Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing an old friend of mine, Adina Chelom, who is an observant, Orthodox Jewish woman. Here she discusses many different topics that I think you all may find helpful and interesting. Here are some of my favourite philosophies Adina shared:
- Being a keeper of what was dear to those who came before me.
- Elevate all acts, even the mundane, to a higher spiritual place.
- Change the world into a better place.
- There is nothing but the moment.
- When we light candles we are adding to the light in the home.
- As the light grows so does the mother’s love for her children.
- Light conquering darkness is a repeating theme in Judaism.
- Being observant has totally changed, enhancedand blessed everything in my world.
- Torah is all encompassing.
- How would you define your spiritual and religious beliefs / affiliation? What does Judaism mean to you?
Being Jewish means a worldwide connection to other Jews and to Jews throughout the ages… Being a keeper of what was dear to those who came before me and hopefully passing it on in turn to those who will come after me. It’s an opportunity to take the mundane acts and elevate all acts to a higher spiritual place.
- Pretend you are writing a type of “Wish List” or “Job Description” for what a Jewish person aspires to do etc.; what would it say?
Change the world into a better place by creating space for the revelation of G-d’s presence in this world.
- What aspects of Judaism focus on the powers of the earth, nature and the changing of the seasons? Are there any earth-based spiritual practices or tribal characteristics within Judaism? Please describe / summarise.
The Torah is full of aspects that relate to the seasons, but natural elements are not seen as having power but as being a reflection of HaShem’s control over the world (HaShem is the nickname that Jewish people use for G-d). The rain comes at His will. The plants flourish as He sees fit. Our role is to take those gifts and work with them and asking for His assistance to maintain us.
- What are the mystical and magickal aspects of Judaism? How would you define Kabbalah and how do you utilise it in your life?
Kabbalah is tradition, it is something that has been passed down through verbal communication. It is insights into Torah that are passed down from rabbi to student.
- Do you and other Jewish people meditate? Why and how do you pray? Is prayer similar to meditating?
Meditation is certainly a part of Judaism. There is formal prayer that is done with a minyan (group of 10 men), 3 times a day, and there is informal prayer, the conversations that one has with HaShem. Meditation to me is about learning to focus on that which is important. The time of prayer is meditation. For me prayer is part of my day and is frequent. I will have conversations with HaShem about fears and anxieties as well as times of sharing my gratefulness for his constant blessing.
- Why and how do you keep Kosher?
I keep kosher because it is a part of Jewish observance. The laws surrounding kosher are beautiful and intriguing. I love the way the laws fit together and force you to think through so much. I love having the opportunity to take something as mundane as food preparation and consumption and raise it through the observance of kashrut (Jewish laws regarding food and drink etc). I observe the commandments of keeping kosher by keeping separate dishes for meat and milk, not cooking dishes that contain a mixture of meat and milk. Eating only animals that are permissible (cows, sheep, goat, chicken, turkey, fish with fins and scales), and animals that have been shechted (slaughtered) according to the commandments. There are many other detailed laws that need to be followed in order to comply with the commandments of keeping kosher. But despite how complicated some believe it to be; it is quite simple with knowledge. It is a beautiful way to connect to HaShem and other Jews.
- Why and how do you observe the Sabbath? How does it improve your life and world?
We are taught that Shabbat keeps the Jews as Jews keep Shabbat. It is so true for me. When I first became observant I found it incredibly difficult to keep Shabbat (the Sabbath). To not be tempted to turn off a light that I had forgotten prior to Shabbat or an oven… Over time it has not only become easier, but I could not function without that 25 hour space each week to disconnect and refocus. When the world is in more pain than I can bare, I know I just need to hold out till Friday night and HaShem is there waiting for me. I know his presence is there all the time but it’s a different kind of connection on Shabbat. Shabbat is our preview of what life will be like in the world to come and I have to say I am looking forward to being in the time where the world is only Shabbat. For me now it is about special foods, lots of visitors (as often as I can find those who are willing to attend). It is time with my kids and husband. It’s a time of singing, laughing and being silly with my kids. It’s a time to unwind. I know a lot of people who find it challenging when there are 2 days of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) with Shabbat thrown in but I long for it. I love being in that place where there is nothing but the moment. I love coming up with creative meals, but more often than not it will be the kids. I enjoy hosting guests more than I enjoy being a guest. There is something incredibly special about having people in our home. Our kids are now at the point where they are disappointed if there are no visitors on Shabbat. I love that they enjoy it as well.
