Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The best cheesecake ever



After all the rather prolific writing I've been doing lately, I thought it would be nice to post the best cheesecake recipes I have ever tried. I made several in the past, but this one is here to stay - it results in a delicious cake with very soft and light texture. It does take a bit of hassle, because you need to separate the egg whites from the yolks and beat the whites, and usually I prefer simple straightforward recipes with whole eggs, but in this case it's totally worth the effort.

The following will make quite a lot of cake, so if you think you don't want that much at once, you can half the quantities, but personally I recommend freezing. It freezes beautifully and tastes just like fresh when defrosted.

So, you will need:

6 eggs
3/4 cup sugar (it says 1 cup and a 1/4 in the original recipe, but I have found that half this much is enough and plenty for us).
1 kg cream cheese
200 ml sour cream (I once tried making it without sour cream and it comes out delicious as well).
3 tbsp. cornflour
3 tbsp. self-rising flour or plain white flour with a tsp. of baking powder
2-3 tbsp. instant vanilla pudding
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Separate eggs whites from the yolks and beat egg whites with sugar until they get the consistensy of soft foam. Then combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl, and slowly and carefully add beaten egg whites.

To this basic recipe you can add grated lemon or orange rind, grated white chocolate, or as I did today, 1 cup of ground coconut.

Pour into a large baking pan or several smaller ones and bake at medium heat. The baking time is around 1 hour, but might vary according to the size of your baking pan. The cake will be brown at the top well before it is ready, so you have to keep an eye on it, and as soon as it turns brown, loosely cover with aluminium foil and continue baking.

You can cover the cake with frosting, but I never do that - we like it as it is. Let it cool, remove to refrigerator and serve after several hours. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Post-secondary education - wishes, regrets and suggestions


One of my readers sent me a link to this post, which left me deeply touched and disturbed after I have read it. It is a story told by a young woman who grew up in a very conservative household, who feels, as I gathered from reading her thoughts, that her personality was suffocated and repressed, and who ultimately wishes she had had the opportunity to pursue higher education.

Now, I think I should start by saying that I believe it is good and right when a daughter contributes to running of the household by doing age-appropriate tasks, and helps to care for younger siblings – the mother thus gets a pair of helping hands, and the daughter benefits from important training in skills which will lay a foundation for her future as a wife, mother and homemaker. Neither do I think it is amiss for sons to lend a hand too, only boys will often be more naturally inclined to do outdoor tasks such as garden work, construction projects, etc. Girls are more gentle and nurturing, but of course both boys and girls should be trained up to become valuable helpers, not idle immature creatures who never lift a finger around the house.

Furthermore, I can imagine there may be situations when adult children take over most of the household chores for a short fraction of time (such as, when a new sibling is added to the family) or a more extended period (such as, in sad instances when the mother is disabled), and if that is done voluntarily it’s a very kind and noble thing to do.

Having said that, I don’t think it’s right and appropriate that the day of a teenage girl, even if she is the eldest child in a large family, should resemble the day of a stay-at-home Mom, and include little more than washing dishes and changing diapers. The teenage years are a precious time – the perfect time for a young person to read, develop as a personality, think, try a variety of pursuits. Helping around the house is important, and personally I wish I had learned so much more about homemaking in my teens and early twenties before I was married; but if I had a homeschooled teenage daughter at home, and if I had seen than my daughter does little more than housework – no reading, no learning, no broadening of horizons – I would think my home education program needs some serious re-evaluating.

And of course, no young woman should be coerced to feel guilty about pursuing talents that aren’t strictly related to homemaking, gardening or crafts. Hobbies should not be categorized into “potentially useful for homemaking, and thus allowable” and “useless around the house, and thus to be discouraged.” Just as hard-working men often have hobbies which have nothing to do with their jobs (my husband, for example, loves his aquarium fish), a homemaker isn’t “wasting time” if she takes it upon herself, for example, to study a favorite historical period or learn a foreign language – and of course it’s easier to start such projects when unmarried. What a valuable enrichment this can be to the woman’s perception of herself as a thinking, intelligent being! How much it can enhance her conversation with her husband; and how valuable it is for a homeschooling mother especially! When children see how their mother delights in learning, they will naturally develop active, curious minds as well.

I don’t think the decision should necessarily be in saying yes or no to a full-time, expensive professional degree. Neither am I saying that higher education for women should not be an option; there are online courses and study programs, local colleges, and of course self-education. A university degree might seem very desirable to someone who wasn’t allowed to obtain it, but we mustn’t forget the drawbacks.

Many young people (especially, but not necessarily women) are duped into thinking that a degree, any degree, is worth obtaining. I have met people who have a B.A. in psychology or a B.Sc. in biology, and when I ask what is to be done with such a degree, the answer is – virtually nothing. Even an M.A. or M.Sc. might not be worth much, ultimately, to someone who doesn’t see his or her future in the academy. The cost of tuition and living leaves many young people with heaps of student debt at the end of college, without the means of paying it all off as soon as they imagined they would be able to.

