About laurenbenshoshan

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan lives with her loving husband, two amazing children, and an over-large collection of books. They all reside in Tel Aviv, Israel, where Lauren loves the weather but is still searching for a decent Mexican restaurant.

Women and The Wall

Aside

Over the past few months, I’ve used this space as an opportunity to discuss a what it might mean to “have it all, spiritually” and my own personal struggles with connecting to communal prayer with my family in tow. Rather conspicuously, I avoided fully discussing the role a place can play in helping to lift mundane thoughts into fulfilling prayers. Mainly because whenever I think about it in the context of the country I live, it makes me feel like this.

Love it or hate it, the Kotel provides a powerful symbol of Jewish spirituality (and peoplehood). The Western Wall of our ancient, destroyed Second Temple remains the traditional physical place we direct our prayers. Jewish scholars like Judah HaLevi composed longing poetry about it. Synagogue architects perform miracles to try to ensure our sanctuaries point towards it. Nonetheless, for many Jewish feminists, the Kotel can represent the suppression of prayer, not its ascension.

But last Thursday, Israeli District Court Judge Moshe Sobel upheld a Jerusalem Magistrate Court ruling; he stated that “there is no reasonable suspicion that the [Women of the Wall representatives] violated a prohibition in the law governing holy sites.” This signals a seed change. It validates and empowers women to pray openly, communally, and in traditional prayer garments at the holiest of Jewish sites.

In response to this ruling, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz – the Western Wall’s head rabbi – expressed an important anxiety. He worried that this would turn the Kotel into a site of “antagonism between brothers.” Indeed, I feel the same disquiet about the Western Wall’s recent history; although, perhaps for different reasons. I fear that preventing half of the Jewish population from fully participating in their religion at their holiest site will create animosity between siblings; it is grievous and unjust that sisters cannot use the same avenues to seek spiritual fulfillment as their brothers. Furthermore, in a world in which girls see young women steadily attaining parity with their male peers in almost every other aspect of their lives, how can they love a religion that doesn’t? And why would their mothers encourage them to?

My daughter and the Kotel

Good-bye Purim, Hello Passover

Carton upon carton of matzah greeted me as I entered the grocery store this morning. Hamantashan stales on deep discount; Passover’s iconic bread stands like boxed soldiers in its place.00073490125003_full

For the weeks leading up to Passover, the supermarkets team with slightly uncertain, yet determined teenagers.  They aren’t looking to buy after-school snacks or to sell something for the scouts; they are hoping to collect. As they meander around the store, they ask to glean from the harvest found in each family’s basket. Depending on the day, the bags of donated groceries overflow their allotted area near the entrance-exit before the teens can schlep them into the waiting pick-up vehicle.

Here in Israel, it is the season to remember the hungry.

Indeed, food plays an important role not just at the Seder table, but within the Passover narrative itself. Part of God’s promise of freedom involves the assurance of good and plentiful food once the Israelites eventually arrive in their homeland.  In Exodus 3 alone – as God convinces Moses to lead the Israelites to redemption – God highlights the abundance of delicious foods not just once but twice.

Tomorrow, March 1st, a new documentary about the state of hunger in the world’s last remaining Western super-power comes out. Available in theaters, on iTunes, and on OnDemand, A Place At The Table is only the latest to bring light to the issue of food insecurity and the problem of improper nutrition.

Each Passover, the Haggadah intones “let all who are hungry come and eat.” Perhaps this year, amongst all of our questions during this season, we can ask: how can we ensure that those who are hungry have a place to come and eat?

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan lives in Tel Aviv, Israel with her two loving children and wonderful husband, none of whom can even begin to think about cleaning for Passover.

Confessions of a Communal Prayer Junkie

 

As Elul and the High Holiday Season approached this year, Anne-Marie Slaughter sparked discussion throughout the country about women’s rights, family issues, work-life balance, and how to interpret personal satisfaction.  Within this particular forum, we started explore what it means to “have it all”, spiritually. Now approaching half-way through 5773, it is time for a check-in.

I have to admit; I am struggling.

In some areas, I know I am lucky. I draw strength from my connection with God, not struggle. I feel blessed to find the Divine in the important everyday moments with my children and husband. Our bed-time prayer routine is one of the most rewarding points in my day. We are “in process” on engaging regularly in other home rituals which mark the passage of time. I feel good about all of these things. But Good Heavens, I miss fulfilling communal prayer.

Why not just go to services, you ask. The real answer is this: the stress of trying to keep our two little ones – both under the age of three – more-or-less silent and not dancing in the aisles distracts from any sense of peace or connectedness that I might muster throughout tefilla. By the time you factor in re-arranging Friday night dinner and bed times to fit with the services schedule, it is often more than we can manage as a family without someone breaking down in frustration. And frankly, I want to honor Shabbat with as much peace and kindness as possible. That means not setting the system up for failure.

