Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Busy and tired, but very happy bride

Dear friends, thank you for the overwhelming response to yesterday's post! It was so lovely to read the wedding testimonies of each and every one of you. Each one was a unique and special story, and I thank you so much for sharing with me and with the readers of this blog.

Thank you for helping me keep focused on the bottom line: whatever happens, however exhausted we might be right now, whatever goes not quite the right way with our wedding plans, however simply we might have to live at first, the only thing I want from the day of our wedding is to get married. Why allow minor details get in the way of our happiness? No way! :-)

And here is another wonderful response, from Lily, who for some reason couldn't log on to Blogger and sent me her comment via email:

"Our wedding was 21 years ago. My husband and I paid for the entire wedding ourselves. We spent $3500 total on the entire thing, including my dress. This is how much my sister spent 1 1/2 years later on her dress alone. We invited 75 people but over 100 showed up because friends told friends that we had lost touch with and they "crashed" our wedding. We didn't mind. We squeezed them in and we all had a blast!

Looking back from two decades I can tell you it isn't the "things" that made that day special. It was the knowledge that this was the first day of our marriage and we were so happy! There weren't any elaborate decorations for the church or reception site, just some beautiful flowers and a few pretty bows, all of which my bridesmaids and I made. The food was simple and our DJ was a friend who gave us his services as his gift. In the end all that matters is that I showed up, he showed up and the people we loved most were there and happy for us.

I'm sure you have heard older married people speak of their poorer days together with fondness. The reason is that you look back and remember that being together was all that mattered. I can say that I know people who have gone into debt for their weddings and a few aren't married anymore (my husband's theory is the wedding and not the marriage was their priority) and others actually regret having spent so much money on things that are momentary. In the end, what truly matters is that you will be married. As long as you are happy with your choice of spouse, everything else is just decoration."

PS: Tomorrow I will attend a wedding for the first time ever! I'm very excited for the chatan and kallah.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How much money would you spend on your wedding?

In the past weeks, we have had to make certain decisions which determined how much money our wedding ceremony and the arrangements around it (fireworks/no fireworks; chuppah designer/basic option) will cost eventually. Now, I must say that we certainly haven't skimped on anything and everything possible, but we tried to be reasonable, keeping in mind that we are a young couple moving into a new home - which is, apart from being a very, very joyous and thrilling occasion, in a certain part a financial stress as well.

We have heard the opinion that our wedding day will be special and once-in-a-lifetime, and therefore financial considerations shouldn't even cross our minds. However, I disagree. I know several couples that took loans for their wedding and started their married life in debt - or even worse, their parents did it for them. Should I say this isn't a perspective I find appealing?

For a basic wedding ceremony, we need a rabbi, a minyan, a chuppah, and a ring. And of course all the paperwork around the authorization to get married, which we (thank God!) already worked out. Everything else in my eyes is an extra. I don't "need" a wedding dress that costs more than all the clothes I ever owned. We don't "need" three photographers, live music and a fancy honeymoon. Sure, all those things are nice if you have extra money - but if you don't, why put strain on yourself in order to have them?

I feel that weddings have turned into an industry, and wedding planning is a very stressful - much too stressful - time for many young couples. In my opinion, the most important thing to do in the weeks prior to your wedding would be to study and prepare for marriage (together, or separately and then discuss what you've learned with your future husband). And pray, pray, pray. Instead, things often turn into a mad race of ticking things off a to-do list.

Another important thing for a young lady who is about to leave her parents' home would be to spend time with her family - sure, getting married doesn't mean you won't see your parents and siblings anymore, but things will be different, and your responsibilities will be different. So don't miss out on this tender and special time with your family.

To those of you who are married or planning their wedding: I would love to hear your input as well. How simple/fancy was your wedding ceremony and the additional expenses (dress, makeup, honeymoon)? How many guests did you have? Did you feel limited by financial considerations, or did you allow yourself to indulge in anything your heart desired at that special time? Would you do things differently if you had to go through it again?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunny days in winter