For women, this can carry even more bitter consequences, because the end of college is logically a point when many young women get married and start families. I didn’t take any surveys, but when I browsed the Facebook profiles of my friends from university, I saw that there was a baby boom in the year after we graduated. However, that’s also a time when young college graduates have a double incentive to work hard: to forward their careers, and to pay off their student loans. How many of them were able to afford to stay with their babies for more than a couple of months, remains an open question.

Another thing that is sometimes difficult to imagine is how motherhood changes one’s perspective. I can’t even count the number of stories I became familiar with through this blog, both in comments and in personal email, which went along these lines: “I never thought I would like to stay at home, at any point of my life, but all this changed when I saw my firstborn. That was 10 years ago, and I’ve been a homemaker ever since. Of course, paying off the college degree I never used was a burden for the first several years, but I don’t regret my decision of staying home for a moment!”

This happy ending has a less cheerful variation: “I couldn’t afford to stay home with my first baby, because my husband and I both agreed I must work until my student debts are paid off. You don’t know how many times I wished I either had not gone to college, or was more prudent in financial matters while I was a student.”

I have no intention of proposing a “cookie-cutter” solution to the dilemmas of every young woman. But I do believe young women ought to ask questions. Such as: do I ultimately desire to get married? What will I do if I happen to start my family in the middle of, or shortly following college? How do I imagine my future family, and how much time do I ultimately want to devote to my children? If I am pursuing a profession, to what degree is it compatible with family life?

Looking into the future can be sometimes so vague, so hazy, that it seems that the future – marriage and children – will never come. However, for most women, it does come, and so I believe it is wise to presume one will be married, and will become a mother, when planning ahead.

Friday, August 26, 2011

I am not alone


Some days ago, I had the pleasure of meeting, in my neighborhood, a lovely lady who is the mother of eight children, and has been staying home with them for over 20 years now. She currently has her two youngest children, almost 4 and 2 years old, at home with her, and is tandem nursing them both.

She confessed to me that she had just started her university degree when her eldest daughter was born, and that after her birth she dropped out of school and never looked back. It was clear, from the cautious way of her communication, how many raised eyebrows she had received in the course of her life at home. If you are a full-time homemaker but live in an area where most of the women work outside the home, or at least don’t normally stay at home on a voluntary and long-term basis, you can imagine what a delight and encouragement it is to speak to someone who shares your lifestyle and convictions, and who doesn’t view you as an oddity.

“I am often asked whether I’m not tired of being with my children all day long,” she said, “but are kindergarten or school teachers asked the same question? No; and why? For the sole reason that they get a paycheck, and I don’t. So it all comes down to money. If what you do doesn’t directly result in a sheet of paper on which your income is printed, you are worthless.”

Anyway, this lady also told me that in our local girls’ school, they sometimes hold conferences for the girls who are graduating, in the course of which they are introduced to women from various professions, and that she, too, had been invited there several times, as an example of someone who rather chose to stay home and invest her time in her family. She said the girls are literally dumbstruck by what she has to say, as it goes against all they have been taught, all their lives.

And here I may add that in the religious Jewish circles, especially, I feel it is nothing short of cruelty to encourage young women to have a large family, and to pursue an ambitious career at the same time. The strain, the stress, the price to the whole family can hardly be measured.

Feminism, I believe, came a little late to the Orthodox Jewish community, and that’s why we still lack, perhaps, the period of experience which will introduce sobriety and make our young women to see feminism, to some extent, for what it really is. The warped logic, the misery, the stress, the unnaturalness which are separating mothers and young babies, which leave homes empty for the best part of every day, are yet to be seen in a realistic light.  

Women who were raised by a mother who stayed at home, or worked part-time and made the best of the hours she did have at home, do not know what it is like, what is the real price of growing up as a latchkey kid, the child of a mother who works full-time, whether by choice or necessity. If they are ignorant of the consequences of such a choice, they will not feel uneasy about making it themselves. Only their children will receive the full bitter effects of it, and will think much more soberly when deciding what they wish for their children.

People go so matter-of-factly about babies only 3 months old placed in daycare, about parents spending hardly any time with their children, about women boasting of “doing anything rather than be shut up at home”, that I sometimes think – is it only me who is weird, thinking it all a tragedy of international scale? But no; the natural, the right course of things for mothers and children, for families, is togetherness, not separation. Young children belong with their mothers. Our lives aren’t meant to be a hectic rat race, at the course of which we attempt to earn and spend as much money as possible, at whatever cost to our dearest relationships.

I now come to an ending which is rather abrupt; as usual, there is much and more to be said, but time allows me to continue no further at the moment. I thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Outcasts?


Lately, I have had the opportunity of discussing, with a person I highly respect, the disadvantages of a system which is designed in such a way as to draw young children away from their mothers from an increasingly early age. I was struck by the following statement:

“There is no denying the system is faulty, but if you don’t want your children to become outcasts, you had better conform to it.”

