The Usual Suspects of… Home Schooling

Having fun, everyone?

I’ve heard a lot of people saying we’re living through a moment of history, something no one has ever experienced before, and that we should be marking it in some way. Well, I think time capsules and diaries are so last global crisis, this seasons all about the sarcasm. I haven’t done one of these in a while, but here are the usual suspects of the crazy home-schooling reality we all find ourselves in. Here’s hoping we all wake up soon.

The Over Eager Beaver

Let me start by saying that if you’ve ordered a white board, you’re in this category. An off the cuff timetable to get you through the day is one thing, but if you have split each day of the week into English, Maths, Humanities and SPAG, and the SPAG doesn’t end in ‘hetti bolognese’, you need to chill.

Same goes for you parents of toddlers who have created whole universes out of toilet rolls (kind of like showing off expensive jewellery at this point) or have ‘just thrown together’ a space exploration room complete with UV lighting, to-scale models of the solar system, and a sensory corner where you can experience what it’s like getting closer and closer to the sun. Top tip for kids: Get that same sensory experience with a lot less effort by asking me for another snack at 9.43am.

The Hashtag Blessed

Come on, have a moan. All the cool kids are doing it. No-one wants to see your inspirational memes about how Spring is happening outside your window, or how incredible it is to really just sit and spend time with your ‘little ones’ and get a chance to just ‘enjoy them’. Y’know what I would enjoy right now, Karen? An uninterrupted shower and – sorry, I have no idea what that sentence was going to say, I got interrupted by a nine year old’s monologue about the differences between northern elephant seals and southern elephant seals, including the differing gestation periods, and then I had to explain to a 4 year old what a gestation period is, plus check there were no elephant seals in her bedroom. Plus, she ate my KitKat while supervising to “see if I did a good job of checking”.

The Downright Liar

Some of these arts and crafts ideas are really very cool, and we all appreciate the sharing culture of uploading photos and ideas for things that might keep our little ones busy so we can answer an entire email in one sitting.

But let’s not pretend that anything outside of a tablet screen keeps kids busy for longer than 10 minutes, max. “My 5 and 7 year old’s went in the garden to collect twigs and then made a nature collage, it took up the whole afternoon!” – You’d better check whether there’s a hole in your fence, cause that’s a 12 minute activity if ever I heard of one. Those seriously popular masking tape ‘cities’ that everyone is making on the floor? Definitely something that would take me 90 minutes to achieve, and that the kids would give up on after 15. And the salt dough hand-prints?! I saw someone say it was a great activity for the day. Seriously lady? It’s pressing your hand into some dough. The only thing that it keeps busy is your oven, meaning you can’t even cook dinner. Actually, maybe I should try it…

The Suspiciously Quiet One

Got any friends that are just… fine? Not posting on social, a bit monosyllabic on WhatsApp, very vague when they tell you what they’re spending every hour of the day doing? I feel like they might know something that I don’t know at this point. Have they found out about a walled in part of the UK that still has an open Starbucks or some kind of private school option? (TAKE MY MONEY.)

Or maybe we should all be breaking the lockdown to go check on these guys in person. The kids could well have taken over on day 3, leaving them sobbing in an under-stocked larder, scrolling hopelessly down a Facebook feed of colour-coded whiteboard activities and kids that are definitely being bribed to practice times tables on camera.

The Outsourcer

This one is kind of like the over-achiever, but only because of their fierce organizational skills. The day starts with Joe Wicks at 9am, of course – we don’t judge that, even my motivationally challenged 9 year old is on board, ‘cause he thinks he looks like Sirius Black. But unlike the rest of us who just throw them in the garden at 9.30am, or start fighting with the printer and badly formatted worksheets, everyone’s favourite body coach is only stage one for the outsourcer.

Next up is 9.30-10.15, music group with someone called Linzie or Nicky or Tiffany. Quick snack and then straight into a guided tour of some kind of museum or a zoo where the animals are all asleep, before Jamie Oliver shows them how to whip up a healthy lunch that they eat while David Walliams reads them a story or two. By mid-afternoon, the kids are having online archery classes or learning survival skills from Bear Grills despite the fact that it’s now proven that even this generation’s global apocalypses involve Netflix and Chill. Meanwhile mum’s on the sofa eating M&Ms and watching Tiger King. Hey, do you think we could get her to give us online YouTube classes on how to home-school?

