My Reflection

Today, I looked in the mirror. I rarely ever look in the mirror. My daughter was watching me and I looked and said “I like my new glasses and the way my hair looks.” She said, “You have gray hair, I like my brown hair with sparks of red.”

I don’t usually force myself to look in the mirror, but sometimes life requires you to look.

With the kids at school, I spend a lot of the day by myself. Some days are busy with appointments, housework, errands, even writing a blog post. Meanwhile, brewing inside my brain are ideas and plans for something bigger.

Other days, I feel paralyzed.  I look at my list and my calendar and it seems impossible. I don’t know where to start, so I sit on the couch reading Facebook or Reddit. I ought to read a book, but I can’t even face the prospect of a new idea. I ought to call someone, but instead I think they will not like me calling them right now.

Then my kids come home. They need my attention. My son comes bounding off the bus and wants food and to try something he’s been thinking about on the computer. My daughter wants food and to play trains with me.

I don’t always have the energy to play. If I am tired, she is tired too. She sits on the couch asking “What should I do?” I wonder why she doesn’t know what she likes. When I give her a suggestion to do something by herself, she starts crying “I don’t know what to do!” I worry that she is becoming just like me.

Then it hit me, my image reflected back.  I saw my likeness, my daughter,  struggling with indecision, insecurity, no one will like me, I don’t know what to do.

I look at the mirror, I like the way my gray hairs contrast with the new reddish glasses I chose. When I saw them at the eyeglass store, I knew instantly that I wanted those rectangular rose-colored frames. I tried on a few different pairs, but I was confident these were it.  “I made a good decision,” I tell myself.

My daughter looks at my reflection, then at her own, smooth brown hair with reddish highlights. Her eyes, glinting hazel, smile. I am proud.


The Daydream

I loved blogging last week, but this week, can’t get myself going. Can I use as an excuse that I’ve been feeling under the weathery? Probably not, I was tired all week, but didn’t start feeling the sniffly, sore throat, achy body till yesterday. In fact, today, though all I wanted to do was lie on the couch, I somehow managed to get myself up and start doing things. Put lentils and carrots in the crock pot and flour and yeast in the bread maker. I hope my family appreciates my homemade dinner. Also made myself a nice salad for lunch. Then to enjoy the sun I did some weeding and also sat outside and did questionaires for a research study my kids are in.

I look at my list of to do’s, check, check. What’s next? Write Post. Ahem. Okay, okay, how about that day dream I had, right after my son’s doctor’s appointment? Downstairs and a door over from the doctor,  we saw that locally owned pizzeria where we managed to get a nice meal a few months ago, despite having to ask them to turn down the TV several times. My son gets concerned when there is a lot of unnatural music, which is basically anything coming from electronics. As we walked by, I noticed the sign “we regret to inform you that we have closed our doors for good.” Sad, an empty storefront, on a beautiful spot by the river.

That’s when I started daydreaming. I started picturing the restaurant/cafe that I would open up. Of course, take out all the tvs, loud soda machines, then open up the doors to a patio with a fountain overlooking the river. And the food would be delicious and all natural of course! While getting the kids ready for bed that night, I started mentally writing the menu. It was an exciting enough picture in my head that I spontaneously took my pen out to jot it all down, before going to sleep myself.

My inspiration comes from The Orchard, a restaurant in Frederick, a city I really miss for all the unusual shops and restaurants in their beautiful downtown. I miss the kind of healthy, all natural prepared food that was so easy to find, when I lived there. So can I plagarize? Because I wrote down at the top of the menu: Mama’s Orchard Cafe. Today, glancing again at the menu I had written, it dawned on me that I am already owner of my own in-home restaurant. Tonight we will taste-test the mediterranean lentil soup and fresh garlic/basil bread that is a signature of Mama’s kitchen.

Perhaps some day I will open up that river cafe of my dreams. But meanwhile, I practice and play. Because imagination is all I need to get going again.20160923_155237

To Write or Not to Write

To write or not to write,that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler to speak one’s truth but in so doing discomfit.

To rise against a storm of uncertainty, and in so doing, to limit, a few words that may provoke, but perhaps no response.

Or better, to leave words unsaid until the morrow, when words may cease to mean or be forgotten.

To write, perchance, to discover, that flash of insight lurking in the unformed pathways of the mind.

To be, to write, but not to sleep. For life is now, or there is nothing after.


HIllary Clinton, Talking to Millenials

Glad to see Hillary listened to Bernie and is again talking about the issues.

This should be the path for her campaign going forward.

If you want to win over millenials, stop juvenilizing or blaming them for not automatically supporting you. Stop fearmongering about the other candidate, and tell us what YOU are going to do to help the next generation.

Dear Clinton supporters,

You want to help Hillary win? Follow her lead and give millenials (and others) some respect.