In my eyes, this is a dangerous line of thought, and I can by no means be satisfied with such logic. Why? Because it implies that we ought to do what everyone else is doing, rather than what we believe to be right and best for our families. What follows next? “You had better not insist that your teenage daughter should wear such long skirts; after all, most of her friends’ parents are far more lenient – you don’t want her to feel like a weirdo”; “all my friends have a boyfriend, why can’t I have one too?” – I am not attempting to debate those specific issues, I am simply saying that –

We ought to be guided by what we believe is right, not by what everyone else is doing. Now, as we are Jewish, the principles we live upon of course have foundation in our faith – but it is very possible that other Orthodox Jews will live in a different way, when it concerns matters which are not entirely black and white.

Then the question is asked, are children made outcasts because they are the only ones educated at home in their area? I hope and believe not; of course if people have no contact with each other beside school and work, if community life is nonexistent and like-minded families are not to be found at all, it may be difficult. But the majority of us, with the help of conscious effort if not naturally, will develop a relationship with neighbors and friends. Of course, it makes sense to me that a homeschooled child will be less “blended in”, will experience less dependence on a group of peers. But who said it is a bad thing? I believe it is quite the contrary.

Israel is a small country, and education is very uniform around here. Schools and kindergartens are chiefly divided between the secular, and the different scale of religious. In all cases, however, children are educated in large groups, with little individual attention, from a very early age. Even before reaching the age of government-funded preschool, virtually all toddlers and the majority of infants from a few months of age, spend their days in daycare centers. Thus, without seeing much diversity of example, many Israeli parents have a difficult time comprehending that there may be alternatives, and that perhaps these alternatives are very, very desirable.

Also, because of the very short distances in most of our country, because of the virtual absence of truly remote and isolated spots, Israelis are forgetting that such spots exist all over the world, and that children are brought up in a multitude of ways and places and generally can grow up as fine adults without rigid requirements of a specific system.

As for the necessity of socialization… we are all social creatures, and there is a time and place for peer play. However, I am convinced it is not in the best interests of young children to spend the chief portion of their day in a large peer group.  The younger the child, the worse such an arrangement is for him. And I don’t really believe that it’s all about one “bad” child who is “spoiling” the rest. Rather, from my observation, children simply behave differently in groups, and the qualities brought out are not their best ones. I have seen several children each of whom is fine him/herself, behave in an unruly, insolent, even cruel way, when left together unchecked for any length of time.

I believe that an hour or two of play with peers of the same age is plenty for a young child of two or three, and that it is very desirable, instead of jumbling children of exactly the same age together, that a child will have the opportunity to also play with children who are a little older than himself, and learn more mature behavior – and also with younger children and babies, to learn gentleness and patience.

Children who have a sibling or two get all that and more at home, with the enormous advantage of their mother’s personal attention throughout the day, and the advantage of being part of a home life, of observing and performing real-life tasks from an early age. I believe it is far more beneficial for my toddler to be running barefoot among chickens in the yard, than to be shut up somewhere occupied by amusing but mindless tasks, the only object of which is to keep a group of children quiet.

Another statement that is imprinted in my mind: “your children will have to become part of an organized system at some point of their lives, so it is better for them to get used to this as early as possible.”

You know what this reminds me of? Hearing otherwise sensible parents saying, “our children will be exposed to candy sooner or later anyway, so it’s OK to start giving them lollipops when they are babies.”

They don’t realize that exposure to harmful refined sugar is not a Yes or No question. It is a question of quantity; and every month, every week, every day they can keep their child off sweets is a contribution to future health. Similarly, in many families it’s not a choice between handing the baby over to daycare from infancy, or homeschooling throughout college. There is a great area of diversity between these two ends, and every day and every week, every hour actually, that a young child spends with his mother is worth struggling for.

Let’s consider a child who followed the standard route of institutionalized schooling from preschool, versus a child who, for some reasons, was homeschooled perhaps through the first four or five grades, and then was entered into school. The first child will perhaps be better adapted to the system, but does it speak in favor of his mind when the adaptation is to rigid discipline, repetitive tasks and waste of time necessarily stemming from a large group of children being taught at the same time?

Now, the second child might go through a period of adaptation – a lengthier period than if he had been a toddler sent to daycare from the age of one or two years. But the value of what he had acquired during the years when his personality was shaping is immeasurable. If nature took its course and his parents were diligent supervisors of his education, he gained curiosity that wasn’t stifled, the ability of self-discipline and self-learning, and in all probability acquired the beneficial habit of reading for pleasure.

These qualities will remain with him throughout life, and will serve him much better as an adult, in whatever he is called to do, than the mere conformity to an artificial system. As for organization and discipline, if these aren’t found in our homes, if these are only imposed on us in school and in the army, then our situation requires serious re-assessment.

I could write a lot more on the subject, but as usual, time is pressing and I must stop for now. I eagerly wait for your comments on this, and remain your friend,

Mrs. T

Monday, August 22, 2011

Overpopulation scruples


In response to one of my recent posts, I received a comment saying basically the following: shouldn’t we all refrain from having more than two children, due to the planet’s being overpopulated?