Spotted any of these parents in the wild? Add your own rare sightings in the comments, and let’s never complain about the summer ever ever again.

I wrote a thing for International Women’s Day 2020, and that’s quite enough for today.

“Ooh! I’m looking forward to reading your International Women’s Day post.”

That’s what someone said to me this week. My second reaction was a little internal *beam* that this human likes my writing, has been reading my blog long enough to know that I write about feminism and gender politics, and genuinely associates IWD with my thoughts and musings. That was my second reaction. I wish it had been my first.

My first reaction was a whole body deflation. A ‘oh my goodness I haven’t even considered IWD, or writing anything about it, or even being aware of it being March already, or eating food that doesn’t come out of a foil packet, or showering on a semi-regular basis, or, or, or…’

Readers, it’s been one of those days, weeks, months, 2020’s. Everyone I have spoken to since January has had bad news to tell me. It’s exhausting and it’s depressing and then I look out the window and oh yes, it’s raining again.

“By the age of 15, women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men.” This is a quote by Dr Ruta Nonacs, an expert in mental illness. In her book, she talks about how as kids, boys and girls are about equal when it comes to depression markers, and somewhere around puberty the scales shift. She also says that the greatest time of vulnerability is during a woman’s childbearing years.

“From a psychological standpoint, this is a time when she is faced with many life-changing and potentially stressful transforming events; her education, career, marriage, childbearing, and child rearing. These changes provide the emotional context within which depression may take hold. [on top of this, consider] the demands women face as they occupy multiple — and often conflicting — roles within the family, in the community, and at work.” 

I don’t know whether the gender disparity is because women talk about their emotions more than men, and are more comfortable asking for help, and putting that data on the record.

I don’t know whether it’s biological, the result of different hormones and different levels of those hormones than men.

I don’t know whether it’s societal, that the extreme pressure put on women to ‘have it all’ and to kill it, both at work and at home, is killing nothing other than their spirits.

But, GUYS. THAT DOCTOR LADY SAYS ITS MEANT TO BE WELL HARD RIGHT NOW.

A lot of the articles you read on this International Women’s Day will talk about amazing women and their achievements. They will say how much we can do if roadblocks are taken out of our paths, how without the glass ceiling our progress is unstoppable. That’s all true. But I’m not going to talk about those truths. I’m going to try another, just as true thought.

Equality shouldn’t have to prove anything to will itself into existence. We don’t have to be making waves all the time, or nailing it both in the office and at home, or even one or the other, to be afforded the same rights as men.

The right to find it tough and give ourselves a break. The right to voice that we can’t do it all. The right to fall down and not to get up again right away just to make a lasagne, design a PowerPoint presentation, practice some times tables with a 9 year old, and send off a quick email to the boss, all while trying to keep the surfaces clean enough to stave off a raging Coronavirus epidemic in your household.

So, this International Women’s Day, I’ve stopped. I’ve taken a moment for myself, to write about how tiring life is right now. How I’ve had lovely things happen lately, but they’ve still come with their challenges. How I’m doing the best I can as a parent, but my kids haven’t had the best of me recently. How part of me is truly grateful and excited to be thriving and busy at work, but a (right now, slightly bigger) part of me would really just like to take more naps and watch more Netflix.

We’ve spent a long time fighting for the right to do more, to take on what men often take for granted. Let’s not forget that’s not what equality hinges on, and that we also need to fight for the flip side of what men often take for granted – the right to do less. Women, our mental health depends on it.

Sceptical about the Erasure of Women in Charedi Society? It Can’t be Ignored Any Longer.

As Jews, we believe that we are continuing important traditions that have been paved for us by our ancestors over thousands of years of history. In many cases, we’re right. However, in some cases, new trends and behaviours emerge, that if unchecked, can quickly and easily slip into the norm. In some cases, like with a style of dress or a turn of phrase, this is harmless. In other cases, not so much.

Increasingly, Jewish publications and organizations are removing women from the picture, quite literally. This is done by creating policies where ladies are not allowed to be included in photographs, by censoring the language we use around female issues, and by redacting places where we would normally find women a’plenty.

You might have noticed this trend, and have your fingers crossed that it’s just a phase, or it isn’t going to happen in your backyard. You might have heard talk about this issue, and have shrugged your shoulders, putting it down to extreme levels of modesty, or thinking that it’s not as big a deal as people are making out. Think again.

