My Experience with the Rebbe

BS”D

rebbe_2

Today was gimmel Tammuz, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe’s yahrtzeit. He has not physically been in this world for the past 21 years, however, I just spent this Shabbos hearing and reading amazing stories of brachos received from the Rebbe post gimmel Tammuz. I also heard people ask how they could possibly really “miss” the Rebbe when they never had the opportunity to meet him – either by not being born yet, not knowing about the Rebbe or simply not having the zechus, merit, of being able to make it in to New York for dollars, a farbrengen, etc. I wondered myself, do I really miss the Rebbe? What is my connection like to the Rebbe? I allowed myself to explore my thoughts on the subject and, in turn, to strengthen my connection more deeply with the Rebbe.

When I first saw a picture of the Rebbe in someone’s home, I wondered who this guy was. He must be a great person if people have his picture in their home, a real role model. So I started asking. I think it took me quite some time to really understand the level of this person, who the Rebbe really was and what he has meant to the world. Here are a few things I learned along the way.

The Rebbe was a rebel – he broke down what people normally thought about Judaism and put a different spin on it, of course, all within the frame of Halacha, Jewish law. You think only observant Jews can put on tefillin? Try again, any Jewish male should have an opportunity to put it in! Let’s get into Mitzvah Tanks, drive around and get people to come on and lay tefillin. Women should light Shabbos candles, even if only once, it’s what you do today that counts. Want to try this kosher food and make a bracha on it? Every couple should have the opportunity to learn about taharas hamishpacha, the laws of family purity. You think observant Jews only live in close-knit communities? The Rebbe thought again. There are Jew all over the world who need a rabbi, a friend, a confidante, so let’s send out my chassidim to fill these roles! This is the kind of radical thinking that the Rebbe employed.

I’m a complete rebel. And now, by seeing what the Rebbe did, and even continues to do through his teachings, I can be a rebel for the good. Rebellion is a way to make change, and change can be good. Somethings not going right? Show people how to make it right! Productive rebellion is the best kind, especially when so many people can benefit from it. I guess the transition seemed fitting, from one type of rebellion to the next.

But he was more than just a rebel. He was a person with a fervor for life, for Yiddishkeit and for people. Everyone was important, Jew or non-Jew, male or female, child or adult. Every person was important and he wanted to do good for all mankind. The U.S. has dedicated Education and Sharing Day as a tribute to the Rebbe and steps he took toward the betterment of education for all U.S. children. He stressed the importance of the Noahide laws. He wanted to make sure that all of mankind was healthy and well and ready to take on the world in the way Hashem desires them to. He was really into everyone being the best that they can be and being able to help them realize their potential. The world isn’t finished being built, and the Rebbe wanted to make sure we were aware of that and are putting on our best faces to be able to finish making this world a dira b’tachtonim, a dwelling place for Hashem.

A friend of mine, @DetroitRabbi, Rabbi Pinson, posted a throwback Thursday photo to his social media accounts. It was of himself and his father receiving kos shel bracha, cup of blessing, from the Rebbe on motzaei Shabbos, the day after Simchas Torah (technically the second day in the Hebrew calendar). The date on this photo was one day before I was born. Really just a few hours before I was born, in the Hebrew calendar it was already the day of my birth. Wow, even though I didn’t have a connection with frumkeit until I was 24, I felt at that moment I saw the picture as if I always had a connection with frumkeit, with the Rebbe. For sure the Rebbe knew I was coming into this world. Maybe he had a bracha in mind for me on this day. Maybe my friend davened for every child who was born on that day to be able to experience true Yiddishkeit. Maybe none of that happened and it’s just a cool picture that I feel really connected to, being that it’s actually on my Hebrew date of birth.

Whatever transpired in that photo, I felt a part of it. I heard once that every ba’al teshuvah who becomes a Lubavitcher was handpicked by the Rebbe. I definitely feel through this picture that the Rebbe chose me. But how do I have such a connection, so many thoughts and strong feelings surrounding the Rebbe? I told some people last night how I never had even heard of Lubavitch before I was 24 (even though I had a Chabad House in the town I grew up in). Through everything I have learned about the Rebbe, about Yiddishkeit, about Chabad and since I have become frum has added to my hiskashrus to the Rebbe.