(a genX-er)

A Political Rant

The excitement I got from canvassing for Bernie was this feeling that I could make a difference and help make the world more equitable and just. Besides the disappointment of seeing our “side” lose, it was very deflating when word came out that the political body that was running the primaries had “rigged” the election. I don’t mean literally, because as of now we don’t have proof of intentional vote rigging. We do see clearly however in email leaks, that this was not a “level playing field and may the stronger candidate win”. The professional party insiders had predetermined the nominee and were making sure the rank and file knew who to select.

Most people don’t spend a lot of time researching candidates and analyzing positions. I’m guilty of this myself. I needed to be made aware of the alternatives, and if I hadn’t had a redditor in my life (my husband), I probably would have just followed the narrative fed through the party machine to the mainstream news sources. Having my eyes opened up, almost feels like seeing the matrix, how our conceptions are being shaped by influential people, who have the money and connections to spread their agenda.

I go through a lot of ups and downs, thinking about whether one can really make a difference. After the primaries, I thought, I will focus on local elections, continue the revolution that way. But I see the influence of money locally, and it seems that even for politicians who start out with honorable intentions, the pay off easily corrupts them.

Even in the caring fields (health care, education, and politics, though most people think of politics as a dirty business, it really is meant to be serving the public), where one would expect altruism, and helping others to be the primary goal, the influence of money and power diminishes their effectiveness. It doesn’t make sense that there are more people in administrative roles in these fields, making higher salaries, while budgets are being cut for the core needs, resulting in teachers salaries not going up, classrooms getting more crowded, kids with special needs being denied services.  The corruption seems to happen at the leadership level, where decisions to move money around can benefit administrators or provide favors.

They always say follow the money, and money is indeed a big influencer. One of the things I am reminded of from my years of religious study, is that money and religious authority often go hand in hand, quite like politics. I remember my modern orthodox school emphasizing the importance of separately making a living from torah study. In fact early Rabbis, deemed it important for torah scholars to have a profession separate from the rabbinate.  Rashi, a medieval commentator on the torah, was held up as a model of a scholar who worked his own vineyard. Maimonides was not just a great jewish philosopher, he was a physician. In other words, if you make your living solely from teaching or influencing, you cannot be an example of living the words of torah.

On the other hand, there are the models of the priests in the bible, who had to live on whatever donations or tithes the people gave them, and could not own land, doing the temple and other religious work. That was an older model of a priestly caste who could not have any financial independence apart from serving the people.

I am by no means promoting either viewpoint, public servant as completely dependent on public funds or the opposite, having a citizen-volunteer model. I am just pointing out the recognition that financial independence or otherwise was understood to affect our leadership.  To keep the public servant from selling out our common good for personal gain, we, at the very least, need to be aware of the issue of money influencing our public policy. Most of all, we need to educate ourselves and make it our duty as citizen-politicians to hold our leaders accountable.

This is the Day: my Ode to Bernie Sanders

Yes, I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this for a while. A year ago, it was, oh, right around the Jewish new year.

My husband said, I really like this guy Bernie Sanders, he’s running for president. I said, who’s that? Sounds like a Jewish name, is he Jewish? I looked him up, oh wow, he’s Jewish, and from Brooklyn, New York, and no he’s not religious, but he has these democratic socialist views that we need health care for everyone, free college tuition. Interesting.

It was Rosh Hashanah, yeh the Jewish new year. I wanted to hear more and this guy was spending this holy Jewish holiday campaigning. I could hear my parents saying, can’t he take off a day, what kind of Jew is this!

Actually, he was speaking at a very strange place for a radical secular Jewish progressive: an evangelical Christian college, Liberty University. I had put my kids to bed, and had no plans to do any davening (praying) myself, so I turn on the livestream.

The first thing I hear him saying is, we may not agree on everything, (referring to abortion) but I think we can agree that Jesus said and what all major religions have said is we need to take care of those who are suffering. We have a moral responsibility, yes he’s talking about MORALITY!, to seek justice. Christian, Jewish, humanist, at the base of our value system, is that we are responsible for one another, that the great injustices, such as rising income inequality and racism, hurts all of us.

Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh la Zeh, (all Israel is responsible for one another). Bernie is not saying Israel, but he is speaking my values, my truth. I feel this spiritual glow, watching this avowedly secular Jew, speak to this devout Christian community, as religious Jews around the world pray Ha Yom, This is the Day … to seek the good … for all …  this sweet New Year.

Processing 9/11

I wasn’t going to write a Sept. 11th post. It’s almost a holy day, 15 years after the events, and I feel like I still haven’t processed what these events mean to me personally and us as a nation and the world. There is a visceral reaction of shock and sadness at the destruction and deaths, and at the same time awe for the service and self-sacrifice of the first responders. Can I put such raw emotions into words? Is it possible to verbalize lessons from such an experience? Is there a greater purpose for the “never forget” ing and plastering of 9/11 images every year on this day?

And then I wonder, why have I never asked these questions in the past. What has been holding me back from introspection these past 15 years? I know I made some very important life decisions in the wake of 9/11. Soon after, my boyfriend and I decided to get engaged, we have been married now for 14 years. The trauma of seeing people disappear in an instant, suddenly every second seemed precious. There was no more dilly-dallying to get it just right.