Hello, ladies! How are you doing? I hope you all had a lovely weekend. As you can imagine, we have been very busy around here lately, so I breathed a great sigh of happy relief when I finally stepped back and watched the flickering lights of Shabbat candles.
Isn't it wonderful to get off the rollercoaster of action sometimes, and just stop, sit still for a while, and enjoy the warm and sweet air and sunshine? It's still winter here, but I can already feel that spring is in the air. These pictures were taken a week ago; hurrying, we were about to just drive through this beautiful spot, but were enchanted and simply had to stop and take a few pictures. I suppose these will be among the last few with my hair still uncovered!
Now, with another week rushing forward, I must remind myself to keep focused. It's only too easy to be swallowed in a blur of activity and forget how sweet it is to make room for simple joys.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Memories of a beginner modestynik

Some questions I received by email the other day:

"Making the transition to modest attire: how difficult was this for you, from a social perspective? How long before they got used to the idea? Did you lose any friends over this issue? What type of responses did you get from family and friends? Is it fairly simple to find modest attire in Israel? Any suggestions for making the transition for others? And do all observant Jewish women in Israel wear dresses/skirts only?"

I certainly got all sorts of reactions about my transition to modest attire. I can't say how long it actually took before people who knew me stopped giving me those weird looks, but I estimate it took at least a year. Also, the transition wasn't done all at once. For example one summer I stopped wearing sleeveless tops, and next summer I gave up on short sleeves as well and started wearing only skirts. Then I also started paying more attention to my neckline.

I can't say I actually lost friends because I started to dress differently. My true friends remain as close as before, despite our differences. However, there were people (both family and friends) who didn't hesitate to say all sorts of revolting things, for example, "what are you going to wear to N's birthday party? Some ugly shapeless rag again?". I must say I never, never expressed my opinion in the way of, "hey, look at me, I'm not wearing pants anymore because I think that's immodest! And that makes me better than you". No. I simply started dressing according to my current preferences. It was enough to attract negative reactions.

In Israel, it's relatively simple to find modest clothes, because a large part of the population are religious Jews. No, not all observant Jewish women wear skirts; some wear pants and some don't cover their hair. However, the market is large. Of course, it also depends on where you look. For example Tel Aviv might not be exactly what you'd call a modestynik's paradise. But in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak there's an abundance of shops with beautiful and modest clothes and hair coverings. I'm aware of the fact that there are areas where modest clothes are almost impossible to come by, in which cases you might want to turn to more creative options, such as browsing second-hand shops, ordering online, or custom-making your clothes.

As to suggestions for the beginner modestynik, I say: start with what you have and work with it. Most likely you will need a big shopping trip, but you can also make use of what you have in your closet. I still have some sleeveless tops and low-cut shirts from my pre-modesty era, which I successfully utilized by wearing layers (one shirt on top of the other). If you have a see-through skirt, you could wear it over another skirt for an extra hip look. If you have a dose of creativity in you, you could even try to make skirts out of pants. I haven't tried that, but I've heard smashing success stories!

Also, don't be too hard on yourself. It's alright not to do everything at once, and it's alright to take one small step at a time. For example, one month you may want to stop wearing shirts that don't cover your midriff, and next month you can decide that from now on you're also going to pay more attention to how tight your clothes are. As long as you remain focused on your final goal, nothing is out of reach!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Arranged" marriage?

I have received several questions about arranged marriages in Jewish communities, so I decided to address the matter. I think it all begins with what you define as "arranged marriage". If you're thinking in terms of both families that decide everything in advance, and a groom who doesn't see his bride's face before the wedding, you can forget it. Yes, there might be advice, suggestions, even pressure. However, I have never yet heard about a marriage where parents dictated to their children that they will marry someone they don't want to marry. Not even in the strictest Orthodox Jewish communities.

Introductions can certainly be arranged - by the young people's parents, in-laws, friends, the matchmaker (or in our technological era, the virtual matchmaker on websites for religious Jewish singles). But from then on, the decision belongs with the young couple, and with them alone. After an introduction has been made, the man and woman must go on a date, start getting to know each other and see if they are compatible in their initial goals. Here's another confusion: when I mentioned "dates", I was asked if "dating" and not "courtship" is practised. I think we are dealing with a matter of purely linguistic confusion here. Yes, the man and woman certainly go on dates. But it has nothing to do with dating in the usual meaning of the word. The aim is marriage, and the young people attempt to evaluate each other as potential spouses, not partners for an unlimited period of fun and recreational sex. Call it dating for marriage, courtship, or anything you will - the point is that people are expected to remain marriage-minded.

