Yes, the world is full of sinat chinam and massive spiritual issues and problems, but the Jewish woman, at her essence is all about love and achdut. The soul of every Jew is an amazing, holy diamond, just sometimes we forget about that and get caught up in all the nonsense the yetzer hara tries to spin around us in order to cause strife and delay the geula.
I'm very pleased to present a meeting of three Rivkas - one an author (yours truly...) one a musician, and one an artist, all talking about the challenge of being a 'Jewish housewife' in 2017, the importance of keeping the mitzvot bein adam l'chaveiro, and about seeing the innate good in every single Jew.
In the merit of the women, we will be redeemed...
FIRST UP, Q & A WITH MUSICIAN AND BLOGGER, RIVKI SILVER:
My Jewish path started off with mistaken identity, if you will. People kept thinking I was Jewish, and after finding some genealogy that indicated I might have some Jewish ancestry (which was, ultimately, a dead end), I decided to look into what Judaism had to say. I had had Jewish friends growing up, a Jewish piano teacher, but no one was observant and I didn’t know much more than matzah on Pesach and interesting fruit on Rosh Hashana.
I went to Aish.com (which someone, thinking I was Jewish, told me about), and I was floored by the depth of wisdom I found. I had never encountered anything so profound. I had grown up as a religious Christian and had been very involved in church group, bible study and the like, but I was so impressed by the mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro and the idea of a society where people really put these ideas, these laws, into practice. I wanted to live in a society like that.
2) How many instruments do you play, and when did you start pursuing music as a career? How long have you been the principal clarinetist at the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra?
I play four instruments, and I also sing. I started on piano at 7, clarinet at 10 and then learned flute and saxophone in college. I majored in music in college and even though I took a big left turn when becoming observant and starting a family (BH), I’ve always tried to stay connected to music and Hashem has continued to provide me with opportunities. This fall will start my second season as principal clarinetist of the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra. It’s been a fabulous opportunity. I’m so grateful to be able to do this.
3) How hard / easy has it been to be an orthodox Jewish mother and a professional musician? Have you had any challenges with being asked to work on Shabbat, etc? How did you overcome them / what happened next?
It’s a constant balance, and I do feel the difficulty at times when I have an upcoming performance which requires me to focus more time on practicing and less on dinner or bedtime, and which can make me more stressed out (less patience, etc.). But I do feel there is great value in showing my children that I am using these specific talents that Hashem gave me. I continue to reassess what I have time for and what I don’t. I recently stopped giving piano lessons after more than a decade of teaching because it simply did not work with my family’s needs anymore. I feel fortunate that I have that choice. I know many mothers do not.
I’ve mostly played with Jewish musical groups so Shabbos has not been an issue until very recently. The Cleveland Women’s Orchestra does have one Friday night performance, but they just find another clarinetist to play my part for that concert. When the director was told I don’t play on Shabbos he asked me, “are you really that religious?” I replied, “I really am.” And the second clarinetist, who is also Jewish, quipped “Her name is Rivki, for crying out loud. Of course she’s not going to play on Shabbos!” And that was that.
4) Tell us a little about your musical compositions. How many have you written, are they all classical pieces or have you ‘branched out’ into other genres. What piece are you most proud of, or what piece means the most to you. Why?
I love writing music. I took composition in college and then didn’t do much with it until we moved to Cleveland (the first time) and joined a music group that was mostly pop-based. The group featured singing in harmony, guitar, drums, keyboard and me on woodwinds. I wrote a few pop songs and really enjoyed it, so I kept doing it. Those pieces weren’t classical, but were definitely classically influenced. I used my knowledge and training of musical structure and different compositional techniques to write pieces within a more “pop” structure. I found it an interesting exercise.
I continued to mainly write within a more popular structure, keeping my songs to under four minutes. I did write a Sonata for Clarinet and Piano as a commissioned piece for a friend’s mother-in-law’s birthday, but other than that, it’s been all shorter pieces. The piece I’m most proud of is the one I wrote after being inspired by a poem by Rachel Kann, who also writes for Hevria. [See below: Ode to the Cosmic Carrot]. The reason I love it the most is because it was the most purely inspired, no deadline, no pressure, just created from a desire to write music for the sake of it.
5) What other creative outlets do you have? Is there a consistent ‘message’ or unifying theme that permeates your work, or do you find that different media express different parts of yourself?
I feel like nearly everything in my life is a creative outlet. I find creative pleasure in cooking, even though I mostly keep things simple. Decorating my home, gardening, making my environment pleasant and infused with whimsy but orderly. Order and whimsy together. It’s my style. I think the message that most often comes up in my work is balance and joy and connection. Not necessarily in that order.
6) You write a lot about the struggle of balancing motherhood with the creative impulse. What’s your biggest struggle? What tips can you share for other mothers?
Oh boy, biggest struggle. I’m not sure if this is the biggest, but I struggle with maintaining a happy, calm and consistent environment for my children and then having the energy and discipline to create in the spaces that are available for me. I absolutely prioritize my role as mother and wife and this has led to a lifestyle where I do not have the luxury of just creating whenever I feel the impulse. Instead, I have had to learn how to manage my time in a way that I can both have the time to be creative and remember what I was going to be creative about.
