Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Powerful Women

This morning I participated in a meeting of a group of women.  It is a group of 

women formed originally on Facebook.  The group was formed to allow the women in the group to enjoy morning and afternoon chats with friends around a nice, warm cup of coffee.  (The idea being that we are each enjoying a cup of coffee while we are chatting on Facebook!).

This meeting was to take the virtual concept out of the group and to make it into reality.  We would all be able to meet one another face to face and get a better sense of with whom we were interacting online.  It was a success!

We are all English speaking olim, some who have been living in Israel for many years, others  (myself) who have been here just over a year, various ages, from various places in the US, and different backgrounds.  We are all religious Zionist Jews.  The one thing that did come out, that I found rather interesting, is that many of us, if not most of us, write. We write either professionally, or for fun.  It should not actually be all that surprising, since after all, the main (only?) mode of communication on Facebook is TYPING (the modern day form of writing – I no longer do longhand writing – due to lack of practice it has been rendered ILLEGIBLE!). 

Each woman in turn introduced herself to the group and told her “life story” – or at least the salient points of her life, those which were apparently important enough to her to warrant sharing with the group.   I learned so much this morning. 

Several “salient points” were drilled home in this meeting to me. Most are concepts which I have already formed and this morning’s meeting simply lent more credence to those concepts. 

Everyone has a story.  For many years I have often believed in the “first impression is a lasting impression” credo.  There is truth to it, and it has guided my choices in dress and appearance, in particular for job interviews or first dates.  It still guides me somewhat.  However, I no longer use it to judge OTHERS.  These days, I (try) to make no judgments about other individuals until I have heard their story.  I must have become pretty good at listening, or at getting others to open up to me, because these days I seem to COLLECT stories.  I can point to nearly every person I know and say, “that person has a story.  It is sad”, or “it is amazing”, or “it is inspiring”, or “it is laughable”.  And, knowing these stories, each person is very real to me, very dear to me, and I am able to thus empathize and to CARE. 

Miracles do happen.  But we cannot just sit back and ask for a miracle.  We have to do our part, our hishtadlus.  Then, Hashem will shower miracles on us. 

Hashgacha Pratis, closely related to miracles is evident in nearly every facet of our lives.  One of the participants in the meeting described a particularly amazing piece of Hashgacha Pratis which she experienced.   I too, have had NUMEROUS amazing experiences of Hashgacha Pratis in my life.  There are no coincidences, unless by coincidence one means “an act of G-d”! (My list of Hashgacha Pratis can be a blog entry in itself (or several!)). 

The last concept that I felt was strongly supported by this meeting is the concept of “powerful women”. Let me explain:

Back in the 80’s and 90’s I had my own business.  It was a “woman owned” 
business which was a “thing” back then.  I remember I surrounded myself with other women who either owned businesses or held positions of power – whether in business, politics, or in civic organizations. 

I would attend meetings with these women and always came away from these 
meetings feeling rejuvenated, alive, energetic, powerful, and just plain happy.  I felt validated both as a woman and as an individual.

After I sold my business and I returned to frumkeit, all of that kind of changed.  Maybe it was because I was not in the right place at the right time, I was not exposed to women, and the kind of women I call “women’s women”.  I think I might have thought they did not exist in the frum world. 

I joined the sisterhood at my parent’s shul.  Every year the sisterhood would put on a performance – a “musical” in honor of the kallot and banot mitzvah. The performance used well known songs from well known musicals, only we changed the words to suit our needs.  I had a lot of fun doing that.  I also designed props and décor for the annual dinner for Chessed of New Square.  I worked exclusively with women in that effort.  But it was not the same.  It was enjoyable but very limited and limiting.

