Monthly Archives: June 2012

Red raspberry leaf tea for pregnancy

This past week I made up a big batch of red raspberry leaf tea as a preparation for my ninth month. Red raspberry leaf tea is a uterine toner that is helpful to take the entire pregnancy, but every time I thought of it, it wasn’t a convenient time to actually prepare it and I ended up not getting around to it until now.  (I did take other supplements, which took up the mental space I had allotted for being proactive about pregnancy related choices! :))

I brought the bulk herbs I’d bought in the past with me to Israel, so I had red raspberry on hand, though not all the herbs I’ve used in the past for this blend.  (You can buy pregancy tea that comes in tea bags, but buying the loose herbs is much, much less expensive.)  Honestly, I don’t think it matters that much – the other herbs I used had different purposes but the main one for helping the uterus work efficiently is red raspberry.  What I used this time was red raspberry (8 parts), alfalfa (3 parts), spearmint (3 parts), and stevia leaf (for sweetener – can’t remember how much I added).  This is a nice tasting blend and I made up a nice amount that should be enough to get me through until after birth, though it depends when I give birth!  But I still have enough herbs left to prepare another batch if I run out.

The general guidelines I’ve seen for taking red raspberry leaf tea are like this:

First trimester – start with a half cup of tea daily, working up to one cup (tea – not an infusion, which is much more concentrated).  Some people prefer to start taking this after sixteen weeks as there is concern that drinking it at this point can lead to a miscarriage.  Based on the reading I’ve done, I’m not convinced this is true, if taken in this amount.  It’s actually an ingredient in miscarriage prevention herbal mixes.  But better safe than sorry if there’s any concern or past miscarriage history would be the way I would go.

Second trimester – two cups of tea daily.

Third trimester – three cups of tea daily.  When entering the ninth month, you can have four cups a day, and start drinking an infusion rather than the tea (proportions for each are below).  For the ninth month, I use 1 oz. of leaves (about one packed cup) with at least 5 cups of boiling water, letting it steep overnight.  I bottle it when it cools off and keep it in the fridge – it makes a nice refreshing summer drink

At the beginning of labor – 1 oz tea mixture and 2 cups of boiling water, letting it steep for at least 30 minutes.  Drink hot.  I never have remembered to do this but maybe this time I will.  I made a note of it in my planner so we’ll see.  :)

After birth – to promote contracting of uterus, expulsion of placenta – drink a cup or two of tea right after birth.

The difference between tea and infusion is how long you let it steep and the ratio of herbs to water  An infusion is much stronger.  For tea, you can use 1 t. herbs to one cup of water.  For an infusion, the proportions are 1/4 c. and 1 c. of water.

My understanding is that the infusion is only used in the ninth month, but I’m still making my infusion on the weak side because I’m not rushing to go into labor.  For right before birth, you definitely want to use the supercharged infusion above.  But that’s a very potent  drink and you shouldn’t use it until you get to the hospital since it can make labor much shorter and it’s not fun to have a baby in transit. :)

Did you drink red raspberry leaf tea during your pregnancy and/or labor?  If so, in what quantities?  Did you notice a difference in labor length or quality?


Last day of school year

Today was the last day of school for dd11, ds9, and ds6.  (The high school finished last week and ds13 unfortunately doesn’t get much of a summer break.)  And what keeps running through my mind is, “Yippee!!  I’m free!!!!”

I’ve been looking forward to the summer so much, and I’m so glad to be released from the school schedule for two months.  I’m looking forward to the less structured and more relaxed days of the summer that will give me a chance to spend more time with the kids.  Now I just have to make a plan for the summer!


Assessing different levels of health coverage for alternative care

>>Considering all the expenses you are going through for your kids have you considered looking at changing your kupah? IT may be worth while to look at what the costs would be: For example in Maccabi – to move up to Zehav there is a monthly fee for my husband and I and for the first 3 kids after that the rest of the kids are covered.<<

Did I consider either going up to a higher level of coverage on my current health care plan, or switching to a different health care plan that would cover alternative care to some degree?  Yes.

