Friday, June 24, 2011

In G-d I Trust? Nope! and You Can't Make Me!

I read an article today about a possible new license plate design for Georgia. Each design has some Peach element in it (shocker! not!) but what did shock me was that a few of the designs had "In God We Trust" at the bottom. I am outraged.

I am a purist when it comes to religion/state separation. I don't think we should have prayer before senate/congress sessions at any level of government, I don't think G-d should be mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance and I don't think "In G-D We Trust" should be on our money. I am always angry when I hear of public schools holding graduation in churches (illegal by the way and I was part of a case that won this battle <- read about it here). So imagine my outrage at the thought that I will be required by law to declare on the bumper of my car something that I feel shouldn't be there (and if you have read my blog at all (or just this entry), you also know is an untrue statement - I don't trust G-d).

So here is the letter I wrote the Commissioner today. If you live in Georgia and agree with me, even slightly, please take the time to write him as well here:

Dear Commissioner,

My name is Robyn Faintich and I am a 5-year resident of Roswell, GA. For almost 16 years, I have been dedicated my career to being a full-time Jewish educator working with teens and their families to help them live their American lives through a Jewish lens. One topic we often engage in revolves around the issues of religion/state separation. Our families battle these issues daily in schools, public universities, town hall meetings, etc. We often engage the Anti-Defamation League to help us decipher where the law protects our rights and where it doesn't. I have not reached out to them yet on the issue for which I am writing you about, but am prepared to do so.

I just read about the new proposed license plate designs and was completely disheartened to see "In God We Trust" on several of the designs. My relationship with God, my belief or non-belief is MY personal choice. How can my state government require me to put the word "God" on my car? How can my state government require me to proclaim something from my bumper that I might not believe in?

If one of these designs is chosen, I will end up risking fines because I will NOT put this plate on my car unaltered. I would find it necessary to blacken out those words.

Please consider the serious personal religious rights violation these license plates will cause. I implore you to remove these designs from the possibilities.

Thank you in advance for your consideration. I hope to hear from you on this matter.
Robyn Faintich
Roswell, GA

Saturday, April 30, 2011

To Remember. Yizkor.

This blog was originally posted on
Challah Back, the Jewish Federation of North America NextGen blog.

Yizkor. It’s the part of the Yom Kippur service where all the young people hang out in the hallway. While growing up, most young Jews were told one of two things about why they were in the hallway: a) this part of the service is very solemn, so the young people are asked to leave so they don’t disrupt and/or b) it’s bad luck to be in Yizkor until you have to be. It’s an ayin hara (and evil eye) on your loved ones.

It wasn’t until my mid-teens that I even learned that Yizkor happens four times a year. Yom Kippur was the instance I knew about, but there is actually a custom ofYizkor also being recited on the three pilgirimage festivals: Sukkot, Pesach, Shavuot(the Sukkot one corresponds to the chagim of Shemini Atzeret/Simhat Torah, depending on your observance).

I am no longer in the hallway for Yizkor. My father passed away on October 16, 2009. Last year, Pesach Yizkor was my first experience. It was so overwhelmingly painful. When you lose a loved one, people say, “It gets easier.” This week was my fifth Yizkor service, and the truth is, it hasn’t gotten any easier. The tears still flowed freely, and my heart ached with the sheer reality that I had a reason to be there.

When I looked around, I realized I was one of the youngest, if not the youngest, in the room (other than the rabbi himself). At 37 years old, I kept saying to myself, “I am too young to be here. It’s not fair. I still want to be in the hallway.” The heart-wrenching images of my father’s final week, and of the funeral itself, all bombarded me.

As my gaze fell on the members of the congregation, I tried to conjure images and stories of how long each person had been attending Yizkor, and tried to consider the person they were standing in memory of. As the tears rolled down my face, I could only wonder, will this get easier?

When I am standing here five years from now, will the painful memories of my loss still be as clear in my mind’s eye? When I am standing here 10 years from now, will the tears still roll freely? When I am standing here 20 years from now, will I still feel the hole in my heart and the “unfairness” of it all? When I am standing here 30 years from now, will I remember the sound of his voice? Will I remember?