Most of the time I do my creative work when my children are at school or asleep. When I am in high creative mode, and am creating during the times when I would normally be more present for my family, dinners are very simple and the house is messier. There are times when I have a writing idea so strong I just have to get it out, and so I’ll give them a special treat of watching a video when they otherwise wouldn’t, just so I can get my idea out. The same goes for writing music.
Even though I usually get more accomplished when they are sleeping or at school, I do like for them to see me working on creative endeavors. I don’t want it to be a secret, I want them to see it, but I want more for them to have stability and comfort of routine. It’s an interesting challenge, and I feel I’ve grown tremendously from it.
Tips I would give to other mothers: Nurture your creative side because it gives you chiyus and can make you a happier mother and wife. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Cereal for dinner is a perfectly valid option. There are many times I make a great, well-balanced dinner and my kids still end up having cereal for dinner because what I made wasn’t their taste. Hashem gave you both a creative spirit and children for a reason.
You can do this! Keep you eyes and mind open for creative possibilities that are outside of your comfort zone or outside of what you expected to do. You never know when saying yes to something unappealing will lead to something you’ll love. Learn from every experience. Say yes to as much as you can and you will learn what to say no to. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failing means you’re trying. You children will be proud of you. You’re teaching them to use their abilities, so being creative is inherently an act of parenting.
7) Do you feel that trying to find the balance between work / life is easier or harder for orthodox Jewish women? Why?
I think the schedule of an orthodox woman with Shabbos and Yom Tov can be very challenging, but also can provide a routine and external motivation to work within the confines of our schedule. Sometimes I get frustrated because I only really have Monday through Wednesday to do creative work and the rest of the time I’m either getting ready for or cleaning up from Shabbos. But Shabbos itself is such a treasure and such an important day to recharge and have downtime from work that it’s obviously worth any frustrations!
8) How does your relationship with God inform your music and writing? How does it inform your life? Your marriage? Your parenting? (or anything else…)
Sometimes it’s very overt, like when I’m writing music and using pasukim as lyrics, or writing about a specific mitzvah, and sometimes it’s more in the background. This is exactly how it is with everything in my life. Sometimes I am very conscious of Yad Hashem, seeing hashgacha everywhere. And sometimes I am not plugged in at all. Obviously, I like being plugged in much more, I get more done, I’m more focused. I feel I am a better, more thoughtful and more whole person when my relationship with God is at the forefront of my mind. It’s definitely a goal of mine to be more continually connected.
8) 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?)
Hmmmm, I would say to have people really really be dedicated to bein adam l’chaveiro, to give the benefit of the doubt, to be careful about lashon hara. A couple time in my life I’ve seen so clearly the negative effects of judgments and words, seen how it directly and negatively impacted me and changed me, and I found it very scary and very powerful. It’s a struggle and I think that if we all really studied and took to heart v’ahavta l’reyecha kamocha a lot of societal ills would dry up. All we can change is ourselves, and I hope to work on being an example for myself and for my children and maybe that will be enough.
9) Tell me a little bit about ‘Rivki Silver, the Jewish housewife’.
I love being a housewife! I really do. Even though it sometimes can be so frustrating to be continually picking up toys, cleaning the dishes, cleaning the counters, folding the laundry (and I even have cleaning help!), there is a deep sense of satisfaction I get from running my home, especially when I feel it’s running well. I’m always looking for ways to improve and streamline our home, to help it run better, stay neater, be more inviting, more conducive to being a functional home.
I try to instill basic derech eretz in my kids. I work a lot on nekias, on cleaning up after oneself, on helping around in the house, being grateful, identifying feelings, learning how to regulate feelings, love for mitzvos, awareness of Hashem. I also love to encourage whenever my kids are doing something creative, and I love to hear what they’re thinking about.
It can be very overwhelming at times, there’s plenty of whining and fighting and complaining and non-compliance. It’s a normal, busy household! But I am grateful to have this job, to try to give my kids a good childhood so they can grow up and talk to their therapist about me.
10) Complete this sentence: The biggest secret of a Jewish housewife is….
There’s no right way to do it. Every family has its own unique cocktail of personalities and needs that no two homes will be run the same way, so we can learn from everyone and still do things our own way.
11) What’s your next project?
I want to make a stop-motion music video for Rosh Hashanah. Also the next season of the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra will be starting in the fall and also also I’m going to Baltimore to perform with my dear friend Andrea Grinberg and her husband in their chamber ensemble, Chamber Encounters.
12) Where can readers learn more about you and your work?
A few places - my blog - www.lifeinthemarriedlane.com. I write regularly for Hevria.com, a post every two weeks. I have a youtube channel.
I’m on Facebook and my blog has a Facebook page.
Scroll below the image for en enlightening audio interview with talented Jewish artist, Rivka Nehorai:
You can see many of the pictures that Rivka discusses in the interview below on her website, here: