“Yeshiva Girl” by Rachel Mankowitz

[I originally posted this review on another blog in May 2019.]

The author of Yeshiva Girl, Rachel Mankowitz, navigates several delicate lines, and she does that well.

Most prominently, Ms. Mankowitz captures the emotional chaos that results when an adult (here, the father) persistently and aggressively manipulates his child, his spouse, people at his work, and his religious community. In the novel, that manipulation coexists with additional sexual abuse and threatening physical behavior, but Ms. Mankowitz does not dwell on graphic details of these events. Rather, it is the resulting fragmented thoughts and perceptions of his victim and the distorted reality experienced by other adults that is the dominant, and important, storyline. Graciously, the author rescues us from overwhelming despair of such a disturbing topic by including characters who are genuinely caring and good, despite also being human.

Additionally, Ms. Mankowitz explores religious questions that surface when people interact with sacred texts. Because her main character, Isabel, is a teenager, it is natural for her to challenge conventional accepted scriptural stories in a way that seeks for God to make sense and to be approachable. Isabel both demands this possibility and desperately needs it to be validated. These explorations of thought give the novel an added thread of interest to follow, especially for those who have experienced their own faith crises and have, themselves, demanded more of religion than what has been presented for their acceptance and obedience.

Finally, because Ms. Mankowitz expertly chooses and develops characters who have varying ways of expressing their Jewishness and who are all, in their own ways, trying to understand what being Jewish means to them personally, she is able to help readers seamlessly navigate this world, even if it is not that of their own culture or belief.

Clearly, the abuse and manipulation that is the foundation of this story is a content warning for those who desire to approach such topics with awareness and care. Once that concern is acknowledged, the story is skillfully told and worth the read.

* * * * *

“I was seven years old at the time and I did believe in God. I was pretty sure he looked like Grandpa and had butterflies flitting around his head, whispering secrets about all the people he needed to help.”

“I couldn’t help smiling at him [Grandpa], but he was the good kind of smile, the one that warms your belly and makes your shoulders relax out of fight mode.”

Discussing the stoning of women (but not men) for adultery in the Bible: “‘But, . . . how did they get the women to stand still and allow themselves to be stoned?’ . . . ‘Or,’ I said, ‘Maybe the society has so convinced her of her own guilt, teaching her what it means to be a good wife and teaching her how much God hates her, that she just stands there and lets them kill her.'”

One of the boys in Isabel’s class writes, “I feel like the rabbis are trying to bottle up my soul . . . and sell it back to me piecemeal because they are afraid of what I will do if I breathe God, without their guidance on how to use the resulting power.”

One of the rabbi teachers, in response to Isabel’s question about the story of Esther, “We study Torah every day, and in these stories women are used over and over again for the sake of their families’ desires, righteous or otherwise. Have you noticed that? You sit here and I wonder if you hear any of the words you read out loud. . . . My point is: these are not lessons to be followed as is. More often than not we’re reading stories about the pitfalls our forefathers, and foremothers, fell into because of their human weaknesses . They were jealous or lonely or selfish or just plain stupid. You are adults, or you will be. If something sounds wrong to you then maybe you’re the one who’s right.” [Underlining added by me.]


Humble men, in Churches, by the hour
Of women, their wisdom, praises shower. 
“We men must learn,” they say,
“Like you to read and pray.”
“This is why God gives men all power.”

~by me, July 7, 2022

From what I’m reading:

“You have brought me here, gentlemen, in hopes of conquest–in an attempt to rein in this feminine largeness, to shrink it down and force it to acquiesce to your paternal control . . . This, my friends, is an impossibility. . . .

When Women Were Dragons, by Kelly Barnhill, pg. 280.

Processing the Knots of Life

“Time, in our experience, is linear, but in truth time is also looped. It is like a piece of yarn, in which each section of the strand twists and winds around every other–a complicated and complex knot, in which one part cannot be viewed out of context from the others. Everything touches everything else. Everything affects everything else. Each loop, each bend, each twist interacts with every other. It is all connected, and it is all one.”

