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Pearl Perry Reich Doesn’t Speak For Me

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (...
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Yesterday the messages flew across my cellphone.

First came the text: “Have you heard about this lady? I’m going home to watch Dr. Phil.”

Then there was the phone call: “What a disgrace. She’s on right now! I can’t believe this. Wait…I want to hear the whole thing.”

If you were at the office like me and missed the whole thing yesterday, the long and short of it is that (yet another) formerly ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman has decided to leave the Hasidic community and go public with her story.
  • Now there is Pearl Perry Reich, who left the ultra-Orthodox community in Borough Park and who is going to television, the media and Facebook to gain support.

Both women left their husbands. Both faced intense pressure to stay. Both feel threatened for leaving. And as far as I can tell, both are worried mostly about keeping custody of their kids. So they are using the public eye as a way of protecting themselves from the wrath of the community. (Feldman calls her book an “insurance policy.”)

Feldman and Reich have both appeared on TV. Feldman is better-educated – she went to Sarah Lawrence. Reich is less articulate – she compared breaking away from Borough Park to being unable to make a chocolate cake like everybody else. (Sort of.)

Reich is going to get more attention because she, unlike Feldman, is a model. (They call her the “Hasidic Hottie.” And she says she wants to “represent thousands of women going through what I am going through today.” (Watch video clip here.)

This is a problem because Reich – for whatever reason – maybe youth, immaturity, coming out of a bad situation, you name it – seems like she is out to deliberately stir hatred of ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

This last point was made by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an advocate of Jewish values, on the show. It seems to me that he is right.

Don’t get me wrong – I am happy that women are speaking out, especially Jewish women, after so many years of silence. I think Orthodox Judaism as practiced is sometimes more restrictive than the Torah prescribes. I know what she means when she calls Hasidism a cult.

But based on my upbringing, education,family and friendships – I know there are a lot of inaccuracies in what Reich is saying. And I don’t think she knows the harm that she can do with them. Especially since she claims to represent other people. Which you should not do, unless they consent.

As follows:
  • Yes,the community is insular and indoctrinates people. However, this is because the secular world is all around them, and it is tempting. It is hard to stay spiritual and keep the rituals when all around you there are opposing messages.
  • Yes, there is pressure to marry, lack of birth control, and lack of education. But these apply to both women and men.
  • Yes, men have more formal power – religious, financial, political. But women have more familial power and the children are seen as “theirs.” (Update: a friend made a good point that this is only so long as they stay in the community.)
  • Yes, there is abuse and the community doesn’t like to deal with it (like in any community). But there are many informal channels that women use to deal with it, including going to the women and men in their families for help.
  • Yes, if you dress immodestly, you will be called names. But that is a community norm and would not be perceived as “abuse.”
  • Yes, you are pressured to stay within the community. And yes, leaving is hard and you might even be threatened and lack support. But the issue is not that women lack freedom. Rather, there is an overriding desire to preserve the religion at all costs. And if you represent yourself as religious on your wedding day, and have four children while still in the religious community, and then decide to be the “Hasidic Hottie,” it is highly implausible that you are going to raise your children in the manner to which you agreed upfront.

Reich misrepresented Orthodoxy in some other ways, too. If she is not observant then fine, but if she is then behavior doesn't match ideology:
  • She appeared onstage with a boyfriend despite not being divorced.
  • She said that Orthodox Judaism is “basically morals.” It’s not – it involves an extensive amount of ritual.
  • She works as a model but Orthodox Judaism emphasizes modesty and not flaunting your body.

Rabbi Boteach, who appeared with her on Dr. Phil (see hereand here),spoke very well in response to her.

Basically he said:
  • Focus on solving the issue.
  • You are in pain – deal with that directly. “Don’t use your pain to make more pain” and “malign an entire group.”
  • Kids need to be raised in “one specific tradition” – otherwise it’s confusing.
  • Don’t blame the religion for your experience – any religion can be abused by anyone.
  • Divorce happens, and Judaism believes that both parents should stay involved in the kids’ lives afterward.

At the end, Boteach offered Reich his personal assistance in resolving the situation. Which reflects true Jewish values and religious/humanistic values generally.

Some people think that it’s bad to air “dirty laundry” in public. I think it’s fine to share the issues. Because that leads to an open conversation, and logic in the end does prevail.

