Thursday, February 25, 2010


They stared at him in horrified fascination.

It was a hot, summer Shabbos afternoon. The streets were unusually quiet.

We were invited out for the morning meal, and were on our way home, when we saw him.

He was standing, huddled in the shadows of the building, wearing a shtreimel and bekeshe. Smoking.

My children stood there, eyes bulging, mouths hanging open. Here, before them, was such blatant chillul Shabbos, by someone who looked, and they couldn't make sense of it.

"But...but...he looks frum," my daughter said, clearly upset. "Why does he dress like that if that's not what he really is?"

Here was a teaching moment.

"I'm sure he IS frum," I said. "We can't judge him. He may be completely frum in every other way, but this is his yetzer hara. This is the one thing he struggles with."

They weren't buying it.

"WE look frum, don't we?" I continued. "But do we always do everything we should? We know that speaking lashon hara is pretty bad...but we do it anyway sometimes. Right? Even though we KNOW it's wrong. Even when we are reminded AS we're saying it. But we're still frum, aren't we?"

We are. They understood. I did my job.

But I'm not sure I quite believed it myself.

I'm frum.

Life for me is so simple. My religion tells me what to do and what not to do, and gives me all the answers.

I wish.

Externally, I look frum. I dress the part. I make brachos and bentch. I keep Shabbos and kosher. I send my kids to all the right schools.

On the outside, I'm frum.

But I'm wearing a mask.

Not the kind we put on during Purim...the kind that hides our physical characteristics. I'm talking about the kind of mask that conceals the essence of who I am.

Because inside, I am struggling. Life feels like a battleground. I am in a constant battle against my own selfishness and desires.

And I don't always win the battle.

Sometimes I surrender. I feel too weak to fight. I do things I know I shouldn't, and don't do things I should. Again and again.

So...who am I?

Am I that frum woman you see when you look at me...the one who covers her hair and wears long sleeves? The one who blends in so easily with all the other frum women in Shul? Or am I a different person under the mask? Someone who sometimes gives in to her yetzer hara when no one is looking?

Am I frum?

Yes. I'm frum. That person who sometimes slips and gives in...that's not me. Sure, it's me playing the part. But it's not who I am. And I don't want to ever allow it to become who I am.

I struggle. I'm fighting the battle. The battlefield brings forth capabilities and potentials I didn't even know existed within myself.

It is this struggle which makes me strong.

Yes, I lose many battles. But for every one I lose, there are so many more that I win.

I will spend the rest of my life fighting these battles. And I will never win the war.

But I will keep fighting.

So...yes, I am frum.

Just like the man with the cigarette...

Even under the mask.

Happy Purim!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hear Me Roar

There's a bully on the school bus.

It happens all the time, I'm sure. We read about it...we hear about it...we feel sorry for the victims, and we can even find it in our hearts to feel sorry for the bullies. And as long as it doesn't directly affect us, we can sigh and move on.

But this time, it's my kid.

He comes off the bus, his young shoulders sagging. There's a fresh bruise on his forehead.

"What happened?" I ask, eyeing the bluish lump. "Did you fall?"

"No. A boy on the bus did it."

My little boy is perfect bully target. I can see that. While most boys his age enjoy running outside and kicking a ball around, he prefers sitting hunched over a thick book, head bent, glasses sliding to the tip of his nose. He's small. And he's not assertive. He won't fight back...probably doesn't even know how to.

I'm angry.

The bully is another mother's little boy. He may have low self esteem, or some behavioral issue, or something going on in his life... I don't know. I don't know what is causing the behavior.

And, frankly, I don't care.

He's hurting my son, displaying a cruelty unfathomable to me, and I can't find it in me to spare any sympathy for him.

"Why does he do it?" he asks, looking at me with such a wistful expression in his clear eyes. "I never did anything to him."

His expression is so sad, my heart is breaking into a million pieces. I choke back the tears. I don't have the answers.

I close my eyes, and I visualize the scene - my son on the floor of the school bus, pinned down by the much bigger boy, his head repeatedly pounded against the hard surface - and I am livid. My normally mild mannered self is gone; transformed into a tiger.

I call the school principal in the morning. He's not surprised. He makes a "deal" with the bully. If there are no complaints against him between now and Purim, he gets a special prize.

A prize? Prize?? Uh uh...not good enough for me. I am a tiger. I want blood.

My little boy seems satisfied. He doesn't want me to call the other mother, so I don't. Yet.

But I tell him, "If he hurts you again, I will go down to school, grab that kid by the collar and tell him, 'you touch my kid even go near him...I will personally come down here and break your bones'."

He smiles and looks at me. He doesn't think I'm serious.

"What if he does do it again? Will you really beat him up?"

I smile back. "I just wanna scare him. He won't do it again if I scare him enough."

But...what if he does? Would I do it? Would I?? He's just a kid himself, and I'm a grown woman. Of course I wouldn't do that. Of course not!

But don't test me.

I'm a tiger.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


My baby is 9 today.

It happens so fast. One day they're throwing food off their high chairs and keeping you up all night, and the next day you're worrying about shidduchim.

Where does the time go?

What happens to the moments?

We're on a treadmill, racing to keep up with all the demands of raising our children, running the home, and holding down a job. We are so busy being a parent, and doing all the things that entails, that we have no time to stop and experience the moments that make it all worthwhile.

Last week my little boy was having a crisis. His class was having a siyum to celebrate completing the parsha. He promised to bring the soda, but he didn't tell me about it. He was crying because if he didn't bring the soda, he was facing what in his life would be considerable embarrassment and humiliation.

