I visited Jerusalem this past Friday, and due to poor time management didn't make it home before Shabbat, so I stayed as a guest with a very dear family. I thought I'd come home right after Shabbat, but that didn't work out either and I came home rather late yesterday. Not exactly what I planned, but at least I had a good time!

Jerusalem was lovely, as always. There is such a special atmosphere of holiness in the mountains and the sky above them. I prayed at the Western Wall and wanted to take a picture as well… but somehow, whenever I visit there, I just stand in awe and forget about my camera.

I would like to thank you; all the dear friends who wrote to me and let me know I'm in your thoughts and prayers. It means so much to me. Things are still very uncertain on my side, but my heart is calm. I have done all I can, and now I'm simply going to pray and put my trust in Hashem. He knows my heart, and He will give me just what I need at the moment. I will share more details, hopefully, next week.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Egalitarianism and abortion

First of all, I feel I must make a little disclaimer here: I don't think all feminists are a pro-abortion, anti-family, zero population growth crowd. However, in my eyes, the link between egalitarianism and increased rate of abortions is unavoidable.

For many years, we have been told that women are not only as good as men (a statement which was never contradicted by God, the Bible, or truly godly people), but that there is absolutely no difference between men and women. Women and men, we were assured, feel, think and act alike in identical circumstances, and anyone who tells you anything different is a biased chauvinist!

I think this is an absolutely preposterous claim, but have it if you please. You can tell us that if it weren't for a suffocating cultural regime of the past, women wouldn't mind sleeping around and cursing like drunken sailors; that boys would love to change diapers of baby dolls, demonstrating their soft and nurturing nature; that all differences of mind, emotion, spirit and conduct between men and women were man-made and culturally induced.

But there is one thing you cannot fight. The woman's body, not the man's, was designed to carry babies, give birth, and nurture the little ones with mother's milk. You can despise motherhood, but there's one little fact standing in your way: without it, none of us would be here now!

Pregnancy. The most blatant step of nature over feminism. The most obvious evidence of unfairness and inequality towards women. You cannot allow it to take control!

So what would you do? Obviously, eliminating motherhood entirely isn't an option – but minimizing it is possible. Provide women with birth control. And, as an ultimate form of "reproductive choices" (gotta love this term!), comes abortion.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Questions and Answers - Part 2

... And so we continue yesterday's Q&A:

6. "How do you feel when people force their opinions and expectations onto you? How do you deal with this?"

I used to be very defensive and very sensitive to criticism. Every negative word would make me bang my head against the wall - but in time, I developed thicker skin and got over it. Now, I simply don't respond to people who are pushy enough to force their opinions. I have learned it's a waste of time to hold a discussion with someone who doesn't wish to learn and grow, but only wants to make everyone else stick to their point. So normally I just shake it off and move on.

7. "What would be the most important thing you would teach your children?"

To know and love God, to trust Him and to serve Him joyfully, with an open, honest, tender heart. To have a personal relationship with Him and place Him above all. Nothing in the world can be more precious than that.

8. "What would you most like to see changed/occur in the world within your lifetime?"

I wish more people realized that the crazy life we are living isn't making us happy. That owning many nice things or being popular doesn't bring peace of mind. I wish more people took the time to be with their families, their friends, and above all, God; to reflect and meditate on life, and to live every moment to the fullest; I wish more people saw there are more options than constantly running the rat race to be able to afford items you won't have the time to enjoy. I wish more people who are currently unhappy, stressed out and unfulfilled found their way to a simpler, more peaceful and contented life.

9. "What do you find is the most common misconception regarding you ideologies and how do you think people so often get the wrong impression?"

Oh my, where do I start? I think it's everything that has to do with how I see the woman's role. More specifically: I get questions about whether I believe women are less worthy than men, whether I think women should be uneducated, shouldn't make a difference in the world, should buck up and take it if they are abused... all sorts of crazy nonsense. Where does it come from? I think it's unwillingness to understand, maybe even laziness. It would be enough to take 10-15 minutes and check out my FAQs section to know what I really think on these matters.

