November 19, 2018

Connecting With My Roots in “Disobedience”

Rachel McAdams (left) and Rachel Weisz.

“Disobedience” is a film about forbidden love in an insular Orthodox Jewish community and about the choice of whether to stay or leave. It’s also a stunning portrayal of the torment nonconformists suffer in a conformist community.

The lovers in question, Esti (Rachel McAdams) and Ronit (Rachel Weisz), were raised in the Orthodox Jewish community in Hendon, London. Ronit’s father was the revered rabbi of the community, and after he discovered Ronit and Esti’s affair, Ronit chose to leave the community. Esti remained and tried to “cure” her “deviant” sexuality by marrying Dovid, the rabbi’s protégé. When Ronit returns home years later following her father’s death, the tryst between the women is renewed and revealed.

Orthodox Jewish viewers will notice inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the portrayal of the community, but there were subtle things that were accurate and awakened a real sense of nostalgia in me.

The way Dovid awkwardly squeezes by a woman standing in a doorway to avoid accidental contact was perfect. I loved seeing Ronit discover the obituary for her father in Hamodia — a real Charedi newspaper — and read that he was childless. As Dovid remarks, factual errors are not uncommon, especially “errors” that hide undesirable information such as an apostate child. I smirked when a discussion about selling the rabbi’s home is halted because “nisht Shabbos g’redt” (“we do not speak about such things on Shabbos”). I smiled when I noticed the keyless entry “Shabbos locks” commonly found in Orthodox homes.

The ritual songs in the film are ones I grew up hearing and singing at shul, home and yeshiva. Ronit left the community but the music did not leave her. It stirs something inside her and she can’t help but hum along. Generally, Esti is melancholy but her face brightens when she hears her students singing Adon Olam.

It was striking to feel my personal nostalgia matching the nostalgia of the characters. It’s partially why “Disobedience” moved me so deeply.

 

It was striking to feel my personal nostalgia matching the nostalgia of the characters. It’s partially why “Disobedience” moved me so deeply.

The struggle between love and nostalgia is palpable in the film. Esti stayed because she loved her community more than her freedom. In a heated moment she yells at Ronit, “It’s easier to leave, isn’t it?” and Ronit yells back, “No, it isn’t!”

The film’s ending represents this struggle beautifully. Nothing is solved by a decision to stay or leave. The nonconformist raised in a conformist community will always be tormented by the tension between the nostalgic comfort of their community and the harsh reality of ostracism. Neither choice is easier because, either way, it is disobedience.

Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.

Orthodox Lovers Shake Up ‘Disobedience’

Rachel Weisz (from left), Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola in “Disobedience.”

Steamy lesbian sex. That explains part of the buzz behind the new film “Disobedience,” in which Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams play lovers reunited after many years.

Such a display has generated interest in a film before, but it might be the first time it has been depicted within the Orthodox Jewish community. It’s almost certainly the first time the women getting it on are named “Ronit” and “Esti,” the latter of whom wears a sheitel — a wig worn by Orthodox wives.

Based on the 2006 novel by Naomi Alderman, “Disobedience” follows Ronit Krushka (Weisz), who returns to the community that she left in order to bury her estranged father, a revered rabbi. Although she is regarded by many as unwelcome, she is warmly received by childhood friends Dovid, her father’s protege, and his wife, Esti (McAdams), with whom she once had a romantic relationship. The discovery of their forbidden tryst savaged Ronit’s relationship with her father and prompted her exit from Orthodox life. So when the women reunite after many years, a long-buried conflict is renewed.

The film is directed by Chilean-born Sebastián Lelio, of 2017’s “A Fantastic Woman,” which won this year’s foreign-language film Oscar. That film, about a young transgender woman ostracized and abused after the death of her partner, hints at the director’s preference for characters that exist outside social norms.

“I love the idea of people who are willing to pay the price to be who they really are, [especially] against a backdrop that can have an oppressive aspect,” Lelio, 44, said during a recent phone interview.

“One of the main ideas of the film is that there’s nothing more spiritual than the power to disobey.” — Sebastián Lelio

Hot lesbian sex aside, “Disobedience” is as much about the tensions implicit in religious life — between belonging and freedom, desire and fidelity, tradition and modernity — as it is a love story. The subtext of the film explores the standards required for membership in the group and the costs of leaving.

Since Lelio is not Jewish (“Not that I’m aware of,” he joked), he said that growing up in a Catholic country taught him about the powerful cultural allure of religion.