And yet there was one question above them all that nagged at me the most. It was the question the rabbi asked in the moments preceding the Yizkor service. He led a conversation asking parents in the room, “At what moment have you felt the most honored by your children?” All I wanted to do was pick up the phone, call my dad, and ask him how he would answer that. And the fact that I couldn’t triggered another set of dripping tears and feelings that “It’s not fair.”

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Being a Straight Ally

This week, we have been bombarded by injustices surrounding the LGBTQQI community. Multiple suicides of young adults who were bullied and outcast because of their personal identity. To help prevent this from happening again, celebrities have been recording messages standing up and asking for the greater community to help. Friends and neighbors who are gay making "It Only Gets Better" videos on YouTube - targeted to young LBGTQQI people who are struggling. Leaders of LGBT organizations were asking friends and colleagues to go back to their elementary, middle and high schools (and religious organizations) to request that they open GSA's (Gay-Straigh Alliances) and work hard to protect our young people. Organizations like Keshet are asking us to sign commitments to stand up for bullying and discriminatory injustices in our Jewish communities. [I have already signed it as a sponsoring agency with my consulting firm.]

And then, The Jewish Standard (a Jewish newspaper in NJ) writes this:

Given the tenor of the times, we did not expect the volume of comments we have received, many of them against our decision to run the announcement, but many supportive as well.

A group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community to this issue. Our subsequent discussions with representatives from that community have made us aware that publication of the announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused.

The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.

This is the note that I wrote to the Jewish Standard publisher upon hearing of their printing of this:

Dear Mr. Janoff,

I am writing to you as one voice in a firestorm of voices you are hearing right now on the issue of the same-sex engagement announcement. My name is Robyn Faintich and I live in Atlanta, GA. You may be wondering why someone from Atlanta is taking interest in a situation with a NJ Jewish paper.

First of all, I am a Jewish educator and have been for 15 years. I consult in Jewish communities all over the country and therefore my Jewish interests know no geographic limitations. Second, as a Jewish educator, especially when I work with youth and teens, I try to instill in them a sense of meschlichkite and the idea of making all choices through a Jewish ethical lens. I believe your team did not make a meschlichkite decision. Third, I teach these youngsters to stand up for the injustices in the world, whether it be in their home, school, neighborhood, country, or the world. How can I teach them this and not stand up against this injustice? Fourth, I also happen to have a degree in Journalism and when I was in school, I was taught that news outlets must remain impartial, and I believe you failed to do that as well. Lastly, in a time when we are bombarded in the news with stories of young gay, lesbian, transgender and questioning teens killing themselves, I can't call myself a Straight Ally and turn my head while you add to their emotional pain and burden.

Of these issues, I want to remind you of Jewish ethics that I feel needed to weigh into this decision. The Jewish value of not embarrassing, the Jewish value of love your neighbor as yourself, and the Jewish value of celebrating with a Jewish couple as they approach Chuppah. I believe your stakeholders made this choice out of fear and not through the lens of Jewish ethics. What a shame.

Please reconsider the message you are sending and the role modeling you are doing (or lack thereof) by maintaining this hurtful decision.


Robyn Faintich

p.s. I am almost afraid to ask what your policy is for publishing interfaith announcements ... if you do that and don't publish same-sex Jewish couple announcements it makes this situation even worse.

After hitting the send button, I wish I had written more. I wish I had asked them what their policy is/will be when a Lesbian couple has a child with a donor or a gay couple adopts ... will they deny the child the welcoming s/he deserves into the Jewish community? Because their parents are gay and it might offend someone?

Some people may question why I would get involved ... since I am not gay. I never feel like I have done enough when it comes to being a Straight Ally. Despite learning as much as I can from my gay friends and family members, about their journeys and their struggles, I can never truly understand. But I do understand what it is like to be teased and bullied. I understand what it is like to be a minority. So it's with that emotion and commitment to humanity that continues to motivate me to stand up and to make it my fight, too.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Elul Reflections 6-10:

Elul 6: essay on Michael Berenbaum who is a prolific Holocaust expert said that he is "protecting Jewish memory." What do you do to protect Jewish memory?