- When and why do Jewish people light candles?
Candles are lit before sunset on Friday nights and before sunset going into a festival. We are commanded to not only keep the Sabbath but honour it as well. When we light candles we are adding to the light in the home to help us enjoy the experience of the Shabbat meal. It came from a practical reason. Light was needed to see what you were doing prior to electric light. But it became an integral part of Shabbat. People were promised to have children that would be great Torah scholars by having their home illuminated on Friday night. I have taken on the custom of lighting a candle per child. I remember reading a beautiful story when I was expecting my second child. A woman was talking about the challenge of introducing a new child into the home and how it can make the older sibling/s feel like there will be less for them. And let’s be honest, it will certainly feel that way in the beginning. A newborn needs a lot. But she was able to demonstrate to her child that with each child that comes into their home, there is more light, and that just as the light grows so does the mother’s love for her children. I had already taken on the custom at this stage but it made it so much more meaningful for me.
The other significant candle lighting time is for a person who has died. A 7 day candle is lit after the burial and is left to burn for the 7 days of mourning that follow. And then a 24 hour candle is lit every year on the yartzheit (anniversary) in memory of the departed soul. At the time of losing my father, I did not have any understanding of the significance of following the Jewish laws of mourning. I did it purely because I knew it was important to my father. Then, 5 years later, when I lost my mother as a newly observant Jew and a newly married woman, the laws were invaluable in helping me deal with one of the most difficult periods of time. When I light the candles for my parents at each festival when yizkor is said, I am reminded that they are still a part of me. Those candles remind me to make my parents alive for my children with stories of them so that they will not miss out on knowing their grandparents. And it reminds me that I am not alone. And I know one day I will be reunited with them in the times of Moshiach.
The idea of light conquering darkness is a repeating theme in Judaism. Torah is called light and fire, the imagery in Judaism is beautiful.
- What are the major Jewish holiday traditions that you celebrate and why? How do these holidays improve your life and world?
I love the Jewish holidays. They have such amazing meaning and the more years I spend observing them the more meaning they have for me. I love the cycle of the Jewish calendar. There is always the next event to look forward to. Whether its baking honey cake with my children for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), or baking hamantashen (triangular pastries) at Purim – each festival has its own special traditional food and its way of bringing the past present and future all together. The impact of having a structure to my year has helped to give me frequent times in the year to remember what my goal is. Each Yom Tov has its story. The good and the bad that have happened on each festival comes together and creates a deeper connection to our creator. The pressure of the build-up: Is my house clean enough for Pesach (the Passover festival)? Have I made enough mishloah manot for Purim? Did I remember to buy a bunch of flowers on Shavuot? The craziness of my home as we approach candle lighting time and again the checklist: are the salads made? Is the table set? Are the kids clean and dressed and am I? Then candle lighting comes. That hour between lighting and my husband and son coming home is a transition period. Then my husband walks in and makes Kiddush and I feel the transformation complete itself. There is true peace in my home. Peace in my heart, nothing matters but that time with my children and husband and visitors. No more outside interruptions. Then there is the late bedtime as my kids one by one put themselves to bed, and the early waking the next morning as they want their fill of Shabbat cereal (sugary cereal they are only allowed on Shabbat and Yom Tov). Then maybe off to synagogue or a park. Another fancy meal or maybe a less traditional meal then off to the park again where all our friends meet, the kids play with their friends as I get a chance to sit with my friends and catch up and unwind. How on earth did I manage before becoming observant? What if I had not become observant? The incredible beauty and joy I would have missed out on. Being observant has totally changed everything in my world. It has enhanced so much for me. I feel so blessed to be a Jew and have the opportunity to live this life.
- Why do you dress modestly and wear a headscarf or wig?
