Monday, September 29, 2008

It's all about the money (and greed, and selfishness...)

A comment received not long ago, by someone who clearly bought into the myth of over-population:

"There are more than 6 billion human beings on this planet and we are already using up resources at an unsustainable rate. We cannot continue to increase the human population at this rate. I think it highly irresponsible for anyone to have more than 2 children and think that people who are doubtful about becoming parents should be encouraged not to do it. Only people who feel they are really ready and have the means and training to be parents should do it.

By choosing not to have children a woman is making a highly ethical decision. I am appalled by the number of people I know who have become pregnant through carelessness and have created a new human being by 'accident'."

You know, in the USSR - my birth country - there used to be a saying that stated (forgive my crude translation), "no person - no problem". It was always said half-jokingly, referring to the favorite method of the KGB to deal with whatever came up: just put any human being who caused any trouble against a wall, and shoot them. No trials, no judges. Quite simple for everyone.

Well, this is what comes to my mind whenever I hear the twisted philosophy of, "obviously, if we are using up resources there are too many of us - so let's shrink our population".

Our problem is not that there are too many of us. Our problem is that we are greedy, spoiled, selfish brats. Our problem is that we have absolutely ridiculous standards regarding what we "must have".

We all "must have" cars, even if we live in areas with good public transportation, because obviously we can't tolerate waiting a few minutes for a bus or even some wholesome exercise in the form of walking. We "must have" trips abroad twice a year, because we "work so hard and deserve it". We "must" change our whole wardrobe twice a year, and throw away what doesn't fit anymore - because we weren't taught to do anything with our hands, and therefore we don't know how to fix that button back on. We "must" have every possible domestic appliance plugged in and humming, because God forbid if we are reduced to the unworthy tasks of washing dishes or hanging laundry by hand. We "must" have all the latest gadgets. We "must" support a vain, hollow and immoral entertainment industry. And we "must" live in the midst of big, noisy, polluted cities because we can't bear to be away from it all. We must must must... well no. We don't.

The default assumption of people who cry out "no more than two children" is that there's really nothing a reasonable human being can be expected to do except to continue using up resources at the rate we have been. The solution? Let's get rid of potential addition to our numbers (by aggressive promotion of birth control, abortion "rights", eugenics and euthanasia) so that we (and our strictly limited number of children) can continue over-indulging ourselves like we are used to.

Look at a typical family with a child or two in the urban West, and a typical family with ten children in rural India, and compare the amount of trash and pollution both families produce. I don't have numbers on hand right now, but I believe it would be quite a pretty illustration of what I'm saying.

Finally, I don't know about you, but as a Jew I don't belong to a group that is exactly threatening to explode with over-population. Look at my grandmother's generation - it was largely wiped out (by sick people who believed they can decide who deserves to walk on this earth). Who knows when something like this might happen again - it was far from the first attempt to exterminate the Jews, and I'm not optimistic enough to think it will be the last one. Look at today's assimilation, intermarriages and low birth rate. Of course, I feel confident in the Lord's promise to preserve the Jewish people. However, so far our population is dwindling. Therefore, my heart rejoices when I see a Jewish woman with a toddler, a baby, and another one on the way.

I'm tired of the sick ideal of a world with almost no people, so that we can continue being slaves to our selfish whims. Instead of looking at babies and thinking "what a terrible accident" or "uh, one more source of pollution", let's roll up our sleeves and get some good hard work done, in honor of a world where we are all welcome, and all are required to work in order to preserve it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Happy Rosh HaShana!

The holiday season is starting for Jews all over the world, and here in Israel it's especially prominent with everyone on vacation, buying gifts and planning to spend time with family. The high holidays, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, will be followed by Sukkot - which means that for the next three weeks or so, my blogging will be much less regular than usual, and most likely I won't be able to reply to emails as quickly as I normally try.

As usual, I'm looking forward to this special time of deepest reflection and repentance, as we stand in awe in front of the Lord. Spending time with loved ones and family is something I've always enjoyed, too, and this year is the first I will be entering as a new wife - which makes it even more special.

We're spending Rosh HaShana with my in-laws, and I'm looking forward to getting to know their holiday traditions.

I sincerely hope the fast of Yom Kippur goes easily for me. Similarly to Tisha b'Av, it will mean over 24 hours without food and water, and I hope I can handle it as easily and without complications as the previous fast. Naturally, I will keep a close watch on myself, and if anything goes amiss, it will be handled promptly.

I wish all my Jewish readers much joy and many blessings in this upcoming new year. Shana tova!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Baby crafts continue


After finishing this little sweater, with a bit of delay due to moving house and everything it involved, I set myself to work on a matching cap. It's largely done and only needs two rows or so of trimming. Booties coming soon to complete the set!

I hope all the ladies who wrote to me last time asking for this sweet pattern will have fun working on it. I love it because it has such detailed instructions and so there's very little risk of getting stuck because you don't understand what you are supposed to do next.

I love this soft cream color, but at the same time find myself longing for something brighter. Perhaps my next project will be more colorful.

Have a lovely day and weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

On matters of discreet breastfeeding

As my pregnancy counter continues to tick on, and my due date draws nearer and nearer - it seems both so close and so incredibly far! - I continue to think about matters which will be important to me as a new mother, such as breastfeeding.

