Wednesday, February 28, 2007

This Nomadic Life

Walking through the streets of Tzfas

My plane back to New York leaves in eight hours. After California and a quick visit home, it's back to Crown Heights, where a new apartment awaits me.

So once again, here I am - collecting my belongings into boxes on wheels.

I am scanning my room. The room in my home. My home on this hill. This
hill near this lake. This lake in Seattle.

But this is no longer my place. A solid six months away was enough to make that real.

My family still calls this "Mimi's room." But we all know it's really another guest room. And this trip home, my position in life blended with the new room status. I was just a guest. The nomad was visiting home.

Some of my belongings still make a home in this space that made a magnificent background to my high school years.

You can tell exactly what I used to be.

You know, back in the day.

There was a time when I wasn't a nomad.

I was a painter.

I was a music connoisseur

A collector of anything vintage.

A photographer.

A cultured reader.

An expert scrapbooker.

My paintings, CD collection, jewelry, books, pictures - anything that
lended itself towards a strong and important hobby - just sit around,
bored as ever. My notes from learning in Israel are begging to be
reviewed, but there just isn't room for them in this nomadic
existence. You can only travel with so much stuff, hopping from
apartment to apartment, making short visits home, traveling for my job.

Meanwhile, I am galavanting around Crown Heights assuming the title of
"just-another-single-girl-living-in-Crown Heights." I am no longer a
painter, or anything else. I am just a victim of a nomadic life,
awaiting the day when I will be settled. The day when I can put all my
books on a shelf, and not just the ones I need. The day where I can
paint the view from a window, and it will be meaningful - for it is my

For now, a strong part of my life sits idle in a space I used to
inhabit. This room. This room in my home. My home on this hill. This
hill near the lake. This lake in Seattle.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Julia and Rena

Valentines Day is in full swing at Van Nuys Public School in Northern Los Angeles.

Two Mexican students are kissing by a car decked with flowers.

Nearly every student is walking around with a heart balloon.

The cement feels the slow pounding of my shoes as we make our way through classroom buildings, on route to the school’s small Jewish Club, which meets on Wednesdays at lunch time.

I hear rap music blasting from the lawn.

A girl is leaned up against a wall crying, and no one is paying attention.

The very strides of the students passing by reek of television.

The multi-cultural faces around me are cold and foreign.

I haven’t felt this out of place in a while. A part of me wants to turn around and run, but the purpose behind our arrival moves me forward.

And still, one question takes up all the space in my mind.

In L.A.’s oasis of Jewish life, what are Jewish kids doing here?


We entered the classroom, where young faces gave some shape to our mission.

After being introduced as a JSU guest speaker, I face the classroom.

Out of about fifteen kids, eight are boys. And some of the girls aren’t even Jewish.

It’s very nerve-racking to speak to a group knowing that only a possible few are likely candidates for what you have to offer. But I opened my mouth and the words just came. Although the Bais Chana experience far exceeds even the most splendid description, I managed to paint a picture of all the fun and all the learning that would fill a unique President’s Day weekend.

Afterwards, we hung out to try and talk to the girls. The girls that were there all had weekend plans. One had volleyball practice. One had a dad’s birthday. One just couldn’t miss school.

But we weren’t going to take “no” from everyone.

Towards the right of the room, two girls were together studying the postcards we had handed out. We approached them and started talking. They were somewhat interested, and needed to present it to their parents. Acknowledging the limit to our efforts, we exchanged numbers, and told them we’d be in touch.

When we returned to the car, I sat down and sighed – a little overwhelmed. My friend examined a new scratch on our car as I sat inside with a lump in my throat. My eyes grazed the shallow scene from the parking lot as I silently prayed that the Jewish students at Van Nuys High School are blessed with everything they need to vitalize their Jewish identity and express it with true pride.

Only hours later, we are driving on the freeway when we get a call. It’s one of the girls from the school. She wants to sign up, and so does her friend.

Suddenly, our car is bursting with enough joy to fill a wedding, to last a lifetime. It was extraordinary. With my hand over my heart, I looked at my friend and felt my eyes twinkling.


The program is now over.