They are plenty of statistics and videos available online, showing how not overpopulation, but population ageing and decline are plaguing the Western world, demographically, socially and economically – I can’t supply links right now, but that won’t be necessary because we can all do a Google search. I am just going to clarify a few brief points.

First, and most importantly, I don’t worship nature; I’m coming from the premise that even if nature could benefit from there being less people on the planet, it doesn’t mean we should restrict our population. Of course we must put all effort towards preserving our ecology, but the notion of not reproducing reminds me of the old Soviet joke saying, “no person, no problem” – the only sure way to get rid of a difficulty is to get rid of the person to whom it relates! Surely none of us wants to think along these lines.

Second, I am under the impression that “we are not having children because we are thinking about the planet” is only ever stated by people who wouldn’t want to have a numerous family anyway, for reasons that have to do with their personal convenience rather than with the environment. How many people who are thus choosing to have fewer or no children, are also making an effort towards living simply and sustainably? What else are willing to “go without” for the sake of the environment – cars, new clothes, travelling? Or are they ready to give up only that which they do not value anyway?

Third, not all regions of our planet are overpopulated – far from it. In fact, there are countries, such as Russia, where population decline is one of the gravest national problems, and the government is trying in vain to induce people to have more babies. Would you tell a family living in a small village somewhere in the arctic circle or the far East that they ought to have no more than two children, for the sake of the planet?

Of course, even within the borders of one country there are regions which are more, and regions which are less populated. Israel is tiny and is considered a densely populated country, but even here, we have regions which suffer from population decline, because people flock to the urban areas which offer more opportunities for employment. The solution for crowded population is not to have less children, it is to give people opportunities which will enable them to spread out to emptier regions.

When talking to a Jew, overpopulation is a rather sad joke, when you remember that around one third of our number was wiped out in the Holocaust a couple of generations ago. Add to this the threat of assimilation and intermarriage, and you’ll see than unfortunately, it doesn’t look like our ranks are going to swell anytime soon. Thus, as a people, we must rejoice in every Jewish child that is born.

And here's a link I stumbled across after I finished writing this, which illustrates my points exactly.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Objects of art in everyday home life

Home decoration is a wonderful creative outlet, but sometimes, we are so limited by time, space or budget as to prevent us from doing what can be referred to as decoration per se. It doesn’t mean, however, that we must give up the pursuit of beauty in our everyday surroundings.

Take for example such a simple thing as a clothesline. Whenever I hang up my washing, I consider it as a decoration of sorts, even for just a few hours. I take care to sort our clothes as I take them out of the washing machine and hang them by themes – a row of little cotton dresses, a row of baby clothes, another one of kitchen towels, all neatly pinned up. It isn’t just aesthetically pleasing, but makes it far easier later to fold and dispatch the clean laundry to its proper places. I have a neighbor whose clothesline is always so beautifully arranged that it’s obvious she takes pleasure in this simple daily task – and I take almost equal pleasure in seeing it.



In the kitchen, too, art is ever present. Two shiny pots, identical-looking but for their size, bubbling on a shiny clean stove – what can be more pleasing to the eye? There is more than mere utility in wiping the pots dry until they shine. It elevates kitchen work to simple, useful beauty.

How about dishes, recently washed, arranged on the drainer according to size? Isn’t there something satisfying about it? Or a bowl of recently washed, shiny, colorful assorted vegetables, set out to dry in preparation for a soup or salad?

I think table centerpieces are lovely, but to tell you the truth, I rarely have an opportunity to indulge in them. But when I put serving dishes on the table for our Shabbat meals, I take care to arrange them in a pretty, mindful way, either symmetrical or not, but in any case, in a way that will show I love and enjoy my work as a homemaker.

The very simple things of cleanliness, neatness, freedom of clutter, create a spacious pretty look even in the most humble of dwellings. Beauty is all around us – all we have to do is simply take the freshness of perspective that is needed to enjoy it.

Illustration photos: Google

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is it better not to have children?


When I posted about my concerns regarding the future possibility of another hospital birth, and about my negative experience last time around, I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming response I received, and I would like to thank all you ladies for your thoughtful comments.

This post was induced by my feeling I need to respond in detail to what was repeated in several comments, which can be summed up by saying that, if I’m so concerned about a possible future bad experience in a hospital, perhaps I shouldn’t have more children, at least not right now.

Sometimes my posts produce quite unexpected, controversial replies, but here I was sitting and staring at the screen in puzzlement. I just wasn’t aware of the fact that anything I said could imply that it’s better to stop having children. It’s true that Jews are allowed the use of birth control under certain circumstances, but I don’t believe it applies in my case.

