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Freedom Writing

A blank screen with no should's and shouldn't's. A platform to create, customize, and control the message on my terms. The ability to press publish and not wait for someone else's approval. It's a giddy feeling for a writer who is used to publishing for certain audiences in certain forums, structured by the publication's mission, ethos and target audience. Indeed, a blog is public, and once one's word is out it can't be taken back, but to blog, at least for the first time, feels like freedom writing.

It's not that I haven't tried before. I just blamed my lack of progress on my lack of technological prowess. I knew I needed one site that could house my various articles, as well as a forum to write new ideas. I finally sat down, for the fifth time, and surprised myself as I figured out the web page design program. And here we are.

I state what I see as my mission in the "About" section of this site: "I think deeply about challenges facing contemporary Orthodox Jews and aim to bring light to the issues while providing insights, observations and calls to action."

It all began in 2014. I was in the middle of coordinating a panel discussion in our community titled "Supporting our Husbands Who Are Working: Supporting Him, Supporting You." The panelists would represent working women, stay-at- home moms, wives of men who learned full-time for years, wives of men who never learned in kollel, ba’alos teshuvah, and Bais Yaakov graduates. The goal of the panel was to provide personal insights into what it means to support our husbands who spend most of their at work in the outside world, yet who make time for Torah study.

I remember standing at my kitchen island, chopping vegetables, when what I had to do became as clear as day to me. I felt that we as a group had hit on a truth that needed to be communicated and realized. Women in the Bais Yaakov world are trained very well to support their husbands in their learning, but it is a very different thing to support husbands in their working. In fact, one of my potential panel candidates was not interested in participating because she felt uncomfortable publicizing to the world that her husband was now working after many years in kollel

I chopped harder. These men are heroes! Men who work all day but make the effort to attend minyan, learn early and/or learn late. Men who keep to their standards as Orthodox Jews in unorthodox environments. This is huge! Our society needs to put these men on pedestals! And any Bais Yaakov graduate should be proud to stand by the side of any of these men.

So I decided to submit an article to the blog I had followed religiously for over a decade, Cross Currents. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein warned me he was a tough editor with a handy red pen, but before I knew it, my article was up and was doing quite well.  This piece then led the way to an invitation to write an article for the Klal Perspectives Journal of Winter 2015 which was dedicated to the very issue of the "Ben Torah Baal Habayis." I was the only female contributor.

From this experience, I recognized that if I had a fire lit up underneath me about a particular topic, or a reaction of my blood boiling about an issue, that was my signal to sit down and write. I also realized the value in putting to words struggles that I had as an Orthodox Jew living in society. People thanked me for saying things they wished they could say, or putting down to writing things they have always felt or thought. 

At that point, I decided to write some more personal pieces, particularly about my spiritual strivings over at The Lehrhaus and the unexpected religious journey of my family and myself (surprise!) at Hevria. The writing process for me is a revelatory experience where I tap into something at the core of my being -- my truths, thoughts, and observations that have hitherto remained only in my head and heart. If it's deep in there, it's something I know that needs to be unearthed. Not everything, of course, will see the light of day, and that is my balancing act of preserving my privacy and modesty while making myself vulnerable enough to share truths that resonate with others. And, family aside, nothing makes me happier or gives me more fulfillment than writing.

I'm no social worker or therapist, but I do love helping my students reach their academic potential and develop a love of learning. However, I did not realize that I could help people through my writing. In reaction to my Hevria "yichus article" linked above, I received a flurry of communication from strangers who shared their "yichus stories" and their refreshed sense of pride in coming from untraditional backgrounds and how it was their upbringing that made them into the people they were today. But sometimes you hit a communal nerve, which is exactly what I experienced when I first began with my Cross Currents article about transitioning from kollel to work. 

I felt compelled to write a response to an article I had read in Mishpacha Magazine last summer. I had been discussing it with a few like-minded writer friends (which one of us was going to write the response??) and I was the one who ended up saying, literally, "Okay fine, I'll do it."

The Other Orthodox Women in the Crowd ended up taking on a life of its own with 1.6k Facebook shares. Again, women and men alike were reaching out to me to thank me and share their thoughts.  What makes me proud of this piece is that I was able to pose myself as a woman in the Orthodox community who is "wanting to improve our situation while staying within the system", as my dear friend and fellow blogger Rivki Silver posted. Yes, there's this thing called the "'F' word" in my segment of Orthodoxy, but it's towering threat of being called it doesn't prevent me from speaking up. 

I turned to other issues which affected frum women which I was passionate about, particularly the exclusion of women's pictures in chareidi media. With Faces of Frumkeit in the 5 Towns Jewish Times, I had the platform to present five key messages, both psychological and religious, that the practice of excluding pictures of girls of a certain age and women communicates to men, women, and children.

Writing an op-ed in Mishpacha Magazine (among the men, and without my headshot) is the next and current stage of my writing journey, in addition to this blog. How could I agree to write for a magazine that refuses to publish my picture next to my thoughts? That will have to wait for my next blog post. And getting to Mishpacha is a story in and of itself.

Until next time,