On Being a Rabbi’s Child and On Being

Posted on February 24, 2009 • By Miriam Schwab
Category: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

By Dodi-Lee Hecht. Originally published on the Nishma Blog.

It is three o’clock in the morning and, having slept so much this week of illness and fever and delirium, and with so many thoughts racing through my head, I cannot sleep. So, instead, I have read a post on my uncle Avrum’s blog. It was an older post, about growing up the son of a rabbi, growing up in a small town, growing up with danger and adventure and anti-Semitism and parents with a mission. It has got me thinking.

Now anyone who knows me knows that thinking is what I do – constantly, like breathing – and when I run out of thoughts then I start thinking about the emptiness of my brain or the world that I see or the people around me – and if I can’t find something to latch onto among all that then I will find solace in thinking about numbers. But, still, for all my thinking, my uncle’s stories got me thinking in a way that made me want to write. And so here I am, telling all who read this the intimate details of my brain at 3 am.

I am thinking of what my uncle and I share – life as a rabbi’s child. It is funny that one man’s choice can brand a whole group of people with a title. My father and my grandfather chose to become rabbis – they studied, they passed tests, they dedicated their time and their lives. My mother and my grandmother just fell in love. And me and my siblings? All we did was be born. And yet, here we are – rabbi’s children. And we take it very seriously.

My uncle was right in his blog – a rabbi’s family doesn’t know the privacy of just being, without an audience. In many ways, though, the rest of the world is forgetting that level of privacy too. With things like blogs and Facebook, camera phones and YouTube – the privacy of unexamined (by others) moments seems to be something of the past. Whether as a rabbi’s daughter or as a citizen of the 21st century – I am being watched by people. It is unbelievably scary.

But as a rabbi’s daughter, it just seems more intense. I remember the first time I entered a shul and I was just a congregant – one of many – someone who wasn’t expected to know the answers to all the questions or help those who needed assistance – someone who was, foremost, responsible for her prayers and not the comfort and prayers of everyone around her. I was 21.

Sometimes I get asked halachic (Jewish legal) questions and I want to say: why are you asking me? Sometimes I don’t get asked halachic questions and I want to say: why aren’t you asking me? Sometimes, although I’m never proud of it, I will pull out the “rabbi’s daughter” card in an argument to shut up someone who is stupid enough to warrant me playing dirty – those are the kinds of people who will respond to my “title” before listening to the wisdom or stupidity of my words and so, although I’m not proud to do it, I’m also not ashamed.

When I was in college, I was the unofficial posek (decider of Jewish law) for most of my friends (excluding the other rabbis’ kids, of course); it was a scary and awful responsibility but not one I was unused to. Lucky for me, my father was on speed dial.

I have more respect for rabbis than the average Jew because I lived with one my whole life and I saw all the sacrifices he’s made to be a scholar and moral leader for our people. I have less awe for rabbis than the average Jew because I lived with one my whole life and I know they are not gods – they are men – they make jokes and root for basketball teams, they stay up worrying when their daughters go out. I have empathy and sadness and pride for all rabbis’ children. We understand each other.

When I was interviewing for law firms I had to answer the question what made me get interested in the law. My answer always began with the fact that I was raised in a rabbi’s home, at which point I would have to explain the implications of that and how it factored in. one time though, as soon as I said that I was a rabbi’s daughter, the interviewer – a black woman with the hint of the southern lilt of one of the Carolinas – said to me: say no more, I’m a preacher’s kid. I liked her choice of terms because that’s the truth more clearly than one can ever get out of the word rabbi.

My father is a preacher – I mean, he’s a rabbi but he, predominantly, preaches. Rabbis say a lot of beautiful things that people like to hear but where their job gets tough is when they have to preach – they have to say the unpopular stuff. They have to say assur (forbidden) and treif (not kosher) because the world can’t always be kosher and mutar (permissible). They have to weave mussar (rebuke) into sermons and sermons into mussar. And, most difficult of all, thy have to find a way to say to a student “respect me” and they have to find a way to explain that they only say it because Gd commands that his scholars be respected.