Refusing to Print Photos of Women

Some ultra-orthodox publications have policies in place where they will not publish photographs of women. It doesn’t matter how modestly they are dressed, it doesn’t matter how old they are, it’s a blanket rule against all women being photographed for publication. Extreme examples I’ve seen in practice include a London-based newspaper photoshopping out a cardboard cut-out in the background of an all-male line-up to celebrate the opening of a new retail store. Who was the woman in the cut -out, you ask? Mrs Butterworth, everyone’s favourite maple syrup pancake mascot.

You can laugh at these examples, we all do. You can even roll your eyes and say, ‘who cares, just don’t read those magazines’ but this trend has a damaging effect on the whole community. When women are taken out of these publications, and the very image of a woman is somehow seen as harmful to the spirituality of the reader, we’re creating a reality where we’re are not seeing women as part of the community at all, ever.

The photo below shows a family home, a mantlepiece full of joyous family photos that show the lifecycle of a family. The presentation of a child’s first chumash, graduation, a new child… all of these events, and yet not a female face to be seen.

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This example shows an engagement announcement in a Jewish newspaper in America. Instead of the bride and groom happily smiling out at the readers, the publication chooses to print a photo of the groom and his future father in law, as if there is something inherently wrong with seeing an engaged couple.

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How can we expect our children to be healthy around relationships and marriage, if the very idea of seeing a man and a woman printed next to one another is treated as something immoral or wrong?

Removing any Female Content Whatsoever

For anyone who still feels like the erasure of women in publications is coming from a good (if extreme) place, the following example should have you convinced that we’re talking about a lot more than simple modesty. The photos below show the same advert in two separate magazines, one which felt the need to remove the Playmobil toy character of the woman from the Shabbat table. Would the women be removed from the game itself if it ended up in the homes of the readership? We’re building a reality where boys and girls are not seeing women as an essential and valued part of the home, or even a part of their lives.

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Creating Indecency Around Women’s Health

Let’s look at the darker side of this trend, the way that women are spoken to in these magazines and newspapers, not just the way that they are portrayed, or more accurately not portrayed. Here, you can see an advert that is supposed to be alerting women to the importance of checking their breasts for cancer. Unfortunately, many people would never be able to decipher that message from the advert itself.

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Women are not lettuce leaves. There is nothing immodest about using the words breast cancer, discussing the warning signs, or speaking openly with girls and women about the health risks that they need to be aware of. And yet, this is unfortunately not a one off event. Some publications won’t use the word breast, so describe breast cancer as “the cancer which pertains to women” despite that being medically inaccurate. If the media refuses to have these conversations, or even use the right language, what will happen if young women aren’t being provided with the right education at home?

Sexualizing Girls in the Name of Modesty

The erasure of women is both harmful and offensive, but the erasure of young girls is far more sinister. What are we saying to children when we refuse to include their photos in magazines, or blur out their faces as soon as they age past toddlerhood? We’re saying that a 3 year old girl cannot be sexual, but a 5 year old can be. We’re telling them that men will be looking at their faces in a lustful way, so it’s better to not include them, or to leave their bodies intact but make sure their faces cannot be recognized. That men will come to sin by their very images, or that there is something wrong with them being seen.

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Can you think of one legitimate reason why these photos don’t contain girls faces? This is nothing short of rape culture. It’s victim-blaming before these children can even understand what that means. It’s creating a community where adults are told it’s okay to be turned on by children, and that it’s the girls’ responsibility to make sure you never see their faces, and are never brought towards temptation.

Coming up in the Rear-view Mirror

There is a well-known idea that life imitates art, that we see trends in the media, in film and television, in music and culture before we see them around us. The erasure of women in extreme fringes of Judaism is becoming more mainstream. This isn’t a problem that is confined to the far reaches of ultra-orthodoxy anymore. It’s in the papers that your modern orthodox neighbors are reading and talking about, it’s in the cross-communal synagogue newsletters that come through your door, and in the local Jewish youth center that is trying to be open to everyone.

These ideas and actions aren’t something to be ‘open’ to. Not when they are causing harm to every person in the Jewish community, both emotionally and physically.

One organization is fighting against these issues head on. In its own words, “Chochmat Nashim works towards a healthier Jewish society by raising awareness of damaging trends and policies and presenting possible alternatives. Because Judaism is better when women are heard.” From the chained wife whose husband refuses to give her a get, to the woman with cancer who has never even heard of the disease, Chochmat Nashim is fighting to make a change.