Since this is the first time around for us, I have no idea how things will go for me - will my baby latch easily? How often will she need to eat? Will I produce enough milk? Fortunately for me, I'm in a supportive environment of experienced women - my mother, grandmother and mother-in-law - who all breastfed their babies, and see breastfeeding as the optimal, healthy, normal thing to do. Recently, my grandmother gave me a speech on the benefits of breastfeeding that wouldn't shame a La Leche League member - quite interesting, if you consider the fact that her youngest child is now close to 60 years old! That is not to say my family is fanatic about breastfeeding. We can and do realize that sometimes things happen not the way we planned - but breastfeeding, not formula, is seen as the default option.

Yesterday I came across this post by Karen. Karen discusses something I've thought about - newborns need to be fed, on average, every three hours - and new mothers cannot be expected to be locked up in their homes for months without the possibility to go out and do errands. The obvious outcome is that sometimes, babies will be hungry while out and about with Mom. How are we to handle that?

Karen points out an outrageous attitude that exists towards breastfeeding mothers, as well as some of the suggested "solutions", which in fact aren't solutions at all. The idea of nursing in a public bathroom is insulting, yucky and seems extremely uncomfortable. Giving a bottle of formula is even worse - ideally, I wouldn't want the stuff in my house. Certainly not for matters of convenience!

I've thought of milk pumps, but obviously, it can be ineffective and time consuming - and again, ideally, I want my baby to be used to breast, not bottle. Pumping milk can be a wonderful solution for women such as my mother, who had a tiny preemie who couldn't latch. The problem solved itself close to what should have been my due date, and in the meantime, she used a primitive hand pump. However, if a baby had just been, with much effort, gently transitioned from bottle to breast, wouldn't it be disruptive to give a bottle again - even if the bottle contains Mom's milk?

On the other hand, I won't try to convince myself that breasts of a nursing mother aren't tempting to men. Obviously, they are. If my breasts are beautiful and delightful to my husband, why would I think they might be ignored by others? To me, the very thought of exposing my flesh where it might be seen by a man who isn't my husband - even if it's for feeding a baby, even if it's just for a few seconds - is absolutely mortifying.

Of course, this only refers to being seen by men. I would have no problem at all nursing in front of other women, or small children, and honestly don't understand why a woman would feel uncomfortable at the sight of another woman nursing her child, if no men are present.

I must say that from what I hear, the situation in Israel is better than in other countries. Breastfeeding is common and normal, and almost every shopping center I know has a nursing/diaper changing room. But there are still plenty of situations when a nursing room is unavailable. What if you are doing errands around town? What if you are in the bank? What if you are on a long bus trip?

Obviously, since I have zero experience, I can't provide answers to these questions. I'm convinced it will work out somehow. If I have a good nursing relationship with my baby - and I intend to do anything and everything to make it work - I optimistically believe it won't be disrupted by the simple fact of me needing to go out sometimes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We're finally back, and there's so much to do

After a week-long absence, my husband and I are finally back home in our remote little corner, about which we are very happy. Needless to say, many things were waiting to be done. I spent the morning organizing our closets (reminding myself all the while how fortunate we are to finally have them!) and other storage areas, which resulted in much neater, less cluttered rooms.

Now that I have taken my lunch break, it's time to poke around the refrigerator and start working on a shopping list. Before we left, we did our best to leave the refrigerator as empty as possible from anything that might spoil and be wasted. And of course there are all the usual matters of cooking, baking, ironing, and hopefully a peaceful hour or two of crafts and letter-writing.

In the upcoming days, I look forward to some long-postponed yard work, in preparation to the end of this Sabbatical year. Very soon, we will finally be able to start digging, fertilizing, trimming, and best of all, planting. We are novice gardeners, so we look forward to seeing how it works out.

The land in our area is very rocky, and requires extensive treatment and fertilizing. Except the tough olive trees, most of the greenery around where we live thrives thanks to most diligent efforts. This area has been empty and nearly barren for centuries, and it's a joy to see it so actively settled, and be a part of it.

Perhaps in 50 years, there will be shopping centers around here, and tall buildings, and a day-and-night flow of traffic. For now, we are enjoying the quiet.

Monday, September 22, 2008

We left 17 years ago...



Today Mom got back from her nostalgia trip to the Ukraine. We left USSR in 1991, when it was on the point of collapse and chaos reigned. The pictures are of my family's old home and some places close to where we used to live. I hardly remember any of them.

Of course, much has changed. However, Mom enjoyed her vacation and the time she spent with some old friends and co-workers. Much of her adult life was spent there, and no matter what, to her it will always feel like home.

I feel so privileged for being given the opportunity to grow up and build my home in Israel, where the Jewish people longed to be for many centuries. I truly cannot imagine any other place where I could live.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

At the face of a financial crisis

I'm sure the economical crisis we are facing isn't something local - as I read on other people's blogs, and learn from conversations with friends who live abroad, the same is happening all around the world. Banks are crashing, gas and food prices are soaring, and the average family finds it more and more difficult to get by.

My husband and I have always been frugal-minded, not afraid of taking the challenge of spending less, using second-hand, recycling, and getting by without excessive luxuries. However, recently it seems as though something just happens every month, which makes us spend far more money than we originally planned. This month, for example, it was our washing machine breaking down. We also bought a house and have a baby on the way, and while we didn't acquire a huge mortgage like people tend to get here, and don't plan to get every fancy item out there which our baby will supposedly "need", the necessity to be creative and resourceful becomes more and more prominent.

We began thinking our money might not be entirely safe in the bank, and the thought of relying on government compensation in the case our bank crashes makes me feel uneasy. It happened to another bank a few years ago, and some people never got all their money back. We are thinking of splitting our savings, so as not to put all the eggs in the same basket.

