Female Mohelet - a personal touch

Female mohelet

Yeah, I know, this is my fourth post of the day, but who's counting?

I read in the Jerusalem Post this weekend about a female Mohelet, Rochelle Schwartz, who came to Israel recently to perform a ritual brit milah, circumcision, on a newborn boy. The article reveals:

With over 25 years of medical practice under her belt, Schwartz has provided non-ritual medical circumcisions as a family doctor to many of her patients and their new young family members. She has developed, over the past 15 years, a unique pain prevention protocol. The technique includes topical and local anesthetic, pain medication and sugar pacifiers (for the newborn to suck on along with the wine), all of which help to virtually eliminate the pain involved in the circumcision procedure.

Schwartz, 53, finally acted on her feelings nine years ago, when she became one of three practicing female mohalot in Canada. Rochelle had studied the Halachot of brit mila with a rabbi for a year prior to becoming a mohelet. She had a Conservative upbringing and currently belongs to a Reform synagogue in her Jewish community in Toronto.

"I always had a love and passion for my Judaism," she says. "I began to think that being a mohelet would be a way to combine my love for Judaism, my surgical [skills] as well as my spiritual life."

I can't deny it sounds great - it seems very logical that women, who by nature are more compassionate than men, should work as mohelot, but as an Orthodox Jew, the first question that entered my mind when I read this article was: what does Halacha have to say about this?

The article addresses this very question:

While according to Halacha, the obligation to perform brit mila falls on the father, there is a biblical precedent for a woman carrying out the act.

According to traditional sources, Jewish tradition does not recognize that the mother has a mitzva to fulfill; that is, the responsibility falls upon the father to recite the blessing of the brit mila. "The mother is encouraged to recite the bracha [blessing] with the father or without the father present following the circumcision," says Sacks.

Theoretically, he says, women may circumcise. He also mentions Tzippora in the Book of Exodus, in which she performed a brit mila. However, according to tradition, Moses is said to have taken the flint from her hand and completed the brit, thus ultimately retaining male dominance in the performance of this traditional Jewish practice.

The male dominance is also seen in Orthodoxy, which adopts the view that since it is not normative practice within Jewish communities, permitting women to perform brit mila would only erode the power of custom and tradition. Rabbi Shaul Farber, a practicing Orthodox rabbi, and founder and director of Itim, the Jewish life Information and Advocacy Center, says that there is an ongoing debate within the Orthodox community on whether women can function as mohalot.

The Shulhan Aruch, the universally accepted legal code book of Jewish law, includes the basic laws of brit mila. The legal code, which was compiled by the great Sephardi Rabbi Joseph Caro in the mid 1500s, combines both the differing customs and laws of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewry. It is a reliable legal source of Jewish laws and practices.

The male dominance is also seen in Orthodoxy, which adopts the view that since it is not normative practice within Jewish communities, permitting women to perform brit mila would only erode the power of custom and tradition. Rabbi Shaul Farber, a practicing Orthodox rabbi, and founder and director of Itim, the Jewish life Information and Advocacy Center, says that there is an ongoing debate within the Orthodox community on whether women can function as mohalot.

The Shulhan Aruch, the universally accepted legal code book of Jewish law, includes the basic laws of brit mila. The legal code, which was compiled by the great Sephardi Rabbi Joseph Caro in the mid 1500s, combines both the differing customs and laws of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewry. It is a reliable legal source of Jewish laws and practices.

Halacha is not set in stone - each generation confronts a new set of circumstances, and while we endeavor to adhere as closely as possible to Halacha, it has to change with the times and needs of new generations. The root of the word "Halacha" means in English, "to walk, to go," denoting physical movement. We live in a generation where women's talents and special qualities are no longer going unnoticed, and while it is true that some mitzvot apply to men and some mitzvot apply to women, if there is a biblical precedent for female mohalet, I don't see the problem. If it was OK for Tzipporah to circumcise her son, why should Jewish women not train for this, if they so wish?

It seems to me that the only real Halachic objection against female Mohelot is the fact that "since it is not normative practice within Jewish communities, permitting women to perform brit mila would only erode the power of custom and tradition."

