Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What do we tell our kids about Chabad and “Yechi”?


If I start by saying I really like Chabad, and adore the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, z"l, well... maybe you already know where I'm headed.

Naomi Rivka has been asking lately what I think about Chabad.  She asks, in part, because she already knows how I feel.  She already knows I’m bothered, though to her, it’s mostly about “liking” and “not liking.”  I wish things were that simple.

Our little neighbourhood in Israel has a significant Chabad presence, and Chabad conducts fairly significant outreach within the community.  Which sounds nice until you realize that this is a religious neighbourhood, closed on Shabbos, where some huge percentage of people are shomer mitzvos.  Sure, it’s mostly religious Zionist, and there are a range of observances, for sure, but we’re pretty much all religious here in some way or another.

So at that point, this isn’t outreach but inreach.  Convincing people who are religious to be… what?

A lot of Chabad’s efforts here are focused on kids, including a big Aseres Hadibros gathering today for Shavuos.  The events are usually well organized and include prizes and popsicles, so they get a lot of kids.  And they almost always say “yechi”. 

“Yechi” refers to the verse:  “Yechi adoneinu, moreinu v’rabeinu, melech hamoshiach, le’olam va’ed.”  It means “Long live our master, our teacher, our rabbi, king messiah, forever.”

The phrase “adoneinu, moreinu, rabeinu” – “Admor,” for short – has long been used by chassidic groups to describe their leader.  This part isn’t controversial.

But the part about “long live” definitely is, considering that the person in question died in 1994.  Oh, and denied that he was moshiach.

Chabad chassidim, sometimes known as Lubavitchers, started singing this passuk a couple of years before the Rebbe died. 

He had already had a stroke, and so there is disagreement – from what I can tell and heard from Chabadniks at the time, based on his gestures – as to whether or not he wanted them to sing it, essentially crowning him as moshiach.  He couldn’t speak between the stroke and his death.  It does seem like he was gesturing yes with greater and greater positivity.  But I’m not a neurologist, and don’t know how much understanding he still had by that point.

After he died, Chabad was split.  For some, the messianic hopes were dashed; others hauled out proofs that moshiach can still be a person risen from the dead.  Many in the mainstream Jewish community were appalled because this view seemed shockingly close to Christianity.

Actually, that’s not just my opinion, but also that of Rav Aaron Soloveichik, who told The Forward in 1994 that “"there is no possibility whatsoever" that Menachem Mendel Schneerson would emerge from the dead to be the Messiah. In his words:

"That could be possible in the Christian faith, but not Judaism."

(source – including a letter from Rav Soloveichik confirming that the quote is accurate)

His suggestion,

Monday, May 22, 2017

Stepping out of the Misgeret


For Israeli parents, one word seems like the absolute number-one most important to remember – yes, even before Bamba and Shoko beSakit (chocolate milk in a bag, a staple of childhood here):  Misgeret.

Misgeret (מִסְגֶּרֶת) literally means “frame.”  This is a misgeret:


And so is this:


And so is this:


Because the other meaning of the word “Misgeret” is “where you put your kids.”  In English, you might say something like “structure” or “system” or “framework.”  But I don’t know if you’d panic about it in quite the way parents here do.

Sure, like working parents everywhere, Israeli parents want to make sure they can work without disruption by kids’ days off, summer vacation, etc.  So structure is important for that.  But it’s more than that.  I think parenting here used to be more laid-back, until maybe a decade ago when people started panicking about math and science scores and keeping up with the rest of the world, and now the biggest reason for the Misgeret seems to be Enrichment.

It’s not enough just to be a kid… you have to be fed enrichment, constantly, no matter where you are and what you’re doing.

I think some of this is influenced by Israel’s strongly socialist past,

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Jewish Princess Story – for Shavuos


Jewish princesses may be the stuff of legend, but it’s not always the GOOD kind of legend.

If you’re a Jewish parent, especially if you have girls, you know about the constant search for great stories of role models from the Torah and Tanach.  And since girls love princesses, it would be a wonderful bonus if there were any really awesome Jewish princesses.

And there ARE – that’s the amazing part.  Like Ruth / Rus / Rut – whatever you call her.

I’ve wanted to write a Jewish fairy tale for years and years.  A friend mentioned it a long time ago – so long ago that I’ve forgotten who, or else I would definitely give them credit.  And the character of Ruth is just such a tremendous role model in so many ways (all the incredibly scandalous backstory aside – though it’s fascinating stuff if you want to study this megillah on a more adult level).

I created a couple of different iterations of the story over the years, but I was never completely satisfied with it.  Finally,

Monday, May 08, 2017

There’s no place like…


As I sit here, late at night, the Ministry of Education is debating when Lag Baomer will be.  Bet you thought they’d figured that out years ago, but nope.  First, they pushed it off to the following day (“Lad” Baomer?), but now critics are saying that was illegal and they should put it back.

Lag Baomer is less than a week away as they sit and debate.

Which is great.  I can sit here and chuckle at how nuts this place is, that they can’t even figure out when to do their government holidays.  Maybe in another 69 years, they’ll have it all hammered out.  In the meantime – we don’t know which day the kids will have off school.

For me, this isn’t a problem.  That’s how come I can sit here chuckling.  But for hundreds of thousands of parents all over the country, it’s no chuckling matter.

It’s not a problem for me because I’m home anyway.

In this country, built on socialism, pioneering work ethic, high taxes and low incomes, I’m a rare bird: a mom who is home most of the time. 

I’m lucky.  I work at home, my kids are old enough to let me work while they run around doing their own thing.  Soon they’ll both be at the age where they’d rather not have me interfering in their stuff anyway.

Most parents here are out of the house a lot of the time, which is why at this time of year the other parents in our kids’ classes WhatsApp groups start panicking about “framework.”  Where North American parents use the word “structure,” Israeli parents (and teachers) babble on about how kids need a “framework” or else – or else what?  They go mad, perhaps, or spend the summer hanging out at the mall.

The truth is, I don’t think the kids need the framework as much as the parents do.  Not so they can go do lunch or whatever… just so they can keep their jobs.