I have watched men of ignorance insult my father and I have watched him walk away and cry, not for his feelings or his ego but because he feels that he did not defend the Torah within him and he cries for the Torah. And I cry for him.

Rabbis’ kids have great stories – my uncle is right about that. We get to see a part of the world that other people don’t. Some of my favorite childhood memories are definitively the moments I was a rabbi’s kid.

And as to the psychological theory that the clergy’s children can be a little screwed up? Well, I haven’t done studies but every rabbi’s kid I’ve ever met, including myself, is a little weird and I think we’d all admit it.

But it is the tears that, I think, bind us more than anything else. To be a rabbi’s child is to be witness to struggle and sorrow. Even the most beloved of rabbis has followers who leave him and, given the dark side of eilu v’ eilu (religious tolerance), all rabbis have enemies (most often those followers of another rabbi who are foolish enough not to understand that disagreement is meant to stay in the beis medrash).

So, I sit here at three in the morning and wonder about my brothers and sister and my mother and her siblings and all my friends who, like me, are preachers’ kids. How many times have we each seen disrespect? How many times have we watched our fathers mistreated? And how many times did we watch our fathers whisper promises to the Torah, to try to protect it better, to be a better vessel for it, less of a target? I sit here and wonder.

My mother used to say that the problem with some congregations is that everyone wants their rabbi to be a shepherd but they also want him obedient. No one would go to a doctor and say to the doctor: look, I’m paying you for this so you better say I’m in perfect health. You pay the doctor for the truth, for advice on how to be healthy. Rabbis aren’t treated like that. Part of it is in the system – rabbis want to be able to give people the answer they want to hear. Every rabbi I’ve ever met has pulled more than his fair share of all-nighters in search of the elusive heter (legal loophole) for a distraught student. But “no”, to many people, often does not mean no – it means find another rabbi.

I guess what it boils down to, all my musings, is right there in the Torah:

If you ever want to understand why Yitzchak redug his father’s wells – ask a rabbi’s son. It’s not easy following a top act.

Want to know why Moshe hit the rock – ask a rabbi’s daughter (and stand back). Followers are never easy to deal with.

But ask a preacher’s kid why Moshe defended his nation to the death. They are a stiff-necked bunch but their leaders love them, no matter what.

And, ask me if I wish my father was a lawyer or doctor or accountant. No, I don’t.

Sometimes I don’t understand why my father loves Jews as much as he does, why he doesn’t want to “hit the rock” more often. Sometimes I want to hit every rock in sight. And being a Yitzchak makes me want to scream more often than it makes me want to laugh.

But every once in a while I remember how lucky I am.

I have a rabbi on speed dial. And I get to be a Yitzchak. I get to help represent Torah scholarship. Hopefully I do a good job. Sometimes I’m scared I really don’t. Then I take a deep breath and dig some wells, walk a bit on a well worn path, in my father’s footsteps – slowly tentatively branching out from there.

And, more often than not, when I get really frustrated or scared, I remember that I’m not just a rabbi’s daughter, I’m also a daughter of Israel. And, whether as one or the other, I represent the Torah of my teachers and my Gd.

And sometimes, at hours like this, I curl up in some of my favorite memories – moments when, as a little girl or young woman – I watched my father talk Torah with other rabbis – their faces alight with passion and wisdom; I remember that I once went shopping with my father and he ran into another rabbi and they began to argue and discuss Sinai – right there in the canned vegetable aisle – and I could have grabbed the list from my father’s hand because I knew there was no way he was going to be involved in the shopping from that moment on – but I chose, instead, to come back with each item and then run off for the next one – and just so I could have the chance to catch bits of their conversation and so they would have more time to talk. Great thoughts were dissected in that store – and my father shared it all with me on the ride home – and I think, ironically, we forgot to get canned peas.