Why not get a babysitter, you suggest. We could. But part of me is ideologically against it. I hate using precious babysitter hours on something that could be family-friendly. Shabbat services isn’t a date night at the art gallery or a knife-skills class. It is something that I want to continue from generation to generation. (Not that art appreciation and knife skills aren’t valuable… just on a different level, let’s say.)  I want my kids to see and feel the awesomeness of communal prayer first hand, with me by their side. Letting them hang out at home with the babysitter while their father and I go to synagogue does not convey that message.

What about Tot-Shabbat, you say. Honestly, I find it … infantile. I know; that is part of the idea. And while I could try to change our local Tot-Shabbat, to be honest, I think the families find it really satisfying. They look pleased, or at least contented, as their children zoom around the room with Torah-themed arts-and-crafts projects, as a peppy prayer-music tape plays in the background. It only grates on me; to use a common two-year-old saying, I don’t want to yuck someone else’s yum.

So, what is a girl who loves communal prayer to do?

No, seriously. I’m really asking.


Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan lives in Ramat Aviv, Israel with her loving husband and two wonderful children. She is actively looking forward to a date night at the art gallery.

Oseh Shalom

A few Thursday nights ago, my husband met our toddler, infant and me for pizza at the plaza across from our apartment. The weather just started to feel crisp; we laughed and caught up on each other’s day. Around us, our neighbors shopped and ate.

As the siren rose, everyone scrambled for cover. Shock overwhelmed us; there hasn’t been a rocket over Tel Aviv since the Persian Gulf War. Between the noise and the palpable terror from all of the adults, our toddler bawled with fear. The following day, the siren came at naptime. Afterwards, I taught our under-sized, curly-haired two-year old what to do when she heard “the noise”.

Sadly, even with the ceasefire now in place, this is the reality for hundreds of thousands of families in southern parts of Israel.

Before this Thanksgiving, I never fully appreciated what it meant to be thankful for peace. Growing up in the United States, with protective oceans on two sides and friendly neighbors on the others, I took it for granted. Yes, I recited oseh shalom during each Tefillah; at the time, I felt I meant it. But before that Thursday night and the days that followed, I never had to snatch what was most important to me out of a car seat and run for safety because of a lack of peace in my life. And since then, the quiet mantra of oseh shalom has barely stopped.

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan lives with her two children and loving husband in Tel Aviv.

Having It All, A Continued Conversation

Over the past few months, we’ve been continuing the conversation about what it means to “have it all”. In my last monthly post, I proposed that this slogan breeds discontent if we cannot prioritize what we want “it all” to be.  Focus is key; nonetheless, sharply defining “it all” is hard, necessary work. As other authors in this blog contributed, this often requires a deeply individual process of framing one’s own achievements and identifying one’s true goals. However, since this blog seeks to examine parts of our lives and the society in which we live through the lens of women clergy, I want to ask a more specific question. Namely:

Can we “have it all”, spiritually?

It is a dirty secret in rabbinical school that we rarely discuss spirituality – especially the personal experience of the Divine – in depth. Yes, there is the occasional seminar here or brief class there; however this topic, which compels so many into the rabbinate, often gets lost amongst the need to engage in other kinds of important learning and growth. Instead, it is up to the individual to continuously replenish his or her own proverbial spiritual well.

But, O, Dear Heavens, how do you actually do that?

The Institute for Jewish Spirituality establishes six elements to Jewish spiritual practice. (Outlined here.) They guide learners through five distinct, yet potentially intertwined methods to engage in spiritual practice. They are:

  • Tefillah (prayer)
  • Talmud Torah
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Yoga (or an embodied practice)
  • Tikkun middot

IJS teaches these practices in an intensive – and much lauded – retreat environment. This is incredible and can be much needed; but personally, I have always had trouble transitioning my retreat resolutions into regular realities.

Certainly, I am not an expert in this field; at best, I am a curious novice. For me, in my day-to-day, what replenishes my connection to the Divine cannot be an in-depth, private, enriching engagement in text study or even meditative practice. Because, honestly, I just don’t have the time or energy. So, over the next few posts let’s explore a little bit of spirituality together. And see if we can “have it all”, spiritually. Five minutes at a time or so. If that’s even possible. I’ll share what I’ve gathered so far, and I would love to hear about the progress you are making – or any break-throughs you are having – in the comments below.

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan lives in Tel Aviv, Israel. About forty-five minutes north of here.

Having It All, Some More

This summer Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, topped The Atlantic’s most popular charts and ignited a discussion in chatrooms and talk shows alike. While the conversation continues about the cultural and socio-economic implications of Professor Slaughter’s piece, I believe that this blog – written by female clergy – can be an excellent forum to continue the discussion concerning the spiritual aspect of this.