Over the past days, no girl was left untouched by the beauty, intelligence, and warmth of Judaism.

Julia and Rena have since returned to their public school with knowledge, clarity, pride, and inspiration that exceeds the teenager with even the best Jewish education. They are not going back as the same people that left on Thursday. There is a recharged soul glowing within that can take on anything.

I am grateful to have a Rebbe that sends us marching into unfamiliar territory. Two Jewish girls now know that they belong - all because we walked into a place where we felt we didn't.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Our Rebbetzin

From about 1975 to 1980, my father was privledged to work in the Rebbe and Rebbetzin's home. What follows are a few of many stories from my father's narrative.

I asked my father tonight what first comes to mind when remembering the Rebbetzin. Right away, he said it was how incredibly in tune and sensitive she was. The following stories capture a fragment of what my father means.

Also, this post is dedicated to the Shaffers, Avi, and Goldie. Their passionate and sincere interest has recently encouraged me to ask my father for more.

I hope publishing these short stories will aid all who read them in better understanding, appreciating, and exemplifying our enigmatic Rebbetzin.


Special Delivery

(Click image to enlarge)

The Rebbetzin sent this telegram to my father and mother on the day of their marriage. My father points out that even though he received wishes of Mazal Tov from the Rebbetzin in person, she still went out of her way and sent it formally, in writing, the day of their celebration - as was customary in those days.

Around the time of my parents' wedding, the Rebbetzin returned to my father the wedding invitation return envelope, in which the Rebbetzin included a monetary gift for my father and mother. She said they should spend it on something for the house. With the money my father bought an air-conditioner. When he told the Rebbeztin what he had spent it on, she was pleased. She felt that it was money well spent.

Love, Life, and Sacrifice

Once the Rebbetzin described to me in vivid detail how, when Jews were starving in Europe (probably during World War I), her father sent her and her sister sneaking through dark alleys, way past curfew, to deliver food and candles to the Navardoker Yeshiva (of the mussar movement). The two girls literally ran for their lives.

Imagine the Ahavas Yisroel of the Frierdiker Rebbe, that he would put his two beloved daughters in danger to save fellow Yidden from starvation, and to enable them to continue learning.

The Rebbetzin on Money

The Rebbetzin was extremely careful with other people's money.

One of my jobs was to go to the various stores in Crown Heights to pay off her accounts. When I would come to her house, the cash would be laid out on the table together with the invoices, ready for me. Before I would take the money, she would always insist that I count the money again, in case she had made a mistake. When I attempted to tell her that I trusted her – being that I knew she had counted the money carefully, and then probably re-counted to be sure – she would not allow me to leave until I counted the money myself.

She said, "In my home, they would say, 'Gelt Hut Lib A Cheshbon, Un Mit Yenem's Gelt, Darf Men Zich Zeier Hiten.'" (Roughly: "Money loves [needs/seeks] careful accounting," and, "With someone else's money, one must be extra careful.")

Rebbetzin: Such Great People

Because the Rebbetzin was not involved with the day to day goings-on in 770, she did not often witness the boundless love of the Chassidim for the Rebbe. On Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5738, six weeks after the heart attack that kept the Rebbe in bed in 770 (for six weeks) rumors had been swirling that the Rebbe would leave 770 that night for the first time since Shemini Atzeres, when the heart attack took place.

The rumors turned out to be true. When the Rebbe was getting ready to leave 770 at about 9:00 at night, people were packed in front of 770, as the strong desire to see our king was then at fever pitch (since most of Anash had not seen the Rebbe since the events of Shemini Atzeres). The Rebbetzin was watching the joyous spectacle from inside the Frierdiker Rebbe's Yechidus room, upstairs in 770, with the lights turned off in order not to be seen (and perhaps to see better).

Another fellow and I had the zchus to be there with the Rebbetzin, watching. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, a happy niggun burst from the mouths of the assembled throngs, and people were jumping in the air to get just one glimpse of their beloved Rebbe. It was absolutely electrifying – you could feel their love for the Rebbe with your hands. I burst into tears, and out of the corner of my eye, I glanced at the Rebbetzin and it seemed to me that her eyes also became teary. Then she said in Yiddish/Russian, "Ah-zelche maladyetz'n!" (Roughly translated: Such great people!) She repeated this a few times, glowing with love.