This week, Chochmat Nashim are raising funds for their important work with a crowdfunding campaign, 2 days for people to give as generously as possible. Get involved why don’t you? The time for excuses and crossed fingers are over.

The Equal Power of Solitary Prayer

I’m not a huge synagogue-goer, especially since having my kids, (can you say, Children’s service?) but for the past 12 years, I have always gone to the services on the major festivals to say the Yizkor prayer in memory of my father.

Recently, I saw a conversation on a Facebook thread where someone asked where the custom of saying this memorial prayer in the presence of the community came from, rather than being happy to read it alone.
It took me by surprise. It had never crossed my mind that the Yizkor prayer was something I could say by myself, as part of private tefillah. In fact, in the past I have changed whole plans around for our festival lodgings, organized the day around my attendance, and even on one occasion run to three separate shuls on a particularly stressful Shavuot morning after a series of unfortunate events – all to make it into the service in time for Yizkor.

Growing up Orthodox, communal prayer is a big thing. The idea of a minyan, where ten people come together to make a quorum for speaking to God is a pre-requisite for certain prayers. However, in Orthodoxy at least, it doesn’t apply to women. Like it or hate it, women are exempt from attending thrice daily prayers with a minyan. In fact, there are very few times in the year that even the most traditionally observant of people would say that I need to be in shul, and most of those can be side-stepped if need be, by asking someone to pop round and help out by blowing you 30 shofar sounds on Rosh Hashana, or reading you a speedy version of the Megillah on Purim.

The pressure that I have put on myself to make it to shul four times a year for the Yizkor prayer has been coming entirely from an inward place – and I think, probably, a sexist one.

For women, prayer is not a communal act. Whatever we are meant to take from the services, Jewish law is very clear – we do not need a crowd to get it done right. The guilt that I feel when I think about ‘missing’ Yizkor in shul, is the same feeling that many other women, those who feel connected through prayer might feel at the idea of sitting at home this week on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, rather than trading places with their husbands and standing in shul instead.

For some reason, there is something about praying this way, quietly, without an audience, that feels like it isn’t enough. But where does that come from? Not halacha, as we said – women aren’t asked or expected to be at shul. So, why do I feel like I’m somehow not respecting the memory of my father? Why do you feel like you’re not making as much of an effort as you should be?

Well, I call patriarchy. On myself, and on anyone else who has convinced themselves that prayer alone is a lesser version of prayer in a group, just because that’s how the men are told to do it. If you want to be in synagogue, and you can make it work for you – then all power to you. Just make sure that you’re doing it because it makes you happy or it enhances your relationship with God, not because you feel that solitary tefillah is a poor (wo)man’s prayer.

This week, I hope to make it through the doors of my shul, to listen to the melodies of the prayers I grew up with, to fast alongside the rest of the community, to feel the strength in numbers as we pray for a good, strong year ahead for us all. There is so much to love about communal prayer, and the experience of synagogue, especially on the High Holy Days.

However, for the first time, if I don’t make it there, if my kids need me at home, if the fast is making me feel weak, heck – if I just decide that I don’t want to, I won’t feel less-than. I’ll open up my machzor, I’ll proudly find the Yizkor prayer, and I’ll honor the legacy that my father left – a daughter whose words are valid and powerful, not because she is standing in the presence of men, but because she knows that she stands in the presence of God.

First Day of School

Be reckless, when you do good. Not caring whether your kindness always meets a true need.

Be greedy, when you create a bucket list, aim to do it all and let’s see how far you get.

Be aggressive, when you go after your dreams, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too small.

Be possessive, of those you care about, stepping in first to share anything you have to give.

Be suspicious, of those who don’t cheer on your improvements, or celebrate your wins.

Be jealous, of those with superior knowledge, learn voraciously and chase to catch up.

Be angry, as you see those more vulnerable than you treated badly.

Be childish, as often and as loudly as possible, if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.

Be forgetful, as others may hurt you unintentionally, and moving on swiftly is best for you both.

 

Most of all, my loves. Be happy, be happy, be happy. And give me a hug before you leave.

Feel good, Look good

I’m lucky enough to be in a relationship which predates online dating. Although I have had a little flutter with some of the Tinder-style dating apps, as I used to write for an online dating brand, my experience is pretty limited. However, I think you’d have to be living under a rock not to know that men can be pretty grim on dating sites. From dick pics and insults, all the way to death threats, a lot of women don’t feel safe online. 

