Thursday, February 08, 2018

Is Kiruv a lie? Does it drive people away from Judaism…? (Hint: No, it doesn’t.)


In an article at Pop Chassid, Elad Nehorai wrote – with a big headline – “Kiruv is a lie.”

Why?  Because it creates the illusion that Judaism is “fun” or “easy.” 

Because it lures people in with songs or cheap spirituality or tasty food and then – bait and switch!!! – it turns out Judaism is a hard life and so the Judaism you thought was all about fun fizzles and you drift away from Judaism.

And those who do stay religious, who move into religious communities like, I’m assuming Monsey or Lakewood or Boro Park or Jerusalem, suddenly discover that religious Jews are like anybody else, not all “souls on fire” but just regular people trying to make a living, playing loud music, behaving obnoxiously, speaking loshon hora, even stealing from each other in various horrible and petty ways.

Nehorai’s solution is a little fuzzy – he recommends “improving the qualitative state of our communities.”  By this I’m assuming he means make every Jewish person behave nicely instead of just a few kiruv rabbis.  As we say here in Israel, halevai – if only.  If only it were that easy.

I could be wrong about his message, and I hope somebody corrects me if I’ve misunderstood.  Whatever his goal is, it seems both vague and also almost certainly impossible.

There is no “Bad Kiruv”

Here’s my two cents:  There’s nothing wrong with kiruv, and I think kiruv professionals mostly have the right idea, even if they do sometimes paint an unrealistic picture of what Judaism looks like, and what the person being drawn in will look like in five, ten, or twenty years down the line.

I think that first of all, some of these tensions are created by

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Sydney Taylor Award 2018 BLOG TOUR: Drop by Drop, A Story of Rabbi Akiva, by Jacqueline Jules / Yevgenia Nayberg


Welcome to visitors here with the Sydney Taylor Award blog tour!  You can find a full list of hosts and featured books at the Association of Jewish Libraries site.  There are some amazing selections this year.  In fact, that’s what I’m going to be talking about – a wonderful new Jewish kids’ book.

If you’re not fascinated by Rabbi Akiva, it’s probably because you just don’t know enough about him.  Who wouldn’t be inspired by the tale of someone who comes to Torah learning late in life but persists until he becomes not just an expert, but one of the greatest heroes of the Jewish world.

The problem is, how do you turn a figure commonly thought of as being more like this…


Into someone warm and relatable, more like this…


so that kids can actually enjoy the story and start to understand its full meaning?

Well, that’s exactly what author Jacqueline Jules (left) and illustrator Yevgenia Nayberg (right) have done with Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva, which turns this classic and often-told tale into a kids’ story that will make a great addition to any family’s Jewish bookshelf. 

Along with Yaffa and Fatima, Shalom, Salaam, The Language of Angels and others, their book has now won the 2018 Association of Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylor Award for “outstanding books that portray the Jewish experience.”


I feel lucky to have had the chance to send Jacqueline and Yevgenia a quick Q&A, and I’m excited to share their responses with you here:

Tzivia (that’s me):  Jacqueline, why do you think Rabbi Akiva is an important figure for kids to learn about in the year 2018?

Jacqueline Jules:  Rabbi Akiva’s story of learning to read at age 40 is an amazing role model for children and people of any age. Akiva’s realization

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Freedom, Imprisonment and Redemption: The Naïve Idealism of the Torah–a dvar Torah (ish) for late Bereishis / early Shemos / Bo


In historical Judaism, freedom and imprisonment are just two sides of the same möbius strip. Inner and outer freedom is the prime concept of the Torah and of Jewish tradition. Yet in Judaism, freedom is at once freely given and at the same time, never without a price tag.

Captivity plays an almost schizophrenic role in the Tanach, and indeed, throughout Jewish history. On one hand, we find the prisonless society described in Exodus. But then, there is the forced captivity of an innocent described in the laws of the “yefes toar” – the beautiful woman taken in battle. And, though Judaism is far from an ascetic tradition, both ancient and modern Judaism have glorified, to an almost grotesque extent, the concept of spiritual redemption through imprisonment.

How do these seemingly opposite concepts build upon and complement each other? And of what use are they in the modern world? Our culture is widely assumed to be “Judeo-Christian” in character, but little remains today of the idealistic Jewish approach to crime and punishment.

Criminals and Victims

If Jewish life begins with Bereishis (Genesis), there, too, begins the complex Jewish relationship with prison. The first Jewish imprisonment, like most that have followed

Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Wedding in the Family: Dvar Torah for Shabbos Sheva Brachos / Vayechi 5778


I want to tell you about a little girl I knew once. A baby, really, and whenever she would sit and eat in her high chair, whatever it was – rice cakes, Cheerios, cookies, whatever – she would insist on having two of them. One for each hand. A very smart girl: she wouldn’t start eating until she knew where her next meal was coming from. Even then, she was planning for the future: one rice cake in each fist.

There is no crazy twist ending – that girl was, of course, this sweet, amazing Elisheva Chaya, who has somehow gone and grown up. I don’t know how this happens. Perhaps those of you who have known Shraggie all along are similarly surprised at how this could have happened, right under our noses. No, I’m not going to start singing “Sunrise, Sunset,” but you all know I could at any moment.


Over the last few weeks in the parsha, we have been reading the story of Yosef, a story which is all about grasping the present while planning for the future: planning for famine, planning for geulah – Hashem planting the seeds of redemption even before the exile begins.

You, Elisheva Chaya, come from a long line of people who cared very, very deeply about the Jewish future. A line of strong and occasionally stubborn people. People who crossed oceans and worked for the community to build a future in every way they could. Your grandfather, Bubby’s father, Sam Posluns, was among the first Canadians to visit Europe after the war and witness the devastation, not just to gasp in horror, as most of us probably would have done, but to report back and figure out what the Jewish community could do to make these people whole again. He was also a founder and early president of

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Why it’s never a good idea to write a children’s book out of spite


I found out 2 days ago that an author out there is making a name for herself by writing and self-publishing a book called “P is for Palestine.”  Cute book, right? So sweet and happy and intifada-friendly.


Oh, I’m not making that up.  This book is all over the intifada: “I is for Intifada.  Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grownup!”


If you’re guessing that that book includes absolutely ZERO about the other people who share this land – “Hello, yeah, us, the Jews who have been here ALL ALONG???” - you’re right.  The book is an unsurprisingly one-sided narrative

According to the author, who crowdfunded over $15,000 for this project (preselling the book for $16 per copy with free shipping in the U.S.), “There are currently countless alphabet books about most countries, cities, and themes in the world…But none about or for Palestine in the English language.  Until now…”


She’s right.  There were none.  And there still ARE none.

Now that this writer has succeeded and is going into a second printing, with all kinds of rave reviews and great publicity around the world, there’s STILL no book about or for Palestine in the English language that discusses anyone other than its Arab inhabitants.

Pride and national identity are great, but not at the expense of others.  This book denies the existence of Israel.  This book advocates violence.  (See above if you don’t believe me – “I” would have been a great place to mention Israel… or anything, really, other than Intifada.)


This book makes a lot of people I know sick.  And they’re not the only ones.

In case you're wondering who's raving about the book, one of the most adoring reviews on the writer's Etsy shop is from a female Jewish

Sunday, December 03, 2017

When am I no longer faking it?


I just caught a glimpse of myself in a reflection, in a car window, on my way to the train station.

“Wow,” I thought.  “That sure does look like the real deal.”

What do I mean by the real deal?

Well, you know

Okay, I’ll come out and say it.  A 40-something frum woman, hair covered, a little dumpy, a little boring, pretty content with her quiet life off somewhere in Nowhereville, Israel, following the ways of Hashem.  You’d never know I was only faking it.

Becoming a baalas teshuvah in my early 20s, fitting in was super-important, because if you think about it, I was kind of in freefall.  I’d given up a whole lot – friends, beliefs, even, to some extent, family.  So being accepted was kind of a matter of survival – if I wasn’t accepted, I’d be all alone.

So when did I stop caring?

I don’t know if I ever did, but