“Even though I’m so far away from the [Orthodox Jewish] reality, I do understand the dynamics of a culture where the weight of religion can be strong and influential, and how that can create tension between what the community needs and the personal quest for individual freedom,” Lelio said.

To prepare for the film, Lelio immersed himself in the mores and values governing Orthodox Jewish religious life. He sought to understand what his characters risked by transgressing those rules in a gay relationship. Weisz, the Jewish daughter of survivors and a producer on the film, said in production notes that Lelio approached Orthodox Judaism as “a cultural anthropologist.”

“I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to be in such a private world,” Lelio said of the time he spent with the North London Orthodox community, in which the film is set. In addition to working with nearly a dozen consultants, Lelio attended worship services and Jewish ceremonies.

“I became really obsessed with the culture in the process,” he said. “I was really moved by the community, the music, the rituals. When they open the ark, when we see the Torah, I was like, ‘This is so powerful!’ And the narrative [the Torah tells] has been refined for centuries. That is so beautiful and effective, and I was attracted to it because I am a narrative person myself.”

McAdams, who plays Esti and is not Jewish, has said she prepared for the role by attending Shabbat dinners with Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles.

Likewise, Alessandro Nivola, who plays Dovid, the heir-apparent rabbi, has said that the research he undertook to play this role was the most interesting and rewarding of his career, and that the friendships he formed over Shabbat dinners produced “friends for life.”

And yet, no matter how much he and his actors prepared, Lelio said the Orthodox community remained enigmatic to them.

“There’s no way to really know it,” Lelio said. “It’s very secretive in a way, and I guess that’s what was really appealing for me — the possibility of creating these portraits that were taking place in an unknown world with such a precise system of beliefs, rules, rituals, aesthetics, traditions and music. [Judaism] is such an old culture that has survived so many challenges and spread all over the world, and yet has preserved its identity even though during centuries [Jews] were spread apart. That was something so interesting to explore. I wanted to know: What was it that [gave Jews] the strength to keep together, to prevail and survive?”

Despite his admiration, Lelio’s film also shows the darker side of a community set in its ways. It suggests that sometimes the same forces that bind can also destroy. None of Lelio’s protagonists emerge from their experience without wounds. The problem isn’t religion, he said, the film’s conflict stems from the messiness of the human heart.

“What I tried to do is not make the community the antagonistic force, but to make [each character] an antagonist,” Lelio said. “They are their own main obstacles.”

Though Ronit and Esti set the conflict in motion, ultimately Dovid — the devout student and rabbi — faces the direst consequences. The fulfillment of his spiritual role ends up demanding a disobedience all his own.

“Everything that he stands for and everything he has prepared for is jeopardized,” Lelio said. “He’s really facing a huge dilemma. And it’s quite moving to see him struggle with having the bravery to be generous.”

Sometimes, Lelio said, the most godly act requires the moral courage to dissent.

“One of the main ideas of the film is that there’s nothing more spiritual than the power to disobey. There is something pure in that. Sometimes we have to disobey in order to transcend, in order to survive,” he said. “And there is violence, and there is beauty in that. And I think the film tries to embrace both aspects — the light and shadows of the price they have to pay.”

The act of disobedience, Lelio added, “suggests that a new order is possible, a new balance is possible. Everything is evolving. And even though the wisdom of tradition is capable of holding great truth, it also has to be challenged. Because even galaxies are evolving, the whole universe is evolving, everything is in flux.

“And the beautiful love story that takes place in this kind of an environment [suggests] that there is always room for expansion and change.”

“Disobedience” opens in theaters on April 27.

Orthodox activists and victims asking NY to change sex abuse reporting laws

Advocates for sexual abuse victims in the Orthodox Jewish community will be descending on New York’s state capital on May 3 to lobby the legislature to eliminate the statute of limitations for child sex abuse offenses.

A bill to change the statute of limitations has languished for years in a state legislative committee committee, due in large part to opposition from the Catholic Church and Agudath Israel of America.

The bill, known as the Child Victims Act, would “completely eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse offenses in the future,” according to SOL Reform, an advocacy group that is sponsoring a series of panels and news conferences May 3 and 4.

It would also suspend the civil statute of limitations for one year, during which time the accuser could bring a civil lawsuit against a private educational organization no matter how far back the alleged abuse dates.