My health care plan has discounted prices on alternative practitioners in their network if we sign up for the more expensive monthly plan.  (We don’t pay anything for regular visits to standard doctors like a pediatrician, ob, nurses, bloodword; a visit to a specialist is something like 23 shekels a quarter.)  I thought this might be very worthwhile considering how many visits we’re talking about with so many children, so I looked into it.  I was lucky in that our naturopath has been working with our health care plan for years so I was able to get specific details from her, something I found almost impossible from the secretaries.

(Here’s how the conversation there went: “Can you tell me what the benefits are of having a higher level of coverage?  “There are lots of benefits, it’s very worthwhile.”  “Yes, but can you tell me specifically what the benefits are?”  “You’ll get discounts on different things like some services and medications.”  “What medications and services will be discounted, and by how much.”  “I don’t know, but the more expensive plan is definitely worth it.”  Very difficult to get any hard facts from them to work with.)

The naturopath told me what her price after the 60% discount from having higher level coverage at the clinic would be: 130 shekel for a first time visit, then 90 shekels for subsequent visits.  This looked pretty good since I pay 220 for a first time visit.  But although the price looked much lower, it doesn’t take into account several factors.  Firstly, the clinic visit would be 40 minutes instead of 60 minutes (subsequent visits are 30 minutes each); private visits are an hour and so far she included the second follow up visit for free.  Actually, at the last visit for dd11, I was there for an hour and forty-five minutes – she takes more time if she feels it’s necessary.  At the clinic we’d pay for each visit and  she has to stick to a very strict time schedule that doesn’t allow her to spend more time with people than what is officially allotted.  She also said there are aspects of assessment that she doesn’t include at the clinic.   And when you pay privately, she’s available by phone or email if you have any questions or concerns.  Recently a doctor at the clinic gave us her number and told us to call if there was any issue with the specific child and situation – and then when we called, she got annoyed because it wasn’t during clinic hours!

As far as reflexology, privately she charges 120 shekels for a child per visit, for an hour.  It would be 93 shekels for a forty minute visit at the clinic.  And of course I’d have to pay a higher monthly insurance fee by at least 200 shekels a month to get the ‘discounted’ alternative services.

For some people having the higher level of coverage is definitely a big money saver, but each person really has to assess how much they’d spent paying out of pocket and how much they’d spend with the higher level of coverage.  For us, I appreciate the quality of private care that we’re able to get, and it’s not costing us more to have it.


Homemade vitamin B supplement

Recent bloodwork showed that a couple of our family members were very low in vitamin B – one was almost totally deficient, while the other was just regular low.  Seeing these lab results, I am assuming that other family members would also benefit by boosting their B vitamin intake.

Vitamin B is important for so many things, and are known as ‘the happy vitamins’.   Common symptoms of being deficient in vitamin B include low energy, being tired all the time, and being depressed.  Eating sugar, processed foods, caffeine, or experiencing stress all burn through your body’s supply of vitamin B.  And though we hardly eat any processed foods or caffeine and not much sugar, moving overseas and integrating into a new culture definitely qualifies as stressful!

A friend who is a psychologist recommended a particular vitamin B food grade supplement; she’s seen many people benefit emotionally by taking it and also said if she gets it to women right after giving birth, that there’s no postpartum depression.  I bought a bottle of it, and though her source for it was cheaper than what it would have been otherwise, it still wasn’t cheap.  When I looked at the ingredients on the bottle, I thought to myself, “I can make this!”  So that’s what I did.

Of course, I don’t know what the proportions are, but here are the ingredients as listed on the bottle: brewers yeast (vitamin B complex), molasses (iron), fruit juice concentrates,  water, assorted herbs, spices, carob, natural vitamin C or E.

