Thursday, September 11, 2014

Orthodox Women Talk

Today, I'm kicking off a new blog series where a group of Orthodox Jewish woman bloggers will be writing about some frequently asked questions we get about our lives. If you have any questions you've been wondering about, please chime in in the comments below!

Question: Do you find it boring to sit through endless Shabbat services conducted in a language you may or may not know?


It's been more than two years (when I was pregnant with my oldest) since I've been in shul (synagogue) for a full davening (prayer). My shul attendance has been limited to Parshat Zachor--which I shouldn't really count, since it only lasts a few minutes--and shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana. So I'm going to spin this question a bit: How do I stay focused on the little davening that I do at home, where there are tons of distractions?

Full disclosure: My formal davening is no more than 5 minutes a day ( I say Birchot HaShachar and Birchot HaTorah--morning blessings) since I'm home with my kids, both pretty young. You'd think a person could manage total concentration  for only 5 minutes, but with a toddler begging to kiss my siddur one more time, and with a baby who could need something in .02 seconds, it's not at all easy to focus. What I try to do is pick out a couple of phrases or even just individual words to concentrate on as I'm saying them. I also daven a little bit with my toddler (ie slow, singsong) and I often find it easiest to concentrate then. Hopefully that counts, too. :)

Tali Simon is a writer, editor, and food blogger living near the Dead Sea. She loves to cook, her skinny husband loves to eat, and their two kids are rather unpredictable. Check out Tali's vegetarian recipes, weekly menu plans, and stories about life in Israel at More Quiche, Please.


When I was a kid, my immediate family wasn't Orthodox, but we were frequent synagogue-goers. I knew several of the shorter basic prayers before I even hit the age of Hebrew school, learned more in that setting, and even more once I became a member of USY, the youth arm of the Conservative movement. It helped that we usually attended services where the melodies used were very singable.

Occasionally, we attended services at the Orthodox synagogues of relatives -- I sang along when we hit familiar bits, and read along in the English during the rest. Sometimes I just relaxed, snuggled up to Mom or Grandma in the next seat, and absorbed the atmosphere. And occasionally, I took extended "bathroom breaks." (They were really just excuses to stretch my legs and chat in the hallway.)

After college, I joined my first Orthodox shul. Most of the melodies were similar to those I knew from USY, and I quickly learned many of the "out loud" portions of the services that hadn't appeared in the Conservative prayerbook. However, I struggled a lot with the Hebrew in the long silent patches, and I really didn't understand the language enough to get a feel for what was going on.

The first thing I did was simply read everything in English. If I was bored -- which wasn't so often, surprisingly -- I'd read the interesting footnotes and appendices in the back of the siddur. At a certain point, I decided that I really ought to get more out of shul attendance. I sought out books and classes about the prayers' meanings. Also, Rabbi Avigdor Miller once recorded a series of tapes about just the morning blessings -- the intentions he described in those classes have had a lasting impact on me, even after nearly 15 years.

Eventually, I made a serious attempt to learn enough Hebrew to get by. One of the best tools for this, by the way, was using an interlinear siddur or book of Psalms. Learning more Hebrew brought prayer alive for me. My skills are still shaky, but greatly improved, and when I read through the siddur, I have genuine comprehension for the sentiments in it. Our family currently attends a synagogue with playgroups for the children, and I have no baby at the moment -- so I am free to stay for as much of the services as I like, without having to worry about keeping the kids quiet and happy. I really look forward to attending synagogue each Shabbos and holiday.

I DO have friends and family who sometimes still struggle with the length of services. In many cases, they grew up with less of a Jewish background than me, or have yet to overcome the language hurdle. Sometimes, they simply have a shorter attention span. They take breaks or don't attend the entire services. Some of them bring a Jewish book to read for part of the services. All of these are possible solutions to consider.