While the bill passed the New York State Assembly, it has been blocked in the State Senate in the decade since it was introduced.

Agudah, which represents haredi Orthodox schools and synagogues, says the bill would open up institutions to “ancient claims and capricious litigation,” as the group wrote in a 2009 statement it issued with the haredi schools network Torah Umesorah.

“We do not oppose extending or even eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for cases of abuse,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, an Agudah spokesman, told JTA. “Our concern is simply protecting the economic viability of Jewish schools. Yeshivas operate on shoestring budgets.”

Advocates for abuse victims say opponents of the legislation are putting their institution’s finances and reputations ahead of justice for abuse victims.

“They are most interested in keeping the civil lawsuits from happening because that is where all of the secrets and cover-ups come out,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law and an organizer of SOL Reform. It “is about image and power.”

Criminal cases focus narrowly on the perpetrator’s actions rather than institutions that may have protected him, she says.

“Only through a civil case can you document an institution’s negligence and the way it failed children. The problem is that they won’t fix their internal procedures unless there are civil claims, because they don’t have to,” Hamilton said.

Among those advocating for the New York law are Chaim Levin, a Crown Heights resident who in 2013 won a $3.5 million civil judgment against a cousin, Sholom Eichler, following accusations that Eichler, who was then 23, had abused Levin when he was 8. Levin has not been able to collect any part of the judgment since Eichler fled to Israel.

Levin narrowly made it under the current statue of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit. According to Hamilton, studies show that most sex abuse victims do not come forward until they are in their 40s.

Other activists making the trip to Albany on May 3 are Hamilton; Meyer Seewald of the Orthodox-run anti-sexual abuse organization Jewish Community Watch; Manny Waks, CEO of the advocacy group Kol v’Oz, and Sara Kabakov, the author of an article in the Forward earlier this year describing the abuse she said she suffered as a child at the hands of the former rabbi and author Marc Gafni.

Levin says he expects the lobbying group to include 20 to 30 people. Advocates for haredi victims say cultural prohibitions against reporting abuse to police remain strong in their communities, where extended families are often large and influential, and relationships are tightly knit.

The lobbying push in Albany comes amid allegations of abuse leveled against haredi-run schools, including a March article in Newsweek titled “Child Abuse Allegations Plague the Hasidic Community.” The article alleged that a prominent Chabad yeshiva, Oholei Torah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, had ignored or downplayed reports of physical and sexual abuse against students.

Following the Newsweek report, Oholei Torah’s top administrator, Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld, wrote a letter to parents saying, “I can categorically assure you that there is absolutely no abuse taking place in Oholei Torah that we know of – neither sexual abuse, nor physical abuse, nor verbal abuse.”

Seewald’s group, Jewish Community Watch, recently posted a response to Rosenfeld’s letter.

“Those at Oholei Torah have buried their heads in the sand and want all of us to do the same,” Jewish Community Watch wrote. There is “willful disregard on the part of Oholei Torah directors and board members who possess factual knowledge of present and past physical and sexual abuse within the walls of Oholei Torah.”

Administrators at Oholei Torah did not respond to multiple phone messages and emails.

The increasing visibility of Jewish Community Watch, however, suggests that attitudes are changing within the Orthodox world itself.

The Orthodox newspaper Algemeiner Journal last year honored Seewald, 27, as one of the 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life.”

Among other activities, Jewish Community Watch publishes the names of proven abusers and helps connect victims with therapists, currently paying fees for 80 people, Seewald said. The organization holds awareness-raising events in Orthodox communities such as Miami, Baltimore, Montreal and Israel.

“Without question, it’s so different now than even five years ago,” said Seewald, who grew up in Crown Heights and now lives in Miami. As a young boy he was sexually molested by a camp counselor, he said. And as a teen, a schoolmate at Oholei Torah gave him a massage and put his hands down Seewald’s pants, he said.

“People are 100 percent more willing to come forward. Four years ago we were attacked beyond everything to show we weren’t credible. It was 10 percent of people supporting us. Now it’s 80 percent,” said Seewald.

“Leaders of the community have changed. Now they realize there are so many kids at risk, problems with marriage because of sexual abuse, they are supportive. Not yet publicly, unfortunately, but behind the scenes they will support the work we do.”

Jewish Community Watch now has a benefactor, Miami businessman Eli Nash. Nash, 30, told JTA he was sexually abused for three years, starting when he was 8, by a 14-year-old family friend, and physically abused by his teachers in first and fourth grades. When a teacher threw him against a wall it left bruises, said Nash, who also grew up in Crown Heights.