I remember one Shavous I got into a fierce argument with the daughter of a Lubavitch rabbi – no minor debates for us – we went at the notion of tzimtzum (a fundamental concept connected to Gd’s creation of the universe) with full force, calling each other heretics at least once each in the course of it all. Next to her stood her father and next to me stood my father – they were good friends; as the conversation continued, our fathers subtly steered us through the great philosophical debate that we were acting out – the classic mitnagid-chassidic dance – we did not change each other’s minds but we were friends by the end and, I feel, had properly welcomed Sinai. Our fathers discussed us afterwards, each complimenting the other’s daughter, each voicing philosophical loyalty to the views espoused by his own child.

It’s now almost five in the morning – I do not know what these ramblings tell me. I guess I miss my family and I miss my childhood. I miss when being a rabbi’s daughter meant nothing more than getting to sit at the front of the shul. But I also don’t.


Aliyah Q&A: Do Israeli women like to look at males dancing in skimpy G-strings?

Posted on February 22, 2009 • By Miriam Schwab
Category: Jokes | 20 Comments

Having been in the blogging “business” for quite some time, I’ve seen my fair share of crazy comments. But over the weekend someone posted a comment on our illuminea blog that is so fabulous and crazy, I had to share it. (I didn’t approve it on the blog because it’s really inappropriate for that audience. But over here, almost anything goes.)

So hold on to your hats…here it is:

Author : moshe rabeynu
I am a former male exotic dancer and am interested in establishing a “Chippendales” type establishment in Israel. What type of assistance and tax benefits does the Israeli government provide to new businesses of olim chadashim? Are there many such entertainment facilities in Israel?  I would like some idea as to how stiff the competition would be.  Do Israeli women, as a rule, like to look at males dancing in skimpy G-strings?  Are they generous tippers?  Would they put a shekel to the shmeckel?  If I hire other olim chadashim as dancers, would they have to pay any taxes on their tips?   Can I employ dancers who have not had a briss ?  I might want to hire one or two to add variety to the show lineup. Is a liquor license hard to obtain in Israel.  Do I have to bribe any officials to receive one?  To whom is it customary to pay proteksia money to start a business and keep it going and approximately how much to they ask for?  Thank you for your help.

If there were commenting Olympics, this one would bag a super-gold.


Israeli invents instant face improvement, but is it ethical?

Posted on December 3, 2008 • By David Danielson
Category: Social media, Technology, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

With the rise of social media and an increased reliance on the internet to create and maintain relationships, internet users are finding it beneficial, if not flat-out critical, to create a whole online persona, complete with the perfect profile and perfect profile picture.

In the world of social media, photos play a major role by connecting the opinions and information we send to the internet with a real flesh-and-blood person. It used to be easy to be brave online and not take any tangible responsibility for what you did and said, but people are starting to realize that if they want to be taken seriously, then they need to show a real person is behind the voice. Including photos of yourself  is an important way to add integrity to your online persona. You’re showing people what you look like in real life; meaning someone who reads what you write on the web might actually come over and say hi to you in waking life!

It makes sense to try and put your best foot forward when stepping into the social media scene, especially with online pictures and profiles making more and more first impressions for us. Our profiles and avatars are like little familiars… ephemeral digital emissaries that we send out into the virtual forest in the hopes of finding the people and things we are looking for. They are our eyes, ears, and personal proponents.

What I’m rambling toward is that importance-wise, how we look online is closing the gap on how we look in real life. Amazingly, I am not the first person to reach this mini-epiphany… enter our old friends self-consciousness and vanity. People have been “improving” their digital likenesses for some time now, as we are already armed with a mighty arsenal of photo editing software. But this is such a bother. Isn’t there a better, faster, easier way? I mean, c’mon. It’s practically 2009.

The answer is yes (a heavy sigh of relief fills the room). Professor Dani Lischinksi and his team of Israeli scientists at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem have developed new software that, using a carefully tested and proven understanding of facial proportion, greatly improves the attractiveness of your face without damaging your defining features or recognizability. Ever seen a picture of yourself that was a little too good? You’re still you, you just look a tiny bit better than the real-life you. That’s what this software does, and it does it reliably, or so they say.