The following exchange has been doing the rounds on social media, of this woman who was abused for her choice of profile photos.

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The sad thing is, I don’t even feel surprised by his entitled response to the images of herself she chooses to put on her own space, or by the disgusting way he speaks to her. The entire website ByeFelipe is a testament to how difficult it is to navigate dating online without coming up against creeps time and time again.
But then… ASOS came along and made my week. In response to this viral photo, the company decided to put the woman in question up on their website, as one of the models for this dress. (Check it out, just swipe to the second picture.)
And yet, I’ve seen so many people disparage the act as ‘a PR stunt’ and dismiss it outright.
Sure, the choice to put her on the site is probably great for PR. Especially as ASOS have some fantastic campaigns about celebrating non-photoshopped women and bodies recently. But why can’t it be great for PR and also just… great?
We have an online world where people are so often mean to each other, both publicly and privately. They don’t look to support and celebrate, regardless of whether they would get good press doing it or not.
So hey, here’s an idea. Once we’re inundated with people being kind in the name of PR, selfishly driven acts of humanity that do a ton of good, then let’s turn our attention to worrying about not having enough selfless good deeds online shall we?
I for one, am celebrating a public ‘up yours’ to anyone who thinks it’s still ok to clothes or body shame other people. And if ASOS, a company that truly puts that message front and centre wants to benefit from a PR opportunity that gets that word out far and wide? Well, I’m sure as heck gonna write a blog that helps them do it.

To Have Loved and Lost

Three months ago, one of my best friends broke up with me. It might sound like melodrama to use that expression, usually reserved for passion and romance, but I stand by my choice. Our friendship was intense, zealously guarded, emotional and powerful. Without it, I might not be a writer, I might not be a feminist, I might not be living in this country, I would not be me.

Sometimes, I find myself insecure and confused over facets of the relationship that I would never have thought to call into question at the time. But if I try to look back on our six years with a clear mind, without the knot in my chest, I know that it wasn’t toxic, or full of drama or pain. An inverse Princess and the Pea, the odd sharp turn is inevitable in any relationship, and had always quickly receded into the soft and safe comfort of the love and trust we built for one another.

Until it didn’t.

Rewriting something on the way out the door is easy to do, hey – words are our trade after all. Pull some ammunition from an ever-ready arsenal and sitting across the table it’s unlikely you’re going to miss your target. But they won’t stick, they can’t wound deeply – not if they aren’t made of something substantial to begin with. I could apologize for a fourth time, but deep down I know, this is nothing to do with me.

Still – I’ve lost a lot of trust. As I never could have believed that this would happen, ‘why shouldn’t it happen again?’ I ask myself, despite the people who love me reassuring me they are here for the long haul.  I’ve hidden myself away a bit, taken Facebook off my phone, cancelled on people last minute because they made a date with me – and not my anxiety.

Today is a bad day. My friend, my ex-friend, is getting married in one week. A day that I was meant to be a part of. A day that I would have written a checklist for ahead of time, the eager Bridesmaid at the ready with a needle and thread, a spare bottle of water, tissues for when things get emotional. On top of the staples, I’d planned bits and pieces, the way we always showered each other with generosity. A watercolour portrait of her and her new husband drawn from a beautiful photo, painstakingly tracked down well-wishes from half the cast of Grey’s Anatomy, a card marked with tears of joy for this next chapter in her life, as well as messages from my kids who cried when I told them that there had been a mix up, and actually they couldn’t go to the wedding of someone they loved. “No,” I replied to them, working hard to keep my voice steady. “Of course you didn’t do anything wrong.”  Blocked on social media, now I won’t even see the day in frozen hindsight. I hope someone else remembers the needle and thread, although I think I’ll keep those tissues close by.

These past three months have been like an aftershock, small ripples that catch me off guard. I’ve found two new podcasts for when I’m walking from place to place. I’ve finished a writing project that’s been 5 years in the making. I’ve reconnected with friends who I’d lost touch with – not through a sudden break, but slowly, like sand through an hourglass, busy lives making one month turn into another. I’d like to say that I’m okay, but I think that’s a lot for me to ask of myself. After all, I’ve never done this before.

People sometimes ask me why I write about personal things in such a public way. Actually, it’s probably the question that those who read my blog ask me the most. After all, I’m not being paid for this, and it could end up causing drama or even hurt, although that’s never my intention.