He and his brother have given about $1 million to Jewish Community Watch over the past two years and have pledged ongoing support. The organization now has 11 employees in Miami and Israel, and soon plans to open a Manhattan office.

“It’s not PC to say anymore you don’t care about it. It’s not acceptable to say ‘we’re not doing more, we don’t take it seriously.’ It’s not even acceptable to say anymore ‘you can’t call the cops,’ which was very accepted before. That’s what has changed,” said Nash, who owns a cellphone wholesale business.

“In the abstract everything’s changed,” he said. But “in the particulars, a lot more has to.”

Founder of Orthodox muckraker blog Failed Messiah sells – but did he sell out?

He has been compared to a piece of rotting meat and lauded as a muckraking champion of the voiceless.

Now Scott Rosenberg — better known as Shmarya Rosenberg — has signed off and sold Failed Messiah, his controversial blog tracking the foibles of Orthodox Jews. But Rosenberg is refusing to identify the new owners.

Suspicious readers want to know why.

In an introductory blog post, Failed Messiah’s new owners described themselves as “a group of people dedicated to protecting the reputation of the Orthodox Jewish community” – precisely those who used to be the target of Failed Messiah’s withering criticism. That has some wondering whether the site was purchased to silence criticism of the Orthodox.

Over nearly 12 years and some 16,000 posts seen by millions of unique visitors to Failed Messiah, Rosenberg broke many important stories about the Orthodox community. Pulling no punches, Rosenberg demonstrated little care for the concerns of the rich and the powerful who hold sway over many Jewish communal institutions. He also occasionally got things wrong and had no problem being overtly biased.

Rosenberg’s relentless and unsparing look at Orthodox institutions and figures made him an indispensable, albeit cautiously regarded, source for journalists as well as a subject of some revulsion in the Orthodox community, where Rosenberg was raised but eventually left.

His sole focus, Rosenberg told JTA, was to give voice to the voiceless, particularly in Orthodox communities where deference to powerful rabbis often leaves them silent. (Rosenberg now identifies as secular.)

“It was one long string of very bad behavior,” Rosenberg said of what he observed in the Orthodox community. Had he had more resources, he said, “I would have turned it into a newspaper and gone after everything that appeared to be bad, wherever it happened to be.”

Now Rosenberg is moving on to a domestic anti-poverty project whose details he declined to discuss. Many readers are not only lamenting his departure but wondering why Rosenberg, whose mission was to expose secrets, is keeping the identity of Failed Messiah’s new owners a secret. Rosenberg says it’s because he is contractually prohibited from revealing their identity.

So far, the buyer has been identified only as Diversified Holdings. Rosenberg said he passed along JTA requests for an interview, but JTA received no response from the company.

“We will present articles and conversations that speak to what Hashem truly wants from us [and] continue to pursue and expose people that create a desecration of G-d’s name,” the new owners wrote in their introductory post.

speculative blog post on the Orthodox website OnlySimchas suggested that the buyer is Orthodox philanthropist and nursing home magnate Shlomo Rechnitz, who was in the news recently for buying each of his employees a PowerBall lottery ticket. He stirred debate more recently in Orthodox circles for delivering a speech at a charity gala in Lakewood, New Jersey, that criticized Orthodox schools for turning away kids whose families don’t conform to Orthodox ideals. He apologized shortly afterward, saying he hadn’t meant to offend.

Rosenberg declined to confirm or deny whether Rechnitz is behind Diversified Holdings.

Steven Weiss, managing editor of The Jewish Channel, credited Rosenberg with forging “a path of aggressively antagonistic journalism” about a community that he says does not do a good job of policing itself.

“He shined a light on a lot of things that needed shining on, pretty selflessly,” said Weiss, who created Protocol, one of the first blogs to take an unvarnished look at the Orthodox community. It shut down in 2004, about the same time Failed Messiah launched.

A Colorado attorney named Robert Barron, writing on Rosenberg’s Facebook page after the Feb. 2 announcement of his departure, said he was “devastated” that Rosenberg was leaving Failed Messiah.com.

“That blog was both fearless and trailblazing in terms of exposing the criminality and dysfunction of haredi communities worldwide, but especially here in the United States,” Barron wrote. “Granted, others might operate the blog from now on; but the question I have is … will that person be as dedicated as Sharmya was?”