I think the easy answer to this is about being a Jewish educator, but I think it is more than
that. While the collective Jewish memory is incredibly important, the familial Jewish
memory might even be more so. One of my favorite times is when my extended family (most often my mom's family) is sitting around telling stories, passing them from generation to generation. I remember times where people have sat in total shock about a "family scandal" and other times when people are laughing so hard they are crying. These moments have duality - they are perpetuating the family memories of the past and creating new memories to be layered on top. I am lucky to have such wonderful relationships with so many of my extended family members, and hope that this continues for many generations into the future.

Photo Above Right: 13 of 34 members of 4th generation Goldman Family.

Elul 7: Rachel Brodie writes about the emotion around the birth of her 2nd child. When has the capacity of your own love for someone/something surprised you?


When I was told that my brother and sister-in-law were expecting their first child, I

was incredibly hesitant to let myself feel any emotion. I lived 1800 miles away, and had no idea how I would be a part of this child's life. The months leading up to the birth, I didn't even buy a single item for this child. The phone rang on August 8th, 2004 about 5 a.m. my time ... and I was told my sister-in-law was in labor. And I just laid in bed, phone in my hand, and cried. When I got the call later that the baby was born and they were waiting to hear if it was a boy or girl, I cried even harder. When I was told it was a boy, and his name - Evan Samuel, and that everyone

was healthy. I cried tears of joy. Then when the first picture was emailed to me (via a friend's phone), I sat on the floor and fell in love in an instant. (And then I booked a flight to St. Louis and went to Disneyland and spent $300 on gifts for him.) On June 28, 2006, Jack Ian came into our lives ... and my heart expanded to let the love flood in for this new nephew. I am lucky, that now at ages 4 and 6, I have such a beautiful relationship with both boys, despite never living in the same city as them, and despite only seeing them about four times a year. I know, I would do ANYTHING to protect them, give them unconditional love, and help guide them into their futures.

Photos: Evan (top) Jack (bottom)

Elul 8: Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater writes for about the creative process he goes through to write sermons. What is your muse? What inspires you to express yourself?

When I sat to reflect on this question, the first answer that popped into my head shocked me. Anger. When I get angry about something - whether it's an injustice, a philosophy I don't agree with, being hurt by someone, a loss, a movie I didn't like, an issue I think that needs to be addressed ... the words just flow. I would like to have a muse more ethereal, maybe with time ... maybe with a love of b'shert ... maybe with my own children.

Elul 9: Comes from Rabbi Hayim Herring's @toolsforshuls When were you recently at your best? When do you think that the Jewish people acted at its best? When do you think a significant part of the world behaved at its best?

I think that by launching my own consulting business, I have created so many new opportunities to be at my best. Those moments when I am teaching, learning, sharing, collaborating, exploring, growing, challenging, creating, connecting --- all in the same breath.

I think the Jewish people have rarely acted our best .... and in all the cases I come close to naming - they are in tragedy: 9/11, Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, hurricane Katrina, Daniel Pearl's execution ... we have a lot to work on. And again, when I think a significant part of the world behaved its best - probably 9/11 ... but just because the majority of the world was on good behavior, there was still so much hatred swirling - against Arabs, against Muslims, against America ... that it detracts to much.

Elul 10: Rabbi Shlomo RIskin writes for Craig Taubman's Jewels of Elul about being challenged & effectively standing up for his choice. In the past year, what choice have you been asked to defend and you walked away feeling good about it?

Two things come to mind. The first is that when one of my cats was incredibly ill earlier this year, several people kept challenging my choice to put a lot of money and a lot of effort into trying to save her life. I have no regrets (as she sits in my lap now purring). I also had to choose during that time to walk away from a cruise that I had been planning with friends since last June ... and I don't regret that either. The second, is in my choice to take this untraditional path and not enter back into full-time employment, but instead to work on my EdD and build up my business. Sometimes you end up defending the untraditional professional path, but feeling great you took the risk.

Next blog: Elul 11-16

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Elul Reflections 1-5

As I have been posting questions about Elul reflections, some people have asked me to answer my own questions, so here goes:

Elul 1: Reading The introduction has me reflecting on Jewish heroes, who made me the Jew I am-Who are yours?