Rebecca Klempner is a wife, mom, and writer living in L.A. Her picture book, A Dozen Daisies for Raizy, appeared in 2008, and her short stories and essays have appeared in publications including Tablet Magazine, Binah, Hamodia, and Ami. Her current serial for teens and tweens, "Glixman in a Fix," appears weekly in Binah BeTween.


I usually don't sit through services that much because my daughter is clingy in tot Shabbat. However, I have a hard time focusing when a service is all in Hebrew. I know some prayers, but if I lose my place or the person leading the service makes every word drag out, it's hard to stay in the moment.

Melissa Amster lives in Maryland (DC Metro area) with her husband, two sons and daughter. When she's not reading and interviewing authors for her book blog, she works for a Jewish non-profit. In her spare time (what's that?!?), she likes to watch her favorite shows on TV, bake challah and desserts, and host meals and other gatherings. Check out her personal blog and follow her on Twitter.


Well, it's easy to not be bored by long services...if you don't go to them. My favorite service is Fridays nights, which is not very long. The longest services are Shabbat morning, and I don't make it as often as I would like. Unfortunately, the shuls in my community have serious kavannah (concentration, for lack of a better word here) issues for me. One shul has too many talkers, and I get angry. Instead of davening, I'm calculating angles for how to throw a Kleenex box to hit the talkers in the head. That's probably a bad thing, so I stopped going when it became clear that the leadership could not effectively address this problem. The other has the only door located in the very small (4 seat) women's section, and teenage boys from the school there often come in and out. It's too distracting for people to be squeezing past me constantly. (And not many women attend, so often the boys are surprised to see a woman and slam the door in my face! But that's another discussion.) So...I stay home, and I'm a better person for it. I used to be so angry on Shabbat.

As for the language issue, I think it's useful to share with others that I daven almost entirely in English. In fact, most of the Hebrew prayer I do is when I'm alone and not feeling pressured by the speed of a congregation. I'm a very slow Hebrew reader. I don't know Hebrew, but I've picked up a lot of words and phrases over the years. I found that attending weekday services regularly was the best way for me to learn the service really well. I can usually figure out where we are by being aware approximately where we are, listening for something I know, then finding the specific place. But...I don't usually do that. I go at my own pace while staying approximately where the service is. I'm usually a little bit behind the congregation, and I finally relaxed and accepted that I am slower than most congregations. I had to give myself permission to stop judging myself so harshly.

Skylar Bader is an orthodox convert living in New York City. She wears many hats, which you can check out at She blogs at, teaches conversion candidates and kallahs, and is also a lawyer for small businesses. Originally from the South, she has four pets and an addiction to books.


Sometimes, for sure.  My Hebrew is pretty weak, but even if it was solid, saying the same things can start to have a dulling effect.  It starts to sound like just words.  But it helps tremendously if the congregation is lively and there is singing involved.  We are lucky at our synagogue to be small but spunky, with a couple of personalities that are very high energy and full of life.  It also helps that it is laid back enough that, should I just find it very difficult to focus, I can duck out and head downstairs to help with the set up for the kiddush, or help watch the kids, or just chat with another mom.  To me, Shabbat services are way more than the prayers, though they are important.  It's also reconnecting with my community, letting my kids enjoy the synagogue experience (we are lucky enough to have an awesome woman who comes in and leads group activities for the kids), and catching up with people.

Emily Chilungu is a 35-year-old mother of four. I am an observant Jewish convert married to another observant Jewish convert.  I'm from rural Ohio and live in upstate New York.


I’m at a stage in life where I don’t really get out to services much, and I only actually daven from the text of a siddur (prayer book) when I really prioritize it, and when my kids aren’t actively needing my attention.  

Theoretically, I should be totally into it.  I’ve always had a strong love of language and books, and even though I didn’t grow up reading Hebrew, I viewed learning it as an exciting challenge, and I find the structure and grammar stuff very interesting (that’s just how I roll).  So on an intellectual level, I’m good with it.  On a practical level, like with anything that’s repetitive, it’s easy to zone out and not actually connect with what I’m saying.  When I start a routine of regular davening, it goes something like this:  

Day one: I’m so excited to be davening!  This is great!  I’m connecting to Hashem through these amazing, ancient words!  