Within the Orthodox community, many will not miss Rosenberg’s voice. On OnlySimchas, commenters dubbed him an “evil blogger.” A spokesman for the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Avi Shafran, has compared Failed Messiah’s commentary to Nazi propaganda against the Jews.

As an independent blogger, Rosenberg spent countless hours hunched over a computer in his St. Paul, Minnesota apartment, uncovering secrets many in powerful positions sought to keep buried, tracking down legal documents, filing Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain others and interviewing sources.

Once affiliated with Chabad and an outreach worker in Jerusalem, Rosenberg was driven to create Failed Messiah out of disillusionment with the movement. In September 1983, when he was a college student, Rosenberg wrote to the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, asking that his well-connected movement of emissaries help Ethiopian Jews. He hoped that Chabad would help these black Jews much the way it had aided Persian Jews before and after the Iranian revolution.

Rosenberg said he received no response. He wrote a second letter that November but got no answer.

Twenty years later, in 2004, he said he learned that a magazine in Kfar Chabad, the Israeli Chabad town, had published the rebbe’s response, which never reached him. The response, the authenticity of which is questioned by Chabad representatives in New York, chastised Rosenberg for writing in a “presumptuous and unbecoming” manner and saying, basically, that helping the Ethiopians was not within Chabad’s purview.

Rosenberg was urged to post the response on the Internet. At the time, Rosenberg told JTA, he didn’t even know what a blog was.

Soon Rosenberg began writing critically about messianism among Chabad Hasidim, who were convinced that the rebbe, who died in 1994, was still alive.

In 2004, he was among the first to report charges of inhumane slaughter at the nation’s largest kosher meat company, Agriprocessors. The Iowa firm later became the target of a major federal raid resulting in the arrests of hundreds of illegal workers and the eventual conviction of CEO Sholom Rubashkin, whom Rosenberg says he knows personally, for bank fraud and money laundering.

In time, he broadened his focus to include other issues in the Orthodox community, such as sexual abuse and financial fraud. While Rosenberg has covered Orthodox misdeeds from Hasidic communities like Satmar and Belz to yeshivish and mainstream Orthodox communities, he has chronicled Chabad malfeasance with special fervor.

Rosenberg’s critics grew over time, as did the occasional death threat.

“I get so many of these things I don’t really think about them,” said Rosenberg, who implied in an interview that he nevertheless keeps a firearm in his apartment for safety. “I generally bundle them and send them in to the FBI.”

More irksome to Rosenberg is the frequent failure of news outlets to credit his blog, which has been profiled in The New York Times, with breaking the stories on which they are reporting.

“It happens a lot,” Rosenberg said. “Sometimes it’s an honest mistake, but most of the time it’s intentional.”

He also resents the dearth of financial support from his community readers – never enough for him to cover his rent, Rosenberg said.

Now 57 and never married, Rosenberg says the physical and emotional toll of producing Failed Messiah convinced him to move on.

“The work itself is awful. You’re wallowing in other people’s … pain, their suffering,” he said. “You’re working a very long number of hours every day, sitting hunched over a keyboard which hurts like hell, and when you’re writing something you’re almost always doing it very quickly. Do that for a decade and see how you feel.”

But will he miss the work?

“Oh sure,” he said. “Especially the people.”

When the Hasidim come to Norman Rockwell country

The lazy days of August have a special flavor in the rolling hills of the Berkshires, in western Massachusetts.

The flowers are blooming in dazzling colors, the corn at roadside farm stands is delectably sweet, the lakes are refreshingly cool, and the area’s picturesque New England villages are chock-full of families wandering between antique shops, bookstores and ice cream parlors.

It’s real Norman Rockwell country.

But in recent years, the tide of summertime visitors has brought with it a new constituency not much seen before in these storied hills: haredi Orthodox Jews.

For the most part, the haredim seem to be heading to one place: Jiminy Peak, a ski resort along the Massachusetts-New York border. Like many such mountains, during the summer season it transforms into an adventure park replete with alpine slides, high-ropes courses, zip lines, mountain biking and scenic chairlift rides. But Jiminy Peak is unique in that it also features a kosher cafeteria for about three weeks in August, courtesy of Chabad of the Berkshires, along with regular prayer services and even separate swimming hours for men and women.