First, I want to have more children. My having concerns about certain aspects of pregnancy and birth doesn’t in any way overrun my deepest desire to be blessed with more children. Could I, if I became pregnant now, close my eyes after 9 months and open them the next day and hold a sweet, beautiful baby in my arms, in my home and my family circle, without any health risks or bad memories to accompany the experience, perhaps it would be ideal. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and children aren’t born into ideal circumstances.

Perhaps if we could have another bedroom that would be great, too. But, again, we don’t live in an ideal world, and children aren’t born into ideal circumstances. My husband is one of five children who all grew up in an apartment so small that by many it would be considered a case of grave deprivation. But were they really deprived? Not at all; they had food, clothes, a roof over their heads, and the advantage of learning to share. These children were raised by parents, who had no more than high school education, and grew up to be wonderfully kind, caring, unspoiled, unselfish, generous adults who now all have beautiful families of their own, are professionally successful, and so pleasant to be around that I feel extremely lucky to have married into such a family.

Common wisdom would perhaps say, “wait, you only have one spare bedroom. You can’t possibly accommodate more than two children with tolerable comfort!” – but bedrooms are of shorter consequence and lesser value than people.

Telling someone who wants to have children but is apprehensive about certain parts of the equation, that she should simply put off having children, can be compared to telling someone who wants to get married but has some concerns regarding this, to just remain single until these issues are resolved. Now, if these issues can be resolved, there is perhaps some logic in the suggestion. But what if we are talking about short-term drawbacks that can’t really be removed? In my opinion, it is then better to take the plunge.

If a woman has pathological fear of everything related to pregnancy and birth, then perhaps she should indeed use birth control while she goes to counseling to resolve her issues. But what I have is an entirely reasonable dislike of the hospital environment, which no passage of time can do away or improve. Whether I have another child in a year, two years, or five years, it is most likely that Israeli hospitals will remain just the same. So, yes, the bottom line is that I might have to endure a few very unpleasant days in an unsupportive environment, but this is trifling in comparison to the blessing of a baby.

My husband and I are both shy, reserved people, with a dislike of large crowds. When we were planning our wedding we at first thought of a very intimate ceremony. But in Israel, things just aren’t done that way – people would think it’s strange, and the numerous relatives would be offended at not receiving an invitation. We had over a hundred guests, and that’s a tiny wedding by Israeli standards. Still, for me it was a huge crowd and I wasn’t exactly thrilled about it. Does this mean I shouldn’t have got married, or that we should have postponed the wedding? Not in the least; I endured a few hours of tension, and by their end I was married and it was all over. Again, we don’t live in an ideal world. We can wish for improvement, but sometimes, we have to put up with things.

Some people wish to get accepted to universities, but wonder aloud how they will handle the load of studies and exams. Are they told to forsake higher education altogether? Others plan a trip abroad but are afraid of flights. Are they told they should never board a plane? No and no. But when a problem arises that can be avoided by not having children, we are told not to have children.

You know why? Because unfortunately, we grew up being taught that having children is dispensable, compared to other things which relate to our personal comfort in life, such as a brilliant career, a nice house, or traveling abroad. And I don’t believe this is the Jewish way.

Should we give up raising a large family because of temporary obstacles and temporary discomfort? On this forum I am unfit to go into particulars, but on a general scale, a tendency to smaller families and larger houses strikes me as something which overlooks the eternal in favor of the short-term.

I am now twenty-six years old. I can reasonably expect to count on ten years of fertility still ahead of me, perhaps a little longer, and I don’t know if and when I will actually become pregnant again – no one can guarantee that, and we all know in Whose hands it is. In any case, the number of children I have until my fertility declines is final. The number of bedrooms in whatever home we occupy by then is not. I’m sure that when I look back, there is no way I will regret having more children; but as to the size of the house or amount of possessions, or even temporary feeling of tiredness, all that will be reduced to almost nothing in retrospective.

I ask you please not to go into extremes when you comment. There are situations of genuine concern, such as ill health, financial ruin (and I mean actual ruin, not a modest stable income), and other circumstances which should be taken into account. There are women who are in such chase after their declining fertility that they even forsake nursing their babies so that they can have as many children as possible without even the reasonable spacing breastfeeding usually provides – something I feel very strongly against, by the way. But overall, the blessing of children, in my eyes, outweighs negatives such as dislike of doctors or the lack of a spare bedroom.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Afraid


My baby is almost a year old, and although one can never know, judging from previous experience this is about the time for me to get pregnant again.

And I’m afraid.

I’m afraid of unfeeling, uncaring health care that will pressure me into having expensive, invasive, time-consuming procedures and check-ups – far away from my home, far more than is necessary, which will drain my limited energy and disrupt my home life and the routine of our whole family.

I’m afraid of going to the hospital again. I’m afraid to have, once more, rude jokes made at my expense; to be tactlessly subject to unnecessary paper-work questioning while I need to be focused on labor; to have unnecessary staff members detracting, by their very presence, from the sacred intimacy of the birth process; to have to resist, while I am vulnerable and can hardly think, all sorts of needless interventions.