The decision is supposed to be reached in a relatively short period of time. Here it often depends, I think, on the level of religious observance as well. Couples who don't touch each other at all typically decide sooner. Anyhow, I know people who decided to get married after a couple of dates, and others who decided after a couple of months. Still, it usually happens much sooner than with modern couples who take years to decide and then divorce on the grounds of "we didn't really get to know each other well enough" or "I suppose he wasn't the right person after all". Keep in mind: I'm not saying you should use a blindfold when making a decision. You can and should certainly make a thorough background check and pay attention to alarming signs and "red flags". But in my opinion, it's OK to discover things about each other after you are married. It's even OK if you don't like each and every thing you find out. That's precisely when compromise, open-mindedness and flexibility come into the picture.

Do you know each other perfectly well if you decide to get married after three dates? A month? Two months? Of course not. Does it necessarily mean your marriage will fail? Not at all. Life is a constant process of learning, growth and discovery. Why should it be so frightening to think of gradually discovering each other and growing alongside each other? Marriage, as I've heard from more experienced ladies, will be in a large part what we make of it. Even the most perfect match can result in heartbreak and divorce after long years of neglect, insensitivity, and excessive criticism.

"Why are you rushing into marriage?" - one middle-aged man asked me last week, - "My daughter had been together with her ex-husband for nine years before they decided to get married. They have lived together for years. Then after three months they got a divorce. Doesn't it teach you that you should be more careful in your approach?"

I did my best to bite my tongue then, but I thought to myself that it's highly unlikely that the divorce of this man's daughter was caused by not getting to know her husband well enough before marrying him. I might be wrong of course, but my estimation is that this couple's divorce was rooted in the same reasons that prevented them from getting married for nine whole years. The same reasons why so many marriages end in disaster these days: unwillingness to make a commitment, to compromise and give your all to your spouse; lack of willingness to change one's habits and make room for marriage; an unreasonably long list of requirements and seeing marriage as a ready-made, instant gratification product, rather than a lifelong project.

I believe that "arranged marriage" doesn't necessarily have to sound bad. A bit of involvement from more experienced people, when done gently and delicately, can actually work wonders. I think we should be more concerned with how marriages are neglected, often from the beginning. Why is it that young couples invest so much time, money and energy into planning the perfect wedding, but don't devote a moment to the thought that maybe they should study about married life before starting it? There is so much to learn before marriage, and it will be so much more crucial to your happiness in the future than how exactly your guests were seated at the wedding and how many sorts of snacks were served at the reception.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Young men and marriage

If you are a young woman of marriageable age, you might have noticed how difficult it is to find a good man who is willing to commit to marriage. It amazes me how otherwise mature and responsible men, not remotely of the playboy type, often delay marriage until their late thirties. Why, I ask myself?

Here is a comment I received from lately from a 20-something young man, a man who states he would love to become a husband and father:

"After years on the dating scene, and finding myself appalled by modern "hookup culture" it's refreshing to see that there are still traditional women like you.

I realized that I have a desire for the role of husband and father. I think, subconsciously, that's the sort of thing I've been preparing myself for all these years. A man is supposed to do the best he can for his wife (and eventually, his kids), so I've tried to make myself more physically fit, financially fit, and emotionally supportive."

However, he has…

"… trouble believing that any relationship could actually work nowadays. After seeing the ravages of divorce and the corrupt family court system affect other (usually older) men around me, I think I'd rather ride a bicycle through Iraq than get married."

Oppressed by feminism and its deteriorative effect on masculinity, he says:

"I'm glad that some women are waking up to the cultural devastation brought on by feminism. I used to buy into their ideology myself, until I realized how it was ruining a lot of lives. I can't say I hate women - I actually I think they are inherently wonderful - but I am more than a bit disappointed. Maybe one day, things will change and relationships between men and women will get better."

What do you think? I don't know about the riding a bicycle through Iraq part, but in my eyes, it is evident that we have a problem here. It isn't without a reason that young people are afraid of marriage. We have an entire generation of women who are opposed to being women and men who haven't been taught how to be men. A mature, serious young man often has trouble finding a wife when the majority of young women around him are looking for a playmate until they hit their mid-thirties.

Is it possible to restore the harmony between men and women in their unique, beautiful and separate roles? And what can we do to reinforce that?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

These little white shoes

shoes 0011, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

I'm not sure exactly why, but I feel a very special sort of excitement when I look at white shoes these days. There's something very touching to think that these shoes will gently hug a bride's feet as she happily walks towards her new life... isn't that so?