“This is really a service for the Jewish community, not necessarily a profit thing,” said Rabbi Levi Volovik of Chabad of the Berkshires, which is located about 20 minutes away in Pittsfield. “Jews started coming to Jiminy Peak and using our services, and our shul. As they started growing, Jiminy Peak requested our help to coordinate.”

This is the third consecutive summer that Chabad has operated the kosher cafeteria, which sells pizza, falafel, fries and ice cream (it’s cholov yisroel, a more stringent form of kosher dairy). A corner of the cafeteria is set aside as a makeshift synagogue and study hall, and there are Talmud classes in the evenings. Many of the Orthodox visitors stay at the all-suite Jiminy Peak Country Inn at the mountain’s base lodge, where every unit has a kitchenette.

“It’s nice and scenic and the kids are happy,” Chaya Klein of Lakewood, New Jersey, said during a recent visit with her husband and five children. “It’s very peaceful here.”

It’s not clear how Jiminy Peak became a stop on the haredi vacation circuit. Orthodox Jews long have summered in the Catskills. The Berkshires, an area steeped in WASPy culture, became popular among more liberal Jews several decades ago.

Whatever the reason, word about Jiminy Peak clearly has spread in the strictly Orthodox community.

“It definitely provides a lot of business for us,” said Katie Fogel, director of marketing for Jiminy Peak. “We don’t necessarily market to that segment. We started working with Chabad of the Berkshires because we noticed an increase in visits among that population and decided that we would partner with them to make it the best experience we could.”

On a recent August afternoon, young and old Jews and non-Jews alike waited in line for the mountain coaster. When boarding, the Orthodox men tucked their yarmulkes into their pockets to keep them from flying off during their high-speed descent down the track.

A Jiminy Peak staffer at the disembarkation point, a girl in her teens who was instructed by an administrator not to provide her name, told JTA that mountain staffers hadn’t been given any cultural sensitivity training.

“We don’t know anything about them,” she said of the haredi Jews. “I wish I did.”

At the chairlift, which whisks passengers to the top of Jiminy’s alpine slide, a teenage girl wearing a bright-orange staff T-shirt and khaki shorts hoisted a young boy with peyos sidecurls onto a chair. As they ascended, the boy’s father’s ritual fringes flapped in the air.

Families congregated around the bungee trampoline watching their little ones bounce up and down. Nearby, little children in big black velvet yarmulkes and matching outfits stared wide-eyed at screaming teens aboard the giant swing.

Most of the excitement seemed to be up on the high-ropes courses at the adventure park, which combine rope bridges, zip lines, cargo nets and other challenges up in the trees. About 20 feet in the air, a young girl in a long skirt and black stockings wearing a safety harness ventured out onto one of the airborne obstacles as her father waited behind her on a small wooden platform attached to a tree trunk. Her mother watched warily from below, rocking an infant on her hip and holding a stroller with her free hand. Behind her, dozens of young children romped around the playground, jabbering excitedly in Yiddish.

Menachem Tzvi Eisenberg, 18, came back to Jiminy Peak this summer after a visit last year with his grandparents. He said the adventure park is his favorite feature.

“The rope course made me feel very accomplished because I was scared,” said Eisenberg, a Lakewood native. “It’s very high up, and the ropes were shaky. It helped me overcome my fears. It showed me I could do this.”

When it rained on the second day of his visit, Eisenberg and his family tried two nearby bowling alleys and the Crane Museum of Papermaking, but they were all closed.

“What we planned Hashem didn’t want,” he said with a shrug.

Most of the Orthodox visitors on a recent August afternoon appeared to be from the Orthodox strongholds of Lakewood and Monsey, New York, but Orthodox groups and camps also organize bus excursions to the mountain. Many visitors come for just a night or two, loading their minivans with kosher food and sundries they can eat without having to kosherize the kitchens in their hotel. Their visits are practically all midweek; the mountain’s rides violate Sabbath-day restrictions.

Orthodox Jews are hardly the only visitors to Jiminy Peak in summer, but the hills are alive with the sound of Yiddish especially during the peak Orthodox vacation season, after the three-week mourning period of Tisha b’Av, which this year fell on July 26. The kosher food operation at the mountain run by Chabad is open this summer until Aug. 26, and the rides at Jiminy will stay open until late October.

Then, in November, the mountain reopens for skiing.

Orthodox Jews, kosher market hit by paintballs in Brooklyn

Police are searching for suspects who targeted a kosher market and some Orthodox Jewish individuals in Brooklyn with a paintball gun.