Rhonda Jean recently wrote a post calling us to "live like squirrels", stocking away for the difficult times ahead. I agree with Rhonda on the point that we need to make our best efforts to pay off debt, and not to acquire any new debt. I also believe we could all benefit from "getting real" about our actual needs, as opposing our wants. I know people who would be honestly baffled if they were told they don't actually "need" a trip abroad every year.

I do think, however, that facing a difficult economical situation should never drive us to a point when we refuse to help others in need, explaining it by limiting our budget in such a way that charity isn't included. It happened several times that we have given to charity supposedly more than we could "afford", and God provided for us abundantly every time, returning our contribution in unexpected savings, gifts, and employment options. Charity is not a luxury, and He will never, never forsake those who extend their hand to others. Moreover, a strong, supportive community is a very important part of surviving in the face of economical breakdown. Mutual help and trading home-grown produce might become much more common in the near future.

I'm also convinced that the number of children we welcome and embrace should not depend on our fears of the future. Russia's birthrate crisis is supposedly tied to the dire economical situation in that country, and the government is trying to solve the problem by paying fairly large sums to new mothers. However, they are missing out on the fact that the situation is largely the same in many countries which are far better off financially. I'm convinced that Russia's problem is rooted not in its poor financial situation, but in lack of faith - the Soviet regime had done everything possible to wipe out every remnant of religious communities, no matter if they were Jewish, Christian or Muslim. When we don't trust God to provide, largely it doesn't really matter how much money we have.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The happenings of this week


zfat1, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

Since tomorrow and Saturday I will be taking my usual weekend computer break, I decided to take a few minutes today to share with all you ladies a bit about what we have been doing this week.

We have been away from home since Sunday. My mother is on a trip abroad, and asked us to live in her apartment while she is gone, to look after Grandma. Of course, we agreed - spending time with Grandma is always a privilege. It's also a good opportunity to run a few errands here while we are close to civilization :o) - and pack some of my things that still remain in my old room, waiting to be taken to their new home.

Our old washing machine, which we got as a gift when we were married and have been using for the past few months, seems to have reached the final step of its long journey. Even when it isn't broken, it isn't entirely functional. I brought all our things that needed to be washed, and took advantage of Mom's washing machine. Yesterday, we took a plunge and bought a new one, expecting the amount of washing to increase dramatically once our little girl joins us. So far, with only two people in the household, we easily got by with just one load per week - but we imagine that's about to change. :o)

I had the chance to meet with a few friends, who were in awe of my growing tummy. I've even been asked whether I'm feeling comfortable growing so big and round - to which I can truthfully reply that so far, I'm entirely at ease, even though I'm keeping in mind what you ladies told me about difficulty to find a comfortable sleeping position once you're in your last month.

I'm looking forward to seeing Mom when she returns next Monday - hopefully refreshed and relaxed after her vacation. Then we will happily go back home. There's so much to do in our home and garden that I can't wait to get started.

Wishing everyone a lovely weekend!

Your friend,

Mrs. T

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

For some encouragement and a smile...

... Go visit Lady Lydia, who does such great work at inspiring us young wives in our duties at home.

... Have a look at Michelle's journey towards healthy, wholesome eating. This one made me laugh so hard I nearly spilled my glass of water all over the keyboard!

... Visit the lovely Jewels, who shares so much beauty and peace through her writings.

... Read Amy's inspiring thoughts on lifelong learning.

... Join Jess as she, once again, so eloquently expresses her thoughts on intimacy in marriage.

... And relax with Jenny, who lovingly shares about the simple and most beautiful things in life.

***

There's so much good stuff out there today that I feel more like a reader than a writer at the moment!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The contribution and importance of creative boredom

This post was inspired by a comment made in reply to my previous post about options of children's education. It referred to my concern about how children are often bored to death in schools.

"Learning how to be bored and nevertheless behave in an appropriate and constructive way is a very useful skill and one that you certainly need later in life. I wonder whether children know what to do when they're bored nowadays. More and more, it looks as though boredom is not permitted and every adult should just drop everything to entertain a child."

I must say I completely agree with the sentiment of this comment. I don't think education, however inspiring and individually adapted, should turn into running in circles around the child and making sure there's no moment of boredom. I see many parents driven by the famous "Mom, I'm bored!", especially during summer vacations - so much that they feel compelled to entertain their children 24/7. As soon as the child says he or she is bored, they will be immediately taken to the mall, the zoo, the swimming pool, or signed up to any number of extra-curricular activities.

Boredom, while often seen as unproductive, can in fact be of infinite use. A bored mind is a clear, unoccupied mind, which can, when provided with the right tools, produce great things. Inventions, books, scrapbooks, crafts, paintings, new recipes, creative role-playing games, and even various household projects have been known to grow out of a seemingly nonconstructive, "bored" state of mind. I fondly remember those summers when I wasn't too engaged in camps, swimming lessons or other activities, and had all the time in the world to dream, think, and create. Many stories and diaries were written during those times, many family albums organized, many slow and peaceful conversations took place, thanks to the message that when I'm bored, I'm supposed to entertain myself, and not expect to be occupied by someone else.

Of course, I believe there should be certain structure to a child's days, but also many hours free for creative exploration - which should take place early enough in a day, while the child isn't too tired. This is what I call "creative boredom".

