The pursuit of work-life balance is, of course, not a uniquely Jewish issue. Only recently, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, unleashed a firestorm of debate when she wrote the Atlantic’s cover story entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In the article, Slaughter describes her decision to leave her high-profile job to return to a tenured academic position so she could spend more time at home with her two sons, one of whom was going through a difficult time. Slaughter concludes by stating that women cannot have it all unless workplaces make significant changes. Her essay elicited a flood of responses throughout the digital universe. But while the challenges of balancing work and family pertain to all women, it is especially difficult for Orthodox Jewish women.
One reason for this is the high cost of frum life. With the ever-rising costs of kosher food, tuition and camp (a necessity nowadays), even women who are not cut out for full-time work are often forced to work forty-hour weeks just to make ends meet.
More importantly, in Judaism, women are regarded as the cornerstone of the home, both physically and spiritually. As the primary transmitters of Toras Imecha, the experiential dimension of Torah, women are responsible for nurturing their children’s neshamos.
Toras Imecha—the mesorah and faith transmitted by a mother—is not acquired via study or intellectual pursuits; it is acquired via osmosis, while breathing in the very air of a traditional Jewish home. A Jewish child observes his mother preparing the tantalizing foods for Shabbos and yom tov; he notices her kneading the challah dough and tearfully reciting the berachah over the Shabbos candles. These simple acts help form the foundation of his faith.
Many frum women today have a “triple role”. . . that of “wife, mother and earner,” writes the well-known lecturer Debbie Greenblatt in a recent issue of the online magazine Klal Perspectives.
What is remarkable to me is the fact that so many women are successful at juggling demanding, high-pressure careers even while embracing their roles of mother and akeres habayis. In this issue, we profile a few of these women—some high-powered, some not—all of whom are very impressive in how they juggle PTA and PowerPoints, carpool and corporate meetings. Highly organized and blessed with very supportive spouses, these women seem to excel in the art of multitasking. At the same time, they are fully aware of the sacrifices they have to make and that perfection does not exist. Thus, they are willing to forego the gourmet kugel for Shabbos in favor of spending quality time with their children. They will make it to birthday parties and school plays even if it means missing a few conference calls. And in between commuting, responding to work e-mails and planning menus for Shabbos, these women are building warm, inviting Torah homes that nourish their children both physically and spiritually.
Aside from the inspiring profiles of accomplished women, this issue includes an in-depth Q and A with Rabbi Josh Spinner. Nearly seven decades after the Holocaust decimated Jewish life in Europe, Germany boasts some of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the world. Much credit for this goes to Rabbi Spinner, the unassuming man behind Lauder Yeshurun, the premier Jewish outreach organization in Germany today.
We also address a disturbing and growing trend in Jewish life: cremation. Doron Kornbluth, author of Cremation or Burial: A Jewish View, bemoans this trend and offers compelling arguments for convincing one’s irreligious friends or relatives to choose a traditional burial. In an accompanying essay, writer Jeanie Silver shares her painful struggle to give her sister a Jewish burial.
On a lighter note, we investigate the history and status of the sufganiya, the much-loved deep-fried doughnut found in bakeries everywhere in the weeks leading up to and including Chanukah. Writer Carol Ungar tells us how this caloric treat became such a Chanukah sensation both in the States and in Israel.
Of course, this issue also offers our usual array of articles on books, food, health, halachah and more. Before signing off, I want to invite you to visit our popular Web site at www.ou.org/jewish_action/ and leave us a comment or two. We always enjoy hearing from you.
Wishing you all a happy and healthy Chanukah—and don’t forget to enjoy a few sufganiyot!