The first step I took in my journey to becoming an observant Jew was to take on dressing modestly. I fell into it by accident but it very quickly became a very comfortable part of my life. I was visiting my sister in Israel, she is observant. It was summer and hot. I was dressed in skirts and t-shirts that were low cut. My youngest niece at the time, she would have been maybe 4 or 5, was trying to make my skirt cover my knees and top reach up to my collar bone as the laws of tzniut (modesty) demand. I was so in love with this little girl that I was getting to know that I decided to go shopping and buy some appropriate clothes to fit in with her expectations with only the thought of dressing this way while I was with my sister’s family. I was in Israel for 10 days. The different way I was treated, specifically by men, made a huge impact on me. I was treated with more respect. I was talked to differently. I came back to Australia and began a journey of seeking knowledge about what Judaism actually was and how to keep the many laws. As a married woman, I decided that I would like to cover my hair as well. I think in the beginning, for me it was about a means of fitting into the community but has become so much more than that. I do not like wearing a sheital (wig) as I have never been able to connect to the idea of covering my hair with hair. But I do wear it when I
see it as appropriate: for job interviews and certain community functions. But when I cover my hair with a tichel (scarf, hat or snood) I feel myself at home and showing the world how the daughter of a king (a Jewish woman/girl is compared to the daughter of a king as we are the daughters of our creator and king) must dress to keep herself modest and protected. Dressing modestly certainly
presents its challenges. The greatest difficulty is accessing appropriate clothes, especially for my daughters. I follow the custom to dress them modestly from the age of 5 but I have found with each of the girls they have requested to be exclusively in skirts from the age of 3 and have shown concern about sleeve length from the age of 4. I will not wear pants; I will wear clothes that cover my knees elbows and collar bones. I know there are many ways of keeping tzniut. I think it’s something I only realized since my last visit to Israel. But as I understand the concepts more and how they relate to time and place I find myself more open to others’ interpretations of what these laws mean to them. There is so much scope within the laws for finding a way to make modest work for each individual and I do like seeing how each community interprets it to fit themselves. I remember walking through Bnei brak in Israel with my daughter. She was 7 at the time. She was so inspired by the women she saw there. She said to me: ‘Mummy, these women are beautiful. They are dressed like its Shabbat even though it is not’. To me that is something I keep going back to, to keep me inspired by these laws. I want my daughters to see me as dressing as though every day is Shabbat. I hope that they will find inspiration to carry on keeping these laws when the time comes for them to make their own decisions.
- What do you know about the Canaanite and Hebrew Goddesses and the Shechinah, Anat, Asherah, Lilith, Asherah etc?
I assume that by the Shechinah you mean the presence of God that rests in this world. We know that the Shechinah. rests in the Beit Hamikdash (Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple), and there is also discussion that each Jewish home represents a mini Beit Hamikdash. When we have peace in our home, a strong marriage and are raising children in the ways of Torah then we create in our home a place for Shechinah to dwell. Hashem is one, all encompassing, he has different facets and ways of relating to us. And they I believe are determined by our own needs at the time. When we make time to learn Torah and work on our middot (attributes / character traits), we see that Torah is all encompassing. There in not a facet of life that HaShem has not given us a blueprint for. When we open ourselves to learning his ways we can accomplish so much and we can leave behind the falseness of the world.
- Is there such a thing as Jewish feminism? Are women treated equally in Judaism?
I dislike the term feminism. I think it has done much to destroy the western world. I believe HaShem created man and woman, he created us differently and he created us only to be complete when we are a couple working to do his will. I don’t think equality exists. Women have one role to play, men have another. Each individual has their own path, they are given the challenges that they need to raise their neshama (soul or spirit) to its greatest heights. Some are given the challenge of being alone, that is what they need in order to create the best version of themselves. Others are given the challenge of a marriage and family. Others are given the challenge of money, poverty and illness. I see my role as a Jewish woman to give my children the tools they need to create Jewish homes. In doing this I raise myself up by giving them love and warmth, food and a home. I am my husband’s other half. Together we work on creating a Jewish home. We keep the laws of family purity. I can see how they benefit our marriage but I would keep them the same if I could not see their benefit. I make meals for friends when they are unwell, or have lost a loved one. I do the same for strangers when the opportunity presents itself. I learn Torah, I listen to shriurim, and I try and make space for my connection to HaShem. I do not see being counted in a minyan and wearing tallit (fringed garment traditionally worn by Jewish men) or teffilin (small leather boxes with mini scrolls of the Torah, worn by Jewish men during morning prayers) as the only way to connect to HaShem. They are not for me. I do not need them to improve myself. I have enough to do in my short time in this world.
What are your thoughts about this interview? How would you answer all the above questions yourself? I would love to hear from you. Comment below or via email.