However, creative boredom can only take place when there is free time. The boredom children experience in schools is of completely different nature. Schools aren't geared towards encouraging creativity and individuality - they are institutions directed mainly to supply certain knowledge, yes, but also to keep the children quiet, still and occupied for an arbitrary number of hours during the day. Children aren't encouraged or even given the possibility to complete schoolwork early and then continue with creative pursuits, because it would be too inconvenient. There are simply too many children in an organized institution to let them all wonder around. At best, a child who has completed a worksheet early will get another worksheet - until he is glassy-eyed and dumbstruck after hours of mind-numbing work.

Sadly, I have seen too many children who have lost all their intiative and interest in learning. When I tried to encourage something more interesting, and asked a question such as, "what subject would you like us to cover in-depth?", I received a blank look. The older children become, the more used they are to being spoon-fed limited portions of information, and worse, they are used to equal school with boredom. If their home environment doesn't encourage good reading - such as in the cases of illiterate or nearly illiterate parents, for example - the children will remain only technically literate themselves. They will never know the joy of learning for the sake of learning, because instead of keeping their minds lively and creative, schools have treated them like delinquents who need to be sat down and kept quiet at whatever cost. I can hardly imagine anything sadder than a 15-year-old who has never known the joy of reading a good book.

I'm not saying, of course, that all our life experiences will, or should be interesting. Sometimes we do boring work. Some of us will be stuck at mind-numbing jobs for years. However, childhood is a crucial period for the development of the mind. It's a time when creativity and initiative should be generously nurtured, not kept down for the sake of convenience.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Marrying within your faith isn't bigotry

In several posts, I happened to mention the prohibition for intermarriage for the Jewish people - and every time I did, someone inevitably charged me with both bigotry and racism. At first I simply laughed off such preposterous claims, but after it happened for the umpteenth time, I decided to go ahead and examine both accusations.

Before I begin, let's get the cards on the table: this isn't about my personal quirks. The prohibition of intermarriage is directed by the Lord (Deuteronomy 7:3), and has kept the Jewish people together and intact through many hard centuries. Since I'm not inventing anything new, but simply being frank about our beliefs, the accusations of racism and bigotry cannot be directed at me, but only at Judaism as a whole. However, is it justified?

Let's start with racism. This one is especially ridiculous, because there are Jews of all colors and cultures, and all live side by side and marry each other in Israel. Furthermore, conversion to Judaism, while difficult, is open equally to people of all races. While to my shame I have to admit there have been cases of discrimination towards Jews of different color, they go completely against everything our faith teaches.

As for bigotry, let's check the dictionary. A bigot is defined as someone who "is intolerant of opinions, lifestyles, or identities differing from his or her own". According to this, Jews should be the last people on earth accused of bigotry, as we never said everyone must be Jewish, and don't try to convert others. But there's a world of difference between respecting other people's beliefs, and seeing them as potential marriage partners!

Strangely enough, it's socially acceptable to say that you can't marry someone who isn't interested in snowboarding, doesn't support your political views, isn't vegetarian like you are, or doesn't match your taste in music. But try and say your beliefs require religious compatibility with the person you marry - and you are a bigot!!

I don't presume to give my own commentary or explanation to the words of the Lord. If He commanded us to do or not to do something, that should be more than enough. However, the prohibition of intermarriage is so strikingly logical, makes such perfect sense, that I wonder how anyone can be surprised by it. The way of life of a committed Jew, and specifically a Jewish marriage, is so unique that it obviously requires partnership from a Jewish spouse. Otherwise, the result is total incompatibility - or eventual alienation of the Jew from his faith, which is precisely what the Lord warns us against: "for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you."

Destruction doesn't have to come in the form of burning lightning. Just see what happens to most families after a couple of generations of intermarriage: loss of all traces of Jewish history. Unnoticeable, non-physical, but nevertheless most effective elimination. This is what has always happened throughout history.

Marrying within your faith isn't bigotry. It's often a crucial component of compatibility and success of married life; and for some of us, it's a matter of survival.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Terrified of pregnancy and childbirth

The other day, I received a comment which really struck a cord with me. "I find the idea of pregnancy and childbirth terrifying," - it stated, - "I may be misled, but I have never known anyone who went through a 'normal' pregnancy and birth." The commenter then proceeded by saying that if birth control and abortion were made illegal, she would choose to remain celibate for the rest of her life.

I don't know the age of the lady in question, but if you belong to my generation, if you are a single, college-educated young woman, it's no wonder you are terrified of pregnancy and childbirth! A few weeks ago, my husband forwarded to me the summary of a university lecture about pregnancy and childbirth, given at medical school, which portrayed pregnancy as something very near to an abnormal, pathological process in a woman's body. As I sat there, shaking my head in disbelief and reading about every possible nasty complication I might have experienced by this stage of pregnancy, I felt exceedingly sorry for the young childless women who listened to this lecture. Undoubtedly, they were shuddering with horror by the end of it, just at the thought of ever becoming pregnant. I know I would be exceedingly terrified of pregnancy if it was ever presented to me in such a way.

Am I saying nothing can ever go wrong during pregnancy and birth? No. Am I saying medical schools are not to teach about different problems that may arise? Again, no. But here's the catch: you'll never know the majority of pregnancies and births are routine, healthy and normal, if you don't have the chance to get to know more than a few pregnant women and mothers of little children - and that's unlikely to happen on a college campus. In an age where pregnancy is a rare phenomenon, childbirth is an artificially controlled surgical procedure, and the few babies and children are locked away in daycare, fertility simply isn't seen as a normal part of our life cycle anymore.