Without the Rebbe, there wouldn’t have been a shliach around to invite me to their home, to help me in my time of need. Well, I can’t say there wouldn’t have been one for sure, but I know that this particular shliach is a chossid of the Rebbe, and that maybe another one wouldn’t have touched me like this one did. All it took was a little befriending, helping me to give my daughter a Jewish name and having another shlucha invite me for Shabbos. Since then, my entire life has been turned upside down, all for the good.

I learn the Rebbe’s teachings of sichos, talks, and maamers, Chassidic discourses.I enjoy his commentary on everything. I learn how to be a better person by seeing how he interacted with other people, by reading letters of response to thousands. A tzaddik doesn’t “die” when his physical body stops working. His neshama, soul, is always with us. Many people go to his gravesite to ask him to intercede on their behalf for a bracha for so many things – to find their soulmate, for them or a loved one to become healed, for livelihood, etc. – and even questions as to what to do in all kinds of situations. When I walk into the ohel, where the Rebbe is buried alongside the frierdiker Rebbe, the previous Rebbe, I can feel that the Rebbe is with them there, that his soul is still alive. I can feel this anywhere in the world, as I do as the Rebe has perscribed, as I learn his teachings, as I live my life as a chossid. A tzaddik remains alive through his teachings, which is why it’s so important to learn them, it is really his essence that jumps out when learning these teachings.

I learn with awe as I try and make sense of this world, as I try to live to be the best person I can be, which, for me, includes being a chossid of the Rebbe. As I was learning a maamer earlier today, I felt like I just wanted to burst out crying. How can I be separated from my leader, my Rebbe, my second father? But then I remember, a yahrtzeit is not a time to cry and be sad, but rather to learn his teachings to keep him alive within all of us. To go out and do as the Rebbe has prescribed gives me a close sense of connection and the drive to always continue learning and doing. Chassidim mamshichim!

I owe my life to the Rebbe.

To read more on the Rebbe, check out this post, 11 Ways the Lubavitcher Rebbe Changed the World Forever.

Titleless Ramblings

B”H

Yep, I wrote a little something. Enjoy.

Titleless Ramblings
I’m doing it for me.
I’m doing it for my daughter.
I didn’t ask you — I know I didn’t spawn you
But you helped bring me
From a thought to fruition
To make it my mission
To do my avodah
As I see best
For my children to rest
As I see fit
Not as you are seeing it
But as I want to raise her
As I want to teach her
Because I am her mother
Because I
Know
Best.

I know you just want to help
But you’re only in it for yourself
I don’t see that you’re concerned with my needs
I don’t see that you are actually seeing me
Don’t you see what I’m willing to sacrifice
So my daughter can live in this concrete paradise?
You say it’s only for a year
I say I’d rather disappear
I say it’s a year I would despise
I begrudgingly am finishing this one
I’m not in it for another one.
I need to fly, spread my wings and soar high.
I need to break away
I need to be me
I need my daughter to breathe
We need to have friends
We need to feel part of instead of the party of one
In each of our circles
As we do things so differently
As we do things so uniquely
So befitting for us
I have enjoyed this metamorphosis
Thank you for caring for us
Thank you for supporting us
Thank you for loving us
Now it’s time to say
See you in forty-five minutes
I’m not going to Australia
I’m going to a mini utopia
I know it’s not perfect
But it’s more perfect than this
More perfect than everything
I’ve grown to regret
I just
Want
Milk.

Is that so hard to ask?
To want to be able to put it in my bag
Take it home and eat some cereal.
I just want to eat some cereal!
I want to be normal
I want to feel normal
I want to feel part of
I want to be part of
I want to be me
And not be afraid
That maybe they don’t agree with me
That maybe they don’t like the idea of me
Because I’ll be amongst others
Like me

I know diversity is good
But when I’m one and the diversity is everyone else
How can that be so good?
Is this good for me or for your own desires?
Have you realized my sanity is hanging from wires?
I can’t tell you this anymore
I’m just going to walk out the door
You can say your goodbyes
Your see-you-laters
You can join us for the ride
Or you can just stay inside
But I hope you’ll come along
I just can’t hold your hand for too long
We’re going, I just wanted to say thank you
For allowing me to be separate from you
For embracing our differences
And supporting me through my weaknesses
And loving me even though
We don’t see eye to eye