By the way, yes, these are the shoes I plan to wear at the wedding. My dear chatan found them very unexpectedly in a small shop where I wouldn't even think to look, and I love them! They have a clean and simple look which will go perfectly with my dress, I think. Also, the heels aren't too high or too thin, which is important because I will need to be strong enough for much, much dancing!

... Right now, I'm dancing with the joy of thinking I won't have to subscribe to Shadchanet (or other websites for Orthodox Jewish singles) again. There will be no more strained conversations on first dates, over cups of cold coffee. I'm dancing with delighted excitement. Still in my slippers, though. ;)

Monday, February 18, 2008

In Praise of Slowness

During this joyous, yet busy and sometimes even stressful period in my life, I have found comfort in reading one absolutely fantastic book: "In Praise of Slowness", by Carl Honore. Here's a short preview:

"... A former "speedaholic," an award-winning Canadian journalist advocates living a slower, more measured existence, in virtually every area, a philosophy he defines as "balance." Honore's personal wake-up call came when he began reading one-minute bedtime stories to his two-year-old son in order to save time. The absurdity of this practice dramatized how he, like most of the world, was caught up in a speed culture that probably began with the Industrial Revolution, was spurred by urbanization and increased dramatically with 20th-century advances in technology.

... The author explores, in convincing and skillful prose, a quiet revolution known as "the slow movement," which is attempting to integrate the advances of the information age into a lifestyle that is marked by an "inner slowness" that gives more depth to relationships with others and with oneself."

The book is written from a non-religious point of view, and doesn't talk much specifically about the role of women. However, in my eyes everything that has to do with investing time and effort into relationships, family, spending time together, good food, and special things made by hand, strongly relates to the importance of the woman as wife, mother and homemaker. Think of how much we are pressured to do it all and have it all. Think of the simple beauty that results when we are able to slow down and savor every moment.

I feel the importance of it especially strongly right now, when we are so overwhelmingly busy. Between looking for a place to live, making the perfect dress for me and finding the perfect suit for Y.T., making arrangements for the photographer, the DJ, the invitations and a million other things, it's very important to take enough time, still, to breathe deeply, enjoy the moment - and above all, praise the Lord.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Lace and satin

Dear ladies, hello to you all! I hope you had/are having a wonderful weekend. Shabbat here was relaxing as always, even though yesterday I was in a mad rush to complete everything before sundown. Therefore, no post yesterday, even though my fingers were practically itching to type a little update for you all.

First, great news: my story with the rabbinical court is officially over. On Thursday, I got my final authorization, and now it can be said without a shadow of a doubt: I'm Jewish, and free to marry. My future children will be Jewish. Oh, you can't believe how happy I am! Now it definitely looks like the wedding will be held on its due date - which I will give you as soon as we print out the invitations.

I must also tell you that the hearing at the rabbinical court went much easier than I expected. I was warned I might be told something ugly, but the dayanim were actually very gentle with me. I didn't feel I was being interrogated or suspected of not telling the truth.

Then on Friday, my mother and I went with the seamstress to choose fabrics for my wedding dress. For a few minutes, I was completely blown off by the overwhelming richness of choice of white lace and satin. Oh, how I wish I had taken my camera with me! It took us almost two hours to make a choice, with every fabric being wrapped around my shoulders to see how it looks against my face. Then my measurements were taken and we went home, without even having time to look at shoes.

At first I had some trepidations about the seamstress - I mean, with so little time before the wedding to make the dress... what if a week before the wedding, I decide I simply can't live with the final outcome? But then I've seen some of her works and they are simply beautiful. So eventually I decided to put my trust in her.

Now I'm really starting to enjoy being a kallah. Thank you, dear God, for being so good to me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Changing destructive behavioral patterns

A couple of days ago, I received a very interesting question from Mark, in response to a post where I mentioned how destructive it is to be stuck in a dead-end relationship with a man who is unwilling to make a commitment. I won't reprint Mark's entire message here, but the bottom line was this:

"…you learned the RIGHT LESSONS from your experiences; how is it you were able to learn the right lessons, and make the needed changes, while a vast majority of women are not? Why is it you were able to learn your lesson after ONE bad relationship, while most other women take years, if not DECADES, to figure out that chasing abusive, bad boy boyfriends is counterproductive?"

