If you’ve ever seen a Hasidic Jewish person on TV shows, movies, or in popular documentaries, then take that portrayal and throw it away.
I’m a Hasidic Jewish woman living and working in Vermont. Some may say I’m ultra-orthodox, but that’s a meaningless label the media has projected onto observant Jews who look a certain way.
Hollywood and the media have not portrayed us nicely or accurately. In the media, things are exaggerated for dramatic effect and this tends to magnify stereotypes. In fact, I would say the media is a huge reason anti-semitism still strongly exists today.
Let me give you a real insight into the life of a Hasidic Jewish woman (please keep in mind we are all different and this story is only my own).
You would never know about my religion unless you knew what to look for. I wear ordinary clothes, though I always don a skirt or dress, long sleeves, and a crew neck top.
I am a practicing physical therapist with a doctorate degree.
I own my own business.
Listen to too many podcasts to count.
I go on runs with friends, shop local, hike, go to local events, and strike up conversations with just about everyone about just about anything.
And I would never miss a good game night with friends.
Meanwhile, I eat only Kosher food, don’t work on the Sabbath (Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, Saturday), pray daily, have a growing family where the number of kids I want is only limited to what G-d will bless me with, wear a wig to cover my hair, don’t touch any man other than my father and husband (this is my own restriction and has nothing to do with what my respecting husband wants from me, though it’s Torah law and it’s expected a Hasidic Jew won’t touch the opposite gender; so similarly my husband also has equal restrictions), keep laws of family purity (also known as taharas hamishpacha), don’t own a television, and my kids’ average screen time is 0 hours.
I didn’t grow up this way. While growing up in Texas, I practiced my Judaism by going to Hebrew school and to Temple every once in a while when I was forced to go. How I got to be a Hasidic Jew is a whole other story. Suffice it to say, I chose this way of life out of love, respect, and admiration and have never once regretted it or felt minimized since choosing it almost 15 years ago.
But now I am here, in Vermont, where I can count the Hasidic families living in this whole state on two hands.
So here is the question EVERYONE asks me- what am I doing here? How did this Hasidic Jewish woman end up in Vermont?
In short, my husband and I were invited to be emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to open a Chabad House in Middlebury.
I ordinarily tell people my husband and I have a “Jewish Center” in Middlebury to make things simple. But what is a Chabad House? A Chabad House is a place where a Jewish person can come to and be seen “beyond the knowledge of a person, beyond their outward behavior, into the depths of their heart, to find there the divine spark and reveal it with unconditional love… A Chabad House will generally host classes, lectures, and workshops on Jewish topics; religious services; Shabbat meals; and special events as needed in that community.” Beyond the events and constant hosting, our Chabad House is truly here for each and every Jewish soul.
Our days are mainly filled with developing relationships, being there for someone to talk to, feeding a hungry or sick belly, and giving a college student a warm home to come to when they need a break from their life at school. We strive to be a “home away from home” in a judgment-free zone.
That’s what brings me to Middlebury, VT. And the fact is, I enjoy it. I prefer it over big city living where most Jewish communities are.
While I do sincerely miss being in a larger orthodox community and wish my kids could grow up in a “community” (we are a VERY, VERY community-oriented religion), I enjoy the environment and way of life Vermont has to offer. I love my kids running around freely with no shoes on, going to my garden while I’m cooking to grab veggies or herbs, getting eggs from our chickens, going on hikes and runs through the beautiful landscape, being able to ski locally, farm-hopping for local items, going to local bookstores, knowing each one of our neighbors, and seeing someone I know on most of my outings.
My day-to-day life as a Hasidic Jewish woman doesn’t look much different than yours.
My mornings are spent finding the strength to get out of bed to work out after all 3 kids traveled to my bed from their own beds at various times of the night, feeding them a million breakfasts, convincing them to get dressed, running around the house and playing games with their glorious morning energy, and rushing them out of the door for school.
Afternoons, I am either working for the Chabad, meeting college students or community members, treating patients, or at home with my baby. In the evening, it is wind-down (or wind-up and crash) time, dinner, and bedtime (and y’all… I have just discovered the miracle of Melatonin!) When our kids are finally sleeping, I typically do more work, read, have a Torah study session with a partner, online shop, catch up on my Shutterfly albums, or spend quality time together with my husband if he doesn’t fall asleep while helping put our kids to sleep.
When it comes to food, keeping Kosher has to do with whether or not a specific food is permissible to eat by the Torah. All raw plants, trees, herbs, vegetables, and fruit are kosher (to remain kosher they must be cooked in a kitchen that strictly abides by all the laws of kosher). The only things that get tricky are meat, seafood, dairy, and other byproducts of animals such as gelatin.