10. "What was it like overhauling your lifestyle and how long did it take for you to feel comfortable in your own skin?"

I think this question should be rephrased from past to present. You see, the journey I am on is a constant process of learning and growing closer to God, which - I hope and pray - will not stop until my last breath. But there were certainly important milestones, for example, renouncing the ideas of feminism, making the commitment to modesty, purity and chastity, starting to learn woman's role in the home and the arts of homemaking - all of this didn't happen in one day. I estimate it took about two years until I could say, "I have changed". Around that time it was also noticed and acknowledged by people close to me.

Again – thank you for bringing up all these important points. I feel I could, and maybe should, write a separate essay about each and every one of them – it's a shame time doesn't allow at the moment. I do hope I provided some clarity, though, and if you have any other questions about these topics, or other issues, feel more than free to contact me anytime!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Questions and Answers - Part 1

A blog reader, Rebecca, emailed me with some questions, and after answering them, I though I'd share my answers here. I decided to post the Q&A in two parts, because it was simply too long to read at once, in my opinion. Thank you, Rebecca, for taking the time to write – you made me reflect on some things that have been lurking at the back of my mind for some time. Here goes…

1. "Was your discovery of God a gradual thing or did you just one day wake up and realise He was there looking after you?"

I don't think I ever thought there is no God, even in my most secular periods of life. It's just that there were times when I didn't know how to get close to Him; gradually, step by step, I opened up my heart to Him and allowed Him to speak to me and direct me. I stopped rebelling and devoted my energy instead to developing a close relationship with Him and learning from what He taught me. This journey has been more wonderful than I could have ever imagined.

2. "How do you read the words of the Bible? Which sections do you read literally, which figuratively? What is your favourite book of Scripture?"

I try to dedicate time every day to read and meditate on the Word of God. I take what is written literally unless it's clear that there's a deeper meaning behind the words, like often in Proverbs, which is my favorite book of Scripture, packed with pearls of wisdom!

3. "Do you think it is right to base Western law upon the Bible's teachings when not all individuals believe in the Bible?"

This is a tough one. I don't believe we can make people righteous by forcing it on them, and indeed, there have been outlaws and outcasts at all times. However, I think there's no better basis for laws than the Ten Commandments for Jews, and the Laws of Noah for non-Jews, the most basic moral and ethical code that will never expire.

4. "How would you like to see progressive leftist individuals change to become more tolerant towards members of the religious right?"

I wish there was less legislation to make abortions easier and to pull women out of their homes and into workforce. I wish leftists were more respectful and less arrogant towards the religious community; I wish we weren't treated like oppressed, narrow-minded idiots who don't know what's good for them.

5. "How do you think of people shunned by some of the Christian conservative groups (alternative religions, feminists and homosexuals for example)? Do you think of them as people with their own lives, loved ones and dreams?"

A very good question. I believe each and every person, no matter how deeply immersed in sin, is precious to our Father in Heaven, and should therefore be also precious to us, if we aspire to reflect His love. I used to be a feminist. I used to be sexually impure. I used to practice very sinister dark rituals. God loved me all the way, and continues to love me and guide me every day of my life. He loves everyone! And therefore, even if I disagree with certain people's actions and find them sinful, I still regard these people as precious children of God.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chocolate bomb brownies


pics 002, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

Dear ones, thank you so much for all your prayers and support. I should have known my vague message was probably going to cause concern in some of you. So, just to make sure no one thinks something truly horrible happened: me, my family and everyone close to us are all well and healthy. There's no need to be too worried - it's just a period with a bit of stress and uncertainty... and this, too, shall pass. And once it does, hopefully I will be able to share more.

In the meantime, I'm doing my best to keep this boat afloat. Surely you can't go wrong with prayer, a good, healthy sense of humor, and... some brownies! I tried this super-quick and easy recipe last week and they were gone in a jiffy.

To make them, you'll need:

3 eggs
1 cup of sugar

- beat eggs with sugar

400 gr of your favorite chocolate (I took 2 parts of dark chocolate, 1 part of milk chocolate, and 1 part of white chocolate)
1 cup butter

- chop chocolate and butter and melt them together in a microwave oven or on the stove. Stir until the mass is smooth. Let it cool down a bit (but not enough to make it solid), and mix in beaten eggs with sugar.