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my background, I'll briefly mention that in my past, I was in a relationship with a man who abused me both emotionally and physically, not to mention the simple fact that it was going absolutely nowhere. It took me a while to get out of it, and even more time to heal.

Yes, I certainly did "learn my lesson". However, I wouldn't say I was such a smashing success in that department; I could have left much sooner. I should have left when he first became violent; when I first heard him curse like a drunken sailor; when he called me, drunk, in the dead of night.

Then again, I do realize how fortunate I am, having terminated this vicious pattern after just one horrible, uncommitted relationship. I suppose a major factor here is that I never really enjoyed being in this type of relationship. I mean, I knew it was socially acceptable; I knew it was expected of me to "have fun" – but somehow, the fun never happened! The few good moments were soon drowned in a sea of guilt and tears.

And you know what? I'm convinced I'm not alone here. I'm sure many, many women secretly know they are unhappy passing from one relationship to the next, even if they aren't abused, strictly speaking (most women are so naturally geared towards steadiness and commitment that I see the modern way of relationships as a subtle form of abuse towards women). But to help people make a change, we need to show a different way. Relationships have been so cheapened that sometimes it's difficult to see anything beside the hit-and-go attitude.

Seeing that there are other options has been literally a life saver for me. Reading the book "A Return to Modesty" by Wendy Shalit revolutionized my way of thinking. And above all, I started seeing myself – and every other woman - as a precious daughter of God, deserving love, respect and decent treatment. Committing to pure, chaste behavior humbled me and boosted my self-esteem in an appropriate, healthy way at the same time, eventually enabling me to seek a relationship with a man who would be willing to do things the way God intended.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Me? Obey Him?" giveaway

For those of you who haven't visited "The Walled Garden" yet, Dawn is giving away two copies of the book "Me? Obey Him?" by Elizabeth Rice Hanford. According to what I understand from the summary Dawn gave, the author "...shows how the husband and wife relationship is the foundation for a happy and Godly home. And at the same time, she shows how a submissive wife is not an inferior partner.

Best of all, Mrs. Handford shows not only the responsibility of submission, but she shows the blessings, the joys and privileges that living a life according to God's plan brings."

Now, I haven't read the book yet, so I can't really give a review. Most likely I won't agree with every single thing Elizabeth Rice Hanford has to say; but it certainly sounds interesting and worth reading. I'm in!

To enter the drawing, leave a comment here. The names of the two lucky winners will be announced on Friday the 15-th.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A message from a reader

Several days ago, I received the following comment from a reader (who chose to remain anonymous), in response to my post, "Dating disasters vs. the Jewish strategy", and it touched my heart so deeply that I decided to share it with all of you. Here it goes...

"Thank you Anna for this post. Right now, I feel so sad for the decisions that I have made. I chose to remain a virgin until marriage and fell in love with a man who was a new Christian. We married almost a year and a half ago and have a baby boy together who is a few months old.

My marriage has been a disaster. It has been emotionally taxing for me. He is not really a Christian. He smokes, decided he wanted to become a "rapper" and spends every weekend in the club promoting his music. I have seen emails where he flirts with other females and encourages them to call him. He does not want me to be a stay at home mother to our child, preferring instead for him to go to daycare. A woman sent me an email telling me that they have been having an affair for almost a year. But, he vehemently denies it.

I want to get a divorce soooooo bad!!! I wish I had been wiser. I should have married a man who was a strong Christian, with longer evidence of living the Christian life. I had been wise in my relationships up until him. Me being a "silly" woman in the end and marrying this man has made my life miserable, and my parents stressed with worry, because they know that I deserve better, and think that I should leave him.

But, I want our son to grow up with both parents in the home. But, I'm wondering if that's a good enough reason to stay with someone who so obviously does not really love me or want me to be truly happy.

So, I encourage all unmarried ladies to really pray and seek God before deciding to marry someone, talk to your parents, and really know that this man leads a life of integrity. It will save you much heartache later on.

Anna, do you have any thoughts on this? What if things never get better. Do I suffer through it because I made vows? Or free myself from this emotionally destructive relationship? Any thoughts would be welcome."