Even I, as much as I hoped and prayed for a baby, was at a bit of a loss when I became pregnant. I don't recall seeing too many pregnant women growing up - I'm an only child, and most of my friends had one sibling at best. None of us, growing up, had the experience of holding, cuddling, or rocking a baby. Not that long ago, when our baby niece was born and very matter-of-factly placed in my arms for the first time, I hardly knew how to hold her!

The pathological fear of childbirth, as I found out, is known by the name of tokophobia. According to this article, "one woman in six is so terrified of giving birth that she induces a miscarriage or avoids becoming pregnant altogether, even though she desperately wants children." While I'm not sure whether to believe these numbers, I know: the fear of pregnancy and childbirth is there. Many of the young women I know, while not pathologically terrified, find the thought of pregnancy, birth and motherhood disturbing, and say that they will do everything to obtain a very limited, fully controlled experience of the above (one child, elective c-section, no intention to breastfeed).

I think part of the problem is the degree of separation between sex and motherhood our culture teaches. From a very young age we are encouraged to have "safe" sex, but at the same time avoid having a baby for the next 10, 15, 20 years, because "it will ruin your life". We are encouraged to pursue teenage bodies and teenage desires; mature, adult motherhood, with its challenges and sacrifices, is something we are supposed to avoid as long as possible. So how will we welcome a baby into our life without fear?

When I became pregnant, I later realized that I - mostly due to lack of knowledge than anything else - was subconsciously preparing myself for nine months of being completely unfunctional. I had no idea how my body would work, and was delighted to find out that, despite a few weeks of nausea and some general weakness here and there, I'm still able to lead a very normal life - nurturing my marriage, spending time with friends and family, settling in our new home, cooking, baking, reading, studying - while delighting in the joys and wonders of a tiny baby growing inside me. This is how most women I know describe their pregnancies. We live in a place where you'll see women with tummies at various degrees of roundness whenever you're out and about, and they all look perfectly cheerful and healthy.

Of course, I still have before me roughly four months of pregnancy and the delivery of a baby, but now I'm able to face these prospects without irrationally fearful expectations. I know this is what God designed my body for, and therefore a normal outcome is the rule, not some rare, miraculous exception.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why religious schools aren't the ultimate answer

Not long ago, someone asked me in a comment why anyone might consider homeschooling their children if there are good, government-funded religious schools - such as in Israel - schools where a child is supposedly safe from bad influences that can be found in secular schools. I answered in the comments section, but decided this is important enough to elaborate in a separate post.

I do agree that usually, religious schools provide better spiritual environment, and are in general preferable to secular schools. However, I cannot say religious schools cancel all doubts and worries of parents who might consider homeschooling.

The first, very simple thing I must point out is that the assumption behind the question is that a religious school is automatically compatible with out spiritual values and what we would like our children to be taught - which, of course, isn't necessarily so. Certainly, there are many religious schools of all kinds in Israel, and some of them might have a program which doesn't clash with our belief system; but if you remember we live in a rather remote area - so it's not like we'd have an unlimited number of schools to choose from. In fact, I doubt parents around here can even choose between two religious schools!

Schools, by their very nature, can do little to change the problems we see with the very concept of organized school: bulky and inflexible methods of teaching directed to occupy large groups of children as quietly as possible; lack of adaptability to the individual child's needs; wasting lots of time on discipline, answering questions, reading out names, shifting between classrooms, going to and returning from breaks - all the little annoying things that prolong "formal" lesson-time and leave little time for creative exploration and spontaneous learning; isolation of the child from children who do not belong to exactly the same age group (isn't it ridiculous that if you are in third grade, you will be laughed at for making friends with someone in second grade?). The religiousness of a school does nothing to change any of the above.

A few more words about the incredible waste of time that goes on in schools. No one really plans to do anything about it, because schools, especially for younger children, aren't geared to be effective - on the contrary, the children must be occupied for a decent number of hours to get them off their mothers' hands while the mothers are out there working. I believe this is one of the reasons children are often given such boring, mind-numbing, paper-shuffling, unnecessarily time-consuming work.

And finally, a bit about the dangerous assumption that children who go to religious schools are immune to negative worldly influences - not so! Often, they are just better hidden and hushed up, especially in boarding schools, which are a common option for teenage boys. We know teenagers are especially prone to worldly temptations, and tend to go through a few turbulent years - but take a teenage boy, give him good, creative work and exercise, encourage contact and friendship with people of all ages, and it might be balanced out. Take the same boy, and put him in a place where he contacts no one but similarly impulse-driven teenage boys, without individual adult attention - and the consequences might be disastrous. If you think I'm exaggerating, I'm not. I know for a fact terrible things have happened in certain good religious schools for boys - precisely because of the fact that so many teenage boys were locked up together and away from their parents - such as extensive use of pornography and even fostering of homosexuality. School just couldn't provide the necessary balanced environment.

Keep in mind I'm not saying homeschooling is the one and only option. I'm simply trying to illustrate my point that a parent who considers homeschooling might easily think it's the best alternative even if religious schools are available. Ultimately, it's our responsibility to train and bring up our children, and we should plan and act accordingly.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cook soup!

If you are on a limited grocery budget and look for ideas for a simple, satisfying meal, soup can become you ultimate standby! Soups are filling, nutritious, inexpensive, and relatively easy to make from scratch. So easy, in fact, that I wonder why people eat instant soups at all.

When I was growing up, dinner was often soup served with warm bread on the side. My grandmother was (still is) known for her ability to pull out pretty much anything, and make soup from it - and her soups were always delicious. I used to marvel at how a seemingly random combination of a few stray zucchini, a carrot, an onion and some noodles can be made into a wholesome meal, while frugally using leftovers.

