I grew up in the Bible Belt of Southern Missouri in a town called Joplin, and my family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska right before I turned 13. I was surrounded by Christianity my entire childhood, with Vacation Bible School being my primary means of religious education.
My parents always reiterated the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you’d like them to do to you”) as a dictum to live by, and I took most of what I got at VBS with a grain of salt.
When I was around 10 or 11 years old, I had a bit of a crisis, where the reality of death suddenly hit me. I remember staying awake at night crying and picturing utter blackness and asking Gd what it all meant and what the point was.
I was a pretty closed up person, so I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it. So as time went on, I started to realize that our life here, the present, what we can see and understand is what’s important. Around this I developed a set of my own personal beliefs.
When I got to college, I underwent some bizarre situations that carried me into the next stage of the journey. The most bizarre of all was an intervention that occurred when friends invited me to a pastor’s house and the pastor gave me a book called “More than a Carpenter,” and encouraged me to return to the Christian path.
After that, I immediately got a full-time job at a newspaper which took up all my time, so I could avoid going to any more church events with friends. I also started taking some religion courses and exploring what else was out there, too.
At one point, a friend of mine (an Evangelical Christian, no less) and I were up late one night discussing our coursework. He started asking me about my beliefs in regards to the religion course and I related my beliefs system to him, my own, personal beliefs set.
He looked at me funny and told me to go get a book on Judaism. I bought a book at the used bookstore and realized that my beliefs were perfectly in line with Judaism, and I was floored. The rest, as they say, is history.
2) Why did you decide ultimately to undergo an orthodox conversion?
I actually have a whole blog post about this, because, after having a conversion under Reform auspices in April 2006, I decided in 2008 that I wanted to pursue an Orthodox conversion. I think it’s natural to want to go further and become more observant once you discover Judaism.
For me, I began to learn more, to study the parashah, to ask questions, to desire order and organization in accordance with Torah law, and for me that meant Orthodoxy.
3) What advice would you give other people considering converting to Judaism?
The advice I would give is endless, but, primarily, be honest with where you are and who you are. Define yourself by what you belief and not but what you do not believe. I see too many converts who say, “I’m converting Orthodox because I could never be Reform! No one would consider me Jewish!”
The important question to ask yourself is always the affirmative. “I’m converting Orthodox because I believe Torah is true.” I see too many converts with chips on their shoulders because they haven’t figured out where they are, only where they aren’t.
Oh Israel! I have such mixed feelings about Israel. When I made aliyah in October 2012, I was at peace and in love. I was also single and financially secure. Just six months later I was without a job, broke, married, and pregnant.
Life in Israel is hard. When it was just me and I could spend my day in a coffee shop working and schmoozing, I didn’t have a care in the world. Once you have people relying on you, especially children, it’s hard to live in the red or on charity.
But what I do miss is the sense of community, the freshness of the air, the vibrancy of colors, the history pouring out of the hills on every bus ride into Jerusalem … I miss knowing that everyone around me was fighting the same fight.
But the financial insecurity was incredibly difficult and stressful for me, and I couldn’t be happy with those weights over me.
Please Gd, we’ll all return to Israel soon.
5) You’ve got a very popular website (kvetchingeditor.com) and you’ve also started up a new marketing consultancy called Viv. How do you balance your need to create, and to write etc with the needs of your family?
This question! It’s at the heart of all of my struggles right now. I find that I’m exhausted 98% of the time, and I don’t do a good enough job of scheduling and blocking my time to make sure I get my work done while leaving time for my personal blog and seeking out content gigs with my new venture Viv Marketing.
I’m getting better, however, and making sure that when my kids come home from daycare my phone is not at my side and that they have my undivided attention. I try to dhte same in the evenings so my husband gets some attention, but it’s difficult.
For years I’ve been the go-to for social media work, and one of the reasons I’m trying to break away from it is that the 24/6 lifestyle is just not something I can handle or want to handle now that I have a family.
I want to write, to pump out content because the rewards are twofold. On the one hand, I produce something tangible that I can see the results of and on the other hand once you’ve researched and written the content, it’s out in the digital ether and you can move on to the next thing.
Social media work isn’t like that. It’s constant, it’s moving, it’s rewards are intangible.
6) How would you describe what you do?
I'm good at turning research into palatable content. Hand me any topic, and I'll have 1,000 words on your desk in no time about whatever your brain can conjure. Tea, long-haul trucking law, Wix, box-of-the-month clubs, Judaism, paying writers, mommy topics, you name it. Research, create, ripple.
I think it’s incredibly hard on Jewish women. B”H I’m in the position where my husband works for a living, but his work is not as lucrative financially as my work, which means that the weight of the finances are on my shoulders, and they have been since we married several years ago.
I also feel personally responsible for the running of the household, from making dinner to cleaning to laundry. B”H my husband is willing and helpful (he’s British, and his mother raised him right!), but I think a lot of Jewish women end up with the burdens of all aspects of running a household and raising a family while their husbands study.
I can’t imagine being in this position, honestly. But with all of the responsibilities of being a full-time working mother of two, I find I have very little time for myself. Swinging a bath in a too-small tub is one of my only pleasures, and I always feel guilty afterward that I didn’t spend my time preparing the kids lunches for the morning (or, for that matter, my husband’s, because if I don’t prepare his lunch, he doesn’t take a lunch).
I will say that I recently attended the Redemption Retreat for women, and it really inspired me to start taking time for myself and focusing on what I want and what I need. I ended up quitting a toxic job as a result, and that’s what prompted me to really launch Viv Marketing and try to get myself focused on content so I can get back to who I am and where I am going.