On June 29, Bondo’s 24 supermarket in the Williamsburg section and 62-year-old Chaim Klein were hit with paintballs. An unnamed man and his two grandchildren walking home from synagogue were targeted as well on the same day, WCBS-TV in New York reported.

Police said the attacks could be linked to three similar incidents that occurred in the same area in March and may be investigated as hate crimes, the New York Daily News reported.

The suspects fired at the supermarket before driving off in a dark car and targeting the other victims. Klein was hit nearby.

“It’s unfortunate – this, in 2015, this is still happening,” said Brooklyn community leader Rabbi Moshe Indig.

Helping mothers have it all

The much-discussed article in the July/August Atlantic magazine begins with a story that likely will be familiar to any working mother. The author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, is at an evening work event talking to very important, very professional people, and all that’s really on her mind is the plight of her teenage son, who’s floundering at home without her. At the time, Slaughter was serving as a top official at the State Department, working under Hillary Clinton, who famously wrote “It Takes a Village,” but Slaughter’s greatest preoccupation in that moment was with mothering, and despite all her professional success, she was still wondering how to be a successful working woman.

Welcome to the club. Or, should I say, I’m with you, sister.

Slaughter’s article, aptly titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” addresses a certain sector of women — the well-educated, ambitious, talented and highly likely to advance type. The women who succeed, but nevertheless don’t reach the top of the work chain, largely because of excruciating choices that they find themselves compelled to make: Volunteering at their kids’ school versus traveling with the boss. Being there at 3 p.m. for pickup and soccer delivery versus writing an extra exposé. It’s not that men can’t face these dilemmas, too; it’s just a fact that most don’t feel they need to at the same level.

Slaughter, an academic specializing in foreign affairs, admits that her two-year term working in the 24-hour work cycle of
government was an eye opener; her life at Princeton, despite a full teaching load, administrative duties and prolific publishing, allowed her flextime that most jobs don’t.

I remember the day I came back to work as a newspaper editor after the brief weeks of leave I took when my husband and I adopted our infant daughter. A parade of women dropped by my office to congratulate, and console, me. Life had changed for the better — and the worse, they advised. Welcome to the world of eternal guilt, was the message: You will never again feel you’re completely giving your all to your work, nor will you, as long as you continue to work, ever feel completely sure you’ve done enough for your child.

There is no single answer to the work-life balance when it comes to children — I have found that it’s a day-by-day process of trying to avoid the tipping point. Each woman finds her own way.

Today, as our daughter is about to turn 17 and I see her slipping away toward adulthood, I still feel the pull. Now it’s not so much about being a necessary presence anymore — she can drive herself where she needs to go — but I still need to be a presence in her mind, so that she knows I can be there quickly when needed. That I am there for her. And that’s what still haunts me as I stay extra hours at the office.

Slaughter writes of the deference people in her office felt for an Orthodox Jewish man who made a point of leaving early on Fridays to observe Shabbat with his family. And, she noted, no such respect would likely be given to a mother who simply wanted to skip Saturday meetings to spend time with the kids.

The gift of Shabbat turns out, for me, to be the resounding message of Slaughter’s piece. Shabbat teaches us that, religiously observant or not, we ought to set aside some special time — time to interact, to find peace, perhaps even joy, in our lives — time that is not work time.

I often hear younger women today talking about “feminism” as if it’s a bad word. A big part of what many of my generation fought for over the past three decades was the ability to achieve what men have — executive offices, respect and equal pay. And feminism represented that movement, for us. Today’s young women want something more — to avoid the guilt of the balancing act, as well as, perhaps, the identification with a sisterhood. They imagine a working world defined by a kind of human-ism that is not gender-defined.

And they share this vision with many younger men who are, as well, more drawn to engage with their own children. Willing to change diapers, to get home in time for dinner and to find some flextime.

What we all need, Slaughter argues, is what flextime allows: valuing that other part of our lives. Shabbat’s regularity offers this to us, but we also must assume the mantle throughout our lives. To believe that a deep breath can benefit all parts of our lives, including our interaction with our children, our spouses and friends, and even our workplace.

Jonah Lehrer, who writes brilliantly about the science of the brain, explains in his new book, “Imagine,” how great creativity often occurs when the mind is at rest. Plowing through those extra work hours without a break is not always productive; in fact, it’s often over that glass of beer, or in the shower, that the light bulb turns on. Perhaps even at the moment of stopping to watch your child play.