Here were the proportions of the first batch of vitamin B mixture that I made: 250 grams brewers yeast, 200 grams carob syrup (I happened to have this in the house since someone bought some, didn’t like it, and asked if I could use it), 2 T. sodium absorbate (vitamin C), 3 small scoops bioflavanoids (I think each scoop is 1/4 teaspoon – the bioflavanoids balance the sodium ascorbate and should be taken together), cayenne pepper (I tasted this in the supplement I bought), and then I planned to add molasses and water.  When I started making my first batch, I didn’t have molasses but thought I’d be able to get it within a day.  But life happened and I didn’t get the molasses for a week, and so some of thick pasty mixture that I made got eaten by the spoonful.   Though it tasted pretty good, by adding the molasses afterward I can’t with any accuracy tell you how much was needed since I don’t know how much was already eaten.

When I did get the molasses, I made a second batch, being a little more creative.  What I did was mix nutritional yeast, molasses, sodium ascorbate and bioflavanoids, and spirulina powder all together.  (I was sure I’d remember the proportions to share here but of course, I didn’t.  :))  Then I added some water to thin it out until it was an easily pourable syrup.  Honestly, this doesn’t taste as good as the first batch – it’s okay but I can’t say I love it – but I think it’s probably much higher in vitamins that the first batch.  And it’s way cheaper!

Warning about using spirulina – it’s packed with vitamins but it gives everything its mixed into a dark greenish/black color that is unappealing.  The kids think this batch looks disgusting and not one of them was willing to taste it.  I don’t mind the color so much but I find the taste of molasses to be overly strong for my tastebuds, so I swallow down my tablespoon of mixture quickly and then take a drink of water.  But dh thinks the mixture tastes good, and regardless of taste, I think that this mixture is better absorbed by the body than taking a bunch of vitamins!


(This post is part of Real Food Wednesdays.)

Birth plans in flux

A few readers have emailed me privately and asked about how things are going pregnancy-wise.  Thank G-d, I’ve started my ninth month and am overall feeling good.  Yesterday my sister, who was due ten days after me, had her baby (mazel tov, Tovah!), which very much made me aware that time is passing quickly!  And if I hadn’t officially adjusted my dates to be sure that I don’t run into any issues in case I go three weeks overdue again (though I think the likelihood of that is very low), my official due date would be three weeks from now rather than four.

I’ve had so many things that I’m trying to get taken care of before I give birth, and my birth plan has fallen behind all of those things.  As of now it looks like I’m going to be shifting my plans for a homebirth to a hospital birth, but this hasn’t yet been decided on.  After five homebirths and very strong positive feelings about the benefits, a hospital birth has been a very hard thing for me to be willing to even consider.  Though on Sunday I went to see the hospital I would go to, I’m still not able to say that I’ll definitely go there.  It’s just too big a difference in terms of what I’m used to and what the hospital practices are for me to mentally let go of my picture of what birth is supposed to be like, and so when my kids and husband ask what I’ll be doing, I say ‘I haven’t yet decided but probably the hospital’.

What’s shifted my thinking away from homebirth at this point?  It’s not because I believe the hospital is the best or safest place, that’s for sure!  It’s purely a logistical decision.  For the last five months, I’ve had an ongoing low grade level of stress thinking about how to legally document the baby’s birth but what finally tipped the scales away from homebirth is the cost.

Recent circumstances of having a child hospitalized for two weeks and other children who I want to provide with care from alternative health practitioners has meant lots of extra expenses, none of which currently fit into our regular budget.  A homebirth with the midwife I’d like to use will be approximately 5000 shekels plus another 1000 to have a doctor sign the paperwork since the midwife isn’t licensed in Israel.  (None of the licensed midwives I called were willing or able to attend my birth; if one of them would have come there would have still been a cost issue but not a documentation issue.)