Usually, as a relatively novice cook, I try to stick to recipes, but last week I wanted to make soup and didn't have much to cook from. I had one onion, one carrot, one sweet pepper, one tomato and four potatoes. I took a deep breath and decided to try to do it grandma's way: I took everything I had, chopped, cooked, tasted, and added liberal amounts of salt, spices, and chili sauce. It turned out surprisingly good.

It's a matter of taste, but we prefer rich, thick soups around here. Beans, noodles or potatoes make wonderfully thick soups. Soups can also be mashed and even whipped for extra creamy texture.

If soup isn't a regular part of your menu, give it a try. You could start strictly following recipes, and get more creative as you gain experience.

* Illustration photo: "Tomato Soup" from www.allposters.com

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why I stopped reading pro-life newsletters

All who visit this blog regularly know how strongly I feel about the pro-life cause. I get updates from pro-life websites and blogs, subscribe to pro-life newsletters, usually don't remain silent when a discussion arises, and sometimes write about pro-life matters here.

As soon as I was old enough to understand what abortion truly means, I was horrified by this gruesome procedure. I couldn't and wouldn't take it as anything but the destruction of human life, of motherhood, of compassion, of everything one should hold dear. This was true even before I became religious, and it makes perfect sense to me that every human being can only be appalled and repulsed by the very thought of killing a child. But of course, my religious beliefs only strengthened my convictions on this matter.

As someone who was born despite her father's wishes, I soon realized that the pretty phrase "every child should be a wanted child" actually means the following: it's alright to label a child "unwanted" - whether it refers to circumstances such as the mother's young age, unwed status, or poverty, or to "abnormalities" found in the child prior to birth, or to simply not having a spare bedroom - and it's alright to kill such an "unwanted" child by pulling him out of the mother's womb limb by limb, and go on like nothing happened.

Like I said, I always felt strongly about this. But now that I'm carrying a precious child myself, in the safe haven of my womb, I lack words to describe how much more painfully I feel for every poor mother who was convinced, coerced and pressured to forgo the joy of giving life and replace it with an empty pit of despair - most often, feeling that she has no other choice.

Before, the horror was bone-chilling; now, it's nearly impossible to bear. I burst out crying when I read my pro-life newsletters. I feel each story so deeply that I dwell on it for days - and there are just so many, too many, to encompass in my mind.

That's when I decided I need to put some limits to this. I still read and participate in discussions about the general concept, but as soon as it becomes too personal or too graphic, I can't bear it and I'm out. Especially as I'm in danger of someone unexpectedly supplying a link to graphic images, not thinking they might be seen by sensitive pregnant women or new mothers.

So, I took a break from reading pro-life newsletters. For my emotional health and for the sake of my unborn child, I feel I cannot do otherwise right now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Is there such a thing as "Jewish feminism"?

Recently, I received several emails from (American) Jewish men in their twenties and early thirties, all asking the same question: "Where can I find a nice, decent Jewish woman who wouldn't be too career-minded and would simply want to get married?"

All these men expressed their frustration about the women they met being too pushy, too career oriented, too uncompromising, and too harsh. This got me thinking: is there such a thing as "Jewish feminism"? Or are we simply part of a feminism-driven world?

Then I came across this article about the demographic situation of American Jewish population.

Right now I don't plan to comment on the tragic issue of intermarriage, even though I know it reached catastrophic proportions in the United States. Obviously the young men who contacted me, even if not strictly Orthodox, were interested in a Jewish wife, and were introduced to women who also looked for a Jewish husband. I will focus on another aspect the article discusses:

"Jews marry later than other Americans, with the greatest disparities occurring in the age group between twenty-five and thirty-four. For Jewish women in particular, late marriage means lower rates of fertility compared with other Caucasian women."

"Jewish women in the United States are significantly less fertile than their white, Gentile counterparts. To explain this fact, the demographer Frank Mott has pointed to the extraordinary rates of educational achievement among Jewish women, who spend significantly more time than their Gentile peers in programs of higher learning. For many of them, still more childless years follow as they work to advance their careers."

This rang a bell. As a young, college-educated woman, I know this pull of "You must get your degree first! But that's not enough - continue learning. Get your PhD. Advance your career. And then maybe, just maybe, if you really think you've had enough years alone, get married and have a child. Or two. But definitely not more than two, if you don't want to really mess up your life!"

This attitude is true not only for Jewish women, of course. But Jews have always been known for high rates of excellent education and professionalism. I'm not saying there's a problem with education in itself; but for the vast majority of population today, "good education" is equaled with "investing ten years in a PhD". This usually means a higher marriage age, and fewer children. According to the quoted statistics, the average number of children per Jewish woman is 1.86, which can mean only one thing: dwindling of the American Jewish population.

Of course, the situation is better among Orthodox Jews:

"An informed estimate gives figures ranging upward from 3.3 children in "modern Orthodox" families to 6.6 in Haredi or "ultra-Orthodox" families to a whopping 7.9 in families of Hasidim." (emphasis mine)

"But what accounts for the high fertility rates of Orthodox Jews? It is certainly true that they marry much earlier than other Jews. Almost two-thirds of Orthodox women are wed by the age of twenty-five, and 90 percent by thirty-five."

From my experience, the average secular, college-educated 25-year-old woman either isn't thinking about marriage at all, or dreads it like a beast that will tie her down and prevent her from enjoying single, carefree life. It seems as though there is "a predisposition among the best-educated to regard family itself as a suspect category and child-rearing as a chore best left to others".