Many assume that “having it all” entails working in a meaningful career, enjoying a loving partnership, and mothering wonderful children.  But, don’t forget about having an ever-clean, neatly organized home. And the wide variety of powerful, well-maintained friendships. And upholding important relationships with immediate and extended family. And creating a daily practice of study and personal growth. Plus cultivating physical fitness, eating healthily, and occasionally reading a good book. And maybe making space for a guilty pleasure. Or two.

I am not saying that these are not desirable goals.  What I am saying is that this idea of “having it all” is misleading at best. (Or as a parent raising a toddler and a 8 month old who is “experimenting with solids” and maintaining even a semi-clean home is laughably unrealistic.) To be frank, “having it all” is the type of phrase that sells appliances; it was crafted to be appealing, even sexy. In the meantime, it engenders self-loathing in any individual who cannot do everything all at once (read: everyone).

So, the big question is: 

On a spiritual level, I believe this discussion is less about time management; it really centers around the search for happiness. In essence, I think that the phrase “having it all” breeds a deep sense of dissatisfaction with one’s own life. While the idea of “having it all” can be motivational for some, when the definition of “it all” becomes too wide, the pursuit breeds discontent.  “Having it all” acknowledges that every person is a multifaceted being; no single label truly defines an individual. This is true and good; but the problem arises when our desire to “have it all” overfills our lives with activities and becomes an all-consuming pursuit, without any opportunity for rest and appreciation. It is really hard to make the mental space for thanksgiving when we’re worried about trying to pushing towards the next great thing.

In Pirke Avot, Ben Zoma asks “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot. As it is said, “When you eat of the labor of your lands, you are happy and all is well with you.””(Pirke Avot 4:1)

Ben Zoma quotes from Psalms 128:2 as his prooftext; Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno notes that Ben Zoma means “that when the labor of your hands suffices for all your needs, and you do not seek more, then you will be happy in this world….”

However, in a world where we (generally) no longer eat the labor of our hands, how do we define what suffices for all of our needs? How do we know when we do not need to seek more?

Do not get me wrong; ambition is important. Pursuing meaningful goals gives one’s life vitality. The question is what is which goals do you want to prioritize? And how can you do this without feeling like you are constantly missing out on something else? How can we create a sabbath of the heart; one in which we can say “this is very good” and be satisfied (if only for a day)?

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan lives with her wonderful husband in Ramat Aviv, Israel, where she alternates between being grateful for her two amazing children and dissatisfied with the cleanliness of her floors.

Having It All

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During my third year of rabbinical school, in connection with producing the Vagina Monologues at HUC-JIR’s New York campus, I helped to organize a lunchtime learning experience with two prominent rabbis who were married to each other. As a part of our overall goals for the event, we wanted to relate the discussion to gender equality and the pertinent topic of what it means to be clergy. As a result, our speakers agreed to discuss work-life balance, in particular how they as a couple were able to achieve it.

At a certain point, the wife in our rabbinical duo expressed her deep disappointment, indeed, disapproval, of other female rabbis who purposefully chose part-time work or to stay at home with their children. She stated that these choices deeply impeded Jewish feminist progress, especially when we still had so far to go; in short, these very personal decisions were wrong.

I found myself not only shocked, but also deeply offended.

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I have always considered myself a feminist. During my first year in college, each of my grandmothers gave me a gift. One honored me with her original copy of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, the other with the newest edition of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. In conversation with my grandmothers, I understood these works to be statements on the importance of knowing and empowering oneself and the impotent misery that comes when a person cannot or does not. Trying to squish one’s individuality into any mold, whether societal or self-imposed, is the surest route to soul-crushing despair.  Feminism, my grandmothers taught, worked to give women permission to pursue all aspects of their humanity, from the physical to the intellectual. Naively, I assumed that these remained the true, long-lasting lessons of the feminist movement. Therefore it shocked me to hear another self-proclaimed feminist try to impose her mold on the rest of us.

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Earlier this week, The Atlantic published Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”. Hotly debated on every media outlet from Facebook to the Today Show, Slaughter mourned the difficulties of balancing career success or even “typical” career demands and the challenges of child-rearing. In many ways, Slaughter voices the newest version of the “problem that has no name.” We have traded the desperate housewife for the overwhelmed working woman.

This is real for so many of us. In addition to issues such as the fiscal dilemma of how to live in a world that increasingly demands a two-income household and the need for cultural change which this entire discussion clearly cries for, all of this exposes a spiritual crisis. Namely, how do we overcome not just others’ preconceptions but also our own? How can we create a process to define and then continuously strive to become our best self?

I believe Judaism can provide powerful insight into these questions. Over my next few monthly blog-posts, I will begin to explore some of the wisdom that our tradition offers us on this topic. I hope that you will join me and add your wisdom in the comments below.

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan lives with her wonderful husband, two amazing children, and an over-large collection of books in Tel Aviv, Israel.