Friday, October 3, 2014

Yom Kippur and Real Life

Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the most serious day on the Jewish calendar.  It's the day where we atone for our sins of the past year.

It sounds pretty depressing and punitive--why spend a day going on and on about all of the bad things we've done? Why give ourselves a complex? But truthfully, Yom Kippur is about asserting our essential goodness, not our faults. We stand before G-d and say, "I know I messed up--but I know that I am capable of so much more than that."

This is easier said than done.  I don't know about you, but for me I find that I struggle with the same things, over and over again. I struggle with anger. I struggle with feeling left out of anything. I struggle with prioritizing so that my family gets the best of my energy, and not the tiny bits I have left after a sea of commitments. I struggle with not getting too worked up about the little things.

{A family photo}

I read books, write lists, put post-its around the house to remind myself what I'm working on--but then, in the heat of the moment, most of those reminders seem to disappear. It's hard to believe that I really am capable of so much more. It's hard to stand up before G-d and try again, hoping that at the very least I'm moving in the right direction.

But then again, that very trying and failing is the best gift we have to offer G-d. In our humanity, in our faults and our efforts and our steps forward and our backtracks, we create something much more special than what we would have without struggle.

{Some REAL family photos}

So today I will take one step forward. I will remind myself, and G-d, that I can do so much more. That I am here in this world for a reason, and that I am creating a life to be proud of.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy year--with lots of human moments, and lots of growth. 

Photo credits: Abbie Sophia Photography 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Under the Bridge and Over the fields...a Family Photo Session

At this very moment, one of the craziest times in the Jewish year is kicking off--the High Holidays. Between planning some of the holidays at home (I have a vision of hot pumpkin cinnamon buns) and traveling for others, I am pretty much a crazy woman (happy, but crazy) for the next few weeks! But I did want to pop in and share some fun photos today:) 

I had the pleasure of taking some photos of a friend's family a few weeks ago, so here are some peeks of our shoot!

Being forced to have photos taken of you is not easy(!) but the kids were SO good and did a great job;)

Thanks for checking in!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Orthodox Women Talk

Hi everyone! Thanks so much for the kind words and input about the new blog series last week--I can't wait to "chat" more with all of you about this!

Today, a new post in the series is up at Rivki's blog, Life in the Married Lane! Go check it out to learn what the contributors have to say about how we prepare for Shabbos every week (quick explanation: basically, we plan a dinner party every week around kids and work!). Check it out HERE

As I've mentioned before on the blog, I wasn't always fully observant as I am now. As I was first getting to know the Orthodox community, I had a LOT of questions and things that quite frankly confused me:) A lot of the practices we follow can be very mystifying to people who don't know much about them.

So if you have any questions, or anything  you're curious about, this series is for  you! Please fell free to comment below or email me at with any questions!

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!