"Thirty- and forty-year-old singles speak freely of their loneliness, and their inability to meet eligible Jewish mates. Because of late marriages, huge numbers of Jewish couples are struggling with infertility or with the difficulties of finding babies to adopt."

"A small but growing number [of single Jewish women] have taken the extraordinary step of bearing children through artificial insemination, and reportedly some, in the name of Jewish continuity, have contemplated asking the organized community to support their choice financially."

So far, it seems to me that the "Jewish spin" of feminism suggested by the men who wrote to me could probably be found in any community with adult singles, especially women, spending many years in institutions of higher education. It all boils down to two points: there are so few eligible potential wives to choose from in the first place, and so many of them opt for delaying marriage until their mid-thirties.

My suggestion was simple: keep looking, and don't be ashamed to use online dating services if you live in a small community. Oh, and while in general it's less difficult if you have a similar observance level, if you meet someone "more Orthodox" than yourself, building a bridge over the religious gap is a much better option than "dropping out" entirely.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A time for rest

Hi there! I hope everyone had/are having the most pleasant, enjoyable weekend. Here goes the account of mine...

On Friday I found myself down with flu, which meant cooking was thrown out of the window (it's lucky that I tend to do most things in advance, on Wednesday/Thursday). On Friday night I couldn't sleep - I felt I was burning with fever, but we had no medicine for fever or flu or sore throat, not to mention even a thermometer to evaluate how high my fever is (we're well-equipped for the rough times, yeah! :o)). My husband stayed awake for hours, taking care of me and bringing me wet towels until my fever went down and I could fall asleep. On Saturday I still didn't feel my best, but I received plenty of loving care, which made me feel very pampered and lucky :-)

Today I'm feeling much, much better, but still intend to take it slow. Reminder to self: equip our home with basic medicine and a first aid kit.

On another note: the image you see in the picture above was hand-painted on our bedroom door. Someone of the previous residents of this house (we aren't sure who) was very creative and did a great job at decorating the doors and walls. We love these little works of art. It gives such a warm feeling to be in a home that we know was actually lived in and loved.

Well, I'd better go and make a nice and slow start to my day. Wishing you a wonderful week!

Your friend,
Mrs. T

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Mocca cheesecake

This is a cake I first tasted as a Shabbat guest a couple of weeks ago, and refused to leave until I had the recipe :o)

I made it for us last week, and it was delicious! I know, I know; lately I've been notoriously bad at taking pictures of new recipes I tried, but trust me - it's one of the best cheesecakes I ever tasted, and even though it has three layers, it's quite simple to make.

Ideally, you'll need a round, 22-cm baking pan. The baking pan I used was a tad wider, which made my cake look slightly flattened, but that didn't make it taste any worse!

Layer 1:

100 gr butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg yolk (save the white - you'll use it later)
1/1/4 cup flour + 1 tsp. baking powder

Mix well; lay out your pan with a baking sheet. Flatten the dough (should be crumb-like) onto bottom of baking pan with your hands, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden(I switched the temperature a few times, so you'll have to try and see what works for you). Take out of the oven.

Layer 2:

3 eggs + the egg white you didn't use previously; beat slightly
1 cup sugar
500 gr (2 cups) soft cream cheese
2 tsp. vanilla sugar, or some vanilla essence

Mix and pour over the first layer. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until edges start turning golden. Take out of the oven.

Layer 3:


2 cups of sour cream
2 tsps of instant coffee (or more if you like)
5 tsps sugar

Mix and pour carefully over the second layer. Bake for another 10-15 minutes (don't let it become browned!)

Take your cake out of the oven, and refrigerate while still hot. Serve chilled. It can be frozen; my husband even liked to eat it straight out of the freezer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sweet baby GIRL!

We just did an ultrasound scan, and were told that we're having a baby girl (as you understood, of course, from this post's header :o))! It was very detailed, 3D, so we had the chance to see our adorable baby from every angle: her heart; her brain; her legs, arms, and tiny feet, hands and fingers... and her movement! She was turning from side to side, stretching her limbs, and even sucking both her tiny thumbs at once! What a miracle. But the most amazing part of this experience was seeing her face. She's a sweet, beautiful baby girl.

The little treasure weighs approximately 400 gr, or 14 ounces, at this point. My husband and I are over the moon with joy.

Most importantly, it looks like everything is fine and the baby is healthy. I think now is a safe moment to tell you a bit about the anxiety my husband and I had to go through in the past weeks.

You might remember that some time ago, I told you we decided we aren't going to be scared into an excessive amount of expensive prenatal tests. I still did fetal protein test, though, because it could be easily and inexpensively done along with my routine blood work in the local clinic. The results came back suspicious, which had us directed to a detailed scan, focusing on the baby's brain and spinal cord. We were also advised to do amniocentesis, to which we flatly refused - because our baby is too precious to take any risks, and because her life is sacred and the very thought of "termination" in case something seems to be "abnormal", is horrible and twisted in our eyes.

So, my husband and I had to wait for the scan for a few weeks - during this time, we prayed and hoped everything is fine with our precious baby. Today's very long and detailed scan showed that all seems to be going just as it should be. We realize, of course, that our baby's health - as well as ours, or anyone's - is in the hands of nobody but the Lord; but at least there's no reason for additional concern.