Though I’d budgeted for the birth, I have choices I need to make about if that’s the best way to spend that money now that other factors have come into play.  6000 shekels ($1500) can go a long way towards extra expenses for our children right now.  For example, one child had weekly reflexology sessions recommended- at about another 500 shekels monthly, I could afford a lot of sessions!  I’ve had to increase our food budget in the last month or two by 50% (an additional 1000 shekels) to accommodate the nutritional suggestions of the naturopath, and I’m not sure that increase will be sufficient, so that’s another area that I have to expand on what we’d been spending until now.  I’ve also had extra costs regarding purchasing supplements as well as travel expenses.

Everyone has their own idea of what’s most critical to them, and providing our children with what I feel is necessary care regarding their health is a pretty important value for me.  Even more than a homebirth.  To a degree I’m giving up something important to me, but more than giving up, I feel like I’m giving towards what is most important – taking the best care I can of the children we already have.

Right now my efforts with regard to their health are mostly proactive; I believe there are aliyah related stresses that are just starting to physically manifest themselves healthwise, and that they’ll get worse if I ignore them.  And there’s no way that the traditional doctors at the health clinic will be able to deal with them at the root level, which is where true healing occurs.  (I took one child who was showing symptoms that I was alarmed by – I’m not easily alarmed – and the doctor basically brushed them off.)

I’ve had a very strong feeling all through this pregnancy that this is going to be a really good birth, and I have to keep focusing on that even though what I’d been planning until now looks so different.  I’m focusing on keeping my thoughts in a positive place on this, to trust that all will work out well and the birth will be a good experience all around!


Twenty years today!

Today my husband and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary!

When I look back at the last two decades (I feel waaay too young to be able to say something like that!), my primary feeling is one of gratitude.  Like every married couple, we’ve had our share of tough times.  This year in particular with having made aliyah and the last six weeks even more specifically have been especially challenging.  And yet somehow all of these recent challenges seem so much easier to deal with than the difficult periods I remember from years ago.  I think a huge part of that is both of us having worked on ourselves as individuals and also as partners, so that we’re able to be there for each other and support each other as we are given the chance to expand ourselves with these newest growth opportunities.

I don’t like to talk about this on my blog or in real life because I know how fortunate I am and that not everyone has what I’ve been given in life, but for this particular post, I’m going to say it.  I’ve been unbelievably blessed by being married to a very special person.  I thought my husband was wonderful when we got married – and he was! – but sometimes I’m awed at his development over the last twenty years.  It’s very inspiring.  (In case you’re wondering, he doesn’t read my blog and I’m not going to tell him I wrote this. :))

My overwhelming feeling at this stage is one of happiness to be right where I am in life at this moment.  No, life isn’t always easy and sometimes it’s downright painful, but having someone to walk through life with is a huge, huge blessing that I don’t take for granted at all!


Ten month aliyah update: getting a drivers license

Getting a driver’s license in Israel is an expensive and difficult process, which is why it’s a really nice bonus for new immigrants and returning citizens to be given the opportunity to convert their license within a year of their move to Israel with minimal difficulty.  Relatively minimal difficulty.

There were plenty of things to take care of when we first got here and we felt like we had plenty of time to take care of getting licenses, so neither dh nor I were in a rush to get this done. But about a month ago we realized we better get ourselves in gear and get this taken care of now (this was particularly motivated by realizing my due date is a month before the deadline is up)!

The first step was to go to an eye doctor for an exam (2 minutes and fifty shekels for each of us) and get the official form filled out.  (The optometrists have this form on file so you don’t have to go out of your way to get it and bring it in.)

Once you have the eye doctor’s report, you have to  make an appointment with your general practitioner.  I hadn’t yet needed to see my official doctor before this and we spent a minute and a half getting to know each other before she abruptly told me to go to the office and bring her a different form to fill out.   I knew that this form needed to be filled out before I went to the office in Haifa with it, and that I definitely wasn’t interested in going all the way there with the necessary form not filled in.  After questioning her about this several times, she finally told me she meant that I needed to go to the office downstairs in the health care clinic where we were.  Okay.

