As we approach the new year, this is the perfect time to renew the organization of our homes and our Jewish lives.
Reviewing: “Organized Jewish Life: The Essential Guide for Planning Jewish Holidays, Events, and Every Day” by Rebekah Chaifetz Saltzman. Balagan Be Gone Press. 2022. English. Paperback. 328 pages. ISBN-13: 979-8985452907.
Some people give tzedaka or sponsor lectures in memory of their loved ones. Others write sifrei Torah or donate rooms or buildings or Torah programs. After Rebekah Chaifetz Saltzman’s mother passed away, she wrote a book, dedicating it to her mother, Ruth Greenberg Chaifetz (Esther bat Sarah v’Yitzchak), “who always knew what to do, in every situation.”
And not just any book. Remarkably, only two years after her mother’s death, Saltzman’s 312-page book was on the shelves, beautifully organized and laid out and a treasure trove of information. Not surprising, as her day job since 2012 has been as a professional organizer. She does online group sessions globally, and in-person services in central and northern Israel.
“Organized Jewish Life: The Essential Guide for Planning Jewish Holidays, Events, and Every Day” will guide you, inform you, and even entertain you on Jewish life. There are concise and colorful explanations of every Jewish holiday and life cycle event, for which the author gives basic laws and customs, user-friendly instructions, comprehensive checklists and tips, and short historical backgrounds. Saltzman advises how to declutter your home and your mind, how to “reduce and reuse,” how to manage laundry and food shopping (“… how to simplify your life while enhancing and maintaining the joy…”), all in the context of Jewish holidays or life cycle events. Among her most important bits of wisdom are: Ask for help when you need it, offer help to others, and know your limits. She shares personal memories, which makes the book eminently relatable.
Regarding the laws and customs, Saltzman has several disclaimers that, when in doubt, one should consult one’s rabbi or halachic adviser. The book is clearly targeted at people committed to their Judaism; even if one is not Orthodox, there is a great deal to learn from it. Thankfully, she includes Sephardic customs, which was a personal treat for me, as I have several Sephardi or part-Sephardi children-in-law. Her “Dinner After the Fast” section cites customs of Jews from France, Morocco, Greece and Bulgaria.
Saltzman has scattered through the book “Critical Notes” and tips that usually address health and safety issues. She has a note on fire safety, and the chapter on Purim includes a Critical Note about alcohol safety. The Yom Kippur chapter has a Critical Note on health issues relating to fasting, in which she also advises to consult with one’s doctor and rabbi.
The author explains in detail the “Traditional Jewish Wedding,” and her wedding chapters include issues relating not just to laws and customs, but to financial planning and the critical importance of having a halachic prenuptial agreement (“Refusing to sign a halachic prenuptial agreement is a giant red flag.”). She advises on the qualities to look for in a kallah or chattan teacher (who discuss the laws of family purity and relevant marital issues with the bride and groom), gift giving and receiving, setting goals with your partner and more. There is a very well written chapter on mikvah that explains things in a comprehensive yet engaging way.
Saltzman advises the bride and groom: “Be kind to your partner during discussions about home life, money, childrearing and the like; they can bring up many old issues.” Their parents will also appreciate these chapters. Her Checklist 19, “Disclosures and Fine Print,” is essential for every potential bride and groom to read before the engagement.
She does not shy away from complex subjects. Her chapters include “Pregnancy” and “Birth, C-Sections and Multiple Births” and “Breast and Bottle Feeding.” She relates to postnatal depression, and there is a very sensitively written chapter on infertility, including male infertility. In her section on baby loss is a piece called “Supporting a Grieving Friend.” Saltzman offers rituals for stillbirths and discusses miscarriages and termination. There is also a chapter on adoption.
All Saltzman’s chapters on Jewish celebrations include the financial planning aspect. I smiled at the question on planning bar and bat mitzvot: “Will any grandparents be contributing to the budget?”
Her “Divorce” chapter has a haunting checklist titled “If you need to leave right away for safety.” Another section is titled “There is no shame in being divorced” and she deals with the problem of get refusal.
The advice in “Time Management in the Kitchen” appears in the Purim chapter. Her extensive chapter on Pesach, together with a detailed timeline, includes the gem that her mother would set the Seder table one to two days before Seder night. She’ll tell you how to avoid pre-Passover slavery.
Invited to a wedding and can’t afford an expensive gift? Saltzman writes: “Your presence is a present. It’s a mitzvah to gladden the bride and groom, so plan a fun dance or something festive for them. Memories are also gifts.”
She takes us through end of life issues, death and mourning. She advises on how to declutter the home of the deceased.
Saltzman will teach you how to save space, take a road trip, stay calm, think ahead and be a part of the community. God is in the details. Her tips are both wise and imaginative. Her comprehensive appendixes include transliterations of blessings, a glossary and three pages of valuable additional resources.
Part three of the book is called “Adulting” and its topics include shalom bayit, hospitality, gratitude, setting up your home, how to save and be efficient, and even how to keep your wardrobe to a manageable minimum.
In “Setting Up Children for Success,” Saltzman discusses the thorny issue of teaching children organizational skills that will help them in life. She even tackles the daunting issue of how long to keep children’s papers, tests and artwork!
A companion product, “Organized Jewish Life Shabbat and Holiday Planner,” has menus, recipes, budgets and checklists for getting ready for the big days.
This is an extraordinary book and a fitting memorial to Saltzman’s mother. At many points in the book, I found myself thinking, ‘OK, that’s something I must do.’ I also found myself tearing up, remembering our own simchas and other events, and remembering my mother.
It will take you through the Jewish year and through life, and you will probably end it being probably more organized, and certainly inspired.
“Organized Jewish Life: The Essential Guide for Planning Jewish Holidays, Events, and Every Day,” published 2022 by Balagan Be Gone Press, and “The Organized Jewish Life Shabbat and Holiday Planner” are both available at Amazon.
The reviewer is an award-winning journalist and theater director and the editor-in-chief of www.WholeFamily.com.