I plan to continue enjoying this lovely time. I have such a beautiful treasured gift tucked away in my tummy, and I love every minute of holding her close and feeling her grow. Many blessings to all the Moms and Moms-to-be out there!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Love in marriage - a joyous celebration of life

Yesterday I came upon a great post written by Karen from Be Still My Soul. Karen, a deep-thinking and insightful lady, shared her perspective on how a call to long-term abstinence can be as disastrous as promotion of birth control and "safe sex", or even more so. I would like to clarify that when I say "long-term abstinence", I'm not talking about teenagers. I mean those young religious people who are committed to preserving their chastity until marriage, but also discouraged to seek marriage until they are in their thirties.

Whether young people are told, "Here, take these pills and condoms and have 'safe sex' - just whatever you do, don't have a baby", or whether we say, "Save yourself for marriage - just don't get married and don't have babies in the next 15 years" we are conveying an oddly similar message: marriage is a burden. Having a baby will ruin your life. Delay it for as long as possible.

I have always said being pro-life isn't being anti-abortion. Being pro-life is embracing the beauty of marriage, of sex, of children, with an open heart.

When you look at us, it's amazing how late we marry. I got married a few months ago. I was 22, and my husband was 27. 27 is considered a young age for a man to marry these days, even in certain Orthodox Jewish communities. Yet these same men are also told to never touch a woman with their little finger prior to marriage. The result? They suppress their natural and normal sexual desires not for a few years, but for 10, for 15 years. Does anyone really think it's healthy?

Then they are thrown right into marriage and told to build intimacy after so many years alone. The older you become, the more difficult it is to learn, to accommodate. Is it any wonder divorce rates are soaring?

We are told that it's unwise to rush into marriage; one side tells us how we can lead nice and carefree lives without the burdens of marriage and family until our mid-thirties. The other side tells us about the spiritual "dangers" of early marriage and how we should embark on a long, long, long journey of self-search first - otherwise, we won't grow to be spiritually fulfilled individuals. We are told it's an insult to our intelligence and self-control to listen to our healthy, God-given desires for family and intimacy, and seek a marriage partner - we should rise above such petty considerations.

Society doesn't encourage us to grow up, but we must know better. Abstinence for many years is technically possible, and some have always married later in life, but it's not what we should aim for.

Like Karen said, I don't think everyone should feel the pressure to get married early. Some people would love to get married early, but it just isn't the Lord's plan for their lives. However, I do believe we should be aware of the implications of purposefully delaying marriage: the rigidity that naturally develops after many years of living alone, the narrowing pool of singles, the decreased capability of adapting to each other's needs, and (especially for women) decreasing rates of fertility, which might doom a sweet dream of having a large family, leaving a woman with enough time to have only two or three children if she is lucky.

However, I believe scaring young people into marriage isn't much better than scaring them out of marriage. Rather, we should emphasize the beauty of marriage and family, of walking down the road of life hand in hand, building a together-ness that is especially sweet because you started it so early in life. We should illustrate the beauty of motherhood, of seeing the world through childlike eyes - not only by saying it's healthier to have children while you are young, which is an argument often used. Even if we start as young mothers, the Lord might continue to bless us with children well into our mid-forties, and those children born to us when we have grey in our hair won't be any less special and desirable than those born when only a couple of years separated us from teenage-hood.

Marriage and motherhood are beautiful no matter how old you are, whether you are in your early twenties or in your forties or later. The key is to live out these noble vocations with the honor, reverence, dedication, love and joy they rightly deserve, instead of picturing them as burdens which young men and women must be warned against. Celebrating and joyously living life in all its forms is, in my very humble opinion, the very best way of being pro-life.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Homeschooling Handbook

In the past weeks, I've been slowly reading through "The Homeschooling Handbook" by Mary Griffith. Even though I haven't finished it yet, I thought I'd let you know I found it a great source of useful information.

It covers a wide range of practical subjects concerning homeschooling, important for a beginner who knows almost nothing about it - starting from various approaches, or a mix of them, used by different families, homeschooling settings and materials, and how homeschooling might evolve when your children grow and their needs change. It also devotes a chapter to legal issues, which is relevant mostly to those who live in the United States, but was also interesting for me to read because it shed some light on possible political aspects of homeschooling.

For my husband and I, since we live in a country where homeschooling is practically unheard of, it was refreshing to read that even in places where homeschooling is considered an acceptable option today, it might not have been so twenty or even ten years ago. It gives us hope that maybe even when we head on this journey, a local homeschooling community will gradually expand.

Because homeschooling is such a "pioneer" idea here, I was amazed to read about how it has evolved in the United States, with the options of highly organized and structured homeschooling and a variety of available curricula. Since we are Jewish, Israeli, and plan to teach our children in Hebrew (of course), I expect a lot of adaptability will be required from us.

The book is rich with personal testimonies of individual families, which I enjoyed reading - however, I feel that specifically large family homeschooling dynamics were somehow left out. Perhaps it is different in the last chapters, but so far, I have read about families homeschooling two or three, or maybe four children - but not seven or eight or more, which I suppose requires much more flexibility.

"The Homeschooling Handbook" isn't deeply philosophical, and it isn't written from a religious perspective, but rather speaks to a wider audience, religious and non-religious alike.

Some may say it's a bit early for us to think about these matters in-depth, as we are only expecting our first child, but we are simply in love with the idea of homeschooling and the rich possibilities it offers. The more we discuss it, the more certain we are that for us, and for many, many others, it would have made much more sense to be homeschooled for a variety of reasons (religious, practical, matters of family dynamics, and more) - and we want this option to be available for any future children the Lord chooses to bless us with.