When the Rebbe had left and the Rebbetzin was getting ready to leave, I asked her whether she wanted me to come to the house afterwards, in case she'd need something. (She planned to leave 770 after the Rebbe had already left, and the crowds had dispersed.) She did not accept, saying, "You need to rest. Everything will be okay." (Apparently she had seen how I had been so affected moments before.) "I will call you afterwards from the house to tell you that everything is definitely okay, so you won't have to worry." At 11:00 that night the Rebbetzin called me to say, "Everything is fine with my husband. Now get some rest, and we'll speak tomorrow."

Awaiting the Rebbe's call

On the days that the Rebbe went to the Ohel, the Rebbetzin would rarely leave the house. If she did leave, she would come back early in order to be near the phone, the sooner to hear the news that the Rebbe had returned and was fine. She would sit near the phone waiting for that call, and if someone would call in the interim, she would apologize quickly, saying that she could not talk since she was waiting to hear from the Rebbe, and that she would call them back later. (This was before Call Waiting!) She would sit, worried, the entire time. Only after she heard that he had returned safely to 770 would she breathe a sigh of relief and leave her post.

How ironic that the events of 27 Adar 5752 (the Rebbe's stroke, resulting in partial paralysis and inability to speak) occurred at the Ohel. Were her fears due to the fact that the Rebbe stood fasting the entire day until he was back from the Ohel? Was it the driving through unsafe neighborhoods? Or was it because she, being the daughter of a Rebbe and the wife of a Rebbe, knew more than what any of us could ever know about what the future held for her husband?

The Rebbetzin: The Rebbe Doesn't Bite

The Rebbetzin always tried to make me feel at ease in proximity to the Rebbe. In general, I did whatever I possibly could not to be in the house when the Rebbe was home, but there were times when it was utterly impossible not to encounter the Rebbe face-to-face. One of those times occurred on Purim.
There was a constant flow of people bringing Mishloach Manos to the Rebbe and Rebbetzin through either of the two outside doors, plus the telephone was constantly ringing; I was needed to respond to the telephone and the doorbells. I would accept the Mishloach Manos and give the young ones some money that the Rebbetzin had prepared for that purpose.
When the Rebbe was ready to leave, I found myself "stuck," so to speak, at the front door as the Rebbe headed out, and there was nowhere for me to escape in order to get out of the Rebbe's way. So I stood there, shaking in fear. As the Rebbe passed me, he turned to me with a wide smile, and wished me, "A freilich'n Purim!"

The Rebbetzin, just behind the Rebbe, saw my situation and wanted to make me feel a little more at ease, so she commented to the Rebbe with a smile, "That Notik – every time he sees you, he gets all shaken up. I've told him many times that you don't bite!"

After I opened the door and held it for the Rebbe to leave, he turned around and said, "Yasher Koach!"

The Rebbe said Yasher Koach to me several times. In general, the Rebbe would show a lot of gratitude and appreciation to anyone who helped his dear wife in any way.

'Are you sure?'

One summer evening, as I was watering the garden, the Rebbetzin came outside on the back porch to get some fresh air. While talking with me, she mentioned, "I noticed that Rabbi Klein was driving my husband home these past few days, and I want to know if everything is alright with Rabbi Krinsky." I told her that Rabbi Krinsky had gone to a family wedding in Chicago and that he was fine. "Are you sure?" she asked me. I assured her that he was absent for a good reason, a simcha, and she was clearly relieved.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

To the Anonymous

I remember, not long ago, I was leaving the Ohel - getting a ride back with a group of girls, only one of which I knew.

One of the girls asked me my name.

Upon my response, she said, "Yoooou're Mimi Notik?"

"Ah hah, that's me."

"You're the one that wrote that thing...?"

"Yup, that was me."

"Wow, you're so normal!"

After her explanation, I understood that this Crown Heights girl was not accustomed to writers giving their real name. She had thought that since I gave my real name on my pieces, I must be one of those real whackos. After all, the average person in close-knit Jewish communities like to keep their real identity far away from the web-world's written content. So who is this strange person putting her name on her writing?!