My Transformation and What You Think It Means

B”H

I love being a ba’alas teshuvah. To me, it feels very special to have been chosen to take the path willingly to Torah and mitzvos. As a single mother, as a student, as an employee, as someone who hadn’t done anything religious in years, I feel honored. I find so much meaning in everything I have learned and continue to learn, and I strive to learn more, feel more and experience more every day. I love the people who have given me the opportunity to become frum by inviting me for my first Shabbos, the people who have included me in community events and those that have been guiding me along the way.

There seems to be a recurring theme I have noticed (I know, you knew it was coming somewhere!). Many frum-from-birth people, while including me, inviting me and guiding me, have still in some regards treated me differently than they would a family member or another FFB person. What I mean by this is that after suggested to do things in a specific way, and I retort, “Well, I’ve really been doing it/want to do it this way,” they explain that because I have had different experiences (as opposed to an FFB), that this way would be acceptable for me, if I wanted to do it that way. For me, the assumption that I would want to do things differently than defined by community standards/the Rebbe obm has suggested, simply because I wasn’t religious all my life, is frustrating. This isn’t exclusive to just one instance, one person or one topic. I find this happening across the board. Of course, not all the time, but it does happen and I can’t help but wonder how this comes about.

How I feel about it is that I have been given this amazing gift of frumkeit. I have taken this gift and ran with it! However, some who have helped me get here still don’t regard me as “one of them.” Not that I need to be the same as everyone else, but it is nice to be regarded as a fully frum Chabad woman, something that I consider myself to be. I follow all Halacha, have taken on chumras that are common within the community and have always followed minhag Chabad since the day I took each thing on. So why is there still this barrier between myself and “them?” Why am I still the ba’alas teshuvah who can do things in a watered-down way?

At first, when people would suggest that I do things slightly differently, I thought, “Cool. Look, I’m not 18, I’m independent, yeah, I don’t need to follow everything so strictly. I can give myself a little leeway.” And then I ran into a group of people who were like, “Oh no! Do as the Rebbe says, here’s why, and here’s why this applies to everyone, regardless of your background. Let me help you adhere as best as you can to these directives.” And then I saw for myself both sides of the coin and I saw which one worked best – adhering to the Rebbe’s directives (As I’m writing this, I’m evaluating who said what one each side, and it’s funny, one side I have both FFBs and BTs, and on the latter, it’s heavily BTs.).

I mentioned here about when I was asked how I knew about kosher. I educated her in the way I thought was best that everyone is able to become frum, and I recently saw that this was received in the way I meant it to be. I ran into this woman again, and she looked at me pleasingly and treated me as if I was FFB, just like all of the others in the room. It felt good, it felt comforting. So I see that people may not realize everyone who can become frum, or to the extent that they can become frum, but once educated, they get it.

I desire to have a conversation with everyone without them watering things down for me because I’m not “just like them.” I want people to respect me as a contributing person in the community, rather than someone who needs to be pushed along the way. I want to receive the same advice that would be given to someone who is FFB.

Of course, I do realize that  I do have different experiences, I’m not doubting that. And yes, they can contribute to how I deal with things today, but not to the extent of watering down how I should conduct myself within the community. I’m not saying that I want everyone to forget that I’m a BT, or that I’m embarrassed of being one, G-d forbid. I love my experiences, and without all of them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. However, I do want people to look past them and see me, see who I am today, and respond to the present-day me.

Children of Our Feelings

My daughter attends an online Jewish school twice a week, and this past week the school organized a parent session discussing living a vibrant Jewish life in rural areas outside of Jewish communities. There are many things that I gained from this discussion, including making myself feel better about my situation, that others have it much more difficult. The other is this: Don’t let your children latch on to your anxiety.

In any situation where someone feels emotions, this is translated through tone of voice, body language and facial expressions. It’s expressed in how they react to others and what choice of words they use when speaking about the subject. Children are sponges, it’s true, and they are very in tune to the feelings around them, much like when a horse can sense that you are nervous to be around it (or any other domesticated animal). Our stresses are simply that, our stresses. When we bring our children into things — knowingly or unknowingly — that they can’t change or situations they can’t help, it does them a disservice to then assume our anxiety as their own.