However, when someone says things that are not true, and they do it hatefully, it’s very important to get on the record and correct the facts. Pearl Perry Reich doesn't have to be Hasidic, but she doesn’t have the right to spread baseless hatred as a way of healing her own wounds.

As an aside, this is a nice Op-Ed by a Hasidic Jewish woman, Chava Tombosky, in response to Reich.

I am sorry to see it when people suffer and hope this family finds peace.

Have a good rest of the weekend everyone, and good luck!
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Delicious Inefficiency

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Around 12:55 p.m. I would turn the old-fashioned doorknob and sneak in.

There they were, Grandma and Grandpa. Two little people under a huge white downy cover. Normally talkative and debating, now quiet and intent. Snuggled together under the covers with the "rabbit ears" (old-fashioned TV antenna) extended as far out as possible.

The extended family sat on the bed, all over the bed, hanging onto our beloved grandparents. The cool April air blew fresh and clean into the wide-open windows of that little mountain house. Safe and cozy and there was no such thing as time.

My mother filed in quietly. Followed by sister. It was Passover and we weren't supposed to watch TV. We did anyway. Carried out the whole elaborate ritual so that Dad, who was more observant, could pretend not to notice.

The game of watching the soap opera was agonizingly inefficient. Yet it was beautiful. One of the best memories I have.

Watching the soap wasn't quick, either. Soaps move very, very s-l-o-w. The twists and turns burn over decades, yet the eternal characters (Bo, Hope, Stefano, Marlena, John, and Sami) stay, and stay basically the same.

Yet we are drawn to watch and follow them; Days is the #4 soap opera in the U.S. Maybe we aren't watching them as much as we used to, but when we do watch - are we wasting time?

There is this blog called the Busy Budgeting Mama. One post showed how she made a cardboard castle for her daughters for $4. I scanned it and thought, that's pretty nice for so little money!

Then I thought, that is so inefficient to spend so much time on a cardboard castle.

But the kids are beautiful. And they look happy. It didn't seem like a waste of time.

Did you see the movie The Way? I haven't yet, but I want to. It's about a dad whose son decides to go on the "Camino de Santiago" pilgrimage, and dies on the trip. The father doesn't understand the son or his pilgrimage, or why it's important at all. Until the son dies and, in the process of journeying to obtain the son's remains, dad decides to go himself.

We should spend more time the right kind of inefficiency. That's the whole premise of the runaway smash bestweller The 4-Hour Workweek. Automate what's not important so you can spend more time on what is - relationships and experiences that are un-duplicatable. That lend meaning to life.

Pursuing meaning is inherently inefficient. Learning. Relationships. Traveling. Volunteering. We should do more of all of those things.

But things that we spend time on and don't add any meaning are a waste of time. It makes sense to automate those.

Some people are afraid. Maybe they are used to inefficiency. Maybe they think it works. Maybe they want to change but worry about losing their status or even their job. What if we automated everything, the robots took over, and the rest of us were out of a job?

Worrying about that stuff is misguided. We should worry more about meaning - how to organize our society so that people can spend more time pursuing it.

What about the money? Won't we all be broke?

No. The real value that people bring to the table, at work or at home, comes from getting other people engaged. From adding meaning to THEIR lives so that they are stirred up themselves.

Because the deepest fear people have is that their entire life is meaningless.

I am willing to bet that we have the technology today to feed, clothe, house and take medical care of everyone if we would only get together and decide to make it happen. So that much of our time could be spent in school, in the lab, etc. - finding other ways to give back. 

Here is a great equation from the book Emotional Equations (first learned about from reading a guest post on Tim Ferriss' blog):

Despair = Suffering - Meaning

A good professional and personal goal is to add meaning to the local environment. Part of that is calling out what doesn't make sense. If you have the guts to identify and eliminate unnecessary inefficiencies, and to rally people toward a more sensible solution instead, then people will want you around even more.

Relationships and experiences in the service of meaning - those are what is important in life. Because they're spiritual. God puts us here to learn, and the meaning is in the discovery. Everything else is subject to automation, and ought to be.

Find a place for yourself where you can promote meaning and eliminate waste. All of your ecosystems will thank you for it.

Good luck!