The one problem with a retreat like this, however, is that the energy is fleeting. For all of the women who attended, we’re still trying to reconcile our lives, our womanhood, our Jewishness, with the challenges of our everyday experiences..
8) How does your relationship with God inform your writing? How does it inform your life? Your marriage? Your parenting? (or anything else…)
Once upon a time, I was hyper-connected to HaShem. When I was in graduate school and nose-deep in seforim every single day, my connection was so deep and meaningful. I feel like, as I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten more difficult to find that connection every day because every ounce of my energy is spent elsewhere.
I used to talk to HaShem every night before sleep. I used to read Parashat Ha’man, I used to read the parashah, I used to read Hasidic stories every Friday night while my husband was at shul … and now? Now I just feel guilt that I don’t have the focus for my relationship with HaShem. It might be something I have to block out time for, too. Ha! 6 am:
Talk to HaShem 6:30 am: Make breakfast 6:45 am: Get kids dressed …
9) If you / we / us could change one thing about Jewish society (generally…) or frum society (specifically…) what should it be? (And any ideas on how to actually do this, tachlis?)
If I could change one thing, it would be for people to understand why they do the things they do. To understand the motions, the actions, the why behind everything. Why do you take three steps forward and back before the Shemonei Esrei, why do you put a ball of foil in the bottom of your crockpot, why do you wear skirts and cover your elbows and not cover your hair?
I feel like there’s a serious lack of education, or that the education that is provided is just a laundry list of things to do, but no understanding behind them. One of the things that truly pulled me to Judaism was the intense debate and questioning that went into every aspect of being Jewish.
We’re meant to be hyper aware of all that we do, to respect every little aspect of the world around us, to appreciate everything. But so many people get stuck in “doing” that they forget “understanding.” And, I think, so many of our divisions and the abuse of one’s fellow Jew comes from a lack of understanding and strictly doing.
As for how to get it done … that’s an entire overhaul of how we teach our children, our converts, each other. It’s a huge undertaking.
10) Tell me a little bit about ‘Chaviva, the Jewish housewife’?
I feel like Chaviva, the Jewish Housewife, is a Tasmanian Devil of domesticity. It’s funny, because I never pictured myself as a housewife, let alone a mother. I was married before and was the dutiful housewife to the core, but I was terribly unhappy.
Now, I feel like I’m the Jewish Housewife to the max as I embody how I usually define Orthodox Judaism: “organized chaos.” I’m a perfectionist, a Type A personality, and a bit of a control freak. So my day usually looks like this:
- Wake up at 6:30 am. Get dressed.
- Run upstairs to kids, who are awake, and get both changed, dressed.
- Give baby a bottle, and while she’s rolling around on the floor get my 3 year old some breakfast after a 20-minute argument about what he wants to eat.
- While both are at the table devouring whatever and making a huge mess, I put together lunchboxes.
- Get both kids to school by 7:45 am.
- Work at a coffee shop from 8 am-noon.
- Go to the grocery store or wherever else I need to run errands.
- Around 1:30 or 2 realize I haven’t eaten, head home and eat with my laptop open on the cutting board, working, and Googling what to make for dinner.
- Prep dinner and/or make dinner before picking the kids up at 4 pm.
- Pick kids up at 4 pm.
- Get home, change diapers, give kids snacks, work on dinner while kids run amok.
- Eat dinner around 5/5:30 pm.
- Bathtime from 5:30-6.
- Baby to bed at 6.
- Read books to Asher, argue with him about pajamas, spend a half-hour around 7 pm getting him to bed.
- 7:30-11: Work, do dishes, clean house, organize toys, laundry, etc. etc. etc.
These days I’m also filled with great joy when my 3 year old tells us about the Jewish holidays he’s learning about. B”H my 3 year old is amazingly empathetic and caring, making him so sweet and patient with his sister. Watching them become little people is something I never thought I’d enjoy so much.
And, in the end, as I write all of this, I realize that my connection to my Judaism needs serious revitalization. Everything about my life is Jewish. I keep kosher, I dress modestly, I have to consider every action I take during the day through a Jewish lens, but it’s very much like I described earlier -- I’m doing a lot of “doing” and not much understanding and feeling.
I resist thinking and living and processing like my husband, my beloved Breslover, because I’m very cerebral (I got an MA in Judaic studies after all), but as I get older, as I watch my kids grow, I realize I need more of that in my life.
To pick your battles. I’ve always been one to dig my heels in, whether with my husband or my toddler, or, really, anyone. However, to maintain balance and sanity and happiness, you have to start picking your battles.
Your toddler wants to eat spaghetti with a spoon? Hey, at least they’re eating! Your husband wants to go to mikvah on a hectic Friday when the mikvah is a half-hour drive away? Good for him! B’ezrat HaShem only good will come from it. Your house is a mess and you’re exhausted? Go to bed, take a look at it in the morning.
You can’t be perfect, and ultimately your kids and husband just want a happy mommy, not a perfect mommy. Pick your battles, be selfish, and take time for yourself.
12) What’s your next project?
That’s a great question. In a perfect world, my next project will involve lots of content creation, writing on every topic under the sun. I miss writing on Jewish topics, when I was the Judaism expert for About.com (now ThoughtCo), but they discontinued the Judaism section and are no longer updating it. I love education, and I love informing the world in a creative, clever way, about anything and everything. I just want to write!
13) Where can readers learn more about you and your writing / social media consultancy?
They can visit kvetchingeditor.com or http://viv.marketing, or find me anywhere on the web by googling “Chaviva.” I’m everywhere.
You can also download a sample chapter and see the latest reviews by going HERE.