Our personal anxiety is tough, but we can, G-d willing, find ways to cope with the situation. We are adults, we’ve dealt with many different types of situations, and whether we can change the situation, we know how to cope with it (or can find out how through our resources we’ve, iyh, accumulated). But when children feel and internalize our anxiety, it becomes a bigger deal. They can’t change it, and much of the time, the anxiety is in regards to things they should be falling in love with instead of falling in love to kvetch about. A big situation that could be anxiety-causing is school. We want our children to love going to school! But how can they when they know that we think this is a sub-optimal environment for our future prodigies?

We live in a town about 45 minutes out of a Jewish community (complete with a kosher market, many synagogues and a few kosher restaurants). Baruch Hashem, we have about 6000 Jews in our town and about 25 families are Orthodox — and that number might be stretching it. There is one Jewish day school that is technically a Solomon Shechter school, a conservative Jewish school. This means that they promote egalitarianism in prayer and don’t focus too much on limudei kodesh, Hebrew/Jewish/religious subjects. They have a kabbalat Shabbat ceremony on Fridays to welcome the Shabbat before the end of school. They learn Hebrew and a little bit about the Torah. They don’t learn exactly what I want them to, but that’s okay. No school is perfect, however, this school is no where near where I want it to be for my daughter.

I had to pull my daughter out of the Chanukah performance because it was going to be in a synagogue that shares the sanctuary space with a church. I didn’t want my daughter to sing in a sanctuary of that caliber. These are very sensitive places and I believe she should only be in places like that that align with our beliefs. I had to change the words on her reading activity because I didn’t think that “ham” was an appropriate word for my Jewish child to be reading in her Jewish school. I have to have her daven before we go to school because they only do a very minimal davening and don’t emphasize the importance of it. I could go on for days like this, but I’m pretty sure you get the picture.

For now, I have no other choice. This is where my daughter is going to go to school unless, chas v’shalom, G-d forbid, I were to put her in public school. I don’t have to be okay with this, but I need my daughter to believe that I am. If she senses that I’m not really into this school and think it’s a terrible institution (which I don’t!! It’s just far from my first choice),  then going to school is a lost cause. She is still learning valuable things in terms of secular education. I have the Jewish Online School that is an amazing program that my daughter loves. I do my own education with her in the home about things that I think she should know about, such as the Chabad Chassidic holidays. She has a poster in her locker with the Rebbe’s picture and the twelve pesukim, verses of Torah. She exposes other children in her class to Orthodox Judaism who possibly wouldn’t have been exposed otherwise. It is an extreme kiddush Hashem, sanctification of The Name, for my daughter to be in this school and to thrive within it. It is a chillul Hashem, desecration of The Name, for it to be otherwise.

I do let my feelings spill over into my parenting. It’s definitely something that needs to be actively worked on and thought about. It’s not easy, just as any aspect of parenting isn’t. But it’s something for us to recognize and to be aware of so that we have the ability to actively work on it. While I didn’t have to deal with many of the struggles many of the parents in the session did — such as pulling children out for chagim, Jewish holidays non-permissive of work, since our school is closed for them — I did learn a lot from the session itself. I also gained a little bit gratitude for at least having a Jewish school to send my child to, no matter how unhappy I get with it.

For today, I’m going to focus on having positive body language, speech and facial expressions. It’s going to be a challenge, but I sense that it will be a better day overall because of it. I’m ready for the challenge.

A Society of Compliments

B”H

To the woman in Whole Foods,

Thank you for stopping, for taking time out of your day to compliment my parenting. As a single parent, I (feel) constantly ridiculed for just being me. It perhaps (probably) is just how I feel, but it’s still my valid feeling. As my daughter was yelling at me because she was so hungry after I repeatedly told her by the family Chanukah party to come up and eat, even saying “You’re not eating later if you’re hungry,” you stopped your cart and looked at me.

Uh-oh, my heart sank to my stomach. What was I going to say to you in defense of wanting to parent my child like I think she should be parented?! Why should I have to defend myself, as I have had to so many times before? But you didn’t attack me and tell me I’m a bad parent, or hey, to just give in and give her a piece of cheese. Nope, you stopped your cart, looked at me square in the eye and told me that I was doing myself a favor in the long run.