Who made me the Jew I am? I can't respond without including my parents and grandparents. But, I also have to include a great-grandmother whom I only met once when I was a newborn. My mom's maternal grandmother, Tillie Goldman, was a matriarch of 7 children, 17 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren (including me), and countless more great-great grandchildren, and even a great-great-great grandchild. Bubbie, as she is known to each of her descendants, was a traditional Jew, originally from Prussia, who came to the States

and maintained her observance of kashrut and of Shabbat. She lived in Israel for a while, establishing orphanages and funding Yeshivot. When she turned ill, her children brought her back to the States, but her wish was to be buried in Israel. Recently, I had the honor of visiting her grave (photo to the right).

In addition to Bubbie, my parents and grandparents, I have had countless Jewish peers and educators influence the Jew I am today. Here are a few: Joanne Barrington Lipshutz, Rabbi Avi Greene, Rabbi Ken Greene, Rabbi David Paskin, Rabbi Arnie Samlan, Yossi Katz, Rabbi Zvi Berger, David Mitchell, Maxine Weil, Joan Wolchansky, Harlene Appleman, Roberta Goodman, Elliot Gershenson, Cantor Mark Levine, Rabbi Kelley Gludt, and more!

Elul 2: Read the essay on Yossi Abramowitz in Jewish Sages of Today. The author quotes Abramowitz, "Values are what you live by, vision is what you live towards, and leadership is just simply living your values towards your vision." What are your values? What's your vision?

I guess my most basic value is Kavod (respect). Others include Kehillah (community), Mishpacha (family), G'milut Chesed (helping others meet their needs), Muchshar (capable/competent), and Nichul (leadership). My vision is living in a respectful family and community where people are competent and capable leaders whereby their goals include helping others meet their needs and build a strong Jewish identity.

If you are looking for an activity to help you figure this out, you can order Value Cards from 21/64 - a Jewish organization helping families figure out their philanthropy priorities.

Elul 3: More Abramowitz. He talks about Keeping Jews Jewish. What have you done this year to keep YOU Jewish? Others Jewish?

In terms of keeping myself Jewish, I have continued to immerse myself in my own Jewish experiences, including volunteering through JF&CS, serving on the leadership team for LimmudSE+Atlanta, and starting my EdD in Jewish Education Leadership. In terms of keeping others Jewish, my professional work, in the end is all about keeping Jews Jewish. In addition, my leadership role and presenting role in Limmud helps keep other Jews Jewish.

Elul 4: The next essay in Jewish Sages of Today is on Rachel Azaria. When Rachel sees injustice, she seeks change. What injustices have you tried to change?

I have been a big proponent of equal marriage rights for everyone in the U.S. I have helped use my voice to email/talk to people about this issue, including defeating Prop 8 in California.

Elul 5: The Jewels of Elul ( for this day is from Rabbi Naomi Levy. She tells a beautiful story of her daughter with physical challenges surprising her. When have you surprised yourself by overcoming a major obstacle?

I have always battled being significantly overweight (I think doctors have called me morbidly obese). However, I have tried to not let this be an obstacle for me - still climbing Masada, going snorkeling, riding a waverunner, going ATVing, etc. And as much as I had surprised myself by being able to do all of that, I think overcoming the obstacle of "giving up" and always being that size, I have shocked myself at my commitment to being a healthier person. While there are still daily battles to overcome, I have lost about 120 lbs (still have about 50 more to go) and every day consider the choices I am making.

Today Before

Friday, August 13, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Last year I blogged about how I need Elul to ramp up to the High Holy Days. So this year I am doing two things to prepare (see my work blog here for details).

The question asked on the first day of Elul in Jewels of Elul, was:

If you had to count the number of times you “got back in the saddle again” this year after a fall, how many times would it be? Is it harder or easier the more times you do it?

Well, let's count, shall we?
  • Dad died
  • Agency Funding Ran Out = Out of Work
  • Cat almost died
  • Relationships ended
  • Was sick for 5 months which resulted in 20" of my colon being removed
  • Denied reasonable health coverage TWICE and medical expenses tapped me out
  • Oh, and there was that random flat tire which always causes a headache!

I would say it isn't harder or easier the more times you do it, it's just hard. But with some support from friends and family (THANK YOU to each and every one of you), you manage to get back up and face the world again.

It is also important to admit when the horse has dumbed you one-too-many times, and you need a professional counselor or pastoral care, to help you help yourself to get back in the saddle. Some people see that as a weakness, but it's truly strength that allows you to admit when, despite their love and care, family and friends just aren't strong enough to hoist you up.