Add and mix well:

1 cup flour
1\2 cup cocoa powder

Pour into baking tray. You can decorate with chopped nuts, chocolate, etc. Bake for approx. 20-25 minutes at 180C/350F. Don't let it sit in the oven for too long, because you'll want it to be rich and moist inside. Mmm.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Trusting the Lord

I can't tell you much right now, except that this is a season of my life when I feel especially strongly how we need to put our trust in God, and God alone. He is the only One Who will determine our fate. Not our own feeble attempts to make things "right". Not other men's ideas of right and wrong. God alone.

I pray for my heart to be emptied of fear of men. Even the greatest men are still men. Nothing a man tells me can or should hurt me.

Those of you who are regular readers know I don't complain often; I'm not the type of person to ask for sympathy. But now I will tell you that I'm going through a very difficult, very challenging period, full of trials and struggles. It's a real challenge at times to keep my eyes on the Lord and know that no matter what happens, it will come from Him.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Modesty = remaining in the shadows?

Today's question about modesty comes from dear Margaret, who writes:

"Dear Anna,

At the moment, I am doing my best to become more modest... it is an uphill struggle! Everything I have read on the subject suggests that part of modesty is not drawing attention to yourself, and while I agree with that wholeheartedly, it does raise a problem for me. While I love pale colours and neutral shades, I also love bright and intense colours very much. Is there a way of incorporating this love of bright colour into my dress without being immodest?"

***

Dear Margaret,

First of all, how wonderful it is that you are currently on a journey to developing a gentle, modest and feminine appeal. Trust me, you will be richly rewarded beyond anything you can imagine! It has been so for me and for every other young woman I know.

Modesty isn't just about how much you cover and how much you show. Like you rightly stated, not drawing too much attention to oneself is an integral part of being modest. However, in no way modesty is about being frumpy or blending in with the crowd! There's a variety of sweet, feminine styles to choose from, which can enhance your natural beauty and bring out your loveliness without screaming, "HEY! Look at me!"

In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with bright colors, in moderation. I think it's a question of finding a good balance and sensing what is appropriate for every occasion. A spot of color, such as a turquoise blouse or an orange scarf, will not look out of place as long as you don't walk around looking like a neon signpost. Also, an item of clothing that is appropriate for everyday wear might not be quite right for attending a place of worship for example, that's something else you might want to take into consideration.

As you understand, I believe there aren't any clear-cut rules about what exactly is appropriate and when. I think you should simply use your common sense and pay attention to how people react to what you wear. If you receive compliments on your pretty, colorful outfit, that's great. If just about everyone in your surroundings turns their head whenever you walk by and can't stop staring for several minutes, it might be a good idea to ask yourself whether something you are wearing is attracting too much attention.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Have a blessed Shabbat


zfatarch, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

It's less than two hours until Shabbat here, so I'm only popping in to say a little hello to all you ladies. I wish everyone a wonderful, refreshing and relaxing weekend!

By the way... I'm not sure exactly how many Jewish readers I have here, but I'd like to make a humble request to all of you: even if you don't normally keep the commandments of the Shabbat day, I kindly ask you not to visit this blog, post comments, or email me during Shabbat (your time zone, naturally). There's no way I can know if you visited of course, but I trust that you will be respectful of this modest little wish. This request only applies to Jews.

Also, I usually try to moderate comments more than once a day, but of course comments won't be updated during Shabbat, so keep it in mind. Not long ago I received emails from dear ladies who wondered why I didn't publish their comments, and whether they said something wrong, simply because it took me a bit more than one day. :o)

Blessings to all of you from Israel! PS: I planned to visit Jerusalem today, and pray at the Western Wall, but due to the visit of Mr. Bush Jerusalem is supposed to be packed today and security is probably heavy enough to make it almost impossible to navigate. Thus, my trip to Jerusalem - and hopefully, more pictures - will have to wait.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A link in the chain

Several readers have asked me to tell a bit about my family history, and since there are many interesting stories to tell and many places which would be good to start them, today I'll mention something that was, and is – unfortunately – very common in our family, and in many other Jewish families around the globe. I refer, of course, to intermarriage and assimilation.