This line of reasoning begs the question: Is our tradition not strong enough to withstand POSITIVE change? Why are we, as Orthodox Jews, so petrified of making changes that will allow women to play a more participatory role in Jewish rituals and communal life?

On the other hand, people might question Rochelle Schwartz's sincerity. I know I did when I read the article. She writes that she performed a brit milah in Israel for the following reason:

I wanted to come to Israel to perform the brit mila, because this has traditionally been performed by an Orthodox mohel and just as I was a pioneer in Canada performing brit mila there, I wanted to become a pioneer in changing the way people feel about brit mila in Israel and be one of the first women to perform it in Israel.

It seems that Rochelle's motivation is to go down in history as being a pioneer, to be one of the first women to perform brit milah in Israel. While I obviously understand her desire to be famous, if she were truly genuine about performing the mitzvah of brit milah, why couldn't she have continued to perform other brit milot in the US, without needing to seek the limelight?

I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

Happy birthday, Louis Theroux!

louis face

It is Louis Theroux's 37th birthday today! For those of you who have no idea who Louis Theroux is, you can read about him here, and then I advise you to watch his documentaries. He is a first-class presenter and broadcaster.

When I was 39 weeks pregnant with my oldest child, the furthest I could get to was the couch, so we rented a gazillion DVD's from our local DVD store on Emek Refaim in Jerusalem (how I miss Jerusalem!), and among them were some Louis Theroux documentaries. After that, I was hooked. He covers off-beat cultural subjects, and his style is extremely dry and witty.

He describes his objective as being:

Setting out to discover the genuinely odd in the most ordinary setting. To me, it's almost a privilege to be welcomed into these communities and to shine a light on them and, maybe, through my enthusiasm, to get people to reveal more of themselves than they may have intended. The show is laughing at me, adrift in their world, as much as at them. I don't have to play up that stuff. I'm not a matinee idol disguised as a nerd.

But my feeling is that he is being too modest. We just now finished watching his documentary on Nazi skinheads, and I was blown away by the way that he handled himself and the thugs who surrounded him. He spent a week living amongst a group of white supremacists, and followed the movements of the leader of the White Aryan Resistance. Although it is clear that the people whom he exposes are on the fringe of society, and will never have any power or influence in the States, it is still scary that they exist.

The leader of the White Aryan Resistance, Tom Metzger, aired his views to Louis about "Niggers," and when asked by Louis why he called them that, and why he hated them so much, his response was: "Because they are ugly." Tom, who is a balding, overweight man with no redeeming physical features said in all seriousness that he believed himself to be better looking than Denzel Washington, and that he could easily get more women than him. At that point, Louis suggested that Tom was delusional, a comment which didn't endear him to the Nazi.

At one point, he went to see some skinheads in their home, and after sitting and talking with them for a few minutes, one of them asked him if he was Jewish. The skinhead claimed that Louis looked Jewish. Louis refused to answer the question, and said that if he were to tell him whether he was Jewish or not, he would be sending out a message that his religion makes a difference, and he wasn't prepared to do that. You really have to watch the documentary to get the full effect. Louis was surrounded by four or five heavyweight Neo-Nazis who started taunting him, and calling him "Jewboy." When Louis asked them what they would do if he told them he was Jewish, one skinhead replied, "I would throw you out of here, and beat you up, and leave you to die." But Louis still wouldn't tell them. I really admired him for that. He could have told them that he was non-Jewish - which he is - but instead he took a stand against these pigs.

I am in a giving mood - I just found the video on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Me9f66yEKuk. It is worth watching. Then go read the 8 pages of comments from people on Youtube who watched the video, and supported the Nazi stance, and it will reinforce the feeling that this world is truly messed up.

Non sequitur, Louis bears a striking resemblance to a friend of mine, Raphael Freeman. Don't you agree?

You can NEVER be too careful

My first instinct after reading this article is to go pick up my two girls this second, and take them out of their respective day cares.