The Holy Days are about reflection and refocusing. They are about admitting our mistakes and committing to not make them again. They are about visioning your future and beginning to take the steps to enact that vision. And in that way, it's really about today. About now. It's not about "do it tomorrow" or "do it next year" .... which reminds me of this song from the musical RENT (listen to it here):
The heart may freeze or it can burn
The pain will ease if I can learn

There is no future

There is no past

Thank God this moment's not the last

There's only us

There's only this

Forget regret-- or life is yours to miss.

No other road

No other way

No day but today

There's only yes

Only tonight

We must let go

To know what is alright

No other course

No other way

No day but today

I can't control

My destiny

I trust my soul

My only hope

is just to be

There's only now

There's only here

Give in to love

Or live in fear

No other path

No other way

No day but today

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Originally posted on Davar Acher blog ...

I am one of those people who has always thinks "Help" is a dirty four-letter word. For some reason it feels like failure, it feels like a loss of independence, and it certainly feels vulnerable. Of course, I am always willing to help others - enjoy doing it, but almost never admit I need help or ask for it myself. Well, until recently. In my personal life, I have just come through three serious situations over the past 8 months that required me to ask for help.

The first was in October 2009 when my father had a cardiac event, was in and out of a coma for a week, and then died. I asked for help a lot those two weeks and each time, people were jumping at the chance to be there to support me in some way. I asked for meals, I asked for someone to send me clothes (my family is in St. Louis and I live in ATL), I asked for someone to just check and answer my voicemails. I asked for someone to take care of my cats. I asked for people to pray for my father. I asked a friend from out-of-town to drop everything and come officiate the funeral. Despite the fact it was tremendously hard for me to ask for all of these things, it was easy for people to respond "yes."

For those of you who are pet people, you will understand my second instance .... In April, one of my cats suddenly took deathly ill. The vets didn't think she was going to make it, and the over the course of a week she went from "fine" to battling about a half-dozen ailments. It was all I could do to go back and forth from the vet, to the animal hospital (where she was overnight on i.v.'s), to my house, and back again. I didn't eat or sleep for almost 8 days ... and I found that I had to ask for help that week. I was so distraught, I wasn't functioning, and yet it still took me 5 days into the chaos to ask for help. Just asking a friend to come be with me when I couldn't be alone - a friend who came over and held me while I just cried and cried and cried. A friend who forced me to eat (and cooked for me), a friend who brought over ice cream without my needing to ask. And yet asking for that help was so painful ... but receiving it was so comforting.

Three weeks ago, I had 20" of my colon removed ... and found myself in the third situation where I had to ask for help. Help from family, help from nurses (great nurses rock and are under-appreciated!), help from neighbors and friends. Each time, my independence threatened to get in the way of asking for the help ... but each time my community came through for me on so many levels. Even people from across the globe recognized that one way they could help - even though geographically disadvantaged - was by cheering on my spirits - sending notes, text messages, emails, flowers, books, magazines, gift certificates, etc. (This Jim Joseph Fellows community put a smile on my face more than once the last few weeks!)

So why is it that it takes serious - life threatening (whether for me or for a loved-one of mine) for me to be able to ask for help? Why is when people are so generous and willing to give, I hesitate to ask? Why is it that despite the fact that people have proven to have truly giving spirits over the past 8 months, that I still will wait for crisis to ask for help? And if this is how I respond in my personal life, professionally it is even harder to ask for help ... Why can't I give myself over to asking without hesitation?

Reflecting on it, I am reminded that one of the first acts in Torah is G-d telling Adam that he needs a help-mate.

Genesis 2:18:
And God said: 'It is not good that the man should be alone;
I will make him a help mate for him.'

This is a reminder to all of us ...we are made in G-d's image, and it is innate in us to recognize when someone needs help. It is important for us to recognize that both the act of helping and the act of being helped are holy. It truly is that simple.

And just as simple is the response when someone helps you.... say "Thank You."

So I offer up this blog as a Todah Rabah for all the people who have helped me - particularly over the last 8 months. You have not only helped me in the moment I needed it, but you have also helped me better be able to ask for help.