That is definitely much different than berating the young, single mother in Whole Foods around 8 or 9 p.m. dragging along her, kah, 5-year-old daughter who is screaming about being hungry. This was one sentiment from a stranger I did not expect, but I definitely appreciated, especially as I felt like a terrible mother for not feeding my child. I knew it was the right thing to do, but you, when you stopped to tell me, hey, it’s going to be okay, you’re doing the right thing, it made my day. For once, I was recognized for doing what I should be doing. While that sounds a bit ridiculous, it’s not, I promise.

Try being a single mother since the time of conception, practically, and go through the next undetermined amount of time only parenting (meaning being the only parent, no one else but me, not just single). When my daughter yells at me, it’s my fault. When she hugs and kisses me, this is also my doing. Everything, good or bad, is because of me. So who is my co-parent to tell me I’m doing a great job just by keeping my head afloat during this thing called child rearing? It’s you, it’s every person who sees me doing a good job at being a mother. This world is built upon others adding to society, hopefully in a positive manner, so we should be showing others how much we appreciate what they do – even if it’s just being a mom, doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

We shouldn’t just stop to tell only parents what a great job they’re doing. We should stop and tell everyone that they’re doing a great job when we see it happening! When we compliment others, we create an environment of happiness. I want to create an environment I’m comfortable living in and want to raise my children in, and happiness is one thing I want in the environment.

And guess what, you didn’t even know I was an only parent! You just complimented me because I’m a human. And this is what I’m saying, let’s look and see the good in others and tell them when we recognize it! I like to thank my lawn people every time I see them for coming to cut my lawn and rake my leaves even though it’s their job. My rental company is paying them to do it! I’m just telling them I’m grateful they went into work today. So thank you, I appreciate you!

And thank you, kind woman in Whole Foods, for complimenting me in a time when I really needed a compliment. During an unsuspecting time where I was flooded with anxiety, my beacon of hope came in the form of a woman spreading love. Thank you.

All the best, blue skies and much, much love,

Chana Sara

Am I There?

Traveling the path of a ba’alat teshuvah isn’t the easiest and sometimes it feels like it takes forever to get where you want/need to be, wherever that is. The path that I have taken is that of Chabad, a Chassidic group that focuses on spreading the light. That’s how I was brought in, by an outreach group of this particular sect of Judaism. I became close to the rabbi and his family that led the group and eventually made it to the shul he belonged to. People were warm and inviting, I saw their light and it began to make my wick desire the fire that it knew was imminent. I was hooked.

After a little bit of time, slowly but surely taking on all of the mitzvot, moving within a mile of the Chabad House in my town, getting two new sets of dishes, pots and pans – no wait, three, an extra fleishig set for Pesach – and purchasing ultra-modest clothing, I feel like maybe I’m “there.” But where is “there?” I’m not sure, and I hope I’ll never know. I always hope to be growing, reaching for the stars, making myself better, learning, learning, learning…

Last night I was listening to my daughter entertain our guests as I finished frying the last latkes and cutting up an Israeli salad. I can’t tell you the nachas I shepped, pride I received, from that encounter. I thought to myself, “How did I get here?! My child knows what to do, she is entertaining the guests, doing hachnasas orchim, hosting guests, and doing a mighty fine job of it.” Okay, maybe I’m giving my, kah, 5-year-old daughter too much credit. Is she really thinking about fulfilling the mitzvah? Is she doing it because she wants to spread light? Or is she doing it because children enjoy being the center of attention?

I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter why she is doing it, but rather the fact that she is doing it. For a lot of us, there are things we need to be doing, and sometimes we do it unknowingly, but the important part is that we are doing it.

Before we started down this path of teshuva, we didn’t have a lot of guests over. Actually, we didn’t really have anyone over, ever. My daughter was ultra-shy when we met new people. When we began hosting people for meals, she was still very shy, it took her a while to warm up to them to even say hello. Now we are inviting guests for Shabbos, yomim tovim and just normal nights for dinner. My daughter entertains, I cook, clean and educate. We have conversations, love those who enter our home and show our love and fear of G-d. If you told me two years ago this is what I would be doing today, I would tell you to stop kidding yourself.