A two-year-old boy died in Oklahoma after being bound and taped for refusing to be quiet during nap time.  I know that evil acts are committed every second of every day, and this isn't the first or unfortunately last example of barbaric behavior, but as a parent, as a mother, stories like these make you want to wrap your children up in cotton wool till they are 18. No, make that 21.

Closer to home, I read almost every week in the free local Modiin newspaper sickening stories of child abuse occurring in private day care centers. An acquaintance of mine put her six-month-old son in a private day care center, only to wake up one night, after picking up her son from day care, to hear him screaming in agony. After taking him to the emergency room, the doctors told the parents that the baby had broken his elbow, and dislocated his arm. The day care lady claimed to know nothing about it.

I remember last year reading a story in the Modiin newspaper about a one-year-old boy who was found walking in an underground car park during the middle of the day. Apparently, he had climbed through the bushes of the garden, and walked down the street. When the police finally went to the day care center, the two women in charge hadn't even noticed the boy was missing. Chilling stories. And all from private day care centers, where you are supposed to be paying extra money for peace of mind.

Since my husband and I both work full time, we have become very familiar over the last three and a half years with the process of searching out day care centers for our little ones. Over a year ago, my husband and I were looking for a day care center for my then-seven month old. We eliminated half of the day care centers on our list by simply standing outside their doors before knocking, so that we could listen to what was going on inside. In quite a few places, we heard the women yell at the children, and talk to them in a way that made ME frightened. We just walked away.

We finally found a place for Tzofia with what seemed to be a warm, Sephardi, grandmother-type, figure in her early fifties. She had five children of her own, who were all older and in school, and she was taking care of just two other babies. She had a large house with a huge garden. Sounded good. We told her everything she needed to know about Tzofia - her likes, dislikes, sleeping patterns, and arranged to leave her there the next day.  It was pretty straightforward - at that time, we had just started Tzofi on solids, so all she really ate was a bottle, fruit, and oatmeal.

The following day, I came to pick Tzofi up, and found that her face was covered in chocolate. Bewildered, I asked the woman why her face was covered in chocolate. Her response? "My son had a birthday party, and Tzofi really enjoyed the cake." Well, that was the last time I ever stepped foot inside that house. Not surprisingly, on the way home, Tzofi threw up in her car seat.

Until your child reaches the age where s/he can communicate, and report to you what happens during the day, you need to take all the necessary measures to ensure that your child is in a safe and loving environment. A couple of weeks ago, I was standing on line in the supermarket, and struck up a conversation with the lady in front of me. She talked about her new job, and she said that she had just found a day care center for her six-month old baby, which was conveniently located next door to her apartment. I asked her if she had received good references, and she looked genuinely surprised at the question. She said that she hadn't asked for references, but the location was so convenient that she couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Before registering your child for any day care center, private or otherwise, make sure you do the following:

1. Before you even go to check out a place, make sure that you have at least 4 references from parents of children who attend the day care. Obviously you have to use your judgment, and discriminate between those complaints that are silly and those that are critical. If a parent tells you that she doesn't like the day care woman, because she is anal about parents coming to pick up their children on time, that is not an issue that is going to affect your child's well being. If, however, a parent tells you that his/her kid comes home unhappy every day, and is not eating, sleeping well, it should make you think twice. The important thing is to have enough references to feel that you have received an accurate overall impression. 

Our two girls are both in gans that are simply amazing. While both of my daughters' gans do things that annoy Josh and I, like insisting that we turn up to their events, etc., we can handle it because we know that they love our girls, and that they are extremely happy there. You have to be able to differentiate between annoyances that bother and affect YOU, and issues that bother your children. Your children have to take precedence every time.     

2. Go and check out the place at a time when they are not expecting you. It is easy for them to put on a smile, and be all sweetness and light when they know that you are coming. If you catch them off guard, you will get a truer picture. Stand outside the door for a few minutes, and listen to the way they talk to the children.

3. Go see the place at a time when the children are up, so that you can see their mood. While it is easy for adults to put on an act, children don't lie. Do they seem content? Are they being supervised? Are they wandering around aimlessly, or are they engaged in activity?