I see from people who comment on my pieces, remaining anonymous is quite the trend. But why is it that everyone thinks that by giving your real name, you're abnormal?

If anything, a person with normalcy understands that written expression, in whatever form, is a serious thing. A person with something to say and stands by it, will give their identity. They hold no insecurities and invite personally directed reactions to what they have yielded.

You will never see something I wrote without my name. Furthermore, if you love or hate what I wrote, I have an e-mail address that invites you to personally praise or complain. A reader should always know from whom the work is from. Then, the communication is healthy. You can understand the context. The bigger picture comes free, and the world is less afraid.

I recently got an e-mail of complaint from a person with a created anonymous e-mail. She actually wanted me to engage in dialogue about a very personal matter. I was baffled. Entering a discourse with a anonymous person didn't strike me as being all too fair. So that's how I responded, and I have yet to hear back from her. Apparently, the fact that I may know her is a little scary for her, because, well, quite frankly, she wasn't so nice. So, remaining anonymous gave her the excuse.

If you have reasons for being anonymous, that's really fine. Really. Spark my curiosity. Comment anonymously! I appreciate all comments, no matter who they are or aren't from. Furthermore, I recognize the desire, comfort, and even the ease in being anonymous.

However, remaining anonymous oftentimes gives people the excuse to say things that they don't have to stand up for, represent, or explain.

So, if you're going to choose the anonymous route, use it responsibly.

How much more unified we would all be if the writing we produce - even small comments - were able to be seen as a part in parcel of our true identity.

Few of us will make our mark on this world while giving in to the non-demands of anonymity..

Fully identified and never incognito,

Mimi Notik

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

If you know Aleph

I remember telling my non-Chabad friends of my upcoming plans to go on Shlichus.

They were wide eyed as they listened to my descriptions of joining a Chabad house in a Jewish suburb, teaching Hebrew school, and doing everything in my might to assist in inspiring and guiding a growing Jewish community.

My description was met by shock. Suddenly, I was a rarity in their eyes

"Wow," was the collective response, "You really feel that you can handle that?"

"Don't you have to be married to teach people?"

"So, you're really just gonna go out there and do all that?"

Their reactions and questions were full of surprise and confusion.

I looked back at these girls, and smiled in wonderment over their foreign reaction. They were in their second year of seminary, learning and learning non- stop. They have amassed in their minds hours and hours of Jewish law and philosophy. And yet, even with all their precious learning, they have been dissuaded from believing in a young girls ability to teach? In all their exposure to the greatest and inspiring educators, why has no one tempted them to give their learning to others? Who made them wary of this idea?

I was baffled by their self-estrangement from "my" cause. How is it that the announcement of my future plans leads to the dropped mouths of second-year seminary girls?

My disappointment was very real, and I wanted to react, but their lives were already exploding with the mussar which I felt compelled to give. I was left with only the excitement in my voice to incite their interest in this lifestyle.

In efforts to respond coolly, I said, "Yea, that's what it's about, right?"

But my internal rhythms were adapting to a new sort of culture-shock.

Their seminaries espouse the virtues of the Gedolim, the Torah giants they are meant to look to for inspiration. They recognize and talk about the assimilated, the unexposed, and the seemingly disconnected Jews of our world. And yet, when they hear that a nineteen year old girl decided to devote her year to teaching and helping a community, they are but newborns.

I was so confused, and my outrage was of an almost moral bent.

No one told them that they too have something to offer?

Why hasn't anyone told them that if they know Aleph, they should teach Aleph?

Why hasn't anyone told them that one of the reasons you have a leader, is to arouse within the potential and intrinsic soul capability to guide and affect your surroundings?

I felt myself wishing I could introduce them to the giants I know in Chabad. You know, the just Bar-Mitzvahed boy that hits the streets to teach his nation about Tefillin, or the thousands of children of emissaries who, every week, are explaining the ins-and-outs of Shabbos to their many guests. If only these girls knew there were hundreds of girls my age who just signed themselves to a similar position.