My maternal grandmother, Magda (Miryam) Rosman, was born into a Jewish family in a small town in Transylvania, the second child out of seven siblings. She grew up in a community where all work ceased on the Sabbath day, blessings and prayers were said all the time, and if a Jewish man (in some very far-fetched situation) declared his wish to marry a non-Jewish woman, the entire village would run out of their homes tearing at their hair and crying "gevalt!"

Yet with all that, my grandmother ended up marrying a man who wasn't a Jew. Please understand that I'm not passing judgment on my grandmother or anyone else here. But the fact remains that intermarriage is one of the strictest, most serious prohibitions in Judaism – and for a good reason. Judaism isn't theory – it's a practice, alchemy of everyday life, of turning the mundane into holy. This cannot happen without a Jewish marriage and family, which was one of the strongest forces that glued the Jewish people together throughout the centuries. And just in case you might think we're talking about some crazy pure-blood doctrine here, I'll clarify that there was, and always will be, room for converts whose heart is sincere. And it's not like we think there's something WRONG with not being Jewish - we simply believe that if God made someone a Jew, it means this someone has an obligation to marry another Jew.

My father wasn't Jewish either. My aunt and uncle married non-Jews as well. So did many of Mom's cousins who didn't make aliyah right after World War 2. The natural result? Their children, for the most part, aren't aware of the fact that they are Jewish. I didn't know I'm Jewish until a while after we came to Israel, I just didn't make the connection. No one ever told me! One more generation of life like that, and the assimilation would have been complete. But thankfully, I was given the privilege to know my roots better and connect to them. I'm not sure why, of all the extended family, I'm the only one who came to see the incredible importance of passing the torch that was ignited so many generations ago at Mt. Sinai.

Even so, a moment came when I had to wonder; what would be better – intermarriage or dying alone, as a single? Surely intermarriage would be better; I tried to reason with myself for a while. I'm a woman, which means that even if I married a non-Jew my children would still be Jewish. Wouldn't that be better than if I had no children at all?

But then I realized that numbers isn't our problem. We have always been a small people. The problem in this generation isn't that we have too few Jews, the problem is that we aren't sincere enough and committed enough in our faith. Marrying a non-Jew would water this commitment down even more. And so the inevitable conclusion I came to was that it's better to die alone than to marry a non-Jew.

Not that I'm worried about the extinction of Jews as a whole – not even one bit. The One Who preserved us through thousands of years of exile will be The One Who continues to guard us and keep us safe. No; it is only the fate of individual Jews that detach themselves from their people that I see as a tragedy. The Jewish people will go on, like they have always gone on even after very numerous losses. But each and every Jew decides for himself or herself whether they choose to become another link in the chain.

I know this might sound pretty strong and maybe even a bit gloomy, but this is my share of thoughts on family history and Jewish history for today.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Home, the forgotten realm

In our day and age, home life is – sadly - devalued, unappreciated, and sneered at; good home life, with its orderliness, cheerfulness, peace, contentment and simplicity is so very rare, that some people of my generation grew up without knowing it at all. In too many households, there are no orderly routines, no lovingly arranged decorations, no home-cooked meals, no family dinners, no welcoming neighbors into your home and showing hospitality – none of the warmth and lovingness that transform a house, a dwelling, into a home.

The incredibly important work of a woman as a keeper of her home, the woman who is present at her home, being the center and spirit of it, caring and nurturing, loving and creating, tending to the needs of her loved ones – is also tossed aside, aprons and home-baked cookies sound almost offensive in the light of the feminist agenda.

By the more tolerant, a mother of young children who stays home to care for her little ones is still seen as somehow 'justified', making a noble – even if unfortunate and unrewarding – sacrifice; but mothers of grown-up children, or married and childless women, or grown-up daughters – how dare they remain at home? How dare they to focus on the home? How can they say they are doing something important and worthwhile?