4. Once you have decided on the day care center, make sure that for the first few weeks, you pop in every now and again, in the middle of the day, to see how your child is doing. It is better to come in unannounced. I know that many day care centers discourage that, but you can always make out that you forgot to bring them something.

5. Watch your children's behavior. Even if they are unable to verbalize how they are feeling, do they seem happy to be going there in the morning? Do they run into the woman's arms, or make motions to give them hugs or kisses? Our little girl was in a day care center for six months, and while I couldn't pinpoint what was wrong, she never looked the woman in the eye, never said goodbye to her, and never reached out to give her a hug and kiss. That was very uncharacteristic of our little girl, because she is very extroverted and affectionate. Once we took her out of that day care center, and moved her to her present one, her behavior changed almost instantly. She hugs and kisses the women, and while I constantly have to grit my teeth at the women's idiosyncratic demands, there is no doubt in my mind that my daughter is ecstatic there. Once she is their arms, she doesn't even notice that I am around. 

6. Finally, GO WITH YOUR INSTINCT. If you have any niggling doubts about a place, don't bury them. Parenting is not an exact science, but a parent's instincts, especially a mother's, are extremely strong, and I only wished in the past that I had gone with my instinct. You can't take chances with your children. Believe in yourself. It is better to be excessively cautious than be sorry after the fact.

There should be a law passed that each day care center installs a webcam, so that parents can monitor what is going on during the day. I know that certain day care centers in America do this, but it is unpopular among the majority of day care centers. They claim that if they are being watched, they can't be natural with the children, and that parents will complain over the most trivial things. While this is a legitimate complaint, I think parents would sleep better at night if webcams were installed. I know I would.

Under-age Bible readers?

I can just picture it now. A seven-year-old boy pores over a book under his covers, in the hope that his latest habit will go unnoticed by his mother.  His mother who notices everything, spots her son reading late at night, and lifts up the covers. Her worst nightmare has just happened. Her son, her sweet innocent son, is reading.... THE BIBLE.

If Hong Kong residents have their way, you won't be able to  purchase a copy of the best-selling Bible without showing your ID card at your local bookstore to prove that you are over eighteen. The Bible will be sealed in a wrapper with a statutory warning notice, in the spirit of cigarette warnings: WARNING - THE BIBLE CONTAINS INDECENT CONTENT THAT WILL JEOPARDIZE YOUR SPIRITUAL HEALTH.  EACH PAGE THAT YOU READ WILL NIBBLE AWAY AT YOUR HEART AND SOUL.

Maybe, as there are for cigarettes, they will even come out with a "Lite" version of the Bible. An abridged or amended version.

Alright, I will put you out of your misery. Seventeen lines into this post, and you still have no clue what I am talking about. Sooo, according to an article I just read, over 800 Hong Kong residents have called on their authorities to reclassify the Bible as "indecent" due to its "sexual and violent content," including rape and incest. Apparently, Hong Kong's Television and Entertainment Licensing authority (TELA) received 838 complaints about the Bible. TELA said it was still undecided on whether the Bible had violated Hong Kong's obscene and indecent articles laws.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? How dull must life be in Hong Kong if people are complaining that the BIBLE, of all works, is indecent?

A Hong Kong local protestant minister was asked to comment. His response was:

"If there is rape mentioned in the Bible, it doesn't mean it encourages those activities," said Reverend Wu Chi-wai. "It's just common sense ..."

 Profound words from our minister. And you wonder why church attendance is so low. If the Bible is classified as x-rated material, it's an ingenious way of attracting people to religion. You can't beat reverse psychology - forbidden fruits are sweeter, and all that...

For all you men out there...

If you are looking for a word that will give voice to your frustration at your wives' incessant nagging - and let's face it, there isn't a woman among us who can honestly say that she doesn't derive some deep satisfaction from nagging her husband -  look no further. Double Take's word of the day is "Termagant," meaning A scolding, nagging, bad-tempered woman; a shrew.

NOTE TO READERS: I apologize for the brevity of this post, and my infrequent posting in general. I am actually working, I know it's hard to believe. I hope to return to my former lazy and procrastinating blog-addicted self shortly.