Of course, the writing itself is cathartic, but so is the sharing. I will likely spend years grappling with what happened to our relationship, and how it could be less painful to exclude me from the most important day of her life than to have me by her side, or heck – standing at the back of a crowded hall. I can’t make myself get over this any quicker than time will allow.

For today though, the act of writing and sharing lets some of the hurt and confusion that I’m feeling out into the world. As it does, and I can’t explain it better than this – I feel that corresponding weight lifting from my chest. Those feelings might find someone else who recognises their own pain in my words, it often does, and those are some of my favourite moments as a writer. As for the pain itself? I’m not naïve enough to think it won’t be back, this week especially. But for a moment, as I hit publish – I can let it go, for a while.

The Usual Suspects of… Pesach Prep

Pesach is quite literally right around the corner. So please do allow me this spot of procrastination from finding out what’s growing behind my fridge-freezer to identify some of the usual suspects of this time of year. The people we know and love around this Jewish festival.

1. The Early Bird
‘10 weeks to Pesach!’ she cheerfully coos somewhere around Tu Bishvat. ‘I’m so behind schedule, I haven’t even started on the curtains yet!’ Presumably those curtains double up as picnic blankets. ‘When will the shops start stocking Pesach food, I’ve hardly even begun baking, and it’s Purim in a month! Oy!’

Flourless brownies in the chest freezer, cupboard stocked with potato starch and seventeen jars of jam, she’s good to go. In fact, she’s so far ahead of herself that her Seder table is set a fortnight before the big night itself, along with fully topped up wine glasses and matza that will no doubt be totally stale by… oh wait, no, it will probably taste the same. Carry on.

2. Last-Minute Lucy

On the other end of the spectrum is everyone’s favorite late-comer to the party, there to make us feel better about ourselves… to a point, anyway. If she hasn’t even begun cleaning, it’s probably fine that my cleaner has cancelled this week and I haven’t even thought about surface covers, right? And if she hasn’t started running down the freezer, then I’m sure I have time to convince my family they want to eat three aluminium foil pans worth of chametz schnitzel this week. At least, I think it’s schnitzel, I’d need to scrape off the ice to be sure.

The humble brag of the last-minute Lucy can be heard far and wide as the days slip away towards the festival. ‘Oh I haven’t even started shopping yet’, she will say, two days before chag. ‘Cooking? Me? No no, I’m only entertaining seven families with six kids each, no need to go overboard.’

Listen carefully as you light your yomtov candles and you might hear her flex her knuckles, get up from the sofa and search for a dustpan and brush. ‘Hmm, I’d better get started’ you might hear her say.

3. The Pesach Protestor
You’ll recognize this one, whose natural habitat is Facebook posts where she can complain about something. The topic can vary, ranging from the cost of Pesach food (‘Outrageous! It’s just PAPRIKA’) to the amount of cookies people are making. (‘Can’t you people live without cakes and cookies for one week? It’s just eight days! In our house, we just eat fruit and vegetables, and nothing else. I don’t even VISIT the Pesach grocery store, except to laugh at people.’) She’s also very very upset that you’re making Pesach rolls, which are absolutely not in the spirit of things.

How dare you all spend that hard-earned money on making the festival enjoyable for yourselves and trying to create carbs-based snacks that your toddlers won’t turn their noses up at? Don’t you know that our ancestors were slaves in Egypt? None of you are being nearly oppressed enough.

4. The Planner
This one is probably on your speed dial, the one with all the spreadsheets and the knowledge of the rare ingredients that supposedly make Pesach pancakes “just as fluffy” as the regular kind. (It’s tapioca flour. Or is it almond meal? Hang on, let me send her a quick text.)

She’s got all the answers, has made Pesach fifteen times, and is totally happy to share her wisdom. Where can I buy that shankbone from again, and should it go in the freezer? Can she check with her grandma which apples she used for that awesome Charoset last year? What’s the optimal salt to water ratio?

Her menus are colour coded, she knows the place to get the cheapest baking chocolate, and if you look stressed out and pathetic enough, she might even make you a batch of macaroons so you don’t need to spend all day separating eggs. Never leave me.

Recognize yourself? A happy Pesach to all the characters listed above, whichever one you may be. May you find plenty to do with all your leftover egg yolks (Pro tip: google Pesach thumbprint cookies), have minimal stress in the lead-up, and enjoy your holiday with family and friends!

