Tag Archives: Ultra orthodox Jews

9/11 thoughts on the heroes of the day

Like everyone else, I clearly remember where I was when it happened. I was living in Israel at the time, married but no children yet. I worked full time as a cashier in a busy supermarket. I had heard about it from my husband who called me at work. We knew a plane hit the towers but we still thought it was an accident. I came home and since we had no internet or TV, I asked my neighbor if I could come over and watch the news on her TV. While we were watching, we saw the most horrific thing which was the second plane plunging into the second tower. By now it was apparent it was a terror attack. We watched the news in morbid fascination, not believing this happened. The whole afternoon I was in a daze like everyone else. This was a world tragedy. Everyone knew at least someone who was in some way related to a victim.
And then, the heroes. The ones who lost their lives trying to save others. They are the ones we remember too, every year. I just wanted to give a little shout out to an organization belonging to us ultra-orthodox Jews. We have our own volunteer EMS service called Hatzalah which operates in the Jewish areas. Though they primarily service the Jews they will never ignore a plea for help from anyone, Jewish or not. When they heard about the disaster happening in New York, they didn’t think twice and raced to the scene, putting themselves in danger to save fellow humans.  I think they deserve this shout out especially as they didn’t *have* to go since they’re not the official first responders. But they’re all about saving lives so whether there were Jews involved or not, it was a national tragedy and they just did what anyone else in their position would have done.
Hatzalah, thanks for extending yourselves to your fellow Jews and to each and every human that needs help. On 9/11 you made the Jewish world proud. A beacon of light among many others on that otherwise bleak day.
May G-d repay you all.

My Hasidic wedding

After our engagement was announced, the town was abuzz. An in-town match is always exciting and the news had spread like wildfire. Since I was still one of the first of my grade to get engaged, the excitement was high. As for me, it was surreal. I couldn’t believe I was engaged, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Many people came over to congratulate us even though it was quite late at night. The wedding was planned for September which was four months away. My fiancé and I sat down to talk after our engagement party. In our ultra Hasidic circles it was customary for the bride and groom to not see or talk to each other until the wedding. No phone calls, no face to face meetings and no contact whatsoever. He went back to his Yeshiva. About 2 months later we did have to meet in order for us to get married civilly. It was nerve wracking but actually fun to see him again. I remembered again why I said “yes”. I felt so comfortable around him, it was as if we saw each other yesterday.

It didn’t take long for the big day to arrive. I woke up early and spent the morning praying. Some brides fast until after the Chuppah (ceremony) but I didn’t. By lunchtime we had to get ready. Make up, hair. Some brides cover their hair with a wig from the ceremony, some only for the wedding party and others from the next morning. I covered my hair from before the ceremony. Continue reading My Hasidic wedding

What I love about being (ultra orthodox) Jewish (day 10)

There are some things which make me feel really blessed to be Jewish. I would not want to give those up so easily!

The sense of Community in times of need

We say that all Jews are brothers and sisters and nothing makes it more clear than in times of tragedy. However big the Jewish world is, it’s actually very small. Any tragedy that happens in the Jewish world spreads like wildfire. It might be a terrible accident on the other side of the world but in a matter of minutes, messages go round in the world to pray for the victims. If someone dies, there is always someone in the extended family that you know. When we hear terrible news, we mourn as one even though we don’t know the victims personally.  It’s a beautiful thing to be part of such a close knit community. Continue reading What I love about being (ultra orthodox) Jewish (day 10)

Airing our dirty laundry…here we go again.


The school I went to in my youth is featured in our local paper. And no, the news isn’t flattering, as usual. This school is an orthodox Jewish school. They demanded of the parents to adhere to the basic minimum of modesty rules as put down in the Torah. It is within their rights to do this. There are plenty more schools to choose from if it doesn’t fit your ideologies. This school was always an ultra orthodox school. When I was little, we also had to adhere to the same rules. And since the mothers usually dressed modestly this was not applicable. These days the school has attracted a more modern clientèle which prompted my decision to send my daughter to the more ultra religious girls school. I saw that the atmosphere in that school is not what I want for my daughter. Instead of sending my daughter there and complaining all day about the lack of modesty in other mothers, I just sent her to a more appropiate school. But it saddened me because I wanted her to go to the same school I went to. The standard of education is high and it was a great school. But what could I do?

But now the school wants to go back to what it once was because they keep on losing girls to the other, more religious school so they started to enforce the minimum of modesty rules which is to cover the hair fully and to not expose some parts of the body. This is nothing extreme (for an ultra orthodox school). The parents most offended by these rules are the ones calling themselves Modern Orthodox. And you know what? We have a school here for the modern Orthodox where mothers go hair uncovered, wear short skirts or sleeves and go with pants. I don’t judge anyone who walks around like this but why get angry if a school enforces their rules? You have the option of sending your kid to the school that better fits you. Especially if there IS a school for parents like you.

But my rant is about the media. Someone influential in our community keeps sharing all our dirty laundry on Facebook. One of his FB friends is a reporter for the local non Jewish newspaper. He is having a field day with this. Of course, the next day he published the article. I do understand that it’s extremely hard for an outsider to understand our culture. You might not appreciate why we have the rules of modesty. I can bring you all the points about why we think modesty is beautiful and beauty is on the inside and all that but that here is not the point. The point is, why write about us? What do you accomplish (besides getting views and readers) besides disseminating more hate and antisemitism? I don’t read the comments anymore because they just cause me to cry. These are internal matters and don’t concern anyone on the outside. We don’t ask any non Jew to conform to our laws (unless you work in our school) so why should it matter to you?