I couldn't help but be a little disappointed that, while a six year old Chabad child is attuned to their expectations and destiny to teach, my non-Chabad friends were astonished by their friend's ambitions.

I left my evening with them pondering this interaction.

Why is there is a world of Judaism out there that is denying my sisters access to a life that is rightfully theirs?


In Chabad, our emphasis on a Rebbe begs us to ask ourselves, "So, who do we teach?" For many people, teaching means a degree. It's something you become. But, for Chabad, while one may never lead an actual classroom, giving over what we know is a natural and living responsibility.

A Chabadnik knows from an early age that teaching is the very blood riding past your bones.

The good news is that the world is catching on. No one was ever truly outside the Rebbe's vision. But, while this idea of reaching out has integrated heavily into most Jewish communities, this world is ransacked with "outreach seminars" and "kiruv step-by-step guides" that push people farther from the main point - that this lifestyle is in their bloodstream. That, at a Jew's most pristine innards, there is a natural outpouring of the desire - no, need - to teach what you know in a real and alive way.

The teacher that bursts forth from within, the capability that can't be ignored, is what happens when you have a Rebbe who tells you that you are the leader - at whatever age, from whatever background. It's what happens when you have a leader who expresses the urgency in guiding our Jewish brothers and sisters. It's what happens when your leader won't let you be comfortable just taking in, but emphasizes the importance of sharing the wealth.


Tonight, I sat in a Chassidus shiur with a group of girls in my age group. At one point, our teacher sought to bring to life a Chassidic concept. He wanted to make it personal, relatable.

He addresses the room of twenty young ladies, and asked, "Are any of you teachers?"

The fact that this was a fair question is symbolic of a world where responsibility towards our nation is a real expectation. His inquiry was not greeted by gasps, discomfort, or eyes staring at a foreign concept. The teacher's assumption had been close to home for many - the inquiry was more than reasonable.

I thought of my friends. I want so badly for them to know that this exists.

Meanwhile, though often I may fail, I can only hope that my small efforts will expand, and run into the larger bloodstream of my people.

As Chof Beis Shvat approaches and masses of women both young and old make their way into Crown Heights alert for inspiration, I hope to embolden my responsibility to teach, inspire, and learn from my fellow Jews.

For, as I once said to my wide eyed friends, "That's what it's about, right?"

Thursday, February 01, 2007


The question makes me feel awkward right away.

I hear it.

I pause.

I smile uneasily.

I stumble on my words.

I basically look totally confused.

My answer completely dodges the inquirer's real question.

I always just end up saying, “Yea, I want to get married.”

I just can’t give a yes to the dating inquiry.


The last thing I want to do is date.



When someone hears I’m 20, their response is immediate.

“So, are you dating?”

Just hearing the word “dating” sends me into complete bewilderment.

I am completely baffled, actually.


Did someone just ask me if I am dating?

Is dating something people actually do?

It’s like they know about this trendy thing that all the Jewish youth are getting into.

But, really…

Since when do Jews date?

Who invented such a thing?

I guarantee you, it wasn’t a Jew.


Because Jews don’t care about dating.

We care about finding our soul mates.

Dating just doesn’t exist in our world.

Whenever someone gets engaged, you always hear those people who say, “Wow, I had no idea that s/he was dating.”

Well, this is exactly why.

It’s because they weren’t dating.

And because they weren’t dating, they got engaged.

People who date don’t get married. They get to tour some nice hotel lobbies and drink water from fancy bottles. They sharpen their dining etiquette. They may even get to cruise in a nice rental car.

People who date meet people. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy.

But I’m not interested in meeting a boy.

You have come up to me and said, “Mimi, there’s a great guy I want you to go out with.”

But, come on.

You know I don’t “go out” with guys.

Instead of offering someone you want me to date, why don’t you offer someone you want me to marry?

Just say, “Mimi, I have someone you may want to marry.”

Nothings wrong with that.

That’s how Jews talk.


Last night, someone said to me, “You’re 20?”

“Prime age. You should find your husband very soon.”

Now you’re talking.

Yes, I am looking for my husband.

Not a guy.

Not a boy.

And most definitely not a date.