When I read this, I found myself sitting, typing and deleting, trying to think of something to say to this lady, whose suffering is so obvious. However, as someone who isn't married yet, I found it hard to do. I believe marriage is sacred, and anything can and should be tried in order to save it, unless it becomes truly and irrevocably destructive. But where is the line? In what situations does a God-fearing woman come to the bitter conclusion that divorce is her only option?

Maybe some of you married ladies can offer your insight?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

More about hair coverings

Warm greetings to all you ladies! It's wonderful to join you again after a refreshing and relaxing weekend. I'd like to take this opportunity to address some questions about hair coverings that came up after my previous post.

One, let me tell you, it's not like I was thrilled at the prospect of cutting off all my hair! I like my long hair. It's one of the things that make me feel pretty and feminine. Only I thought it would be too much trouble to keep it this long when I have to cover it whenever I go out or whenever we have guests. But now, seeing my chatan's enthusiasm about my hair, I'm more motivated to keep it. Only after we are married, it will be permitted for him to touch my hair, play with it, or caress it. And that's exactly when I would say goodbye to it! He thinks that's a shame… and I agree. So, I'll keep it as it is for now, and try to handle it.

Two, I don't think there's something wrong with wearing wigs. If it covers the hair, and it's modest, it's fine for a hair covering. It's just not my style. Also, I think there's something very neat with being recognized from a distance as a married woman, so I'm going to choose hair coverings that don't resemble real hair.

So, my options remain open. Snoods aren't really my style, so I guess head scarves could be an option. They look hip and actually pretty cool for a young married woman; and if they are made from a light, natural material, they won't add too much heat in the summer. Since my hair isn't very thick, I suppose some styles of hats could be an option too.

The choice of hair coverings here in Israel is wide, due to the unceasing demand from religious Jewish women. I'm sure I'll find something that suits me – and my dear future husband too, of course! After all, it's very important for me to remain attractive in his eyes not only when we are alone and I can let my hair down (literally), but also when we go out. Which means that his tastes, naturally, will be taken into consideration.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Engagement ring

engagement 026, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

Good evening, ladies! I'm thrilled to show you my engagement ring, which I received yesterday during the meeting between our two families. Now it seems as though everything is going to happen really soon, and I'm positively beside myself with excitement.

In the meantime, I'm taking advantage of the opportunity to take pictures of myself with my hair still uncovered. Soon it will be time to choose hair coverings, something I'll need a lot of help at! My hair is very long (when I say long, I mean I could sit on it if I wanted to), and I always assumed I'd trim it at least by half before I get married, to make it easier to handle. However, my dear chatan would hear none of it, so I suppose I'll need to find another solution. ;)

Now I must fly, because my beloved is about to arrive. I have a lot of ideas swirling around in my head, but I'm not sure I'll have an opportunity to post before Shabbat. So for now, I just want to wish you a lovely day/evening, and tell you all how much I value your friendship, insight, encouragement and support that you ladies have offered so generously in response to my previous posts.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Dating disasters vs. the Jewish strategy

Somehow it seems that many beautiful, intelligent, sweet women are attracting, and attracted to, Peter Pans, bad boys, men who are unwilling to commit, and destructive relationships in general. They are unhappy, but don't know any better, and don't understand how these vicious patterns ruin their lives.

I think it's very important - in case you haven't done this already - to know what you want from a relationship, and which qualities are especially important to you in your future partner. It's amazing how many people enter a relationship without a deeper thought than, "whoa, that's a really cute guy/girl, let's start hanging out and see how it goes". See what I mean? I don't think you should sit down and make a long list of demands, becoming picky and narrowing your choices. I mean compatibility in very basic things, such as for example willingness to commit and compromise, kindness, patience, maturity, and also long-term goals such as marriage and children.

That's actually how we religious Jews work things out. We focus on important, basic personal qualities, and other crucial things such as level of religious observance, and go along with them. We discuss it from the beginning, often on the first date - which is almost never a movie, because then you don't have freedom to talk and really get to know each other. The direction of the relationship is determined without too much dillydallying; if major issues arise and it's clearly a no-go, it just breaks off. It really doesn't have to take ages. We also pay attention to subtle hints which may indicate an unstable or abusive personality.