I do not understand some Muslim laws for example but I believe in live and let live and not mixing into their business. If this issue impacts world peace or any other such important thing, report away. But what this school demands of the parents sending their kids there is not newsworthy. I feel violated. I feel personally attacked. Let’s see this newspaper report on everyone’s dirty laundry (including muslims who everyone is scared to offend) and not only on us orthodox Jews. I don’t usually rant like this but this really got me riled up. The media are like hungry wolves waiting for us to trip up so they can gleefully report and making us look and sound horrible, all in the name of sensationalism / Journalism.

The Hasidic way of dating and marriage (in honor of Valentine)

As Valentine’s day approaches, I was thinking it’s a good time to tell you how my shidduch (a date or match, often leading to marriage. The matching up of a man and a woman for purposes of marriage) went. In the non Jewish world, ours is what you would call an arranged marriage. I dislike that word though because in my mind, that equals a “forced” marriage. And mine, like most others in my community was anything but. At any time you have the option of saying no.

As a girl turns 18, it gives matchmakers a green light to start calling the parents. I belong to a certain Hasidic sect so the suggestions were all going to be eligible young men from the same sect. So, as I turned 18, the phones started ringing with suggestions. If a suggestion sounded promising, my parents went ahead and made many inquiries. As much as the Jewish world is big, it’s actually very small. We quickly found some mutual acquaintances who could tell us more about the boy. We wanted to know about his character traits, is he kind hearted? Is he a messy kind of person? Happy? Helpful? Basically a good person who would make a good husband. We can only do our best and hope the reports we got were truthful. For the first few months none of the suggestions panned out. The boy was either not right for me or they decided I wasn’t right for them.

When I was almost 19, my neighbor from around the block was suggested to me. He was, for our circles, considered a bit older at the ripe age of 23. My father knew him well from the daily prayers at the synagogue. He didn’t need to hear much as he knew him to be a fine young man who was always willing to help others and was known to have a heart of gold. That’s what matters most, doesn’t it?

As I was told of the potential match, my first reaction was NO WAY! I knew the family superficially, I was aware the father had passed away young and left behind the widow and 12 children, I knew they were a very close knit family and you always saw the mom and her daughters together, in their own world.  So I was a bit intimidated. My parents were very interested and thought this would be the perfect guy for me. They agreed to let me to think it over and give them an answer.  After giving it some thought I decided I had no valid reason to say no. So the first step was taken. A meeting was scheduled between the young man’s mother and myself. It was really weird to be meeting someone you know for such an intimate purpose.

My stomach turned as I got ready. But I needn’t have worried. As she saw me she said: “You should know, I’m just as nervous as you”. That put me at ease a little bit. As the conversation progressed, I relaxed and the meeting was actually nice. We talked about all kinds of stuff most of which I barely remember now.

Everything goes through a matchmaker which meant that we went home and waited to hear what the other side had decided. It didn’t take very long for them to let us know that they were interested in continuing and the time has come to set up a date for me to meet the potential groom. Well, date is not really what we had. We call it a b’show which means a sit-in date. We had made up to meet in a friend’s house, on the other side of town so as not to run into anyone we knew.

Most of the ultra orthodox Jews have an average of 5 dates, I am Hasidic which means we do things a bit differently. We have one or two sit-ins after which the couple usually gets engaged. It sounds weird but research has shown that there are no more divorces in our circles than in the rest of the world. This is what I knew, this is how I grew up and this is my normal.

A sit-in in our world is quite intimidating as it’s the first close contact a boy/girl has with the opposite gender as we are separated throughout our childhood. To say the first few minutes were awkward is an understatement. But, it didn’t take long for him to make me feel comfortable and for the conversation to really become enjoyable. We spoke about our families, our time in seminary or Yeshivah (an institution that focuses on teaching Talmud to boys and young men) and other things. We do not talk about the deeper stuff since we both come from the same background, so it’s usually a given that we will be on the same page. We spent a nice few hours together. After the meeting, we both went home.

My parents gave me the option to meet him again the next day. I was young, barely 19 and I probably (most assuredly) didn’t realize what a momentous decision this was. I thought it over, I liked a lot of what I saw. (of how much one could see from one meeting) Besides all the good things I heard about him, he was also nice and had a great sense of humor. I knew how dedicated he was to his widow mom and I could tell he would go through fire for anyone he cares about. I didn’t think I would find out much more by a second meeting and I didn’t want to spend the night not sleeping from nerves. So my decision was made. I would marry that guy.Since the parents had already taken care of the other important stuff like discussions about money among others,  I happily told my parents to go ahead and let the other side know and after the matchmaker called to tell us he wanted to marry me too, we got officially engaged.

It’s true, we do actually get married to a stranger and there usually isn’t such a thing as falling in love. We just work harder at making our marriage grow and the love as a result is a deep, long lasting one. I’m happy to report that after 18 years, I’m still very happily in love and our marriage isn’t any different than any of yours. My dear husband is everything I thought he was; caring, heart of gold, great sense of humor  and does everything for me and the kids.