Oh, the ethical implications! Is this deceptive? Is it self-indulgent? If there was an “optimize portrait” button on facebook, would a lot of people use it? The answer to all three questions is: probably.


Israel in Living Color

Posted on November 26, 2008 • By David Danielson
Category: Art and Culture | 2 Comments

Although I’ve only been in Israel for a few months, it didn’t take me long to notice how popular and celebrated art is in Tel-Aviv and the rest of Israel. One of the few perks of my coveted fine art degree is an eye for clever artistic work, and Israel has more than its fair share. New artists are continuously sprouting up, and to reach a larger audience they have taken up blogging as well…

Case in point; meet Carol Feldman, born and raised in Oklahoma, USA. She moved to Tel-Aviv 5 years ago in 2003 with her husband and daughter, and has recently launched her paintings straight into the blogosphere. Carol works from life and from reference photos, capturing with paint and pencil the subtle splendor of everyday life here in Israel. Carol quickly found a community through her blog, and fans quickly found her (including me)!

As an artist myself, albeit in my pre-fame stage of life, its very rewarding to see regular folks with a forgotten talent find an artistic renaissance on the web. The publishing power of blogs gives power back to the individual artists, and they are hopping on board.. Blogging about art: blog + art =…  blarting! Hmm, no, doesn’t sound pompous enough. What would the guys in the turtlenecks and black berets say?

To see more of Carol’s jaw-dropping watercolors, check out her blog: Drawing Tel-Aviv. Enjoy!


Israel in 3D: don’t get dizzy.

Posted on November 19, 2008 • By David Danielson
Category: Art and Culture, Communities, Multimedia | 1 Comment


Behold Israel in all its glory!

Thanks to Israel 3D, you can beholden Israel right from your computer. With hi-definition, fully panoramic views of all the most legendary and beautiful spots, you can “virtually” experience the Western Wall, the Dead Sea, or the spot in front of that rainbow-colored hotel on the Tel-Aviv beach where I did some serious towel sitting. It’s the new next best thing to being there (no silly red and blue glasses necessary).

Check out a few favorites: Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, Dead Sea, Acco.


The best corporate Rosh Hashana card I’ve gotten

Posted on September 25, 2008 • By Miriam Schwab
Category: Art and Culture | Comments Off

Every year before Rosh Hashana, businesses and organizations start sending out Rosh Hashana cards via email. Most are pretty much the same: nondescript text with a picture of an apple, or honey, or apple and honey.

So it’s very refreshing to get a card that stands out and even makes you laugh. If I was holding a contest for the best corporate Rosh Hashana card, Ruthi from Rotem Design would win hands down. Here’s what she sent:
Rosh Hashana card

It’s a play on one of the Rosh Hashana blessings that says “We should be a head instead of a tail.” This version says “We should be a head instead of a thief,” a telling statement when there’s a picture of the Knesset in the background.

May this be a year where our politicians start to act like they have some responsibility towards the citizens, and where tax money is not for their personal use.

Shana tova!


How to be a pro-Israel activist online

Posted on September 23, 2008 • By Rebecca Markowitz
Category: Social media | 3 Comments

Israel’s biggest bully, The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, just visited the UN to speak at the General Assembly. How lovely. Thankfully, there are activists all over the web who are voicing their outrage and speaking their mind. For those of you still throwing staplers and keyboards at your screens, it might be time to roll up your sleeves and become an online Israel activist.

Honest Reporting and Stand with Us just put together a 24 page guide to Pro-Israel activism on the internet. The guide is especially helpful for beginners, who are trying to sort out how to read the mountains of Israel-related news on the web, and then decide what action to take – commenting, blogging, digging, stumbling, etc. You can read the activism guide PDF here. Also, check out israelplug’s How to get a pro-Israel article on the front page of digg.com

Hopefully they’ll be more resources like this, like a top 10 list of pro-Israel activists to follow on Twitter, Stumbleupon, Digg, etc. so people can connect and create teams with immediate impact.