Downstairs I went to get the other form, and the secretaries there had no idea what form I was talking about.  They told me the only form I needed was the one I had brought in, and I should leave it there for my doctor to fill out.  I asked how she could fill it out since I had only been in her office for a minute and a half.   No problem, they reassure me, just leave it here and she’ll take care of it – after I pay 98 shekels for her to check off approximately twelve ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions about my health on the form.  I don’t want to call this a racket but someone’s definitely making money on this setup.

I ask if I can pay by check, and after being told that I could and partially writing out the check, was told that I could only pay cash.  Ho, hum.  You just have to bring a lot of patience with you to these offices and remember to treat everyone the way you’d want to be treated.  They told me to come back another day with the form and the money, so the next day that’s what I did.  Then I had to leave the form there and come back another day to pick it up.  Which I did.

When all of this was done, I was ready to take my form to the licensing office in Haifa.  Yes, there’s a licensing office here but apparently only one woman in Haifa can stamp the form so that’s where we needed to go.  Last week we took ds3 and ds4 with us, and dh and I set off to get the next part of the form filled out.  After traveling for an hour and a half on two different buses, we got there with two very hot little children and were told we didn’t bring all the necessary documentation.  Dh is usually really careful about bringing every possible piece of paper we might need when we go to government offices, but this time he had asked a friend what to bring who wasn’t sure.  He looked it up on the government website and couldn’t find a list of what was necessary, but he had still managed to bring everything except one document.  So back home we went – yes, another hour and a half on two more buses.

Today we went back to the licensing office, getting there at 10:35 am.  You might think this is a random and unimportant detail, but you’ll soon appreciate how I’m going to save any of you in this situation time by including this information.  Don’t go to government offices when the workers may be taking their morning break unless you like waiting.  I think you should get anywhere you need to go by 9:45 am to avoid running into the issue we had. We went to the room where we were directed and found the door locked.  When we asked about it, we were told that the only person who could help us had started her break five minutes before, and would be finished in 25 minutes, at 11 am.  But I didn’t mind too much since this time we didn’t have the littles with us, the building was well air-conditioned, there was a fountain with cold water available and I had brought a book to read and was able to share some of the thoughts in it with dh.

When the woman returned from her break, she was very efficient and pleasant despite seeing the long line of people waiting for her by then.  The good thing about getting there when we did is that we were first in line.  The not so good part is that we were waiting the longest!  It took just a few minutes for both of our forms to be filled out.  She told us to schedule driving lessons locally, then to take the test, and then we’d be issued our Israeli licenses.

When I saw the date by which we needed to have this done, I asked for an extension in case having a baby between now and then delayed things somewhat.  (I don’t know how long it will take to schedule the lessons and test – someone told me she had to wait a month until she could get her test scheduled – and I’d rather not be doing this two or three weeks after birth.)  She then pointed out the year it had to be done by, 2014, and assured me with a smile that I’d have time to have this baby and even a second one before I’d run out of time!

Then I asked about something else that I’ve been wondering about.  Before moving when deciding about if we would get a car or not, we decided we’d rather not have the expense of purchasing and maintaining a vehicle since the local public transportation is so good.  When we wanted to go on a family trip, we assumed we’d be able to rent a large van, but the first time we wanted to do this we learned that we’d need a special license for over eight (or is it nine?) people.  I wanted to know how to get a license for a bigger vehicle/more people, to be able to drive our family somewhere in one vehicle.  She told me that we should get a regular license, then come in to the Haifa office with it to ask the person there what to do next.

I didn’t think this was the most efficient way to do it (wouldn’t it make sense to take lessons and get the license we needed issued to start with?) and asked if we could just get information from that person (who sat a few cubicles away) right then.  She looked at her watch and told me that if I wanted to wait another 25 minutes, then we could ask, but that person had just started their morning break five minutes earlier!  I suppose it’s good they don’t all syncronize their morning breaks so that someone is always working, but it does make it a little harder to get the necessary information.   She did tell me that someone in the Karmiel licensing office should be able to answer that question after we bring in our new Israeli license to them.