I dread the moment when I, weak and confused after just have given birth, will have to fight for my right to keep my baby by my side day and night; to fight to make sure that no one pushes formula or vaccinations during or right after check-ups at the nursery, if I am not present.

I dread having to spend several days in a strange, comfortless environment, away from my family, from any place that makes me feel safe and protected, just when I am most vulnerable and exhausted. I dread the several hours of waiting and paper-pushing that accompanies being checked out of an Israeli hospital after giving birth.

I know those fears will sound petty, compared to what other people have to endure – death and serious illness, infertility, or newborn babies having to remain in the NICU for months. After all, what I have had so far were two relatively normal, uncomplicated pregnancies and two normal, straightforward, natural births, and I’m perfectly aware of the blessing of it.

But I also know that there are many women out there, who are perfectly able to identify with what I’m feeling on the account; who loathe feeling like a cog in a big machine, the moment they cross the hospital doors.

If, as is most likely, I will have another hospital birth, I will keep in mind that it all depends, perhaps more than on the official hospital policy, on the people you fall in with – the midwives, doctors and nurses that happen to be on duty when you arrive. It’s the people who make the difference, who can make your birth experience horrid even when things are going fine, and who can comfort you in the most hopeless circumstances.

I’ll just give one example to illustrate what I mean. When Tehilla was born, it was the evening of Rosh Ha-Shana – two days of holiday, followed by Shabbat. I gave birth in a religious hospital, full of Orthodox Jewish women who of course could not be checked out and drive away until Shabbat was over. Which means that the hospital had 3 days of checking in, with no checking out – and by the end of those 3 days, it was full.

So, during the second day of my stay, a receptionist coolly mentioned to us that they are checking the possibility of opening another floor for postnatal care and transferring us there. Oh, and that floor doesn’t have a nursery and the pediatrician won’t bother to go there, so you won’t be allowed to keep your baby with you. You will go there, and your baby will remain here in the nursery, on another floor.

Well, you can imagine how that affected me, in my after-birth, whacky emotional state. I went back into my room and cried buckets. I didn’t know what to do. Theoretically, I could wait until my husband’s visit, check myself out, and we could walk with baby in arms to my in-laws’, who live nearby. But would I have made this walk, by all measures an easy distance, two days after giving birth? I have no idea. Just to make it clear to those who may not know, it is allowed to use a car on holiday or Shabbat to go to hospital to give birth (which is considered a matter of life and death), but not to go home from the hospital – if you aren’t within walking distance from home, you’ll have to stay where you are until Shabbat is over.

Anyway, when I wheeled my baby’s bassinet to the dining room for dinner and sat down to eat, I simply burst into tears and was comforted by all the other sweet kind women who said there is no way they will put up with being sent to another floor and leave their babies behind. And in the end, none of it took place, none of us was transferred, and I was able to remain with my baby all the while – but just the memory of the possibility of separation is like a black stain on my whole experience of that hospital stay. It’s like they could have done anything they wanted, and I was only spared by mercy. The cool, unfeeling conduct of that receptionist who didn’t even try to sympathize with what we were going through, strikes me as nothing less than cruelty.

I’m not sure what will happen next. I’m not even pregnant yet, and if and when I am, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Perhaps I’ll seek alternative health care options, although in Israel those are very expensive and very marginal. Or perhaps I’ll just put up with it all, all over again.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The real reason


I have lately become very doubtful about the reply I usually give when I am asked why I stay home to raise my children; more often than not, I say that I wouldn’t be able to earn enough to cover the costs of daycare and still have a sum of any significance left at the end of the month, which, combined with the difficulties of commute from where we live, the fact that we don’t have a second car, and I don’t even have a driver’s license… etc, etc.

Is the above true? Yes, it is. But lately I began to feel more and more strongly I have a problem with continuing to say those things, because it’s like saying, “I’m a victim of my circumstances. If only I had chosen a profession that would enable me to earn more, or if I could get someone to watch my children for me without having to worry about the cost of it, I could be earning a paycheck.”

In short, it is implied from what I say that it would be perfectly alright for me to leave my children in the care of a stranger for the largest part of the day and week, if only I could ensure I get enough money in return.

If it’s all about the money, no wonder the first thing well-meaning people start suggesting is how I could earn more while obtaining the lowest possible cost of daycare. “Women who work full-time get government benefits and daycare funding, you know”. Yes, the sad irony of this is that working part-time in Israel, for a mother, is often worse than not working at all, which means that very often, women at typical “feminine” professions who work half-time are actually worse off than if they would have stayed at home. This is meant to induce women to work full-time.

The full truth and the real, unequivocal reason for a mother to stay at home with her children, in my eyes, is not at all about money, but it’s so very difficult to get up and say it, when asked about it, because it would pass off as extremely odd or judgmental; most mothers where I live are either working outside the home, or staying at home on a temporary and semi-involuntary basis.