Lehrer’s brain science offers the answer to what true work-life balance might look like. If we can close the door on the office and go home — without turning on the computer and checking our phones and e-mail obsessively — we might find clearer minds in the morning to get it all done. We also might appreciate our families and friends more.

But as working women, we can all begin, at least for now, by taking a lesson from Torah: by requiring Shabbat observance — secular or religious — for us all. So you’re not just thinking about where you wish you could be, but can actually be there — in the present.

Could Be Green and Great

Numerous spokespeople for the Orthodox Jewish community have passionately opposed any transportation solution that includes using the Chandler portion of the MTA right of way. I would like to express support of the MTA’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route on the Burbank/Chandler corridor.

I have been a resident of the San Fernando Valley for over 25 years. During this time, I have seen traffic on surface streets grow while we have debated endlessly over the right mass-transit solution. The outcome of our years of debate has been no solution.

The Valley needs enlightened transportation solutions to relieve gridlock on local streets. We have consistently demonstrated that small, special-interest groups can come together in successful opposition to proposed transportation solutions. Unfortunately, we have been unable to look beyond our special interests to support the “Law of the Commons” and find solutions that produce benefits for the entire community. Today, as a result of our uncompromising nature, we have lost our chance for a subway or light rail; a dedicated busway is the only rapid transit option under consideration by the MTA.

The full BRT, including Chandler Boulevard, offers a unique opportunity for the Valley.

The dedicated busway will provide fast, predictable transit times that will get people out of their cars and ease traffic congestion while establishing a model for other dedicated busways in the San Fernando Valley.

$300 million is a bargain. A subway for the same route would cost $4.2 billion.

We have the opportunity to have a greenway — complete with landscaping, pedestrian paths and bikeway — extending from North Hollywood to Warner Center.

The dedicated busway within the broad right of way will provide the safest route with the least disruption to adjacent properties.

The MTA has listened to the Chandler community and has answered its concerns. The bus will be limited to 35 mph; additional pedestrian crosswalks will be provided, there will be no sound walls (no “Berlin Wall” dividing the community) and walk signals will be automatic on the Sabbath and Holy Days.

Lankershim/Oxnard is not a solution. It is not a dedicated busway; it is simply another bus on a very crowded street! We only need to look to the red Metro bus on Ventura Boulevard to see the ineffectiveness of this approach. The adverse impacts on safety, noise, pollution and traffic are far worse on Oxnard; but, unlike Chandler, there are few opportunities for mitigation.

Using fear tactics, a small group of residents has convinced many of their neighbors along Chandler that the busway will mean a 30 percent to 40 percent drop in property values, and will destroy their community and threaten their religion. These are incredible claims — Chandler already has buses; the 100-foot-wide right of way is currently an eyesore, and the Orthodox Jewish community thrives on Fairfax, South Robertson and La Brea — all far more congested than Chandler. Religion is, after all, about faith in ideals, not superficial surroundings.

The environmental impact report points out that “little community opposition has arisen against the Lankershim/Oxnard variation.” There are good reasons for that. The residents along Oxnard are very diverse — we are Latino, Armenian, Russian, Asian, African American and, yes, Orthodox Jew. Because of this diversity, it is difficult to bring the residents together on any issue. Many residents have not yet heard of the Lankershim/Oxnard alternative.

Much of the housing along Oxnard is less than 20 feet from the curb. The new bus would pass within 30 feet of people’s living rooms and bedrooms. By contrast, homes along Chandler will be separated from the bus by at least 70 feet and, in many cases, by well over 100 feet.

Traffic accidents on Oxnard intersections outnumber those on the corresponding Chandler by as much as 10 to 1. The bus will be operating in an unsafe environment.

Each weekday, over 6,000 children attend school along Oxnard. Many of those who walk to school do so because their families do not have a car.

By allowing part of the route to operate in very congested traffic, the value of the project is seriously diluted. The project will only be as effective as its weakest link. The $245 million spent on the remainder of the route will be wasted.

I believe the East/West Bus Rapid Transit will prove to be a very valuable asset for the entire San Fernando Valley and for the communities served. But we must keep pressure on the MTA officials to deliver the system they have promised. The greenway, effective sound-mitigation, attractive stations, a bikeway, a pedestrian path, safety measures and well-thought-out traffic crossings are all required to make this project a success.