Dh and I walked out so happy to have this piece of the license process taken care of!  I’m glad to know that we have two more years to get the test done, though I still hope to schedule the mandatory lessons soon and have all of it finished within a year of our arrival here.  (I’m not sure how many lessons we need – she told me it depends on what the instructor says, but I thought it was supposed to be a minimum of one or two.)

Even getting a license transfer the ‘easy’ way isn’t cheap or quick or easy.  But it’s a lot easier, quicker and cheaper than what native Israelis have to go through!


Guaranteed results in parenting – a dangerous myth

Last week I had a call from a very dedicated and devoted parent who has a teenager who is suicidal, and she told me that she can’t understand how she did everything right and her child is doing worse than homes where there was serious dysfunction.  While sharing my thoughts with her, I was reminded of this post that I wrote about 6 – 8 weeks ago that was sitting in my drafts file.  So now’s a good time to dust off that draft!

I have the opportunity to speak with a good number of people about parenting, and I think there’s a critical point to be made.  Too often parents get gung ho about this approach or that approach to parenting, thinking that they’ve found the answer.  If they just (fill in the gap) – have a natural birth, breastfeed, hold their baby all the time, discipline effectively, show lots of love, homeschool, make sure their kids have lots of extracurriculars, build up their confidence, teach them appropriate social skills, work on themselves to be good role models, etc, then they’re hopeful that they won’t face difficulties as their children get older.  I think that’s a big appeal of a lot of parenting books, that it seems there’s a way to make parenting easy.

Sorry.  It’s just not like that.

You can learn lots of great insights and apply them consistently and appropriately, and it can make a big difference.  It can make a huge difference!  But it won’t guarantee a smooth and easy path with every child through every stage of life.  I’ve learned a lot over the years from a variety of sources, but one thing I’m certain of is, there’s nothing that will guarantee the ‘perfect’ family.  I have a special affinity for several authors whose work I found very insightful and powerful, and have incorporated a lot of this material into my life, which has been beneficial for our family.  But to imply that by doing this my family has had smooth sailing throughout the years would be misleading.  Yes, it’s much easier than it would have been without those tools or insights.  But not painless or struggle-free.

I think we have to be very, very cautious about giving the impression that if you just do ‘xyz’ then your kids will turn out fine.  There are a lot of challenges as parents, and nothing is going to prevent you from having some.  Nothing.  And here’s another point I think is critical that I shared with the mother above – if our child has a struggle, it doesn’t mean we did something wrong.  (It doesn’t mean we did everything right, but that kind of guilt and second guessing – “If only I did something different it would be different” isn’t helpful.)   The spiritual reality is that every child was put into the world for a unique mission and he must develop his soul to achieve his individual life purpose.  That can’t happen without him facing challenges and growing into a better person from them.

No parent can do everything right.  We have children with different needs and personalities, we have better and worse periods that we go through as adults, and it’s a very painful thing to even intimate to a parent, let alone say outright, that if they followed a particular approach, they wouldn’t have these problems. It’s just not true.

Even in the absence of hurtful comments of others, we can cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary pain when we have unrealistic expectations of achieving the perfect family. It doesn’t exist. The best families are those who are striving to do their best and grow with the challenges every single day, who have the humility of knowing that the final results aren’t in their hands, that G-d is an active partner in the parenting process.

What we can hope for is that we’ll learn effective tools that even during hard times can be applied.  We can strive to grow as people no matter how hard the parenting situation we’re in right now is, and to help our children grow through their difficulties as well.