When I think about my relationship with my ex-boyfriend, from before I became observant, I see that the mistakes I made could have been prevented simply by following what I mentioned earlier. I didn't think about the direction the relationship was taking - I simply got involved with him without thinking too much. We didn't talk about long-term goals, focusing on fun. I ignored his tendency to always do things his way, his short temper, his inability to compromise, his disregard of my needs. Is it any wonder I woke up one day and realized I'm aimlessly dating an emotionally - and physically - abusive Peter Pan?

Another thing about Jewish dating is that we don't touch. At all. Until marriage. This includes kissing, hugging, and even holding hands. Also, we don't remain alone together until marriage. I know this might sound extremely weird to you, but if you think about it, I'm sure you'll find at least some sense in it. Touching is very powerful. Sex is very powerful. It creates - especially for women, but for men as well, I think - a strong connection which is very difficult to break. Sexual attraction and lust can become a factor that makes you stay with the wrong person.

That's another example of what happened with me and my ex-boyfriend. By having sex with him, I became very emotionally connected and dependent on him. I felt I gave him such a big part of myself I didn't know how to break up without destroying that part of self. If only I withheld sexual relations until the point when he first hit me, breaking up wouldn't have been so painful, and maybe I could have done it sooner.

When I finally broke up with him, I was in such pain I didn't know if I'm ever going to get married, or have a relationship again. What helped me a lot was deciding I don't want to suffer. I wanted a good, healthy relationship. This might sound very trivial - after all, who wants to be miserable? But my past attitude said just the opposite. I was stuck in a horrible relationship, and didn't realize I deserve any better.

Several times during that period, I had opportunities to start something new, with someone who appreciated me and wanted to make me happy. I then had a twisted line of thinking - "this man cares about me, but I'm so unworthy, so if he treats me right and appreciates me so much, he probably can't get anything better and this means he's a real loser". Mad, huh? But this, I think, is also part of the reason why women with low self-esteem are stuck in bad relationships, and deny the good guys who have real potential to give them a decent life and make them happy.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Woman Who Has It All

Mrs. H is rushing home. It's already late in the evening, and she was supposed to leave the office some time ago, but her boss held her back with instructions for tomorrow's conference, so she is in a hurry. She's late, and at home, she is welcomed by a disgruntled babysitter.
- Sorry, - she says. – I'll make it up to you at the end of the month. How are the children?

She is informed that Susie is fine, but 3-year-old Daniel has caught the flu again. He has already fallen asleep. It is unlikely that he will be able to go to kindergarten tomorrow morning. Can you come, then? No, Mrs. H, terribly sorry. Good night.
At that moment, 7-year-old Susie hears Momma's voice and comes out of her room. She runs forward and kisses her mother.

- Can you help me with homework, Mommy? – She asks.
- Not right now, sweetie. – Says Mrs. H. – Mommy's tired. Maybe later.
The door opens and Mr. H comes in. He looks exhausted
- Good evening! – He says, taking off his shoes. – What a day!
- Daniel has the flu again, - tells Mrs. H. – And the babysitter is busy in the morning.
- Oh… again? Could you stay with him tomorrow, dear?
- I have an important meeting tomorrow. – Snaps Mrs. H. – What about you?
- Well, I can't be late tomorrow either, dear… you know how busy it is now in the office…
- I'll call my sister. – She resolves. – She knows many babysitters. Maybe she can suggest someone.

Finally, that problem is settled, and Mr. H says:
- I'm starving. What's for dinner, dear?
Dinner! Mrs. H hasn't quite thought of that. She opens the freezer. Fortunately, it's not quite empty. She quickly pops a frozen pizza into the microwave, and the family sits down to eat.

After Susie goes off to bed, Mrs. H looks around her. Nobody has cleaned for days. Dishes are piled up in the sink; the kitchen floor is covered with sticky, greasy stains; the dirty laundry hamper is overflowing; children's toys, clothes and books are strewn all over the living room floor. Grumpily, Mrs. H loads the dishwasher and the washing machine, mops the floor, and picks up her children's toys. In the meantime, Mr. H tidies up the children's rooms and measures Daniel's temperature. It's nearly midnight when they are finally in their bedroom, ready to go to sleep.

- We need to consider hiring someone to help around the house, - says Mrs. H. – It's too much for us to handle on our own!
Mr. H looks troubled.
- I'm not sure we can afford it… but I'll try to take on another project. Might mean even longer hours in the office. Oh, and dear, a button fell off my shirt today; could you fix it, please?
- I'll take it with me tomorrow when I go to pick up my suits from dry cleaning. I'm sure they can fix it there, - Mrs. H replies sleepily.