No doubt home is the first in their list of priorities, but I’m afraid it would still be taken in the wrong way if I explicitly state my belief that it is better for the children to have their mother at home on a permanent basis, even if, at a superficial glance, the family is financially worse off for it. I’m not saying unable to make ends meet, as someone will undoubtedly suggest; merely unable to put off a larger sum in a savings account each month, or to afford things like a second vehicle, trips abroad or a lot of extracurricular activities for the children.

I suppose that in a small community like the one we live in, the inducement is even greater to avoid direct confrontation and clash of opinions. The downside of this is, that I present my situation – which really is blissful, staying with my dear children in a nice and pleasant home, always with plenty to keep me busy but without the enormous additional pressure of a job outside the home – as an inevitable, irksome circumstance, rather than a conscious choice made for the benefit of my entire family.

I’m afraid many of us will have to continue facing this dilemma, on how to confront our family, friends and general well-wishers who aren’t really familiar with our ideas, until homemaking as a full-time career becomes an acceptable choice once more. But will it become an acceptable choice if we never defend it for what it is?

It should be done in an extremely careful and very gracious way, of course. I imagine it would be enough to make a fellow mother fire up and become defensive, simply by saying “I think my children are better off at home with their mother and not at all in need of all-day-long interaction with their peers in a daycare center”. Even if I put emphasis on the words “my children”, not anyone else’s, there is still no hiding I believe the above is true for nearly all young children. I have no wish at all to hurt anyone’s feelings. But I do not want to continue presenting my own situation as second-best, while I believe it is the absolute best for everyone involved.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pictures of perfect bliss

 A devoted mama cat with her kittens. What with kitties, rabbits and chickens, we now have quite an animal kingdom in our yard, much to the delight of the children.
Two kittens of the same litter, peeping from behind the grape vine.

Speaking of the grape vine, we are now enjoying most delicious grapes - and it's delightful to eat them straight from the vine, warm from sunshine and very sweet. They will get even sweeter as summer draws to its inevitable end, and closer to Rosh Hashana, when the grapes are gone, we'll hopefully have a harvest of pomegranates to eat and give away to the family. 

I hope your day is beautiful,

Mrs. T

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The world of Jane Austen


It is no secret for those who know me that I simply adore the novels of Jane Austen; even the name of my blog comes from a favorite excerpt in one of them. My main attraction to Jane Austen’s works – apart from the author’s thorough knowledge and ironic representation of human nature – is that whenever I open one of her books, I immediately find myself immersed in a world of peace, quiet, civility, neatness, order, and all that I love so much in the life of home.

There is something so very charming in reading about ladies and gentlemen living in a pre-industrialized world; about their country walks and dinner parties, about horse-riding and needlework. But what captivates me most is the style of human relations described in these books; in particular, people frequently coming in for neighborly visits, and communication through letter-writing between friends and family who are away from each other.

Miss Austen didn’t live a very long life, but it seems to me that she had lived happily and quietly, surrounded by family and with ample time to work on her novels. She probably had more peace, quiet and freedom for contemplation in her life than most people in the modern age will ever experience even if they live twice as long as she had.

I sometimes wonder what Jane Austen would think of our modern means of communication, such as emails, Facebook and Twitter. I’m sure she would be impressed with how remarkably convenient all those are. But at the same time, something tells me we would be reproached for the minefield of bad taste and superficial contact such ways of communication provide.

As a child, I lived in a world without internet, and was lucky to have a long-standing correspondence with two friends who had moved overseas (one of them might well be reading this right now, and of course you know who you are!). The letters were long awaited, relished, re-read, and are cherished and kept to this day. Knowing you only have the chance for one letter every few weeks is a great stimulus to do your best to write good letters. While with email, the possibility to respond within minutes produces pressure and impatience. Not that I would willingly give up email, but that’s how things are.

As to Facebook, it seems to me that many people are wrapped up in it for hours in a day, commenting on the status messages of people they hardly know, and maintaining a very superficial illusion of “keeping in touch” with hundreds of people. Some of my friends have chosen to deactivate their Facebook accounts and I understand why.

I consider myself very fortunate to live in a place where people stop for a bit of friendly chat whenever they come across a neighbor. I understand that not all can appreciate a quiet life as I do – a quiet, simple, unhurried, and in many ways, even retired life. That’s another reason why, whenever I open a book of Jane Austen’s, I feel as though I’m talking to a friend – a friend who thoroughly understands and highly values the simple pleasures of good conversation, enjoyment of nature, and quiet intellectual pursuits.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Summer snapshots

Peacock feathers - a trophy from a recent trip to the mini zoo. The peacock is just in the process of changing his tail feathers, and we were kindly given the permission to go inside and take those he cast off.
Muscat grapes ripening on the wine.
The neighbours' dwarf rabbits, which were left in our charge over the weekend. Aren't they adorably fluffy?

Yesterday, just as the day's heat was lessening, we went out for a walk of such delightfulness that it made me regret I cannot capture it on camera, due to Shabbat. Of course, no camera could truly convey the atmosphere around us; the rocky mountains, growing more and more mysterious in the gathering dusk; the lovely outlines of the ancient hedgerows and remnants of old homes about a thousand years old; the birds circling in the sky and the animals coming out of their holes to breathe the wonderful, cool, fresh air. All the things that make me ever thankful for living in an area of such breathtaking beauty all around.