As parents, there’s nothing we want more than a good life for our children.  We spend our lives trying to give them everything we can, to iron out life’s wrinkles and spare them the difficulties we’ve had in our own lives.  A friend shared a wonderful quote with me a few days ago when we were discussing this topic: “As a parent you want to carpet the world for your child, but sometimes you need to give them slippers.”  While we want to make it easy and spare our children suffering, often the role we need to play is to give them tools to get through tough times, and to trust that they have the inner reserves to get through the difficulties.


Weekly menu plan

Life is so busy that now more than ever I really need to be on top of my menu planning!  I have too much to do in too tight a time frame to waste any time not knowing what I’m making or not being able to prep ingredients or go shopping in advance.  Things could easily fall apart around here right now without tight organization; this week I’ll be organizing other aspects of day to day life that will be helpful in getting everyone through this intense period reasonably happily, but the menu is the first step.

I’m trying to integrate suggestions from a naturopath that I’ve taken a couple of the kids to recently regarding food choices.  She basically thinks that we have a well-balanced diet so her suggestions are pretty minor – eg add in more dark beans (lentils, split peas, red/black beans).  For your convenience, I’m adding links for the basic recipes that I’ll be using – I don’t make most recipes exactly as suggested but I find a basic framework helpful to work from.

Here’s our menu for this week:

Sunday – fruit, oatmeal; dinner – pasta and cottage cheese, salad, watermelon, cake, ice cream (in honor of ds10’s birthday)

Monday –  b – oatmeal, fruit; l – beef and eggplant stew; d – brown lentil salad

Tuesday – b – oatmeal, fruit; l – Persian poached eggs in tomato sauce, kasha; d – Italian salad (pasta, Bulgarian cheese, vegetables)

Wednesday – b – polenta, fruit; l – chicken fried rice; d – white bean tabouleh

Thursday – b –  oatmeal, fruit; l – crispy baked fish, baked potatoes; d – cucumber, tomato and kidney bean salad

Friday – b – polenta; l – leftovers; d – Shabbos menu begins

I serve some kind of vegetable or salad with lunch, but I don’t plan that ahead.  I just look in the fridge to see that I feel like using that day!  For dinners in the summer, I’m making a lot of main dish salads that are filling but not heavy, and integrate a nice amount of vegetables with that.  Several of the kids have specific additions or changes to what is written above,  and  I also usually have something different than what is listed for breakfast, usually eggs or cottage cheese with vegetables.  But this is the basic family plan!


The typical school approach to modesty – is it working?

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my conversation with the principal of the girls’ high school that we were most interested in for our dd15.  At that time, the principal closed the conversation by telling me that although she felt it was forbidden to allow a girl into their school from a family that used the internet, she would send us their ‘takanon’ (school rules) and if we felt we could abide by them, she’d ask a rabbi a personalized question about our family.

We got the takanon, seven typed pages of mostly rules about modesty in dress. I personally found this very off-putting – our approach to modesty is to model it and talk very little about the technical ‘rules’ with our girls.  Last year when I was visiting Israel, a friend who was a seminary teacher mentioned at a get together in honor of me visiting that ‘you can’t pay girls to look like this nowadays’ (referring to our oldest two girls who were with me).  While I was uncomfortable with this being drawn attention to publicly, modesty is something that isn’t a struggle for dd15.  (Not implying anything about our other girls but this high school situation is about her.)   She has a very strong intrinsic sense of modesty and there’s nothing in her clothing choices that has ever given me pause.

However, despite every single item she owns being in accordance with Jewish law, nothing in her closet was suitable for the takanon.  Her skirts are too long (skirts can only be between the knee and mid calf and hers are a couple of inches above the ankle), her shirts are made of the wrong material (no cotton knits/tricot allowed), her legs aren’t covered with thick enough material (stockings must be 40 denier thick), her hair isn’t modest enough (no bangs allowed or hair partially pulled up), and the list continues.