The meat has to be from a kosher animal and killed in a kosher way by someone specifically trained. A kosher animal must chew its own cud and have split hooves, otherwise, it is not kosher. Fish must have fins and scales, otherwise, the fish or sea creature is not kosher. Dairy products also need to be from a kosher animal and the milking process needs to be supervised. Any byproduct of an animal needs to be from a kosher animal that has been killed and processed in a kosher way. That’s a quick summary. No blessing of the food by a rabbi is involved, only supervision as needed. Supervision is used when necessary (such as in factories for processed foods) to ensure the kosher standards of a product are upheld by the kosher certifying agency.
So what do I eat? I personally love all things vegan and love to try cuisines from different cultures. My kids are almost carnivores. And my husband enjoys all kinds of food (as long as it’s kosher). Baking is a hobby, not a chore.
As you can see, I’m pretty relatable. However, the difference in my life as a Hasidic Jewish woman is in the small things.
How we thank G-d for our lives and our ability to connect to Him and perform his commandments immediately upon awakening.
Ritually washing our hands.
Giving at least a coin to charity (Tzedakah) at least once daily and encouraging our kids to do the same.
Saying morning (and afternoon and evening) prayers.
Saying a blessing before and after every single thing we eat and drink.
Always having respect for G-d in mind when we get dressed and put a bite of food in our mouths (dressing modestly and keeping Kosher).
Knowing with every action we do there is an Eye that sees and Ear that hears. So we try to always act kindly and respectfully while following the 613 commandments (we can actually only do 369 commandments today without the existence of The Holy Temple in Jerusalem) with good and meaningful intentions.
The continuous education and stories we tell our children about our past, present, and future (our home life is significantly built on the foundation of educating our kids).
Learning and speaking about Torah and G-d every chance we can.
Preparing for the Sabbath to arrive all day on Friday by cooking and attempting to clean my home (my husband is super helpful with this, as I still need to work on my time management….). We often have guests Friday dinner and Saturday lunch for the Sabbath meals, which are 5 courses for dinner and 4 courses for lunch, and I make it a mission of mine to have every person who walks into our Chabad house leave full of delicious and healthy food (I sometimes cheat the healthiness with my desserts).
Dedicating our Sabbath (sundown on Friday to nightfall on Saturday) to G-d and putting all materialism aside while spending precious time with our family and community. Although there are many restrictions for this day, they are liberating.
I know y’all may be wondering about my relationship with my husband and if being a woman makes me inferior or subservient.
In Judaism it is taught that marriage is between 3 “people”: G-d, the husband, and the wife.
In Judaism, a home is compared to The Holy Temple, the holiest place on earth. Being such a holy place, it needs to be full of G-d, love, happiness, and peace. A woman is considered the foundation of the home, of the holiest place to be. A man recognizes and respects this role.
Furthermore, it is taught that women are spiritually superior to men. This concept is very clear to men and they appreciate it, accept it, and speak about it often in a respectful manner towards women.
My husband and I are fortunate to have a beautiful and meaningful relationship with a foundation of good and shared values. I’m not saying we are perfect. What I’m saying is that we have a strong foundation, and because of that, all issues that may arise can be mutually resolved because we respect each other and our marriage.
My husband is my partner in every way. The different roles and responsibilities we have are based on Jewish customs and laws, as well as playing towards our own individual strengths.
We share responsibilities within our home and raising our children. Of course we each have our own roles and responsibilities, as any marriage would, but one responsibility is not more important than the other. Our roles, combined with Jewish customs and laws, are all necessary to make a cohesive home, marriage, and educational experience for our children. Our shared commitment to each other and to G-d makes our marriage continually blossom, even after the not-so-easy moments within our 7 years of marriage (and counting!).
Overall, as a Hasidic Jewish woman living in Vermont, sometimes I feel a bit out of place. But then that feeling goes away and I’m back to feeling comfortable again. Thanks to you, Vermont. You have been a very accepting place for me and my family. I think the biggest judgment I have had comes from myself (that’s relatable, right?!)
So as a Hasidic Jew, am I different from most people in Vermont? Yes. But aren’t we all different? We are all put in this world for a reason and have our own, unique G-dly mission. No puzzle piece is the same. And we are all pieces of a much larger puzzle which we can’t see from this angle way down here. So rather than judge our differences, let’s celebrate them. And spread love, happiness, and light.
Please feel free to comment with any questions. Those who know me can attest to the fact I am pretty open and honest and usually disclose more than asked.
- For more information on what a Chabad House is and does, visit this wonderful and informative website.
- Curious what a Chabad House is like? I have colleagues internationally who all welcome everyone with open arms. Find one here.
- If you want to see a well-portrayed docu-series with some inside scoop of Hasidic life, check out Peter Santenello’s series.
- Oprah Winfrey also has some good interviews with Hasidic families on YouTube.
- There was also a “My Orthodox Life” movement on social media in response to the Netflix show, “My Un-orthodox Life.” Search #MyOrthodoxLife to see many Hasidic Jewish women give their own authentic reflections about the religion and lifestyle.
(Please keep in mind, there are many, many DOZENS of Hasidic communities and sects, and my experience only represents two or three; so this is by NO MEANS an exhaustive or extensive look into Hasidic Judaism).
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