Day two:  Yay!  (two minutes into davening) I need to get that at the grocery store, and make an appointment...oh no, I’m in the middle of davening and totally not focused!  Focus, focus.  

Day three:  Okay, I should daven.  I should really daven.  

So even though I do enjoy davening, and like to connect through the words of the siddur, I still have to exert effort to not let it become ho-hum.  There are some excellent books out there, like Praying with Fire, or Touched by a Prayer, or some other books that go into the deeper meaning of the words in the siddur, that can help me stay excited and connected to what I’m doing (when I’m doing it).   

Rivki Silver has spent most of her life immersed in the study of music, but for the past six years has been learning about marriage and motherhood.  She writes about relationships, parenthood, music and religion, as seen through the lens of an Orthodox Jewish woman.  Her writing can be found on,,, as well as her blog,  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Photo Source: Abbie Sophia Photography

Since I didn't grow up fully Orthodox, davening has always been a bit of a challenge for me. When I was in junior high, I would be working on just saying one blessing while my friends had finished the entire prayer! Now, however, I almost have the opposite problem--I know the prayers so well that I don't have to think about them, and can just mumble through them. My primary solution to this is to use songs whenever possible, since I connect to spirituality through music. Every Friday night, I sing Kabbalas Shabbs (the Friday night service) as my kids play and sometimes clap along, and it's the spiritual highlight of my week.

Keshet Starr is your resident blogger:) To learn more about me, check out the sidebar--> !

How do YOU approach prayer? Are there any questions about Orthodox women that YOU have been wondering about?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Family Photos

A few weeks ago, we had some beautiful photos taken by the awesome Abbie Sophia ( a fellow Columbus-ite!).

Here are a few of my favorites...

There's something about photos--the daily life with little kids can be so hard and tiring, but when you see a photo of  your beautiful babies, it reminds you how lucky you are, and how worthwhile this whole motherhood thing really is.

Despite the cost and the stress that always comes with family photos, I'm always glad I did them.

How long do YOU get photos taken?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Jersey Shore 2014

This year we paid our annual visit to Avalon on the Jersey Shore with S's family. Although I'm fairly new to this tradition, over the past few years I have come to fall in love with the shore--it's beautiful, peaceful, has cool mornings and killer sunsets, and the sweetest little towns to walk around in.  Oh, and ice cream--lots of ice cream.

This year, Ellie was afraid of the beach (that one really came out of nowhere) but amid a few tantrums, we still managed to have a good time. One evening the sky turned the most beautiful shades of pink and orange and I literally ran back to the beach house (a five minute walk away) to capture it!

Sigh. There's nothing like a beach sunset!

A few more tidbits from our trip:

(We found kosher soft serve and were THRILLED! So good!)

 Cute little baby boy...

The cousins watching some TV on the couch--so cute!

All in all, it was a great week, and we can't wait for next year!

Where is YOUR favorite summer destination?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Staycation Part II

We spent the second part of our summer in Long Branch, New Jersey, enjoying the beach!

The kiddos looked adorable in their swim gear:

We found out when we got to the beach that Ellie is apparently TERRIFIED of beaches. Which led to an hour of cold, wind, and hysterical weeping by Ellie, so we left.

We did get ice cream instead!

The next day, in lieu of another traumatic beach visit, we headed to Jenkintown's Boardwalk, where Ellie fell in LOVE with all of the kiddie rides. It was such a cute place and we had a great time!

We had a great time and can't wait to head back to Long Branch again!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Ninth of Av

Today is the Nine of the Jewish month of Av, or Tisha B'av--the saddest day in the Jewish year. Thousands of years ago, the First and Second Temples were both destroyed on this day. The Bar Kochba rebellion failed on this day, as well. Many years later, when Spain expelled its Jews in 1492, the date the Jews had to be finally out of the country guessed it, the Ninth of Av.  And there are more sad events, too many to mention here.