Why, why, why do schools think that imposing increasingly strict rules on girls makes them more sensitive to modesty?  Modesty isn’t something I struggle with, but I still felt like screaming and running in the other direction when I read this long and burdensome list of rules, which are binding on the student  both in and outside of school, in every social situation.  Dr. Gordon Neufeld has coined the term ‘counterwill’ to explain the pyschological phenomenon that comes into play when a person feels coerced or controlled beyond the limits of the relationship.  That means that if you feel very close to someone and they make a suggestion to pull your hair out of your face, you’re likely to do it.  But without that connection, having someone make the same suggestion causes  you want to dig your heels in and do the exact opposite.  I believe that a lot of the resistance to modesty that we see today that the schools are trying to counter with escalating rules, are ironically actually caused by those rules.

Years ago I was in a small shiur with Rebbetzin Heller when she spoke about modesty.  She stressed the importance of an inside/outside approach – you teach the meaning and beauty of it, and trust women to make external choices that match their inner sensitivity.  At that point, I asked her why it is that virtually all charedi schools teach from an outside/inside approach – stressing the rules and obsessing over minor details, while glossing over the deeper meanings and inspiration about this.  She told me, ‘it’s a problem’.

No kidding it’s a problem.  I actually wonder how many girls with strict school rules regarding modesty would be inspired to dress in the dictated manner if left to their own discretion.  A day after receiving the takanon and going through it together, dd was babysitting for someone and took their children to the park that is frequented by the local kollel wives.  When she came home, she asked me at what point the Bais Yaakov modesty standards that are expected of charedi girls stops being binding – because she noticed that almost all of the kollel wives were dressed very similarly to her (ie fine halachically and in the spirit of modesty, but not meeting these specific rules).  I recently spoke with a couple of Israeli charedi teachers about this takanon, and they both told me that their clothing would also be considered inappropriate by that school.

During another conversation, dd15 also told me that in her current school (which has a very reasonable takanon), they regularly have inspirational speakers come in to talk to the girls.  And she told me she’s so sick of hearing the conclusion to almost all of these talks  – ‘so the next time you’re in the store and buying a skirt, be sure to make sure it’s long enough’.  It’s pretty bad when someone who is naturally so sensitive to this topic is fed up of hearing about it after just nine months in school!  She asked me, isn’t there anything else in the practice of Judaism that they care about?  Don’t they care if someone is trying to be a good person and grow closer to Hashem (G-d)?

Personally, if I were teaching high school girls, the last topic I would broach is modesty.  I think it gets shoved down their throats for years and made into an unnecessary power struggle.  When I give my weekly classes on the parsha (weekly Torah portion), I share messages that I find inspiring about how to live our lives in a meaningful way using the Torah as our guidebook.  That’s what I like hearing now and that’s what I would have wanted to hear more about when I was a high school student, not about long lists of rules and the punishments awaiting me in the next world if I put a finger out of line.  (I recently had a burst of desire to give a weekly class to the high school girls in the local school along these lines – if the principal asks me again to give a class there, instead of refusing her like the last three times she asked, I’m going to suggest this.)

In case you’re wondering about what happened with dd’s school acceptance, we called the school to let them know we were willing to go along with the takanon.  We gave them number of five teachers as well as the city rabbi who were ready to give very warm references about dd and our family, and two other teachers in the community offered to call personal contacts in that school to recommend dd.  However, this clearly wasn’t enough since I got a call from the secretary yesterday telling me they won’t take dd since she comes from a home where there is internet.  (I don’t believe that they called any of the references or asked the personalized rabbinic shaila as I was told they would but it’s their loss.)  It left me wondering why we wasted two weeks following through with this school after our last conversation if it was going to come back to the internet issue anyway!

Though this was frustrating, it’s obvious Hashem doesn’t want dd to be attending this school and He has a better plan and place for her.  We’ll see where that will be and how things will play out for her in the short and long term.  One positive thing is that now I don’t have the internal struggle with going along with an approach to modesty that I find inherently problematic and demotivating.