Mrs. H's last thoughts before she falls asleep are about the dry cleaning; the babysitter; the new car she needs, because her current one doesn't look respectable enough anymore…
Mr. H, before sleep overcomes him, thinks about the long day he had; the even longer days he is going to have if they need to hire help; the shirt he will have to iron for himself tomorrow before he goes to work…

So, once Mr. and Mrs. H are asleep, let's think what we have here. The general picture is this:

We have children who spend more time with their babysitter than their parents;
A husband who feels he is unappreciated and his needs aren't taken care of;
A wife who is overwhelmed with duties both at home and at the workplace;
An unorganized household, where not much is done and a lot of money is spent.

Let's now have a more careful look at Mrs. H's expenses.

Mrs. H pays a babysitter and is considering hiring someone to help her around the house because she just doesn't have time to clean; she doesn't have time to cook either, so she stuffs her freezer with expensive, unhealthy, commercially prepared foods; she doesn't have time to plan her shopping carefully or compare prices, so every week, she just loads her cart with whatever items she looks upon.

Mrs. H also needs to keep up with a certain image that is expected from her at work. So she simply has to buy expensive shoes and suits that require dry-cleaning, even though that is not quite her style. She also needs a car that looks good, so she changes cars about every three years. Add regular visits to the hairdresser, and you will get an estimation of the sum Mrs. H spends every month just to look like she is expected to.
On top of all that, Mrs. H is feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and unfulfilled. She doesn't spend time with her children, and communication with her husband is close to zero. She is constantly tired and on the run. She has been taught she is supposed to have it all! Why doesn't she seem to be able to do it?!

All her expenses that we listed before have one thing in common: they are work-related.
If it wasn't for her work, Mrs. H wouldn't need a second vehicle or expensive clothes. She wouldn't need hired help. She probably wouldn't need even a dishwasher and a dryer! If Mrs. H stayed home, she could cook from scratch and plan healthy, nutritious, economic meals. And she certainly wouldn't depend on anyone to fix a button on her husband's shirt.

If Mrs. H took the time to be with her children and tend to their needs, she would know about little Susie's dreams, her ambitions, her friends and the influences she is experiencing. And if she found out about the new word Susie learned from one of her girlfriends at school that day, Mrs. H would probably decide to homeschool.
But most of all, if Mrs. H stayed home, she wouldn't constantly feel as though she is running a race that leads nowhere and never stops.

If Mr. and Mrs. H sat down together with a pen and paper and considered the numbers carefully, they would have realized that the "second income", in fact, melts almost into nothingness – or even forms a negative number!

But that, alone, isn't enough. Mr. and Mrs. H belong to a generation that has been taught to think that a woman must find employment and join the workforce ranks, or she is unhappy and unfulfilled; that being a homemaker and a mother is a form of oppression; that children belong in daycare, and not in their mother's arms. Unless they question that unquestionable "truth", they will not realize what a toll it is taking on their family life.

To see it, we just need to take a sober look at the typical day of Mrs. H. The typical day of the Modern Woman Who Has It All.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

How sweet!

Award+from+E-mom, originally uploaded by Anna's musings.

A warm hello to all you ladies. I hope everyone had the loveliest of weekends. Mine was spent away from home, again, which explains the absence of new posts and comments in the last two days.

When I checked my email this afternoon, I received a most pleasant surprise: dear Sheila, from "Who can find a wife of valor?" blog, gave me this sweet award, along with the following kind words:

"Anna is a jewish young woman, living in Israel. Her writings are excellent, for sure, and very thought provoking and inspiring. She has a passion for God's design for a woman and wife. I just love hearing her heart."

Thank you so much, dear Sheila! I know that normally, I'd be expected to pass this award along to other ladies, but here I face my usual problem: far too many great blogs to choose from! So instead, everyone who reads this and has a blog, feel free to give the "E for Excellent" award to your favorite private corners of the web.

In the meantime, days here speed by in a blur of activity, while stretching endlessly at the same time. Do you know the feeling?!

Oh, and by the way... several ladies asked me to tell about a traditional Jewish wedding. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I have never been to a wedding yet! ;-) The first wedding I plan to attend (no, not my own!) will be at the end of this month.