Yet I think no woman – mother, wife, daughter, sister or grandmother – should feel guilty for loving her home, for cherishing her home and making it the focus of her life, love, work, energy and creativity. No woman should feel she is squandering her talents because the role she chose isn't glorious or well-paid. No woman should feel unimportant, useless, or unproductive, because she chooses to make home her first priority.

Think of a childhood spent without ever smelling a delicious cake or pie, fresh for the oven; without ever tugging at the strings of Mother's apron (because she doesn't own one); without long, peaceful afternoons spent side by side, learning, laughing and playing alongside each other. Think of a husband coming home, each and every evening, to an empty, silent, cold, unorganized and basically uninhabited home, full of appliances and objects, but devoid of love and dedication. Imagine a tired old man who is walking down the street, thirsty for a glass of water to drink or for a few warm words of friendly conversation – but there is no one behind those closed unwelcoming doors during the entire day, and way too much pressure and rush during the evenings and weekends; think of all the loneliness, detachment, stress, unhappiness and emptiness that have been our share ever since we dismissed the home as the woman's realm, as a center of love, joy, peace, warmth and hospitality, and not just a place to eat and sleep.

What cause can be more noble and rewarding than setting our goal to re-conquering that realm? We can do that, bit by bit, with our daily work at home; each sweet-smelling, sparkling clean clothesline, each home-baked pie and hand-knitted scarf, each neighborly smile and welcoming gesture lead us on our way to become, again, queens of our households.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A note from a reader

I received the following email from Beth, a frequent visitor of this blog, two days ago, and saw it as important enough to share (with Beth's permission, of course) a part of it with everyone here, together with my reply:

***

"Hello Anna,
I have been reading your blog almost daily for some time and have always found it to be a refreshment. In the past couple of weeks, however, I have noticed a change in the atmosphere that concerns me... I am finding that the comments, instead of supporting and enhancing your posts, are now quite often attempts to refute your viewpoints, often by people who are not serving the Lord in any way. These comments really alter the atmosphere of the blog--Instead of feeling refreshed and strengthened for my work when I leave, now I find myself feeling exasperated and tense. In my opinion, it detracts from the purpose of your blog... that of promoting "home, femininity, and being a lady" (from your description of your blog). Perhaps I am alone in my feelings... but I did want to share them for you to consider.

The world is full of people who believe that living a holy, modest life, set apart for the Lord, is complete folly. Going to a blog where this godly lifestyle is promoted, and where we can all encourage one another in our pursuit of this lifestyle, is like an oasis in the desert, a place of cool refreshment. But the presence of the negative comments is more like visiting a hoped-for oasis but having sand thrown in one's eyes instead!"

***

Here is what I wrote in response:

"Dear Beth,

Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful letter. I truly enjoyed and appreciated hearing from you. Also, thank you for prompting me to think a bit more about something I've been awfully neglectful of lately.

I have always been a heavy user of comment moderation, careful not to allow an unpleasant spirit in my comments, until recently, when I became so overwhelmed with studies, keeping home, and other important things that keep me very busy right now, that I sort of let it slide. All those long comments with objections to what I write? Most likely I didn't even read them very thoroughly... just skimmed through them, said "oh well, there's nothing really hateful or rude, let it be", and clicked "publish".

Yes, I know this caused things to get a bit out of hand lately. I wouldn't like to limit discussion space, but I want my blog to be a peaceful place for encouraging home-focused women, not a hot debate area. I don't want a woman who keeps her eyes on God, her marriage, family and home, to feel uncomfortable after visiting my blog."

***

So, this is just to allow you a little glimpse into my thoughts. I deeply appreciate all those who visit and comment, even if they disagree with me. But my blogging time is very limited right now; and the time I can spare for debates is pretty much nonexistent. So I do hope no one will hold grudges against me if at some point I decide I don't have the time or energy to host and monitor a certain discussion, and delete a comment - not because there was something wrong or offensive with it in itself, but simply because I don't want a discussion to go in that direction.