Apparently advocacy efforts for the other team aren’t going so well, as Al-Qaida expreienced some glitches in their web presence – Al-Qaida’s Propaganda Sites, Smacked Down


Poop justice in Israel

Posted on September 18, 2008 • By Rebecca Markowitz
Category: Technology | 3 Comments

While some Israelis are concerned about the collapsing stock market, or that Tzipi Livni will be Prime Minister soon, Reuters reports that others are flaming mad about the last time they stepped in dog poo and want justice.  Some of those angry residents are in Petach Tikva (Petah Tiqwa, or spell it how you will), where a new program just launched to collect the DNA of the neighborhood pooches.  If you pick up your dog’s poop and put it in a specially marked bin, you could be the lucky winner of coupons and prizes. But if they find your little puppy’s feces on the sidewalk, you’ll be slapped with a big fine.

I just feel bad for the poor, poor person who is responsible for tracing the dog poop to its owner. Now that is a crappy job!


Holy Batman suits! More than just a Purim costume

Posted on September 14, 2008 • By Rebecca Markowitz
Category: Technology | Comments Off

If you’re the jumping-out-of-planes and dressing-up-in-leggings type, there is great news in the air. The Technion: Israel Institute of Technology’s students (the same smart peeps who brought you the time travel machine) are perfecting a winged, Batman-like flying suit, ideal if you find yourself in need of a graceful landing from a plane.

Fans of the latest Batman Movie, The Dark Knight, will be thrilled that they can try to imitate the man in a  black cape with the raspy, robotic voice, but this dare devil stunt should be relegated to professional pilots only, says the Jerusalem Post.

Unfortunately for Superman fans, the flyinig suit developers claim that a Superman landing didn’t work out, so you might have to leave your shiny blue underpants hanging on the closet hanger for Halloween or Purim.


How to get a pro-Israel article on the front page of digg.com

Posted on August 24, 2008 • By Miriam Schwab
Category: Social media | 6 Comments

If you happen to be a geek like me who reads the digg.com homepage on a regular basis, you may notice a certain trend when it comes to anything about Israel that appears there: they’re all about how Israel is the root of all evil.

To get on to the digg homepage, lots of diggers have to “digg” an article as newsworthy within a short span of time. Most diggers find posts about how Israel is the root of all evil as digg-worthy, while anything that is either neutral or positive gets buried in the avalanche of articles being dugg at any one time.

Today an article got to the digg homepage that was Israel related, and the diggers even left really positive comments on the item! So what piece of gold managed to overcome the usual digg consensus and achieve such success? This:

Yup, crazy guys flying down Israel’s highways on two-wheeled thingies.

Since this video achieved the impossible, let’s analyze it to see how we can maybe apply these lessons to future pieces of content about Israel that we want to get to the digg homepage:

  1. Guys doing crazy things: digg is overwhelmingly used by males, and young males at that. They find things like this really cool, even if it comes from Israel. So the key to reaching digg’s homepage is to feature guys doing something that is fast and dangerous. If they are wearing some kind of body armor, all the better.
  2. Wheels: from when they are born, boys like wheels. If you can create a video that features wheels predominantly, you may have a chance at digg success since boys can’t resist a good wheel.
  3. Techno music: many of the commenters on the digg piece mentioned how awesome the techno music in the background is. So no matter what your video is about, make sure to put it to techno music.
  4. Hot chicks: I know this video doesn’t have any babes, but I figure that if these are the types of guys that like fast wheels and techno music, they’d also like sexy babes. So if you don’t have any guys and wheels, use hot chicks and you might fare pretty well. Israel’s Foreign Ministry already tried this, although I don’t know if anyone remembers that attempt anymore besides me.

Now if only we could figure out how to get Reddit to publish something positive about Israel…yeah right. When pigs fly.




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