A dark day for Pandora lovers

Save Internet Radio!If, like me, you live outside the US, and rely on pulsating Pandora music to get you through the long work days and nights, you will understand my disappointment. The future of Internet radio is in grave danger. You can read about what is going on here. We in Israel are not able to do much (Israelis? Helpless? Never.), but if you are in the US, click on the image on the left, and find out how you can fight the battle to preserve Internet radio.

I and probably thousands of others outside the US received an email from the Pandora founder yesterday saying that they are no longer able to provide access to Pandora's streaming service for most countries outside of America. Wunderbar. Yet another way we are screwed by living in Israel.

I was telling Josh about it over breakfast this morning, and he was quick to point out that the beauty of the Internet is that as soon as one service stops, another springs up it in place. He suggested that I do a Google search for "Pandora replacement." Actually, he was wrong. I did a search for "Pandora replacement," and nothing came up. Just reviews of "joint replacement surgery." I guess it's back to listening to my mp3 player.

Ray Bradbury

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

I came across this quote today from Ray Bradbury on my Google homepage, and it reminded me how much I enjoyed reading Fahrenheit 451 in high school.  In general, I don't enjoy reading science fiction - although I have to confess that Josh has introduced to me the joys of Robert Heinlein - but I remember being very moved by this book in a similar way that I was moved by his quote above. It forces you to think out of the box, to confront the reality of our world, and to take a long, hard look at oneself in the mirror.

In Fahrenheit 451, a book-burning fireman goes through a crisis of conscience. In the world he occupies, the appearance of happiness is more important than the actual pursuit of it. His wife pressures him to work harder burning books so she can buy yet another TV for their home. Independent thought is discouraged in this world, and real emotion is to be avoided at all cost. (Sound familiar?) The fireman begins to see the error of his ways when his sixteen-year-old neighbor, who is enthralled by books and is curious about the world, mysteriously disappears. He begins to hide books in his home so as to avoid burning them, but he is discovered, and ends up joining an outlaw band of scholars who commit the contents of their books to memory, waiting for the time society will once again welcome the wisdom of literature.

He writes:

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs.... Don't give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.

In the day-to-day grind of our existence, we get so caught up in the here- and-now that we often lose sight of ourselves and the world around us. When we ask an acquaintance on the street a casual and breezy, "How are you?", how many of us really want to stick around to hear the answer? Our financial situation, our social status, our appearance - these are often the concerns that dominate our thoughts and hearts; not reading between the lines, looking behind our friend's plastered smile to see what is really going on beneath the surface.

We are so busy all the time that there is no time left in our chaotic lives to just "be." I don't think that people even know anymore what it is that makes them happy - they may provide a stock answer - like a good career or a comfortable lifestyle - but if you unravel the many layers, are we really happy?

 Do we have a duty to the world to care what is going on, or should we leave that burden to people who are actually paid to care? I recall last summer during the Lebanon war walking the streets of Modi'in, and thinking to myself, "You would never know, to look at people's faces, that there was a war going on." I remember one day feeling extremely depressed about the war, and someone I know came over to me, and seeing that I was visibly upset, asked me if everything was okay. I told her that I just couldn't get what was going on out of my head. She responded, "It can't be that bad, right? I mean, you'll be able to move into your new place soon, won't you?" She automatically presumed I was referring to the fact that we were waiting at that time to move into our new apartment, not the fact that people up north were being ousted from their homes, forced to uproot themselves, because of the horrors of war. I was in shock.

On a less somber note, it is my Hebrew birthday coming up in a few days - woohoo - and I have to think of a fun and exciting activity to celebrate with my hubby the last year of my twenties. If anyone has any suggestions for a fun night out - preferably either in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv - that doesn't involve eating out or bowling, let me know. My husband loves to eat out, so his suggestions always involve restaurants. We want to do something a bit different this year. Thanks!

AidelMaidel is engaged!

Okay, perhaps there is something weird about me taking out some tissues when I read the news on AidelMaidel's blog that she said "yes" to "Mr. Sky High." I don't know the woman, for heaven's sake. Yet here I am crying with tears of joy for this ultra-Orthodox single mother of two.