The purpose of this blog, like Beth rightly noticed, is mainly to encourage and support likeminded ladies. Please understand that my intention is to keep it that way.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Women supporting their husbands?

I was asked by a reader to give my opinion about women working outside the home in order to support their husbands while the men dedicate most of their time to religious studies.

For those of you who don't know, these situations are common particularly in strictly observant, very conservative and very traditional Orthodox Jewish communities. Supporting one's husband while he studies Torah all day long is considered a virtue, a merit, a peak of spirituality and self-sacrifice. That's why I understand that some of the things I'm going to say might go down badly; but still, on this little corner of the web, I'll allow myself to voice my humble opinion.

To give you a better perspective, I'll mention that birth control is usually out of the question in these communities, and so having 8, 10, 12 or more children isn't uncommon. Are you starting to see what's bothering me here? Exactly. Imagine you are a mother of 10 children, a homemaker, AND a PRIMARY wage-earner. Doesn't it seem like a wee bit too much?

Just because something is normal in religious, traditional Jewish communities doesn't make it good and right in my eyes. Yes, Jewish men are commanded to study the Torah. But where does it say that studying the Torah liberates men from the obligation to provide for their families?

In my eyes, the Torah is the perfect guide for a pure, holy life. It wasn't meant for theoretical learning alone. How can a man continue studying full-time while he sees his wife is nearly collapsing under the unbearable workload?

Please note I never said that working outside the home for women is sinful as of itself. But working "by the sweat of his brow" is a curse given to the man, not the woman. Women are called to be wives, mothers and homemakers. How on earth are they expected to pull it all off while also providing for a husband, and maintain their physical and emotional health?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Why I love living in Israel


Jerusalemview, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

Because every day feels like a page from an exciting, never-ending story, into the pages of which I have been unexpectedly transported. Just in case you are wondering whether this is some kind of temporary euphoria, you can look at my sidebar and see that it will soon be 17 years since we arrived here. Yes, we have suffered hardships; yes, we still have to face all sorts of mundane struggles like money, mortgage, studies, work and grocery shopping; and yes, we have been very near to several life-threatening situations. But I, at least, wouldn't change my life here for anything.

Some time ago, someone here commented that I "look Jewish". Reading this made me smile. If you come to Israel, very soon you'll have to give up the concept that there's such a thing as "Jewish looks". A Russian Jew doesn't look like a Yemenite Jew and an Ethiopain Jew doesn't resemble a Jew from Morocco or India. Israel is an amazing cultural blend and an outstanding historical phenomenon!

The fact that we are here is a miracle. It's against all odds. How did it happen? WHO made it happen? To me, the answer is obvious.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Another week


zfat4, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

Shabbat has ended here, and so we are standing at the beginning of another week. Shavua tov to all my Jewish readers. May this week be a blessed one.

If tomorrow is still weekend for you, I'm wishing you a peaceful and relaxing time.

PS: It was lovely to read your many supportive notes from yesterday. Do know that when I mentioned being tired of "naysayers", I didn't mean it in the sense that you cannot disagree with me. Please feel free to do so. If your comments are published, it means they are OK with me. I simply said that now I spend much less time responding to rude arguments which were clearly meant to provoke me.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Rejoicing in marriage

Today, in a world so void of spirituality, of values, of self-sacrifice, we often forget what marriage is about. As I have mentioned before, more and more people come to view marriage as an outdated economical arrangement, purely convenient at best – and oppressive to women at worst. As you understand, a young woman who is currently preparing for marriage herself doesn't find this point of view very uplifting.

So where do I turn for a source of inspiration, consolation, peace, wholeness and encouragement? As always – to God's instruction. Here are two verses I always remember whenever I think about marriage:

"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh." (Genesis 2:24)

"Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth." (Proverbs 5:18)

There's a glimpse of marriage, as God intended it to be: oneness, harmony, love, respect, honor, joy and endurance through hardships and rough times. I'm not saying that marriage doesn't also have a practical, economical side – it is explicitly said a man is supposed to provide for his family, and a woman care for the matters of her household; but this is far, far, far from the very special, incredibly spiritual union marriage is intended to be.