When Women Were Dragons, by Kelly Barnhill, pg. 150

I had a co-counseling session today. I don’t keep up with them as regularly as I should, but I needed this one and someone was very kind with their time today. I needed it because things have been rough, gotten worse, and, freakishly, continued to get worse. Everyone in my family is honestly facing each new day with some trepidation. This is not normally how our lives flow. We normally have the normal ups and downs with normal intervals between them. So, Friday, when my eyes were tearing up at work and when I was having an anxiety attack near the end of the workday (because of the things at home, not work), I decided it was time to reach out. Luckily, I have multiple people to whom I can reach.

One thing I do like about co-counseling — it is well established that whoever is in the counselor role has no expectation or need to understand timelines or factors. The counselee gets to start talking (and continuing talking) at any point of their experience and even change tracks randomly. This is good because, not only had my recent experiences compounded upon themselves, but of course, none of them were in isolation from the others or from the contexts of my past experiences.

“Everything touches everything else. Everything affects everything else. Each loop, each bend, each twist interacts with every other. It is all connected, and it is all one.”

I was not telling a story for my listener, I was loosening the bites of the knot for me. Here a little, then there a little as the tension on the knot eased and exposed new surface areas. Her listening provided the workbench on which to rest the knot.

Two Grandparent Nights

Night 1

When I set up the rooms in this house, the plan always was to have the Grandchildren sleep over on occasion, when they were old enough and ready. The rooms also seemed to sort themselves out in such a way that my bedroom was on a different floor than the Grandchildren’s room. I rationalized to myself and offered reassurance to their Mom/my Daughter that 1) people do this all the time and 2) I would get a baby monitor.

The first few times, though, they were so young and this was so new for all of us that my plan was to sleep in the recliner on the same floor. The reality was I spent much of my night on the loveseat or floor of their room and not much of the night actually sleeping (although they did-success!).

I had been mulling this reality around in my head–along with looking around the room trying to decide where to put some posters, maybe hang a magnetic whiteboard, was there space for an additional bookshelf for me? (None of these things have happened, yet, by the way.) In the process, I decided it would be wise, for the short-term time being to bring just my mattress (not the box springs or frame) to the same floor, just so I would get more sleep on sleepover nights. Those nights were going really well and I wanted to keep a good trajectory–for all of us.

Soooo, when I knew they were going to have a sleepover two nights ago, I suddenly decided I would enact that plan and do so that morning. That meant I needed to rearrange their room a bit which meant I had to clean their room a bit. I also was set on having it done by the time they arrived which meant (given my personality) doing it myself.

The most logical way to get that mattress to its desired location would have been to have two people take it out the back door, up the driveway, in through the front door, and into the desired room. Instead, I tried to simultaneously force it to go around a rather tight corner and ascend a flight of steeper-than-current-building-standards (I assume) steps. It was actually an impossible task, but I would not accept defeat. I started on the stairs. It got stuck. I wedged myself around to get behind it to force it to literally bend to my will. (“Pivot! Pivot!”) Then, I had to get back in front of it in order to have the proper leverage to make a malleable metric ton elevate along the next step and was at a point of being stuck that I thought I was going to have to either go out the back door (but I recalled the front door was locked) or call the fire department for assistance for a person (me) being wedged against a stairwell wall by a mattress. I won. I got back to the front of the mattress and up the stairs with it.

And, the sleepover was great, for all of us.

(Every muscle fiber in the back of my thighs, sides of my torso, under my shoulder blades, and in my neck is currently both devoid of energy and sore.)

Night 2

Their Mother/my Daughter has asked me in the past how I get 1-Year-Old-A to sleep during sleepovers. I have always told her I just hold them until they fall asleep, wait until they are solidly asleep (you can’t rush this step), and then lay them down.

Last night (the night after Night 1, above), my Daughter and Son-in-Law had the rare opportunity arise at the last minute (ie, that day) to go out to eat with another couple. So, they asked if I would be interested in babysitting that evening at their house. It would be a late dinner reservation and in a neighboring town, so the Grandchildren would need to go to bed. Absolutely. I was thrilled they had this opportunity to go out together.

My Daughter told me the current routine for 1-Year-Old-A’s bedtime: Turn on the TV in their room to the children’s streaming shows and put them in their crib, knowing that angry screams will ensue for quite awhile.