I hope you are all having a lovely day,

Mrs. T

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

An overview of polygamy in Judaism, and an answer to the call of radicals

I’m going to write on a subject I used to previously consider as a joke – the call to bring polygamous marriage back into Jewish consensus. Recently I heard several voices propose it with the utmost seriousness, as a solution to the phenomenon of late singlehood and reduced fertility in the Orthodox Jewish community. Therefore, I am going to give my personal take on it.

To start with some essential points:

Polygamy is not Biblically prohibited. It was a reality of those times, and many fathers of our nation had more than one wife, such as Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon. There are also laws in the Bible meant to regulate the fairness and establish relative peace in a polygamous marriage, such as stating a man must treat all his wives just the same even if he prefers one of them to the other, or the law saying that a man cannot take a second wife unless he can continue to give his first wife the same degree of financial comfort she has been used to hitherto.

Polygamy was never considered as ideal. G-d created Male and Female, not Male and Females. A man is called to cling to his wife, not his wives. Polygamy, on the whole, used to exist under specific circumstances, such as the wife’s infertility (Abraham), deception on the side of the bride’s family (Jacob), or political matches of power and affluence (Solomon). It was also a necessary measure taken in a society where many men engaged in warfare and other dangerous pursuits, and therefore the number of men was significantly lower than a number of women, and therefore, unless some men took more than one wife, many women would be doomed to the fate of loneliness and childlessness.

We have more than enough Biblical examples of polygamy, although allowed, causing friction, strife and sin. Abraham eventually has to turn Hagar out. Rachel and Leah aren’t exactly on terms of sisterly affection. Solomon is driven into sin by taking numerous wives of dubious origin. Elkana (the father of Samuel the prophet) is unable to divide his attentions fairly between his two wives, and expresses his preference for Hannah.

While it used to be considered a necessary solution in some cases, polygamy reduced the state of marriage from a soul-deep, very intimate, one-on-one partnership, to a state of protection, provision and respectable establishment – not something to be dismissed, especially in times of hardship and poverty, but certainly not something women were willing to settle for, had anything else been possible. In the cases of very powerful, affluent men (and never was keeping more than one family supposed to be practiced by those who couldn’t afford it), the promise of wealth and stability was perhaps enough for women to settle for.

Polygamy was prohibited by rabbinical decree for European Jews about a thousand years ago. This decree was never accepted by Jews who resided in Muslim countries where polygamy was prevalent, such as the countries of the Maghreb, Iraq and Yemen. Polygamy wasn’t very common unless the man was wealthy enough, but it existed, and when the State of Israel was founded, some polygamous families came here. However, here this practice ceased. For the record, polygamy is illegal in Israel, though widely practiced among Muslims – a case of the state shooting itself in the foot and giving second, third and fourth wives the undeserved benefits of single mothers, instead of recognizing the real state of affairs within the Muslim communities.

The supporters of polygamy claim that giving its legal status back will solve the problem of singleness for many women. However, I can hardly fathom how that will come to pass, when we have so many single men. Certainly, I can allow there being a slight discrepancy between the numbers of men and women, as Israel does engage in warfare and some young men are lost, but it surely isn’t enough to call for polygamy on a global scale. Had we married off all our many single men, their arguments could perhaps hold water.

It is true that even today, rabbinical authorities have authorized a man to take more than one wife under exceptional circumstances, but this isn’t what will solve our problems of late singleness. As far as I see, those who truly and deeply desire marriage should take the trivial measure of not being picky, and allowing for wider difference of age, education and social status than they previously pictured to themselves.

Some radicals go as far as to admonish wives to “stop being selfish” and encourage their husbands to take another wife, in order to “increase fertility in the Jewish population”. This is the most demeaning and insulting notion I ever heard in relation to Jewish marriage. I cannot imagine any normal woman ever willingly allowing the slightest possibility of her husband as much as looking in the direction of another woman – not if the husband is really a beloved friend, and not a mere figure of convenience and financial and social stability in her life.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sweet potato kugel


Here’s a recipe we love on days which call for a quick, one-dish dinner the whole family will love – and as you can imagine, in a house with a toddler and a baby, those days are many!

You will need:

1 onion, cut into half-rings or chopped as you like, and lightly sautéed in a pan

1 medium sweet potato, roughly grated. Can be also made with potato or zucchini for variety.

250 gr of pasta or noodles of the short narrow kind – broken spaghetti will do

3 eggs

1 tbsp. tahina or hummus (can be omitted)

Salt and pepper to taste; I add a teaspoonful of sweet paprika for a nice color.

Cook pasta according to instructions and mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Bake at medium heat for 40-50 minutes. The top will come out lightly browned and crispy; if you prefer it soft, cover with foil after about half the baking time.