Solidarity

Womanly means different things, to everyone who’s using it,
There really isn’t a description that would be abusing it.
So if you find your womanhood, in football or karate,
Know that you’re as female, as the hostess of the party.
If you want to be a mother, and put kids in every room,
That’s great, but you’re no less, because you have less in your womb.

Feminine is not defined by the make up that you wear,
It isn’t formed from nail length, or the style of your hair
Female can’t be spotted by the hours that you work,
It doesn’t disappear because you run or shout or twerk.
No one takes the name away because you love your single life,
And no one’s less a woman when they choose to be a wife.

You can’t find ‘female’ in rosy cheeks, or soft or golden hair,
Theres no one way a ‘lady’ should sit down on a chair,
It doesn’t make you masculine to raise your voice and speak,
It doesn’t make you feminine when someone calls you meek,
There’s no such thing as ‘womanly curves’, the ‘real woman’ is a lie.
We’re all as real as each other, in the race to ‘female’? It’s a tie.

This International Woman’s Day, lets celebrate what makes us strong,
That united in our quest for more, we’ve all been female all along.

What Are You Afraid Of?

There is a petition doing the rounds, collecting signatures in connection with Relationship and Sex Education, set to become mandatory in 2020. The petition asks that parents be allowed to decide for themselves whether their children be taught RSE at school, or if they would like their children to sit out of these classes altogether. I’ve had it shared with me four times today, by parents of differing religious levels and from various schools, but all of whom have children at Jewish schools in London.

The party line seems to be that parents know their children better, understand what they need in more depth, and should have the final decision as to what they need to know around sex and relationships.

The first point that stands out to me is that some parents don’t know what their children need as well as they think they might. If you grew up in a sheltered environment, you may not realise the dangers and realities for today’s children. On the contrary, if you grew up un-sheltered, you may not be aware of how little your children understand in comparison to what you did at that age. Unhealthy relationships can form at any age, and you’re not with your child 100% of the time, so why not give them the skills and education to recognise and speak up when something isn’t right?

One in 20 children in the UK has been sexually abused, over 90% by someone they know. In many cases, this is the parents themselves, the same people who the signers of this petition believe have the kids best interests at heart. I call this line of thinking naive at best, and dangerous at worst. Of course, the majority of us would never hurt our children intentionally, but for those who do – being able to opt out of RSE means that their children may never learn the language or even the understanding to speak up when something is terribly wrong behind closed doors.

By making this a religious issue, we’re giving sexual predators a reasonable excuse to hide behind when they politely decline on behalf of these children. By pretending that there is any difference to these frightening statistics within our religious bubble, we’re sticking our heads in the sand and doing all of our kids a disservice.

We live in a world with so many unknown dangers. We provide our children with helmets and kneepads and road safety lessons. We give them rules for what to do when they’re being bullied, or how to speak up when something is unfair or unjust. If your child cuts themselves – they know to get a plaster, if they have a headache, they understand how to ask for Calpol or take a lie down.

The move to make RSE mandatory for all children is a way to ensure that our kids have all the tools and words they need to speak up when something is posing a danger to their emotional, mental or physical wellbeing. To recognise that their body is their own and they get final say over what they do with it. Just as importantly, to recognise that other people’s bodies are their own and that they need to respect that, too. These lessons of kindness and consent, in an age-appropriate way, not only keep them safe – but allow them to grow into open and communicative adults who can form intimate and loving relationships, not just with a future spouse but with friends and family too.

For anyone who has been sent the petition, and is considering signing it, I would urge you to look below at the suggestions from the Department of Education as to what these mandatory RSE lessons will cover.

-Different types of relationships, including friendships, family relationships, dealing with strangers and, at secondary school, intimate relationships;
– How to recognise, understand and build healthy relationships, including self-respect and respect for others, commitment, tolerance, boundaries and consent, and how to manage conflict, and also how to recognise unhealthy relationships;
– How relationships may affect health and wellbeing, including mental health;
– Healthy relationships and safety online;
– Factual knowledge, at secondary school, around sex, sexual health and sexuality, set firmly within the context of relationships.

Many might argue that it shouldn’t affect me or anyone else if their child doesn’t take part in these lessons. I couldn’t disagree more. Creating a culture in our schools where we can use religion or any other excuse under the sun to opt out of essential education for our children’s wellbeing is dangerous. It means there is a subsection of our schools that aren’t being taught how to speak up for themselves or others, or how to treat their peers with respect in line with today’s emotional understanding. And that’s everyone’s concern.