As someone who isn't married yet, perhaps I can't even imagine the degree of closeness, unity and togetherness that exist in a good marriage; perhaps some of you married ladies who read this can provide a better perspective. But I know for sure marriage means more, so much more than mere economical stability and sexual gratification.

When – God willing – time comes for me, too, to set on this new stage of journey in my life, hand in hand with my new husband, I hope I can truly rejoice in my marriage, and build a God-honoring, joyful, warm, love-filled home.

… Writing this was inspired by one of those not-so-kind remarks I sometimes get on my blog, and I want to say a few words about it, something that has been rather heavy on my heart for a couple of weeks now.

When I started blogging, I was ready – even looking forward – to defending what I believe in; those of you who have been regular readers know I patiently answered and even welcomed controversy and objections.

But as the months passed by, I felt a change of heart. No, my convictions didn't change one bit. Yes, I remain a firm believer of everything I stated on this blog. But now I feel as though I would love nothing better but to just live out what I believe in – in peace, joy, contentment and love, not paying the slightest attention to naysayers. In the past weeks, I greatly reduced the amount of time I used to dedicate to answering skeptic questions and objections by email and otherwise; I feel that especially now, in such a busy period of my life, time can be better used in more constructive pursuits. It doesn't mean I will not answer questions anymore – I still greatly enjoy and welcome them. But I will address the more important issues, and specifically those which haven't yet been discussed on this blog.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

A busy season


Mahaneyehuda, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

Dear friends, thank you for all your lovely, sweet comments and emails in the last couple of days. I have a lot to say to all of you and so many ideas and thoughts to share with you, but right now I really must get off the computer and get some work done. :o)

I leave you with a photo of this lovely busy walking street in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Should we prepare for marriage?

In our day and age, it's not uncommon to hear that a young girl who is concentrating her efforts on preparing to be a good wife, mother and homemaker is narrowing her mind and closing off other possibilities the world can offer. Some argue it's not even sensible to prepare and make plans for marriage until a girl can be sure to a reasonable degree she will be married – say, when she is twenty-something and engaged. Until then… why limit your options?

And indeed, most young women today are being prepared for anything but marriage – they spend years and years giving all their time and energy, and large sums of money as well, to paths which lead them to competitive, time-consuming careers, which are supposed to grant access to power and influence in the future. The role of wife, mother, homemaker, helper, nurturer, a tender, gentle, self-sacrificing and generous giver – that role is forgotten.

Yet the majority of women will still become wives and mothers at some point or another. You just can't close your eyes to this simple and undeniable fact. And when they do get married, it turns out that they know very little about what it means; about a selfless, committed relationship, and childrearing and schooling, about managing a household and supplying their family with healthy, nutritious meals, and a thousand other things which used to be rightfully viewed as crucial to a good home life, but now are sadly mocked and degraded.

Many women, after they marry, are expected to make a sudden switch from career mentality to marriage mentality, from a "me"-mindset to "we"-mindset; is it any wonder that often, it doesn't work – look at our divorce rate; those women feel frustrated, overwhelmed and even deceived – how did it happen that no one told them marriage is a vocation? How come no one told them it requires work, time, energy and commitment? How come they are ripping their hair out, not knowing what they are supposed to do, and how to do it? They spent ten years in university getting their PhD – but have no clue about how to make home a sweet and welcoming place; and when they finally reach a point in their life when they realize nothing can replace a good, dedicated and wholesome home life, they plainly don't know how to proceed. So what are young women supposed to do?

To me, the answer is simple. If a girl or woman feels she is called to marriage, she should prepare for it as her primary, most important vocation, secondary to anything else she might be doing in years when time might allow for other pursuits. How will she know if she is called to marriage? If she doesn't see herself as a lifelong single, if she knows she longs for love, intimacy, family, and children, she is probably called to marriage. Of course no one actually promises her she will be married – as nobody can promise us we will get all our heart's desires – but there is a very good chance she will. And for that, she will need skills that are not taught on college campuses. She should keep that in mind and learn accordingly - it just doesn't make any sense to remain unprepared for this noble work.