Today, the situation on the Ninth of Av doesn't feel too different, as Israel buries its fallen soldiers and we wait and pray for this war to be over, knowing that it's just one in a long, bloody history--a battle that will almost certainly not end in my lifetime, or my children's.

On Tisha B'av, we all act like mourners. We don't shower, eat or drink (unless needed for health reasons). We don't put on makeup. We sit on the floor. We take the time to look at the darker, sadder parts of life, the ones that we often want to ignore.

I read a quote recently that stopped me in my tracks: Grief is joy inside out  (George Vaillant)

Intense emotions are hard to engage with sometimes: they require stepping away from the computer, putting down the to do list, and making ourselves vulnerable. But if we don't really engage in grief and pain, than we can't really feel joy--and what a waste of our lives that would be!

So today, I'm taking time to sink into the pain. The grief, and then later, the joy.

How do YOU engage in the harder and sadder aspects of life?

P.S.--If you're worried, this blog is not turning into a political and religious one. But it's about me and what I'm thinking, and lately this is what's been on my mind. And as always, I care so much about hearing what YOU have to say.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What It Means to be a Jew in the United States when Israel is at War

I had planned to write about the rest of our staycation today--but I'm all about blogging from the heart, and that just wouldn't be from my heart right now

What is on my heart today?

This place. Israel. My family is there...right now. My cousins are preparing to go into Gaza to relieve troops that are tired from fighting. My friends dot the country, north to south. But even without all of those personal ties, I quite simply love Israel. And when you love something like that, watching it go through this is heart-wrenching.

So what does it mean to be an American Jew during this war?

It means...checking the CNN every twenty minutes or so for updates. And then double checking on Google just in case something even newer is up.

It means...checking Facebook because you desperately want to talk about what is happening, and then feeling frustrated at some of the talk you see.

It means...walking around on eggshells, distracted for days.

It means...reading the names and stories of the dead, and then seeing their photos--and the images of the normal, mischievous boys that could have easily been my husband or brother or son hit you like a slap in the face.

It means...feeling very different from the rest of the world, that continues on as if everything is normal.

It means...feeling frustrated. And angry. And alone.

It in one place while your mind and heart are thousands of miles away.

Libi bamizrach, vi'anochi b'sof hamaarav
My heart is in the East, and I am at the end of the West.
--Yehuda HaLevi

A few more photos of the country I love:

What are YOU thinking about today?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Staycation Fun

This past week, we took a little vacation. A staycation, to be exact. I decided that traveling a long distance with two young children and then being cooped up in a tiny hotel room for several days was not an experience I was looking forward to, let alone willing to pay for:) Thankfully, we had a fun time exploring our own next of the woods!

On Day 1 (Sunday), we headed to the zoo!

Little Miss was super excited beforehand, but wound up being a little (read: a LOT) scared of the animals. Sigh. She did look super cute in her sunglasses, though!

(Baby boy was rockin' the sunglasses, too!)

(It's basically impossible to get decent family pictures of us in this stage of life, but I try!)

Day 2 brought a trip to the Jewish Children's Museum in Brooklyn, which was really informative and fun!

There was a new floor of exhibits since I had last visited with Biblical history and a tour of modern Israel!

On Day 3, we left the kiddos at daycare and went to get massages and have some lunch, plus tour NYC!

Our delicious lunch!

 Raspberry creme brulee...

 A couple selfie on Wall Street:)

We also headed to Popbar, a make-your-own gelato place I've been dying to try! You choose your gelato or sorbet base, your chocolate or yogurt dip, and nuts, candy, coconut, etc, for a topping.
SO so good.

And then, on Day 4 we packed up and headed up to the beach!  Stay tuned for Part Two of our staycation!

Where is YOUR favorite place to travel to?