When I married Barry I felt like I had something to prove.  I needed to prove that I could manage a kosher home – keep it organized, clean, cook healthy and delicious meals, and work full time as well.  I would be a great mother, a great wife, and involved in our community.  And, I DID all those things.  Initially, I worked as the registrar for the Bnei Akiva Mach Hach B’Aretz program, I was involved in our shul, I chauffeured the kids to and from after school programs, and I cooked healthy meals for dinner (we sat down as a family at the dinner table every day!).  As far as the cleaning goes, I hired a cleaning woman.  I loved my job.  Even when I left Bnei Akiva and went to work for American Friends of Shalva I continued with all aforementioned activities and I enjoyed my work.  

But in the last two years before Barry died, something changed for me.  I no longer was enjoying the job.  I felt like I was burnt out, I was listless, I had no energy and I had no relationship with G-d.  Something was wrong, and I knew it.  I remember spending some time looking for what I was missing – trying to daven with more kavanah, reading books that were supposed to be inspirational, wanting to sign up for some shiurim (only all the shiurim which I really wanted to sign up for were in the middle of my work day!).  

None of this helped.  I went to my doctor to be tested for I do not know what but nothing showed up. He gave me a Vitamin B shot.  It did not really help much.  By the time Barry died I felt wrung out.  (A year after his death I would be even more wrung out from the litigation to which I was unwillingly subjected.) 

Not once during my marriage to Barry was I able to find and be part of a group of “women’s women”.   It certainly did not exist within the religious community in Teaneck.  Most of the women in my age group, in my community, or rather in my shul, did not work. They stayed home. They raised their kids. They fixed up their houses. They remodeled their kitchens.  They cooked fabulous (and costly) meals.  They went shopping at Riverside Square Mall which is the opposite of a discount mall.   I felt I had to compete with these women.  The difference was, I worked.   I never felt like I really fit in. 

After Barry died, and I moved to Baltimore, I encountered a completely different group of people.  There, I was accepted – immediately and without needing to prove to anyone who or what I was!  There, I met several women, “women’s women”, with whom I struck up close friendships.  It so happens that several of those women made aliyah and so I am thus able to continue my close friendship with them without geography in the way!

Since making aliyah I have been growing my network of friends, acquaintances, co-workers, colleagues and even family, by leaps and bounds.  Through this network I was invited to join a special group of women.  Meeting some of them this morning awakened in me some of the spirit and energy that I find being with other women opens up. 

It was my birthday recently and I invited a group of women to help me celebrate at a restaurant one evening.  There were ten of us at that celebration.  Near the end of the evening one woman remarked to me that “all the women here are ‘powerful’ women”!  That is how I felt at the meeting this morning:  we are all ‘powerful’ women.

Thank you all for being there with me.


  1. Rachel, it was a privilege to meet you today and I am so glad I came. This was an especially wonderful group of women who were willing to talk about themselves and listen to others. I left the cafe feeling empowered and ready to face the world.
    I hope I will be able to save that feeling in my heart and unlock it when I need strength.
    Yasher koach on putting the feeling into words.

  2. It was such a pleasure to meet you in person. Now you are not just a pleasant lady I know in Cyberspace. Now you are a dear friend, whose thoughts matter to me a great deal. Thank you for adding to my life, and adding dimension to our little group.

    Looking forward to our next virtual coffee. Looking forward to seeing you again in "real life."

  3. Rachel I had the privilege of meeting you and the other wonderful women in our Coffee Talk Facebook group this morning.

    I enjoyed listening to you speak from the heart.

    Ending our gathering saying Tehillim was just beautiful.

    Thank-you for being my friend.


  4. A lovely post, Rachel! And like you I felt awed and honored to be among so many amazing women! We are lucky to have had this f2f to better appreciate each other!

  5. Wonderful post and such a privilige meeting you f2f.

  6. Rachel, You are a special dear lady. I am so happy to have met you and call you friend! (And yes, we ARE powerful women! - BEH)

  7. Rachel, I am so glad we met and now I can call you friend! You are an amazing woman.

  8. Shalom!
    I'm so sorry that I missed it, but at least y'all are writing about it so that I'll know what I missed. Although I'm sure that the even the blogs don't do justice to the amazing meeting.