This was the moment that I said, “I’m there.” Just like all of those homes that I walked in to scared and shy to unfamiliar territories, the children came and took us by the hand – figuratively if not literally – and told us to not be scared and look, here are toys! Now my daughter was that child that I was so very thankful for when I began to traverse this path.

Realizing that your life is where you always wanted it to be (even if you didn’t know that for many, many years!) is a good feeling. It’s like waking up in the morning and realizing that you’re living life. It’s pretty cool, life’s a pretty cool thing, it’s hard to get, but once you get how to play the game and use the rules provided, it’s pretty sweet. Now that I’m “there,” all I can continue to do is do what I have been doing for the past two years. Continuing to learn, continuing to have guests, continuing to cleave closer to G-d and understand the directives from my spiritual leader, the Rebbe.

This journey for klal Yisrael was only started after we said, “naaseh v’nishma,” we will do and we will listen, saying that our children are our guarantors to continue the Torah from generation to generation. The best thing I have now is the ability to transmit good middos, values, to the next generation.

How I Blame Michigan Time for My Punctuality Defect (and other ways to avoid taking responsibility)

I bike to school every day, rain or shine, snow or ice (just not too icy!). I did have one crash while I was trying to make a sharp turn on our first real day of snowfall, bit the dust – or snow, technically – and got back on my bike a bruised and puffy eye, chin and thigh later. Something I like to do while ride my bike is contemplate intense ideas. Naturally, yesterday I was riding my bike to school, at approximately 9 a.m. when class begins at 9 a.m. However, I go to the University of Michigan, so we have this thing called Michigan time.

Michigan time: A phenomenon originating from the University of Michigan where most classes begin at 10 after the hour rather than the hour appointed. For example, if your class begins at 8:30 a.m., it really starts at 8:40 a.m.

So now I push the limits as to when I have to leave my house for my 6-8 minute ride to school, depending on which building I’m in first. Needless to say, I’m late to class a bit. This lateness also translates to my life outside of school. I’m late getting out of bed, I’m late getting my daughter to school and birthday parties. Generally, if there is an appointed time, I’m late. I claim that Michigan time created my punctuality defect.

I mean, that would make sense and get me off of the hook for actually taking responsibility for anything. However, if we would carefully asses the situation, we would see that I have been increasingly less and less punctual over the last 5.5 years. So now I’m going to blame my defect on my daughter. Because, of course, I don’t have any responsibility in any of this.

Being a mother is tough stuff, especially a single one, and getting out of the house is one of the hardest tasks. Thank G-d I have this opportunity. But to blame my punctuality inside or outside of school on Michigan time is simply, well, copping out of responsibility. In everything that I do, from actions to reactions, I am responsible. There is not anything that the outside world can contribute that makes my actions or reactions not my fault. No matter how difficult the situation, I always have the opportunity to act like a mentsch.

“In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” Hillel, Pirkei Avot, Ethics of Our Fathers, 2:5

Be a good person even though others aren’t. Take responsibility for yourself, even though there are not good things going on around you.

But this is just one facet of taking responsibility. As for the Michigan time dilemma, well, it’s more a dilemma of procrastination. Yes, Michigan time allows me to procrastinate longer than without it. Yes, being a mother is difficult, especially as an only parent. I was always on time before I had my daughter. Now, I have a less than perfect punctuality score. But I make it to things that are important, and I rarely apologize for being late. Why do I rarely apologize? Because I’m not sorry, and not in a mean way. Saying I’m sorry means that I want to take steps to fix being late. I knew I was going to be late. I know I will continue to be late. Currently, it’s how I am operating. Is it the best I could do? That’s debatable. Maybe at this moment in time, yes, because I have no desire to actively work on my timeliness. Am I bad person because of this? No. I’m just an honest person taking responsibility for my actions.

One day I will aspire to be more punctual, maybe. Then, if I am late, I can genuinely say “I’m sorry,” since I am working on my punctuality and intended on being there in a more timely manner. But until I have that motivation, I’m okay with being a little bit late. I just need to recognize that this is not due to anything other than my own personal habits.