A while ago, I was talking to a friend about the phenomenon of blogging, and I told him that I read two or three blogs (or six or seven) everyday. The guy was gobsmacked. He thought it was very strange - almost voyeuristic - that I took such an interest in the lives of strangers. Well, the way I see it, it is better than shedding tears over some brainless soap opera that is 100% fiction.

AidelMaidel has, up until this point, suffered a lot in her life: she was the victim of child abuse, and was left virtually penniless after divorcing her husband just a few years ago. I admit to following religiously her trials and tribulations as she went on a series of blind dates with no-hopers, and I rooted for her when she finally met Mr. Sky High (all her dates have been given aliases on the blog). Theirs has not been a long courtship; they started dating less than three months ago (anyone who knows me will realize the irony of this statement, considering Josh and I only dated for six weeks before getting engaged), and today AidelMaidel announced on her site their engagement.

The funny part is that her readers have lately been expressing their concern about her relationship with Mr. Sky High, and the speed at which it was progressing. They feared that she was rushing in to the relationship, and after the debacle of her first marriage, she should be more cautious. I found AidelMaidel's response to her readers' expressions of concern very amusing:

I am surprised how many of you commented and emailed me in regards to the Baker's Dozen post about Mr. Sky-High.

I would like to remind all of you that you only get the information that I give you. What I don't share here means you don't know about it. Out of deference to Mr. Sky-High's right to privacy, and my great respect for him, I don't share all the gory details of our dates. After 14 dates that average 5 hours a piece, I think I know him significantly better than the readers of my blog, since you only get klalim in regards to him, and I actually know the person.

You also seem to forget that I am not going into this blindly. There were extensive reference checks on Mr. Sky-High before I even agreed to go out with him. There are rabbis, rebbetzins and a shadchan who are all consulted after every date. It's not like this is some guy I picked up in a bar two days ago and am agreeing to marry him. It's also not like my parents arranged this match, I meet him once, and BAM, we're married.

Is Mr. Sky-High perfect? Nope.
Is he everything that I said I wanted in a husband? Almost.
Can I live with the things that he isn't because he does have the things I truly need? Yes.

I've already been in one bad marriage. (Of which, you guys don't know the details either - you don't know why it went wrong and what I did to make it work over the years.) I'm not interested in repeating it. I'm going into this with my eyes WIDE open. I know what Mr. Sky-High's good points are and I know what areas he needs to improve upon. The question is, can I live with those areas that need improvement? Yes, I think I can.

That being all said, Mr. Sky-High is completely different from any man I've ever dated. I have always had terrible taste in men, and have always gone for men who were bad boys or simply bad for me. Mr. Sky-High is a boring, straight-forward, nice guy. That's why I didn't want to go out with him again after the first date. Thank G-d, my rebbetzin pushed me to go again, because there was simply no reason not to.

And as I've discovered, Mr. Sky-High while a boring, straight-forward, nice guy, is also probably the only man I've met with real, true passion. Because it's passion based on a love for another person instead of a passion based on narcissistic self-love. And it's something deep, profound, and not something easily put into words. I see he cares for me very deeply and cherishes me for me - for who I am, imperfections and all.

Do I know how much longer this is going to take, until we both feel ready? I have no clue. Only Hashem knows if and when. Until that time, feel free to give me your advice - just don't expect me to take it.

She's right. She definitely calls the shots in deciding which information to share with her readers, but - and I open up this question to all of you - on the other hand, if she is revealing the details of her personal life on a blog, is she not leaving herself open to people's comments, opinions (you know, two Jews - three opinions), and unwanted pieces of advice? If she was just blogging for cathartic purposes, why not keep a journal in a Word file, where it is safe from nosy individuals?

That being said, her engagement is really great news, and I wish her and her fiance many happy and healthy years together, whether shared on the blogosphere or not.


At a loss for words

A woman from my husband's community in America lost her mother last week, so we went to pay her a Shiva call (meaning "seven" in Hebrew, Shiva is a seven-day mourning period observed by Jews) .