I will admit that the thought passed through my mind that I could just do it my way. But, the following additional thoughts were also explored: The reason I do it my way at my house is because I have no crib and because my house is still not their house (away from Mom and Dad). My way may only work at my house because it is a different environment. I have always believed parents know what is best for their own children–so, did I really believe that or not? One of my major goals in life is to be a help to their family–intentionally thwarting sleep training was not going to be helpful in the long run. Doing it my way at their house would cause much damage to my relationship with my Daughter and Son-in-Law and I would never want that–and it would be my fault. Respect is important.

So, when the time came, I turned on the streaming kids shows, put 1-Year-Old-A in the crib, kissed their little head, and walked out of the room with my Kindle in hand. They screamed. It was bad. But it was not as bad as I had expected.

Most importantly, I felt like I made the correct decision.

Grandparenting is a whole new phase of life requiring a whole new set of skills and decisions.

Things they don’t tell you about being a grandparent, 1: Also part of being a grandparent: I have to build up my squat/lunge/something? stamina for the amount of times I get down and back up off the floor and carry little people up and down stairs, now.

Quotes From this Week:

Quotes I felt resonated with these times:

From When Women Were Dragons, by Kelly Barnhill:

“Perhaps this is how we learn silence–an absence of words, an absence of context, a hole in the universe where the truth should be.” pg 9.

“It is my thesis that every mass dragoning in history is followed by a phenomenon that I call a ‘mass forgetting.’ And indeed, it is the forgetting, I argue, which proves to be far more damaging, and results in more scars on the psyche, and scars on the culture.” pg. 20

“‘Everything, is just, just, too, damn, SMALL. . . . You should probably run, Doctor,’ she said.” pg. 32

“The facts, of course, are indisputable, but that did not stop people from attempting to dispute the facts.” pg. 39

From Faster, Louder, by Boff Whalley

“The now-legendary mass trespass on Kinder Scout (Roy Hattersley called it ‘the most successful direct action in British history’), when five ramblers were arrested and jailed for joining the gathering of 400 walkers intent on having a day out on Kinder, opened the floodgates to ever-increasing trespasses and the eventual acknowledgement that the tide had turned. The next few decades would be marked by a rapidly-growing demand for the right to roam. . . historian Ann Holt called the access issue ‘an apparently simple idea with revolutionary implications.'” pg. 7

Quotes that I appreciated for their use of language:

From When Women Were Dragons, by Kelly Barnhill:

“They stepped out of their robes like nymphs, and they stepped out of their bodies like monsters.” (Describing “dragoning” of women), pg 19.

“Oh, how their eyes glittered! Oh, how their robes rustled like wings! And oh, how a forcefulness burned in their bellies.” (Women even before “dragoning”), pg. 19

“Vague smiles painted on their faces like the hardened gaze of porcelain dolls.” pg. 23

“On the day she was born, I swear that the sky froze and the sun stood still and the earth began to vibrate.” . . . “The universe became more of itself once Beatrice was in it.” (Also, I love the parallelism of the previous description of Beatrice’s aunt becoming more herself as she recovered from an illness). pg 24

“But, I couldn’t explain how, as the words I knew at the time were unwieldy tools, improperly calibrated for the topic at hand. This only made me more angry.” (describing child processing of events beyond their understanding but not beyond their awareness and effect), pg. 29

“I remember standing at the window, staring at the ice crystals that had written themselves onto the glass, an explosion of geometry and light.” pg. 33

“The memory of her vanishing felt both unpleasant to encounter and dangerous to hold, but I had no place to put it, no ordered shelf in my mind where it belonged. It remained unmentionable and therefore unclassifiable, which meant I had to carry it, every day, no matter how much it hurt.” (Child experiencing a traumatic event that no one discusses.) pg. 46

From Faster, Louder, by Boff Whalley

“What Gary enjoyed was the rough stuff, the unexpected, the obstacles that constituted the difference between fell running and trail running: ankle-turning ditches, lashing rain, on-the-hoof navigation, clawing slutch, low visibility. Proper British conditions – the cloud and puddles that suited the landscape.” pg 10