If this were just an ordinary soda, I could have possibly spared 5 or 10 minutes to run to the corner grocery. But this was a very specific soda. It would mean going to several stores some distance away, hoping that one might have what I was looking for. I just couldn't do it.

We were about to leave the house to catch the bus to school. I had to leave for work, and we were running late. But he was frantic.

We scurried down the stairs together, him still sniffling about what was going to happen at school, me rushing and hoping he wouldn't miss his bus, and feeling really bad for my sad little boy.

Just as I watched him get on the bus, I had this moment.

It was a crystal clear moment. I knew that work wasn't important. I was going to be late. I would go to the many stores as it takes...and get him that soda. Then I would go to his school and bring it to him.

Later, during work, I began to berate myself for the choice I had made. What lesson am I teaching? He didn't tell me about the soda the day before. Shouldn't there be some consequence to that? Am I spoiling him? Did I do the right thing?

I believe I did. In fact, I am proud of myself for the choice I made.

Who needed me more at the moment? To whom was my attention more crucial? Who else would have gone out and taken care of what, in his little world, was so significant? Who would have even cared?

I began to notice dozens of moments every day.These were moments that had occurred hundreds of times before...mostly seemingly inconsequential things, like bruised feelings, a dream from last night, misplaced headbands. Moments where we sat and talked about their life or problems at school. Moments that happen every day...that I never give much thought to. Only now they were crucial moments.

Yes, my baby is 9. And my older ones already have one foot out the door. But my children still need me. And they will need me for many years to come. I am indispensable and irreplaceable.

And I want to hold on to those moments. I want to make the most of my time with them.

Because tomorrow they will be all grown up.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can I Ask You A Question?

"Excuse me...can I ask you a question?" I stop, momentarily confused. A question? Me? So I say yes because I don't want to be rude and I feel bad.

First mistake.

I stride through the mall, invincible. I've just scored a $79 sweater at Banana Republic for $29.99. I am thoroughly enjoying myself. But my time is almost up, and I'm working my way toward the exit, when my path is blocked by a pretty Israeli girl who ask me a question.

Apparently, "can I ask you a question" is a popular tactic used by kiosk sales people. You know...the ones that practically run you down as you walk by, and trap naive shoppers. But I didn't know it then. And I'm not one of those naive women, anyway. I'm a hard sell. I just walk by quickly while looking the other way.

"Can I see your hand?"


Second mistake.

I let my guard down. Just for a minute. Before I know it, I'm trapped with a handful of Dead Sea salt scrub. She tells me to follow her, and I do, because I'm not sure what choice I have with my hands full of that stuff.

Third mistake.

I have to admit...after the scrub and then the body butter, my hands feel great. Softer than ever. I want some of that. So I say, "It feels great, but what do you have for my face?"

Mistake number four.

The face peel, demonstrated on the inside of my arm, followed by the moisturizer is even better, if possible, than the body scrub. I've got to have this stuff. I absolutely need it.

" much?"

"Well, normally, the scrub sells for $120. But you get a special JP (Jewish Price) only today. I'll give it to you for $80."


"BUT this jar lasts 8-12 months. You only need to use a little bit. And the body butter (also $80) is so thick. You won't find anything like it anywhere. One jar is a 12-18 month supply."

I do some quick mental calculations, while looking around. And right there, in plain view, is another moisturizer. Anti aging.

Mistake number five.

"You don't have wrinkles. But those lines on your forehead...they'll disappear. This one also lasts for 12-18 months. The other moisturizer is for day. This one's for night. I can make this $80, too. JP."

Hmm...let's see... $80 for the body scrub, $80 for each moisturizer, $80 for the body butter and $60 for the face peel. Total of $380. No way.

"No, I'm sorry. This stuff is great, but it's too much."

"I'll tell you what. Don't take the body butter. Just use your own lotion. It's fine. I'll give you the face peel for the crazy price of $40. If you buy the body scrub ($80) and the face peel, I'll throw in both moisturizers for $80."

"I'll take it."

I walk to my car, rationalizing.

I've spent $20 on moisturizers before. And how long do they last? A couple of months? These were $40. I actually got a great deal.

Yeah...but what about all the other stuff...?

The face peel? It's amazing. It's almost like a facial. And the whole bottle cost less than one facial! And besides...I deserve it!

But you just spent $200. You know what you could have done with that?

Yeah. I know.

By the time I reach my car, the lump in my throat has settled permanently in the pit of my stomach. Two hundred dollars.... Ouch.

But I learned an important lesson.

When I go to the mall, I go to shop for things I want. I'm sure the mall kiosk people think they can convince me that I want what they're peddling. But I can assure you.

They will fail.

Because I am smart. And frugal. If it's not on my list, I'm not buying it.

I will turn my head, or pretend to talk on the phone, or pretend to be listening to whatever my daughter is rambling on about, or pretend I'm looking for a store, or pretend I'm looking for my keys.

I am shrewd.

It's three and a half weeks later. I can almost see the bottom of the scrub jar. The stuff is great. Really. I absolutely love it. But I'm about 3/4 way through and it's barely a month.

Sure I deserve it. I also deserve a diamond necklace. But I'm not going out to buy one anytime soon. And when this is gone, I won't go back and get more.

Well....maybe just the scrub.

And the face peel.

To those guys that hire the sales people at the Dead Sea products kiosk, on the slim chance you're reading this....hang on to Avital. She's good.