I am not sure if there is anyone who actually enjoys paying Shiva visits - you would probably have to be quite a disturbed individual if you derived any pleasure from such a situation - but I particularly find the visits uncomfortable. The laws and customs of Shiva are such that comforting the bereaved is no mean feat.

To begin with, according to Jewish custom, you are not supposed to initiate conversation with the bereaved - you should wait until he/she has spoken to you. It is hard enough as it is to find the right words to express one's condolences - especially when you barely know the bereaved or the person who died - but when you have to wait for the person to speak... it can be extremely awkward.

Visitors are also supposed to recite the traditional words of consolation, HaMakom Yenachem et'chem b'toch she'ar avelei Tzion vi'Yerushlayim, which translates as May the omnipresent comfort you together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. I have a good memory in general, and am able to memorize telephone numbers, car registration numbers (don't ask - as a kid, remembering car registration numbers was a quirky hobby of mine), and birthdays of people I barely know. My husband is constantly asking me to remind him about his family's birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

Anyway, enough blowing my own trumpet. The point is that in the 28 years of my life, I have NEVER been able to remember, and correctly recite, the eight Hebrew words of consolation written above. I mumble the words quickly and quietly in the hope that the bereaved will just nod and move on to the next person. What makes the situation even more pathetic is the fact that in most Shiva houses, a paper is taped to the wall with the verse written on it, so there is very little excuse - save for illiteracy - for not being able to say the words.

I remember when I first started working for a publishing house in Jerusalem, one of my bosses, who wasn't religious, tragically lost his wife at the age of 33, and my other boss took me to the Shiva house to visit the family. I was a bundle of nerves throughout the visit as I silently tried to repeat the words in my head. The deceased woman's mother, who was very elderly, was hard of hearing, so my tactic of mumbling the words quickly and quietly didn't really work. Upon saying the words, she turned to me and, unsure of what I had said, asked me to repeat myself. It was one of those "I-wish-the-ground-would-swallow-me-up" moments.

Another equally embarrassing incident was when my aunt in London was sitting Shiva for her mother. When the time came at the end of the visit for me to recite the words of comfort, I recited instead the verse you say when you are scared of being attacked by a dog - "Lechol yisroel lo yecheratz kelev leshono" loosely translated as, "No dog's tongue should hurt any member of Israel." Given the fact that I have been petrified since childhood of both dogs and my Moroccan aunt, I guess there is some logic as to why at that particular moment, that verse left my lips. My aunt's expression of horror will stay with me forever. You can imagine how mortified I was.

So when we paid the Shiva visit today, I made my husband repeat the verse again and again in the car, and my eyes barely left the piece of paper in the room with the words on it, but alas I messed up again. Go figure.

Guilt baskets - an ingenious way to feed off armchair Zionists

There are some things in life that are constants. Some of them good, some of them not so good. Almost every chag (Jewish holiday), we are the unlucky recipients of the aforementioned Guilt Basket from a person we know in the States. If you peruse this website, the baskets contain items that can be purchased from our supermarkets for less than 50 shekel, but which costs the naive American over $50. Every chag, Josh and I keep telling ourselves that we should just phone her up and say, "Listen, it's really sweet 'n all, and I know you think that you are supporting the Israeli economy, but you are being ripped off good and proper, and the company is taking you for a ride with your guilt gift basket." But we don't have the heart.

Just a few days ago, this person told us that she wouldn't be sending us the guilt basket, and that she would give us money instead. Hallelujah!! But as we got off the phone, and had a good laugh about it, we realized that these companies who market their gift baskets to Americans are sitting on a goldmine. How many American Jews are there who do not want to make Aliyah and relinquish their creature comforts, but who want to make themselves feel good by supporting the Israeli economy?

In plain English, what these sites are really saying is the following:

For $50, give yourself a pat on the back, and send your loved ones who are sacrificing their lives in Israel on a daily basis some Telma date spread and some stale cookies. They will be eternally grateful.

For $100, you will go down in the books as nothing short of a hero. With some choice Cabernet Sauvignon wine and some Elite chocolates, no one will ever wonder again why you are over 10,000 miles away sitting in front of your plasma TV instead of making sacrifices for the future of the Jewish people.