We were long-distance dating at this p0int, it no longer made sense to wait to start our lives together. We planned the wedding for 9 months time, when my school year commitment (I was teaching up in Northern California, he was finishing his post-doc down in South cal) would allow me to finally join him.

And then we would make another big life decision together: to move back East. We loved the chill relaxed California lifestyle (who would give up year round tennis and weekends at the beach?). But, suddenly, being closer to family on the East coast seemed paramount.

A new home, a new job, and then we began our journey toward parenthood. Six months into our young marriage, we made a conscious decision that we were ready to start a family. It took 4 painstaking years of trying, and perhaps that trauma itself, along with conceiving and losing twice, until we had our first child, pushed the events of 9/11 back in my mind.

Today, I am reflecting, thoughts bubbling up. I begin processing what seems like a lifetime ago and a moment ago.

Wow, look at where I’ve been!

I started “no before no after” at around the time that I discovered that I was off the derech. I didn’t even know what that meant, or that there were others who had moved away from a life long devotion to orthodox judaism. For me, it was an almost indiscernible, decades long glacial retreat. I had managed to find a non-orthodox spouse, we kept kosher and shabbat at home, but he wasn’t kosher or shomer shabbat outside of our house. We moved away from an orthodox community, to a small town where the rabbi was orthodox, the congregation reform, the prayer books conservative.

Disappointment in the part of orthodoxy emphasized by this particular rabbi (women as second class citizens, being denied leadership or ritual roles, but allowing mixed seating and a watered down prayer service; the holocaust as an ever present morbid reason for keeping the heritage alive), led to a broader realization of the flaws of orthodox judaism.

I began to experiment with small indiscretions. Letting my husband drive me places on shabbat, watching tv with him. Eventually I wondered, why not do it myself? As I began this process of extricating myself from orthodox rituals, I was all alone, except my husband and the wonderful non-orthodox congregation that we were part of. But they had never been there, through orthodoxy and then beyond, so I was metaphysically alone, at least I thought so.

At about this time, a chance re-aquaintance with an old friend from college opened up my eyes. I began college following an “inspiring” year in an Israeli seminary, the same year Russian Jews were suddenly allowed to leave en masse from the Soviet Union (do you remember Glasnost?) I am dating myself, I know. I was raised with a modern orthodox philosophy, open to science, questions, wearing pants. Of course in seminary, I had been  “inspired” to become more fervently religious, whilst homesickness and recurring depression had me experiencing existential crises. To relieve my anxiety, I jumped into a stricter orthodox observance, wearing long skirts, becoming ocd about kosher laws, encouraged by a more extreme form of judaism in Israeli religious zionism. Ironically, I had my second bout of doubt toward the end of this year (first bout was during the last year of high school, I will get back to that another time).

I had immensely enjoyed meeting the Russian immigrants and was fascinated by their secular culture. When I returned from abroad, I signed up for an intense first year class in Russian and so did another intense woman, who as a fellow Jew, I befriended. I knew she was not religious, and I was intrigued and a little shocked that she had grown up orthodox as well. Over a decade later, we reaquainted online. When she came to visit in person, I was awed that she had renunciated religious observance so young. I had a lot to learn. To my astonishment, she told me there was a growing movement of ex-orthodox jews, especially around New York (I had long ago moved away from the Jewish hinterland). I had no idea that one called such a person “off the derech”, so after she had left, I decided to google “atheist” and “jewish”. As if there had never been such a thing ever, can you imagine?

My first hit was the blog: Jewish Atheist!

Then I followed the blog “Formerly Frum”

Abandoning Eden led me to the small burgeoning facebook group “Off the derech.”

“Off the derech”, an unfamiliar term for a formerly modern orthodox Jew, but that’s when I finally found my lancemen (the yiddish term for people from your same town in the old country).

I’m back!!!

Well, a lot has changed and not changed between starting this blog and now. I am farther on in my “off the derech” journey, which means that my focus has shifted from finding my own way, to helping others at the beginnings of their journey.

I thought about starting a brand new blog, because I want to incorporate my diverse interests and experiences apart from leaving religion. I toyed with the name “Jill of All Trades,” you know, I can attack any problem or idea, and “To everything there is a season”, because priorities change. But in the end, if there is an end, I am still attracted to the blog name I created so many years ago.

Though seemingly esoteric, what “No Before No After” meant to me was that everything is experienced all at once, and it is hard to decipher what came first, what was the cause or effect, while living in the present. And today, I think it means that I have this ability (or deficiency perhaps) to hold various ideas and interests simultaneously, kind of like a Jill (or Jack) of all trades! But yes, I will need to prioritize and find the right “season for everything.”

The great thing about “No Before, No After” is that it already exists! Woo hoo! I don’t have to create a new blog! So now the question is, how to merge my current interests with the old posts. But can I reminisce a little first?